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On the roster: The humiliation of Jeff Sessions – I’ll Tell You What: Can this jalopy still run? – Senate GOP tries to cobble ObamaCare cuts revival – House moves ahead on budget, tax cuts – Ahem, hang in there…
THE HUMILIATION OF JEFF SESSIONS
There is something more than a little jarring in the ongoing humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In an ill-timed, ill-focused interview with the NYT, President Trump revisited his disdain for Sessions, his first, most-ardent and most-loyal supporter in the Senate.
When supporting Trump was still considered career suicide, Sessions donned the red cap anyway. Maybe it will prove fatal for Sessions’ career, after all.
The president has not made a secret of the fact that he blames Sessions for the scandal that now engulfs the Trump administration, claiming in contravention of all available evidence that somehow if Sessions had not recused himself from the investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign that his White House will not be under siege.
“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?” Trump asked reporters rhetorically. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair – and that’s a mild word – to the president.”
Sessions seems an odd target for Trump’s blame, given how other members of his inner circle including his son, his son-in-law, his former campaign chairman and his former national security advisor have all laid the president open to the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller.
But it is evident that Trump sees Sessions decision as a personal betrayal and that the president expected the attorney general to protect him from such inquiries. This suggests that Trump did not know Sessions very well when he picked him, since the Alabamian’s devotion to procedural probity is well known in Washington. He’s never been much for cutting corners.
There simply was no way for Sessions to oversee an investigation into a campaign of which he was a part. It’s not complicated.
Here’s where Trump’s cynicism trips him up. The president no doubt believes that Sessions’ predecessor, Loretta Lynch, quashed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of state secrets. Trump might think that it would be only appropriate for his attorney general to do the same for him.
Trump’s 2016 pitch was centered on the idea that he, as a lifelong manipulator of a rigged system, was better suited than anyone to be in charge. Some may have thought that this meant Trump would know how to clean up Washington. But perhaps others just wanted him to win at the same dirty game.
As we hear the president and his defenders complain about things that Clinton and her husband got away with over the years, it occurs to us that the House of Clinton, the most ethically compromised, scandal ridden political operation since at least Richard Nixon’s goon squad, makes a rather poor benchmark by which to measure good conduct.
Sessions obviously believed that Trump wanted to use his knowledge of the rigged game to clean it up. He may have misunderstood.
Now, Trump is contemplating what he no doubt feared from the time he launched his presidential campaign: That his entry into public life could bring down his family business.
The president knows that Mueller and his team are rooting through Trump’s finances. He can imagine Mueller leafing through Trump’s unreleased tax returns, poring over case files and deal books from Trump’s past business dealings with Russians. And that means all of it might one day come out in a report or at a trial for one of his “satellites.”
The NYT interview as well as Trump’s statements and his behavior makes it plain that he sees Mueller as corrupt and intent on harming him and his family. And in Trump’s own oft-repeated moral code, a punch deserves a counter-punch.
Trump’s decision to grant the interview and his comments suggesting that he might yet try to stop the investigation, maybe by even firing Sessions, his deputy Rod Rosenstein and even Mueller himself reveal how much Trump is focused on the subject and the magnitude of the threat he believes it represents.
Think of it this way: Trump agreed to sit down with the paper he says is relentlessly unfair to him about the Russia investigation on the very day that he was supposed to be trying to revive moribund health insurance legislation in Congress.
The furor over his eldest son’s previously undisclosed meeting with Kremlin-connected figures was just dying down and the window for salvaging his first-term agenda was still barely ajar.
But Trump could not keep the focus on the business at hand even for a day. About 20 minutes of salesmanship for the bill on which hangs so much of his agenda was all he could muster.
It is certainly fair to say that Democrats and many in the establishment press are fixated on the Russia probe. But so is Trump. Maybe you think that’s appropriate because maybe you believe, as Trump does, that it is a witch hunt aimed at destroying his presidency over baseless charges. But if that’s so, then that’s all this presidency will ever be: A long battle to protect Trump from his persecutors.
Sessions won the ire of many conservatives this week by reinstituting rules allowing prosecutors to seize the property of criminal suspects without a trial. He has, of course, long been the object of contempt on the left for his stances on a variety of issues, especially lately with his crackdown on illegal immigration.
Taking and defending these unpopular views that are part of the core principles on which Trump ran is something Sessions does without batting an eye. And in an administration not consumed by a scandal surrounding the president and his inner circle, an attorney general so unflinching might be treated as a star cabinet member. Arguably, Sessions has been Trump’s most effective lieutenant.
Sessions, though, apparently misunderstood his job description.
THE RULEBOOK: MINUTEMEN
“The perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it; its armies must be numerous enough for instant defense.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 8
TIME OUT: TIMELESS
New Yorker: “George Strait has discovered that when he isn’t wearing a cowboy hat people often don’t realize that he is George Strait. … He is, by some measures, the most popular country-music singer of all time and, by any measure, the most consistent. Since 1981, when he made his début, he has placed eighty-six singles on Billboard’s Top 10 country chart, and more than half of them have gone to No. 1. Everywhere that there is a country radio station, there are generations of listeners who regard Strait’s music as part of the landscape; they are intimately connected to these songs, even if they can’t quite say that they are intimately connected to the man who sings them. When Strait first emerged, he was acclaimed as ‘the honky-tonk Frank Sinatra,’ a designation that fits him even better now than it did then. Like Sinatra, Strait is chiefly an interpreter, not a songwriter, and he is committed to the old-fashioned idea that an entertainer’s job is to entertain, and not necessarily to bare his soul.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -16.6 points
Change from one week ago: -3.2 points
I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: CAN THIS JALOPY STILL RUN?
What was your first care? This week, Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt talk about their vehicular misadventures as well as the challenges the Republican-led Congress faces with the latest incarnation of the health care bill. Plus, Dana shares about her time living on the west coast and Chris tries his hand at trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE
SENATE GOP TRIES TO COBBLE OBAMACARE CUTS REVIVAL
Politico: “A key group of Senate Republicans met late into the night Wednesday to try to salvage their health care bill, but emerged without any breakthroughs and still appeared far from finding the votes to repeal Obamacare. Still, as GOP senators left the nearly three-hour meeting, they professed optimism. The Republicans initially planned to bring in chiefs of staff and health care wonks to advance the negotiations. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was expected to join and help push the disagreeing GOP senators to yes. But as the senators kept talking, they reevaluated their plan and decided not to allow staff in and keep the room to members only. Priebus strolled out of Sen. John Barrasso’s office, as did White House legislative director Marc Short. The senators would keep talking amongst themselves. … As the night dragged on, however, Republicans cited good progress but nothing to suggest they had overcome the obstacles that have stymied their previous efforts.”
Poll: 74 percent want GOP to reach out to Democrats on ObamaCare – Fox News: “Yet a Fox News Poll taken Sunday through Tuesday finds support continues to fall for the GOP plans being offered to replace President Obama’s signature law. Only 25 percent of voters favor the Senate’s latest health care bill (which was pulled late Monday). That’s a bit less than the 27 percent who favored last month’s Senate draft, and falls considerably short of the 40 percent who supported the House bill in May. Among Republicans, a narrow majority, 52 percent, favors the second Senate bill, down from 75 percent support for the House overhaul in May. If the existing law isn’t repealed, 47 percent of all voters, and a hefty 40 percent of Republicans, say congressional Republicans deserve all or most of the blame.”
McCain diagnosis looms over GOP health insurance talks – The Hill: “News of Sen. John McCain’s diagnosis of brain cancer loomed over a previously scheduled meeting on healthcare negotiations on Wednesday night. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) lead more than a dozen GOP senators in prayer as they found out about the Arizona Republican’s condition during the closed door talks, with senators emerging from the meeting sober faced and full of praise for their colleague. … Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of McCain’s best friends and closest Senate allies, appeared visibly emotional as he recounted his conversation that he had on Wednesday with McCain. ‘He says I’ve been through worse,’ he told reporters. ‘So pray. …This disease has never had a more worthy opponent.’”
[Ed note: I have had the privilege, pleasure and occasional frustration of covering John McCain for many years. I join my colleagues and almost all of the world of politics in offering good wishes and prayers for the senator and his family in the wake of his diagnosis. Much has been said in the past day about his remarkable life and accomplishments so far, and truly, he represents the very best of his generation. During his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain was so much a favorite of the press that he jokingly referred to reporters as his “base.” If you read this trail note from Andrew Ferguson from that campaign you will see why the ever-quotable Arizona senator is always in demand by reporters.]
HOUSE MOVES AHEAD ON BUDGET, TAX CUTS
Reuters: “The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives took a new step toward tax reform legislation on Wednesday by approving a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that would allow the Senate to pass a sweeping tax code overhaul without Democratic support. The House Budget Committee voted 22-14 along party lines to send the measure to the floor of the House for consideration by the full chamber, a day after the $4 trillion spending blueprint was unveiled. But it was not clear how the measure would fare in the full House, where it could become embroiled in Republican infighting between conservatives and moderates similar to the political tug-of-war that caused healthcare legislation to disintegrate in the Senate this week. Both the House and Senate must approve a budget agreement to unlock a legislative tool called reconciliation, which would allow Republicans to pass tax legislation with a simple majority in the Senate.”
For House Republicans, past performance is no guarantee of future results – Center for Politics
Kelly says states ‘nuts’ if they don’t ask feds for election protection help – Politico
Red state: Rep. Rohrabacher asks NASA whether there was civilization on Mars – WaPo
Christie’s last big move could be filling Menendez’s seat – Politico
AUDIBLE: BALLMER, HON
“I would have — then I said, ‘Who’s your deputy?’ So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.” – President Trump in an interview with the NYT.
THE JUDGE’S RULING: NO EXIT
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano
examines whether Donald Trump Jr.’s Russian meeting was a criminal act or not: “But we do know that the harm to the Trump presidency, much of it caused by those close to the president and the president himself, continues its dark march. Where will it end?” More here.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Have you ever seen a 100 yard kickoff return? Perhaps a 60 yard field goal? Or perhaps a last minute 2 point conversion that wins the game? Such was the show today on Outnumbered with Chris on the hot seat. A show that I normally watch at my desk while munching a sandwich and doing paperwork. I have enjoyed Outnumbered in the past but this show set a new standard. Entertaining and informative simultaneously. … I’m throwing the red flag on this one because I want to see it again.” – Steve Bartlett, Greenville, S.C.
[Ed. note: I’m exhausted just reading that, Mr. Bartlett! It’s too hot for 100-yard dashes! Thanks for watching, thanks for reading and for taking the time to write.]
“I understand that the President’s intentions vis-à-vis the Obamacare issue, display his compassion, but here’s the thing: I can’t find anything in the Constitution that requires, or even permits, the federal government (read taxpayers) to provide ‘health care for everyone/anyone.’ Rather, the Constitution specifically states that any issue NOT specifically covered in its text reverts to the states. This is the nature of our federalist, republican form of government. President Trump seems to be concerned with the Constitution, as evidenced by his appointment of Justice Gorsuch. So, here’s my suggestion: repeal Obamacare in its entirety, and give the states two years to come up with their own health care/health insurance arrangements, no matter what they be, until the repeal kicks in. States could form coalitions with other states; ‘partnerships’ would be allowed. That also means that states could amend their ‘insurance across state lines’ rule to allow more flexibility. I applaud Senator Cruz’s efforts to restore bare-bones, catastrophic insurance plans; under the system I propose, he would lobby Texas’s General Assembly accordingly. …” – Chris Palmer, Willow Spring, N.C.
[Ed. note: The struggle for constitutionalists is that when breaches become norms, those norms are never undone. I don’t know enough about legal history to say whether a potentially effective challenge to the federal government’s assumed power of regulating the private insurance market was ever taken up by the Supreme Court. But I do know that there were various challenges to the idea of the federal government itself providing insurance both as an entitlement (Medicare) and as welfare (Medicaid). It’s not just the courts that are charged with applying the Constitution, itself. In fact, the Framers envisioned that Congress would take up that role. Looking back at Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion from states’ lawsuit against ObamaCare, he makes it pretty clear that his view, and that of the majority of justices, was that it was not the court’s place to protect citizenry from even bad laws approved by their representatives and senators. Since it is up to the legislative branch, rightly or wrongly, to determine within broad parameters what the federal government’s role is in the provision of health insurance, the material consideration becomes what a majority in both houses prefer. And it is evident that only a small minority of lawmakers would have the stomach for the kind of proposal you suggest. The Constitution can marshal no army, can compel no action and can bring no force to bear of its own. Without an adequate number of adherents in the Congress, courts and the president, it is but words on a page.]
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AHEM, HANG IN THERE…
KSL: “It’s never fun getting a package late, especially if you need it by a certain date – but try waiting 14 years. On July 11, Salt Lake resident Dave Taggart got a package delivered to his home. In it was a poster he ordered back in 2003. ‘I took the poster out and it took me a second to realize what had happened,’ Taggart said. ‘The date on the bottom was a dead giveaway. It was October 2003. And then it all clicked.’ Taggart ordered it from the American Physical Therapy Association for $8.50. It was supposed to hang in his physical therapy clinic to commemorate National Physical Therapy Month, which is in October. … There were some clues, though, that showed it had some recent activity. A tracking sticker with a 2017 date stuck out like a sore thumb next to the original sticker from 2003.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Look, I think the chances of a resurrection [of Republicans’ federal health insurance cuts] here are rather small. If it succeeded, it would be the most spectacular since Lazarus. And I’m not sure that these people have divine powers.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.