I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 5, 2019. 61 days until Election Day 2019. 151 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 425 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analysis: Heading into 2020, Trump focuses on the trivial
"President Trump heads into the closing months of the year before he faces re-election without a clear policy agenda and with an uphill path to achieving any major new accomplishments before he faces voters," Michael Crowley writes in The New York Times this morning.
Crowley continues: "Over a summer dominated by his personal attacks on Democratic lawmakers, the news media and his trade showdown with China, Mr. Trump spent little time clarifying his positions on several important agenda items that could bolster his record."
"And as official Washington returns to work, it is unclear whether Mr. Trump intends to focus his time and attention on his policy goals, or whether he will step into a full-bore campaign mode, escalating attacks on his political rivals and spurning traditional governance."
Earlier this week, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker referred to the past two months as "Trump's lost summer" in The Washington Post, noting that the season was "defined by self-inflicted controversies and squandered opportunities," from his attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color to his divisive visits to cities grieving after mass shootings.
Instead of using the run-up to his 2020 re-election campaign to score points for his policy agenda, President Trump has mostly opted to focus on more trivial matters. On Wednesday alone, he sparked a new controversy by showing a doctored map of Hurricane Dorian's path, which made it appear as though the storm would impact Alabama. (Trump erroneously tweeted on Sunday that the state would be in Dorian's path, causing the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service to clarify: "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.")
According to Bloomberg, Trump himself used a Sharpie marker to add a black line to an official map projecting Dorian's track, making it appear as though his tweet mentioning Alabama was correct. When asked by reporters about the cartographic addition, Trump responded: "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know." (It is a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast.)
On the same day, he also extended headlines relating to Vice President Mike Pence's decision to stay at a Trump-owned resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, when conducting official business in Dublin, on the other side of the country. Although Pence's chief of staff told reporters Tuesday that the decision about lodgings for the VP was made at the president's "suggestion," Trump denied having any involvement on Wednesday. "I don't suggest anything," he said, adding: "People like my product, what can I tell you."
Trump was speaking to reporters about the Pence flap after announcing a new program that will award $1.8 billion in grants to assist states and localities in combatting the opioid epidemic. But his comments about Hurricane Dorian and Pence's Ireland lodgings ensured that those matters would overwhelm coverage of the policy rollout his aides had planned, another example of Trump "stepping on his own message," as David Nakamura of The Washington Post put it.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Trump's official schedules also show a less active summer, with the president enjoying "plenty of dowtime" in recent months.
As summer turns to fall, President Trump betrays no signs of a plan to pivot from focusing on mundane matters to taking action on a policy agenda, as most issues seem stuck in neutral, from his ongoing trade war with China to his proposed NAFTA replacement to stalled talks on gun control.
Congressional retirements: Two more Republican congressmen announced plans to retire on Wednesday, expanding the number of departing GOP House members to 13. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who was first elected in 1978, and Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), who was first elected in 2010, were the lawmakers who announced their retirements on Wednesday. They both represent safely Republican districts, but their exits underline the pessimism many in the GOP share about winning back the House majority in 2020. Just four House Democrats are retiring so far, including Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), who also announced her plans last night.
The investigations: "The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security for documents connected to President Donald Trump's alleged offer to pardon officials who break the law while carrying out his immigration agenda."
"Trump has denied making such an offer, and his allies have reportedly claimed his closed-door comments — revealed in media reports — were jokes. But Democrats say they want to see the records from inside the department, particularly as the Judiciary Committee weighs the prospect of impeachment." (Politico)
Terror watchlist deemed unconstitutional: "A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that a federal government database that compiles people deemed to be 'known or suspected terrorists' violates the rights of American citizens who are on the watchlist, calling into question the constitutionality of a major tool the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security use for screening potential terrorism suspects." (The New York Times)
2020 Central: "Top Democratic presidential contenders talked tough Wednesday on cutting climate-damaging emissions from oil, gas and coal, turning their focus to global warming in a marathon evening of town halls that gave the candidates a chance to distinguish themselves on a topic of growing importance to their party’s liberal base."
"The lengthy climate conversations promised to hand Republicans ammunition for next year’s general election fight by emphasizing one common element in the Democrats’ climate change plans: their overwhelming — and overwhelmingly costly — scope. But the 10 Democrats who participated in the seven-hour series of climate change forums on CNN didn’t shy away from making sweeping promises to reshape the American economy in service of what their party’s grassroots supporters see as the paramount goal of averting global warming’s most devastating effects." (The Associated Press)
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Today at the White House
--- At 11:45 a.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 1:45 p.m., he meets with the Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors, Mary Bara. At 4:30 p.m., he presents basketball legend Jerry West with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. West will be the 11th recipient of the award since Trump took office, six of whom have been professional athletes.
--- Vice President Mike Pence visits the United Kingdom today, in the last leg of his international trip. At 7:45 a.m., he meets with newly-installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has recently suffered a series of setbacks in his plans to leave the European Union next month without a formal agreement. At 1:55 p.m., Vice President and Second Lady Pence attend an international dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor of London, Peter Estlin. Following the dinner, the Pences will return to the United States, touching down in Washington, D.C., at 12:15 a.m.
Today on the trail
--- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) unveils his education policy plan in Des Moines, Iowa, with an education roundtable at 10:30 a.m. and education town hall at 5:30 p.m.
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends two fundraisers in New York City, including one co-hosted by former fossil fuel executive Andrew Goldman, which Biden received questions about at CNN's climate town hall last night.
--- Mayor Pete Buttigieg goes on a blitz of media appearances today, including an episode of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."
--- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) takes part in a foreign policy conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City at 6 p.n.
--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-NH) makes a swing through New Hampshire, participating in a "Politics and Eggs" event at St. Anselm College in Manchester at 8 a.m., hosting a meet and greet in Weare at 1 p.m., and hosting a town hall in Nashua at 6:30 p.m.
--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) visits Massachusetts, holding a town hall at Tufts University in Medford at 5:15 p.m. and a meet and greet in Boston at 7:30 p.m.
--- Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) visits South Carolina, making stops in Greer at 11 a.m., in Spartanburg at 12:30 p.m., and in Greenville at 6 p.m.
--- Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer travels to New Hampshire, holding events in Salem at 10 a.m. and in Concord at 1:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
--- Wednesday's newsletter misstated the distance between Doonbeg, Ireland, where Vice President Mike Pence stayed during his trip to the country, and Dublin, where his official meetings took place. The two cities are 180 miles apart, slightly more than a three-hour drive. Pence drove one hour from Doonbeg to Shannon, and then flew from Shannon to Dublin, which took about another hour.
*All times Eastern