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Wake Up To Politics - October 3, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 399 days until Election Day 2018. 1,127 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!

Las Vegas shooting: The Latest

A gunman opened fire at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday night, killing at least 59 and injuring over 527 more in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The shooter has been identified as Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retired accountant who lived in nearby Mesquite, Nevada. According to law enforcement officials, he shot at the concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, with gunshots continuing for five to fifteen minutes. He killed himself as police entered his room.

Police found 23 firearms in Paddock's hotel room and 19 more, along with explosives and other devices, at his house. "We are completely dumbfounded," the shooter's brother Eric Paddock tearfully told reporters on Monday. The gunman had no previous criminal record, although their father was a bank robber who was once on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. As of Monday night, police have yet to discover a motive for the shooting and believe Paddock acted alone, despite a claim of responsibility by ISIS.

Here's a look at the political response to the Las Vegas massacre:

  • President Donald Trump delivered a statement from the White House on Monday, announcing plans to visit Las Vegas on Wednesday. "Our unity cannot be shattered by evil," he declared. "Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. And though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today — and always will, forever."
  • Later in the day, the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Second Lady let White House staff in a moment of silence for the victims. According to the White House, as he was briefed throughout the day, Trump spoke to Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman, and Clark County sheriff Joseph Lombardo. He also ordered flags be lowered to half-staff.
  • Many lawmakers released statements responding to the shooting, with many Democrats issuing calls for gun control legislation. "This must stop," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in a statement. "It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren't public policy responses to the epidemic...It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something." Murphy told reporters that he plans to introduce a new background checks bill "shortly."
  • Both Democratic leaders in Congress made similar calls, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urging his colleagues to "pass laws to keep our citizens safe" and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) requesting action on bipartisan background checks legislation and the creation of a Select Committee on Gun Violence in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
  • In his own statement, Ryan ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol to be lowered to half-staff, saying, "The whole country stands united in our shock" at the "evil tragedy" in Las Vegas. The shooting comes as a bill easing restrictions on purchases of gun silencers was headed to the Hosue floor; Ryan now faces increased pressure from Democrats to not put the bill up for a vote. Action on the legislation was previously postponed after the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and other lawmakers practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game in June.
  • A number of conservative commentators and some Republican members of Congress, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), accused Democrats of politicizing the shooting by almost immediately calling for gun control. "I think that there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at her Monday briefing.
  • Asked by NBC News about Sanders' comments, Sen. Chris Blumenthal (D-CT) responded: "If not now, when?"

Supreme Court to Hear Gerrymandering Challenge

One day after the opening of its new term, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a closely-watched challenge to partisan gerrymandering. The case began in Wisconsin, where the plaintiffs say Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature created an unfair redistricting map in 2011.

The challengers of the map point to the "efficiency gap" of the map, a measure showing that the map "packed" many Democratic voters into reliably Democratic districts while spreading out others in districts they wouldn't be able to win, ensuring that the party couldn't win a majority of legislature seats. In 2012, Republicans lost the state Assembly popular vote, but won over 60% of the seats.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled on the unconstitutionality of gerrymandering voting districts to discrminate racially, but a map accused of partisan gerrymandering has never been struck down by the nation's top court. In 2004, "The Nine" declined to rule against the practice, with Justice Anthony Kennedy issuing an opinion leaving open the possibility of doing so in the future, if opponents could produce a test that could measure which maps were unconstitutional and which were acceptable.

The court's ruling could have large ramifications on the future of U.S. elections. A group of lawmakers wrote Chief Justice John Roberts last week to call for a live audio recording of today's oral arguments, arguing that the case "undoubtebly meets" the standard for "heightened public interest" that the Court has used to release same-day audio in the past. Keeping with precedent, the Court will not release live audio of the arguments.

The President's Schedule: Puerto Rico visit

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit Puerto Rico today, as the island territory continues to recover from Hurricane Maria. Joined by a number of Cabinet members, the Trumps will meet with victims of the hurricane and be briefed on the continued recovery, which involves over 12,000 federal employees. Trump spent much of the weekend responding to criticism of his Administration's response to the storm, blasting the "poor leadership ability" of the mayor of San Juan after her televised plea for help from the government and "politically motivated ingrates" on the island who "want everything to be done for them."

As he travels to Puerto Rico today, one day after calling for unity in a statement on the Las Vegas attack (and a day before he is set to visit the city), Trump will need to flip the script, pivoting from his weekend tweets attacking Puerto Ricans to a unifying trip comforting them.

The presidential traveling party departs the White House at 8am, touching down in San Juan at 11:45am.

At 12:05pm, the President and First Lady receive a briefing on hurricane relief efforts at Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base. At 1:15pm, they visit with individuals impacted by Maria. At 3:30pm, the Trumps meet with Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was also devastated by Hurricane Irma this season, aboard the USS Kearsarge. At 3:50pm, they participate in a briefing with senior military personnel, Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico, and Governor Mapp. At 4:10pm, the Trumps will participate in a greeting with Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

Finally, at 5:05pm, the Trumps depart Puerto Rico for the White House, where they will arrive at 8:55pm.

Today in Congress

The Senate convenes at 10am. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of the nomination of Lee Francis Cissna to be Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that processes applications for visas, asylum, refugees, and citizenship. Cissna currently serves as Director of Immigration Policy at the DHS Office of Policy. If confirmed as head of USCIS, Cissna will play a key role in implementing Trump's hardline. immigration agenda. He was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in June by a 17-2 vote.

From 12:30pm to 2:15pm, the Senate will recess for weekly caucus meetings.

Meanwhile, the House convenes at 10am. The chamber is scheduled to consider seven bills, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Agency, a ban on abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The White House formally endorsed the bill in a statement on Monday, "applaud[ing] the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections."


Two changes from Monday's newsletter...

  • The Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, died by committing suicide. I did not have all of the correct information at the time of publication.
  • White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' statement offered the Administration's "thoughts and prayers" to those affected by the tragedy. The error was a typo on my part.

Thank you to all who emailed me about these mistakes, and about other recent typos in Wake Up To Politics. Of course, when writing a newsletter five days a week, especially while covering breaking news and under a time constraint (needing to get to school), mistakes will happen, but I try really hard to ensure there are as few errors as possible. My apologies for the errors that slip through.

My commitment to you, the reader, is always to report accurate information and to be transparent when I make mistakes. The email format doesn't allow me to correct these errors until the next morning, but when I deem mistakes to be important enough, I will include corrections. I appreciate your understanding and continued readership.