Paul Out Boy … Legacy Trumped … Tease-Pacific Partnership … Raiding Places … Trump-Putin Collision Course in Syria … Creative Cruelty Management Style … Dems Chances Of Winning Senate Looking Stronger …And In The House … Me. And Don. … Sorry. We meant Well. We Will Fix It This Time. … How To Download Your Facebook Data … and other news of the week.
As I was about to hit ‘send’ … WaPo “Trump Pardon’s Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. Libby — who was chief of staff to Vice President Richard B. Cheney — was convicted in 2007 of perjury before a grand jury, lying to FBI investigators and obstruction of justice during an investigation into the disclosure a CIA agent’s name. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was fined $250,000. His sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush. Although Libby was spared jail time, he was not pardoned. Trump on Friday granted a full pardon to Libby.’
“I don’t know Mr. Libby but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”
– Trump said in a statement
“On the day the President wrongly attacks Comey [see ‘Me. And Don.’ below] for being a ‘leaker and a liar’ he pardons a convicted leaker and liar, Scooter Libby.”
– Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
The Atlantic “Fifteen months after Republicans took full control of Washington, the man long seen as central to the party’s future is abandoning one of the most powerful jobs in the capital, imperiling the G.O.P. grip on the House and signaling that the political convulsions of the Trump era are taking a grave toll on the right months before Election Day.House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s retirement announcement on Wednesday blindsided many House Republican candidates and their campaign leaders who were counting on him to lead them to victory in the November midterm elections. His decision to leave Congress at 48 sent an undeniably pessimistic message to Republicans: that stable, steady leadership is lacking in their deeply divided party as they head into a campaign season defined by the whims of President Trump.
And for a White House bracing for a potential Democratic impeachment inquiry, the ominous impact of Mr. Ryan’s retirement was unmistakable. He has made it more difficult to stave off Democrats’ taking control of the House, where Republicans currently hold a 23-seat majority.
As many as 50 House Republican seats are at risk in competitive races this year. Private polling indicates that Mr. Trump’s approval rating is well below 40 percent in some of those tossup districts, the sort of low political standing that often dooms candidates of the president’s party.
“This is the nightmare scenario,” said former Representative Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican. “Everybody figured he’d just hang in there till after the election.” Already, some veteran Republicans are suggesting that the party shift its focus from the House to protecting its one-seat Senate majority.”
LET’S REVIEW Paul Ryan’s leaving Congress at the end of the year, and that’s set off the following chain reaction. — HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY is gunning for the top spot, and everyone knows it. But he hasn’t said that yet, because there’s no election scheduled. HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP STEVE SCALISE has said he won’t run against McCarthy because they’re friends. But Scalise hasn’t endorsed McCarthy for the top slot. THE NEXT FEW WEEKS are critical in determining the future of the House Republican leadership. This can go two ways. Either lawmakers accept that Ryan is staying until November, and roll with it. OR…THE ALTERNATIVE … McCarthy kicks into high gear and begins locking up his race to be speaker. Many sources we spoke to yesterday said McCarthy would have to go to Ryan and say: “I’m on the brink of securing 218 votes. This won’t hold until November.”
ALARM BELLS … THE STATE OF THE GOP Politico “Republicans are rushing to shore up congressional seats deep in the heart of Trump country as they come to an alarming realization: In this midterm election, few GOP lawmakers are safe. GOP leaders are pressing Republicans lawmakers in conservative areas to get their sluggish campaigns in order. They’re pleading with major donors to open their wallets for incumbents in seats previously thought to be secure. And they’re polling districts President Donald Trump won comfortably just a year-and-a-half ago, searching for signs of trouble.
“While most of the party’s efforts have been focused on defending swing districts, Republicans are increasingly turning their attention to more conservative areas, from suburban Phoenix to rural Virginia, fearful that they too could be casualties of a midterm bloodbath.”
HE CAME FROM JANESVILLE, WISCONSIN Ryan’s exit creates an open seat in a GOP-leaning district — Wisconsin’s 1st District –his opponen,t Randy Bryce, starts the new race with a multimillion-dollar advantage over any Republicans, and the Cook Report rating shifted from Solid Republican to Leans Republican.”
“The tragedy of Paul Ryan is that he was one of Trump’s loudest critics during the 2016 campaign, but grew silent once he won. For that … the House speaker “will be remembered as both victim and accomplice.” Politico Magazine “The Tragedy of Paul Ryan.”
PoliticoS”Trump may try to claw back as much as $60 Billion from spending bill ” – Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney — himself a former congressman — is taking the lead on developing the rollback proposal … The White House expects to release it around May 1, according to one administration official. “These officials anticipate the White House could propose slashing anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion dollars from the $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill passed for this year – even as Republican lawmakers are openly asking the president not to re-open the negotiations.” THIS IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN There is not enough appetite in Congress, particularly in the Senate. The House will take this up. The Senate will ignore it. And it won’t become law.
Trump’s texting ‘miss u’ to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Roll Call In what could be another dramatic reversal … President Donald Trump told farm-state lawmakers Thursday he might sign the U.S. up for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after all. Hmmm… yes, that’s the agreement that he once dubbed “a continuing rape of our country’ … and that he withdrew from on his third day in office.”
Future Of Dodd-Frank
BGov “Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Cmte, says most proposals to soften the Dodd-Frank financial oversight will require a super-majority in the Senate and will be “modest and tailored. The fate of these bills will depend frankly on 8 or 9 moderate Democrats” in the Senate. He says he’s currently speaking to Senate lawmakers; doesn’t have a firm timeline.”
Raiding Places … Michael Cohen’s Problem
Federal agents raided the home, hotel room, and office of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, on Monday. Experts say that such a move would have required extremely strong evidence against Cohen. For his part, Trump described the situation as a “witch hunt.” His comments appeared to criticize the rule of law itself, and marked a reversal of his past rhetoric on due process and criminal justice.
Axios “Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates,” according to the WashPo: “Cohen … was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues.” Why it matters: “[A]llies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators.”
Politico “A breakthrough bipartisan bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller is coming under a new threat: Partisan infighting among leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Confusion and distrust between Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has already delayed consideration of the hot-button bill, which is strongly opposed by Republican leaders.”
Trump & Putin’s Collision Course
theSkimm ”President Trump won’t say when he’s attacking Syria. What’s this about? Last weekend, the Assad regime is suspected to have carried out a chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus that left dozens of people dead. And [now proven to] include a nerve agent. When a similar attack happened last year, Trump responded with a missile strike on a Syrian air base. It was the first direct US attack against the regime. This week, Trump said ‘expect another.’ Now, he’s saying an attack could come “very soon or not so soon at all.”
Why’s that? Russia’s been threatening to retaliate against any US strike in Syria – a conflict Trump’s defense secretary wants to avoid. What might not help: yesterday, Trump’s pick for sec of state said during his confirmation hearing that the US killed “a couple hundred Russians” in Syria. This happened a few months ago, when US-backed forces came under attack there.”
“The US and allies are trying to draw a red line on chemical weapons. But it’s hard to reinforce principles when that could lead to a major escalation between global powers.”
Tweeter In Chief
Wall Street Journal “Despite his pronouncements that he would never publicly telegraph military plans, President Trump’s threats of military action against Syria may have already triggered a response from adversaries. In a series of tweets and pronouncements in recent days, President Donald Trump has outlined a military operation still in the planning stages, spelled out a decision timetable and pointed to the kinds of weapons he may use.
“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” he tweeted on Wednesday, referring to advanced weaponry at least 24 hours before any operation in Syria is likely to begin. (Hey, President Trump, “The U.S. military maintains strict discipline when it comes to discussing such operations in advance. … The department does not comment on potential future military actions,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said Wednesday when asked about Mr. Trump’s tweet. “I refer you to the White House to characterize the president’s tweet.”
Mr. Trump’s pronouncements may already have triggered moves by adversaries, military officials said. Syria has moved its fighter jets, sending some to a Russia-operated airbase near the Syrian city of Latakia, according to Syrian experts, in the belief that the U.S. won’t strike Russian-protected targets. Iranian troops and allied militias, meanwhile, were redeploying around the country, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Mr. Trump on Thursday tweeted that he had “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
VP of Washington Coal Club Gets A New Job
Roll Call “The Senate has confirmed former fossil fuel lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as deputy EPA administrator, providing a second-in-command for Administrator Scott Pruitt as he struggles amid alleged ethical failings.Wheeler was confirmed Thursday with a 53-45 vote. Dem Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined Republicans in voting for Wheeler. Both are running for re-election this year in states won by President Donald Trump.Wheeler has lobbied on behalf of coal firms such as Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest, and has led consulting firm Faegre Baker Daniels’ energy practice (and was Vice President of Washington’s Coal Club.”
Creative Cruelty As Management Style … It Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Serve Your Country
WaPo “The pace of disillusioned exits [from the Trump Administration] is rapid. And what the departing have chosen to emphasize reveals much about daily life in the executive branch. …. In the case of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the complaint was an atmosphere toxic with cruelty. … During his departure, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made a similar point about civility. … H.R. McMaster, brought a different sort of indictment….”
Dems’ Chances Of Winning The Senate Are Looking Stronger
FiveThirtyEight “For some time, the conventional wisdom … around the upcoming midterms has been that Democrats are modest favorites to win the House, while Republicans are likely to hold the Senate. Democrats, who have 49 Senate seats at the moment, might win GOP-held seats in Arizona and Nevada, but it seems likely they’ll lose at least one of the 10 seats they hold in states that President Trump carried in 2016.
But the 2018 Senate map is shifting — mostly in ways that make it more likely that Democrats could flip that chamber too. If you’ve only been paying attention to the House, it’s time to check back in on the upper chamber.
Our poll of the week, for example, comes from Tennessee. In the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker, Democrat Phil Bredesen (Tennessee’s former governor) leads GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn 45 to 35 percent, according to a Middle Tennessee State University poll. Seventeen percent of voters were undecided (this is a state that Trump won by 26 percentage points). All of which is to say that Bredesen has a real chance — and Democrats could pick up a seat in the South that, not long ago, looked unwinnable.
Meanwhile, Arizona could have two Senate seats up for grabs this November. It’s been clear for a while that Democrats might take one of Arizona’s seats, with incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Flake retiring. But — and look, it’s uncomfortable to discuss this — Sen. John McCain’s health now has major political implications as well. McCain, who has represented Arizona in the Senate for more than three decades, is suffering from brain cancer … and If he resigns or passes away before May 30, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, would appoint a temporary replacement. About half of Arizona voters approve of Trump and half disapprove, according to the recent Morning Consult poll. Trump won the state by less than 4 points. Arizona isn’t all that red, in other words.
Like in Arizona, Democrats are often enthusiastic about their chances in Texas but almost always lose in federal statewide races there. That said, Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke outraised incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the last quarter of 2017. And O’Rourke raised even more cash in the first quarter of 2018, a sign he’s waging a serious campaign. Cruz has the advantage; Texas is still unquestionably a red state, after all. But his re-election can’t be taken for granted anymore. Case in point: The Cook Political Report moved the race from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
There is one race, though, where the outlook seems to be improving for the GOP: Florida. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, officially announced this week that he is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Everyone already knew Scott was going to run for the seat, but in such a Democratic-leaning environment, it’s gotta be a little reassuring for Republicans that a strong candidate like Scott officially took the plunge. Florida is about evenly divided between the two parties, so this was always going to be a close race, and polls have suggested Nelson and Scott are running neck and neck. For MORE POLL RESULTS, CLICK HERE.
In The House … Midterms
Democrats need to flip 24 seats to capture the 218 seats necessary for control of the chamber. There are 181 solidly Democratic seats and 169 solidly Republican seats. See the competitive races. FULL LISTING Click Here.
Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized — again — this week in remarks on Capitol Hill during hearings about data privacy. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg said.But several lawmakers didn’t hesitate to remind Zuckerberg they’d heard it all before. “That rinse-and-repeat pattern to Zuckerberg’s apologies has now drawn scorn not only from lawmakers in Washington, but also on Twitter, in media coverage and by those raising alarm bells about Facebook’s influence.”
I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.
(This is my story, too.JR) NYTs “When I downloaded a copy of my Facebook data last week, I didn’t expect to see much. My profile is sparse, I rarely post anything on the site, and I seldom click on ads. (I’m what some call a Facebook “lurker.”) But when I opened my file, it was like opening Pandora’s box. With a few clicks, I learned that about 500 advertisers — many that I had never heard of had my contact information, which could include my email address, phone number and full name. Facebook also had my entire phone book, including the number to ring my apartment buzzer. The social network had even kept a permanent record of the … people I had deleted from my friends list.
How Facebook collects and treats personal information was central this week when Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, answered questions in Congress about data privacy and his responsibilities to users. During his testimony, Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly said Facebook has a tool for downloading your data that “allows people to see and take out all the information they’ve put into Facebook.” (Those who want to download their own Facebook data can use THIS LINK)
Axios “Fired FBI director James Comey comes across in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadersip,” out Tuesday, as aghast that, in his view, so many people who should know better allowed President Trump to attack basic norms of behavior and ethics. We’re told Comey “feels a sense of mission” ahead of a coast-to-coast tour. … As leaks from the book began pouring out yesterday, Comey was said to be “bemused” by Twitter attacks from Trump — and preemptive pushback from the RNC, which set up a “Lyin’ Comey” site.
INSIDE THE ‘LOYALTY DINNER “In one of the juicier scenes, Comey takes readers inside his “loyalty dinner” with Trump, in the White House residence on Jan. 27, 2017, a week after the inauguration: “He said lots of people wanted to be director of the FBI, but that he thought very highly of me. He said he had heard great things about me and knew the people of the FBI thought very highly of me as well. He said despite that, he would understand if I wanted to ‘walk away’ given all I had been through, although then he noted that that would be bad for me personally because it would look like I had done something wrong. He finished by saying that he knew he could ‘make a change at FBI’ if he wanted to, but that he wanted to know what I thought.”
“Now it was pretty clear to me what was happening. The setup of the dinner, both the physical layout of a private meal and Trump’s pretense that he had not already asked me to stay on multiple occasions, convinced me this was an effort to establish a patronage relationship. Somebody probably had told him, or maybe it just occurred to him at random, that he’d ‘given’ me the job for ‘free’ and that he needed to get something in return.”
“This only added to the strangeness of the experience. The president of the United States had invited me to dinner and decided my job security was on the menu.”
Comey writes that Trump’s loyalty demand at the dinner was like “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony.”
Go deeper … The N.Y. Times book review, “James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive,” is written by one of the tougher critics out there — Michiko Kakutani, former chief book critic for The Times, and author of “The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump,” out July 17.