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Wake Up To Politics - June 12, 2020

Good Thursday morning. It’s June 12, 2020. 144 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

The newest episode of the Wake Up To Politics Podcast is out now. In the episode, I interview Protocol reporter Issie Lapowsky and Georgetown Free Speech Project director Sanford Ungar about Section 230, regulating social media, and the future of America’s long-running debate over the First Amendment.

The episode goes into detail explaining President Trump’s recent executive order on social media; it’s also especially timely considering presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s attack against Facebook last night.

Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.

Trump’s gulf with military brass widens

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly apologized Thursday for appearing alongside President Trump in a controversial photo-op earlier this month which took place moments after federal authorities used teargas to clear peaceful protesters from the area.

“I should not have been there,” Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, said in a prerecorded commencement address for graduates of National Defense University. “As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

Milley is not the only Pentagon leader to participate in the visit to St. John’s Church, and then distance himself from it: Defense Secretary Mark Esper later told reporters that he “was not aware of ... exactly where we were going when I arrived at the church and what the plans were once we got there.”

Upon Trump’s arrival at the church, he held up a Bible for several minutes, a scene that was criticized as overly political for top military officials to have participated in. The president defended the photo-op in a Fox News interview airing today: “I think it was a beautiful picture,” he said. “I’ll tell you, I think Christians think it was a beautiful picture.”

Just before the visit, the president has threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quell nationwide police brutality protests; Esper and a procession of ex-generals, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, would later announce opposition to such a move.  

But Milley’s extraordinary admission of regret for an appearance with the commander-in-chief sparked a new round of reporting on Trump’s strained relationship with the Pentagon.
According to NBC News, Milley “spent hours looking at social media and reading news articles” criticizing him for his part in the walk to the Washington, D.C., church and even discussed resigning over the controversy.

Now, per Politico, he and Esper “are risking their jobs” by distancing themselves from the president attempting to depoliticize the military; according to the Wall Street Journal, Trump “was on the brink” of firing Esper last week after the Pentagon chief publicly disagreed with him on the use of active-duty troops domestically.

President Trump has continued to catch the Defense Department off-guard in his actions since the St. John’s photo-op and Insurrection Act threat. Last week, senior national security officials at the Pentagon were “blindsided” by Trump’s decision to slash U.S. troop levels in Germany, according to Reuters. Then, on Wednesday, he “shocked” senior Pentagon leaders by tweeting his opposition to renaming Army bases named for Confederate generals, according to Politico.

Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had expressed openness to renaming the bases earlier in the week. Despite Trump’s tweet, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday to approve an amendment requiring the Defense Department to strip Confederate names and symbols from all military bases and equipment within three years.

The provision, which garnered bipartisan support, was added to a must-pass defense authorization bill, although White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president was prepared to veto legislation that called for the removal of Confederate names.

--- Coming up this weekend: “This will be the backdrop for Trump’s visit Saturday to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he will deliver a commencement address to 1,105 graduating cadets,” the Washington Post notes. “Milley is not expected to accompany the president — nor is Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, a West Point graduate who also has clashed with the president over his handling of the protests.”

The Rundown

2020 Central: The Trump campaign formally announced Thursday that the president would return to the campaign trail next week. Trump will hold his first campaign rally since March in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19. Both the date and site of the event have received criticism: it will take place on Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S., in a city that saw one of the bloodiest incidents of racial violence in American history.

According to the Associated Press, the Trump campaign “was aware in advance that the date for the president’s return to rallies was Juneteenth” and expected blowback for the decision, but were “caught off guard by the intensity” of the response.

The threat of the ongoing pandemic will also hang over the rally: the registration page for the event included a disclaimer reminding attendees of the “inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19” and declaring that the campaign will not be “liable for any illness or injury.” According to the New York Times, the campaign is “unlikely to put into place any social distancing measures for rally attendees, or require them to wear masks.”

--- The Republican National Committee also announced Thursday that President Trump would accept his party’s nomination in Jacksonville, Florida, next month. The party moved the acceptance from Charlotte, North Carolina, after sparring with Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) over coronavirus restrictions, although the official business of the GOP convention will continue to take place in Charlotte.

Inside the White House: “When Melania Trump stayed behind in New York after her husband’s presidential inauguration, she said it was because she didn’t want to interrupt their then-10-year-old son Barron’s school year. News stories at the time concentrated on an apparent frostiness between the first couple and the exorbitant taxpayer costs to protect Melania and Barron away from Washington.”

“Those stories are true, but Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan reveals in a new book that the first lady was also using her delayed arrival to the White House as leverage for renegotiating her prenuptial agreement with President Trump.” (Washington Post)

--- In another forthcoming book, former Trump national security adviser John Bolton will not only describe the president’s actions in Ukraine (which were at the heart of the impeachment inquiry last year) but argue there was “Trump misconduct with other countries,” a source tells Axios. Bolton plans to publish “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” on June 23 despite warnings from the administration that it contains classified information.

The Investigations: “President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Justice Department will team up on Friday in an unprecedented legal battle to force a federal judge to dismiss a criminal charge of lying to which Flynn has already pleaded guilty.”

“Lawyers for the Justice Department and Flynn will each argue before a federal appeals court that U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had trampled on the executive branch’s powers by refusing to grant their request to dismiss the case.” (Reuters)

... “In oral arguments set to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT), Beth Wilkinson, an attorney retained to represent Sullivan, will argue that the judiciary branch is not a mere ‘rubber stamp’ and that Sullivan has a duty to ensure that dismissing the charge is in the public interest.” (Reuters)

--- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved subpoenas for documents and testimony from top Obama administration officials as part of the panel’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe during the 2016 presidential election.” (Fox News)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump is at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club and has no public events scheduled.

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Pennsylvania. He will participate in a listening session with faith and community leaders in Pittsburgh at 11:30 a.m., have lunch at a local restaurant in Springdale at 12:45 p.m., tour Oberg Industries (a manufacturing company) in Sarver at 2:50 p.m., and deliver remarks to Oberg employees on “opening up America again” at 3:10 p.m.

Pence will then return to Washington, D.C.

The House and Senate are not in session.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will attend a teletown hall hosted by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on “the public health and economic crises caused by COVID and systemic racial injustice.”

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