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Wake Up To Politics - September 20, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, September 20, 2019. 46 days until Election Day 2019. 136 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 410 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Leading today's newsletter: The latest reporting on a potentially explosive whistleblower complaint about President Trump. Keep reading for a special report on the state of the presidential race in Iowa, including quotes from top Democrats and experts in the state...

Reports: Whistleblower complaint about Trump involved Ukraine

The whistleblower complaint by a U.S. official that led to an ongoing standoff between Congress and the intelligence community involved President Donald Trump's communications with a foreign leader about Ukraine, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on Thursday.

Little else is known about the complaint, which Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to transmit to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which is required by law if the Intelligence Community Inspector General labels such a complaint as "urgent." Michael Atkinson, the inspector general, did find the complaint troubling enough to give it that classification, but he reportedly told lawmakers on Thursday that Maguire's office was blocking him from sharing it with Congress.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, President Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone. According to the White House, the conversation was held for Trump "to congratulate him on his recent election," but a readout from the Ukrainian side said that the two leaders also spoke about "investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A."

President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been urging Zelensky's government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's 2016 push for the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor general, which took place while a company that employed Biden's son Hunter was being investigated by the prosecutor. In a Thursday night interview on CNN, Giuliani admitted to asking Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden (his client's potential 2020 opponent), just moments after denying it. "A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job," Giulaini tweeted after the interview.

President Trump has referred to reporting on the whistleblower complaint as "another Fake News story."

Special Report: Democratic candidates flock to Iowa for "Coachella of the Caucus" as race remains wide open

Eighteen Democratic presidential candidates will descend on Iowa this weekend as they vie for support in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

With the all-important caucuses steadily creeping near and polls increasingly showing the crowded 2020 field lagging behind a slender top tier — former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen, Elizabeth — a number of longer-shot candidates are looking to Iowa with hopes of reinvigorating their campaigns.

Aides to California Sen. Kamala Harris told reporters this week that their focus will be shifting almost entirely to the Hawkeye State. Harris's campaign plans to nearly double its Iowa staff and open 10 new offices in the state by the end of October, a pivot that comes as she has been dropping in the polls after a breakout performance at the first Democratic debate in June.

A survey recently conducted by her own chief pollster, David Binder, on behalf of Focus on Rural America, showed Harris in sixth place, with 5% of the Iowa vote — a 13-point drop since July. Biden led the poll with 25%, followed by Warren at 23%, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 12%, Sanders at 9%, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 8%.

"We are going to take it to the next level these next couple months, and Kamala is going to be in Iowa each week," the senator's husband, Douglas Emhoff, told Wake Up To Politics. "We're doubling our organizing staff, and we're excited to crank the campaign into the next gear."

Other candidates amping up their time in Iowa include Buttigieg, who is welcoming national and local journalists to join him for a four-day bus tour through Iowa, where everything will be on-on-the-record, reminiscent of John McCain's 2000 "Straight Talk Express" in New Hampshire.

The biggest event of the upcoming Iowa-centric weekend will be the Polk County Democratic Party Steak Fry, which all eighteen contenders visiting the state will attend. The event's organizer, Polk County Democratic chairman Sean Bagniewski told Wake Up To Politics that it will "look unlike most other political events you'll see," complete with "craft beer, food trucks, ice cream trucks, candidates grilling steaks and serving beer, a kids tent, a fiberglass donkey being painted, bands, a first-ever vegan grill, and 40+ booths."

"It [has been] dubbed the 'Coachella of the Caucus,' and we love that description," Bagniewski added.

Wake Up To Politics reached out to other Iowa political hands to get a sense of where the race for caucus support stands, less than five months before Iowans will cast the first votes of the 2020 presidential race. The consensus was unanimous: no one has the state locked up yet.

"It is a very open race," Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, the last remaining uncommitted Democratic statewide elected official, said. "Most Iowans want to meet their candidates before they decide, and see what they learn as time passes as well. We still have four months to go: I expect a lot can change."

Longtime Iowa political reporter David Epsen, who hosts "Iowa Press" on Iowa Public Television and previously spent three decades at the Des Moines Register, echoed Sand's analysis. "The race is still fluid," he told WUTP. "We've got four months before the caucuses and lots can and will happen to affect the outcome.  The majority of voters either haven't decided or could be persuaded to change their minds.  Caucusgoers know their decisions matter and some don't make a final decision until that night."

Epsen called former Vice President Biden "the frontrunner, but a weak one," noting that he has "been pretty durable" even as "some candidates seem to just be waiting around for him to implode." Bagniweksi also pointed to Biden as the leader of the pack right now, but praised Warren's "exceptional level of organization" and said Buttigieg has "done an amazing job scaling up his organization with staff and field offices over the past few weeks," predicting that the mayor's Steak Fry performance will be "head-turning." He also added that Harris is "slowly and steadily picking up steam and is a favorite for a lot of people."

One candidate that all three Iowa experts agreed wasn't getting enough attention: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Bagniewksi said the red-state governor's "late start has set him back compared to the caliber of a candidate that he is," adding that he "has a lot of the right people in his corner."

"This is a big field and obviously only one can win. This time," Epsen said. "Several of these candidates are young enough to run again in future elections.  A number of presidents - Reagan, Nixon - got there on their second try.  The same will happpen with some of these.  If they try hard, lose with class, continue with public service and work hard for their party's candidates they could be president someday.  That too may explain why some many are still in the race and why one needs to not be too dismissive of any of them."

Sand, who said that he may endorse in the race although he doesn't plan to, urged candidates to "show up in person and be patient" throughout the process. "One reason the Iowa caucuses work is that Iowa caucusgoers are very tough to persuade. I have told candidates that they should expect to show up in a small rural area, and just have one or two people present," the state auditor continued. "They can spend an entire hour with them, get them to cry, discover they are distant cousins, and then upon asking for their support should still expect to hear 'well, I haven't had a chance to meet the other candidates yet.'"

Breaking: De Blasio ends presidential bid

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race, he announced on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday.

"I feel like I have contributed all I can to this primary election," de Blasio said. "It's clearly not my time, so I'm going to end my presidential campaign."

De Blasio's long-shot White House bid never succeeded in gaining traction; his low polling and fundraising support precluded him from participating in last week's primary debate. In an interview with Wake Up To Politics in June, de Blasio predicted that he would be able to reverse his campaign's disappointing polling trends: "I've been in ten elections," he said. "I've won all of them. I usually was an underdog starting out. I've been able to turn the tide regularly... I think the same pattern will happen that's happened in all my other elections." (WUTP was the first news outlet to report on de Blasio's plans to announce a presidential campaign in May.)

The mayor's withdrawal leaves 19 Democrats in the 2020 primary race.

The Rundown

Election security: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he is backing a measure to improve election security after Senate Democrats slammed him for blocking bipartisan election security legislation. The amendment to an appropriations package would provide an additional $250 million to the Trump administration to assist states with improving their voting systems and preventing foreign interference." (Politico)

Shutdown watch: "The House passed a continuing resolution on Thursday to extend government funding through November 21, in the hopes of avoiding a government shutdown at the end of September. The legislation, which also includes an extension of expiring health care programs, now goes to the Senate for approval." (CBS News)

Carson comments: "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson expressed concern about 'big, hairy men' trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters during an internal meeting, according to three people present who interpreted the remarks as an attack on transgender women." (The Washington Post)

Recommended read: "For Trump, a Time of Indecision" (The New York Times)

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Today at the White House

--- President Donald Trump hosts Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia for a state visit today, the second one he has hosted since taking office. At 9 a.m., President and First Lady Trump participate in the arrival ceremony of Prime Minister and Mrs. Morrison. At 9:30 a.m., the president and first lady participate in an official guest book signing and gift exchange with the Morrisons. At 10 a.m., President Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Morrison.  At 11:45 a.m., the two leaders participate in a joint press availability. At 1:30 p.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 8:20 p.m., the Trumps host a state dinner for the Morrisons.

--- Vice President Mike Pence will join President Trump for his meetings with the Australian Prime Minister and for the state dinner tonight.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate is not in session today.

--- The House convenes at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to consider H.R. 1423, the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act.

Today on the trail

--- Ten Democratic presidential candidates participate in a forum on LGBTQ issues at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, co-sponsored by One Iowa, The Advocate, The Gazette, and GLAAD: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and spiritual author Marianne Williamson.

--- Five presidential candidates participate in the second day of an MSNBC forum on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, DC: Booker, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT), Buttigieg, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, and former Gov. Bill Weld (R-MA). (Seven candidates participated in the first day of the forum on Thursday.)

--- Three candidates will participate in events related to the Global Climate Strike, a network of youth-led actions taking place in more than 150 countries this weekend: Castro (in Marion, Iowa), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) (in Denver, Colorado), and Steyer (in Washington, DC).

--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) holds an event with former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) at the Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy in Des Moines, Iowa.

--- In addition to the LGBTQ forum, Biden will hold a climate town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

--- In addition to the climate change forum, Bullock speaks at an event in Dubuque, Iowa.

--- While in Iowa for the LGBTQ forum, Harris will hold events in Waterloo and on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) participates in the

--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) makes two stops on his three-day College Tour, at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. While in Greensboro, Sanders will also tour the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) will campaign in New Hampshire.

--- While in Iowa for the LGBTQ forum, Warren will tour a mobile home park in North Liberty and hold a house party in Mount Vernon.

*All times Eastern