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On the roster: The House is revolting – Time Out: ‘The passing tribute of a sigh’ – Cohen hosted Russian oligarch at Trump Tower – Ex-staffers describe humiliations in Hill office – Meanwhile in Wisconsin…
THE HOUSE IS REVOLTING
The greatest power of the majority in Congress is not to advance legislation but rather to decide which legislation will not advance. After nearly a year and a half of holding the line, though, the leadership of the 115th Congress may be about to break.
We wrote last week about the caper that the House Freedom Caucus pulled off in which they smashed a farm bill that was near and dear to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s heart. The legislation, in addition to providing the subsidies and regulations that make up the crazy quilt of American agricultural policy, included an overhaul for the food stamp program that entitlement reform crusader Ryan dearly wanted as a capstone for his soon-to-be concluded speakership.
The 30 or so members of the caucus killed the bill as punishment for leaders not bringing forward their preferred package on addressing the matter of young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as minors. The fate of these residents hangs in limbo in the courts and in the judicial and executive branches as Congress deliberates on the subject.
But it’s an election year and that always makes things stupider.
The measure backed by the Freedom Caucus probably couldn’t pass the House and would go over in the Senate like a whoopee cushion at a screening of “Schindler’s List.” And that’s okay with them since part of the appeal is forcing their fellow Republicans to vote against a bill that would be very popular with the GOP base.
Not only did the Freedom Caucus succeed in killing the speaker’s bill, but they have not only suffered no consequences for their extortive actions, they have been rewarded with ever-greater flattery and accommodation by the leadership team.
At this moment, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is working like a dog to avoid a repeat of 2015 when he, heir to the gavel, failed in his bid to succeed John Boehner. If the Freedom Caucus refuses his blandishments again this time, McCarthy knows he will meet the same fate. The fact that boosters of Majority Whip Steve Scalise have resumed their quiet efforts to position their man as the viable alternative to McCarthy is evidence of the majority leader’s precarious position.
Caucus members are going to take plenty out of McCarthy’s hide for the privilege of being speaker. Now, we would rather train bees with our bare hands than have to lead this fratricidal conference. And since McCarthy would either be presiding over a substantially narrower majority or find himself as minority leader, the privilege is dubious indeed.
While the Freedom Caucus is putting McCarthy under the lash and blowing raspberries at Ryan on his way out the door, the other 200 or so Republican members of the House are not sitting so quietly anymore.
Any parent can tell you that when one of their children gets away with an infraction, their siblings will claim the right for themselves. If Jimmy got away with eating chocolate ice cream on mom’s good couch, you’ll pay hell keeping Johnny from doing the same.
A group of moderate Republican House members has been circulating a petition for months that would force a vote on immigration if it gets enough signatures. It’s called a discharge petition, and while it sounds like something you would see the dermatologist about, it is one of the few ways that House members can circumvent the iron rules of leadership.
In this case, the moderates are pushing a suite of bills that would all get a vote under House rules. The package is done Goldilocks style with one hardline stance, one permissive plan and one that moderates think will be juuuust right. Whichever one gets the most vote would automatically fly to the Senate, where members would happily pass the compromise version most likely to win in the House.
House leadership has strongly opposed the idea. First, they know that there are enough votes to pass a plan that will be popular with the electorate in general but unpopular with Trump voters. Republicans don’t want to do anything to further dispirit their base ahead of midterms. And second, these are the kinds of uprisings that break leadership teams.
If one discharge petition is successful, others will follow and the power of leaders to set the agenda for Congress will be eroded. Having this take place at the exact moment Ryan and McCarthy are trying to trade horses in midstream makes it even worse.
But moderates are losing patience. In their districts inaction on the so-called DREAMers is a liability. They need to demonstrate to voters at home that they are different on the question of immigration than the president. As they have watched the Freedom Caucus get its way time and time again, these moderates have grown frustrated with leaders who take for granted their cooperation and compliance.
The Freedom Caucus’ farm bill escapade was enough to push another handful of Republicans to sign on the line for the discharge petition, bringing them just two members from success since all of the Democrats will presumably sign on once there are requisite Republicans.
Boehner announced his resignation on September 25, 2015. One month and four days later, he was gone. In the intervening period he moved bales of legislation against the wishes of the Freedom Caucus and many in his base. He did a spending bill, a Pentagon package and more. In hindsight it was clear that Boehner set his party up for success in 2016 by avoiding the kind of fiscal cliff shenanigans that had plagued them in the past.
The former speaker took advantage of the element of surprise to put his tormentors back on their heels and then worked swiftly to, as he put it, “clean the stables.” Even with McCarthy’s botched bid, Boehner pulled off a remarkable feat.
Ryan’s plan for a long twilight period looks increasingly perilous for House Republicans. What started as the usual conduct by the highwaymen in the Freedom Caucus is now spreading. This will increase the pressure on Ryan to step aside sooner.
What we don’t know is whether he and McCarthy can still pull it off.
THE RULEBOOK: NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
“Experience has instructed us that no skill in the science of government has yet been able to discriminate and define, with sufficient certainty, its three great provinces the legislative, executive, and judiciary; or even the privileges and powers of the different legislative branches.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 37
TIME OUT: ‘THE PASSING TRIBUTE OF A SIGH’
RCP: “The discovery of the sunken wreckage of World War II casualty USS Juneau two months ago, far below the blue swells of the Coral Sea, offers poignant testimony to the rich democracy of Memorial Day. … In early November, Juneau weighed anchor in New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, and set course for Guadalcanal. A few days later, past midnight, a dozen outgunned American ships, including Juneau, intercepted a Japanese armada approaching the island to bombard its critical airfield and the beleaguered U.S. Marines garrisoned there. With two dozen ships intermingled in the darkness … four American ships were sunk; a fifth was scuttled in the morning. … Badly damaged, Juneau survived the night only to be fatally torpedoed next morning, sinking in minutes. The earthy [Sullivan brothers], the romantic [William Meeker], and all but a handful of their 700 shipmates would perish… For the [loved ones at home] they relinquished, for the never-realized homecomings and unlived summer days – all honor to them on this dawn-of-summer weekend, and as poet Thomas Gray put it, ‘the passing tribute of a sigh.’”
[Ed. note: In observance of Memorial Day, the Fox News Halftime Report will not be published on Monday. We wish for you and yours a splendid start to the summer season, but also encourage you to take time even in small and simple ways to consecrate in your own hearts the sacrifices of the nearly 1.5 million who gave their lives in war time. We would also hope that that spirit would live on the rest of the year. A long time ago a hillbilly politician said, “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” We will be back on Tuesday.]
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 41.2 percent
Average disapproval: 54 percent
Net Score: -12.8 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 42% approve – 54% disapprove; CBS News: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve – 51% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve – 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve – 54% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change
[Average includes: CNN: 47% Dems – 44% GOP; CBS News: 50% Dems – 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 48% Dems – 43% GOP; Monmouth University: 49% Dems – 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems – 40% GOP.]
COHEN HOSTED RUSSIAN OLIGARCH AT TRUMP TOWER
NYT: “Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting. In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another at the inauguration, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said. Days after the inauguration, Mr. Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Mr. Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Mr. Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.”
Trump’s Lawyers, Special Counsel reaching terms on meeting – WSJ: “In January, President Donald Trump’s legal team and special counsel Robert Mueller were zeroing in on the terms of a presidential interview: the last Saturday of the month, at Camp David, on a narrow list of topics, for maybe between two and six hours, with time set aside for bathroom breaks, according to people familiar with the matter. The lawyers presented the terms to the president, who was described by one person as ‘optimistic’ about the prospect. Ultimately, though, the deal was never sealed as members of the legal team were divided over the wisdom of letting him testify, the people said. Mr. Mueller’s office declined to comment.”
Giuliani doesn’t seem to be as on board with the plan – The Hill: “Rudy Giuliani said Thursday that President Trump is more likely to move forward with talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un than he is to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. ‘I think it is more inevitable than a Mueller interview,’ Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, told The Washington Post. ‘At least they’re not going to try to trap him into Korean perjury.’ Giuliani’s comments came after Trump on Thursday canceled a planned summit with Kim that was set to take place on June 12 in Singapore.”
Manafort trial pushed to July 24 – Reuters: “A trial date for U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for alleged financial crimes been postponed to July 24 in the Eastern District of Virginia District Court, according to a court filing on Friday. The judge said the cause of the postponement from July 10 was ‘owing to a family member’s medical procedure.’ Manafort, along with his business associate Richard Gates, was indicted in the Virginia court for charges related to false income tax returns, failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts and bank fraud.”
McConnell stands behind special counsel investigation – NPR: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NPR in an interview that he continues to support the Mueller Russia investigation — and that nothing in Thursday’s hotly anticipated secret briefing on the Russia probe to congressional leaders changed his mind. ‘The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise — the [inspector general] investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation,’ McConnell said. ‘I support both of them, and I don’t really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified.’”
Former Trump campaign adviser sought Clinton dirt from WikiLeaks – WSJ: “Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone privately sought information he considered damaging to Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The emails could raise new questions about Mr. Stone’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in September, in which he said he ‘merely wanted confirmation’ from an acquaintance that Mr. Assange had information about Mrs. Clinton, according to a portion of the transcript that was made public. In a Sept. 18, 2016, message, Mr. Stone urged an acquaintance who knew Mr. Assange to ask the WikiLeaks founder for emails related to Mrs. Clinton’s alleged role in disrupting a purported Libyan peace deal in 2011 when she was secretary of state, referring to her by her initials.”
EX-STAFFERS DESCRIBE HUMILIATIONS IN HILL OFFICE
Politico: “Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett and his wife turned the congressman’s staff into personal servants, multiple former employees to the freshman Republican told POLITICO — assigning them tasks from grocery shopping to fetching the congressman’s clothes to caring for their pet dog, all during work hours. POLITICO has spoken with four former staffers who detailed a deeply dysfunctional office in which the congressman and his wife, Flanna, often demanded that staff run personal errands outside their typical congressional duties. The couple called on staff to pick up groceries, chauffeur Garrett’s daughters to and from his Virginia district, and fetch clothes that the congressman forgot at his Washington apartment. They were even expected to watch and clean up after Sophie, their Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix, the aides said. The staffers said they feared that if they refused Garrett’s or his wife’s orders — both were known for explosive tempers — they would struggle to advance in their careers. It wasn’t just full-time staff: many of the allegedly inappropriate requests were made of interns, the former aides said.”
After Franken scandal, GOP sees opening in Minnesota – Fox News: “A combination of changing political views and Democratic turmoil has Republicans seeing red in the once-liberal stronghold of Minnesota, where a tossup governor’s race has given the party hope and could serve as a bellwether for future elections. ‘In 2018, we want to turn Minnesota red and in 2020 deliver Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes for President Trump for the first time since the state voted for Nixon [in 1972],’ Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan told Fox News. ‘The election in November will be a tipping point for our state for possibly many decades.’ Despite the state’s solid-blue record in past presidential elections, Hillary Clinton narrowly won Minnesota over President Trump by just 1.5 percentage points in 2016. Republicans now control both chambers of the state legislature. And the Democratic Farmer Labor Party—as it’s known in Minnesota—suffered a hit to the brand after Al Franken resigned from the Senate amid accusations of sexual harassment. The resignation also left voters to decide two U.S. Senate races this year, in additional to the likely competitive gubernatorial contest.”
Poll shows Menendez barely ahead in N.J, Senate race – Politico: “Sen. Bob Menendez holds a razor-thin four-point lead over his likely Republican rival in November’s general election, according to a new poll, indicating the New Jersey Democrat is still suffering from a post-corruption-trial hangover. Menendez, who successfully beat back federal bribery charges only to face a bipartisan admonishment by the Senate Ethics Committee, has the support of 28 percent of registered voters in his reelection bid, according to the latest survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University. The likely Republican nominee, former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, recorded support at 24 percent among the 856 people surveyed.”
Perez feels heat after endorsing Cuomo – The Hill: “Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez‘s endorsement of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has created a fissure with his deputy, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who learned of the party leader’s decision to get involved in the race only after a public announcement. In a statement, Ellison said the DNC should not get involved in primary fights such as the one in New York, where Cuomo is facing a spirited challenge from the left from actress-activist Cynthia Nixon. … Perez defeated Ellison in a contested race last year for the party chairmanship that shined a spotlight on the divisions within the party between more centrist and liberal lawmakers. Perez’s endorsement broke from his repeated pledge not to pick favorites in the party’s primary races.”
Dem drops out of Iowa governor race over sex misconduct charges – Des Moines Register: “Iowa Democratic candidate for governor Nate Boulton suspended his campaign Thursday morning, the day after the Des Moines Register published allegations from three women that Boulton touched them sexually without their consent. ‘I am so proud of the campaign that my staff, my supporters, and I ran in the past year,’ Boulton said in a statement. ‘I was and still am inspired every day by the people who have chosen to fight alongside me in the Senate and on the campaign trail to share a positive vision forward for this incredible state of Iowa.’”
House passes $717 billion defense policy bill – AP
Ivanka also gains full security clearance – Axios
Environmental red tape stalls border agents trying to fill drug-smuggler tunnels – Fox News
“I enjoyed it, actually. It sorta softened my image, don’t you think?” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to Politico, referring to the “Narcos”-inspired tweet directed at former coal CEO Don Blankenship.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This Sunday Bill Hemmer, guest anchoring for Mr. Sunday, will sit down with the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Also on the show, Sens. Chris Coons D-Del. and Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.
#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“You ask ‘what could be sadder than coerced patriotic expression?’ My question back to you is: ‘What’s coerced if a dissenting player is allowed to remain in the locker room?’ His salary remains untouched. More importantly to the many Americans (including me) who have served in the Armed Forces, we don’t have to witness someone being disrespectful to the flag we fought for. These players, 99.99% of whom have not served their country, simply do not understand why I and my veteran and active duty comrades find their behavior extremely distasteful. It matters not that they claim they’re not protesting the military—kneeling during the National Anthem offends the men and women who’ve put their lives on the line for this country.” – Charles Ware, New Bern, N.C.
[Ed. note: I hear you, Mr. Ware. And I also thank you for your service. We owe all of our freedoms to men and women who would lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters. As the saying goes: Land of the free because of the brave. What I wonder, though, is why anyone would want a phony, forced show of respect from someone who was just doing it for the money? I despair at the idea that even our national anthem has become a political battle. It is unworthy of a great country and, as you say, the men and women who have sacrificed to create and maintain it. But if our culture has eroded to the point that even this most basic form of civic participation has become a weapon, no set of rules or regulations will save us from our deserts.]
“Players and all Americans have a right to express themselves – it is what makes this country great – but there is a time and place for said expressions. And while you are on the clock at work is not the place. Once a sports figure takes the field for a game, they are now on the job. While I do not agree with stances taken by the players, I would whole-heartedly endorse their right to express themselves on their free time. Moreover, sports figures should also consider the ramifications of their actions where they are on the field. My wife is a teacher and one Monday morning fresh off a weekend of NFL protests, two of her second-grade students didn’t not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. All they did was laugh because they wanted the attention of the other students and didn’t understand why the players did what they did. Keep up the great work. Your style of writing is fresh and witty!” – Dave Shuey, Berne, Ind.
[Ed. note: Yup! But to be fair to the protesters, the NFL and its advertisers have been remarkably successful at monetizing patriotism. Pro sports and patriotism have been tangled together from the start, but the NFL has wrapped itself in the flag to a pretty remarkable degree. That’s why the activists went there.]
“I found this comment in today’s Halftime Report touching a nerve. … 1) Sitting/Kneeling at a National anthem does not in any way disrespect the anthem. Who came up with ‘Standing is respectful’ anyway? I kneel when I pray to the Lord and prostrate on the floor when I want to completely submit to a higher power. Isn’t that a higher form of respect than standing? 2) On the Flag – This was the same flag that was a symbol of slavery, women’s suffrage, systematic racism against Asians and the most grave crime of all – Native American genocide. White men have enjoyed the full freedoms for the longest period in our history. So please be gentle on the folks who don’t enjoy the same freedoms and want to get to a more perfect Union. As for the means to this end, who is anyone to tell another where, when and how to protest? The flag and the anthem are mere symbols they are as good as any to focus our attention on issues. Cohesion and unity comes when we talk about issues and fix them. Not this coerced patriotism, that’s good for North Korea.” – Jai Suresh, Milpitas Calif.
[Ed. note: Good advice, Mr. Suresh. But I would also say that a culture is like a family. We have to find enough love for each other to summon forgiveness for each other. It is always tempting to tell the American story with bright, bold strokes. The truth, as is usually the case in history, is more complicated. But I know in my heart and in my head that United States of America has been perhaps the greatest single force for good in the history of our civilization. Our sins and transgression are numerous and we should not shrink from them. But we would do a disservice to those who came before us if we allow the failures of the past to interfere with our gratitude for the many gifts God has given us.]
“Mr. Stirewalt: I was pleased to see you shift Kentucky’s 6th District from a ‘Lean Republican’ to ‘Likely Republican’ in the latest Power Rankings. I agree, Amy McGrath is going to have a hard time winning against Rep. Andy Barr in November. … I’d also love to get your take on another race – Kentucky’s 3rd District, which includes Louisville. Rep. John Yarmuth will be facing Vickie Glisson (former Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services). While this has been a strong district for Yarmuth for the last several election cycles, it wasn’t that long ago that a Republican, Anne Northup, represented the district. Given that Glisson has outraised Yarmuth over the last few months, have you given any thought to changing the ranking for this district as well?” – Drew Watkins, Louisville, Ky.
[Ed. note: I hereby designate you our official Kentucky congressional correspondent, Mr. Watkins! Keep us posted!]
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MEANWHILE IN WISCONSIN…
WLUK: “In honor of the recent opening of the first Meijer store in the Fox Valley [in Grand Chute, Wis.] a company with Neenah roots broke a Guinness World Record using thousands of rolls of toilet paper. Kimberly-Clark set up shop inside Grand Chute’s Meijer store Wednesday morning to create the tallest bath tissue pyramid. Fourteen volunteers used 25,585 toilet paper rolls supplied by Kimberly-Clark to build the 14 feet and 3.75-inch-tall pyramid in ten hours. The pyramid weighs 11,257 pounds, which is approximately two elephants. If the rolls were stacked on top of another, it would be 8,741 feet tall, three times taller than the world’s tallest building. The previous Guinness World Record was set in Brazil in 2012 with 23,821 toilet paper rolls, standing 13 feet and 5 inches tall.”
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.