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Wake Up To Politics - November 14, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, November 14, 2019. 81 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 355 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com!

First day of impeachment hearings brings new revalation

House Democrats held the first public hearing of their historic impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday, questioning two seasoned diplomats who were close observers of the Ukraine pressure campaign at the heart of the investigation.

Although much of the testimony was a rehashing of what the witnesses — Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent — previously told lawmakers in closed-door depositions, Wednesday's hearing did yield one new revelation.

Taylor testified that he recently learned about a new juncture in the Trump-Ukraine timeline that ties the president even more directly to the push for the former Soviet republic to conduct investigations into his domestic political rivals: a July phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, that one of Taylor's aides overheard.

According to Taylor's aide, Trump could be heard asking Sondland about "the investigations," to which the ambassador replied that the Ukrainians were "ready to move forward." Taylor said that after the call ended, his aide asked Sondland what the president thought about Ukraine.

"Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of [2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden, which [his personal lawyer Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for," Taylor testified.

The new detail, which Taylor said he only learned about last week (after his closed-door deposition), placed Trump even more firmly at the center of the alleged scheme to leverage military assistance and an Oval Office meeting until Ukraine's president publicly announced investigations into the Biden family and an unproven theory that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.  

President Trump almost immediately disputed Taylor's testimony. "I know nothing about that, first time I've heard," he told reporters of the alleged call with Sondland. When asked if he recalled the conversation, Trump added: "No, I don't recall, not even a little bit."

Numerous news outlets have reported that the aide who overheard the phone call, David Holmes, will be testifying in a closed-door deposition before lawmakers on Friday. The revelation also raised the stakes for Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and Trump donor turned diplomat who is scheduled to testify in a public hearing next Wednesday.

Throughout the five-and-a-half-hour opening hearing, both witnesses described the unusual nature of the efforts to connect military aid and political investigations that would benefit the president's re-election campaign.

"Security was so important for Ukraine, as well as our own national interests," Taylor told lawmakers, referring to the $391 million aid package that was held up by the Trump administration for months. "To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense. It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy."

Kent, the head of the State Department's European and Eurasian Bureau, also answered questions about the theory advanced by Giuliani and other Trump allies that Ukraine — not Russia — was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election. "To my knowledge, there is no factual basis [to that claim]," he testified. "I think it's amply clear that Russian interference was at the heart of the interference."

Congressional Republicans dismissed the new testimony as nothing more than "hearsay," pointing out that the two witnesses had little firsthand knowledge of President Trump's private conversations concerning Ukraine. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-CA) called the proceedings "a low-recent Ukrainian sequel" to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. It was "a good day for the president of the United States," pronounced Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a Trump ally who was moved onto the Intelligence Committee so he could join the impeachment hearings.

But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the Intelligence panel and leader of the Democratic impeachment push, took a different view. "Taylor and Kent are dedicated public servants," he said in a statement. "The story they shared is deeply troubling — for our national security, and for the very health of our democracy."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins 2020 race

There are already less than 90 days until the Iowa caucuses and 17 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. But on Thursday, former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) became the 18th contender to jump into the turbulent primary campaign.

"I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field. They bring a richness of ideas and experiences, and a depth of character, that makes me proud to be a Democrat," Patrick said in a video announcing his bid. "But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country. This time is about whether the day after the election, America will keep her promises. This time is about more than removing an unpopular and divisive leader, as important as that is, but about delivering instead for you."

He continued: "So, in a spirit of profound gratitude for all the country has given to me, and with a determination to build a better, more sustainable, more inclusive American Dream for the next generation, I am today announcing my candidacy for President of the United States."

Patrick's 11th-hour entrance into the 2020 campaign represents the dissatisfaction some Democrats feel towards their sprawling presidential field, amid a series of verbal stumbles by former Vice President Joe Biden and fears that Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are too liberal to win the White House.

Similar anxieties have also pushed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who, like Patrick, previously said he would not seek the presidency in 2020 — closer to a White House bid. But any candidate jumping in this late faces deep structural obstacles, as they would need to quickly build organizations that could compete with rivals who have been campaigning for months. Although he has yet to make a final decision on a campaign, Bloomberg has filed for the Alabama and Arkansas primaries, deadlines that Patrick already missed.

Both Bloomberg and Patrick have also missed the deadline to qualify for next week's Democratic debate and will likely have difficulties satisfying the donor and polling criteria needed to join the December debate as well.

Patrick, who served as governor of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015, is one of the highest-profile African-American leaders in the Democratic Party and a close ally of former President Barack Obama's. Before seeking the Bay State governorship, he served as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Divison under Bill Clinton. Since stepping down from office, he has been a managing director at the private equity firm Bain Capital, a move that could spark criticism from his more progressive rivals.

The Rundown

Court rules against Trump in fight over financial records: "Congress can seek eight years of President Trump’s tax records, according to a federal appeals court order Wednesday that moves the separation-of-powers conflict one step closer to the Supreme Court."

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit let stand an earlier ruling against the president that affirmed Congress’s investigative authority on a day when the House was holding its first public impeachment inquiry hearing. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said in response to Wednesday’s decision that the president’s legal team 'will be seeking review at the Supreme Court.'" (Washington Post)

Emails link White House aide to white nationalism: "A batch of leaked emails obtained by a civil rights advocacy group show that Stephen Miller, the White House adviser with a direct hand in shaping President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, promoted theories popular with white nationalist groups to an editor at a prominent conservative publication before he joined the administration."

. . ."The emails, supplied by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, show that Mr. Miller tried to shape news coverage with material he found on at least one website that espouses white nationalist viewpoints, including fringe theories that people of color are trying to engage in 'white genocide.' The law center’s investigation, which the group says it will turn into a series, seeks to illustrate how Mr. Miller brought anti-immigrant beliefs to the White House and turned them into policy." (New York Times)

Trump welcomes Turkish leader Erdogan to the White House: "A long-awaited meeting between President Trump and Turkey’s leader ended Wednesday without a resolution of key issues on which the two sides have been divided, including Ankara’s purchase of a Russian air-defense system and the U.S. partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces."

"The chemistry between Mr. Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dominated the visit. Mr. Trump volunteered that he was a “big fan” of Mr. Erdogan. The Turkish leader called for a new chapter in relations between the two countries." (Wall Street Journal)

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Today at the White House

--- At 2 p.m., President Trump participates in a working visit with Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According to a White House statement, "the two leaders will discuss the NATO Allies’ progress on increasing defense spending and ensuring more equitable burden-sharing," which has been a focus of President Trump's since taking office.

The president will then travel to Bossier City, Louisiana. At 8 p.m., he delivers remarks at a campaign rally ahead of the gubernatorial runoff election in the state on Sunday. According to Politico, Trump (who held a rally in Louisiana last week as well) is "thrusting himself into the state's gubernatorial contest" in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the GOP loss in the Kentucky governor's race earlier this month.

Trump will return to the White House at 12:30 a.m.

--- Vice President Mike Pence is in Mountain View, California. At 10:30 a.m., he tours NASA's Ames Research Center. At 11:45 a.m., he delivers remarks to NASA employees. Pence will return to Washington, D.C. at 8:45 p.m.

--- Second Lady Karen Pence participates in a Latinos for Trump event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. The chamber votes at 1:45 p.m. on confirmation of Steven J. Menashi to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit. Menashi, an associate White House counsel, has faced sharp criticism from Senate Democrats for his past writings on race, abortion, and sexual assault. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has also said she will oppose Menashi's nomination.

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. The chamber will begin consideration of H.R. 4863, the United States Export Finance Agency Act of 2019.

Today at the Supreme Court

--- The Supreme Court justices do not have any oral argument or conference scheduled today. Justice Brett Kavanaugh will speak at the annual Washington convention of the Federalist Society, his second public event since joining the Supreme Court last year, according to Bloomberg.

Today on the trail

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) attends a community event and a fundraiser in Los Angeles, California, as well as a fundraiser in Pacific Palisades, California.

--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) holds a meet and greet in San Carlos, California.

--- Spiritual author Marianne Willaimson (D) holds events in Reno and Sparks, Nevada.

*All times Eastern