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Wake Up To Politics - September 19, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 19, 2019. 47 days until Election Day 2019. 137 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 411 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Report: Trump's communications with foreign leader at center of whistleblower complaint

The whistleblower complaint by a U.S. intelligence officer thas is being withheld from Congress involves President Trump's communications with a foreign leader, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Other news outlets, including NBC News and CNN, later confirmed the reporting.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) first alerted the political world to the whistleblower complaint on Friday when he issued a subpoena for the complaint, which he alleged was being illegally hidden from Congress by Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

According to The Post, an official in the U.S. intelligence community filed the formal complaint on August 12 due to a presidential interaction with a foreign leader that included a "promise" the official regarded troubling. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson then determined that the complaint was a matter of "urgent concern," a threshold that requires the Director of National Intelligence to alert the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Lawmakers were then informed that such a complaint had been filed, without being briefed on its substance, which is what led to Schiff issuing his subpoena, sparking a standoff between Congress and the intelligence community.

Schiff announced on Thursday that Atkinson will brief the House Intelligence Committee on his handling of the whistleblower complaint in a closed session at 9 a.m. today; Maguire will then testify before the panel in an open session next Thursday.

It remains unclear which foreign leader is referred to in the complaint, or what "promise" President Trump may have made to them that an intelligence official found troubling. According to The Post, White House records indicate that Trump interacted with at least five foreign leaders in the five weeks before the complaint was filed, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Joe Kennedy III to challenge Democratic stalwart in Senate primary

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III, the last remaining member of the famed Bay State political dynasty that has spawned numerous lawmakers and a president, is expected to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Ed Markey on Saturday. The Boston Globe was the first to report on Kennedy's plans, which were later confirmed by other news outlets.

Rather than an ideological divide — Markey's progressive bona fides are well-established, with his championship of the Green New Deal already earning him endorsements from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the Sierra Club — Kennedy's announcement will set off a generational clash between the 38-year-old congressman and 73-year-old senator. Markey has served in Congress since 1976; he has held his Senate seat since John Kerry's appointment as Secretary of State in 2013.

Kennedy, the grandson of the late Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy II (D-MA), has served in the House since 2013.

Early polls of the nationally-watched primary race have shown Kennedy with an advantage over the incumbent: a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released earlier this month recorded Kennedy at 42% support, compared to Markey's 28%.

But Markey shows no signs of planning to step aside for the young scion, telling reporters after news of Kennedy's intentions broke on Wednesday, "I'm going to run [on] all of the issues that I have been fighting for today and into the future: climate change, income inequality, a woman’s right to choose and on gun safety legislation." He added: "The response I have been getting across the state has been absolutely terrific.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has been steadily rising in polls of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, has already endorsed her colleague Markey, but also offered praise for Kennedy in speaking to reporters Wednesday.

"I have no criticism," she said when asked if it was ill-advised for Kennedy to make his challenge, which is expected to bitterly divide the state Democratic Party.

Trump taps hostage envoy as new national security advsier

Just over a week after ousting John Bolton as national security adviser, President Trump announced his new pick for the position: Robert O'Brien, who had previously served as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs since May 2018. O'Brien will be Trump's fourth national security adviser. "I have worked long & hard with Robert," the president tweeted on Wednesday. "He will do a great job!"

O'Brien is a close ally of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; he has curried Trump's favor through his work releasing hostages overseas, which has become a particular area of interest for the president. Most recently, O'Brien traveled to Sweden to help negotiate the release of rapper A$AP Rocky, after President Trump was alerted to the performer's plight by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

O'Brien is an alumnus of the George W. Bush State Department, who has also advised the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz — all Republican politicians who have been derided by President Trump in the past. He is known to hold hawkish stances in regards to China, Iran, Russia, and other global hotspots, but without Bolton's fiercely ideological ardor.

The Rundown

Trump considers retaliatory options against Iran: "The White House is pushing to build an international coalition to exert pressure on Iran through the United Nations as its chief response to the attack on Saudi oil facilities, an approach consistent with President Trump’s aversion to military intervention, but also reflecting limits on his retaliatory options."

"Within about 18 hours of 17 missile strikes on Saudi Arabia oil facilities on Saturday, the Trump administration pinned the blame squarely on Iran, which has denied carrying out the attacks. A day later, after an emergency meeting at the White House with his inner circle, Mr. Trump declared the U.S. 'locked and loaded' and ready to respond."

"But Mr. Trump’s assertive reaction was peppered with qualifiers—the U.S. intelligence still needed verification, he didn’t know what Riyadh knew, or how Saudi officials wanted to proceed. Since then, the emphasis has been on building a case with allies and others on Iran’s responsibility for the attacks and on signaling that sanctions on Iran will be stiffened." (The Wall Street Journal)

--- "Despite his tough talk, Trump is leery of foreign conflict" (The Associated Press)

Leaked gun control proposal already in jeopardy: "A Trump administration proposal to expand background checks on firearm sales is already in jeopardy unless President Donald Trump unexpectedly saves it, with the White House distancing itself and the National Rifle Association outright opposing it."

"A background checks proposal began circulating on Capitol Hill this week as Attorney General William Barr and other officials met with Senate Republicans to discuss new gun safety plans. But many Republicans hadn’t read the proposal, and they don’t plan to take it seriously unless Trump personally weighs in." (Politico)

--- "EXCLUSIVE: Here’s The Document The White House, Barr Are Using To Push Gun Control On Republicans" (Daily Caller)

FEMA nominee withdraws: "The White House will pull the nomination of Jeffrey Byard to be the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after a federal inquiry into a possible barroom altercation involving Mr. Byard prompted concern in Congress and the White House, according to federal officials familiar with the investigation."

"While the F.B.I. determined that the allegations facing Mr. Byard were unsubstantiated, the White House is expected to nominate the current acting administrator of FEMA, Peter T. Gaynor, to lead the agency instead. That move is expected before the end of the month, officials said." (The New York Times)

New 2020 poll: "It’s increasingly more important to Democratic primary voters to beat President Donald Trump than support their favorite candidate -- and former Vice President Joe Biden is widely considered the candidate most likely to give them the White House."

"That’s a major source of strength for Biden, who continues to lead the Democratic field, albeit at a new low."

"Biden captures the support of 29 percent of Democratic primary voters, according to a new Fox News Poll. That’s down 2 points since last month and down 6 points since May, when he was at a high of 35 percent support. His current 11-point lead is down from a high of 19 points in June."

"Sanders climbs back into second with 18 percent (up 8 points since August), followed by Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent (down 4), forming the clearest top three candidate tier seen in this race to date." (Fox News)

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump does not have any public events on his schedule today.

--- At 10 a.m., First Lady Melania Trump participates in the re-opening ceremony of the Washington Monument, which has been closed for renovations since December 2016. The First Lady will take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a ceremonial ride to the top of the monument.

Today in Congress

---The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 12 p.m., the chamber will hold a procedural vote to advance the nomination of Brian McGuire to be a Deputy Under Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs. At 1:45 p.m., the Senate will vote to confirm McGuire, who currently serves as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs and was previously chief of staff and a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY).

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber is expected to vote on H.R. 4378, a continuing resolution extending government funding through November 21, averting a shutdown. (Lawmakers face an October 1 deadline for the measure to be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Trump).

The House will also vote on nine additional pieces of legislation:

  1. H.R. 3625 – PCAOB Whistleblower Protection Act of 2019, as amended
  2. H.R. 3619 – Appraisal Fee Reform Act of 2019, as amended
  3. H.R. 2290 – Shutdown Guidance for Financial Institutions Act, as amended
  4. H.R. 2613 – Advancing Innovation to Assist Law Enforcement Act
  5. H.R. 550 – Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019, as amended
  6. H.R. 1396 – Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, as amended
  7. H.R. 3589 – Greg LeMond Congressional Gold Medal Act, as amended
  8. H.R. 1830 – National Purple Heart Hall of Honor Commemorative Coin Act, as amended
  9. S. 239 – Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act of 2019

Today on the trail

--- Seven Democratic presidential candidates will participate in the first day of MSNBC's climate forum event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. throughout the day: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (10-11 a.m.) entrepreneur Andrew Yang (11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.), spiritual author Marianne Williamson (12:30-1:30 p.m.), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (1:45-2:45 p.m.), former Maryland Rep. John Delaney (3-4 p.m.), Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (4:15-5:15 p.m.), and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (5:30-6:30 p.m.). Five more candidates will take part in the forum on Friday.

--- Two candidates will attend the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) 42nd annual awards gala in Washington, D.C., tonight: Castro and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends fundraisers in Chicago.

--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) attends a town hall in Washington, D.C., hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-MN) campaigns in Iowa, holding a meet and greet in Coralville and a town hall in Cedar Rapids.

--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) continues her "Blue Wall Tour" with stops in Michigan and Wisconsin.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) holds an equity and justice roundtable in Oakland, California, followed by a town hall in Aurora, Colorado, continuing his recent string of stops in cities that have been impacted by gun violence.

--- Sanders kicks off a three-day "College Tour" with a rally at the University of North Carolina, where he will be joined by Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen, rapper Killer Mike, actor Danny Glover, activist Cornel West, and other top surrogates.

--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, campaigns in New Hampshire.

--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak meets with groups of local Democrats in two Iowa cities, Ottumwa and Oskaloosa.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds a town hall in Iowa City, Iowa.

*All times Eastern