10 min read

Wake Up To Politics - June 12, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Monday, June 12, 2017. 512 days until Election Day 2018. 1,240 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!

DRIVING THE WEEK: "The Cloud" The White House cannot escape "the cloud," as former FBI director James Comey claimed President Trump described the growing investigations of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and, now, his alleged attempts to obstruct that probe.

Trump offered a preview of his team's focus for the week in this Sunday-morning tweet: "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very 'cowardly!'" Trump's tweet follows Comey's admission in his testimony last week to directing a friend to leak memos on his interactions with the President to The New York Times. However, according to the Washington Post, many legal experts do not believe Comey's actions were illegal, since the memos were unclassified and Comey was a private citizen.

CNN has reported that Trump's legal team plans to file complaints with the Justice Department and Senate Judiciary Committee early this week over Comey's actions. Republicans have piled on after Trump labeled Comey a "leaker," condemning the former FBI director for the disclosure, which he testified to orchestrating in hopes of a Special Counsel being appointed.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has formally requested copies of the memos from Comey's friend, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman; per CNN, "the matter will be addressed on Monday," amid talks between Richman, the panel, and special counsel Robert Mueller. With the President denying Comey's version of events, congressional investigators have also requested any tapes that may exist of conversations between Trump and the former FBI director. The President tweeted earlier this month that "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations," and has yet to deny the existence of such recordings. "Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee last Thursday.

The House Intelligence Committee sent a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn last week "requesting that he inform the Committee whether any White House recordings or memoranda of Comey's conversations with President Trump now exist or have in the past," setting a June 23 deadline for such materials to be handed over if they exist. At a press conference last Friday, the President told reporters that he would give an answer on the tapes soon, adding that "you will be very disappointed when you hear the answer." Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal team, said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that the President will address the issue this week.

At the Friday presser, Trump refuted much of Comey's testimony, insisting that there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction" and denying that he spoke with Comey about the FBI's investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. He also said that he would be willing "one hundred percent" to testify under oath on Comey's allegations; on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he invites Trump to testify before the Senate. "Great idea, let's pick a date," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) tweeted.

This week's big hearing: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday about the Russia investigation, which he has recused himself from. He was originally supposed to testify that day on the Justice Department budget before the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees with oversight over the agency; deputy Rod Rosenstein will take his place before those panels instead. Sessions wrote the subcommittee chairs, explaining that many members were planning on asking about the Russia investigation and "it is important that I have an opportunity to address these matters in the appropriate forum."

The move has sparked controversy as it remains unclear whether the hearing will be open to the public, as the Appropriations hearings were going to be. Either way, the New York Times reports, Sessions will be pressed by lawmakers on his contacts with Russian diplomats, the extent of his recusal from the probe, and his interactions with Director Comey.

DRIVING THE WEEK (if the White House got its way): Workforce Development After hoping to focus attention on infrastructure last week, the White House has a new theme to pivot away from the heightening Russia probes: "Workforce Development Week." President Trump has an entire schedule planned around the issue, visiting a job training program in Wisconsin on Tuesday, unveiling his plan to close the skills gap at the Labor Department on Wednesday, and discussing it with governors on Thursday.

Trump, the former host of NBC's "The Apprentice," will "announce new administrative actions focused on streamlining current federal job training programs and expanding apprenticeship programs," according to CBS. This will include reorganizing the 43 job training programs currently offered by the federal government and rolling out steps to make it easier for businesses to create apprenticeships.

Ivanka Trump, the President's daughter and an official White House advisor, is leading the week's initiative. She told reporters in a conference call that the Administration hopes to "raise awareness about the fact that there are important and very viable and respectable career paths outside of a traditional four-year college experience that should be considered and should be invested in.”

According to Axios, the House will follow next week with the introduction of a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Perkins Act for another six years, "providing more than $1 billion per year in federal support for career and technical education programs."

Political People: Ralph NorthamThe next part in a Wake Up To Politics series interviewing officeholders, strategists, and journalists of all political stripes...
“I’m listening carefully to Donald Trump. And I think he’s a narcissistic maniac.”

While many Democrats may agree with Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in that assessment of President Trump (made in one of his recent TV ads), they don’t all have the credentials to say so. A pediatric neurologist by training, Northam told Wake Up To Politics that he believes he is fully qualified to make that diagnosis.

“I would encourage people to look up under what's called the DSM-5,” Northam said in an interview last week. “That’s the psychiatry book that we use to make diagnoses and if one looks up the criteria for narcissism, they will see that he fits that to the T, so I would say, if the shoe fits, wear it.”

Northam is running in tomorrow’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia, locked in a close race with former Rep. Tom Periello that the New York Times called “the most significant intraparty Democratic contest yet in the Trump era.” Virginia is one of two states, along with New Jersey, to elect its governor in the year after presidential elections; by virtue of its battleground status, the state’s gubernatorial election is therefore seen quadrennially as an indicator of national feelings towards the new Administration.

With feelings on the President especially hot this year, the Democratic primary has been dominated by Trump, and widely interpreted as a barometer of the type of candidates Democrats hope to field in 2018. Both candidates have spent increasing time on the trail campaigning against Trump; in the interview, Northam called him “dangerous” and broached the prospect of impeachment. He also acknowledged the race’s national implications, agreeing that the race would indicate “the direction of the party.”

Continued below...

The President's Schedule President Donald Trump spent the weekend at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, returning to Washington, D.C. with wife Melania and son Barron in tow as they officially moved into the White House, nearly five months into Trump's presidency. "Looking forward to the memories we'll make in our new home! #Movingday," the First Lady tweeted on Sunday.

The President has mostly ceremonial tasks on his public schedule today. At 9:30am, Trump will receive a National Security Council briefing in the White House Situation Room. At 11am, he will lead a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room, his first with the entire team confirmed. At 12:30pm, he will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence in the Presidential Dining Room. Finally, at 3pm, the President will welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions, the Clemson Tigers.

Briefing Schedule: White House press secretary Sean Spicer will take to the podium at 1:30pm.

Today in Congress The Senate will convene at 4pm today. At 5pm, the chamber will begin debate on the nomination of Kenneth Rapuano to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Security and Global Security. Rapuano served in the Maries for 21 years before serving in the second Bush Administration as deputy White House homeland security advisor and in posts at the Departments of Energy and Defense.

After a confirmation vote on Rapuano, the Senate will resume consideration of the Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (a vote on the bill is possible). The measure, advanced in a 91-8 vote last week, would impose new sanctions on Iran over its "ballistic missile program, support for acts of international terrorism, and violations of human rights." Six Democrats opposed the sanctions legislation, including Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Many of the six Democrats (plus Sanders) were hesitant to support the bill last week after a terrorist attack in Tehran; Paul was more rigid in his opposition, calling new sanctions "a fool's errand" in an op-ed.

The fate of the Iran sanctions bill remains uncertain, however: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has threatened that his party may defect if a strong Russia sanctions package is not also passed to punish for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, according to Politico. While Russia sanctions would likely receive strong bipartisan support in Congress, President Donald Trump (who has dismissed Russia's involvement in the election) could veto the legislation. If he does so, "we're going to override his veto," Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the House will meet at 12pm and vote on ten pieces of legislation. Each of the bills are energy-related, including: a measure to prioritize the education and training of women, minorities, and veterans in energy and manufacturing jobs; a number of bills extending deadlines on various energy projects; a bill establishing a clearinghouse to disseminate information on energy efficiency ins schools; and others.

Today's Trivia Name the three Presidents who testified before congressional committees while in office. The first ten respondents and the last ten respondents will be named in tomorrow's newsletter; send your answers to trivia@wakeuptopolitics.com by the end of the day!

Continued from above...

Periello has the support of many in the party’s progressive wing, most notably Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as a number of former officials in the Obama orbit. Meanwhile, Northam boasts the endorsements of every Democratic statewide elected official and state legislator in Virginia, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, as well as the backing of NARAL and other key interest groups. Just last week, he received the coveted endorsement of The Washington Post.

While he did mention his list of endorsements repeatedly, Northam declined to characterize the race as between progressive and establishment Democrats. Instead, he referred repeatedly to his “progressive Democratic values” in the interview. “We want to make sure that there's economic opportunity for all Virginians, no matter who you, no matter where you are, and that every job is a good job,” Northam said, ticking off a list of priorities including an increase to the minimum wage, continuing to bring down Virginia’s unemployment rate, ensuring “access to affordable and quality health care” and “a world-class education system,” reproductive rights, marriage equality, gun control, and the environment. “These are progressive Democratic values that I have been unwavering on,” the candidate said.

While refuting the “establishment” label, he does cite his experience as an asset. “I think experience is very important for the next Governor,” Northam said. “Virginia is the only state where the governor only has one term, so that means that you have to hit the ground running, you'd need to know what your agenda is, and you have to have the experience to know how to get things done and the relationships with legislators, and that's what I bring to the table.”

His opponent, Perriello, “doesn’t have the experience that I have,” he adds – “he served in Congress for two years up in Washington and then has been in Africa, I think, for the last five or six years,” referring toPeriello’s time abroad as a diplomat appointed by former President Barack Obama. Northam has served in public office for nearly a decade, recording six years in the Virginia State Senate and the past four as Lieutenant Governor.

But politics is not his first career: Northam attended Virginia Military Institute and spent eight years as a physician in the U.S. Army. Since leaving the Army with the rank of major, Northam has worked at a Norfolk hospital as a pediatrician. “I didn’t have a lot of experience politically” before running for office, he said, deciding to do so after spending hours on the phone in frustrating conversations with insurance companies. “I went in one day and talked to my chairman of pediatrics and told him I was frustrated and he basically said, ‘why don't you do something about it?’, so I threw my hat in the ring in 2007 and I ran in a very conservative district…and ended up winning by ten percentage points talking about the very same progressive Democratic values that I stand for today.”

Before that, Northam explains that he wasn’t very involved in politics. In fact, he previously disclosed in an interview that he voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, a decision he ascribed to Wake Up To Politics to being “under-informed.” Northam added: “Certainly knowing what I know now, his values and principles don't align with mine, so it was the wrong vote.” Perriello has frequently criticized his opponent for the votes, and his campaign calls him “the only lifelong Democrat in the race.”

The two candidates have sparred on a number of issues, each attempting to prove that they are more progressive. Perriello has pointed to his proposal for two years of free community college, which is moreexpansive than Northam’s, and called for universal pre-K and increased paid leave. But Northam has equal fire, hitting Perriello for his past support of the Stupak Amendment (which regulated access to abortion) and off-shore drilling, and his “A” rating from the NRA. “He’s changed his opinions on a lot of these issues, so that’s a distinction between the two of us,” he said.

Sanders’ endorsement of Perriello has caused some to cast the race as a sequel to the Democratic presidential primary of 2016. Asked to respond to the Vermont senator’s support for his opponent, Northam said that it was “water under the bridge,” although he regretted that Sanders and Warren “didn’t reach out and have discussions with me and get to know me a little bit.”

Recent polls have shown Perriello with a slight lead: in a Washington Post survey released last month, the former Congressman led by two points, 40% to 38%. The Northam campaign shared a piece of their internal polling with Wake Up To Politics, which gave Northam a 5-point lead among voters who had not participated in the past two elections.

The lieutenant governor said he is confident going into Tuesday’s primary. “As a pediatric neurologist,” he said, “I listen to people, so I have a good feel for what’s going on in Virginia.”