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Trump frees Blagojevich — and irritates Illinois Republicans

PARDON IN THE USA — President Donald Trump went on a clemency spree yesterday, commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and granting pardons to financier Michael Milken and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., among others. It’s unclear whether the requests went through the formal review process, but at least some of the individuals had some sort of a connection to the White House or had people in Trump’s orbit advocating on their behalf.

Blagojevich, for example, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “Celebrity Apprentice,” and his wife had been pushing for his commutation on Fox News. The former governor was convicted in 2011 by a federal jury on a number of counts, including attempting to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected president. Trump had long been mulling shortening Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence, which Jared Kushner reportedly suggested could appeal to Democrats.

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But Illinois Republicans pleaded with Trump to keep Blagojevich — who is often held up as a symbol of the state’s corruption problems — behind bars. Yet Trump, who is now testing his post-impeachment boundaries, knows he’ll ultimately have Republicans in his corner and will likely suffer little political blowback for the move. Case in point: the state’s GOP delegation put out a mildly critical statement saying they were “disappointed” by Trump’s decision. Caitlin Oprysko with more: https://politi.co/2V2yTsg.

So, who is next on the president’s pardon list? Well, if we’re trying to read the tea leaves … Trump slammed former FBI Director James Comey when talking about Blagojevich’s stiff prison sentence and also keeps weighing in on the Roger Stone case, tweeting yesterday that his ally deserves a new trial. And then, there’s this nugget from the New York Times: “Trump has also raised the prospect of commuting the sentence of Roger J. Stone Jr.” The story from Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman: https://nyti.ms/37BlKch.

Meanwhile … Trump’s decision to keep weighing in on judicial matters via Twitter appears to be getting to Attorney General William Barr. He has apparently told some allies that he may quit if Trump keeps tweeting about DOJ investigations and cases, reports WaPo. Last week, Barr told ABC News that the constant tweets were making it “impossible” to do his job. The scoop from Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, John Wagner and Rachel Weiner: https://wapo.st/2HDazW8.

Related reads: “Roger Stone sentencing still on for Thursday,” via Darren Samuelsohn: https://politi.co/2wu03y6; and “McConnell stands by Barr amid Stone sentencing fallout,” from Marianne: https://politi.co/39MTfdi.

LIKE MIKE — Senate Democrats aren’t in love with Mike Bloomberg — but they do like his bottomless war chest, which has already produced a flood of anti-Trump ads all around the country and could help them in their own races. “To the extent that Mayor Bloomberg is investing heavily in campaign ads in states that we have to win in the Electoral College and that those ads criticize or challenge President Trump’s values and his record and present a Democratic alternative, I think that’s a constructive thing,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of five senators to endorse Biden.

While a number of House Democrats have begun to rally around Bloomberg in the Democratic primary, the former New York City mayor has yet to pick up a single endorsement in the Senate. And not surprisingly, Bloomberg’s 2020 rivals are frustrated with the billionaire’s ad buys. “It’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate,” tweeted Elizabeth Warren. “But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Donald Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.” The dispatch from Marianne: https://politi.co/2wmW1HB.

Related: “Michael Bloomberg Has to Debate Without a Net,” by Matt Flegenheimer of the NYT: https://nyti.ms/2SYvGHr.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this February 19…

TUESDAY’S MOST CLICKED: The Hill’s report on the Senate bracing for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony was the big winner.

TRUMP GOES WEST — Trump has lined up a series of fundraisers and rallies out west over the next few days, including a rally in Nevada that will offer some counterprogramming to the Democratic primary on Saturday. But the trip is not just about Trump’s own reelection race: he will also be seeking to protect the Senate majority. The president is making stops in Arizona and Colorado, where vulnerable Sens. Martha McSally and Cory Gardner are up for reelection.

And in both states, the lawmakers have gone all in on Trump. Their calculation appears to be that they need the conservative base and Trump’s supporters to win reelection, even if it makes it harder for them to reach the middle. “We are going to be ground zero for President Trump’s reelection, and we are ground zero to keep the Senate majority,” McSally said at a “Veterans for Trump” event, framing the November election as a “referendum on freedom” and comparing Trump to two Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. James Arkin and Gabby Orr with the dispatch: https://politi.co/38IGIY5.

Related: “Susan Collins Faces Tough Re-Election Race in Maine, Poll Suggests,” per the WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes: https://on.wsj.com/37CFHzr.

DRUG PRICING PROSPECTS — Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is up for reelection this fall, has become the latest lawmaker to sign on to the bipartisan prescription drug pricing bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). But even though Trump is backing the measure, he hasn’t aggressively lobbied senators to support it. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is against the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is non-committal.

The fact that even a bipartisan bill with Trump’s backing can’t even get off the ground doesn’t bode well for efforts to lower drug prices. “Everybody agrees that prescription drug prices are too high. The dilemma is how do you get there, and we have divisions in the Republican Party on that, and with the Democrats on that,” McConnell said. “Whether we can all pull together and get a solution, I’m not prepared to predict today.” WaPo’s Yasmeen Abutaleb and Erica Werner with the story: https://wapo.st/2V3JseF.

Related: Ernst: Lower prescription drug costs, work together toward solutions,” via the Gazette: http://bit.ly/37GLRP8.

THE RACE TO REPLACE DUFFY — State Sen. Tom Tiffany won the GOP primary last night in the race to replace former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who resigned last September due to family reasons. And Tricia Zunker won the Democratic nomination, though the seat is expected to stay in Republican hands after the special election. Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman with the deets: “Tiffany was backed by a unique coalition of groups, including the Club for Growth, the House Freedom Caucus and the Chamber of Commerce. Church had support from the bipartisan With Honor Fund, which supports veterans running for office, and from a new group called Americans 4 Security PAC.

“Tiffany was elected to the state Senate in 2012 after a term in the state Assembly. He was a staunch ally of former Gov. Scott Walker, who endorsed him in the race. Before joining politics, Tiffany was a small-business owner and ran a wilderness cruise business. He grew up on a dairy farm and has an agriculture degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.” The story: http://bit.ly/2SWVvYx.

Related: “Kennedy, Markey spar over experience in first Senate primary debate,” by The Hill’s Julia Manchester: http://bit.ly/2uavxbB.

GOING FOR THE GAVEL – The race to take over the House Appropriations Committee is already heating up. CQ’s Jennifer Shut has the dispatch: “At this early stage, it’s a three-way contest with Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz actively campaigning, although others haven’t yet ruled out a bid. Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum says she wants to ‘wait until after the election and see what the situation in the House is’ before deciding if she’ll run to replace Lowey, a New York Democrat.

“The declared candidates are making their pitch using a combination of in-person conversations and “Dear Colleague” letters to emphasize their appeal to a broad cross section of the party. And no race would be complete without substantial cash being committed to colleagues’ reelection campaigns — critical if the title is to be chairwoman rather than ranking member. Their efforts are likely to underpin the annual appropriations process that’s about to take center stage on Capitol Hill.” More: http://bit.ly/2SFiSXw.

MOVING ON — The top lawyer for the intelligence community — who blocked the Ukraine whistleblower complaint from being turned over to Congress — is resigning, scooped Kyle. The deets: “Jason Klitenic, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will depart early next month, according to an agency spokeswoman.

“Klitenic made a personal decision to return to private practice, the spokeswoman said. He became the subject of scrutiny in September when he consulted with the Justice Department and determined that a whistleblower complaint deemed ‘urgent’ by an internal watchdog would not be provided to Congress.” The story: https://politi.co/39RtAQN.

Nothing today.

The House and Senate are OUT.

Tumbleweeds.

TUESDAY’S WINNER: Stefani Koorey was the first person to correctly guess that James Polk was the first president to have zero pets while he occupied the White House.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Stefani: How many First Ladies died while their husbands were in office and who were they? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess my way at mzanona@politico.com.

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