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Wake Up To Politics - November 28, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, November 28, 2018. 432 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 706 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Pelosi faces key test as House Democrats pick leaders

House Democrats will hold their leadership elections at 10am today, with all eyes on the vote to pick their nominee for speaker in the next Congress.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has led the House Democratic Caucus since 2003 and served as speaker from 2007 to 2011, is the only Democratic candidate for the speakership, so she is poised to receive the majority support from her caucus needed to receive their nomination. But when the entire House votes for speaker in January, she will need a majority of all House members voting (likely 218 votes), a goal threatened by a small but vocal group of Democratic upstarts.

According to a Washington Post count, Pelosi has the support of at least 149 Democratic members or members-elect, while 22 have signaled plans to oppose her. If Democrats control the expected 235 seats in the next Congress, she can only afford to lose the votes of 17 representatives to maintain a majority.

According to Politico, in a sign of supreme confidence by the veteran vote-counter, Pelosi has modified the internal ballot so Democrats can vote "no" on her nomination at today's caucus meeting, a way for members to show their opposition despite the lack of a rival candidate. The move also allows members who pledged to oppose Pelosi while campaigning a way to keep that promise; per Politico, Pelosi's allies have "encouraged some members-elect to oppose her in caucus so they can tell constituents they tried to push her out of a job — and then back her during the more critical Jan. 3 floor vote to officially become speaker."

The anti-Pelosi Democrats reportedly hope to gain about 20 "no" votes today; they hope that would be enough to prove that Pelosi would be unable to gain the support she needs on the floor and would encourage someone else to challenge her. Pelosi's detractors are expected to receive less than 63 "no" votes, the number of Democrats who voted for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) over Pelosi in the 2016 speakership vote.

"She’ll be the default choice because she’s the only candidate running, but we expect the vote tomorrow to show that she doesn’t have the votes to become speaker," Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a leader of the "never Pelosi" faction, said Tuesday. "Our hope is that when Democrats see that she doesn’t have the votes on the floor, another candidate will step forward."

However, some of the members of that faction have signaled that they will support Pelosi in the floor vote if no challenger emerges.

"If it becomes a choice between a Republican and Nancy Pelosi, I'll obviously support Nancy Pelosi," Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), one of the 16 representatives to sign a letter earlier this month announcing opposition to Pelosi, said in an interview on Monday. The signatories of the letter have also lost traction in the weeks since releasing their call for new leadership: one of the original 16, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY), has since defected and endorsed Pelosi (although their number was restored when California Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros joined the letter on Monday). In addition, the only Democrat who had expressed interest in running against Pelosi, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), announced last week that she had decided against a run, endorsing Pelosi instead.

Pelosi met with the roughly 60 members of the incoming freshman class on Tuesday, solidifying support among those Democrats, according to the Post. 20 Democratic freshman released a letter after the meeting praising Pelosi and offering their endorsements.

Other leadership races: Meanwhile, House Democrats will also choose the rest of their leadership slate today. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the current Minority Whip, and Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the current Assistant Democratic Leader, are running unopposed to become the Majority Leader and Majority Whip, respectively. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), the current Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chairman, is running unopposed to claim Clyburn's position as Assistant Democratic Leader.

The race for Democratic caucus chair features a match-up between two members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). The race for DCCC chair includes four candidates: Resp. Denny Heck (D-WA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY).

The Russia investigation

Draft Corsi plea deal leaked: "Draft court filings obtained by CNN outline significant insights into what special counsel Robert Mueller may know about Roger Stone's efforts to seek documents from WikiLeaks in 2016.

"Mueller's office was preparing to tell a federal court that Stone pushed an associate to get documents from WikiLeaks -- information that is now known to be stolen from the Democrats by Russian hackers -- that could help the Trump campaign, according to a draft of a court filing and other documents shared with CNN by Stone associate and conservative author Jerome Corsi.

"Corsi said he received the drafts, mostly dated this month, as part of his negotiations with Mueller's team regarding a plea of making a false statement to federal investigators. According to Corsi and the documents he provided, prosecutors offered him a plea deal, which Corsi says he plans to reject because he doesn't believe he knowingly lied.

"In one of the draft court filings shared with CNN on Monday, the special counsel's team outlined how Stone, who is only identified as Person 1, allegedly sought the information and emails from WikiLeaks using at least one person, Corsi, as a go-between. Corsi confirmed to CNN that Stone is Person 1.

..."In the draft court papers, prosecutors outline how Corsi allegedly lied three times to the FBI and special counsel's office. He told them he rebuffed Stone when Stone asked him to reach out to WikiLeaks; he denied that Stone asked him to involve another person in the effort; and he denied he shared information about what WikiLeaks had." (CNN)

Manafort/Assange meeting reported: "Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told."

"Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House.

"In a statement, Manafort denied meeting Assange. He said: 'I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.'" (The Guardian)

Manafort's lawyer briefed Trump's legal team: "A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.

"The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

"Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office." (New York Times)

Recommended read: "Robert Mueller's Endgame May Be In Sight" (Wired)

Trump doubles down on shutdown threat

In a pair of interviews on Tuesday, President Donald Trump reasserted his threat to shut down the government if Congress does not pass a spending bill that does not include $5 billion in funding for his proposed border wall. Trump told Politico that he would "totally be willing" to go forward with a government shutdown if the wall funding isn't appropriated. The government funding deadline is December 7.

After meeting with the president on Tuesday, House GOP leaders said Trump remained firm on the $5 billion demand. "The president has been very clear that he needs $5 billion to properly secure the border," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said. "We need to be there for him and make sure this gets signed."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reports Tuesday that Democrats would not accept more than $1.6 billion in funding for border security.

In an interview with the Washington Post, President Trump anticipated Democratic opposition to the border wall, and raised the possibility of seeking funds another way. "We need Democrat votes to have a wall," Trump said. "Now, if we don’t get it, will I get it done another way? I might get it done another way. There are other potential ways that I can do it. You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things."

Recommended read: The full transcript of Trump's interview with the Post, including comments on the Federal Reserve, climate change, and more.

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 12:45pm, President Trump has lunch with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). At 5pm, the president and First Lady participate in the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, a tradition dating back to 1923.

VP: At 10:20am, Vice President Mike Pence participates in the portrait unveiling for outgoing House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling at the Capitol. At 2pm, Pence holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä of Finland. At 6:30pm, he hosts a reception for new Republican members of Congress.

Congress schedule

Senate: The Senate meets at 9:30am today. From 11am to 12pm, the chamber will recess for an all-senators briefing on Saudi Arabia from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis. After returning, the Senate will vote on confirmation of Karen Dunn Kelley to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce, followed by a cloture vote on the nomination of Thomas Farr to be a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The Farr nomination has attracted controversy due to "objections from black lawmakers and civil rights groups concerned about his work defending state laws found to have discriminated against African-Americans," according to NBC News. Since Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has pledged to oppose ever Trump judicial nominee until the Senate votes on his bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, the vote on Farr could be 50-50 (with Vice President Pence providing the tie-breaking vote), unless another Senate Republican, such as Tim Scott (R-SC), joins Flake in opposition to sink Farr.

House: The House convenes at 12pm today. The chamber is set to consider four pieces of legislation.

Supreme Court schedule

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court hear oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana today.

*All times Eastern