Key Senate committee won’t probe possible Trump-Russia collusion

 

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“We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation,” Sen. Richard Burr said. | Getty

POLITICO

The development raises questions about who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate the matter.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday his panel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election would not look into possible contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Burr’s comments raise questions about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s piecemeal approach to investigating Russia’s role in the election — and who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia once the president-elect takes office.

McConnell has rejected calls for a select committee with a broad mandate to investigate the issue, or an independent commission with subpoena power. The Kentucky Republican has instead ordered individual Senate committees to run their own separate investigations within the confines of their committee jurisdictions.

“We don’t have anything to do with political campaigns,” Burr said Thursday as he left a closed-door briefing with intelligence officials on Russian meddling. “We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation.”

Asked who should investigate the issue, Burr responded: “I would imagine that would probably be the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The senator downplayed the possibility of coordination between Trump’s associates and Russia, dismissing as rumor a 35-page “dossier” of unsubstantiated allegations posted online Tuesday by BuzzFeed News.

“The only accusations that there were contacts are in a document that the media has had for over three months and until this week nobody printed because they couldn’t find anything that fact-checked anything in the 35 pages,” Burr said. “This is speculation, and I don’t suggest that the FBI chase speculative things, and I certainly don’t include that in a committee process that I take very, very seriously.”

The unsubstantiated dossier, though, is not the only evidence of ties between Trump’s team and Moscow. Several of the president-elect’s current and former associates have links to Russia — including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who lobbied for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, and incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was photographed in 2015 sitting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a celebration in Moscow for the Russian-funded television network RT.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister also said shortly after the November election his government had been in touch with members of the Trump campaign — though, as Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed out, there are legitimate reasons why a presidential campaign might be in contact with a foreign government.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from [Trump’s] entourage,” the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told the state-run Interfax news agency in November.

A spokeswoman for Burr, Becca Watkins, said the chairman’s remarks were intended to clarify the separate roles of his committee and federal law-enforcement agencies.

“Sen. Burr is saying that the jurisdiction for the committee is to oversee the intelligence community, and investigate the behavior of foreign intelligence services,” Watkins said. “The committee is looking into Russian active measures, not investigating American political campaigns. That would be an investigation for the FBI.”

She added: “If in the course of our investigation we discover anything that falls outside the committee’s mandate, we will refer that information to the appropriate entities — be they other congressional committees or government agencies.”

There are growing calls in Congress, though, for a wider investigation into Russia’s role in the election with a larger scope.

Sen. Mark Warner, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said Tuesday he wanted possible contacts between Russia and the presidential campaigns to be part of the committee’s ongoing probe.

“In my view, our committee investigation should focus on three broad areas,” the Virginia senator said at a committee hearing, listing the third area as “contact between the Russian government and its agents, and associates of any campaign and candidate.”

Warner said after the intelligence briefing on Thursday that his views remain “the same as I’ve talked about.”

Meanwhile, Republicans Graham and Sen. John McCain have joined Democratic leaders in calling for a select committee to investigate the issue, though the pair backed off after McConnell made clear he wouldn’t agree to it. The majority leader’s office declined to comment, instead pointing to McConnell’s past comments on how the Senate should investigate Russia’s meddling.

For his part, McCain said Thursday he planned to speak to Burr about why he wasn’t looking into the possibility of contacts between Russia and the campaigns.

“I got to talk to him and ask him why he made the decision he made before I can comment on it,” said the Arizona senator. Asked who would investigate the matter if not the Senate Intelligence Committee, McCain responded: “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), an Intelligence Committee member, said he views the panel as the best forum to conduct a successful probe of Russia’s hacking efforts, using open and closed sessions where necessary.

No matter whether alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign is ruled out of the committee’s purview, Manchin added, any thread of inquiry with “concrete” proof behind it and “tied to credible sources” will end up coming into play.

“It’ll come in no matter whether you want it or not,” Manchin said in an interview. “Hopefully [a thorough investigation] will weed out all the crap. It’ll weed out all the nonconfirmed, the rumors, and things of this sort.”

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, this week said the unsubstantiated allegations that Russia sought compromising information on Trump make it more urgent for Congress to conduct a broad investigation into the issue.

“These reports, though unverified, warrant serious investigation by a select committee in Congress or a commission of public officials and private citizens with subpoena power to investigate them — led by people of integrity like Gen. Colin Powell and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Durbin said in a statement.

Last month, McConnell said he believes the Senate Intelligence Committee “is more than capable of conducting a complete review” of Russian interference in the election.

“I have every confidence in Chairman Burr that he will review the matter in a responsible way,” he said, noting that other Senate Committees, including the Armed Services panel, would also have roles in investigating the issue.

In the House, a spokesman for Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Jack Langer, said some parts of the “dossier” published by BuzzFeed could be examined as part of the panel’s review of the intelligence community’s Russia assessment.

“We’re just beginning our work and that hasn’t been decided yet,” Langer said.

Is McConnell facing a mutiny in the lame duck? Over Russia?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and the Senate GOP leadership,listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2013, following a Republican strategy session. At left is Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Why? Because I said so dammit! | attribution: AP

DAILY KOS

This lame duck could be getting interesting in a hurry, and maybe not setting up to be not much to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s liking. Lindsey Graham and John McCain have both already come out demanding a Select Committee on cyber terrorism, and have been joined by Democratic incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and RI Democrat Jack Reed. This is not what McConnell wants, he wants an already existing Senate committee, already under his thumb to investigate the Russian hacking to sweep it under the rug. It will be harder for him to keep control of a Select committee.

But there is now more pressure on McConnell to start just such a committee, if not an independent “9-11” style commission. Politico is reporting that Republican Senator Corey Gardner from Colorado announced that he will introduce legislation for a Senate Select committee to investigate the Russian election hacking as well has other cyber hacking threats to the U.S. by North Korea and Iran.

Corey Gardner is the critical cog here. Right now the GOP controls the Senate 52-48, it would take three GOP Senators flipping their votes to get the bill passed. If the Democrats are unified about this, then if Graham and McCain are resolute, and you toss Gardner’s “yes” vote in there, the bill will pass.

This is quite a step as Corey Gardner is very close to McConnell. As Polico reports it;

Gardner, who is close with McConnell, took pains to cast his proposal as far broader than the Russian hacking of U.S. election officials. His hope is to introduce the bill with bipartisan cosponsors early next year.

“From North Korea’s hack of Sony Pictures to Iran’s attack on a New York dam, it’s evident that we are facing a growing cybersecurity challenge. The nature and complexity of recent cyber-attacks require a whole of government approach to cyberspace and the development of federal policy to mitigate the threat and protect everything from personal information to the security of our critical infrastructure,” Gardner said in a statement.

This is an early test for McConnell. Other GOP Senators have been making noises about backing a Select committee, without actually proposing anything. If he loses on this Select committee, it could be read as an early indication that there are at least some GOP Senators out there who are not quite ready to just roll over and play dead for the Trump agenda. It could also come as a warning shot to Trump and McConnell that some of Trump’s cabinet picks who may have somewhat less than smooth sailings through the nomination process. Keep an eye out on how this comes out, it could be an early indicator of just how radical the Senate is preparing to go.

By Murfster35

Kentucky Is Now A Toss Up As Trump Support Collapses In Mitch McConnell’s Home State

Kentucky Is Now A Toss Up As Trump Support Collapses In Mitch McConnell’s Home State

attribution: None

POLITICUS USA

A new poll of Kentucky reveals that Donald Trump has nearly blown a 12 point lead in Mitch McConnell’s home state, and now leads Hillary Clinton within the poll’s margin of error.

A new poll of Kentucky reveals that Donald Trump has nearly blown a 12 point lead in Mitch McConnell’s home state, and now leads Hillary Clinton within the poll’s margin of error.

A LEX 18 poll of Kentucky found that Trump is dropping like a stone in the Bluegrass State. Trump has gone from a lead of 35%-23% to a lead of 31%-28% with 29% of the electorate undecided. What is encouraging for Democrats in Kentucky is that Hillary Clinton’s gain in support (+5) was larger than Trump’s loss of support (-4).

The Kentucky poll is a good reminder that Trump’s slide isn’t only occurring in national polls. Donald Trump is in decline in solid Republican territory. So far, Trump’s slide hasn’t harmed down-ballot Republicans in Kentucky, but Republican incumbents in swing states might not be so lucky.

The nation is less than three weeks away from election day, and there are serious questions about whether Donald Trump will win deep red states like Arizona, Utah, Kentucky, and Texas. Election day could be more than a Democratic victory. The 2016 election could be a landslide rejection of Donald Trump, and everything that the Republican Party has come to stand for over the past eight years.

What is unfolding is nothing less than the destruction of the far-right led Republican Party.

GOP angst grows over Trump

Getty Images

THE HILL

By Alexander Bolton

The hope this week among Republicans was that Donald Trump would make headway on unifying the party in two pivotal meetings on Capitol Hill.

Instead, Trump called Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) a loser and bickered with Sen. Jeff Flake, warning he’d turn his ire on the Arizona Republican if he kept up with his criticism.

Trump also pointed to a recent Rasmussen poll showing him ahead of Hillary Clinton by two points nationally during the closed-door meeting on Thursday.

But it wasn’t lost on the GOP senators what was left unsaid: a string of other recent polls — including those from better-regarded sources such as Reuters, USA Today, Quinnipiac and Pew Research — show Clinton ahead.

With just more than a week to go before the GOP convention in Cleveland, angst over the presidential contest is growing in the Senate.

Republicans see Clinton as an entirely beatable candidate and believe this week’s scathing criticism from FBI Director James Comey over her private email system can be used against her.

But few in the GOP are convinced that Trump will win or that he is even the favorite, and this week’s meetings — and the events on the campaign trail surrounding them — did little to change things.

Several Republican senators said the meeting was far from a disaster.

While Trump traded barbs for three to four minutes, the vast majority of the meeting was positive.

“You in the media have it all wrong. That stuff was only three or four minutes. The rest of it was positive. It was a good meeting. We talked mostly about how do we unify to beat Hillary Clinton and fix the Obama economy,” said one Republican senator who has long been critical of Trump and will skip the convention in Cleveland.

Others took away the fact that Trump could be useful in delivering attacks on their Democratic opponents that would resonate with white working-class voters, his most loyal demographic.

At the same time, observers said Trump did little to move the needle during what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised would be a frank talk.

Republicans opposed to him being the GOP standard-bearer didn’t change their opinions, nor did his fans.

“I don’t think anybody came away with any higher opinion of Trump’s chances but I do think that Trump could be useful in attacking their opponents,” said a Senate Republican aide. “In a room full of people looking for any kind of silver lining, that was it. But there was no greater hope he can win.”

House lawmakers felt similarly.

“I don’t know that anything moved appreciably,” said a Republican strategist for a major business group who spoke with House lawmakers and aides Friday about Trump’s visit.

“For guys looking for more for the same and feeling underwhelmed by Trump, they left feeling exactly the same. If you were positively inclined before the meeting, you’re probably the same there too.”

“Anybody that was on the fence didn’t come off the fence,” the source added.

Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who does not support Trump, said he didn’t think the meeting changed any minds.

“For me it didn’t make a difference. I heard from a lot of my colleagues in the House that they liked him more,” he said. “He’s likeable. Certainly people have strong disagreements with many of his statements but it doesn’t strike people as malicious but more like an uncle who says things that shouldn’t be said.”

Trump made members of the audience wince when he pledged to defend all articles in the Constitution, including, he vowed, Article 12, which does not exist because the founding document has only seven.

“Is it a little uncomfortable? Yeah,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R), a Tea Party conservative from South Carolina. “Is it a big deal in the greater scheme of things? No.”

But Mulvaney also said the reception was generally positive.

Trump remains disconcerting to lawmakers because just as they’re starting to feel more comfortable with him, he says something puzzling or outrageous.

In an interview with The New York Times this week he did not rule out the possibility that he would opt out of serving as president if he beats Hillary Clinton to win the White House.

“I’ll let you know how I feel after it happens,” he said.

Trump told senators Thursday that he could win in Illinois, Michigan and Connecticut, states that have voted consistently Democratic in recent presidential elections.

He also told them that he would not write off New York, where he grew up and has had a major media presence for decades, and would not ignore California either, though he acknowledged receiving advice not to spend any time in the state.

Lawmakers questioned Trump’s political calculus in light of a new Field poll showing him trailing Clinton by 30 points in California in a head-to-head matchup.

Trump also appeared to be confused during a confrontation with Flake, who he predicted would lose re-election. It’s his home state colleague, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s running for re-election this year. Flake is up in 2018.

Some lawmakers where left scratching their head after Trump’s speech in Cincinnati on Wednesday night that veered all over the map.

Even though the speech was unorthodox, to say the least, it didn’t get all negative reviews.

Joe Scarborough, the former Republican Congressman from Florida and host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” declared afterward that the audience loved it and his co-host, Mika Brzezinski, said, “He’s got his groove back.”

Veteran GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, a former Senate aide, said the different views on Trump’s trip highlight his unique candidacy.

“What’s appealing about Donald Trump to millions of voters is that he’s not a Washington insider. At the same time, he doesn’t understand the levers of power, how the political process works and how to run a campaign,” he said.

“We’re seeing the turbulence around it right now, through some of the mistaken comments he’s made to having challenges assembling a professional staff,” Bonjean added

Senate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect

(Getty Images)

THE HILL

Senate Republicans are deeply concerned that Donald Trump will cost them their majority, despite private assurances from leaders that voters opposed to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee will split their ballots.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published last week shows Trump’s unfavorable rating has hit new a high, with 7 out of 10 respondents nationwide viewing him negatively.

One Republican senator facing a competitive re-election said he and his colleagues are “very concerned.”

“There’s deep, deep concern,” he added.

Republicans have to defend 24 seats while Democrats only have to protect 10. Six of the vulnerable GOP seats are in states that President Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Almost every day, Republican senators see new evidence of Trump’s lack of mainstream appeal.

Major companies such as Wells Fargo and UPS, which sponsored the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa, are skipping this summer’s event in Cleveland.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there,” said a second Senate Republican. “People are trying to figure out what’s going on in the political climate, what it means to us, to me. There’s anxiety.”

Yet there’s a growing sense of resignation that not much can be done to change their presumptive nominee.

At a meeting of Senate Republicans at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters Wednesday, Trump didn’t even come up for discussion, according to two lawmakers who participated.

Republican leaders are trying to buck up their nervous colleagues by arguing they can win re-election even if Trump crashes and burns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted on Fox News that this will be a “ticket-splitting kind of year.”

He believes that many people who vote for Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, or Gary Johnson, the libertarian nominee, will also vote for Republican Senate candidates.

He is urging vulnerable incumbents to distance themselves from Trump and run their own races.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), the most endangered Senate incumbent, has taken that advice and withdrawn his endorsement.

“He is too bigoted and racist for the land of Lincoln,” he told The Hill, adding that other Senate Republicans “could” be concerned about his effect on their own contests.

NRSC Chairman Roger Wicker (Miss.) said Trump won’t necessarily have a negative impact on Senate candidates.

“That hasn’t happened historically,” he said of fears that the nominee will create headwinds in Senate races. “Our candidates look very, very good. We’ll take [the races] one by one.”

Other Republicans make the same argument.

“I believe that people vote individually, evaluating each race. We have very strong Senate candidates and they will run their own races,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is not up for reelection this year.

In recent elections, however, the macro political environment has had as big an impact on results and candidate quality, experts say.

“They’re whistling past the graveyard,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, when asked about GOP skepticism of a presidential coattail effect in 2016. “To deny there’s coattails is laughable. It’s a very polarized era.”

In a report published last year, UVA’s Center for Politics observed the correlation between presidential and Senate voting exceeded 80 percent in the past two presidential elections.

Democrats picked up two Senate seats when Obama was re-elected in 2012, winning races in five Republican-leaning states: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. They also won in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

Democrats won a net gain of eight Senate seats in 2008, when Obama first captured the White House.

Karl Rove, who served as former President George W. Bush’s top political advisor, predicted in December that the top of the ticket will have a major influence on November’s Senate races.

“In the past two presidential contests, the Republican ticket’s downward pull on the party’s Senate candidates was pronounced,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, noting that Senate Republican incumbents lost in New Hampshire and Oregon in 2008 despite running ahead of their presidential nominee, John McCain.

Senate Republicans picked up four seats when Bush won re-election in 2004.

In 2014, losing Senate Democratic incumbents such as former Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) blamed their losses on President Obama’s unpopularity.

Begich, who was thought to have run a near-perfect race, observed to the Alaska Dispatch that the Republican strategy that year was to make every race about Obama.

Republicans say this year will be different because unlike in past presidential elections, their candidates won’t embrace the nominee.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), who has a tough race in New Hampshire, for example, has emphasized that she will support but not endorse Trump.

Democratic strategists say it will be impossible for Republican candidates to inoculate themselves from Trump’s unpopularity. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has launched a campaign branding the GOP as “the party of Trump.”

Adam Jentleson, a senior aide to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), on Thursday called Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his fellow Republicans “puppets of Trump” after McCain blamed Obama’s national security policies for the mass shooting in Orlando. McCain is facing the toughest race of his Senate career,

Trump’s penchant for shooting from the hip and sparking media frenzies has overshadowed Republican accomplishments in Congress.

Senate Republicans were hoping to spend the week of June 6 discussing the disappointing May jobs report, which showed employers added only 38,000 workers to their payrolls.

Instead, Trump’s comments attacking a Mexican-American judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University dominated the political debate, putting vulnerable Senate incumbents on the defensive.

“If he had just said nothing and let the jobs report speak for him, it would have been a great week,” said another GOP senator facing a tough re-election.

Trump’s most stomach-churning characteristic, according to many Senate Republicans, is his sheer unpredictability.

He surprised allies by tweeting Wednesday that he would be meeting with the National Rifle Association about not allowing people on terror watch lists from buying guns, a position that most Senate Republicans oppose without sufficient due-process safeguards.

Trump’s unexpected statement immediately put Republicans who voted in December against legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) banning people on the no-fly list from buying guns on the defensive.

The entire Senate GOP conference except for Kirk voted against it.

By Alexander Bolton

GOP Leadership Thinks Electing Trump Is More Important Than Standing Up To Racism

CREDIT: AP PHOTOS

THINK PROGRESS

On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered up unambiguous denunciations of Donald Trump’s racist attack on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Latino heritage, with Ryan characterizing Trump’s comments as “sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment” and McConnell describing them as “outrageous and unacceptable.”

But in the next breath, both politicians reiterated that they still plan to support Trump. Ryan cited pragmatic reasons. “Do I believe that Hillary Clinton is going to be the answer to solving these problems? I do not. I believe we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than we do with her.”

Along similar lines, McConnell, who as recently as Sunday refused to denounce Trump’s racism, said “the less said about [Trump’s comments] the better. What we ought to be working on is unifying the party and getting ready to try and defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall.”

The implication is that American’s two most powerful office-holding Republicans care less about racism than they do about defeating Hillary Clinton. They’ve labeled Trump’s perspective racist and outrageous, but those concerns are being subordinated to a more pressing concern — electing someone with an R next to their name as president, even if they believe Latino judges have no business presiding over certain cases simply because of their ethnicity.

Leadership’s sentiment was echoed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

In contrast stands remarks made by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in a New York Times report published Tuesday. Graham, who recently seemed to be warming to Trump, characterized Trump’s attack on Curiel as “the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.”

“If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” Graham added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Far from denouncing Trump’s remarks, some of his supporters actually appear to be following the attack-the-questioners-as-the-real-racists script Trump outlined during a Monday conference call detailed by Bloomberg.

During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord accused Speaker Ryan of being the real racist for allegedly embracing “identity politics.”

During the Monday conference call, Trump said to his supporters, “The people asking the questions — those are the racists… I would go at ’em.”

BY AARON RUPAR

Trump shifts his tone, promises to make party proud

Getty Images

THE HILL

Donald Trump sought to reshape his candidacy on Tuesday night, using a teleprompter to deliver a carefully prepared address that cast the presumptive presidential nominee as a champion for ordinary Americans.

The speech was clearly designed to reassure Republicans worried about the billionaire’s candidacy after his remarks criticizing a federal judge provoked cries of racism within his own party.

“You’ve given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall,” Trump said. “We’re going to do it, folks. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never ever let you down.”

“I will make you proud of your party and your movement,” he added.

The speech was clearly designed to reassure Republicans worried about the billionaire’s candidacy after his remarks criticizing a federal judge provoked cries of racism within his own party.

“You’ve given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall,” Trump said. “We’re going to do it, folks. I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never ever let you down.”

“I will make you proud of your party and your movement,” he added.

Trump passed on hot-button issues like his pledge to build a wall along the Southern border, his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, his criticism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and declined even to use his preferred nickname for Hillary Clinton – “Crooked Hillary.”

Instead, Trump vowed to work to earn the support of all those who cast ballots for other candidates over the course of the primary.

“To those who voted for someone else in either party, I’ll work hard to earn your support,” Trump said. “I will work very hard to earn that support. To all of those Bernie Sanders supporters who have been left out in the cold by a rigged system of superdelegates, we welcome you with open arms.”

The remarks come as Trump tries to move past one of the most explosive controversies of a presidential campaign in which he has repeatedly pushed the envelope, particularly on matters related to race and ethnicity.

Trump should have been enjoying a victory lap on the last night of GOP primaries after steamrolling a deep field of Republican contenders and clinching the nomination a full month before Hillary Clinton was able to wrap up the Democratic nomination.

Instead, Trump found found himself under siege from Republicans and Democrats alike for comments he made about an Indiana-born federal judge being biased against him because he’s of Mexican descent.

Top Republican leaders from House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on down have rebuked Trump.

Ryan said that Trump’s remarks are the “textbook definition” of racism, while McConnell demanded the likely GOP standard bearer “get on message.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a fierce Trump critic and former presidential candidate, is urging Republicans who have endorsed Trump to retract their support.

Republicans are also upset that Trump is missing opportunities to go after Democrats for a weak economic recovery and Clinton over an inspector general report that called into question her use of a private email account and server.

Trump tried to get back on message on Tuesday night, saying that he expects build a substantial lead over Clinton in the polls in the coming weeks as he takes aim at the likely Democratic nominee.

“America is getting taken apart piece by piece and auctioned off to the highest bidder,” Trump said. “We’re broke. We owe 19 trillion going quickly to 21 trillion. Our infrastructure is a disaster. Our schools are failing. Crime is rising. People are scared .The last thing we need is Hillary Clinton in the White House or the extension of the Obama disaster.”

Trump said he would give a major speech next week detailing why he believes Clinton is unfit for office.

“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves,” Trump said. “They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts…secretary Clinton even did all of the work on a totally illegal private server…and the corrupt system is totally protecting her.”

Trump’s speech concluded just moments before Clinton was scheduled to speak at a rally in Brooklyn, where she’s expected to claim victory in the Democratic presidential primary.

As eager as Trump was to go after Clinton, Democrats are equally as eager to have their shot at Trump.

Since Trump’s controversy with the federal judge, many Democrats have branded the likely GOP nominee a racist and a bigot and sought to tie him to down-ballot Republican running for reelection, particularly in the Senate, where the GOP is playing defense as it seeks to protect a fragile majority.

By Jonathan Easley

McConnell: No New Supreme Court Justice Until The NRA Approves Of The Nominee

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH, FILE

The absurdity of McConnell’s statement is beyond belief..ks

THINK PROGRESS

Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president and appointed with the advice and consent of the National Rifle Association, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

McConnell offered this unusual view of the confirmation process during an interview with Fox News Sunday. In response to a question from host Chris Wallace, who asked if Senate Republicans would consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the election if Hillary Clinton prevails, McConnell responded that he “can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses.”

The Majority Leader’s statement is significant for several reasons. For one thing, it suggests that his previously stated position that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” is a sham. Simply put, it’s unlikely that the NRA or the NFIB will change their position on a nominee just because Hillary Clinton is president and not Barack Obama.

But it’s also worth examining exactly who McConnell would give a veto power over nominees. The NFIB, of course, was a plaintiff in NFIB v. Sebelius, the first Supreme Court case seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That lawsuit called upon the justices to impose limits on federal power that even the late Justice Antonin Scalia refused to impose in previous cases (although it’s worth noting that Scalia abandoned his previous principled stance when given the opportunity to cast a vote against Obamacare). When the NFIB isn’t fighting to take health care away from millions of Americans, it fights equally hard against raising the minimum wage.

The NRA, meanwhile, is known for its increasingly absolutist opposition to gun safety laws. Though Garland’s record on guns is fairly thin, the NRA opposes Garland’s nomination based on two cases he considered as a judge.

In the first of these two cases, Parker v. District of Columbia, Garland played a very limited role. InParker, two conservative members of a three judge panel struck down the District of Columbia’s strict handgun laws, over the dissent of another conservative, George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Karen Henderson. The District then asked the full appeals court to reconsider this decision in a process known as en banc review. Garland was one of four judges who voted to rehear the case, as was Judge A. Raymond Randolph, an extraordinarily conservative H.W. Bush appointee.

A 5-4 Supreme Court eventually agreed with the three-judge panel in District of Columbia v. Heller, the first decision in American history to hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.

The second case cited by the NRA is National Rifle Association v. Reno, where Garland joined a decision by Judge David Tatel upholding a database the FBI uses to audit the background check system used to screen potential firearm buyers. The FBI retained information regarding individuals who sought to purchase firearms for six months after they attempted to make this purchase, and used this information to perform “quality control checks on the [background check] system’s operation by reviewing the accuracy of the responses given by the NICS record examiners to gun dealers,” among other things.

After six months, information in this database was destroyed. Nevertheless, the NRA claimed that the FBI was required to destroy this information much sooner.

Judge Tatel’s opinion rejecting the NRA’s argument relies on several interlocking provisions of federal law, as well as longstanding Supreme Court doctrines calling for deference to federal agencies, so it is not easily summarized in just a few paragraphs. You can read his opinion and assess his reasoning here. It’s worth noting, however, that NRA v. Reno is a classic case of gun groups seeking to win a victory in the courts that they repeatedly lost in Congress.

A provision of federal law requires the government to “destroy all records . . . relating to the person” who seeks to purchase a firearm — something the FBI did after six months — but does not order the government to do so within a specific time frame. As Judge Tatel notes in the opinion joined by Garland, members of Congress attempted multiple times to change this law to require the government to “immediately” destroy records produced by the background check system, and these efforts repeatedly failed. Thus, having failed to write the word “immediately” into the statute, the NRA asked the courts to do it for them. Tatel and Garland refused to take up this invitation.

So McConnell isn’t simply delegating his duty to evaluate potential Supreme Court nominees to the NRA, he’s deferring to the NRA despite the fact that the gun lobby group’s case against Garland is very thin. It consists of Garland’s single vote to rehear a case that one of his court’s most conservative members also voted to rehear, along with a decision to allow the FBI to continue to perform audits on the background check system after lawmakers sympathetic to the NRA tried and failed to shut those audits down.

IAN MILLHISER

How targeted GOP senators will try to deal with Trump

Greg Nash

THE HILL

Senate Republicans facing tough reelection races are scrambling to come up with new game plans now that Donald Trump is the likely Republican presidential nominee.

The Trump phenomenon has stunned GOP insiders, many of who believed the real estate mogul would fade as the race went on. With control of the Senate up for grabs this fall, Democrats are relishing the chance to tie Trump to targeted Republicans.

Establishment Republicans, meanwhile, are very worried.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, told CNN on Monday, “We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races. That’s a concern of mine.”

Cornyn is a former head of the party’s Senate campaign operation, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

Vulnerable GOP incumbents are distancing themselves from the latest political uproar surrounding Trump: his refusal on Sunday to disavow Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Trump blamed the episode on a faulty earpiece, but endangered Senate Republicans don’t appear to be giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is trailing in the polls to former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), said on the Charlie Sykes radio show Monday that he’s praying for a nominee who will set a more inclusive tone on the campaign trail.

“I go to bed every night praying that our nominee is a person of integrity, intelligence, ideas and courage,” Johnson said. “This nation hungers for someone who can lead this nation, not be divisive.

“That’s all I can say, Charlie. I’m praying for such a leader,” he added.

Trump further alarmed Senate Republican candidates by reposting on Twitter a quote from Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), another Republican facing a tough reelection, condemned Trump’s remarks.

“Trump comments on KKK/Mussolini appalling,” he tweeted, also urging followers to vote for Sen.Marco Rubio (Fla.) in the presidential primary.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged vulnerable colleagues at a lunch last week to contrast themselves with Trump when necessary.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that McConnell advised incumbents to be ready to run negative ads against Trump to create political distance.

Late last year in a memo that was leaked to The Washington Post, the NRSC called on GOP candidates to embrace Trump’s anti-Washington agenda while disavowing his controversial comments.

Republican campaign strategists, however, are warning the incumbents to walk a fine line.

“A Senate candidate or even a House candidate has to disavow issues or statements that they find most offensive as they come up. But they also have to find a reason to like our Republican presidential nominee so they don’t offend Donald Trump’s supporters,” said Patrick Davis, a former NRSC political director.

Most Democrats in the nation’s capital believed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) would win the GOP nomination. Now that Trump is well-positioned to be the party’s standard-bearer, Democrats are champing at the bit.

“Senators who already faced daunting reelection chances in November will now have an even harder time re-writing their records and distancing themselves from Trump, who they’ve all promised to support anyway should he win the nomination. Voters in Senate battleground states all around the country will soundly reject Trump, his policies and his down-ballot colleagues in November,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Monday.

Some GOP strategists argue that Trump atop the ticket would not be bad for Senate campaigns. He could help some Senate incumbents attract blue-collar swing voters — the so-called Reagan Democrats — in industrial regions of Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Senate Republicans are up for reelection in all three states.

A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Trump beating Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, in Ohio, 44 percent to 42 percent.

A survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, shows Trump leading Clinton by 2 points in Florida, another Senate battleground.

Senate Republican strategists say they are preparing action plans for the various voter turnout models associated with each leading Republican presidential candidate.

Trump, they believe, might give white working-class voters anxious about their economic futures reason to vote Republican.

Over the summer, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of the chamber’s most threatened incumbents, advised Trump to “shut up” after he said most illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico are brining crime to the U.S.

In December, he called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims “anathema to American values.”

But by and large, Senate Republican candidates have avoided openly slamming Trump.

Mostly, they have adopted a strategy of doing their best to ignore him and only speak out against him when he says something inescapably outrageous.

They want to disagree with Trump firmly but politely when necessary without picking a fight with the pugnacious front-runner. Johnson did just that in December, when Trump proposed barring Muslims from entering the country.

His campaign issued a statement that “we don’t need a religious test to fix our immigration problems” but stopped far short of condemning what Feingold called Trump’s “hateful and prejudicial words.”

Johnson focused on the issue instead of the Trump-sparked media controversy by pushing legislation to strengthen vetting requirements for Syrian refugees and another bill making it more difficult to qualify for the visa waiver program.

“There’s no question that the top of the ticket will impact races. What you’re going to see is individual senators looking for opportunities to separate themselves from not just the top of the ticket but from the larger political environment and focus on issues in their state,” said Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist and a former NRSC aide.

That’s exactly what Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are doing.

Portman is the lead Republican author of legislation on the floor this week addressing opioid abuse, a major problem in both Ohio and New Hampshire.

Portman’s campaign has knocked on 1.3 million doors in the Buckeye State and has targeted independent swing voters and Democrats. One of his main talking points is to note the more than 40 bipartisan bills he’s helped pass into law under President Obama.

Ayotte has urged the head of the Food and Drug Administration to take a more aggressive approach to prescription drug abuse.

On Monday she released her first television ad, a biographical spot featuring her daughter Kate touting her role as a problem solver who “helps make laws that help people, especially when they need it most.”

Trump recently won the GOP primary in Ayotte’s state by nearly 20 points.

During an interview with The Hill last fall, Trump predicted he would have coattails should he win the nomination: “I think they’d do better. Look at my level of popularity.”

Alexander Bolton

Watch Jon Stewart Shame Senate Republicans Over Stonewalling of 9/11 First Responders Bill

NEWS.MIC

Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart exploded out of retirement on Thursday to deliver a stinging rebuke to Senate Republicans who he blamed for Congress’ failure to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

The act provided federally funded healthcare benefits to 9/11 first responders who suffered from ailments caused by exposure to ground zero debris. Despite the efforts of Stewart and a bipartisan group of backers, the act was allowed to expire in September and, without further intervention, will run out of money sometime next year.

“I cannot bring heroism or integrity to this process,” Stewart said during a press conference in Washington D.C. He was in the capital to take up the cause of the bill, which was dropped at the last minute from a recent highway bill. “I can only bring cameras, and hopefully a sense of public shame,” he said.

The bill first became law in 2011 and was named after New York Police Department officer James Zadroga who died of complications from a 9/11-related respiratory illness in 2006.

Source: Mic/YouTube

Stewart personally called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who he said was behind the stonewalling of the act’s renewal. The comedian cited the Republican’s previous support for a 2000 bill which granted free healthcare benefits to former employees of a nuclear power plant in Paducah, Kentucky, who were exposed to high levels of radiation in the 1950s and 1960s — McConnell even boasted about it in a 2014 campaign commercial. Stewart added that the cost of reauthorizing Zadroga would be $4.6 billion, less than half of what McConnell has funneled to his own state to pay for his program.

“How in good conscience can you deny them the very thing that you have proudly brought to the people of your state?” Stewart asked the crowd, the Daily News reported. “Please, personally ask [McConnell] that.” According to the paper, the Senator declined on Tuesday to comment about his roll in stopping Zadroga, but an aid said he was not the one behind it.

Source: Mic/YouTube

It’s not the first time Stewart has gone on a limb for the 9/11 bill. In 2010, amid the growing possibility the law would die under a Republican Senate filibuster, Stewart launched an impassioned campaign on the Daily Show to name and shame anyone who stood in its way. Stepping away from comedy, he even included a full segment interviewwith various first responders suffering conditions stemming from their 9/11 service. The bill was passed with many crediting Stewart’s advocacy as the deciding factor.

On Wednesday, 9/11 responder advocates met with McConnell who has reportedly promised that he would include Zadroga in an omnibus budget bill, if the money could be found to pay for it.

Now, without a nightly national platform, it remains to be seen whether Stewart’s calls will again carry the potency they did in 2010.