June 11, 2019

President Trump formally kicks off his re-election campaign next week. So far, he's shown scattered interest in the effort, insisting "on having final approval over the songs on his campaign playlist, as well as the campaign merchandise," but showing little interest in campaign spending or coming up with a new campaign theme, The New York Times reports. He does care about his approval ratings, though, and how he fares in matchups against various top Democrats, especially Joe Biden.

"Biden seems to have gotten into the president's head — at least for now," the Times reports, and his campaign is using that obsession to "invigorate a candidate who needs an identifiable opponent to keep his interest and who has been alternately engrossed in and detached from his re-election effort." One internal poll certainly captured Trump's attention, the Times says.

After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win, even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. And when top-line details of the polling leaked, including numbers showing the president lagging in a cluster of critical Rust Belt states, Mr. Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well. [The New York Times]

Campaign manager Brad Parscale did just that, insisting that the numbers showing Trump losing Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were "selectively leaked information" based on "a subset of questions asked." Trump doesn't yet have a chief political strategist, the Times reports, and Fabrizio's "blunt approach is not always welcome by a candidate who prefers good news and can take a shoot-the-messenger approach to receiving information he does not like." Read more about Trump's Biden strategy at The New York Times. Peter Weber

8:03 a.m.

President Trump is already fantasizing about abruptly showing up at his Senate impeachment trial, warning a reporter that she might just convince him it's a great idea.

Trump spoke in a news conference Wednesday after the impeachment trial against him began in the Senate, and he was asked whether he might appear during it. That idea, specifically the concept of showing up and intensely staring at Democrats, instantly seemed quite appealing to Trump.

"I'd love to go," Trump said. "Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be beautiful? ... Sit right in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces. I'd love to do it."

Asked why he doesn't do so if he'd love to so much, Trump told the reporter, "Don't keep talking, because you may convince me to do it," although he added that his lawyers "might have a problem" with the prospect.

Trump during this press conference touched on a variety of impeachment related issues including the possibility of former National Security Adviser John Bolton testifying, which Trump said he'd like to see happen except that "it's a national security problem." Besides, Trump said, "You don't like people testifying when they didn't leave on good terms." Brendan Morrow

7:27 a.m.

A CNN-SSRS poll released Wednesday morning found a new national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), though his lead over former Vice President Joe Biden is within the poll's margin of error, "meaning there is no clear leader in this poll," CNN says. Sanders, with 27 percent support among registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning, and Biden, polling at 24 percent, are now in a category of their own, though, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has fallen to a distant third at 14 percent.

"For the first time in the entirety of this campaign, in CNN's national polling, Joe Biden doesn't have the lead position all to himself," CNN political director David Chalian said on Wednesday's New Day. Sanders jumped 7 percentage points since December by eating into Biden's support among nonwhite voters and Warren's support among liberal Democrats.

The most important quality Democratic voters said they valued was electability, and Biden still held a commanding lead among candidates seen as the most likely to defeat President Trump, but Sanders leads in voter enthusiasm, CNN reports. Nine percent of men and 20 percent of women said they didn't think a woman can win the presidency.

In head-to-head polling against Trump, all six leading Democrats beat Trump nationally, with only Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) lead falling within the margin of error, but the candidates were all essentially tied with Trump in the 15 battleground states CNN identified. Trump's approval rating in the poll was 43 percent.

SSRS conducted the poll Jan. 16-19 among 1,156 adults, and the full sample has a margin of sampling error of ±3.4 percentage points. For the sample of 500 Democrats, the margin of error was ±5.3 percentage points. Peter Weber

6:46 a.m.

The Seattle area is jumping in where few municipalities have dared to tread, allowing all 1.2 million voters in King County to vote by smartphone in a Feb. 11 election, NPR reports. Cybersecurity experts are squeamish about online mobile voting, but King County has decided to wager that election security risks are worth the potential payoff of people actually voting in a local election. The stakes are relatively low in this case: Voters are choosing a new board of supervisors for the King Conservation District, a Washington state environmental agency many people in Seattle and the surrounding area have never heard of. Voting starts Wednesday,

The pilot project, to be announced in Seattle on Wednesday, is still making waves as the first U.S. general election conducted via mobile voting. Voters who chose to try out the new system will use a web portal to log in with their full name and birth date, and they will sign their ballot using their touchscreen. The ballots will be printed. Washington is good at verifying voter signatures because the state votes entirely by mail, says Bryan Finney of Democracy Live, the company providing the technology.

Tusk Philanthropies is funding the experiment, as it has smaller mobile voting projects. "This is the most fundamentally transformative reform you can do in democracy," founder Bradley Tusk tells NPR. "If you can use technology to exponentially increase turnout, then that will ultimately dictate how politicians behave on every issue."

"There is a firm consensus in the cybersecurity community that mobile voting on a smartphone is a really stupid idea," counters Duncan Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina. Still, he conceded, "until we have a total collapse of some election, I think this sort of thing is going to continue" because "people want to believe that, you know, they can do everything on their phones." Listen to NPR's report below. Peter Weber

5:41 a.m.

President Trump's impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday, and "soon we will find out if breaking the law is illegal — gotta say, so far I don't like the odds," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gets his way, there will be "no evidence, no witnesses, just 100 old people stuck in a room together. This isn't a trial, it's the 4 o'clock dinner rush at Denny's."

Lead impeachment prosecutor Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained why McConnell's rules make a mockery of trials, and even if that makes no difference, Colbert said, "it just feels good for someone to stand up and name the lie we can all plainly see." He thought less of Trump's legal team's loud protestations.

"Trump's defense team isn't even denying that he did what he's accused of, they just say it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment — which is like Jeffrey Dahmer arguing it didn't rise to the level of cannibalism," Jimmy Kimmel said at Kimmel Live. Senate Republicans "don't care about evidence, they know he's guilty," and "if you have a problem with that — which you should, no matter what side you're on — the best thing you can do is vote."

All senators, meanwhile, don't get screen time and can only drink water or milk — "the same rules I have for my 5- and 2-year-old children," Kimmel joked. "Why do I feel like Vice President Pence had something to do with the milk rule?"

"The only other place you'll see water and milk is in Mike Pence's beer helmet," Jimmy Fallon agreed at The Tonight Show. And while "senators have to remain silent and they can't use their phones," he added, "Trump will be screaming at the TV while tweeting from the toilet."

"No talking, no phones, no unapproved bathroom breaks or you could go to jail?" Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "This doesn't sound like a trial, it sounds like detention." He noted that "Trump's 'I Love the '90s' legal team" includes Kenneth Starr, from Bill Clinton's impeachment, and former O.J. Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz, both "perfect for Trump because they have experience with super-guilty people and super horny presidents."

The Daily Show's Michael Kosta wryly defended McConnell's "speedy Senate trial."

Conan O'Brien, meanwhile, got assurances from fictional McConnell aide Jim Fence (Chris Parnell) that the trial will be fair, at least for Trump. Peter Weber

3:17 a.m.

Two minutes before midnight Tuesday night, as the Senate was considering whether to subpoena documents and witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released 192 pages of documents related to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, complying with a Freedom of Information Act request from American Oversight.

"President Trump's lawyers stood in the Senate on Tuesday arguing that documents are totally unnecessary for the impeachment trial, but these documents give lie to that entire position," said American Oversight executive director Austin Evers. "Despite the Trump administration's obstruction and the rhetoric at the trial, the public can now see even more evidence of the president's corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real time," and just "how much the administration has withheld from the House, the Senate, and the American public."

The documents include emails between OMB associate director Michael Duffey, career OMB official Mark Sandy, and Pentagon officials Katie Wheelbarger and Elaine McCusker, who wrote Duffey he "can't be serious. I'm speechless," after he tried to blame the Pentagon for Trump's Ukraine aid freeze, according to unredacted emails won by another group, Just Security. Senate Republicans rejected motions to subpoena Duffey and OMB documents in the impeachment trial on Tuesday, and the emails released Tuesday night are heavily redacted.

The documents still tell a story, though.

American Oversight lists more FOIA deadlines for Ukraine-related Trump documents coming up, the next batch due from the Energy Department on Jan. 28. You can read this batch of documents at American Oversight. Peter Weber

2:14 a.m.

After a marathon debate session that began on Tuesday afternoon and ended early Wednesday morning, the Senate approved the ground rules for President Trump's impeachment trial.

The vote was 53 to 47, along party lines. Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) resolution, House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team will both have up to 24 hours over three days to argue their cases. Senators will have 16 hours to ask questions, and then they will revisit the matter of calling witnesses and subpoenating other evidence in the trial.

Before the final vote, the Senate rejected along party lines several Democratic amendments proposed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), including subpoenaing former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. The Senate is now adjourned until 1 p.m. ET. Catherine Garcia

2:07 a.m.

During debate Tuesday evening over the rules of President Trump's impeachment trial, Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow had a confusing rant about the Democratic House impeachment managers and "lawyer lawsuits."

"And by the way — lawyer lawsuits?" Sekulow asked. "Lawyer lawsuits? We're talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States, duly elected, and the members — the managers are complaining about lawyer lawsuits? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It's disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber — lawyer lawsuits." He was met with blank looks from the impeachment managers, and lead manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), in his rebuttal, said he had no idea what Sekulow was talking about.

Schiff wasn't the only one confused, but Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and other observers suggested that Sekulow had just misheard House impeachment manager Val Demings (D-Fla.) discussing FOIA lawsuits a few minutes earlier. Trump's layers suggest that "this House should have sought these materials in court, or awaited further lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act, a.k.a. FOIA lawsuits," she said. "Any such suggestion is meritless."

Despite the simple elegance of this explanation, the White House said no, "lawyer lawsuits" are a thing and Sekulow meant what he said.

"It might seem like a small point in the grand scheme of things, even if you set aside Sekulow’s demonstrative and indignant response to something that doesn’t appear to have actually been said," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. "But if anything, the White House’s remarkable double-down would seem to speak volumes about its strategy here — and its devotion to the facts." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads