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Wake Up To Politics - September 25, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, September 25, 2018. 42 days until Election Day 2018. 770 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Republicans stand by Kavanaugh

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh now faces two women accusing him of sexually assaulting them in the early 1980's, with more apparently coming forward soon. But, for the most part, congressional Republicans have telegraphed their intention to stand squarely in his corner and dismiss the accusations.

"I believe him," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told reporters on Monday, a direct counter to the Democratic lawmakers who have pronounced their support for the allegations posed by Kavanaugh's accusers. Hatch, who suggested last week that Christine Ford (who accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her while at a high school party) was "mixed up," also asserted Monday that the allegation by Deborah Ramirez (who claims that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm party in college) was "phony."

"What we are witnessing is the total collapse of the traditional confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted. "It is being replaced by a game of delay, deception, and wholesale character assassination."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the upper chamber floor on Monday to condemn the "choreographed smear campaign" he said Kavanaugh was facing, which he called "despicable." McConnell added: "Even by the far left's standards, this shameful, shameful smear campaign has hit a new low."

McConnell also made one thing clear: the Senate will hold an up-or-down vote on Kavanaugh's nomination in the "near future," he insisted.

The White House has struck a similarly aggressive posture. "I am with him all the way," President Donald Trump said of his second Supreme Court nominee while at the United Nations on Monday, calling the allegations against Kavanaugh "totally political." In a Monday night tweet, Trump declared: "The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!"

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House plans to have female officials conduct TV interviews in the coming days to defend Kavanaugh's nomination. One of them, preidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, said Monday on "CBS This Morning" that the attacks on Kavanaugh are "starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy."

In a nationally televised interview on Monday, a rare move for a Supreme Court candidate, the nominee made clear he's planning to fight as well. "I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process," Kavanaugh told Fox News' Martha MacCallum, with his wife Ashley sitting by his side. "I'm not going anywhere."

"I've never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise," Kavanaugh said repeatedly in the interview, denying the allegations made by Ford and Ramirez, as well as accusations involving gang rape that attorney Michael Avenatti has hinted at. "I was never at any such party," he said of Ford's claim. "I never did any such thing," he said in response to Ramirez's allegation. He also called Avenatti's allegations "totally false and outrageous," claiming that he did not have sexual intercourse with anyone through high school or "many years after."

New developments:

  • Yearbook: Brett Kavanaugh's page in his high school yearbook includes an entry describing him as a "Renate Alumnius." According to the New York Times, the reference is to Renate Schroeder Dolphin, then a student at a nearby Catholic grils' school; her name appears in Georgetown Preparatory School's 1983 yearbook at least 14 times. "I can't begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things," Dolphin  told the Times, "but the insinuation [in the yearbook] is horrible, hurtful, and simply untrue."
  • Avenatti: Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti has inserted himself into the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, much to Democrats' frustration. Avenatti told The Hill that his client will go public with her accusation against the nominee by Wednesday.
  • Thursday hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday formally announced the details of its upcoming Thursday hearing, with just two witnesses planned: Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford. But Ford's lawyers continue to push for additional witnesses, including Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge (who is holed up in a Delaware beach house). In addition, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said this morning on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the White House "would be open" to Deborah Ramirez also testifying on Thursday.

After chaotic day, Rosenstein remains in office

Days after the New York Times reported that he suggested secretly recording President Trump last year and discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, reports flew around Washington on Monday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was on his way out. But Monday ended, and Rosenstein — who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, a role that has earned him the president's ire for more than a year now — remains in place. For now.

News cameras recorded Rosenstein as he arrived at the White House to meet with chief of staff John Kelly on Monday morning. According to the Times, the deputy attorney general was "ready to resign and convinced — wrongly, it turned out — that President Trump was about to fire him." Rosenstein reportedly decided to quit after the bombshell report on Friday, which he denies, worried that he would have to testify before Congress about the discussions. He offered his resignation to Kelly, who declined, according to the Times; talks between Rosenstein, Kelly, and White House counsel Don McGahn continued over the weekend.

As word began to leak out that he had offered to quit, Rosenstein headed to the White House expecting to be fired. Justice Department officials began drafting a statement announcing his departure, per Axios. Instead, according to the Times, Rosenstein held an "emotional" meeting with McGahn and then spoke to Kelly, before holding "an extended conversation" with President Trump over the phone. And then he returned to the Justice Department, his employment status unchanged. But Rosenstein's fate is far from clarified.

The president and his deputy attorney general will meet on Thursday, after Trump returns to Washington, D.C. from New York, the White House announced. Or as Trump put it: "I'm meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday when I get back...and we'll be determining what's going on." Rosenstein, who has been the subject of attacks from Trump's allies on cable news and in Congress for months, is still seen as highly endangered, although many in the president's orbit are urging him to hold off on firing Rosenstein until after the midterm elections.

Mark your calendars: Washington was consumed by two fast-changing news stories on Monday: the potential departure of Rod Rosenstein and the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Both storylines will come to a head on Thursday, on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue, when Trump and Rosenstein meet at the White House and Kavanaugh and Christine Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

--- Related reading: "White House grapples with dual crises over Kavanaugh and Rosenstein" (Washington Post)

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White House schedule

POTUS: President Donald Trump is in New York City today for the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. At 10:15am, President Trump addresses the UNGA. According to Bloomberg, the theme of Trump's speech will be "sovereignty," similar to his UN speech last year, which focused on his "America First" mantra. The address is also expected to touch on Iran's nuclear program.

At 11:20am, he meets with President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia. At 1pm, he meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. At 1:15pm, Trump participates in a working luncheon hosted by Guterres. At 3pm, he meets with María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, the President of the 73rd Session of the UNGA.

At 6pm, Trump participates in a reception marking the United States' role in charge of the UN Security Council this month. He will chair a meeting of the Security Council tomorrow.

Congress schedule

Senate: The upper chamber convenes at 10am today to resume consideration of the nomination of Peter A. Feldman to be a Commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Senate will recess from 12:30pm until 2:15pm, and then will hold a roll call vote to confirm Feldman.

House: The lower chamber convenes at 12pm today. The House is scheduled to vote on 38 pieces of legislation.

*All times Eastern