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Wake Up To Politics - November 25, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, November 22, 2019. 70 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 344 days until Election Day 2020. Have any comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com!

Bloomberg launches 2020 presidential campaign

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg formally entered the 2020 Democratic presidential primary on Sunday, injecting new uncertainty into an already crowded race.

Bloomberg plans to focus his campaign squarely on President Donald Trump, his fellow New Yorker and onetime friend. "I'm running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America," the former mayor wrote on his newly-revamped campaign website. "We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions. He represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage."

While Bloomberg will face obstacles stemming from his late entry, his campaign will have the unique advantage of an essentially bottomless budget. The 11th-richest man in the world, Bloomberg has signaled that he is prepared to utilize large swaths of his $52 billion fortune to advance his political ambitions.

According to the Associated Press, the billionaire has vowed to spend at least $150 million in the 2020 cycle, including more than $100 million on Internet ads attacking Trump, between $15 million and $20 million on a voter registration drive focused on minority voters, and more than $30 million on television ads.

Days before launching his campaign, Bloomberg announced a $37 million TV ad campaign, the single biggest ad buy in U.S. campaign history. "I’m disgusted by the idea that Michael Bloomberg or any other billionaire thinks they can circumvent the political process and spend tens of millions of dollars to buy our elections," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in a statement responding to the ad buy, previewing the onslaught of criticism Bloomberg is expected to receive from progressives.

Bloomberg, the co-founder and CEO of an eponymous financial software and media company, served as mayor of New York City for three terms, from 2002 to 2013. He was initially elected as a Republican, before becoming an Independent in 2007. Bloomberg changed his party registration again to become a Democrat last year.

How much Bloomberg will be able to impact the 2020 field at this late stage remains unclear, but his gigantic war chest has already emerged as a source of anxiety for his Democratic rivals, especially former Vice President Joe Biden and others occupying the moderate lane he seeks to join. Bloomberg has announced that he will not accept donations for his campaign, making it unlikely that he will able to qualify for the upcoming debate in December, which requires a candidate to have at least 200,000 unique donors.

More 2020 reading...

  • "Biden Is Struggling in Iowa and His Supporters There Know Why" (New York Times)
  • "Cory Booker wins praise in presidential campaign. What he hasn’t won is much support." (Washington Post)
  • "Bernie Sanders’s Loyal Voters Could Keep Him in Race for Months" (Wall Street Journal)

Navy secretary forced to resign over handling of SEAL war crimes case

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday, an attempt to end the contentious dispute between President Trump and his senior military leadership over the war crimes case involving Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher.

A spokesman for Esper said in a statement that the Pentagon chief was asking for Spencer's resignation "after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher." In the spokesman's telling, Spencer had privately approached the White House with a proposal that would have restored Gallagher's rank and allowed him to retire with his prestigious Trident pin, which denotes membership in the elite SEAL Teams. Spencer never informed Esper of the proposal, which was "contrary to Spencer's public position," the spokesman added.

However, both President Trump and Secretary Spencer offered differing explanations for the Navy leader's departure. In a trio of Sunday evening tweets, Trump announced that Spencer's "services have been terminated" due to the Navy's harsh treatment of Gallagher as well as "large cost overruns from [the] past administration's contracting procedures."

Meanwhile, in a letter acknowledging his termination, Spencer appeared to stand by his public position in favor of enforcing military protocol and punishing Gallagher. "Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline," Spencer wrote. "I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Gallagher was charged last year with a variety of war crimes, including premeditated murder, attempted murder, obstruction of justice, and posing for a photo with a casualty. He was acquitted of most charges by a military court in July but was found guilty of posing for the photo, leading to a four-month prison sentence and a demotion from Chief Petty Officer to Petty Officer First Class.

President Trump announced on November 15 that Gallagher's rank would be restored and then on November 21 that he would be able to keep his Trident pin, reportedly ignoring the advice of his top Pentagon leaders. Spencer responded at the time by telling the White House that he would not consider the president's tweet an official order intervening in the Navy's administrative probe into whether Gallagher could keep the pin.

According to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, whose father served as Secretary of the Navy, Spencer had attempted to broker a deal that would have allowed Gallagher to retire with his Trident pin but avoided presidential interference in the case.  

While announcing Spencer's dismissal, the Pentagon spokesman also confirmed that Gallagher would retain his Trident pin regardless, citing concerns that the SEAL would have been able to receive an impartial hearing after the recent controversies.

Impeachment: The latest

Nunes accused of seeking Ukrainian dirt on Biden: "A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden."

"The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes." (CNN)

--- "The House Intelligence Committee is in possession of audio and video recordings and photographs provided to the committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly played a key role in assisting him in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News." (ABC News)

White House review reveals efforts to justify hold on Ukraine aid: "A confidential White House review of President Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records."

"The research by the White House Counsel’s Office, which was triggered by a congressional impeachment inquiry announced in September, includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after the president had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance, according to the three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations."

"One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly." (Washington Post)

New documents show Pompeo's role in Ukraine saga: "Internal State Department emails and documents released late Friday further implicate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a campaign orchestrated this year by President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to pressure Ukraine for political favors."

"The emails indicate that Mr. Pompeo spoke at least twice by telephone with Mr. Giuliani in March as Mr. Giuliani was urging Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump’s rivals, and trying to oust a respected American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who had been promoting anticorruption efforts in the country. Mr. Pompeo ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal the next month. One call between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pompeo was arranged with guidance from Mr. Trump’s personal assistant, the documents suggest." (New York Times)

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Today at the White House

--- At 12:15 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 2:15 p.m., he participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria. According to a White House statement, the two leaders will discuss "ways to strengthen the two nations’ common security interests, especially in ensuring stability in the Black Sea region, facilitating energy diversification, and countering malign influence threatening Bulgaria’s sovereignty."

At 4:15 p.m., Trump signs H.R. 2423, the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, into law. At 4:30 p.m., he signs H.R. 724, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, into law.

--- Vice President Pence joins President Trump for lunch at 12:15 p.m. and for the meeting with Prime Minister Borissov at 2:15 p.m.

--- At 1 p.m., First Lady Melania Trump participates in the presentation of the 2019 White House Christmas Tree. This year's tree comes from Pennsylvania resident Larry Synder, who won the annual contest held by the National Christmas Tree Association.

Today in Congress

--- The House and Senate are both on recess today.

Today at the Supreme Court

--- The justices are expected to release orders from their Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. today.

Today on the trail

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) visits New Hampshire, holding a meet and greet in Exter and an event on education at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord.

--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) holds fundraising events in Whitefish, Montana.

--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) swings through Iowa, holding a roundtable in Red Oak, town halls in Creston and Council Bluffs, and a "community conversation" in Atlantic.

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) holds a meet and greet with "The Breakfast Club" co-host Charlemagne Tha God in Goose Creek, South Carolina.

--- Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) campaigns in New Hampshire, speaking at the "Politics & Eggs" breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, stops for lunch in Concord, and participates in a "Pints & Politics" event in Concord.

--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continues his "New Hampshire Worker Appreciation Tour," holding a brunch event with actress Susan Sarandon in Salem, participating in a New Hampshire Interfaith Action Fund Meeting in Manchester, and holding a SEA/SEIU Local 1984 town hall in Concord.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visits Iowa, participating in a "community meeting" in Ankeny, a "Pints & Politics" event in Altoona, and a town hall in West Des Moines.

*All times Eastern