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Wake Up To Politics - October 23, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, October 23, 2018. 14 days until Election Day 2018. 742 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Midterms Central

Two weeks to go until Election Day. Current predictions: FiveThirtyEight forecasts a 6 in 7 (86.5%) chance that Democrats win control of the House and a 7 in 9 (78.4%) chance that Republicans keep control of the Senate. CNN's Harry Enten estimates that Democrats will win 226 seats in the House, a 17-seat majority, while Republicans will expand their Senate majority by one seat, ending up with 52 after Election Day.

--- A new Washington Post/Schar School poll of 69 battleground districts out this morning shows that "the contest for control of the house remains close and hard fought," with 50% of the likely voters polled in these districts backing the Democratic candidate and their district and 47% backing the Republican, a "statistically insignificant lead."

--- Per NBC News, Republican-affiliated voters have outpaced Democratic-affiliated voters in early voting in seven states with closely watched Senate races: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas. Democratic-affiliated early voters have only exceeded Republican-affiliated early voters in Nevada.

President Donald Trump has debuted a new immigration-focus closing message going into the final days of the midterm campaign. Trump has seized in recent days on the caravan of 7,200 Central American migrants trekking toward the U.S.-Mexican border. In a series of tweets on Monday, he called the situation a "National Emerg[enc]y" and said that he would begin cutting off foreign aid to three Central American countries he said had failed to stop the migrant caravan (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), although federal agencies have so far "received no guidance on the president's declaration," according to the Associated Press. Trump also said on Twitter that "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in" among the caravan, although there is no evidence for that claim.

Trump has sought to take advantage of the caravan for political gain. "Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws!" he tweeted Monday. "Remember the Midterms!" At a Monday night rally in Houston with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), his former rival who is now embroiled in a tough re-election fight, Trump suggested without proof that his political opponents were behind the caravan: "I think the Democrats had something to do with it," he said.

--- "Trump and G.O.P. Candidates Escalate Race and Fear as Election Ploys" (New York Times)

--- Trump and Republicans settle on fear — and falsehoods — as a midterm strategy" (Washington Post)

--- Quote of note: "Do you know what I am? I'm a nationalist," Trump declared at his Houston rally, to raucous cheers, tying himself to a label that critics often claims carries white supremacist and anti-immigrant overtones.

Turkey announces findings of Khashoggi investigation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke this morning about his government's investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, announcing their finding that the killing was "premeditated." Erdogan's comments contradicted Saudi Arabia's claim that Khashoggi died after an argument at the consulate simply escalated into a fistfight. "We have information that the murder is not instant, but planned," Erdogan said.

--- CIA Director Gina Haspel departed for Turkey on Monday, suggesting "an effort by the U.S. intelligence community to assess the information the Turks have, including what Turkish officials have said is audio that captures the killing," according to the Washington Post.

--- In a Monday interview with USA TODAY, President Trump said that he still believed Khashoggi's death was the result of "a plot gone awry," and that Saudi Arabia did not intend to murder the journalist when they lured him into the consulate. He also cast doubt on the Turkish version of events, asking: "Do you know there was a bone saw?" However, per the Post, "intelligence officials are increasingly skeptical of the Saudi account and have warned President Trump that the idea that rogue operators flew to Istanbul and killed Khashoggi without the knowledge or consent of Saudi leaders is dubious."

The Trump Administration

Tax Cuts 2.0: President Trump has promised twice in the past three days to enact new "major tax cuts" ahead of the midterm elections. Pressed on the proposal by reporters Monday, he said that "we're putting in a resolution sometime in the next week, or week and a half, two weeks." It was unclear what he was referring to, since both houses of Congress are on recess through the midterms, but he was insistent about that "going through Congress" to approve the hypothetical "resolution."

Trump said that the new legislation would be a tax cut "of about 10 percent" for middle-class Americans. According to Bloomberg, Republican leaders were "baffled" after Trump floated the plan for the first time on Saturday.

Immigration: "The Trump administration, facing a surge in migrant families entering the United States, is moving swiftly to examine an array of new policies it hopes will deter Central Americans from journeying north.

...The architects of the family separation approach have been hard at work on alternatives, according to people briefed on the group’s efforts. Their goal is to announce a plan before the November elections that can withstand the legal challenges that crippled the administration’s previous attempts.

...The most talked-about alternative would be a variation of the family separation policy. Parents would be forced to choose between voluntarily relinquishing their children to foster care or remaining imprisoned together as a family. The latter option would require parents to waive their child’s right to be released from detention within 20 days." (New York Times)

Health care: "The Trump administration is throwing open the door to states to make major changes to their Obamacare markets.

"States can now apply for newly broadened waivers to create alternatives to the Affordable Care Act program, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday. They could use this enhanced power to determine who gets financial assistance to pay premiums and to change what types of coverage are prioritized in the individual market." (CNN)

Inside the White House: An argument last February between White House chief of staff John Kelly and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski "turned into a physical altercation that required Secret Service intervention just outside the Oval Office," the New York Times reports. The Times' report on the episode comes after reporting that a shouting match between Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton took place outside the Oval Office last week.

Quote of the Day

"He's not Lyin' Ted anymore. He's Beautiful Ted." — President Donald Trump on Monday addressing his past criticism of Ted Cruz as he departed to campaign for the Texas senator.  

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 2pm, President Trump delivers remarks at the White House State Leadership Day Conference for Alaska, California, and Hawaii local officials. At 3pm, he signs S.3021, "America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018," into law. At 6pm, he receives a briefing from senior military leaders. At 7:35pm, he has dinner with senior military leaders.

VP: At 10am, Vice President Mike Pence participates in the Washington Post's Space Summit "Transformers: Space." At 11:35pm, he delivers remarks at a meeting of the National Space Council, which he chairs. At 3pm, he meets with Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was released from Turkish prison earlier this month after two years, and Mrs. Norine Brunson. At 8:15pm, the vice president delivers remarks at the Kuwait-America Foundation 2018 Gala Dinner honoring Second Lady Karen Pence.

FLOTUS: At 3pm, First Lady Melania Trump welcomes 30 local sixth-grade students to the White House for a screening of the movie "Wonder," to mark National Bullying Prevention Month.

Congress schedule

Both houses of Congress are on recess.

*All times Eastern