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Wake Up To Politics - September 25, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, September 25, 2019. 41 days until Election Day 2019. 131 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 405 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry of Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House would initiate a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, making him the fourth president in U.S. history to face such proceedings.  

After months of pressure to move ahead with impeachment, the breaking point for Pelosi and many House Democrats came amid allegations that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine while pressuring the country to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

"The president must be held accountable," Pelosi declared in a statement to reporters. "No one is above the law." The speaker also asserted that "the actions taken to date by the president has have seriously violated the Constitution," accusing him of committing "betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."

Pelosi's move, touching off the rarely-invoked procedure for removing commanders-in-chief, dramatically raised the stakes of an already-simmering constitutional showdown between the executive and legislative branches, one that could reshape the Trump presidency and the American political scene.

Just minutes after Pelosi finished her announcement, President Trump issued a defiant response on his preferred form of communication, Twitter, from the sidelines of a series of diplomatic meetings in New York City. "Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage," the president said. "So bad for our Country!"

In a tweet this morning, Trump claimed: "There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have." In another missive Tuesday afternoon, he invoked the same label that he used for months to describe previous investigations into his tenure by congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller: "PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!"

Before addressing news cameras, Pelosi told her caucus in a closed-door meeting, "we have to strike while the iron is hot," according to The New York Times. Her endorsement of impeachment centered around the recent revelation that President Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a phone call in July to investigate allegations that Biden, as vice president, called for the removal of Ukraine's chief prosecutor because she was investigating a company tied to his son. (There is no evidence to support Trump's claims that Biden's call for the prosecutor's firing was related to his son's business interests.)

According to The Washington Post and other news outlets, President Trump ordered his staff to freeze almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine just days before he pressured Zelensky in the phone call. Lawmakers first learned of the call because of a whistleblower complaint from inside a U.S. intelligence official, which was deemed of "urgent concern" by the intelligence community's inspector general.

In the hours leading up to and following Pelosi's statement, a flood of House Democrats announced their support for Trump's impeachment. According to Politico, 207 Democratic representatives now back the inquiry, an increase of nearly 60 members in just one day. Statements of support came from across the caucus, including a number of vulnerable freshmen and party stalwarts like Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). No Republicans have endorsed the impeachment efforts, although Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), who left the GOP in July, has done so.

While Pelosi's announcement marked a significant shift in her thinking on impeachment (since claiming the House gavel in January, she has resisted such efforts by members of her caucus), it only served to formalize a process that has already been ongoing: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has referred to his panel's investigation of Trump as "impeachment proceedings" since August. But Pelosi's backing, which only came after the recent allegations concerning Ukraine, is a huge boost to Nadler's probe.  

Unlike the 1974 and 1998 impeachment processes into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the House is not expected to vote on a resolution authorizing the House Judiciary Committee to open its impeachment inquiry into Trump. Instead, Pelosi said that she had directed the leaders of the six House committees investigating Trump to "proceed under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry," telling them to package together potentially impeachable offenses by the president and send them to the Judiciary panel.

The Judiciary Committee would then vote to recommend articles of impeachment, followed by a full House vote. Once the president is impeached (which only Presidents Clinton and Andrew Johnson have been to date), the Senate holds a trial to consider the articles. Two-thirds support in the Senate would be needed to convict the president.

The House investigation into Trump's Zelensky call is likely to accelerate rapidly: the president announced in a tweet on Tuesday that he plans to release the "complete, fully declassify and unredacted transcript" of his July conversation with the Ukrainian leader at some time today. According to NBC News, the White House is also preparing to provide lawmakers with the original whistleblower complaint — which reportedly cites other actions by Trump in addition to his call with Zelensky — by Thursday. The House is scheduled to vote today on a resolution calling for the release of the complaint. (The Senate voted on a similar resolution via unanimous consent on Tuesday.)

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who had previously refused to transmit the complaint to Congress (despite a legal requirement to do so), is scheduled to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on Thursday as well. In addition, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced on Tuesday that the whistleblower would also like to testify before Congress, according to a letter from their attorneys. Schiff is attempting to hold the whistleblower's testimony on Thursday as well.

President Trump is expected to continue to generate headlines related to the Ukraine scandal today, as he meets with President Zelensky face-to-face for the first time on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and then holds a televised press conference later in the day.

While President Trump has publicly dismissed the Democratic impeachment probe, the new developments were "met inside his inner circle with a mix of trepidation and defiance, as the president and his allies entered what they acknowledged was uncharted territory," NBC News reported.

Previous impeachment inquiries have ended with mixed results for the presidents involved. Neither Johnson nor Clinton was convicted by the Senate; the latter ended his presidency with his popularity at an all-time high, the former was later denied renomination for a second term. Nixon resigned from office before the full House could vote on impeachment articles.

--- Inside Rudy Giuliani's efforts that sparked the Ukraine scandal: "Giuliani pursued shadow Ukraine agenda as key foreign policy officials were sidelined" (The Washington Post)

--- On the phone with President Trump: "Trump’s Calls With World Leaders Are Freewheeling, but Few Have Access" (The New York Times)

--- A helpful reminder via Republican strategist Rory Cooper: "For everyone who likes to predict politics: Trump is under the most serious threat of impeachment of his term over an issue barely anyone knew existed three weeks ago."

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump continues his stay in New York City for the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. At 10 a.m., he participates in a multilateral meeting on Venezuela. At 12:10 p.m., he meets with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan. At 2:15 p.m., he meets with President Volodymyr Zelensky, as lawmakers intensify the investigations into the two leaders' phone call in July. At 3:15 p.m., President Trump meets with President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador. At 4 p.m., he holds a press conference, which will likely be closely watched to see how Trump responds to the latest impeachment developments.

Finally, at 7:40 p.m., the president will deliver remarks at a campaign fundraiser at a private New York City residence before returning to spend the night at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

--- At 3:45 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence meets with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 12;15 p.m., the chamber will vote on S.J.Res. 54, a Democratic resolution which would overturn President Trump's February declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. (A similar resolution passed the Senate in March with support from 12 Republicans but was later vetoed by the president.) The Senate will then vote ona series of resolutions related to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020.

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will vote on H. Res. 576, a resolution "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives" that the Acting Director of National Intelligence "immediately must" transmit the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower complaint and accompanying materials to the congressional intelligence committees. The House will also vote on H.R. 2203, the Homeland Security Improvement Act, and H.R. 1595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

Today on the trail

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends fundraisers in the California cities of Manhattan Beach and Bel Air. He will also tape an episode of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in Los Angeles.

--- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro travels to California today. He will visit Oakland's Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, tour a homeless encampment in Oakland, and participate in a celebration of Latino Heritage Month in San Francisco.  

--- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in a tele-town hall in Las Vegas, Nevada.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) visits Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will hold a town hall and attend a roundtable at the University of Pittsburgh hosted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He will also campaign in Ohio, attending a community roundtable in Warren, participating in a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike in Warren, and holding a town hall at Kent State University in Kent.

--- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joins a UAW picket line in Detroit, Michigan.

--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds a town hall at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire.

*All times Eastern