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Wake Up To Politics - September 23, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, September 23, 2019. 43 days until Election Day 2019. 133 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 407 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Calls for impeachment grow as Trump acknowledges discussing Biden with Ukraine president

In comments to reporters on Sunday, President Donald Trump acknowledged discussing an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden — his potential 2020 rival — in a July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

"The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said.

His comments partly confirmed a Friday afternoon bombshell from the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Trump urged Zelensky "about eight times" on the phone call to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter. Trump and Giuliani have accused Biden of pressuring the Ukrainian government to fire the country's top prosecutor in 2016 because he was investigating a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings, that had added Hunter Biden to its board.

(No evidence has emerged to support the allegation that Biden called for the prosecutor's removal because of a probe tied to his son. Biden has claimed that he did so because the prosecutor was not pursuing enough corruption cases.  According to the Washington Post, the investigation involving Burisma Holdings had already been ended by the time Biden sought the prosecutor's dismissal and may have only involved a side company, not Burisma itself.)

Biden issued a fiery response to reports about Trump's Ukraine call on Friday. "If these reports are true, then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country," the former vice president said in a statement. "Such clear-cut corruption damages and diminishes our institutions of government by making them tools of a personal political vendetta."

Trump's admission that he discussed an investigation into a domestic political rival during a call with a foreign leader (while he was blocking military aid to the country) has only served to increase Democratic calls for the president's impeachment, which have been building for months. "At this point, the bigger national scandal isn't the president's lawbreaking behavior - it is the Democratic Party's refusal to impeach him for it," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a progressive firebrand, tweeted on Saturday. According to Politico, 146 House Democrats have now called for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, a number that includes more than half of the caucus but not Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who has so far followed Pelosi's cautious lead with regard to impeachment, changed his tone on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, citing the Ukraine scandal as a turning point. "I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment. . . . But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents," Schiff said.

"We very well may have crossed the Rubicon here," he added later.

Pelosi penned a rare "Dear Colleague" letter to both Democrats and Republicans on Sunday laying out her demand for Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to turn over the full whistleblower complaint that first brought attention to the Ukraine call by the time he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. "If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation," the House speaker warned.

Trump said Sunday that he would consider releasing the transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. "We’ll make a determination about how to release it, releasing it, saying what we said,” he told reporters. "It was an absolutely perfect conversation." But two Cabinet secretaries said in separate Sunday show interviews that the transcript should not be made public. "I think it would be highly inappropriate to release a transcript of a call between two world leaders," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Congressional Republicans have remained mostly silent as the latest scandal involving Trump has unfolded. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), one of the few GOP Trump critics left in Congress, broke ranks on Sunday. "If president asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme," the 2012 Republican presidential nominee tweeted. "Critical for the facts to come out."

The Ukraine scandal will likely continue to dominate attention in Washington in the coming days, as Acting DNI Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday and Trump meets with Ukrainian Presidente Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

2020 Central

--- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has pulled ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa, a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll released Saturday showed. Warren led Biden by a slight margin, 22% to 20%, in the poll, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (who came close to triumphing over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 caucuses) fell to third place with 11%. No other candidate received double-digit support. The survey (which is considered the "gold standard" of Iowa caucus polling) reflected a 7-point surge for Warren since June, a 4-point drop for Biden, and a 5-point drop for Sanders. Warren also led her rivals in the percentage of likely caucusgoers considering her candidacy: 71% said they were considering her in some way, compared to 60% for Biden.

The bulk of the Democratic presidential field visited Iowa over the weekend for the Polk County Democratic Party's annual steak fry. Sean Bagniewski, the county party's chairman, told Wake Up To Politics last week that Warren had built "an exceptional level of organization" in Iowa. "Her team is enormous and they're testaments to her campaign," he said. "I want to read the book on how they've created the positive culture for spreading her message so well."

--- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, published a memo on Saturday raising the possibility that Booker could drop out if the campaign does not raise $1.7 million by the end of the month. "We have reached a critical moment, and time is running out," the document read. "It’s now or never: The next 10 days will determine whether Cory Booker can stay in this race and compete to win the nomination.” Although Demissie insisted his memo wasn't "an end-of-quarter stunt or another one of those memos from a campaign trying to spin the press," it immediately sparked a surge in online fundraising for the New Jersey Democrat. As of Sunday night, Booker's campaign had raised over $440,000, experiencing their best grassroots fundraising day of the campaign.

--- Recommended read: "Bernie Sanders has a problem. Her name is Elizabeth Warren." (Washington Post)

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump is in New York City today for the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. At 11:30 a.m., he leads a UN session on religious freedom, which will take place during a climate change summit many other world leaders will attend. The president will then participate in a series of meetings with foreign heads of state:

  • President Arif Alvi of Pakistan (1 p.m.)
  • President Andrzej Duda of Poland (2:25 p.m.)
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand (3 p.m.)
  • President Halimah Yacob of Singapore (3:50 p.m.)
  • President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (4:15 p.m.)
  • President Moon Jae-in of South Korea (5:15 p.m.)

The president will spend the night at Trump Tower in New York City.

--- Vice President Mike Pence will also be on hand for the United Nations General Assembly today, joining President Trump for the event on religious freedom and his meeting with the Polish president.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. today. At 5:30 p.m., the chamber will hold a procedural vote advancing the nomination of Brian McGuire to be Deputy Under Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs. McGuire, a former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), currently serves as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs.

--- The House is not in session today.

Today on the trail

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a funeral service for Dr. Emily Clyburn, the wife of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), in Charleston, South Carolina. Later in the day, he holds a fundraiser in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg continues his bus tour through Iowa with a meet and greet in Elkader and a town hall in Dubuque.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) attends a roundtable hosted by a gun violence group in Chicago, Illinois, followed by a town hall in Gary, Indiana.

--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) kicks off his "Bernie Beats Trump" tour through Iowa, holding events in Northwood, Decorah, Dubuque, and Clinton.

--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) campaigns in Coralville, Iowa.

*All times Eastern