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Wake Up To Politics - January 8, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, January 8, 2018. 302 days until Election Day 2018. 1,030 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Weekend Review: Trump, aides defend President's mental fintess

President Donald Trump and his aides continued to attack "Fire and Fury," the new White House tell-all by journalist Michael Wolff, over the weekend, pushing back on the book's assertion that Trump is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.

On Saturday morning, the President tweeted that "throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart." He continued: "I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!"

The topic of Trump's mental fitness also dominated the Sunday shows, his aides forcefully denying such questions. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller repeatedly called Trump a "political genius" on CNN's "State of the Union," while labeling "Fire and Fury" a "garbage book," a "pure work of fiction," and "nothing but a pile of trash through and through." Host Jake Tapper ended the interview early, accusing Miller of pandering to only "one viewer that you care about right now."

That "audience of one" tweeted his support for Miller after the interview: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"

--- Watch the full interview, via CNN...

Other Trump Administration officials echoed Miller's message. On ABC's "This Week," UN ambassador Nikki Haley said the book is an example of "the lengths people will go to lie for money and for power," adding that "no one questions the stability of the President." In addition, on "Fox News Sunday," CIA director Mike Pompeo called Trump "completely fit."

Wolff defended his book on NBC's "Meet the Press," insisting that he spoke with Trump (despite the President's denials) and revealing that all of the White House aides he interviewed "say he is like a child." "100 percent of the people around" Trump, the author claimed, "questions his intelligence and fitness for office," adding that the 25th Amendment (which provides a plan for an incapacitated President to be temporarily removed) is brought up "all the time" in the West Wing.

The Miller interview also served the purpose of discrediting White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose comments in the book about Trump and his family caused the President to release a formal statement saying his ex-aide has "lost his mind." Miller, formerly an ideological ally and close partner of Bannon's, called latter's comments to Wolff "grotesque," while insisting that Bannon's "role has been greatly exaggerated." According to the Washington Post, Trump has issued an ultimatum to allies of the two men: "they either supported the president or they supported Bannon. There could be no middle ground." Miller was just the latest in a string of Bannon's former allies to pick Trump, following his billionaire backer Rebekah Mercer and a number of GOP congressional candidates he had endorsed.

In an attempt to stem the tide of his supporters distancing themselves from him, Bannon released a clarifying statement to Axios on Sunday. After telling Wolff that the June 2016 meeting Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort held with Russian officials at Trump Tower was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic," Bannon said Sunday that Trump Jr. "is both a patriot and a good man."

Instead, he claimed, his comments "were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends." Bannon did not mention Jared Kushner, or his wife Ivanka Trump, despite being quoted in "Fire and Fury" as saying the "path" to Trump in the Russia investigation led "right through" Kushner and calling the President's daughter "dumb as bricks."

Notably, Bannon also didn't apologize for his comments, merely saying: "I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency." According to Politico, Trump has yet to accept Bannon's non-apology: reportedly, the statement "did nothing to quell Turmp's rage at his former chief strategist or the anger of Bannon's former West Wing colleagues."

--- MEANWHILE... Trump's "very stable genius" tweet came as he was huddled with Republican congressional leaders at Camp David, spending part of the weekend hashing out plans for the party's 2018 legislative agenda. The GOP signaled plans to work with Democrats in the new year: "We hope that 2018 will be a year of more bipartisan cooperation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. The group emphasized Trump's infrastructure plan, while the President said House Speaker Paul Ryan's welfare reform proposal would be tabled unless it could gain Democratic support. Trump and the lawmakers also disccused the creeping government funding deadline (January 17), as Democrats demand legislation protecting "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors, be approved in exchange for their votes for a spending package. In turn, the Trump Administration is insisting that a "Dreamer" bill be accompanied by $18 billion in funding for his proposed border wall and a $33 billion increase in border security.

The Russia Investigation

New report out this morning via NBC: "Initial talks underway about Trump interview in Mueller Russia probe." According to the report, President Trump's legal team are holding "preliminary and ongoing" discussions on how to respond to an anticipated request by special counsel Robert Mueller to interview Trump.

Per NBC, Trump's lawyers are considering a range of options to avoid a formal sit-down, including submitting written responses to questions from Mueller or sending "an affidavit signed by the president affirming he was innocent of any wrongdoing and denying any collusion."

--- Also, from Friday afternoon, via the New York Times: "More than a year after Republican leaders promised to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, two influential Republicans on Friday made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against one of the people who sought to expose it."

"Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department that they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in a dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus on, in part, Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity."

The Buzz: #Oprah2020?

Donald Trump, then President-elect, was the shadow looming over 2017's Golden Globe Awards, most prominently as the target of Meryl Streep in her acceptance speech for that year's Cecil B. DeMille Award (which caused Trump to lash out at Streep on Twitter, calling her "over-rated").

A different figure stole the show on Sunday night, also while accepting the DeMille Award, as Oprah Winfrey's emotional speech sparked chatter over a potential presidential run in the future. "A new day is on the horizon," Winfrey declared, looking towards "the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."

As the former talk show host trended on Twitter, speculation erupted over her waging a campaign for the White House. "It's up to the people," Winfrey's longtime partner Stedman Graham told the Los Angeles Times. "She would absolutely do it." Yet, Winfrey herself denied harboring any presidential ambitions in an interview with Bloomberg after her speech. "I don't -- I don't," Winfrey insisted when asked if she plans to run for the presidency.

After host Seth Meyers joked about a Winfrey presidential campaign in his monologue, the broadcast network NBC tweeted a GIF of Winfrey, adding: "Nothing but respect for OUR future president."

The President's Schedule

At 11am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing.

At 1pm, the President departs the White House for Nashville, Tennessee, where he arrives at 3:05pm. At 4:10pm, Trump will deliver remarks before the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 99th annual Annual Convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Trump, the first sitting President to address the convention in over 25 years, "will highlight his administration’s efforts to help rural communities, including expanding broadband service and cutting regulations on farmers and ranchers," according to the Washington Times.

At 5:10pm, he departs Nashville for Marietta, Georgia, arriving at 6pm. At 6:45pm, the President attends the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship game, watching the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Time face off. The President is then scheduled to return to Washington, D.C.

--- Something to keep in mind when reading Trump's schedule... Axios reported on Sunday that Trump's private schedule shows he is holding fewer meeting than at the beginning of his presidency and starting his day much later. According to the report, Trump's schedule allots "Executive Time" from 8am to 11am most days, which the President spends "in his residence, watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting." As the public schedule printed in WUTP each day shows, he often begins his official day with an 11am intelligence briefing, "far later" than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

Today in Congress

The Senate meets today at 3pm. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of the nomination of Wiilliam L. Campbell Jr. to be a U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Tennesee. Campbell, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran, is a civil litigation lawyer in Nashville. At 5:30pm, the Senate will vote to advance his nomination.

He is the first of four district court nominees set to be considered by the Senate this week; six district judges were confirmed in the first year of the Trump Administration.

The House convenes at 2pm. The chamber will hold its first Quorum Call of the Second Session of the 115th Congress today.


I misstated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state in Friday's newsletter. He hails from Kentucky.