U.S. Politics

Mitch McConnell Didn’t Just Steal A Supreme Court Seat

Mitch McConnell Didn’t Just Steal A Supreme Court Seat

 

THE NATIONAL MEMO

When history gathers the men who made the presidency of Donald Trump possible, lingering in a corner behind the blinding glare of Julian Assange and the massive 6’8” frame of James Comey will be Mitch McConnell, his corners mouth shaped into a smile that resembles a twisted mustache.

McConnell will want you to believe that history owes him credit for his strategic brilliance. And it’s undeniable that his campaign of massive obstruction topped off by the historic robbery of a Supreme Court seat, helped unite a GOP that was fracturing like a fissured fibula and make Trump’s improbable rise to the White House possible.

The Senate Majority Leader calls not allowing the appointment of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a fair hearing “the most consequential decision I’ve ever been involved in.” And as usual, he’s being both self-congratulatory and deceptive.

Yes, Trump did better with evangelical voters than Mitt Romney, John McCain and even an actual evangelical George W. Bush, according to an analysis from Pew.

This is a result so unlikely that it’s almost unmistakable from satire.

Trump is a thrice married accumulator of failed casinos, stolen valor from other people’s charity and sexual harassment allegations. For him to even be nearly as competitive with the religious right as devout believers like Romney and Bush or even McCain, who the poster boy for the Reagan Revolution, is a monumental victory for both hypocrisy and tactical politics. Trump proved that the right’s feigned concerns for other people’s marriages was absolutely negotiable as long what it was offered in return was up to four revanchist Supreme Court Justices who will reshape and regress America for as long as half a century.

McConnell understands that since Brown v. Board of Education, the Court has been the defining issue for a conservative movement that fully comprehends our justice system’s power to remake or restore old biases. Holding a seat as a lure for the right was an opportunity Trump seized by putting out a list of Heritage Foundation-approved Justices and picking Mike Pence, a walking proof point for the argument that his agenda could be captured by the religious right.

It was a brilliant strategy from a man who has led a movement that recognizing the dusk of its demographic advantages decided to drop all pretenses of pomp and statesmanship for the pure embrace of power politics.

The Senate minority led by McConnell used the filibuster to block 79 of Obama’s nominees by 2013. That’s 79 in less than five five years, “compared with 68 in the entire previous history of the Republic,” Dana Milbank notes. When Senate Republicans refused to confirm anyone to the D.C. appeals court just after President Obama became the first president elected with 51 percent of the popular vote twice, Senate Democrats went nuclear and ended the filibuster for all appointments, except the Supreme Court. McConnell completed the nuclear fallout he made inevitable last week by denying the minority the right to block a young far right Justice selected by a man who lost the popular vote by 3 million usurping an older compromise pick from a genuinely popular president.

McConnell sees shredding of tradition as no vice in the pursuit of preserving privilege.

Nothing was going to stop him from taking Garland’s seat — not even the interference of a foreign government in our election.

This takes us to what Brian Beutler reveals as the real mostconsequential decision of McConnell’s career” and that’s the decision to shut down any attempt to make the public aware of Russia’s interference into our elections, which had been invited and embraced by Trump himself.

Beutler notes that “leaders of the U.S. intelligence community sought a united front ahead of the fall against Russian election interference—whatever its nature—and McConnell shot it down.” And not only shot it down, promised to impugn any effort to expose Putin’s efforts as false and partisan. This was threat that the Obama Administration calculated would harm both the Clinton campaign and the fabric of our democracy.

“The upshot is that McConnell drew a protective fence around Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s candidacy, by characterizing any effort to stop it as partisan politicization of intelligence at Trump’s expense,” Beutler wrote.

So as the FBI investigated a presidential campaign for possible collusion with foreign power, the public only learned of the possible existence, in the days just before the election, of some emails that may have validated the hazy, wild accusations being flung at Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump and his foreign allies.

Rather than broaden its message or revamp its failed policies, the GOP has declared war on democracy. And when history notes who made this strategy and unchecked madman it elected possible, much of the credit should go to Mitch McConnell.

That will be one thing he didn’t steal.

U.S. Politics

GOP torn over what to do next

THE HILL

Days after the GOP’s healthcare effort crashed and burned, House Republicans are vowing to give it another shot until they “get it right.”

They seem, though, to be largely on their own.

President Trump is publicly signaling he wants to move on to tax reform and maybe team up with Democrats on something bipartisan, such as an infrastructure package.

The GOP-controlled Senate is focused on trying to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court and appears to have little interest in another healthcare war.

The ­ObamaCare “status quo” will “go forward, regretfully,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

The public statements show that GOP leaders are on different pages days after the historic blowup of their years-long effort to repeal and replace ­ObamaCare.

The failure means Republicans, nearly 70 days into Trump’s presidency, are still desperately searching for their first big legislative victory of 2017.

Veteran Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) has said the party just needs to show it can accomplish basic government tasks such as passing appropriations bills and keeping the government’s lights on — a topic of increasing urgency as Congress faces an April 28 deadline to avoid a federal shutdown.

Asked whether Republicans should try again on healthcare or move on to tax reform, Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) enthusiastically shouted: “Infrastructure!”

In the immediate aftermath of the healthcare bill’s demise on Friday, Ryan said Republicans were moving on from their repeal efforts and that ­ObamaCare would remain the law of the land for the “foreseeable future.”

By Tuesday, however, rank-and-file Republicans signaled a desire to change course.

Inside a closed-door GOP conference meeting, speaker after speaker told leadership they weren’t ready to abandon the fight against President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“The consensus in the room is we need to get this done,” conservative Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said as he left the meeting in the Capitol basement.

Ryan and his leadership team got the message — and made it their own. Republicans, the Speaker insisted to reporters, “are going to work together and listen together until we get this right.”

Democrats’ “celebration is premature because I think we’re closer today to repealing ­ObamaCare than we’ve ever been before,” chimed in House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who failed to round up the necessary votes last week.

But even within the 237-member House GOP conference, lawmakers were singing Tuesday from different songbooks.

“My first priority is pro-growth tax reform,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who helped write the healthcare bill, told The Hill. “Like the Speaker, we are open to and welcome solutions on healthcare.”

“We are turning the page and moving on toward tax reform,” Brady told reporters on Monday.

Meanwhile, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he hopes the GOP pivots next to Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

“In the ideal world, we would go right to infrastructure,” the Long Island Republican told The Hill. “On something like infrastructure, it gives the Speaker and the committee chairmen and the leadership generally the option to reach out and work with Democrats.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) delivered a markedly different message: Republicans spent too many years promising to repeal ­ObamaCare to abandon the effort now.

“There’s no reason we couldn’t figure out how to get the right balance and bring the bill back up fairly quickly,” the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman said. “If it were a normal issue I’d say, ‘Let’s move on.’ But this is not a normal issue.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated Tuesday that administration officials have not discarded healthcare altogether, though they’re hardly making it the priority. Ryan huddled at the White House with Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Monday, and he has been in close contact with Trump.

Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has reportedly been in healthcare talks with leaders of the two warring GOP factions: the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus and centrist Tuesday Group.

“Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time,” Spicer said.

House Republicans, though, say they’re not discouraged by Trump’s decision to move on.

“The direction now needs to come from House Republicans,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). “We’ve gotten enough direction … from the White House on this issue.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have been energized by the Republicans’ failure. They’re simultaneously vowing to use the issue as a 2018 attack line while urging Trump and GOP leaders to cross the aisle in an effort to fix the problems dogging ­ObamaCare.

“We’re at the table, we’re ready to negotiate. We just need them to abandon the purely political attacks on ­ObamaCare they’ve obsessed over for seven years,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), head of the House Democratic Caucus. “If Republicans don’t, make no mistake, they own healthcare now.”

Some Republicans also see the events of last week as an opportunity to forge the bipartisan agreement that has eluded Congress since ­ObamaCare was enacted seven years ago.

“The best thing that can happen from this crash-and-burn experience in the House is that out of the ashes can rise a phoenix of bipartisanship,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke to Trump Tuesday morning about military spending and healthcare.

“I think the president has figured this out,” the senator added. “He believes that the best thing that can happen for this country are for the two parties to work together to fix healthcare, and I think he’s got the right approach.”

Peter Sullivan and Jordan Fabian contributed.

U.S. Politics

The Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care

VIDEO

THE HILL

A week of high drama in Washington reached a stunning climax on Friday: President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) decided to pull the Republican bill that had sought to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act rather than watch it go down to certain defeat.

There will be no second attempt anytime soon. Ryan said at a Capitol Hill news conference on Friday afternoon that the nation will “be living with ObamaCare for the foreseeable future.”

It’s an astonishing conclusion to one of the main fights that Republicans — including Trump — have sought for years.

As the dust settles, who are the biggest winners and losers?

LOSERS

President Trump

Make no mistake, this was a humiliating defeat for a president who campaigned as the ultimate deal-maker who could shake up a moribund Washington and get things done.

His big legislative push has fallen at the first hurdle. Trump himself was deeply engaged in trying to win over reluctant Republican lawmakers — and it didn’t work.

There are many unknowns: How will this affect other items on Trump’s agenda? How much frustration among grassroots Republican voters will be focused on him rather than Ryan or the GOP lawmakers who refused to get on board?

In remarks on Friday afternoon, Trump sought to put a brave face on the situation, avoiding lashing out at any Republicans and arguing that the Democrats would continue to “own” ObamaCare, to their political detriment.

But when Trump said, “There’s not much you can do about it,” referring to ObamaCare, it seemed an oddly impotent remark for a sitting president with majorities in both houses of Congress.

This is a very big setback for Trump. Just how big will become clear only after more time has passed.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Friday’s developments were at least as damaging for Ryan as they were for the president.

Whether the American Health Care Act would ultimately have been signed into law or not, the fact that Ryan could not get it through the House is deeply embarrassing for the Speaker.

Ryan’s fingerprints were all over the legislation, which faced immediate and fierce pushback from conservative members of his own conference as well as several important interest groups.

Some Trump loyalists contend that Ryan erred by focusing on healthcare rather than tax reform out of the gate. And conservative media commentators are openly questioning his leadership.

Trump publicly insists that he retains confidence in Ryan. But the Speaker went down to a big defeat that revealed an inability to muscle his members into line.

Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Office of Management And Budget Director Mick Mulvaney

Pence, Price and Mulvaney were all once House members — in the case of the latter two, right up until they joined the Trump administration.

As such, the White House had suggested they would be especially effective in winning over members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and other lawmakers. Mulvaney was a founding member of the group.

When all’s said and done, the trio failed to round up the required votes. That’s a political black eye for all three men.

MIXED

The House Freedom Caucus

The conservative group won the battle — but the outcome of the broader war has yet to be decided.

The caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), held the line in opposition to the bill, despite the urgings of Trump himself. More than any other Republican group, they were responsible for the failure of the legislation.

The whole episode showed the power of the Freedom Caucus, but its members will have to deal with the consequences too.

They defied a president of their own party who — for all his broader struggles with popularity — is fervently supported by many grassroots Republicans.

They sank an effort to replace a law that many of those grassroots voters detest.

And the realpolitik argument for their position — that they could force Trump and the House leadership to come back to the table with a proposal that was more attentive to their concerns, appears to have proven untrue.

WINNERS 

Former President Barack Obama

The bottom line is simple: Obama’s signature domestic achievement has survived – and at a moment when the White House, the Senate and the House are all controlled by people who have repeatedly pledged to destroy it.

Trump, speaking from the White House on Friday afternoon, insisted that the Affordable Care Act would explode under its own weight. But the current president did not make any pledge to renew his efforts to undo it, instead suggesting he would be open to some more incremental repairs in tandem with congressional Democrats.

Obama’s big law dodged a bullet here. And that strengthens his legacy as a president of considerable historical significance.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Pelosi displayed the kind of grip on her party colleagues that Ryan so signally failed to exhibit.

Not a single Democrat broke ranks to support the Republican proposal. The position may not have been that surprising. But it did ensure that Republicans faced the steepest possible gradient.

Pelosi, who loves the hand-to-hand political combat of Capitol Hill, clearly took some pleasure in the Republicans’ disarray.

When the vote was first postponed on Thursday, she told reporters, “Rookie’s error, Donald Trump.”

Jared Kushner

Trump’s son-in-law, among his most trusted advisers, was reportedly against the decision to move on healthcare from the get-go. But he was also out of Washington for much of the week, on a ski trip with his family in Aspen.

CNN reported that the president was displeased that Kushner was out of town.

But as someone who was physically and politically distant from the week’s messy horse-trading, he emerges relatively unscathed from the debacle.

Governors

Several GOP governors were critical of the replacement plan put forward by their colleagues in the House.

Ohio’s John Kasich, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson and Michigan’s Rick Snyder wrote an open letter last week to Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating that they could not support the legislation.

Their argument, in essence, was that the bill would have hit Medicaid too hard.

They gave political cover to lawmakers from their states who were also leaning against the legislation.

The AARP

The organization for older Americans lobbied vigorously against the law.

It attacked one proposed change as “an age tax,” emphasized that 24 million fewer people were projected to have health insurance after a decade, and declared the issue to be an “accountability vote” — in other words, one where it would use its muscle against lawmakers who voted against its wishes.

The association’s efforts were a reminder that it is not to be underestimated.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

U.S. Politics

GOP leaders want details before funding Trump’s border wall

THE HILL

Republican leaders in Congress want more details from President Trump about his proposed border wall before appropriating significant funding for the project.

They have questions about the design and how the administration would handle the rights of property owners whose land would be used to build the structure.

“What I’d like to see is a plan that we know is going to be implemented that’s going to be effective before we start writing the check,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Cornyn said the administration needs to spell out “a layered approach” of “infrastructure, technology and personnel.”

He and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who has jurisdiction over the wall, are in negotiations with the Trump administration to figure out precisely what they have in mind.

“We’d like to see what the plan is before we write a big check,” McCaul told The Hill on Thursday.

“We’re in current discussions with the administration. What is it going to look like, how much is it going to cost and how are you paying for this thing?”

Asked if he has received enough information from the administration, McCaul described the talks as “a work in progress.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that it probably wouldn’t make sense to build a wall — which Trump suggested during the 2016 campaign would reach between 35 and 45 feet in height — along the entire length of the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are some places along the border where that’s probably not the best way to secure the border,” McConnell said in an interview with Politico Playbook.

McConnell also said he didn’t think that Mexico would repay the United States in some form for the wall, something Trump has vowed will happen.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the wall is how to build it through along the 1,200 miles of border running through Texas, where most of the adjacent land is privately owned.

It could take years for the federal government to litigate the eminent domain claims necessary to build the barrier.

Trump’s budget submitted to Capitol Hill Thursday requests an initial installment of $4.1 billion for the wall, which GOP leaders initially estimated would cost $12 billion to $15 billion. The total final price tag for the project could run to more than $20 billion, according to other experts.

By requesting more information about the administration’s plans for a border wall, GOP leaders could buy themselves time and avoid a messy standoff with Democrats over including money for the wall in the government funding measure that must pass by the end of April to avoid a government shutdown.

Senate Democratic leaders warned this week that they would not allow the measure to pass if it includes funding for the wall.

They wrote in a letter to McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) that it would “be inappropriate” to include funding in must-pass bills needed to fund the government.

Democrats say the administration needs to answer questions about eminent domain procedures, the design and location of the wall and whether Mexico will fund any of its construction.

A senior Democratic aide reiterated Thursday that Democrats will not support a funding package to keep the government operating beyond April if it includes money for the wall.

Trump’s border wall proposal creates yet another problem for GOP leaders by calling for it to be paid for initially with cuts to non-defense discretionary spending programs.

His budget asks for $3 billion in fiscal year 2017 funding to pay for initial construction of the wall and improving homeland security — $1.5 billion of that total would go toward the wall.

The president has requested an additional $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2018 funding to continue construction of the wall next year.

Trump wants the money for the wall included in the government funding package that must pass by April 28, but GOP leaders are leery of giving Democrats an excuse to block it. A government shutdown fight would distract from their efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare and begin work on tax reform.

The White House budget request puts McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.) in a bind because it calls for offsetting half the cost of a $33 billion supplemental spending bill — which includes $30 billion for defense and $3 billion for the wall and additional homeland security measures — with cuts to non-defense programs.

Democrats say this is unacceptable because it violates the agreement of the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, which set the spending levels for defense and non-defense programs.

Senate Democrats wrote in their letter to McConnell and Cochran that Congress has already agreed that any extra funding “should be divided equally between defense and non-defense priorities.”

“Is McConnell going to be an enabler and do what Trump wants or is he going to stand up to the president and tell him there’s no way Congress can pass legislation funding the government by the end of April if it cuts non-defense programs,” said a senior Democratic aide.

By delaying funding for the wall and perhaps the rest of Trump’s supplemental spending request until the administration provides more details about the wall, GOP leaders may be able to sidestep a fight with Democrats in the six weeks remaining before government funding expires.

Ryan reminded reporters Thursday that “we just got the president’s budget submission” and “this is the very beginning of the budget process.”

“What I’m encouraged by is the notion that we’re going to begin rebuilding our military, which is something we’re all very worried about, the hollowing out of our military,” he said.

The negotiating time leading up to the deadline to fund the government is compressed by a two-week recess that both chambers plan to take in the middle of April.

McConnell said he hoped to pass the House GOP’s plan to repeal ObamaCare, the American Health Care Act, before the April recess, but that now appears unlikely as GOP senators have raised a variety of concerns with the legislation.

Some GOP senators want the legislation to undergo hearings and markups in the upper chamber, which would delay floor consideration.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said the House bill will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

ALEXANDER BOLTON

U.S. Politics

Republicans eye strategy for repealing Wall Street reform

Republicans eye strategy for repealing Wall Street reform

© Getty Images

THE HILL

Republicans on Capitol Hill are turning their attention to repealing another signature accomplishment of President Obama: the 2010 Wall Street reform law.

Key lawmakers are eyeing a special budgetary to pass repeal legislation in the Senate on a simple majority vote, bypassing Democrats.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, says the budgetary process known as reconciliation, which can be used to circumvent the filibuster, should be considered as a tool to roll back burdensome Obama-era regulations on the financial sector.

Some Republicans say that rolling back the Wall Street reform law should be one of their highest priorities.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told Bloomberg television last month that the law is “worse than ObamaCare.”

“I think it’s one of the worst bills that’s ever been passed through Congress,” Hatch said, adding that he did not think any of its provisions were worth saving.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) in November said he had enough votes to block any Republican efforts to repeal key parts of the Wall Street reform law, known as Dodd-Frank.

But it would be considerably harder for Schumer to stand in the way if Republicans use reconciliation to repeal the parts of Dodd-Frank that affect government spending and revenues.

Democrats “don’t have to agree to everything on reconciliation,” Shelby noted.

Asked whether congressional committees would be given instructions to repeal parts of the Wall Street reform law in a budget resolution later this year, Shelby said, “We’ve been talking about a lot of stuff.”

The effort has been kept largely quiet, however. It was not one of the items highlighted on the 200-day agenda that Republicans discussed at their annual retreat in Philadelphia, and President Trump did not mention Wall Street during his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has announced that the second budget resolution that Republicans plan to pass this spring will have instructions to protect tax reform from Democratic filibusters.

But it’s possible to include multiple instructions so that the resolution includes the Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over financial industry regulations, as well as the Finance Committee, which is in charge of taxes.

Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said reconciliation instructions affecting the Wall Street reform law could be included in the next budget resolution, which will cover fiscal 2018. But he declined to tip his hand about whether that was a certainty.

“I just work the problem until I’ve got a solution,” he said.

Trump signed an executive order early last month giving the Treasury Department authority to change key provisions of Dodd-Frank to align with several goals laid out by his administration, such as to make regulation “efficient, effective and appropriately tailored.”

The president said regulations created under the 2010 law have chilled economic activity.

“I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses that can’t borrow money,” Trump said. “The banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.

Democrats say the Republican plan to gut the reform law with only 51 votes would likely run afoul of the Senate’s Byrd rule, named after the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), which limits what legislation can be passed under reconciliation.

“How would they use reconciliation? It’s not budgetary,” said a Senate Democratic aide.

A former Democrat aide who served in the Senate during passage of the Wall Street reform law seven years ago, however, said Republicans could attempt to target spending on regulation of the financial services industry.

“They could target provisions in Dodd-Frank that govern funding such as that they might have been charging or fines they were imposing on banks. That sort of thing they could go after,” the Democratic source said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2011 that the Wall Street law would increase government revenues by $13.4 billion and spending by $10.2 billion over a 10-year period. It projected the law would reduce deficits by $3.2 billion.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a veteran member of the Banking Committee, is leading the review of the budget rules to determine what parts of the law can be undone with 51 votes.

“We need to make a number of really substantial reforms to Dodd-Frank,” Toomey told the Wall Street Journal in December. “I am very much in favor of making sure we have all the tools to do this.”

Aside from the challenge of getting the Senate parliamentarian — who decides what’s eligible for special budgetary protection — to sign off on the plan, Shelby and Toomey may have trouble convincing some moderate Republicans to go along.

Schumer in November predicted in November that some Republicans would side with Democrats in blocking efforts to weaken the law. Yet Republicans could try to make up for lost votes by targeting red-state Democrats who are up for reelection in 2018.

Republicans from agricultural states say tighter regulations on banks has made it tougher for farmers to obtain financing now that commodity prices are slumping.

ALEXANDER BOLTON

U.S. Politics

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

 

170112-richard-burr-getty-1160.jpg

“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.

U.S. Politics

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

U.S. Politics

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.

U.S. Politics

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

U.S. Politics

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