7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - October 30, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, October 30, 2019. 6 days until Election Day 2019. 96 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 370 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

NSC official offers firsthand account of Trump's Ukraine call

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC), became the first current White House aide to testify in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

He was also the first impeachment witness who had listened in on President Trump's infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the conversation which sparked the impeachment probe after an anonymous whistleblower complaint detailed Trump's attempts to pressure Zelensky into launching investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

According to a copy of his opening statement obtained by several news outlets, Vindman testified to his discomfort surrounding the requests Trump made on the call. "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," he told lawmakers.

According to the New York Times, Vindman also made another bombshell claim in his closed-door testimony: that the reconstructed transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call released by the White House "omitted crucial words and phrases," including references to Joe Biden and Burisma Holdings. Vindman reportedly told lawmakers that he attempted to change the transcript to reflect the omissions, but his attempts were blocked.

He added in his opening statement he was so concerned that the Trump administration's Ukraine pressure campaign would "undermine U.S. national security" that he twice registered internal objections with the NSC's top lawyer: after the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky and after a July 10 meeting at the White House between officials from the U.S. and Ukraine.

The NSC aide alleged that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, referred to the "investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma [Holdings, a company tied to Joe Biden's son Hunter]" at the July 10 meeting, leading Vindman and then-NSC Russia adviser Fiona Hill to tell Sondland "that his statements were inappropriate." Vindman's statement directly contradicted Sondland's testimony, in which the ambassador claimed that no one on the "NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts" in Ukraine.

Although some Trump allies were quick to attack Vindman on Tuesday — including former Republican congressman Sean Duffy, who claimed on CNN that Vindman had "an affinity for Ukraine" because it was his birthplace — his military record made him a harder target than previous witnesses.

"I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics," Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient, declared in his opening statement.

For the most part, GOP lawmakers came to his defense. "We're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line," House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) said. "It's shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process."

President Trump, however, did participate in criticizing Vindman, dismissing him in a tweet as a "Never Trumper," without providing evidence of the witnesses' political leanings. In a series of tweet sthis morning, Trump once again insisted that "a casual reading of the Transcript leads EVERYBODY to see that the call with the Ukranian President was a totally appropriate one," despite Vindamn's testimony suggesting that the record of the call released by the White House was not a complete one.

More impeachment news...

--- House Democrats on Tuesday released the text of a resolution detailing procedures for the impeachment inquiry. The chamber is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday, the first time the full House will hold an impeachment-related vote. The resolution empowers House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to hold public impeachment hearings before his panel reports their findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which will be first to vote on potential articles of impeachment.

Democrats also unveiled a related set of rules for the Judiciary Committee process, giving President Trump's counsel similar due process rights as his predecessors had in previous impeachment probes. In addition, the resolution authorized the Republican ranking members on the Intelligence and Judiciary panels to request witnesses and propose subpoenas (which would be subject to Democratic approval), the same arrangement as in the Nixon and Clinton impeachment efforts.

--- Lawmakers will hear closed-door testimony from two State Department experts on Ukraine today: Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson. According to the Washington Post, the "two career diplomats will testify...that President Trump displayed a deeply pessimistic view of Ukraine that was out of step with officials at the White House and State Department who saw support for the European country as critical in its battle with Russian-backed separatists."

--- Reminder: With government funding set to expire on November 21, just three weeks away, Congress has yet to approve any of the 12 annual spending bills. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Tuesday that he is "increasingly worried" that President Trump would attempt to force a government shutdown in an attempt to push Democrats to end their impeachment investigation.

The Rundown

2020 Central: "Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (21%) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18%) are in a close race among likely voters in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential primary, according to a new CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

Former Vice President Joe Biden stands a shade behind at 15%, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg rounds out the field of four who reach double-digits with 10%." (CNN)

--- "Joe Biden in Danger of Humiliating Loss in Iowa, Top Democrats Warn" (Bloomberg)

--- "Ex-Biden aide launches super PAC" (The Hill)

House approves bipartisan rebuke of Turkey: "The House of Representatives approved two measures pushing back at Turkey, a sign of significant bipartisan ire at a longstanding NATO ally following the country's offensive into northeastern Syria."

"The first measure was a symbolic resolution labeling the deaths of roughly 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 in the Ottoman Empire, which is now modern-day Turkey, as a 'genocide.' It passed 405-11, with 3 members voting present. Previous administrations prevented Congress from allowing a vote on this, arguing that it could damage the relationship with the Turkish government."

"The second was a bipartisan bill that imposed sanctions on Turkish officials and prevents the sale of arms to Turkey for use in Syria. That passed overwhelmingly too – 403-16." (NPR)

Inside the White House: "The White House is weighing legal options that could allow President Trump to appoint Ken Cuccinelli as the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, according to people familiar with the matter."

"The White House personnel chief told Mr. Trump in a meeting last week that his top choices for the job—Mr. Cuccinelli, acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection—are both ineligible under a federal statute governing vacancies, according to an opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel."

"Now, the White House is considering a plan allowing the administration to change the line of succession at the department to bypass the vacancies statute and appoint Mr. Cuccinelli or another pick. White House officials have asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel if such a plan is legal, one of the people familiar with the plan said." (Wall Street Journal)

Do you like Wake Up To Politics? Share it with your colleagues, friends, and family! Please forward this newsletter and tell them to subscribe at wakeuptopolitics.com.

Today at the White House

--- At 12:45 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 5 p.m., he presents the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, to Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams for "conspicuous gallantry" during his service in Afghanistan's Shok Valley in 2008.

According to a White House statement, Williams "exposed himself to insurgent fire multiple times" in order to rescue "four critically wounded soldiers" in his special operations task force.

--- In addition to his lunch with the president, Vice President Pence will meet with the Organization for International Investment CEOs at 3:30 p.m.

--- First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence travel to Charleston, South Carolina, to highlight emergency preparedness efforts. They will visit an elementary school and join students in participating in the Red Cross's Pillowcase Project, a program aimed at helping children in becoming mentally and physically prepared for natural disasters. They will then meet with military personnel at Joint Base Charleston to learn more about the base's disaster response capabilities and receive a briefing from five major emergency response teams at the base. Finally, First Lady Trump will deliver remarks to the troops and their families to thank them for their service.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 12:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on the passage of S.J.Res.52, a Democratic resolution that would overturn the Trump administration's guidance allowing states to obtain waivers to avoid enforcing certain Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") regulations.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma published the guidance in October 2018, but "no states have requested waivers to duck ACA insurance regulations" since, according to the Washington Post.

The Senate will then hold a procedural vote (and potential vote on final passage) on the first "minibus" appropriations package of the 2020 fiscal year, the House-passed measure combining the appropriations bills for: Commerce, Science, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to consider H.R. 1373, the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act; H.R. 2181, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act; and H.R. 823, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act.

Today at the Supreme Court

--- The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled today.

Today on the trail

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) participates in the HLTH Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. He will be interviewed by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel on health care policy.

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Iowa, holding a town hall in Maquoketa and a community event in Dubuque.

--- South Bend Mayor Pete visits New Hampshire, filing for the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary in Concord and holding a town hall in Peterborough.

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) attends a house party in Newton, Iowa.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) participates in a conversation on gun violence prevention in Newtown, Connecticut.

--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a rally in Keene, New Hampshire, with Brad Corrigan and Chad Urmston of the indie band Dispatch.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visits New Hampshire, participating in a New Hampshire Public Radio forum in Concord and holding a town hall in Durham.

--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson campaigns in South Carolina, participating in a "Wake Up with Pride Queer Coffee and Conversations" event in Spartanburg, touring a divinity school and holding a luncheon with faith leaders in Greenville, and speaking at a yoga center in Greenville.

*All times Eastern