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Wake Up To Politics - October 8, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, October 8, 2019. 28 days until Election Day 2019. 118 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 392 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Trump's Syria pullout draws Republican criticism

Congressional Republicans denounced President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria on Monday, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other lawmakers normally allied with the president warned that the move would hurt American allies and bolster the Islamic State terrorist group, or ISIS.

"A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime," McConnell said in a statement. "And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup." The top Senate Republican, who rarely criticizes Trump, continued: "I urge the President to exercise American leadership to keep together our multinational coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent significant conflict between our NATO ally Turkey and our local Syrian counterterrorism partners."

The White House announced on Sunday night that the United States would be pulling out its troops from Syria's border with Turkey, stepping aside as Turkey plans to launch an invasion that is expected to attack the Kurdish forces, who have been allied with the U.S. in combatting ISIS.

The outpouring of criticism from GOP lawmakers was almost immediate and as scorching as it has been towards any decision Trump has made since taking office. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill, called the move a "disaster in the making." Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said it would be "DISGRACEFUL if we sat idly by while Turkey slaughters the Kurds." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called Trump's decision a "grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) accused the president of committing "betrayal" by deciding to "abandon our Kurd allies in the face of an assault by Turkey." And Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) warned that the U.S. withdrawal would "likely result in the slaughter of allies who fought with us, including women and children."

But Trump stood by his decision on Monday: "It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home," he said on Twitter. In another tweet, he pledged to "totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey" if "Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits" in Syria.

The president also told reporters that he "consulted with everybody" before deciding to pull U.S. troops out, although multiple news outlets reported that top officials within Trump's government were taken by surprise.

"According to multiple current and former U.S. officials, the White House's announcement of the decision late Sunday night blindsided not just America's Kurdish partners in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS, in Syria, but almost everyone — senior officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East," NBC News reported.

Trump's break with his Republican defenders on Capitol Hill came at a time when he most needs their support, as GOP senators prepare to serve as jurors in a potential impeachment trial in which his political future will hang in the balance.

Impeachment: The latest

--- The Trump administration directed Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, not to appear for a scheduled deposition with House investigators this morning, The New York Times reports. The order came just hours before Sondland was scheduled to appear before the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees, the three panels leading the House impeachment inquiry into the president.

Sondland, a prominent hotelier who was a major donor to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, has emerged as a key figure in the scandal surrounding the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine. Text messages released last week showed the ambassador discussing politically-charged investigations in connection to U.S. military aid to Ukraine and a potential meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. "I think [President Trump] really wants the deliverable," Sondland emphasized in one of the texts, while working with other State Department officials to draft a statement in which Zelensky would pledge to pursue the investigations ahead of a meeting with Trump.

--- House Democrats issued new subpoenas as part of their impeachment inquiry on Monday, demanding documents from the Defense Department and the White House Office of Managemen and Budget. The new subpoenas, which show the extent to which the investigation has tainted a wide array of Trump administration agencies, are focused on the administration's decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine in July. The aid was halted as Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were pressuring Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the 2016 election and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

--- A Washington Post/Schar School poll released today found a majority of Americans — 58% — backing the House's decision to open an impeachment inquiry against the president, while 38% opposed the move. The support for the impeachment inquiry constituted almost an exact reversal from the last time the Post/Schar poll asked the question, in July 2019, when 37% of Americans supported impeachment proceedings and 59% opposed them. Almost half of adults, 49% of Americans, now support removing Trump from office.

--- "House Democrats are weighing extraordinary steps to secure testimony from a whistleblower whose complaint prompted their impeachment inquiry, masking his identity to prevent President Trump’s congressional allies from exposing the individual, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations."

"The steps under consideration include having the whistleblower testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice, these officials said." (The Washington Post)

--- Meanwhile, other Trump investigations continue to accelerate... "With President Donald Trump under siege on Capitol Hill, a federal judge dealt him a setback on another front Monday and ruled that New York City prosecutors can see his tax returns for an investigation into matters including the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold." (The Associated Press)

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Today at the White House

--- At 1 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 2 p.m., he receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 4:30 p.m., he presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian honor — to Edwin Meese, who served as Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan. Meese, a Heritage Foundation fellow, was also a member of Trump's transition team after the 2016 election.

--- At 11:50 a.m., Vice President Pence delivers remarks at a luncheon to support Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves's gubernatorial campaign. Later, he will join Trump for lunch and for the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.

Today in Congress

--- The House and Senate are on recess through October 15.

Today at the Supreme Court

--- The justices will hear oral arguments in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both cases center around the question of whether the prohibition of employment discrimination because of "sex" in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from firing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Today on the trail

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) visits New Hampshire, holding town halls with high school students in Manchester, college students in New London, and medical professionals in Lebanon. He will also hold a meet and greet with the Dartmouth College Young Democrats in Hanover.

--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) holds "Conversation with Cory" events in Boone and West Des Moines, Iowa.

--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) campaigns in Iowa, holding "Coffee and Toffee with Tulsi" events in Brighton, Washington, and Solon, and a "Chill(i) with Tulsi House Party" in Cedar Rapids.  

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) addresses a "Women for Kamala" precinct captains meeting and visits small businesses in Des Moines, Iowa.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) attends town meetings organized by local Democrats in Concord, London, and Lyndeborough, New Hampshire.

--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson participates in a "Pints and Politics" event in Charleston, South Carolina, hosted by The Post and Courier.

*All times Eastern