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Wake Up To Politics - September 21, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, September 21, 2018. 46 days until Election Day 2018. 774 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Kavanaugh accuser negotiates terms of testimony

After declining to appear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Monday, Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school, has opened negotiations with the panel for her to testify later next week. Holding the negotiations at all signals a shift on Ford's part, after previously refusing to testify until the FBI investigated her claims.

Ford's attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, spoke to staff members from the offices of Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Thursday night. The attorneys reportedly said Ford is open to appearing before the committee in a public setting next week (they suggested next Thursday as a potential date), but sought conditions:

  • Ford doesn't want Kavanaugh in the room when she testifies.
  • She wants to be questioned by senators, not by outside counsel (Senate Republicans had floated hiring a female litigator to lead their questioning of Kavanaugh and Ford).
  • She wants a single photographer in the room during her testimony.
  • She is requesting some measures to ensure her safety.
  • Ford wants Kavanaugh to testify first at the hearing.
  • She has requested that Mark Judge, Kavanaugh's high school friend who she claims was also in the room during the alleged assault, be subpoenaed.

According to Politico, committee staffers expressed openness to all of those conditions, except the last two: Republicans still plan to have Ford testify first, so Kavanaugh can respond to the accusations she makes in her testimony, and they balked at her calling for another witness to be subpoenaed, which they said was not traditional during a confirmation process.

A Grassley spokesperson said after the call that the Iowa Republican "remains committed to providing a fair forum for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh" and he "will consult with his colleagues on the committee" about what was discussed on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh penned a letter to Grassley on Thursday formally accepting the invitation to testify on Monday, although Ford's attorneys maintained Thursday that "a hearing on Monday is not possible."

In his letter, Kavanaugh said that he wants "a hearing as soon as possible, so that I can clear my name," adding: "Since the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it. I remain committed to defending my integrity."

President Trump also weighed in on the nomination on Thursday, telling Fox News' Sean Hannity in an interview that Ford should be allowed to "have her say" but urged the committee to hurry: "I don't you can delay it any longer. They've delayed it a week already." During a Thursday rally in Las Vegas, Trump called Kavanaugh "one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting," adding that he is "not saying anything about anyone else." According to CNN, White House aides have been "quietly stunned" that the president has refrained from attacking Ford and instead called for the process to run its course. "We'll let it play out and I think everything's just going to be fine," he said Thursday.

--- Polling roundup: A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Thursday found more Americans now oppose Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination than support it. According to the survey, 38% of Americans oppose the nomination, while 34% support it. Last month, the poll found that 29% of respondents oppose the nomination and 33% supported it. The results are the first time in an NBC/WSJ poll of a Supreme Court confirmation that a nominee has been underwater. The 9-point increase in opposition came from shifts among women over 50 (who were +3 on Kavanaugh's confirmation in August are are -7 now), suburban women (-6 in August and -11 now), independents (+15 in August and -16 now), and seniors (+9 in August and -10 now).

--- Rumor mill: The Kavanaugh confirmation battle has given way to countless rumors, including a number of viral rumors about Christine Ford and speculation that various news outlets will report on additional female accusers. On Thursday, a prominent conservative lawyer and Kavanaugh friend posted a thread on Twitter theorizing that Ford was mistaking the nominee for a classmate of his, naming that classmate and adding reasons why he could have been responsible for the alleged assault. In a statement to the Washington Post, Ford said she "knew them both, and socialized with" the other classmate, and said "there is zero chance that I would confuse them."

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The Rundown

Russia investigation: Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, has participated in multiple interview sessions over the last month with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, lasting for hours, ABC News reported. According to the report, Mueller's questioning of Cohen touched on "all aspects of Trump's dealings with Russia," including during the campaign and in the business world even before he ran for president, and probed whether Trump or his associates had discussed the possibility of a pardon with Cohen, who pleaded guilty last month to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud.

Inside the White House: Monday's announcement that the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. would be slashed to its lowest level in 40 years (from 45,000 for this fiscal year to 30,000 in the next) amounted to another victory for White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, NBC News reports.

Inside HUD: The Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Secretary Ben Carson, has "awarded promotions and pay increases to five political operatives with no housing policy experience within their first months on the job, demonstrating what government watchdogs and career staff describe as a premium put on loyalty over expertise," according to the Washington Post.

Midterms central: Republican congressional leaders privately say President Trump should "be sounding the alarm about the possibility of big Democratic gains" in November, not claiming that a "red wave" is imminent, the New York Times reports.

--- According to a series of Bloomberg Businessweek reports, internal Republican National Committee (RNC) polls paint a unfavorable portrait of the midterms landscape for Republicans, finding that voters believe the GOP tax cuts help the wealthy, prefer candidates backed by Nancy Pelosi to those backed by Trump, and that Trump's boasts about a "red wave" could have lulled GOP voters into complacency.

White House schedule

POTUS: At 12:20pm, President Trump participates in a roundtable with supporters in Las Vegas, Nevada.

At 1:45pm, he participates in a signing ceremony for the $147 billion "minibus" funding bill, which comprises three of the 12 Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bills (Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs). The legislation easily passed both houses of Congress last week. The president on Thursday criticized the $675 billion Senate-passed spending package that consists of the other nine appropriations bills as "ridiculous"; if it is not passed by the House and signed by Trump by September 30, the government will go into a partial shutdown. The signing ceremony today, which will include remarks from Trump, will take place at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hospital.

At 6:50pm, President Trump participates in a roundtable with supporters in Springfield, Missouri. At 7:30pm, he hosts a Make America Great Again rally with Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley.  

Following the rally, Trump will travel to Bedminster, New Jersey, where he will spend the weekend.

VP: At 12:35pm, Vice President Mike Pence delivers the keynote remarks at an American Conservative Union CPAC 365 event in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 1:30pm, he participates in an event for GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn's Tennesee Senate campaign.

At 6pm, Pence participates in an event Arkansas GOP Rep. French HIll's re-election campaign in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Congress schedule

Both chambers of Congress are on recess.

*All times Eastern