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Wake Up To Politics - September 17, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, September 17, 2019. 49 days until Election Day 2019. 139 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 413 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

The Investigations

President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee at 1 p.m. today as part of the panel's investigation into possible obstruction of justice committed by the president. Two other former Trump aides, ex-White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn and ex-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, were also subpoenaed to appear at the hearing, but will not testify at President Trump's direction. Lewandowski, Dearborn, and Porter were all named in special counsel Robert Mueller's report as witnesses to possible obstruction of justice.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) on Monday evening, informing him that Trump had ordered Dearborn and Porter to defy their subpoenas, based on a Justice Department advisory that they are "absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters related to their service as senior advisers to the President." Cipollone also sought to limit Lewandowski's testimony to only include the information outlined in the Mueller report, writing that the former Trump campaign aide's conversations with the President and White House officials "are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting Executive Branch confidentiality interests," even though Lewandowski has never served in the U.S. government.

Nadler called Cippolone's claims "a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity." House Democrats have already filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the White House's position that presidential aides have "absolute immunity" from congressional subpoenas due to executive privilege, a stance previous presidential administrations have taken as well.  

Lewandowski will be the first Mueller investigation witness to testify before the House Judiciary Committee; he is mentioned most prominently in a section of the report that describes President Trump's attempts to have his former campaign manager persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to interfere in the special counsel's investigation.

State prosecutors in Manhattan have subpoenaed eight years of President Trump's personal and corporate tax returns from his longtime accounting firm, The New York Times and other news outlets reported Monday. The subpoena is part of a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office into the October 2016 payment made by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who claimed to have had an affair with the future president. Cohen was later reimbursed by Trump himself and by the Trump Organization; the prosecutors are investigating how the company recorded the reimbursement, eyeing a potential violation of a New York state law that bars falsifying business records. Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to committing federal campaign finance violations.

Senior congressional Democrats dismissed calls to impeach Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Monday, after several 2020 presidential candidates demanded an investigation into a new claim of sexual misconduct against the justice. "We have our hands full with impeaching the president right now and that's going to take up our limited resources and time for a while," Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler said in an interview with WNYC, demurring on calls to take action on Kavanaugh. However, Rep. Ayanna Pressley will introduce a resolution calling for the initiation of an impeachment inquiry against Kavanaugh today, according to WBUR.

Other top Democrats echoed Nadler's comments: "Get real," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told Politico. "We've got to get beyond this ‘impeachment is the answer to every problem.’ It’s not realistic." Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said it was a "moot point" since the justice would never be removed from office by the Republicnan-controlled Senate.

A number of Democratic presidential candidates, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), called for Kavanaugh's impeachment after an excerpt from a forthcoming book offered corroboration for one claim of sexual misconduct concerning Kavanaugh and revealed another one completely. The new claim is that Kavanaugh's friends "pushed his penis into the hands of a female student" at a drunken party during their freshman year at Yale; the incident was reportedly witnessed by Max Stier, who now runs the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service, although friends of the female student "say she does not recall the episode."

Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) had been alerted to Stier's claim during the Kavanaugh confirmation process last year and forwarded it to the FBI at the time, The Washington Post and other news outlets reported Monday. The bureau did not investigate the claim as part of its review of sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

The House Oversight Committee on Monday launched an investigation into "troubling questions about whether Transporation Elaine Chao is using her office to benefit herself and her family." The panel requested Chao turn over documents related to communication with Foremost Group, a shipping company owned by her family, accusing the Cabinet secretary of committing a conflict of interest by acting to benefit the company. The New York Times reported in June that Chao has "boosted the profile" of the company, "asking federal officials to help coordinate travel arrangements for at least one family member and include relatives in meetings with government officials," as well as joining her father (the company's founder) in interviews with Chinese-language media.

The Rundown

--- "Pentagon officials on Monday recommended a restrained response to the recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities, arguing against a potentially costly conflict with Iran, which the administration has blamed for the strike on a key American ally, according to officials familiar with Defense Department deliberations." (The Washington Post)

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) scored a major progressive endorsement on Monday, earning the support of the labor-aligned Working Families Party. The endorsement came as a blow to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who received the party's backing in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. Warren also held her largest campaign rally yet on Monday, drawing about 20,000 people in New York City as she detailed her plan to fight corruption and "sought to cast her own campaign as the next iteration" of previous women-led movements, according to Politico. The Massachusetts senator was the only Democratic candidate who saw a measurable increase in support in a post-debate primary poll by Morning Consult, accruing 18% of the vote (a two-point increase). Biden remained safely in the lead, with 32%, while Sanders took 20%, a one-point decrease for each man.

--- "According to two people with knowledge of the situation, [ousted National Security Advisor John] Bolton has already expressed interest in writing a book on his time in the Trump administration, and has been in contact in recent days with literary agents interested in making that happen." (The Daily Beast)

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump is on a fundraising swing in California today. At 3:20 p.m., he participates in a roundtable with supporters in Palo Alto. At 3:55 p.m., he makes remarks at a joint fundraising committee luncheon in Palo Alto. At 10:05 p.m., he participates in a roundtable with supporters in Beverly Hills. At 10:40 p.m., he makes remarks at a joint fundraising committee dinner in Beverly Hills. The president will spend the night in Los Angeles.

--- At 11 a.m., Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Trump administration's proposed replacement for NAFTA. At 1 p.m., he participates in the Senate GOP weekly caucus lunch. At 3 p.m., he delivers remarks at a naturalization ceremony. At 3:45 p.m., he meets with the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 12 p.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of John Rakolta, Jr., to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, followed by a procedural vote advancing the nomination of Kenneth Howery to be the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. The chamber will then recess until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At 3:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on confirmation of the Howery nomination, followed by procedural votes advancing three nominations: Robert Destro, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Brent McIntosh, to be Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs; and Brian Callanan, to be General Counsel for the Department of the Treasury.

--- The House convenes at 12 p.m. today. The chamber will consider S. 1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, before voting on six pieces of legislation:

  1. H.R. 2211, the STURDY Act
  2. H.R. 1618, the Nicholas and Zachary Burt Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2019
  3. H.R. 806, the Portable Fuel Container Safety Act of 2019
  4. H.R. 4285, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2019
  5. H.R. 2134, the Helen Keller National Center Reauthorization Act of 2019, as amended
  6. H.R. 2486, the FUTURE Act, as amended

At 6:50 p.m., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Reps.-elect Greg Murphy (R-NC) and Dan Bishop (R-NC), who were elected in a pair of North Carolina special elections last week.

Today on the trail

--- Seven Democratic presidential candidates will participate in the AFL-CIO's "Workers' Presidential Summit" in Philadelphia today: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, spiritual author Marianne Williamson, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

--- Biden will also attend a fundraiser in Potomac, Maryland.

--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg campaigns in South Carolina, participating in a volunteer opportunity and delivering a policy speech in Conway, opening a field office in Florence, and attending a roundtable with former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and hosting a town hall in Columbia. He will also hold a grassroots event in Louisville, Kentucky.

--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) holds a town hall in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke heads to Los Angeles, visiting a women's center in Skid Row and attending an "equity and justice roundtable" hosted by Equity First Alliance and Cage-Free Cannabis.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) visits Iowa, speaking to groups of local Democrats in Chariton and Des Moines.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) participates in a town hall in New York City hosted by pro-choice group NARAL.

--- Yang will also headline a rally in Philadelphia.


--- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's party affiliation was accidentally misstated in Monday's newsletter. He is a Republican from Kentucky. My apologies for the error, and thanks to Zach Solomon for catching it!

*All times Eastern