SURRENDER OR ROPE-A-DOPE … TRUMP RENEGOTIATES WITH TRUMP … GROUNDHOG DAY … MONTH AHEAD FOR DEFENSE BILLS … TOP 10 SENATE RACES OF 2016 (DEEP DIVE) …. WAS TRUMP’S HOSTILE TAKEOVER OF THE GOP TRULY DESTINED?… and other news of the week.
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Will Stone, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kayla Baca)
66 days to Cleveland
73 days to Philly
179 days to Election Day
QUOTE OF THE DAY (yesterday)
“You don’t put it together in 45 minutes”
– House Speaker Paul Ryan recapping his highly anticipated meet & greet with Donald Trump. Ryan said they have a few more trust falls to do before GOP unity is complete. Aka he’s not backing Trump yet.
TRUMPAPALOOZA Paul and Donald finally met. And they decided to have more meetings. The highly anticipated summit … produced a media frenzy, but yielded little in the way of tangible results. SURRENDER OR ROPE-A-DOPE* So was Paul Ryan’s near-embrace of Trump a particularly humiliating sort of “kabuki as prelude to surrender” … or, as other observers think, a sort of rope-a-dope that will allow them to blame Trump for the inevitable meltdown? Nobody’s made any money this cycle betting Washington Republicans are cleverer than they look, and Ryan sure was accommodating – even when, as Sherman and Bresnahan report, “the New York billionaire suddenly allowed a flock of his campaign advisers inside.”
*Define Rope-a-dope – a boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring, ineffective punches. Popularized by Muhammed Ali, a tactic of protecting one’s self while an opponent wears himself out, and then unexpectedly lashing out. (urban dictionary)
BLACKLIST Playbook “Speaking of establishments deciding whether or not to cave to Trump… the media story remains central this cycle. … media figures are denouncing Trump’s blacklist of an across-the-spectrum mix of outlets from even making it into the restrictive press pens at his events … outlets, ranging from National Review to The Daily Beast.”
THINGS TRUMP IS NOW TRYING TO RENEGOTIATE (wait for it … ) WITH HIMSELF The Fix: “More than one observer of the Trump campaign has noted that Trump’s sometimes-incendiary statements followed by professed flexibility … allows Trump to occupy a semi-squishy middle or, at the very least, alienate as few voters as possible despite running a campaign built around the willingness and superior ability to offend. Trump has even taken to describing this process as part of his skill set — negotiating and cutting deals. Doubt that? Consider a few recent but major examples that Trump is now renegotiating, so to speak.
1. Entitlement program cuts — not now, not ever. Between October and April, Trump said some version of this — a lot. …Medicare and Social Security — two of the nation’s biggest entitlement programs which have together significantly reduced senior citizen poverty, without cuts. Then, in early May, a Trump adviser told reporters that, if elected, Trump would consider changes — including possible cuts — to both programs.
2. A four-tier tax plan to help the middle class — but really, really help the wealthy. In September … the essence of Trump’s plan was a 25% across-the-board tax cut for all income tax payers. The Tax Policy Research Center assessed Trump’s plan and found that the biggest beneficiaries would, in fact, be the wealthy. But on a weekend news program this month, Trump suggested that he didn’t particularly care for that feature of his plan himself and would want to make changes. Tax rates would have to be set after — you guessed it — negotiating with Congress.
3. Leveraging debt repayment — and even the national debt — as a huge way to secure repayment discounts The candidate suggested that he would try to negotiate debt repayment discounts with the nation’s creditors. It’s a practice he’s used in his own businesses. The suggestion set off alarms … a default or threatened default might secure some repayment deals but would also likely do significant harm to the country’s credit rating and cause a spike in interest rates. Not long after that, Trump basically told reporters that the press had misunderstood. He is aware of the possibility of interest-rate increases and overall inflation but he would leverage that to the advantage of the country, use the government’s ability to print money to avoid a default and ultimately leave the country more flush. Plus, Trump told reporters, America can trust his expertise in this area. “I’m the king of debt,” he said. “I understand debt probably better than anybody. I know how to deal with debt very well.”
4. Ban Muslim immigration. In December, Trump’s campaign put out a press release that stated his position plainly: The U.S. government should put a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration and travel to the United States until someone can”figure out what’s going on.” Then, this week, Trump seemed to downgrade the proposal from a policy idea or plan that would be implemented in a Trump administration to a “suggestion” — something that could also be negotiated, apparently.
5. Wages are too high. Live, on tape … Trump pronounced American wages “already too high” — one of the things curtailing the country’s economic competitiveness. Trump defended his idea the next day, too. By the end of that week, Trump was denying that he ever said such a thing. More recently, Trump told reporters he would like to see a minimum wage increase but would prefer to see that happen due to the action of different state legislatures.
6. The biggest, baddest, most beautiful border wall the world has ever known. This is the one idea that has become emblematic of the Trump campaign — a seemingly simple solution to an incredibly complex problem with both economic and human dimensions. Throughout most of the campaign, Trump talked of a border wall as an essential element of his plan to deal with illegal immigration and claimed that he has a method to force Mexico to finance the wall. He would be tough. He would be firm where other president have not. But in March, Trump told the New York Times that he would be willing to negotiate some of the wall’s details. Perhaps, Trump said, the wall could stand a foot or two shorter than previously described.”
THE STORY Yesterday, a federal judge said a key part of Obamacare is unconstitutional. And then House Republicans broke out a happy dance.
EXPLAIN Obamacare has never been the GOP’s favorite thing for a lot of reasons. Two years ago, the House GOP sued the Obama administration, pointing out that Obamacare pays billions of dollars in compensation to insurance companies that offer healthcare at a reduced cost, even though Congress denied its request for the money. The Obama administration says it’s doing everything by the books, and please find a new topic to hate on. Yesterday, a judge sided with Republican lawmakers, saying, in this case, going around Congress to pay insurance companies with federal funds is so not constitutional.
SO Obamacare was supposed to be the president’s signature achievement, but he’s been defending it in court ever since it was passed. The administration will most likely appeal, so it looks like now he’ll be defending the healthcare law until he leaves office. (theSKIMM)
GOPS’S POVERTY AGENDA – CUT $23 BILLION FROM FOOD STAMPS Roll Call: “Republican leaders have proposed more than $23 billion in food stamp cuts in a budget plan that could be brought to the House floor in the next two weeks, several sources say. The as-yet unreleased legislation is meant to corral the votes needed to pass a 2017 budget resolution and suggests a possible approach to poverty in a much anticipated conservative agenda that party leaders plan to roll out this summer. The Food stamp cuts would be included in what is now a $170 billion spending cut package that would save an estimated $30 billion over two years and $170 billion over a decade. The proposed changes in the food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, include the end of waivers that allow some adults to receive assistance for a limited amount of time, while they are in school, or training for a job. BEEN HERE BEFORE Ryan has proposed deep cuts to food stamp spending in the past, including a plan to cut $1 trillion from the program over 10 years, which he authored when he was chairman of the House budget committee in 2014.”
BATHROOM ACCESS Roll Call: “The Obama administration told public schools on Friday to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.”
D.C. BUDGET POWERS AP: “House Republicans are looking into whether the District of Columbia government truly has the power to spend local tax dollars without approval by Congress. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, has pledged not to submit this year’s local budget to Congress after a judge ruled in favor of the District’s so-called “budget autonomy” law, but House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have cast doubt on whether the city has the authority to take power away from Congress.”
THE MONTH AHEAD FOR THE FOUR DEFENSE BILLS It’s going to be a busy month on Capitol Hill for defense legislation. Here’s a quick look at what’s ahead: The House National Defense Authorization Act goes to the House Rules Committee Monday, which sets a likely Tuesday start on the floor. The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the defense spending measure on Tuesday, too. McCain said Thursday the Senate could take up the NDAA the week before the Memorial Day recess. And Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate’s defense spending bill will come with the authorization measure.
SASC FINISHES NDAA – DIVERGES FROM THE HOUSE DEFENSE FUNDING STRATEGY MorningD: “SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) broke from his House counterparts in sticking with the Obama administration’s $602 billion funding level.” The decision meant that the SASC had $18 billion less for base budget programs, and many increases in the House authorization and appropriations bills aren’t in the Senate measure.”
WOMEN, GRAB YOUR RIFLES Roll Call: “Women would be subject to a military draft under a measure apporved THursday by the SASC. BUDGET QUESTION – WOULD DRAFTING WOMEN SAVE MONEY? It’s complicated. The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the House NDAA, released Wednesday, estimates the bill’s provision requiring women aged 18 to 26 register with Selective Service would save the government $56 million in mandatory funding over the next 10 years. The nonpartisan scorekeeper said the savings would materialize when women who fail to register for the draft lose their eligibility for federal benefits, most notably Pell Grants for college. The CBO added it would also save an extra $7 million in discretionary costs related to Pell Grants. On the flipside, the CBO estimates Selective Service would need an additional $33 million over the next five years to pay for more staff, office space and equipment to handle the influx of new registrants as well as to publicize the new requirement.”
TOP TEN SENATE RACES OF 2016 (DEEP DIVE) The Fix “This is the first ranking of our Senate races since Trump became Republicans’ de facto nominee, (Almost all Republicans on this list have indicated they’ll support their party’s presidential nominee.) But for right now, the Senate map hasn’t drastically shifted with Trump heading up Republicans’ ticket. That’s mostly because the map has already started to fall the way it needs to for Senate Democrats, who have opportunities to try to unseat four or five Republicans to take back the upper chamber. Potential Democratic pick-ups already dominated this list, and they still do today — even as Democrats’ overall odds have become better. EIGHT OF THE TOP 10 RACES we think are likely to change parties are Republican-held. In two of Republicans’ rare offensive opportunities this cycle — in Colorado and Nevada — the party is mired in primaries. Meanwhile, Democrats got their preferred candidate through a tough primary last month in Pennsylvania, and their preferred choice in Florida is ahead by double digits.
As a result, at least five of the races below are toss-ups, which means the Senate majority is very much in-play. And Senate Democrats are confident that if it’s a jump ball on election night — especially with Trump at the top of Republicans’ ticket — they’ll win the tip. We shall see. For now, all these races and then some are worth keeping an eye on:
TO THE LINE! (As usual, No. 1 on this list is the most likely to switch parties, and the races are ranked from there.)
10. Missouri (Republican held): Missouri is still the sleeping giant on the Senate map. One of the Democratic Party’s most interesting recruits, 35-year-old Secretary of State and Afghanistan veteran Jason Kander, is doing what he needs to do keep this race in the top 10. He slightly outraised Sen. Roy Blunt (R) in the first three months of 2016 (pulling in $1.3 million to Blunt’s $1.25 million). But Blunt still has twice as much cash on hand, and Missouri is a state that as of late hasn’t been voting blue at the federal level; in fact, it’s trending the other way. A Democratic win here would be an upset, but it’s possible. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. Colorado (D): Are Republicans blowing their chance to take on Senate Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbent, Sen. Michael Bennet? We asked that question in April after one of their top candidates stumbled to get on the ballot for the June primary. Jon Keyser, a 34-year-old combat veteran, is now back on the ballot. But he immediately stumbled … when he failed to answer or sufficiently deflect questions about a report that at least 10 signatures on his petition were forged. Keyser’s missteps and more is why Colorado, a classic swing state where Republicans managed to snag a Senate seat in 2014, isn’t higher on this list. (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Arizona (R): Sen. John McCain recently told donors behind closed doors that he may be facing the reelection race of his life with Trump at the top of the ticket. And Democrats think they’ve got McCain right where they want him. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), his likely challenger, has ties to the Latino and Native American community that could be crucial to unseating the five-term senator. McCain has four times as much cash on hand, but outside groups could even the playing field. Already, a liberal group is spending money on a Spanish-language radio ad to rally Hispanic voters against McCain by tying him to Trump. This race remains one to watch, which is why we bumped it up to No. 8 in April, where it stays today. (Previous ranking: 8)
7. New Hampshire: (R): The clash of titans — New Hampshire’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan, versus the state’s popular GOP senator, Kelly Ayotte, — remains a toss-up and is likely to stay that way for the rest of this race. Yes, Hassan had to face down some headlines last month about her husband’s involvement in a prep school scandal, but Republicans’ attempt to make that stick don’t seem to have worked. Hassan recently went up with a widely praised positive ad, though she is $4 million behind Ayotte in fundraising right now. Meanwhile, Ayotte is in the running for most awkward response to Trump as nominee: She’ll support the nominee but she won’t endorse Trump. This race is still too close to call. (Previous ranking: 7)
6. Ohio: (R): Sen. Rob Portman (R) is doing everything he can to stave off a challenge from former Democratic Ohio governor Ted Strickland. (Portman’s got a big fundraising advantage over Strickland right now.) But this is Ohio in a presidential year, which tends to lean a little more Democratic. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed the race virtually tied. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Nevada (D): Here’s the first change on our list. Yes, Nevada is an open seat thanks to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D) retirement, which makes it easier for the other side to take. And yes, Republicans have a top-tier recruit in Rep. Joe Heck, a brigadier general and doctor who has won reelection to Congress in a swing district three times. But like Arizona, this is a race where the Hispanic vote can make a difference for Democrats. Their gameplan was made easier by Trump on the ticket, and Heck’s life recently made a little harder by a tea party primary challenger, former 2010 GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Pennsylvania (R): Pennsylvania Democrats get a temporary boost in the rankings after getting their preferred candidate, Katie McGinty, through a tough primary. Almost immediately, she and Sen. Pat Toomey (R) were on the airwaves battling each other, and a Quinnipiac poll showed the match-up a virtual tie. This week, McGinty shook up her campaign staff and had to shut down rumors some Democrats weren’t happy with her candidacy. Democrats say she was just getting adjusted for the big race. And Toomey was already in the fight of his life without Trump as a nominee in a blue state. (Previous ranking: 5)
3. Florida (R): Another month in, and still there’s no clear front-runner in the crowded GOP primary to replace outgoing Sen. Marco Rubio (R). Democrats may have more clarity; Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) leads his liberal challenger, Rep. Alan Grayson, by double digits, according to a Real Clear Politics average of recent polls. Hypothetical Quinnipiac head-to-head match-ups show Murphy the stronger of the two against three of Republicans’ top candidates. But many voters in this swing state aren’t paying attention; the race’s Aug. 30 primary is one of the last in the nation. This race will take time to form. (Previous ranking: 3)
2: Wisconsin (R): Trump’s nomination is not good news for Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R) hopes to hang on in a blue-leaning state in a presidential year. His supporters say his campaign has a strong ground game, and some polls showing him gaining on his rematch with former Democratic senator Russ Feingold. But the Koch brothers and their outside groups recently spent money in the state to give Johnson a boost by attacking Feingold, only to have three TV stations pull their ad over concerns it was misleading. Absent any major shakeup, Wisconsin remains one of Democrats’ best pick-up hopes. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. Illinois (R): The same goes for Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R) is trying to hang on in an even-bluer state against a formidable challenger in Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D). Kirk has said he’ll support Trump as the nominee, something you can bet Illinois voters are going to hear on repeat until November. If there’s perhaps one GOP candidate who would prefer not to share a ballot with Trump, it’s Kirk. But he’s won in blue-leaning electorates many times before. (Previous ranking: 1)
ALTERNATE REALITIES THAT COULD HAVE STOPPED TRUMP Politico Magazine IF ONLY we could go back in time and tweak a few things, the GOP might be on a different path today. … Maybe it was watching a grinning Donald Trump munch on a taco salad—that may or may not have been bought, as he claimed, at the Trump Grill—to win the Hispanic vote. Or maybe it was Sarah Palin discussing whether or not she would accept the vice presidency again. One just can’t help shake the lingering feeling—at least around D.C.—that none of this was supposed to have happened. That somehow the country slipped into a vortex, where one mistaken move veered the nation from its intended path into an alternate Trump-branded reality. Interesting Read.