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Wake Up To Politics - October 16, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Monday, October 16, 2017. 386 days until Election Day 2018. 1,114 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!

Today's newsletter comes about an hour late... I slept in a bit, since I have no school today. Apologies for my absence on Thursday and Friday: MailChimp was having issues with their server, which have now been solved.

The President's Day: Trump, McConnell Sit Down

At 10:30 am, the President receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 11:30 am, President Trump holds a Cabinet meeting, his fourth since taking office. The Cabinet currently has two vacancies, following the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and the appointment of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. On Thursday, Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen, Kelly's former DHS chief of staff now serving as his White House deputy, to take over as Secretary of Homeland Security.

At 11:25 am, President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to a McConnell spokesperson, the meeting will focus on the GOP budget and tax reform plan, judicial nominees, and disaster aid. The two also spoke on the phone Saturday, as they attempt to repair relations after Trump spent the summer attacking McConnell on Twitter for congressional inaction. The Senate is expected to vote this week on its budget framework, which includes a "reconciliation" provision that allows the chamber to fast-track Trump's tax reform proposal.

Politico reported last week that Trump's frustration with Congress had "reached a breaking point," as he implemented a flurry of executive actions (moving to end the Iran nuclear deal and Obamacare subsidies) without legislative assistance. However, he has attempted to court Republican senators in recent days, golfing with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rand Paul (R-KY) over the weekend, as he seeks to ensure his tax reform push does not meet the same fate as attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

At 3:45 pm, Trump departs the White house for Greer, South Carolina, where he arrives at 5:25pm. At 6:50 pm, Trump will headline a fundraiser for Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC), who faces a tight primary campaign against Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, and former state agency director Catherine Templeton. McMaster is running for his first full term, after succeeding to the governorship after Nikki Haley resigned to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump's full-throated support of McMaster comes in return for McMaster's early support of Trump's presidential campaign; the then-Lieutenant Governor delivered the nominating speech for Trump at the 2016 Republican convention and claims to be the first statewide elected official to endorse the President. Trump has been selective about endorsing down-ballot Republicans, especially in light of his favored candidate, Luther Strange, losing a Senate special election in Alabama.

At 8:10 pm, Trump departs South Carolina, returning to the White House at 9:45 am.

The Rundown

Kevin de León announces Feinstein challenge: "California Senate leader Kevin de León on Sunday launched a bid to challenge fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat, saying he is ready to wage a more aggressive fight against President Trump’s conservative agenda...

"...The announcement sets the stage for a bitter intraparty battle next year, pitting Feinstein, who epitomizes the Democratic old guard, against a member of the party’s ambitious younger generation seeking to climb the political ladder. It also presages a costly and divisive fight at a time many California Democrats argue their energy and dollars would be better spent on several congressional races in the state that could determine who controls Congress." (Los Angeles Times)

Congress' role in the opiod epidemic: "In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets...

"...A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years...

"...The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress." (Washington Post)

Sessions aids transgender case: "The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

"In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively." (New York Times)

Trump's big legal bill: "President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign shelled out over $1 million in legal fees between July and the end of September, according to the latest fundraising reports filed quarterly with the Federal Election Commission...

"...The bulk of the campaign’s legal consulting spending went to Jones Day. The firm, which the campaign paid $802,184.96 during the filing period, has worked with the Trump campaign on election issues, ongoing lawsuits, as well as matters related to the investigations into Russian interference in last year’s election." (BuzzFeed)

The stakes in the race for 218: "Top White House aides, lawmakers, donors and political consultants are privately asking whether President Donald Trump realizes that losing the House next year could put his presidency in peril."

"In more than a dozen interviews, Republicans inside and outside the White House told CNN conversations are ramping up behind the scenes about whether Trump fully grasps that his feuds with members of his own party and shortage of legislative achievements could soon put the fate of his presidency at risk."

"... If Republicans forfeit the House, Democrats will almost certainly create a spectacle that will derail conservatives' agenda and the remainder of Trump's first term -- a spectacle complete with a raft of new subpoenas, a spotlight on the Russia investigation and, many are convinced, impeachment proceedings." (CNN)

Trending: "The Danger of President Pence": A New Yorker profile of Vice President Mike Pence, his relationship with Trump, and his future.

Quote of the Day

"I checked. I'm fully intact." - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to CNN's Jake Tapper

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) continued his string of criticisms of President Trump last week, telling the Washington Post that Trump had "publicly castrate[d]" his Secretary of State. Tillerson denied the charge on CNN's "State of the Union," although he dodged Tapper's questions on whether he privately called Trump a "moron," as NBC and other outlets have reported. "I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff," Tillerson responded. "I don't work that way." Tillerson's refusal to shoot down the "moron" report is unlikely to cool tensions between him and President Trump, which have been widely reported and the source of high-level speculation that the former ExxonMobil CEO could soon resign.

Today in Congress: Callista Gingrich confirmation

Senate: After a week of recess, the upper chamber convenes at 4pm today. The Senate will resume consideration of the nomination of Callista Gingrich to be Ambassador to the Holy See, with debate going until 5:30pm, when the chamber will hold a confirmation vote on the nomination. The nominee is president of Gingrich Production, a company that has produced historical documentaries and published her seven "Ellis the Elephant" children's books. She is the third wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and candidate for multiple positions in the Administration. Speaker Gingrich converted to Catholicism after marrying Callista, a devout Catholic; they will move to the Vatican together if she is confirmed. Her nomination was advanced with bipartisan support last week, in a 75-20 vote.

House: The two chambers will flip roles, with the House taking the week off after working last week while the Senate was on recess. The chamber meets in a pro forma session at 10am, a brief meeting where no business is conducted.