7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - March 7, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, March 7, 2019. 333 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 607 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

House Democrats divided over response to Omar comments

This was supposed to be a landmark week for the new House Democratic majority, as they ushered their main legislative priority — H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping political reform bill — to passage. But attention on the measure has diminished as focus has instead gone to the division in the caucus over how to respond to recent comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) suggesting supporters of Israel have an "allegiance to a foreign country."

Her comments sparked immediate condemnation by senior House Democrats, including Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY), who called the Minnesotan's words "unacceptable and deeply offensive," accusing Omar of "invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur," and calling on her to apologize. Omar is a member of the Foreign Affairs panel Engel leads.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her top lieutenants in the Democratic leadership scrambled to draft a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that was originally slated to receive a Wednesday vote on the House floor. The resolution did not name Omar specifically, but it would have condemned the "dual loyalty" stereotype about American Jews she has been accused of propagating. It would have been the second time in Omar's first two months in Congress that the House voted on an anti-Semitism resolution in response to comments she made; the first was in February, when she suggested that lawmakers' support for Israel had financial motivations, tweeting: "It's all about the  Benjamins baby," referring to $100 bills.

But then the resolution was pushed to Thursday, and now it's not expected to receive a vote this week at all, a result of internal division among House Democrats over the proper response to Omar's controversial remarks.

According to the Washington Post, a closed-door caucus meeting turned contentious Wednesday as Democratic lawmakers debated whether to vote on the anti-Semitism resolution. "Why are we doing this?" Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) asked, according to the Post, calling the proposed resolution "redundant and unnecessary." Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus also rose in opposition to the resolution, arguing that Omar was being unfairly singled out.

According to Politico, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) "stood up and confronted Pelosi directly" at the Wednesday meeting about the speed with which the resolution was prepared, leading the speaker to respond, "Well if you're not going to listen to me, I'm done talking," and walk out of the room. Other freshman congresswomen allied with Omar, most notably Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have also rallied to her defense on Twitter, leading to intra-caucus sniping playing out in public.

"Everyone stop tweeting!" Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a Pelosi ally, pleaded with Democrats during the caucus meeting, according to the Post.

According to the Daily Beast, the resolution responding to Omar is now expected to condemn "all hate," not just anti-Semitism but other forms of prejudice as well. "The sentiment is that it ought to be broad-based," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters. "What we're against is hate, prejudice, bigotry, white supremacy, Islamaphobia, and anti-Semitism." Politico reported that the "decision to expand the resolution to address all kinds of hate speech" was upsetting to some Jewish lawmakers, feeling it "watered down the repudiation of Omar's comments."

Some in the large field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have also joined the debate, with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) all releasing statements in Omar's defense, while also condemning anti-Semitism.

After initially strongly condemning Omar, the backlash from the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive figures seemed to have tempered the Democratic leadership's response to the controversy, with Speaker Pelosi telling reporters Wednesday that her comments were not "intentionally anti-Semitic." The flap has been a setback for Pelosi, who was able to keep her caucus united during the early weeks of their majority but is now left to watch as their legislative agenda is overshadowed by internal squabbles spilling into public view.

The Investigations

--- Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney who has pleaded guilty to nine felony counts in the past eight months, directed his own lawyer last spring "to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon," the Wall Street Journal reports. Cohen's legal spokesman, Lanny Davis, confirmed that Cohen "directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump." This revelation seems to contradict his sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, in which Cohen stated: "I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump."

--- Cohen was back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, testifying behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee. According to the New York Times, Cohen provided documents to the panel "that he said illustrated changes made at the request of President Trump’s lawyers to a knowingly false written statement that he delivered to Congress in 2017." It was not clear how many changes were made by Trump's lawyers, however, or whether they were responsible for Cohen's false testimony about the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations, although the documents show they were at least aware of what he planned to tell Congress ahead of time. According to the Times, "at least some of the changes appeared to play down the knowledge of the president's eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, about the [Moscow] project."

--- Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be sentenced by a federal judge in Virginia today for eight criminal charges: five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. Under the sentencing guidelines, Manafort faces 19.5 to 24 years in prison for these crimes. He will be sentenced in Washington, D.C. next week for a separate set of crimes he pleaded guilty to, although the judge in that case has ruled that he violated his plea deal by lying to prosecutors, which will likely affect his sentencing.

--- "The biggest political scandal in American history" (Axios)

The Trump Administration

--- Big picture: "'Not my fault': Trump struggles to defend his record amid setbacks on immigration, trade, North Korea" (Washington Post)

--- "America’s trade deficit in goods with the rest of the world rose to its highest level in history last year as the United States imported a record number of products, including from China, widening the deficit to $891.3 billion and delivering a setback to President Trump’s goal of narrowing that gap."

"The increase was driven by some factors outside Mr. Trump’s control, like a global economic slowdown and the relative strength of the United States dollar, both of which weakened overseas demand for American goods. But the widening gap was also exacerbated by Mr. Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which has been largely financed by government borrowing, and the trade war he escalated last year." (New York Times)

--- "President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that lifted the requirements on U.S. intelligence officials to disclose the number of people — both combatants and civilians — killed in drone strikes and other attacks against terrorist targets outside of war zones." (Axios)

--- "As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether the Trump administration can ask people if they are citizens on the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau is quietly seeking comprehensive information about the legal status of millions of immigrants." (Associated Press)

--- "Democrats Clash With Nielsen Over ‘Cages’ for Undocumented Kids" (Bloomberg)

2020 Central

--- The Democratic National Committee announced Wednesday that "Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates," citing recent reporting by the New Yorker on the ties between the network and the Trump White House.

Related: "Dem long shots crash 2020 debate stage" (Politico)

--- "Joe Biden's 2020 Plan is Almost Complete. Democrats Are Impatient." (New York Times)

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter to them and tell them to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

White House schedule

--- At 11 a.m., President Trump meets with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. At 11:45 a.m., he receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:30 p.m., he has lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At 1:45 p.m., President and First Lady Trump participate in the arrival of Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Mrs. Monika Babisova of the Czech Republic. At 1:55 p.m., the president and first lady meet with the prime minister and his wife. At 2:15 p.m., the president participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Babis. At 2:55 p.m., the Trumps participate in the departure of the prime minister and Mrs. Babisova.

According to the White House, during their meetings, the president and the prime minister "will discuss how best to advance relations between the United States and the Czech Republic and the need to confront together our shared global challenges, including cyber, energy security issues, and mutual trade concerns."

At 4 p.m., Trump meets with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. At 5 p.m., he participates in a photo opportunity with the 2019 Senate Youth Program.

--- Vice President Mike Pence will join President Trump for his expanded bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Babis, his meeting with Acting Secretary Shanahan, and the photo-op with the Senate Youth Program.

--- In addition to receiving Prime Minister Babis and Mrs. Babisova, First Lady Melania Trump will also participate in the 2019 International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the State Department today, honoring women from around the globe.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. today. The chamber will vote to confirm two Trump nominees today: Eric E. Murphy to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit (at 12:30 p.m), and John Fleming to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development (at 1:45 p.m.). Murphy currently serves as Solicitor General of Ohio; Fleming served as a congressman from Louisiana from 2009 to 2017, and has served as Deputy Assitant Secretary for Health Information Technology Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services since March 2017.

--- The House meets at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will continue consideration of H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, the House Democrats' signature election reform bill.

Supreme Court schedule

--- The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled today. However, Justices Elana Kagan and Samuel Alito will be on Capitol Hill today to testify about the Supreme Court budget before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

*All times Eastern