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Wake Up To Politics - September 18, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, September 18, 2019. 48 days until Election Day 2019. 138 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 412 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Lewandowski stonewalls at House hearing

Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's former campaign manager, testified for more than five hours before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, trading barbs with Democratic lawmakers and largely refusing to answer their questions about his interactions with the president.

At the direction of the White House, Lewandowski did not describe any events that were not already outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller's report. He did confirm that President Trump asked him in June 2017 to help pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of Mueller's probe, which the special counsel identified as a possible act of obstruction of justice by the president. Lewandowski testified that he never relayed the message to the attorney general because he soon left on vacation with his family. "I didn’t think the president asked me to do anything illegal," he insisted.

House Democrats called Lewandowski's appearance the first "impeachment hearing" of their investigation into the president. But little new information was surfaced to further their probe, as Lewandowski sparked anger from lawmakers as he continued the pattern of Trump aides spurning oversight requests. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) threatened to hold Lewandowski in contempt for refusing to answer questions, calling his behavior "unacceptable."

At the hearing, Lewandowski was flanked by two empty chairs, which Democrats had intended to be filled by former deputy White House chief of staff Rick Dearborn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, two other ex-Trump aides who were witnesses to incidents of possible obstruction detailed in the Mueller report. But they declined to appear at the hearing after the White House said they had "constitutional immunity" from answering questions about their time in government.

"The White House is advancing a new dangerous theory of crony privilege," Nadler said at the hearing in response, declaring, "This is a cover-up, plain and simple."

But even if Lewandowski frustrated House Democrats, he pleased the "audience of one": President Trump. "Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski! Thank you Corey!" the president tweeted during the hearing. Lewandowski also sought to use the hearing as a launchpad for his prospective Senate campaign. (He is publicly considering a challenge to New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2020.) "New website just launched to help a potential senate run," Lewandowski tweeted during a break in questioning.

Key quote: "I have no obligation to be honest with the media," Lewandowski stated at one point on Tuesday, after committee counsel Barry Berke showed a clip of Lewandowski saying on MSNBC that he didn't recall Trump asking him to pressure Sessions "in any way shape or form ever," despite what he later told Special Counsel Mueller.

NBC/WSJ poll: Biden, Warren post gains among Democratic voters

Former Vice President Joe Biden remains atop the Democratic presidential field, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren quickly gaining on him, according to a national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday. The poll found Biden with the support of 31% of Democratic primary voters (a 5-point gain from the NBC/WSJ poll in July), followed by Warren at 25% (a 6-point gain from July).

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remained stable at 14% (a 1-point gain), followed by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 7% (no change), California Sen. Kamala Harris at 5% (an 8-point decrease), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang at 4% (a 2-point increase). No other candidate received above 2%. The poll was conducted entirely after the third primary debate on Thursday.

Other key data points:

  • Biden dominates among Democrats who describe themselves as "moderate or conservatives" (taking 42% to Warren's 15%), while Warren leads among self-described "liberal" Democrats (with 36%, while Biden and Sanders are tied at 19%).
  • Warren has a considerable enthusiasm advantage: 35% of Democratic primary voters said they were "enthusiastic" about her candidacy, while 25% said the same of Sanders and 23% said the same of Biden.
  • 56% of Democratic primary voters said they prefer a nominee "who proposes larger-scale policies that cost more and might be harder to pass into law, but could bring major change on these issues," while 40% prefer a nominee "who proposes smaller-scale policies that cost less and might be easier to pass into law, but will bring less change on these issues." Among the "larger-scale change" voters, Warren leads (with 32% to Biden's 21%); among the "smaller-scale change" voters, Biden leads (with 43% to Warren's 17%).
  • Key reminder: Only 9% of Democratic primary voters said their "mind is definitely made up" on which presidential candidate they support.

More 2020 news:

  • "Elizabeth Warren took selfies for 4 hours after her New York rally. It's part of her plan." (CNN)
  • "Mayor Pete vs. Beto: The battle is back on" (Politico)
  • "Sanders campaign wracked by dissension" (Politico)

The Rundown

Trump spars with Graham over Iran: "President Trump engaged in a long-distance debate over Iran with one of his closest allies on Tuesday as Republicans sought to influence the administration’s response to the attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia over the weekend."

"Mr. Trump, who was in California for campaign fund-raising events, lashed out on Twitter at that ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, for calling the president’s approach to Iran too weak. But Mr. Trump declined to be drawn into repeating his more combative threats against Tehran while awaiting a definitive intelligence assessment about responsibility for the attack." (The New York Times)

Another GOP congressman retires: Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) "will retire from Congress at the end of this term and run for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, he said on Tuesday."

"Cook is the 17th House Republican lawmaker to announce they will not seek reelection in 2020." (The Hill)

Key Trump ally threatened in Israeli elections: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fell short of securing a parliamentary majority with his natural religious and nationalist allies in national elections Tuesday, partial results indicated, setting the stage for a period of coalition negotiations that could threaten his political future and even clear the way for him to be tried on corruption charges." (The Associated Press)

RIP Cokie Roberts: The trailblazing broadcast journalist, whose analysis was heard on NPR and ABC News for decades, died on Tuesday at the age of 75, due to complications from breast cancer. Read this remembrance from her longtime NPR colleague, Nina Totenberg.

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump continues his fundraising swing through California today. At 11:50 a.m., he speaks at a joint fundraising committee breakfast in Los Angeles. At 3:10 p.m., he participates in a roundtable with supporters in San Diego. At 3:45 p.m., he speaks at a joint fundraising committee luncheon in San Diego. At 5:35 p.m., he visits the border wall in Otay Mesa. The president will then return to Washington, D.C., arriving at the White House at 12:20 a.m.

Meanwhile: "The Trump administration is expected on Wednesday to formally revoke California’s authority to set auto emissions rules that are stricter than federal standards, taking a major step forward in its wide-ranging attack on government efforts to fight climate change." (The New York Times)

--- At 2 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence meets with Prime Minister Maia Sandu of Moldova.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 11 a.m., the chamber will hold confirmation votes on three presidential nominees: Robert Destro (to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), Brent McIntosh (to be Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs), and Brian Callanan (to be General Counsel for the Department of the Treasury).

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will consider H.R. 1423, the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, and H.R. 4285, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2019.

--- Also today: At 3 p.m., House and Senate leaders will participate in the unveiling ceremony of a statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. Each state donates two statues to the Statuary Hall; Chief Standing Bear will replace three-time presidential candidate and Wilson-era Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan as one of Nebraska's statues.

Today on the trail

--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) kicks off her "Blue Wall Tour" in Pennsylvania, holding a press conference in Philadelphia, touring a carpenters training center in Pittsburgh, and hosting a meet and greet in Pittsburgh.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) visits San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) holds an event in Coralville, Iowa.

--- Spiritual Author Marianne Willaimson participates in an event at 92nd Street Y in New York City in conversation with Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart.

*All times Eastern