8 min read

Wake Up To Politics - October 19, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Thursday, October 19, 2017. 19 days until Election Day 2017. 383 days until Election Day 2018. 1,111 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!

Fallout over Gold Star Family Calls: Day Four

Report: Trump offered $25K to father of fallen soldier At a Monday press conference, when he ignited controversy by falsely claiming that his predecessors didn't call families of U.S. soldiers killed in action, President Trump also said that he has "called very family of somebody that's died" serving in the Armed Forces since he took office. The Washington Post interviewed four Gold Star families who were upset about not hearing from the President, including Euvince Brooks, father of the late Sgt. Roshain E. Brooks. He told the Post that Trump was a "damn liar" for claiming to have called every family.

The report also detailed a call that did go through, to Chris Baldridge, father of the late Sgt. Dillon Baldridge. Trump called Baldridge over the summer; when the father said he was worried that his ex-wife would receive the Pentagon's survivor benefits, the President offered to write a personal check to the father for $25,000. According to Baldridge, Trump told him: "No other president has ever done something like this, [but] I'm going to do it."  He revealed that the President also said his staff would create an online fundraiser for the family. Baldridge told the Post that he never heard or received anything from the White House after the call.

After declining to comment on the story, the White House responded to it after publication on Wednesday, confirming that "the check has been sent." Spokeswoman Lindsay Walter said it was "disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.” Per CNN, the check was not sent until Wednesday, the same day as the Post's story.

Family sides with congresswoman's account of Trump call The controversy erupted due to questions over Trump's delay in calling the families of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger. One of those families has now been enveloped in the back-and-forth, after Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said in an interview that Trump was "insensitive" in his sympathy call to them this week. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said she witnessed Trump telling Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, that "you know that this could happen when you signed up for it" and calling Johnson "your guy."

Trump fired back at Wilson on Wednesday, telling reporters: "I didn’t say what that congresswoman said; didn’t say it all.  She knows it." On Twitter, he claimed to have "proof" that her account of the conversation was "totally fabricated." The White House said that the President did not tape the conversation, but White House staffers including Chief of Staff John Kelly were in the room.

However, Johnson's family took the Congresswoman's side in an interview with the Washington Post. "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the fallen soldier's guardian, said. Wilson said in interviews that Trump "made [Johnson's widow] cry."

The White House is facing criticism over its response to the Niger killings. Politico reported that the National Security Council drafted a sympathy statement that was never released, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told reporters that the Trump Administration was not being transparent about details of the attack.

Russia Investigations

Sessions refuses to detail conversations with Trump Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent a five-hour hearing grilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, demanding answers on the Trump campaign's ties to Russia and the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Without invoking executive privilege, Sessions declined to detail any of his communications with the President over the Comey firing or other matters. "Consistent with the longstanding practice and policy of the executive branch, I can neither assert executive privilege nor can a disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the President," Sessions said in his opening statement. The Attorney General repeatedly dodged questions over whether Trump told him Comey's ouster was related to the FBI's Russia investigation.

GOP lawmakers want probes to end: Both CNN and the Associated Press reported Wednesday on the growing calls among Republicans for the congressional investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign to come to a close. According to the AP, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee "have privately been pushing for their probe to wrap up by the end of the year"; the chairman of its Senate counterpart, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), "is signaling he wants his more bipartisan investigation to finish in the next several months, before the 2018 elections get into full swing and the Russians have a chance to again interfere."

Both outlets interviewed multiple Republican lawmakers who said they were ready for the probes to end, although CNN said that Democrats "are raising their own concerns that the congressional Russia probes are rushing witnesses-- including the testimony of President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner -- as well as stalling appearances of other key Trump associates. "

Health Care

Trump formally opposes Alexander-Murray After initially appearing supportive, President Donald Trump affirmed his opposition to the Alexander-Murray deal, a bipartisan agreement aiming to stabilize the Obamacare markets by restoring key subsidies to insurance companies that Trump ended last week. "I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out [insurance companies] who have made a fortune w/ [Obamacare]" Trump tweeted on Wednesday. The day before, Trump called the deal a "very good solution."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made clear on Wednesday that the President Trump "does not support" Alexander-Murray, although his inconsistent comments have confused members of both parties. Some Republican senators have already signed on to the plan, including John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Bob Corker (R-TN). In addition, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. governors, including Republicans John Kasich (R-OH), Charle Baker (R-MA), Phil Scott (R-VT), and Brian Sandoval (R-NV), announced their support for the bill in a joint letter.

The 115th Congress

NYT: Tiberi to Resign Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), a senior Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, will announce plans to resign as soon as this week, according to the New York Times. Tiberi will end his ninth term early to "take up an executive post with a business group in his home state." The Ohioan was an ally of former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and remains close to the GOP leadership. He is only the latest in a series of veteran Republican lawmakers heading for the exits amid frustration that Congress isn't achieving any of its agenda, despite unified Republican control.

Other retiring Republicans include longtime Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Dave Reichert (R-FL), Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Many of the retirements have been members of Ways and Means, with eight Republicans on the influential tax-writing panel resigning or announcing plans to step down this year.

Politico: "Disoriented" Cochran hangs on Politico reports on the widespread speculation that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) will also soon retire, as health issues have left him "frail and at times disoriented."

Race to 218

Vice President's brother nears congressional run: Greg Pence, an older brother of Vice President Mike Pence, filed paperwork to launch a campaign for Congress on Wednesday. He is running to succeed Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), who is leaving the House to run for Senate, in Indiana's sixth congressional district, the seat his brother held for 12 years before being elected governor and then vice president.

"I’m going to fight to help Donald Trump help our district,” Pence says in an announcement video, according to the Associated Press. “That’s why I’m running for the United States Congress.” The AP called him "likely the hands-down favorite to win," due to his service in the Marines, his business in the area, and his famous name.

Bill Targets Social Media Advertising

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) will introduce the Honest Ads Act today, which would create disclosure requirements treating online political ads "by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite." The proposal, which comes amid congressional investigations into Russia's use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to interfere in the 2016 election, received high-profile backing Wednesday from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who announced plans to sign on as a co-sponsor.

The President's Day: Puerto Rico governor, Tillerson

President Donald Trump meets with Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico this afternoon. According to the governor's spokesman, he and the President will discuss "the current recovery and response in Puerto Rico, and the long-term recovery process and what it's going to take to recover in all aspects," as the island territory continues to grapple with the effects of Hurricane Maria.

Later in the afternoon, Trump will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The sit-down comes as tensions between the two have spilled into the public, after NBC reported that Tillerson called Trump a "moron," an allegation that the Secretary of State has repeatedly refused to deny. Although both Trump and Tillerson claim their relationship is fine, the President responded by challenging his top diplomat to an IQ test; Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) has said that Trump words "publicly castrate[d]" Tillerson.

Publicly and privately, the two former CEOs have appeared divided on a number of top foreign policy issues, including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and diplomacy in North Korea. A New York Times Magazine profile of Tillerson earlier this week detailed the difficulties the President and Secretary of State have had in their relationship. In a job that requires maintaining diplomatic relations with leaders across the globe, "building a good rapport with the head of state of his own country has, so far, proved to be beyond Tillerson's formidable abilities," the profile said.

This evening, the President will participate in a gala dinner for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees honoring First Lady Melania Trump. The event will take place at the embassy of Kuwait.

Also today, according to the Wall Street Journal: President Trump will meet with Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen "to discuss the possibility of nominating her for a second term as central-bank chief." Trump is also considering National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, whose stock with the President has fallen recently after he criticized Trump's response to violence in Charlottesville; former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution; Jerome Powell, the only Republican currently serving on the Fed's board of governors; and Stanford University economist John Taylor.

The prospect of re-nominating Yellen has run into opposition among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and from former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney. Yellen's term expires in February; White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the President will announce his nominee in the "coming days."

Today in Congress

The Senate continues debate on the Republican budget resolution today; the chamber hopes to adopt the legislation today, although a Friday vote is possible. Passage of the budget framework will fast-track President Trump's proposed tax reform plan, preventing Democrats from filibustering the bill, so it will only require 51 "yea" votes.

Before approving the annual budget resolution, the Senate is required to spend up to 50 hours of debate disposing of as many amendments as possible, in a rapid series known as a "vote-a-rama." The chamber voted on six amendments Wednesday, out of the 151 that have been proposed. Amendment votes will begin this morning, and continue until midnight (and perhaps into early Friday morning).

Many of the amendment votes will be Democratic attempts to highlight provisions of the budget that they hope will hurt Republicans in the 2018 elections: proposals rejected by the Senate on Wednesday included restoration of the $1 trillion in proposed cuts to Medicaid and the $437 billion in proposed cuts in Medicare, as well as an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to prohibit tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

In a tweet this morning, President Donald Trump seemed to leave suspense as to the fate of the budget. "Republicans are going for the big Budget approval today, first step toward massive tax cuts," he said. "I think we have the votes, but who knows?"


Tuesday, October 17: I incorrectly stated a quote from former White House deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco. She said that President Trump's allegation that Obama never called families of fallen soldiers was a "f---ing like."

Wednesday, October 11: I incorrectly stated the name of the First Lady of Canda, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

My apologies for these errors, and thanks to the readers who caught them (especially my Canadian subscribers on the second one!)