James Comey boosted Trump's campaign. Today he may devastate the president's credibility.
Monday brings two very different headlines for the White House. FBI Director James Comey will face questions about wiretapping in front of the House Intelligence Committee. At about the same time, Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, will appear for the first time before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
James Comey is at the center of the news
Comey exploded into the news 11 days left before the election, when he announced that the FBI was making yet another inquiry into Hillary Clinton's emails. (That second investigation did not change the FBI's conclusion that Clinton didn't break the law.) Since Trump took office, though, Comey has been the center of attention thanks to the controversy over the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and, relatedly, Trump's tweeted allegation that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower.
Several Obama officials have already come out and said no such wiretapping occurred, as have a bipartisan clutch of lawmakers. But Trump loyalists still insist it did — sometimes offering strained defenses. Comey is set to become the highest national law enforcement official to weigh in publicly on the issue.
Today, everyone expects Comey to generate the top headline: that there is no evidence Obama had Trump wiretapped during the presidential campaign.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee reiterated Sunday that there is no proof Obama ordered wiretapping. (They reviewed documents from the FBI on Friday that offered no proof behind Trump's claim.) The president has, much to his consternation, found little Republican support for the claim. Now, the FBI director who famously upended the presidential race is expected to shred what remains of the president's credibility. How Trump will respond is anyone's guess, as is whether he will learn a lesson about peddling questionable information from the Oval Office.
Something to watch for: What, if anything, does Comey say about the FBI's investigation into Russian ties to Trump associates? And how will Team Trump respond? Not one to turn away from a spotlight for too long, the president weighed in about Russia (not mentioning wiretapping) on the morning of his big day in Washington.
Neil Gorsuch for SCOTUS
In another Capitol Hill committee room, Trump can expect to have a better day. His nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, has been praised widely by conservatives and enjoys the support of a coalition of Republican groups. Gorsuch's reputation on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is one of a strict, literal interpretation of the Constitution — similar to the late Antonin Scalia, whom he is to replace. For weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has delivered floor speeches praising Gorsuch and framing any Democratic obstruction to the judge as unjustified. Republicans estimate they have spent more than $3.3 million boosting his bid.
Democrats have criticized Gorsuch as too conservative for the modern era. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has called Gorsuch's track record on women's issues "disturbing." A former law student said the judge once suggested in class that women regularly use maternity leave to manipulate their employers. Overall, Democrats have had trouble highlighting any controversial Gorsuch statements or positions. That is reflected in the less than $200,000 liberal groups have spent attacking Gorsuch publicly. The main pressure on Democrats to oppose Gorsuch comes from those like the 11 progressive organizations that sent letters urging a "no" vote on Gorsuch to Democratic senators earlier this month. Liberals are also using the "People's Defense" to fight Gorsuch's nomination with actions across the country.
Republicans need 60 Senate votes to confirm Gorsuch if Democrats filibuster. If Democrats allow the nominee to come up for a vote, the GOP needs a simple majority. If Democrats filibuster, Republicans could invoke the "nuclear option" — also passing Gorsuch with a simple majority. With hearings just beginning, it's difficult to predict the final outcome, but Republicans are confident Democrats will not filibuster Trump's nominee. Last month, nine Democrats said they would work to bring Gorsuch to a Senate floor vote. Gorsuch's hearings are expected to last four days.
When Gorsuch was announced as Trump's nominee, we broke down how his pick would impact the court's direction.
What to watch for: If the hearing is boring, it went well for Gorsuch. If it's fiery, or if Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is grinning at the end of the day — remember what he did to Betsy DeVos? — it went well for Democrats.
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that does not expect a shout out from James Comey today.
• Today: The director of the FBI and the president's nominee for the Supreme Court are testifying in Congress. What you need to know is below.
• More: Trump's approval rating is now lower than Barack Obama's worst-ever score: Only 37% of Americans approve of the president.
• Even more: The vote on the GOP's American Health Care Act is this week.
• Yes, more: What's next for the president's travel ban?
• Trump's agenda today: Meeting with Bill Gates, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Strategizing on health care reform with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and "Obamacare architect" Zeke Emanuel. Meeting with the prime minister of Iraq. Holding a "Make America Great Again" rally in Louisville, Kentucky.
The House will vote on Trumpcare this week
The House vote on the American Health Care Act is set for Thursday. With Democrats expected to unite in opposition to the bill, the GOP can afford no more than 21 Republican "no" votes to pass the legislation. Whether they have that party support is unclear: As of last week, the GOP faced around 20 defections on the bill. The president claimed Friday that he turned some Republicans from "no" on the AHCA to "yes." To rally support, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday he will work to improve tax credits for older people and add a requirement that people seek or have work to receive Medicaid. Even with those changes, the proposal may alienate too many conservatives and moderates to pass the House.
In the Senate, the current bill is considered dead on arrival. Senators from moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine to conservative firebrand Ted Cruz of Texas have indicated they will not support the existing bill. And 20 Republican senators have expressed concerns with the House bill. It remains to be seen what changes Republicans in the upper chamber will require. Some want to see the preservation of Medicaid expansion, while others hope for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Either way, Republican leaders are taking it one step at a time.
Russia investigations update
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that there is "circumstantial evidence" the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the campaign. Schiff said there was direct evidence of "deception" about contact between Trump's campaign and the Russians. These statements contradicted Schiff's colleague, Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the committee. Nunes said Sunday he has seen no evidence of collusion during the campaign. The House investigation is one of five in Congress examining Russia's role in the 2016 election. Those inquiries are drawing varying levels of access to government information and are not as deep as the ongoing FBI investigation into the issue.
In case you missed it: The lower house of Russia's parliament has voted to investigate American media based in Russia. (AOL)
Travel ban update
On Sunday, the Hawaii federal court judge who issued a national hold on the president's second travel ban for citizens of several majority-Muslim countries declined to narrow the scope of his ruling. That means restrictions on travel from six countries, refugee entrance to the United States and a series of new vetting procedures will not be implemented at this time. The Department of Justice has said it will appeal a similar ruling by a federal judge in Maryland, setting the stage for a Supreme Court battle over the president's executive order.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• A 30-year-old Democrat in a conservative Georgia House district has raised more than $3 million in a bid for the Congressional seat vacated by Trump's Health Secretary Tom Price. Mic's Andrew Joyce caught up with Jon Ossoff — and the grassroots groups that helping give him a shot in a red district
• A Fox News poll raised eyebrows over the weekend by showing 61% of Americans view Sen. Bernie Sanders favorably, while only 44% view Trump favorably. (Mic)
• Hillary Clinton is back. (Mic)
• Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley wants to talk to the president about American visas for highly skilled workers. So he tweeted at @POTUS. (the Hill)
• I talked to the leaders of small public media stations that could close if Trump cut all funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Mic)
The point worth remembering about Trump's wiretapping joke
The highlight of the president's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel: a joke about wiretapping. "At least we have something in common, perhaps," the president said in response to a question about his wiretapping claim as he gestured to Merkel. The German leader's face contorted before going blank. While there is no evidence Trump was wiretapped, it's worth remembering that there is evidence the U.S. did tap Merkel. The German chancellor angrily called then-President Barack Obama to confirm she was not being surveilled. So while Trump seems to be enjoying making evidence-free claims on Twitter, he is making light of a large and powerful intelligence apparatus that can reach into our daily lives — and spur legitimate controversies and clashes with allies.