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Wake Up To Politics - March 8, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, March 8, 2019. 332 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 606 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Manafort sentenced to four years in prison

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months (just under four years) in prison on Thursday, a lighter-than-expected sentence for his eight tax and bank fraud convictions.

In issuing the sentence, Virginia-based Judge T.S. Ellis called the sentencing guidelines backed by special counsel Robert Mueller — which called for a prison term of 19½ to 24 years — "excessive." Ellis also said that Manafort had "lived an otherwise blameless life," a characterization that flew in the face of Mueller's prosecutors, who wrote in their sentencing memo that the longtime GOP lobbyist and campaign operative "acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars."
Manafort, clad in a green jumpsuit and seated in a wheelchair, addressed the judge before receiving his sentence, asking for "compassion." Manafort, 69, added: "The last two years have been the most difficult that my family and I have ever experienced. To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement... I can say to you that I feel the punishment from this prosecution already, and know that it was my conduct that brought me here." He did not, however, apologize for his misdeeds.

Of the 37 people and entities charged in the course of special counsel Mueller's probe, Manafort is the fifth to be sentenced. He received the longest prison term yet of anyone ensnared in the investigation. He also faces an additional sentencing on Wednesday, from Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, for charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering. Jackson can opt to make her sentence run concurrently to Ellis', so that Manafort serves them both at the same time, or consecutively, so that it adds on to the 47-month sentence.

More in The Investigations...

  • Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen sued the Trump Organization on Thursday, accusing the company of having "breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing" by refusing to reimburse the $1.9 million in legal fees he incurred as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe and congressional investigations.
  • A White House source leaked documents related to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's security clearances to Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, after the Trump administration refused to hand the documents over to the panel, Axios reports today.
  • Via the Washington Post: "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acted in 'bad faith,' broke several laws and violated the constitutional underpinning of representative democracy when he added a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a federal judge ruled Wednesday."

Sherrod Brown rules out 2020 presidential campaign, further bolstering potential Biden bid

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Thursday that he will not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

In a statement, Brown said that he was confident that other Democratic candidates would take up his "dignity of work" mantra; the Ohioan had just completed a tour of early caucus and primary states trumpeting that message, leading other contenders to adopt similar language in their stump speeches. "I will do everything I can to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate in 2020," Brown added. "The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate."

Brown was the third prominent Democrat to pass on a presidential campaign this week; his decision was particularly surprising, coming after months of planning and laying the groundwork for a White House bid. Like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also decided not to run, Brown's decision is seen as a boost to the one undecided Democrat who looms over the 2020 field: former Vice President Joe Biden.

Brown, who was re-elected to a third term in Ohio last year, was likely to appeal to many of the same white, working-class voters in the Rust Belt as Biden, a Scranton, Pennsylvania native. Similarly, Bloomberg's decision cleared the centrist lane for Biden, who is expected to stake out a more moderate position in the primary than many of the already-announced contenders.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Biden's top strategist, Steve Ricchetti, has told Democrats that Biden is "95 percent committed to running; the report also said that Biden's political team is "eyeing a headquarters in Delaware or nearby Philadelphia and a launch date in the beginning of April." Although Biden reportedly himself remains uncertain about jumping in a third presidential race, his family has already signed on.

In another sign that he is nearing a campaign announcement, Politico reported this week that Biden had hired Cristóbal Alex, the president of the influential Latino Victory Fund and a former staffer on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

However, Biden's record is also receiving a closer examination as he mulls another presidential run, with the Washington Post reporting on a 1975 interview Biden gave opposing school desegregation busing and CNN reporting on a 1993 speech in which he warned of "predators on our streets" while speaking in support of a now-controversial crime bill.

The Rundown

--- The House passed a resolution condemning all "hateful expressions of intolerance" on Thursday in a 407-23 vote. The measure was originally intended to condemn anti-Semitism, a rebuke to Rep. Ilahn Omar (D-MN) over her controversial comments on supporters of Israel, but an internal division in the House Democratic Caucus forced leadership to expand the resolution to address bigotry against all races and religions. The 23 "nay" votes came from Republicans who said the resolution should have more specifically denounced Omar's comments.

--- "The White House is privately ramping up pressure on undecided Republicans to limit defections ahead of the Senate vote on President Trump’s emergency declaration — even as the administration has yet to tell Congress which military projects would be tapped to pay for Trump’s border wall." (Washington Post)

--- Former Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) died at age 95 on Thursday. He was the oldest member in the history of the House of Representatives, departing the chamber after being defeated in a 2014 primary challenge when he was 91 years old. (New York Times obituary)

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White House schedule

--- President and First Lady Trump travel to Lee County, Alabama today to assess the destruction from the tornadoes last Sunday that claimed 23 lives. The Trumps arrive in Alabama at 12:05 p.m., departing at 2:35 p.m. They will then head to the president's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida for the weekend, arriving at 4:55 p.m. Tonight, the president participates in two fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago, at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

--- Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence travel to Ohio and Kentucky today. At 11:35 a.m., the vice president delivers remarks at the Ohio Oil and Gas Association 2019 Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. At 3:50 p.m., he addresses a Republican Party of Kentucky event in Lexington, Kentucky. The Pences will then head to Brunswick, Georgia, for a gathering hosted by American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank, this weekend. A number of other Trump administration officials will be in attendance, per Bloomberg, including White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate is not in session today.

--- The House meets at 9 a.m. today. The chamber will vote on H.R. 1, the For the People Act, the House Democrats' sweeping political reform bill. The legislation would introduce voluntary public financing for campaigns, make Election Day a federal holiday, create a national automatic voter registration system, require presidential candidates to release their tax returns, create non-partisan commissions to draw electoral districts (aiming to end partisan gerrymandering), and require super PACs to disclose their donors, among other provisions.

Supreme Court schedule

--- The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled today.

On the campaign trail

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) holds meet-and-greets in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (at 2 p.m.) and Hemingway, South Carolina (at 6 p.m.).

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds an organing event at 7 p.m. in Long Island City, New York.

--- Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) holds a 5:30 p.m. meet and greet in Des Moines, Iowa.

--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) holds a 5:30 p.m. meet and greet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania today.

--- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang holds an 8 p.m. rally in Austin, Texas.

*All times Eastern