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Wake Up To Politics - November 17, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, November 17, 2017. 354 days until Election Day 2018. 1,083 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!

Franken Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) on Thursday became the latest in a string of men recently accused of sexual misconduct, when Los Angeles news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her during a 2006 trip to the Middle East.

Tweeden wrote in a blog post that when he was a comedian, she joined a USO tour of the Middle East he was headlining. She alleges that Franken wrote an act where they kiss, and proceeded to insist that they rehearse it. When she agreed, "he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth." Tweeden said she "felt disgusted and violated."

Later, she saw a photo (which she posted) showing Franken appearing to grope her while she's asleep on the plane back. "I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated," she wrote. Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" performer, would join the U.S. Senate two years later.

Franken's first response to the accusation was a short apology to Tweeden, saying he doesn't "remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way" and adding that the photo was "clearly intended to be funny but wasn't." Later, a longer statement from Franken apologized again to Tweeden, as well as to others on the tour, his staff, constituents, and "everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women."

"I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter," Franken said. "There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me."

While he repeated that he doesn't remember the rehearsal how she does, Franken added: "I understand why we need to listen to and believe women's experiences."

The accusations immediately sparked calls for an Ethics Committee investigation from senators on both sides of the aisle. "As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. "Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable — in the workplace or anywhere else." Democratic senators echoed McConnell's comments and calls for an investigation; in his statement, Franken said that he supports an Ethics Committee probe and "will gladly cooperate." See how all 47 other Senate Democrats have responded to the Franken allegations in another Wake Up To Politics spreadsheet...

The Franken allegations come as Washington has spent all week wrestling with sexual harassment, as the #MeToo campaign reached the nation's capital. Earlier in the week, 1,500 former Capitol Hill staffers signed an open letter demanding that Congress require anti-harassment training (which both chambers have since moved to implement), while the House held a hearing on sexual harassment which featured stories from a number of lawmakers about male lawmakers harassing female colleagues and aides. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) testified at the hearing, saying that Congress is "probably among the worst" workplaces when it comes to harassment; in her post, Leeann Tweeden cited Speier's comments on sexual assault in explaining her reasoning for coming forward at this time.

At the same time, former Presidents are being placed under the microscope amid the cascade of recent allegations that have emerged since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. A seventh woman accused George H.W. Bush of touching her inappropriately on Thursday, while Democrats have been publicly taking a second look at Bill Clinton, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and others saying he should have resigned from office due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

And all week, Republican lawmakers have been grappling with how to move forward in the Alabama Senate race, with GOP nominee Roy Moore facing allegations of pursuing and sexual assaulting teenagers. President Donald Trump, who has faced accusations of sexual assault himself, has refused to weigh in on the Moore situation: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Thursday that Trump finds the allegations "very troubling," but refused to call for his withdrawal, saying the President believes the decision should rest with Alabama voters.

But Trump was quick to jump on allegations against Franken — or, as he labeled the Minnesota senator, "Al Frankenstien" — in a pair of tweets on Thursday night. "The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?" he asked, adding later: "And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women."

Menendez prosecution ends in mistrial

U.S. District Judge William Walls declared a mistrial Thursday in the federal corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his friend, ophthalmologist Salmon Melgen. Walls' declaration came after a jury twice failed to reach a unanimous decision. After the second deadlock, Walls questioned all the jurors individually before declaring a mistrial. The trial's end is a victory for Menendez, and a blow to the Justice Department, which has spent years attempting to prosecute him. The DOJ is likely to continue its prosecution, which could mean another politically damaging months-long trial for Menendez.

Menendez was indicted in 2015 on 18 counts of bribery, fraud, making false statement, and other charges related to actions Menendez took to assist Melgen's business interests while receiving perks and political donations from the eye doctor. During the trial, prosecutors accused Menendez of acting as Melgen's "personal senator." The jury could not reach a decision on any of the counts; according to a juror interviewed by the Washington Post, ten jurors believed Menendez was not guilty, while two believed he was guilty.

"I'm going back to Washington to fight for the people of New Jersey," Menendez said after the trial, adding: "For those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget it." The charges will follow Menendez to Washington, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of the accusations.

House, Senate advance tax plans

Via the New York Times:

"With 227 Republican votes, the House passed the most sweeping tax overhaul in three decades on Thursday, taking a significant leap forward as lawmakers seek to enact $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals and deliver the first major legislative achievement of President Trump’s tenure."

"The swift approval came two weeks after the bill was unveiled, without a single hearing on the 400-plus-page legislation and over the objections of Democrats and 13 Republicans. The focus now shifts to the Senate, where Republicans are quickly moving ahead with their own tax overhaul, which differs in substantial ways from the House bill."

"After four days of debate, members of the Senate Finance Committee voted 14 to 12 along party lines to approve their version of the tax package late Thursday night. The approval helps clear the way for the full Senate to consider the bill after Thanksgiving, although it remains to be seen whether it has the support to pass the chamber."

The Rundown

Kushner failed to disclose Russian contacts, Judiciary panel says: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) penned a letter to presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner's lawyer on Friday, accusing Kushner of failure to disclose documents showing contacts he had during the 2016 campaign about WikiLeaks and overtures from Russia. (Washington Post)

Senate passes defense bill: The Senate approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by voice vote on Thursday. The $700 billion legislation authorizing an increase in military spending now goes to the President's desk. (Reuters)

Senators introduce background checks bill: Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) unveiled bipartisan gun control legislation on Thursday to address recent mass shootings. The legislation aims to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and ensure that all necessary information is added to the database. (NBC News)

Grassley advances judicial nominees: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Thursday that he will move ahead with hearings on judicial nominee David Stras, despite opposition from Stras' home-state senator Al Franken (D-MN). Grassley's move reverses the "blue slip" precedent, in which the Judiciary panel only holds confirmation hearings on nominees if their home-state senator returns a physical blue slip signaling approval of the nomination. Grassley accused Democrats of taking advantage of the tradition, their sole advantage in judicial confirmation fights with the elimination of the filibuster. (Politico)

White House to submit disaster aid request: The White House is sending a $44 billion disaster aid request to Congress today to assist Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico after recent hurricanes. All three state/territorial governments requested billions of dollars more in aid than they would receive if the White House request is approved; Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called the White House request "wholly inadequate." (Associated Press)

DHS official resigns: The director of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security, Rev. Jamie Johnson, resigned on Thursday after CNN reported about his past comments in a 2008 talk radio appearance in which Johnson says "America’s black community...has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity" and says that radical Islam was "obedient Islam." (CNN)

All times Eastern