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Wake Up To Politics - September 10, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, September 10, 2019. 56 days until Election Day 2019. 146 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 420 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

North Carolina special election offers key test for both parties ahead of 2020

The last race of the 2018 midterm elections will be decided today, ten months after Democrats took back the U.S. House in an anti-Trump wave of progressive enthusiasm.

The lingering effects of that "blue wave" will be tested today in North Carolina's 9th district, as will the coalition that swept President Donald Trump to power in 2016, forces that both parties hope will come through for them once again in 2020.

North Carolina's 9th is a reliably Republican district: it voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by 12% and has not been represented by a Democrat in the U.S. since 1963. But Democrat Dan McCready came within striking distance of reclaiming the district in 2018 — and then reports of absentee ballot fraud committed by Republican Mark Harris's campaign led the state board of elections to decline to certify the results. A re-do election was ordered, and the House seat has remained vacant ever since.

In the do-over election today, McCready, a businessman and Marine Corps veteran who has run on a moderate platform, faces a new opponent: Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop, who is best known as the author of North Carolina's controversial "bathroom bill," which prohibited transgender individuals from using public restrooms other than those intended for the gender they were assigned at birth.

Polls show the two contenders in a dead heat, setting the race up as a crucial test of each party's energy level going into the 2020 elections. Both sides have poured money into the race (more than $10.7 million has been spent by outside groups, in addition to $6.4 million spent by the two campaigns, making it the second-most expensive House special election in U.S. history.) President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the district on Monday, seeking to offer Bishop a boost in a seat that backed their ticket by a significant margin in 2016.

"Tomorrow is your chance to send a clear message to the America-hating left," Trump said at an event in Fayetteville on Monday night, his first campaign rally in nearly a month. He described McCready as supporting "open borders" and opposing the Second Amendment.

"Tomorrow, we take the first steps to firing Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and winning back the House in 2020," the president declared.

If Bishop emerges the victor tonight, Trump will point to the race as sign of his political capital. If McCready wins in the deep-red district (or even comes close), Democrats will proclaim it as a sign of doom for Trump's re-election hopes in 2020. (NBC's Steve Kornacki compared that prospect to the 1991 Senate special election in Pennsylvania that presaged George H.W. Bush's loss of the White House the next year.)

But before voting took place, President Trump denied that the North Carolina contest had any larger national importance. "No, I don't see it as a bellwether," he told reporters, before leaving the White House on a trip that was described as a "rescue mission" for a Republican candidate facing a potential loss in a district Trump carried easily just three years ago.

The Investigations

--- In an explosive development on Monday, CNN reported that the United States "successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government" during a secret mission in 2017. The network also reported that "the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy."

Other news outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, soon reported on the extraction as well — but notably attributed the mission to media inquiries about the high-level informant, not concerns related to Trump. According to The Times, the source "was instrumental" to the CIA's assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and further meddling into the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump.

--- President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to distance himself from a pair of new controversies involving his personal businesses, insisting that he "know[s] nothing" about stays by at least two Air Force crews at his resort in Scotland and "had nothing to do with" Vice President Mike Pence's decision to spend two nights at his golf club in Doonbeg, Ireland, while attending official meetings nearly 200 miles away in Dublin.

House Democrats have already launched investigations into both matters; according to Politico, some lawmakers now view "reports that Trump is using his presidency to enrich himself, possibly in violation of the Constitution" as their "new path to impeachment."

--- The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees on Monday opened a joint investigation into reports that President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has pressured the Ukranian government to assist Trump's re-election bid. The three panels demanded documents from the White House and State Department relating to Giuliani's contacts with Ukranian officials, as well as the Trump administration's decision to withhold foreign aid from Ukraine, as lawmakers probe whether they are related.

--- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s acting chief scientist, Craig McClean, has launched an investigation into "whether the agency’s response to President Trump’s Hurricane Dorian tweets constituted a violation of NOAA policies and ethics," according to The Washington Post. The agency issued an unsigned statement on Friday defending Trump's claim that Alabama would be impacted by Dorian, despite contradictory findings by its own scientists. According to The New York Times, the statement came after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire the top echelon of staffers at the NOAA, which he oversees.

The Rundown

Warning sign for Trump: "President Trump is ending a tumultuous summer with his approval rating slipping back from a July high as Americans express widespread concern about the trade war with China and a majority of voters now expect a recession within the next year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

..."Trump’s approval rating among voting-age Americans stands at 38 percent, down from 44 percent in June but similar to 39 percent in April, with 56 percent now saying they disapprove of his performance in office. Among registered voters, 40 percent say they approve of Trump, while 55 percent disapprove."

..."The Post-ABC poll finds that Trump’s economic approval rating has also declined from 51 percent in early July to 46 percent in the new survey, with 47 percent disapproving. His relatively positive standing on the economy continues to buoy his reputation amid public criticism on other issues." (The Washington Post)

GA-SEN: Jon Ossoff, who became a Democratic star during a nationally-watched special election in 2017 when he nearly flipped a GOP-held House seat, formally launched a challenge against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) this morning. Ossoff joins a competitive primary of Democrats seeking to take on Perdue, including Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, and 2018 lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Sarah Riggs Amico. Both of Georgia's Senate seats will be on the ballot in 2020, and Democrats are hoping to win at least one of them after a string of close election losses in the state in recent years. "We believe the battle that began in Georgia in 2017 will be won in Georgia in 2020 when we flip the Senate and win the White House," Ossoff said in an announcement video.

Recommended read: "The Heir," inside the Trump children's fight to take over the new family business — politics (The Atlantic)

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Today at the White House

--- At 12:30 p.m., President Trump has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 2:15 p.m., he delivers remarks at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference. At 4 p.m., he meets with Republican congressional leaders. At 5:30 p.m., the president participates in the swearing-in of Kelly Craft as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. (Craft is expected to be confirmed by the Senate today.)

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 11:50 a.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of Kelly Craft to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, followed by a procedural vote advancing the nomination of Elizabeth Darling to be Commissioner on Children, Youth, and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.

At 2:15 p.m., the Senate votes on Darling's confirmation, followed by procedural votes on three nominations: Stephen Akard to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions at the State Department, Dale Cabaniss to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management, and James Byrne to be Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is scheduled to consider the following pieces of legislation:

  • H.R. 1941– Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act
  • H.R. 205 – Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019
  • H.R. 1146 – Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act
  • H.R. 2852 – Homebuyer Assistance Act of 2019, as amended
  • H.R. 3620 – Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Preservation Act of 2019, as amended
  • H.R. 1690 – Safe Housing for Families Act of 2019, as amended
  • H.R. 281 – Ensuring Diverse Leadership Act of 2019, as amended
  • H.R. 241 – Bank Service Company Examination Coordination Act, as amended

Today on the trail

--- Four Democratic presidential candidates will address the 2019 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., today: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) visits New Hampshire, attending local Democratic meetings in Concord, Dover, and Brentwood.

--- Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer makes a swing through South Carolina, touring a health clinic and holding an endorsement event with former state Rep. Harold Mitchell in Spartanburg,  holding a meet and greet in Greenville, and speaking at a town hall in Rock Hill.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds a town hall in Austin, Texas.

*All times Eastern