7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - May 21, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, May 21, 2019. 258 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 532 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Calls for impeachment grow as Trump instructs McGahn to defy House subpoena

In a further escalation of the constitutional clash between the executive and legislative branches, President Donald Trump on Monday instructed his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to ignore a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today.

Trump's direction came after the Justice Department released a 15-page legal opinion arguing that McGahn had no legal obligation to comply with the subpoena. "Congress may not constitutionally compel the President's senior advisers to testify about their official duties," the Office of Legal Counsel opinion stated.

"This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the Presidency," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

McGahn's lawyer, William Burck, later said that the former White House counsel will "respect the president's instruction" and skip the hearing. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who blasted the White House's "blanket refusal to cooperate with this committee," said his panel would still convene today. Instead of receiving his testimony as scheduled, the committee is expected to vote to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the subpoena. In a Monday night letter to McGahn, Nadler threatened promised to use "all enforcement mechanisms" available to force McGahn to testify, threatening "serious consequences" if he does not show up.

McGahn, who was cited 157 times in special counsel Robert Mueller's report (more than any other interviewee), was expected to be a "star witness" for the House Democrats, spelling out on live television the potential acts of obstruction of justice he witnessed at the White House, including President Trump repeatedly ordering him to initiate Mueller's firing.

Trump's order for McGahn to ignore the House subpoena — coupled with his efforts to block more than 20 other congressional inquiries — is only expected to add to already-growing calls among Democrats in the chamber for impeachment proceedings against the president to begin. According to the Washington Post, at least five members of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)'s leadership team pressed her in a closed-door leadership meeting on Monday to allow the Judiciary Committee to start an impeachment inquiry, "which they argued would help investigators attain documents and testimony that Trump has blocked." Chairman Nadler reportedly met with Pelosi later Monday and also "made the case to start the inquiry."

Democratic Policy and Communications Committee chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) and Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Joe Neguse (D-CO), who represent junior members on the House Democratic leadership team, were among the Democrats that pushed Pelosi at the earlier meeting, per Politico.

"if Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow, it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of @realDonaldTrump," Cicilline tweeted Monday.

According to the Post, Pelosi rejected the entreaties from her deputies both times, arguing that "such an inquiry would undercut other House investigations" and that "the idea was not supported by other members in the caucus."

However, such proceedings are assured to no longer be a solely partisan exercise (a standard Pelosi had called to be cleared in the past), after Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) called for Trump's impeachment on Saturday. Amash doubled down on Monday, posting another Twitter thread arguing that the president had committed obstruction of justice.

The GOP lawmaker faced immediate backlash for his comments, with the House Freedom Caucus (a right-wing group he helped found that has become strongly allied with Trump) voting to formally condemn Amash on Monday night. In addition, state Rep. Jim Lower (R-MI) announced plans on Monday to challenge Amash in the GOP primary for his House seat.

Impeachment or not, the aggressive congressional oversight of President Trump is expected to continue. The first legal battle between Trump and Congress ended in House Democrats' favor on Monday, as Judge Amit Mehta of the D.C. District Court ruled in a 41-page opinion that accounting firm Mazars USA must turn over President Trump's subpoenaed financial records to Congress, blocking a challenge from the president's lawyers, who are likely to appeal.

"It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct," Mehta, an Obama appointee, declared in his ruling.

The Rundown

Budget talks: The four top congressional leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) — will meet today to launch talks on a budget deal and potential debt limit increase, according to Politico. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, acting Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will also be in attendance.

Cohen transcripts: President Donald Trump's former "fixer" Michael Cohen told lawmakers behind closed doors earlier this year that Jay Sekulow, one of the president's current attorneys, encouraged him to falsely testify before Congress in 2017 about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations, according to deposition transcripts released by the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. Cohen testified in 2017 that Trump Tower Moscow talks ended in January 2016, although they continued through June of that year; Cohen is now serving in jail after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about this information, among other offenses. According to Cohen's deposition, Sekulow was aware that Cohen's initial statement to Congress was false when he encouraged him to deliver it.

Kobach's demands: Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top Trump ally, is under consideration to take on a new role as the Trump administration's "immigration czar." But he has a list of 10 demands, according to the New York Times, including Oval Office walk-in privileges, 24/7 access to a government jet, and the promise that he would accede to the post of Homeland Security Secretary by November. Trump is reportedly leaning toward former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the post.

Happening today: The first U.S. House special election of 2019 will take place today as voters in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district head to the polls to pick a replacement for Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA). Marino resigned in January to work in the private sector. State Rep. Fred Keller is the Republican nominee and is heavily favored to win the safe GOP seat. He faces Penn State professor Marc Friedenberg, who lost to Marino by 32 percentage points in the November 2018 election for the seat. President Trump campaigned for Keller in a Pennsylvania rally on Monday.

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 12:30 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 2:15 p.m., the president participates in an expanded trilateral meeting with the leaders of the three Freely Associated States (FAS): President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., of the Republic of Palau; President Hilda C. Heine of the Republic of the Marshall Islands; and President David W. Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia.

According to the White House, "the leaders plan to discuss the close security ties between the United States and the FAS, their shared commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and their mutual interest in maintaining a free and open Pacific." This will be the first time a U.S. president has hosted all three FAS leaders together at the White House.

--- At 11 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence participates in a meeting with Will Power, the 2018 Indianapolis 500 champion. At 11:30 a.m., the vice president participates in a farewell ceremony for Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who is resigning at the end of the month. At 12:30 p.m., the vice president has lunch with the president. At 2:15 p.m., the vice president joins the president for the meeting with the leaders of the Freely Associated States.

Congress schedule

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At 2:15 p.m., the Senate will vote on confirmation of Daniel P. Collins to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit, followed by a cloture vote on the nomination of Howard C. Nielson, Jr., to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Utah. Additional roll call votes are expected later in the afternoon.

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 1500, the Consumers First Act, which would reverse actions taken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) during the Trump administration, and H.R. 1994, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, which would make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans.

The chamber is also set to hold suspension votes (a procedural tool used to fast-track non-controversial bills) on nine pieces of legislation, mostly related to veterans issues:

  1. H.R. 2359 – Whole Veteran Act, as amended
  2. H.R. 1947 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to exempt transfers of funds from Federal agencies to the Department of Veterans Affairs for nonprofit corporations established under subchapter IV of chapter 73 of such title from certain provisions of the Economy Act, as amended
  3. H.R. 1812 – Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act
  4. H.R. 2326 – Navy Seal Chief Petty Officer William "Bill" Mulder (Ret.) Transition Improvement Act of 2019
  5. H.R. 2333 – Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act
  6. H.R. 2340 – FIGHT Veteran Suicide Act
  7. H.R. 1200 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-living Adjustment Act of 2019
  8. H.R. 2372 – Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act
  9. H.R. 2045 – Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan Act of 2019

--- Also today: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and other top officials will hold closed-door briefings with both the House and Senate on the escalating tensions with Iran, according to the Associated Press. Seeking a second opinion, House Democrats will also host two Obama-era officials, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, at their weekly caucus meeting today to hear their perspectives on the situation.

Supreme Court schedule

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

2020 schedules

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a fundraiser in Orlando, Florida.

--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at the Forbes Opportunity Zones Summit in Newark, New Jersey.

--- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) visits Iowa today. He will tour flood damage in Pacific Junction, hold meet and greets in Shenandoah and Red Oak, tour a mental health center in Clarinda, and meet with the Pottawattamie County Democrats in Council Bluffs.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke holds a town hall in Tipton, Iowa, and will then participate in a CNN town hall at Drake University in Des Moines. The latter event, moderated by CNN's Dana Bash, will air on the network at 10 p.m.

--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson visits New Hampshire today. She will hold a town hall in Concord and a house party in Hopkinton.

*All times Eastern