What to Know in Washington: Trump Looks to Rev Up Supporters

President Donald Trump continues a campaign swing through the South this week, where he’ll try to fire up his core supporters by taking on Democrats’ impeachment effort.

Trump plans rallies in Kentucky today and Louisiana on Wednesday — states he won in 2016 by wide margins — and he’ll also seek to boost Republican gubernatorial candidates there.

The appearances come after the House voted on Oct. 31, mostly along partisan lines, to begin public hearings into what Democrats say is an abuse of power by Trump. Democrats are examining Trump’s efforts to encourage Ukraine to investigate political rival and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, using millions of dollars in aid to the former Soviet republic as leverage.

As the impeachment inquiry escalates, Trump is using the rallies to maintain support among Republican voters and political leaders.

Trump has also seen value in lending support to GOP candidates ahead of off-year elections in traditionally Republican states, viewing the races as opportunities to flex his political muscles with only minimal risk.

The president’s rally today at Rupp Arena in Lexington — home to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team — will seek to help Republican Matt Bevin, among the nation’s least popular governors despite his state’s significant GOP lean.

Bevin, running in a state Trump won by 30 percentage points in 2016, is tied in his re-election race with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released in October that showed both candidates attracting the support of 46% of voters. The state’s election is tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Trump heads to Monroe, La., his second visit to the state in a month. There, he’ll stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone, who’s challenging incumbent John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

Two polls last month showed Edwards with a nine-percentage point advantage. Rispone, a businessman and political novice, was the top Republican vote-getter in the state’s “jungle primary” in October. The run-off election is Nov. 16.

Trump is next scheduled to travel to Georgia on Friday for a political fundraiser. Read more from Justin Sink.

Read more on the elections: Trump Get-Out-the-Vote Push Tested in 2 Southern Governor Races

Trump speaks to reporters at the White House on Saturday. Photographer: Erin Scott/Polaris/Bloomberg
Photographer: Erin Scott/Polaris/Bloomberg
Trump speaks to reporters at the White House on Saturday.

Latest on Impeachment Inquiry

Whistleblower’s Lawyer Offers GOP Chance to Question: The lawyer for the whistleblower behind the report that sparked the House impeachment inquiry said he’s offering Republicans the chance to question his client directly — but only in writing. Mark S. Zaid said on Twitter yesterday that he’s extended an offer to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the the House Intelligence Committee, to submit questions that the whistleblower would respond to under oath and the penalty of perjury. But the identity of the whistleblower would remain a secret. The questions “cannot seek identifying info, regarding which we will not provide, or otherwise be inappropriate. We will ensure timely answers,” Zaid said in a series of tweets. Read more from Laura Davison.

Pelosi Sets High Bar for Impeachment Inquiry: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), offering her most expansive view of the impeachment probe to date, said she decided to advance the inquiry into Trump after his phone call with Ukraine’s leader provided her with the “clarity” that prior allegations against Trump lacked. Pelosi said the partial transcript of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stood in sharp contrast to the less clear-cut allegations in Robert Mueller’s special counsel report. That phone call — where Trump is heard urging Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden — was a “bombshell” that peeled away her initial reluctance to take the politically divisive step.

“What happened in that phone call undermined the separation of powers, coequal branches of government, checks and balances on each other,” she said in an interview Friday with Bloomberg reporters and editors.

She also acknowledged the risks to her party and to her House majority – saying any case made to impeach the president “has to be ironclad.” At the same time, she acknowledged Democrats have a limited amount of time to make it, suggesting the investigation and a decision on drafting articles of impeachment won’t drag on long. “The public has only so much space for drama,” she said. “When does the law of diminishing returns set in? When is the value added not worth the time?” Read more from Billy House.

Clyburn Sees Political Risk: Rep. James Clyburn (D-Mo.) says impeachment poses political risks to his party, at a time surveys shows nearly half of Americans — but few Republicans — support the president’s removal. Moving ahead with a mostly party-line impeachment inquiry could damage Democrats at the polls in 2020, Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. “Sure it could. And that would make this whole process more political than I would like for it to be,” Clyburn said. He added that beyond politics, “this country is worth saving.”

A year out from the 2020 election, 49% of those surveyed in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken Oct. 27-30 said they support the impeachment and removal of Trump, up from 43% a month ago. Still, 90% of Republicans are opposed, the poll showed. A Fox News poll had a similar top-line result, with 49% in favor of impeachment, although that was down from 51% in early October. Read more from Hailey Waller, Laura Davison and David McLaughlin.

Ukraine Theory Appears in Mueller Document: BuzzFeed News published the first tranche of FBI documents related to Mueller’s probe into the 2016 election and Russian efforts to aid Trump’s presidential campaign. The debunked theory that Ukraine had meddled in U.S. matters was featured in some of the roughly 500 pages of documents — in a package BuzzFeed called “The Mueller Report’s Secret Memos” — posted online Saturday related to interviews with FBI agents. Various email correspondence is also included. BuzzFeed and CNN sued for access to Mueller’s witness interview notes. In October, a judge ordered the Justice Department to release new tranches of the notes monthly to the two news organizations. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Elections & Politics

Pelosi Is Worried 2020 Candidates Are on Wrong Track: Pelosi is issuing a pointed message to Democrats running for president in 2020: Those liberal ideas that fire up the party’s base are a big loser when it comes to beating Trump.

Proposals pushed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) like Medicare for All and a wealth tax play well in liberal enclaves like her own district in San Francisco but won’t sell in the Midwestern states that sent Trump to the White House in 2016, she said. “What works in San Francisco does not necessarily work in Michigan,” Pelosi said at a roundtable of Bloomberg News reporters and editors on Friday. “What works in Michigan works in San Francisco — talking about workers’ rights and sharing prosperity.” Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Warren-Biden Gap Narrows: Warren narrowed the gap with former Vice President Joe Biden in primary preferences for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday. Biden is seen as the stronger leader of the two, though, with the best chance of defeating Trump in 2020. His support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents was unchanged at 27% in the survey conducted Oct. 27-30 compared with one in early September, while Warren’s rose to 21% from 17%. Senator Bernie Sanders’ support held steady at 19%. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Trump is competitive in head-to-head match ups with top Democrats in six key battleground states, according to a new set of New York Times/Siena College polls, Kathleen Hunter reports. Across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina — the six states that Trump won most narrowly in 2016 — the president trails Biden by an average of two percentage points among registered voters — within the margin of error. Trump leads Warren by two points among registered voters in those states. That’s the same margin by which he won over Hillary Clinton there three years ago.

Warren Spars Biden Over Health Care: Warren swatted back at criticism from Biden over her $21 trillion Medicare-for-All plan Friday, accusing him of “running in the wrong” primary. “Democrats are not going to win by repeating Republican talking points,” she said in Des Moines, Iowa. “So, if Biden doesn’t like that, I’m just not sure where he’s going.” Warren’s unusually direct attack on a campaign rival came after she released a long-awaited explanation of how she to planned to pay for her $20.5 trillion proposal to create a government health care system. The Biden campaign called her proposal “mathematical gymnastics.” Read more from Gregory Korte and Tyler Pager.

Democrats Cool on Wall Street Donors, and the Feeling Is Mutual: Wealthy donors have long played a central role in Democratic presidential politics: filling campaign coffers, jockeying for influence, and dispensing often unwanted advice to candidates and their staffs. But that system may be in jeopardy. “In this primary season, a paradigm shift has taken place where grassroots donors are much more important to a candidate’s success,” says Robert Wolf, a major Wall Street fundraiser for Barack Obama who founded 32 Advisors, a strategy and investment firm. A populist money bonanza—chiefly propelled by Warren and Sanders—has put a scare into people accustomed to being sought after for their ability to write large checks. Read more from Joshua Green and Bill Allison.

O’Rourke Drops Out: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) 2020 presidential run is over. O’Rourke said Friday he was ending his bid for the White House amid lackluster fundraising and poor poll numbers. He did not directly address whether he might run for the Senate from Texas, but said, “I am announcing that my service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee.” Read more from Emma Kinery and Gregory Korte.

Movers & Shakeups

Trump to Host Washington Nationals: Trump will host the Washington Nationals at the White House today after the baseball team won its first World Series last week. The event will take place at 1:30 p.m. on the South Lawn.

Homeland Pick Rankles Democrats: Trump’s decision to elevate Department of Homeland Security official Chad Wolf to the agency’s top job comes in the face of criticism from Democrats and some immigration foes alike. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Wolf’s selection showed there was “no one left qualified or palatable to Congress” to run the department.

White House press secretary Hogan Gidley confirmed the pick to reporters Friday night, after comments made by Trump earlier in the evening left Wolf’s status uncertain. Gidley said Wolf, currently interim undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans, would take over as acting secretary after current acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan steps down. It was not immediately clear if Trump would pick a permanent secretary. Gidley said Wolf would serve in the acting role “in the interim” and declined to comment on who Trump would nominate on a permanent basis. Read more from Michaela Ross.

Trump Lets Navy’s Chief Off the Hook: U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer says Trump told him to keep working on persistent problems with the service’s costliest ship, freeing him from a pledge that “you can fire me” if the aircraft carrier’s long-delayed weapons elevators weren’t installed and working by August. Spencer said in an interview that the president didn’t mention the “fire me” offer at a meeting about two weeks ago. “He just said keep going” with efforts to fix the USS Gerald R. Ford, Spencer said. “He said it was a very complex system” and “you seem to be knocking down the issues.” Read more from Tony Capaccio.

McCabe’s Actions at FBI Got Him Fired, DOJ Says: Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has only himself to blame for his ouster from the agency, Justice Department lawyers said in a U.S. court filing asking a judge to throw out McCabe’s wrongful-termination lawsuit. “In the FBI, a lofty position does not lessen the need to abide by the ideals memorialized in its motto” of fidelity, bravery, integrity, the government’s lawyers said in papers filed Friday in a federal court in Washington. “Mr. McCabe’s actions here fell short of that bar.” Read more from Andrew Harris.

Foreign Affairs

Trump Says China Trade Deal Will Be Signed in U.S.: The “Phase One” trade deal with China, once completed, will be signed somewhere in the U.S., Trump told reporters yesterday at the White House. Trump had previously suggested Iowa, the largest U.S. corn and hog producing state, as a natural setting for the trade agreement to be formalized.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said yesterday in Bangkok that Alaska and Hawaii, as well as locations in China, were all possible locations for Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign the deal. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and China signaled further progress today toward a breakthrough. China had hoped that if Xi traveled to the U.S. to sign a phase one trade deal it would be as part of a state visit, but is open to having him go even if it isn’t, people familiar with the matter said. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today met a U.S. delegation that included National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Ross at a regional summit in Bangkok. Before meeting Li, Ross told a morning business forum that the U.S. was “very far along” with “phase one” of a trade deal with China. Read more.

Trump Tells Argentina’s Fernandez He Asked IMF to Work With Him: Trump called Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez Friday afternoon to congratulate him on his election win. Trump told Fernandez that he asked the International Monetary Fund to work with Fernandez’s incoming government over Argentina’s record $56 billion credit line, according to a statement sent by Fernandez’s campaign press team. “Congratulations on the big win,” Trump said in the call, according to a statement distributed to the press in Argentina. “I’ve instructed the IMF to work with you. Don’t hesitate to call me.” Read more from Patrick Gillespie.

Around the Administration

Trump Tells California to Get ‘Act Together’ on Fires: Trump yesterday blasted California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in a series of Twitter posts for his handling of the devastating wildfires that continue to blaze across the state. Trump said Newsom, a Democrat, has “done a terrible job of forest management.” In a second tweet, the president told Newsom California will no longer receive federal money for help, adding, “Get your act together Governor.” Federal agencies own and manage 57% of the state’s forests. Read more from Hailey Waller.

Trump isn’t the only person who has weighed in. Republicans and even some Democrats say Newsom needs to move quickly to resolve what has become an untenable problem for California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, or the political honeymoon that he’s enjoyed for 10 months may be upended by a climatological disaster. Jeffrey Taylor has more.

Exxon, Chevron Push Back on Fracking Ban Proposal: America’s two biggest oil companies are starting to push back against the fracking ban touted by the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, which may become one of the most consequential flashpoints for energy markets during the election campaign. Exxon Mobil and Chevron executives spoke out publicly against the proposals for the first time on Friday, saying they would shift profits from crude production from the U.S. to other countries, and may increase prices for consumers while doing nothing to reduce oil demand or greenhouse-gas emissions. Read more from Kevin Crowley.

Climate Panel Rumor Draws Lawsuit: Three federal agencies are accused of holding back records related to rumored White House efforts to undermine prior conclusions that climate change poses a threat to national security in a new suit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA are named as the defendants in the Oct. 31 complaint. Read more from Porter Wells.

Nukes in Illinois: A prolonged delay of the biggest U.S. power auction may give an edge to Exelon’s struggling nuclear plants in Illinois. Suspending the auction indefinitely while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission considers new rules creates a window for Illinois lawmakers to pass subsidies that would make Exelon’s reactors more competitive, CEO Chris Crane said. “While the FERC delay is very frustrating, it does allow Illinois more time to enact and implement the legislation changes,” Crane said in a conference call last week. Read more from Will Wade and Stephen Cunningham.

With assistance from Brandon Lee

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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