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Wake Up To Politics - October 18, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, October 18, 2017. 20 days until Election Day 2017. 384 days until Election Day 2018. 1,112 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!

In today's newsletter: A bipartisan health care deal, judges strike down Travel Ban 3.0, Marino withdraws, the latest polling, Sessions faces Senate panel, arguments in a Trump/emoluments case, the Senate considers tax reform. And brand-new tweets from the President...

Day Three: Debate Over Sympathy Calls Drags On

President Donald Trump has been busy online this morning, firing off tweets on tax reform, the NFL controversy, and a document release showing that FBI director James Comey began drafting his exoneration of Hillary Clinton before completing the investigation into her email use. And he has also continued a news cycle about presidential calls to families of soldiers killed in action, responding to a Democratic congresswoman who claimed he made "insensitive" comments to the widow of a soldier.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said Tuesday night that she was with Myeshia Johnson when Trump said on the phone that her husband, the late Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, "knew what he signed up for." Trump responded on Twitter this morning: "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" Trump did not detail what kind of "proof" he has to knock down Wilson's claim; since taking office, he has also indicated that he had tapes of a conversation with then-director Comey, a claim he later took back.

Trump ignited the controversy over calls on Monday, responding to questions at a press conference over why he had yet to call the families of Johnson and three other soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month by falsely claiming that former President Barack Obama and other previous Commanders-in-Chief did not call the families of fallen soldiers. It continued for a second day on Tuesday, as Trump questioned where Obama called White House chief of staff John Kelly when his son died in Afghanistan, although it was later revealed that Obama hosted Kelly at a White House breakfast for Gold Star families.

Senators Strike Bipartisan Obamacare Agreement

Senate HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) have reached a bipartisan Obamacare deal, they announced on Tuesday. Their proposal would renew, for two years, a key Obamacare provision ended by President Donald Trump last week: the cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurance companies that makes coverage more affordable for low-income Americans. In exchange for funding the subsidies, the legislation would grant states more flexibility over health care, making it easier to obtain existing Obamacare waivers.

The compromise aims to stabilize the health insurance markets rocked by Trump's subsidies cut last week. "In my view, this agreement avoids chaos," Alexander said, "and I don't know a Democrat or a Republican who benefits from chaos." Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have announced support for Alexander-Murray. Some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have also indicated that they would vote for the plan. Most GOP leaders have expressed openness to the proposal, but stopped short of supporting it; some in the House, such as Republican Study Committee chairman Mark Walker (R-NC), have already shot it down. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) nor House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have commented on the bill; ultimately, they will decide if it goes to the floor in their chamber.

President Donald Trump sent mixed signals on the legislation Tuesday: at a press conference in the afternoon, he called it "a very good solution," saying that it "will be for about a year or two years, and it will get us over this intermediate hump." However, Trump still called for full Obamacare repeal, and in a speech to the Heritage Foundation later Tuesday night, he seemed to walk back his supportive comments. “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies,” Trump said.

Judge Blocks Travel Ban 3.0

One day before the executive action was set to take effect, a Hawaii-based federal judge issued an order on Tuesday prohibiting the Trump Administration from enforcing the third iteration of its ban on immigration from certain countries. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, who also ruled against the second version of the ban, said that the order "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor." Watson ruled that the travel ban "plainly discriminates based on nationality," adding that the Trump Administration has still not proved a travel ban is needed for national security.

The order set to take effect today would have curtailed travel from six Muslim-majority countries (Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen), as well as North Korea and Venezuela. The Hawaii ruling did not affect the restrictions on those two countries. The State Department has again begun processing visas from the six countries.

In a statement, the White House called the ruling "dangerously flawed," saying that it "undercuts the President's efforts to keep the American people safe." The Justice Department said that the decision is "incorrect, fails to properly respect the separation of powers, and has the potential to cause serious negative consequences for our national security." The Administration also promised to appeal the case, with the White House expressing confidence that they would prevail.

--- Breaking as I hit send: a federal judge in Maryland issued a second halt on the revised travel ban early this morning, citing President Trump's own words to rule that the executive order targets Muslims.

Marino Pulls "Drug Czar" Nomination

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) withdrew his nomination to be Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy on Tuesday morning, after a joint "60 Minutes"/Washington Post investigation found that he was a leading advocate for a drug manufacturer-backed bill that diminished the DEA's ability to combat the opioid epidemic. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and others had called for President Donald Trump to withdraw the nomination after the new reports.

Trump announced the withdrawal on Twitter: "Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar," he said. "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!" In a statement, Marino said that he chose to "remove the distraction my nomination has created." However, the congressman also pushed back against "fake accusations and unfair reporting" on the opioids bill, saying that the legislation found a "balanced solution" to ensure "those who genuinely needed access to certain medications were able to do so" while the DEA could still "enforce the law and prevent the sale and abuse of prescription drugs."

Polling Roundup

Trump job approval: 37% of American approve of President Donald Trump's job performance, while 57% disapprove, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday. The rating has remained nearly unchanged since the outlet's most recent poll in late September. However, in the same poll, the President received low marks for his handling of natural disasters, with 44% saying they approve of his response to recent hurricanes, compared to 64% who said they approved of his hurricane response in the September survey. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma had hit the United States after the September poll, while the most recent poll also takes the aftermath of Hurricane Maria into account.

#ALSEN: A Fox News poll released Tuesday showed a tie in the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama. According to the poll, controversial ex-judge Roy Moore (R) and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones are each supported by 42% of registered voters in the state. Those results paint a much closer race than seen in other polls; the RealClearPolitics polling average shows a 4.4% lead for Moore. The election, to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will be held on December 12.

#VAGOV: Another Tuesday poll showing a close contest in an upcoming race... a new Monmouth survey found former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie leading Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam in the Virginia gubernatorial race, 48% to 47%. The RealClearPolitics average shows Northam leading most polls by about 3.5%. The election takes place in under three weeks.

Sessions to Face Senate Grilling

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, his first time facing the panel since his confirmation hearings. The hearing is ostensibly on "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice," but questions on the Russian investigations are expected. All nine Democratic members of the committee sent a letter to Sessions last week, insisting that he detail conversations with President Trump or formally invoke executive privilege.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June, Sessions declined to answer such questions, citing a Justice Department custom, although the President had not claimed executive privilege, which allows him to prohibit executive branch officials from sharing certain information.

--- A roundup of news that broke on Tuesday in the various Russia investigations:

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, NBC reported.
  • The panel is also expected to compel an interview and documents from Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump's former national security, per ABC.
  • Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer met with special counsel Robert Mueller's team for an hour-long interview on Monday, according to Politico.

Federal Court to Hear Trump Emoluments Case

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will hear oral arguments today in CREW v. Trump, a lawsuit against the President accusing him of violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That provision (which is Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) forbids government officials from receiving gifts from foreign governments.

The plaintiffs in the case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group represented by Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, former Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, and other high-powered attorneys, argue that the President is in breach of the clause because foreign entities patronize Trump properties, citing multiple examples. The plaintiffs say that because the Trump Organization is still managed by the President's family, he stands to gain from visits to his hotels and restaurants by foreigners. CREW is joined in the suit by a group of competing restaurants and hotels that claim to have lost business due to the Trump Organization as a result of Trump's election.  

The Justice Department, which has urged the court to dismiss the case outright, will defend the President. Their lawyers are expected to point to past examples of Presidents maintaining private businesses while in office, while also disputing the argument that other businesses have lost funds because of Trump properties.

This will be the first Emoluments Clause case against a President to be argued in court; other lawsuits on the issue aimed at President Trump have also been filed.

The President's Day

In the morning, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing.

Later in the morning, he speaks on the phone with Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA), who has expressed concern over the EPA's proposed cuts to the Renewable Fuels Standard, which sets federally-required production levels for ethanol, which mainly comes from the Hawkeye State.

Trump will then participate in a meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee on tax reform; attendees will include lawmakers of both parties, as the White House continues to court red-state Democrats they hope will support Trump's proposed tax cuts.

In the afternoon, the President has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

Today in Congress

The Senate voted 50-47, along party lines, on Tuesday to begin debate over the Republican budget resolution, which would initiate the "reconciliation" process to fast-track tax reform. When considering a budget resolution, the chamber has to sort through dozens of proposed amendments, accepting or rejecting them in a so-called "vote-a-rama," which will begin this afternoon, likely stretching into tonight and continuing on Thursday. Democrats are expected to force votes on a number of hot-button issues; the first amendment launching today's "vote-a-rama" will be a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) targeting the GOP budget's proposed $1 trillion cuts to Medicaid.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted to advance the resolution on Tuesday, although he has announced opposition to the tax reform plan. However, other Republicans previously skeptical of the plan have indicated support for the resolution, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN). "A vote against the budget is a vote against tax reform," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Tuesday, tying the resolution to the GOP tax plan and urging Republicans to fall in line. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) returned to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday after receiving treatment for urological treatment; his absence sparked worry among some Republicans that he would not be in town this week to offer a potentially crucial vote on taxes.

Paul is being courted by the White House, golfing with President Trump recently and speaking with him twice on the phone on Tuesday. After Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urged Paul on Twitter to support the plan, the Kentucky senator fired back: "Graham wouldn't know a conservative if he met one. I don't consider him to be a conservative or a bona fide Republican critic."

The House is on recess all week