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Wake Up To Politics - May 22, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Monday, May 22, 2017. 533 days until Election Day 2018. 1,261 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!

Trump Abroad: Day Three Today is the third day of President Trump's eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican City, and Belgium. Trump spent the weekend of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, participating in the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council meeting. The President sat down individually and as a group with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, and Oman.

The President also reveled in the trappings of Saudi royalty, dancing with swords at a banquet and receiving the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal. In a major address to the Muslim world on Sunday, Trump struck a conciliatory tone to "deliver a message of friendship and hope and love." Avoiding the term "radical Islamic terrorism" he favored on the campaign trail to instead praise Islam as "one of the world's greatest faiths," the President remained largely on-script throughout the entire speech, reading from the teleprompter. "We are not here to lecture: we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship," Trump said.

While in Saudia Arabia, Trump also celebrated the signing of a $110 billion arms deal with King Salman, mostly negotiated by White House senior advisor/presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Early this morning, the President traveled on the first direct flight in history from Saudia Arabia to Israel, as he hopes to strike an even larger deal. "We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people," Trump said at a welcoming ceremony shortly after his arrival in Tel Aviv this morning. "But we can only get there working together. There is no other way."

Much of Trump's maiden overseas trip has a religious focus: he just visited the holiest sites of Islam in Saudia Arabia, he will visit Jewish and Christian holy sites in Israel, before traveling next to the Catholic Church's home in Vatican City. The President will also meet today with Israeli leaders before sitting down with Palestinian officials tomorrow, the key figures in the Middle East peace deal Trump hopes to craft to cement a legacy as the "Dealmaker President".

According to the White House, in meetings with the Israeli delegation today, Trump will "discuss a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups...[and] ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians."

In his remarks at the welcoming ceremony, Trump said his visit was meant "to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel." However, the close U.S.-Israeli relationship has faced a hurdle in recent days after Israel was revealed as the source of the intelligence President Trump shared with Russian officials - a hint of the Russia controversy that the White House so dearly hopes to avoid while abroad.

MEANWHILE... Russia, Russia, Russia However, the probe goes on. Russia remains the chief focus in Washington, even as the President is almost 6,000 miles away. Some of the weekend's reporting on the Russia investigation:

Politico, Sunday: "Chaffetz expects to talk with Comey tomorrow" "House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Sunday that he expects to speak Monday with former FBI Director James Comey, as lawmakers look into the extent to which his firing was related to an investigation of Russia's ties with President Donald Trump's associates." The Senate Intelligence Committee announced on Friday that Comey will testify before the panel in a public hearing after Memorial Day.

New York Times, Saturday: "House Inquiry Turns Attention to Trump Campaign Worker with Russia Ties" "Michael Caputo, who served as a communications adviser to the Trump campaign, has been asked by the House committee investigating Russian election meddling to submit to a voluntary interview and to provide any documents he may have that are related to the inquiry... Mr. Caputo, who lives near Buffalo and spent six months on the Trump team, worked in Russia during the 1990s and came to know Kremlin officials. He also did work in the early 2000s for Gazprom Media, a Russian conglomerate that supported President Vladimir V. Putin." The panel set today as the deadline for Caputo to submit documents that relate to their investigation.

Washington Post, Friday: "Russia probe reaches current White House official, people familiar with the case say" "The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter. The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official."

New York Times, Friday: "Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation" "President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved 'great pressure' on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting. 'I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,' Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. 'I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.'"

Reuters, Friday: "White House looking at ethics rule to weaken special investigation: sources" "The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump's campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday... Within hours of Mueller's appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said... Mueller's former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation."

CNN, Friday: "Sources: White House lawyers research impeachment" "White House lawyers have begun researching impeachment procedures in an effort to prepare for what officials still believe is a distant possibility that President Donald Trump could have to fend off attempts to remove him from office, two people briefed on the discussions tell CNN. .. Lawyers in the White House counsel's office have consulted experts in impeachment during the past week and have begun collecting information on how such proceedings would work."

Who's With Trump President Trump is joined on his trip by nearly the entire White House senior staff. According to CNN, the list of top West Wing officials making the trip includes: chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior advisors Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon, First Daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, national security advisor H.R. McMaster, press secretary Sean Spicer, deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and deputy national security advisor Dina Powell.

However, Priebus and Bannon returned to Washington today after the first leg of the trip in Saudi Arabia ended. The two advisers leave Trump's side amid rumors of a staff shake-up that could remove one or both of them. According to the Washington Post, names mentioned as potential Priebus replacements include: businessman Tom Barrack, lobbyist Wayne Berman, GOP strategist David Urban, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and casino magnate Phil Ruffin.

Sean Spicer is also seen as a likely target of a staff shake-up. According to Politico, Trump is weighing a complete overhaul of his communications staff, which could include Spicer's public role scaling back as deputy Sarah Sanders appears more during the press briefings. "He is no longer expected to do a daily, on-camera briefing after Trump’s foreign trip," Politico reported.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is holding down the fort in Washington. He meets with lawmakers today on health care as the Senate Republican working group continues to hash out an agreement.

The President's Schedule At 9:30am, the President and First Lady Melania Trump depart Riyadh for Tel Aviv, Israel. The Trumps arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport at 12:15pm and participate in the Airport Welcome Ceremony.

At 1:20pm, the President participates in a bilateral meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at his Jerusalem residence, the Beit HaNassi. At 1:55pm, both Presidents speak at the residence.

At 2:15pm, President and First Lady Trump visits the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian holy site in Jerusalem, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried.

At 3:25pm, the President and First Lady will visit the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site in Jerusalem.

At 5pm, President Trump will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel, which has played host to numerous former Presidents and politicians.

At 7:25pm, Trump and Netanyahu will speak at the Prime Minister's residence, Beit Aghion.

Finally, at 7:30pm, the Netanyahus will host the Trumps for dinner at Beit Aghion.

Today in the Senate The upper chamber will meet at 3pm and immediately resume debate over the nomination of Iowa governor Terry Branstad to be Ambassador to China. At 5:30pm, the Senate will hold a final confirmation vote on Branstad. The longest-serving governor in U.S. history, Branstad is also known for his ties to China and friendship with president Xi Jinping.

The Senate advanced Branstad's nomination on Thursday in an 86-12 vote. Nearly all of the Democratic "nay" voters are rumored to have national ambitions, including: Tammy Baldwin (WI), Cory Booker (NJ), Sherrod Brown (OH), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Bernie Sanders (VT), and Elizabeth Warren (MA).

Today in the House The lower chamber will meet at 12pm today and vote on six bills, all related to child safety: the Global Child Protection Act, the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act, the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, the Targeting Child Predators Act, the Child Protection Improvements Act, and the Targeted Rewards for the Global Eradication of Human Trafficking (TARGET) Act.