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Wake Up To Politics - October 29, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, October 29, 2018. 8 days until Election Day 2018. 736 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump struggles to unite a divided nation

The outset of the week brought news of pipe bombs being mailed to 13 prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, two former Cabinet secretaries, two U.S. representatives, two U.S. senators, and others.

The fear of the mail bombs soon turned to mourning as the week ended amid a deadly shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday morning. Six people were injured and eleven were killed, including a 97-year-old women, an octogenarian couple, and a pair of developmentally disabled brothers.

By week's end, two suspects competed for attention: Cesar Sayoc Jr., the Florida man charged with five federal crimes after his fingerprints were found on the mail bombs; and the Pittsburgh shooter, Robert Bowers, who was charged with 29 federal crimes and 36 state crimes.

Both crises exposed deep divisions in American society, and throughout the week, the undercurrent uniting both was President Donald Trump's struggles to bring together a nation that seemed as separated as ever. In examining Trump's responses to both the mail bombs and the shooting, a pattern quickly emerges.

At first, he aims for unity. "In these times we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America," Trump declared at the White House on Wednesday, after the first wave of pipe bombs were received.

On Saturday, at a rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, he condemned the Pittsburgh shooting in similarly lofty rhetoric. "The hearts of all Americans are filled with grief," he said, adding later: "This evil anti-Semitic attack is an attack on all of us, it is an assault on humanity."

But in both cases, it took only hours for Trump to revert to his usual posture. Just after Sayoc was arrested on Friday, Trump addressed a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina; he also headlined the rally in Murphysboro in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, after toying with canceling it. At both rallies, he railed against his usual targets: namely Democratic leaders (some of whom had received pipe bombs in the mail), and the mainstream media (which was also targeted, as some of the packages were sent to CNN).

He mentioned "Crooked Hillary" and "Cryin' Chuck Schumer" on Friday, then mentioned Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), one of the package recipients, but backed off. "I'm going to be nice tonight, so I won't say," he said. On Saturday, he referred to his critics as "foolish and very stupid people, very stupid," name-checking House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and others. "I can't call her Pocahontas anymore, but I think I will anyway," he said of Warren. "Do you mind?"

Chants of "lock her up" rang out at both rallies this week, referring to Hillary Clinton, who was also sent a pipe bomb to the residence she shares with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Asked on Friday if he planned to call either of the former presidents who received pipe bombs, Trump replied: "I think we'll probably pass." He also told reporters that he had no plans to temper his rhetoric: "I could really tone it up," he said.

Appearing at the rallies, Trump's concern about politics didn't seem to waver in light of the events, which took place in the closing stage of the bitterly-fought midterm elections. Indeed, on Friday, the president complained that coverage of the mail bombs had drowned out talk of the looming midterms. "Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this “Bomb” stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows - news not talking politics," he tweeted. "Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!"

And in both cases, he was quick to reject blame, pointing a finger at the media instead. On Sunday night, as the shock of the Pittsburgh shooting was still wearing off, he tweeted: "The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country. Actually, it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing problems far greater than they understand!"

Yet, critics still pointed to Trump's often-divisive rhetoric as laying the groundwork for acts such as the ones seen in the past week. Sayoc was an avid Trump supporter who had attended the president's rallies; although Bowers did not support the president because he felt Trump was too close with Jews, he posted repeatedly on social media before the shooting about the migrant caravan that the president has highlighted all week.

Asked on Friday if he bore any responsibility for his supporter Sayoc's actions, Trump demurred. "There's no blame. There's no anything," he insisted.

--- "For Trump, Dutiful Words of Grief, Then Off to the Next Fight" (New York Times)

--- "Critics say Trump has fostered the toxic environment for the political violence he denounces" (Washington Post)

The Rundown

Race to 218: "As the 2018 midterm campaign enters its final full week, House Republicans are rushing to fortify their defenses in conservative-leaning districts they thought were secure, pouring millions of dollars into a last-minute bid to build a new firewall against Democrats.

"Republicans, in defending a 23-seat majority, are likely to lose a handful of open or Democratic-tilting seats as well as another dozen suburban districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, according to political strategists in both parties. But now Republican officials are increasingly concerned about Democratic incursions in some of the remaining 30 competitive districts on the House map where the Republican candidates thought they had an edge." (New York Times)

Ad watch: "Topics that have consumed Washington—the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the probe into Russian interference in the last presidential election—are barely a blip in political advertising this year. President Trump and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, are featured in tens of thousands of ads, suggesting Republicans and Democrats are trying to galvanize their bases ahead of the pivotal midterm elections.

"More than 16% of ads in Senate and House races across the country mention Mr. Trump, and about 8% include Mrs. Pelosi, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of Kantar Media/CMAG data. By contrast, the Russia probe and the Supreme Court combined come up in about 2% of the ads that have aired through Oct. 20, the analysis found." (Wall Street Journal)

Inside the Trump Administration: "President Donald Trump could see up to six Cabinet officials depart in the weeks after next month’s midterm elections, according to interviews with a half-dozen current and former Trump officials and Republicans close to the White House.

"For a president who has already shed or shuffled eight Cabinet officials, that would make for the highest turnover rate in recent history." (Politico)

--- "Sensing that Jeff Sessions’ days at the Justice Department may be numbered, some of his supporters want the White House to allow for a graceful exit for an attorney general they believe has dutifully carried out the administration’s agenda even while enduring the president’s fury." (Associated Press)

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. The president has no other events on his public schedule.

--- "9 hours of ‘Executive Time’: Trump’s unstructured days define his presidency" (Politico)

VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Michigan today. At 2:25pm, he speaks at an event in Oakland for Rep. Mike Bishop and congressional candidate Lena Epstein. At 5:50pm, he participates in an event for Senate candidate John James in Grand Rapids. At 6:45pm, he speaks at a Kent County Lincoln Day event and Get Out the Vote rally for James.

Congress schedule

Both houses of Congress are on recess.

*All times Eastern