THE BIG IDEA: Almost every day, it feels like someone else in the administration’s orbit gets sucked into the Russian vortex. Here’s the latest development:
“President Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, Brian A. Benczkowski, has disclosed to Congress that he previously represented Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, whose owners have ties to President Vladimir V. Putin,” the New York Times’s Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman reported last night. “Alfa Bank was at the center of scrutiny last year over potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia after computer experts discovered data suggesting a stream of communications between a server linked to the Trump Organization and a server linked to the bank. Reports about the mysterious data transmissions fueled speculation about a back channel. The F.B.I. investigated the matter, however, and concluded that the servers’ interactions were not surreptitious exchanges between the campaign and Russia, according to current and former law enforcement officials.”
The decision to take on such a controversial Russian client raises questions about Benczkowski’s judgment that could come up during his confirmation hearing today.
Benczkowski, who helped manage Trump’s transition team for the Justice Department, has signaled that he plans to be evasive when questioned about the specifics of his work for the Putin-linked bank: “(E)thical considerations prohibit me from disclosing confidential legal advice or any other information protected by the attorney-client privilege under any circumstances,” he wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
These newly revealed links to Russia and the importance of the job he’s up for put Senate Republicans in a tough spot. They want to give Trump his nominees, but they don’t want to look like they are a party to the president’s continuing appeasement of the Kremlin.
The timing is awkward for Benczkowski. His hearing comes amid new questions about the staying power of his longtime patron, Jeff Sessions, as attorney general.
— President Trump and his advisers are openly discussing the possibility of replacing Sessions, with some in his camp floating possible new prospects for the job should the attorney general resign or be fired. “Replacing Sessions is seen by some Trump associates as potentially being part of a strategy to fire [Robert Mueller] and end his investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin,” Sari Horwitz, Matt Zapotosky and Robert Costa report. “One person close to Trump said the president asked him about how firing Sessions ‘would play in the conservative media.’ Trump also asked him whether it would help to replace Sessions ‘with a major conservative,’ the person said.”
How could replacing Sessions let Trump ax Mueller? “Trump could order (deputy attorney general Rod) Rosenstein — and then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand — to fire Mueller. If they quit instead of doing so, he could appoint an acting attorney general who would. Trump could also appoint an acting attorney general with them in place … and order that person to remove the special counsel. Another scenario is that Trump could make a recess appointment … who would serve until the end of the next Senate session[.]”
Ted Cruz and Rudy Giuliani are among the names being floated as possible replacements of Sessions. “Giuliani dismissed a report floating his name … and told CNN that Sessions ‘made the right decision …’ to recuse himself. Cruz had said previously that he ‘did not think it was necessary to appoint a special counsel,’ but when Mueller was appointed, he praised him as ‘an excellent choice.’” (It’s doubtful Cruz would ever give up his Senate seat to work for Trump.)
— With Trump publicly denouncing the special counsel’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” Paul Ryan defended Mueller’s work on Monday. “Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican, who served in the Republican administration,” the House speaker said during a radio appearance. “I don’t think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is a biased partisan. He’s really sort of anything but.”
— Trump continues to publicly berate his own pick to be the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. Yesterday the president, in a tweet, called him “our beleaguered A.G.” and asked why Sessions was not “looking into Crooked Hillary’s crimes & Russia relations?” Trump is back at it this morning:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – “quietly working to boost Clinton.” So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
— Clearly the president is trying to send a message that he wants Sessions to go. Surely the AG hears it. The question now is: What will he do about it?
— Another big ego is coming to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next week. In his first interview since joining Trump’s growing legal team, Ty Cobb explained to the National Law Journal why he took on such a challenging assignment.
“If the president asks you, you don’t say no,” he said. “I have rocks in my head and steel balls.”
The White House initially reached out to Cobb in early June, he said, and he was most attracted to the job because it is “an impossible task with a deadline.”
Cobb will officially become a government employee next Monday after he finishes unloading his 30 clients to other partners at the Hogan Lovells law firm. He will work with White House counsel Donald McGahn, but he will report directly to Trump.
“I’m going to manage the message, but I’m not going on camera all the time,” Cobb said.
“I DID NOT COLLUDE” IS THE NEW “I DID NOT INHALE”:
— Jared Kushner is heading back to the Capitol this morning. Trump’s senior adviser/son-in-law spent two hours yesterday answering questions behind closed doors from staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee about his contacts with Russian officials. Today he will meet, again behind closed doors, with the House Intelligence Committee, which is doing its own parallel investigation. Legal experts expect that all of Kushner’s answers to both committees will be shared with Mueller, according to Devlin Barrett, Philip Rucker and Karoun Demirjian.
“Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner told reporters outside the White House after he returned from yesterday’s interview. (If you missed it, read his 11-page statement here. Aaron Blake parsed the lawyerly language.)
Trump was pleased with Kushner’s performance yesterday, he tweeted this morning, and suggested that investigators might ensane his 11-year-old son Barron next:
Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
FIVE SMART TAKES ON KUSHNER’S ACCOUNT:
1. “Kushner’s only excuse: He has no idea what he’s doing,” by Dana Milbank: “The president’s 36-year-old son-in-law … explained his repeated lapses — he had to amend one disclosure form three times — by saying, essentially, that he was new to politics and so terribly busy that he couldn’t keep up with everything. And he used the hoariest excuse of all: He blamed his assistant. … A ‘miscommunication’ led his assistant to file his form prematurely. He said he omitted not only meetings with Russians, but ‘over one hundred contacts from more than twenty countries.’ And this is supposed to help him? … He’s essentially arguing that he isn’t corrupt — he’s just in over his head. … Coming from the man charged with handling everything from Middle East peace to opioids, this isn’t reassuring. … Why is a man of such inexperience in charge of so much?”
2. “Kushner’s damning account,” by Jennifer Rubin: “Collectively, one certainly gets the impression that Russians were trying to pressure and influence the political neophyte, playing to his ego as a solo operator and on his unfamiliarity with how national security matters are normally discussed. … If not evidence of malicious deception, the story reveals a young man who is in over his head and out of his depth to such a degree that he does not know he is in over his head and out of his depth. The thought of summoning people who actually knew what was going on, checking with the administration as to the background of people with whom he was communicating or showing healthy skepticism about the people who were approaching him never occurred to him? Possible, but what a damning alibi.”
3. “Here are five questions Jared Kushner still needs to answer,” by Sarah Posner: “Kushner seemed to suggest his statements settle many complex questions. Instead, they raise more questions than they answer. … How did then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak end up at the Trump campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016? … What did Kushner really know about the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer? … What, precisely, did Kushner understand about ‘secure lines’ for communicating with Russian officials? … What does it mean that Kushner did not ‘rely’ on ‘Russian funds’ for his businesses? … Speaking of Russian funds, what about that meeting with a Russian banker?”
4. “Kushner just threw Donald Trump Jr. under the bus. Bigly,” by Greg Sargent: “If Kushner is to be believed, he agreed to, and showed up at, (the June 9) meeting without having any idea why it was being held. … He claims he arrived just late enough to miss the incriminating part of the meeting. … Of course, what Trump Jr.’s email chain showed is that the campaign jumped at the chance to collude, even if it ended up not happening at that meeting. Recall that Trump Jr.’s original statement covered up the real reason for the meeting, and that President Trump himself reportedly signed off on that initial false statement, which means the president actively participated in an effort to mislead the country about his own campaign’s eagerness to collude with Russia to help him win. Kushner’s statement offers nothing to challenge these underlying facts. It just separates him from them.”
5. “What Jared Kushner’s Statement Reveals About Russian Methods,” by The Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe: “If the accounts are true — and, given that their accounts have changed in the past, these latest accounts could change too — then, taken together, the Trump Jr. emails and Kushner’s statement show a Russian side that is experimenting with ways of getting the Trump team’s attention. They show a side that really is, as one former Obama administration official told me, ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.’ … The emails and public statement describe a search, a process of poking and testing, of trying to find a pressure point or an opening. This is consistent with the intelligence on the Russians’ election-meddling effort, which has been described as a multi-pronged and opportunistic one. ‘The Russians had a line of, say, 1,000 ways to attack,’ an intelligence official told me recently. ‘They don’t need all of them to get through. Just a few are enough.’”
MORE COZYING UP TO PUTIN:
— “Cooperation with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-Islamic State strategy in Syria, with U.S. military planners counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against the militants,” Karen DeYoung reports. “Part of the plan essentially carves up Syria into no-go zones for each of the players — President Bashar al-Assad’s fight, with Russian and Iranian help, against rebels seeking to overthrow him, and the U.S.-led coalition’s war to destroy the Islamic State. Some lawmakers and White House officials have expressed concern that the strategy is shortsighted, gives the long-term advantage in Syria to Russia, Iran and Assad, and ultimately leaves the door open for a vanquished Islamic State to reestablish itself. Critics also say that neither Russia nor Iran can be trusted to adhere to any deal, and that the result will be a continuation of the civil war whose negotiated end the administration has also set as a goal.”
— “The House and Senate are expected to pass a bill as soon as this week that includes language giving Congress 30 days to review and vote to prevent any move by the president to ease sanctions against Russia,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “The move comes despite considerable pressure from the administration to strip this provision from the bill, with the White House arguing that it would give the president less flexibility than his predecessors … Lawmakers in both parties rejected this argument … On Tuesday, the House will vote on a bill that would impose new financial sanctions on Russia and Iran … The bill doesn’t give Congress the same review powers over penalties directed at Iran as it does Russia, and the House plans to add to the bill a package of sanctions against North Korea that also lacks this oversight language. … It would be politically difficult for the president to veto the legislation, and the White House said Trump has yet to make up his mind about the bill.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Former House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was able to take the gavel largely because of his party’s crusade to repeal Obamacare, told a group of business leaders last week that the GOP is “not going to repeal and replace Obamacare” because “the American people have gotten accustomed to it.” Robert Costa reports: “‘Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they’ve not passed this bill. Now, they’re never — they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare,’ Boehner told a private crowd in Las Vegas, according to video footage obtained by The Washington Post. ‘It’s been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work.’ Boehner said the Republicans’ best hope in the coming months is to peel away aspects of the law, such as some tax provisions and regulations, and to end health insurance mandates.”
— In a dramatic development, John McCain will return to D.C. today, in time to vote on the motion to proceed with Mitch McConnell’s health-care overhaul. Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell, Ed O’Keefe and John Wagner report: “McCain’s announcement came as some Senate GOP leaders expressed confidence in a newly emerging strategy of trying to pass smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act, with an eye toward continuing negotiations into the fall. It was unclear whether McCain’s return would improve the chances of the bill clearing a key procedural hurdle, as he has expressed concerns about the proposal. But some Republicans were privately abuzz with speculation that leaders might be close to securing the votes they needed to at least keep alive a months-long effort that all but died last week.
“But there was confusion Monday about exactly which direction senators would go on Tuesday when and if the [health care] voting starts. And none of the options that McConnell has presented had won enough public support to guarantee passage. … Officially, the Senate plans to vote on a motion to proceed to a House-passed repeal-and-replace bill. But from there, that measure could be amended in any number of ways.”
Trump welcomed McCain’s return in an early-morning tweet:
So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
The senator’s return has implications beyond health care, as a CNN reporter noted:
Important note on McCain returning: I’m told NDAA is expected up next if healthcare fails, and McCain would manage that bill
— Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) July 25, 2017
— “From ‘fake media’ to [Hillary] Clinton, Trump brings political attacks to the Scout Jamboree,” by John Wagner and Jenna Johnson: “Ahead of President Trump’s appearance (last night) at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering’s official blog: … Be ‘courteous’ and ‘kind.’ And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as ‘build the wall’ and ‘lock her up.’ But from the moment he took the stage, Trump … who was never a Scout himself … started leading them down a very different path. Over the next 35 minutes, the president threatened to fire one of his Cabinet members, attacked former president Barack Obama, dissed his former rival Hillary Clinton … warned the boys about the ‘fake media,’ mocked pollsters and … said more people would say ‘Merry Christmas’ under his presidency. He also told a rambling tale about a famous, now-deceased home builder that meandered from a Manhattan cocktail party to a yacht and then to places that the president would only allow the boys’ imaginations to go. …
“Trump pointed to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has been tasked with selling the legislation. ‘Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow,’ Trump said … As chants of ‘USA! USA!’ broke out, Trump asked Price: ‘By the way, are you going to get the votes? You better get the votes. Otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’’ … Trump also slipped in a reference to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of the Republican holdouts on moving forward with the bill … ‘You better get Senator Capito to vote for it,’ the president told Price.” (“We could really use some more loyalty, I will tell you that,” Trump added later.)
Not invited? Eagle Scout Jeff Sessions.
— The speech also provided the latest example of Trump griping about his vanquished 2016 campaign rival as the Russia investigations threaten to sink his entire agenda. John Wagner reports: “[Trump] chided Clinton for not working hard enough in key Midwestern states that unexpectedly turned red on election night. … In both public pronouncements and on social media, the president and his allies — including the Republican National Committee — are arguing, often with scant evidence, that Trump’s former rival engaged in similar, if not worse, behavior. … More recently, the RNC has started making a habit of focusing on Clinton in research memos distributed to reporters … and other Washington insiders.”
The Social Media Speed Read further down includes a taste of the negative reaction from prominent Scouting alumni to the president’s speech, but this is what a former deputy director of the CIA had to say:
Trump’s Boy Scout speech had the feel of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.
— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) July 25, 2017
GET SMART FAST:
- The parents of Charlie Gard, the terminally ill British infant who was at the center of a high-profile legal battle that drew attention from Pope Francis and Trump, have ended their court fight to take him to the United States for treatment. In an emotional statement, Gard’s parents acknowledged time had “run out” and that their son would die within days. (Griff Witte and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- A truck driver accused of smuggling as many as 70 immigrants across the U.S. border in sweltering temperatures and ignoring their cries for help was charged Monday after 10 of the passengers died of being trapped in the heat. Prosecutors said the alleged driver, James Bradley, knew the trailer’s refrigeration system didn’t work and didn’t stop as the immigrants frantically banged on the trailer’s walls and shouted for help. (Maria Sacchetti, Lindsey Bever and Todd C. Frankel)
- Defense officials said a U.S. Navy plane was forced to take evasive action Sunday after it was buzzed by a Chinese jet — it’s the third such interaction to occur in the East China Sea in recent months. (Dan Lamothe)
- Israeli security forces began dismantling metal detectors from the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Tuesday in a major reversal for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems to have struck a deal with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The metal detectors angered Palestinians, who argued that they were installed to increase Israel’s control over access to the mosque. (William Booth)
- The International Monetary Fund has decreased its forecast of how fast the U.S. economy will grow in the next several years — reducing 2017 and 2018 growth estimates from 2.3 and 2.5 percent to a flat 2.1 percent rate. IMF officials said the change reflects doubts of Trump’s ability to deliver on his long-touted agenda of tax cuts and infrastructure spending. (Ana Swanson)
- Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed two controversial measures that would have given the country’s far-right governing party direct control of the judiciary. His vetoes come after a days-long protest in Warsaw, which was attended by tens of thousands of Poles, as well as the threat of legal sanctions from the European Union. (New York Times)
- The Government Accountability Office released a new report this week detailing the results of a sting operation in which investigators created a fictitious law-enforcement agency, applied for military-grade equipment from the Defense Department – and were approved in less than a week. GAO officials said the fake cops received over $1.2 million in real weapons. (The Marshall Project)
A partisan and gender divide exists on the question of whether online harassment is a major problem. While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to consider it a major problem, Republican women’s opinions more closely aligned with those of Democratic women over Republican men. (Philip Bump)
- A California teen drive was arrested after live-streaming on Instagram a car crash that killed her younger sister. Moments after the teen lost control of the vehicle, she appeared on Instagram Live again — this time, hysterically trying to process what had happened. “Hey, everybody, if I go to … jail for life, you already know why,” she said, panning to her sister’s injuries and trying, unsuccessfully, to wake her. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
Hundreds of thousands of “sponge bobs” landed on France’s northern beaches. The yellow blobs were later identified as paraffin wax, likely from a cargo ship that cleaned its tank too close to shore. (Amy B. Wang)
WEST WING INTRIGUE:
— Trump’s new communications director Anthony Scaramucci is moving toward a possible White House staff purge — seeking to weed out aides he believes are disloyal to Trump and responsible for a steady stream of leaks to the press. Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report: “Just four days into the job, Scaramucci has moved into Trump’s inner sanctum and is now described by some colleagues as almost family to the president … In consultation with confidants inside and outside the administration, Scaramucci has begun undertaking an audit of the White House’s dozens of press and communications staffers. He is meeting one-on-one with aides in an effort to understand each person’s contributions and weed out those he determines are not working hard enough to defend the president … “
“The potential shake-up has exacerbated long-simmering tensions between Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus … An informal list of names, including several officials who previously worked under Priebus and Spicer at the Republican National Committee, has been circulating among Scaramucci allies as those whose jobs may be in jeopardy. Trump has empowered Scaramucci to make the changes that he sees fit, [sources] said. While the communications director traditionally reports to the chief of staff, Scaramucci reports directly to Trump.
“Scaramucci’s planned overhaul is likely to leave Priebus even more isolated in the West Wing. … Wayne Berman, a longtime Republican operative whose name has been previously floated as a possible chief of staff, is scheduled to meet with Scaramucci on Tuesday at the White House …
“Inside the White House, the mood surrounding the shift from Spicer to Scaramucci has been mixed. Some aides are enthusiastic — ‘It’s a whole new day,’ one said — and say Scaramucci is reinvigorating an embattled staff. These aides also privately voiced good riddance to Spicer, an experienced operative who some viewed as a poor manager in a stressful environment. Some recounted with glee an anecdote published in the Wall Street Journal of Spicer stealing a mini-fridge from junior staffers working in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and lugging the icebox to his West Wing office late one evening after many of his colleagues had gone home.”
— Meanwhile, the sale of Scaramucci’s investment company to a Chinese conglomerate has fallen under government review. The Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keeffe and Michael C. Bender report: “Mr. Scaramucci first announced plans to sell a controlling stake in his hedge-fund investing firm, SkyBridge Capital, to Chinese giant HNA Group Co. in January in anticipation of joining the White House, he said. He didn’t get a job there at the time. … The SkyBridge/HNA deal proceeded and, like many foreign deals, is facing a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. … The panel, known as CFIUS, can approve a deal or recommend the president block it, meaning a transaction that Mr. Scaramucci stands to profit from could ultimately be in the hands of his boss, Mr. Trump.”
TRUMP RATCHETS UP PRESSURE ON HEALTH CARE:
— Trump tried to convince wavering Senate Republicans yesterday to vote “yes” on a procedural motion to start debate on health-care legislation (though exactly which measure is up in the air), delivering an address from the White House and declaring, “Obamacare is death.” John Wagner and Jenna Johnson report: “‘Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is,’ Trump said[.] … Trump implored fellow Republicans to make good on a promise to repeal [Obamacare] that has been a staple of their rhetoric for seven years. … Still, about two-thirds of Trump’s statement was devoted to what he called the ‘bit fat ugly lie’ of Obamacare.”
— Mitch McConnell also took to the Senate floor to press his GOP colleagues to keep their promise to repeal Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation. The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Armour, Kristina Peterson and Louise Radnofsky report: “‘Many of us have waited literally years for this moment to arrive, and at long last it has,’ Mr. McConnell said Monday. ‘I’ll keep my commitment to vote to move beyond the failures of Obamacare. I would urge all of our colleagues to do the same.’ … Opening debate would leave GOP lawmakers open to dozens of politically perilous votes on amendments, including those offered by Democrats designed to put them on the spot. … That could be particularly damaging to GOP senators with the most competitive re-election races next year, including Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona.”
— Two more complicating factors for Republican senators who remain on the fence: some GOP governors’ continuing opposition to the proposed legislation and rulings from the Senate parliamentarian. The biggest complaint from Republicans, however, remained that no one was certain what legislation they’d be considering if they supported the motion to open debate — whether a pure repeal of the Affordable Care Act (the same bill that many Republicans supported in 2015, which was sent to Obama’s desk for a veto) or McConnell’s repeal-and-replace package.
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in a statement: “Until Congress can step back from political gamesmanship and come together with a workable, bipartisan plan, it is a mistake for the Senate to proceed with a vote on Tuesday and force a one-sided deal that the American people are clearly against. Instead, they should make a commitment to bring Republicans and Democrats together to work openly on Obamacare’s failings, which we all agree need to be fixed.”
- Paige Winfield Cunningham wrote in yesterday’s The Health 202: “A whole new set of problems for the Senate GOP’s health-care bill became apparent late last week, when the parliamentarian indicated that Democrats could block several key elements of the legislation — including its six-month waiting period to buy insurance for those not covered continuously, its ban on federally-subsidized plans from covering abortions and, perhaps most surprisingly, its one-year ban on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood.”
— Vox’s Sarah Kliff summarizes the current state of affairs this way: “It’s hard to capture what an absurd and somewhat unbelievable situation this is. Health care is a massive part of the economy. The ACA provides coverage to tens of millions of Americans. The Senate plans to vote on a bill Tuesday affecting all of that. And at this moment — 24 hours or so before they vote — they have no idea what the bill contains.”
— “I have covered every health bill in Congress since 1986. There has NEVER been anything this nuts before in terms of process. Never,” Kaiser Health News’s chief Washington correspondent, Julie Rovner, added on Twitter.
FEAR AT THE CAPITOL:
— House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told a group of GOP colleagues Monday that he has started a physical recovery process in his after being shot at last month’s congressional baseball practice, and he could be transferred soon from MedStar Washington Hospital Center to a specialized rehabilitation facility. (Mike DeBonis)
— Following the shooting, members of Congress are taking more security precautions. Ed O’Keefe reports: “This year, the rate of threats against members of Congress has surpassed last year’s, and a growing number of rank-and-file lawmakers are traveling the halls of the Capitol — and the streets of their home towns — with security details. Some lawmakers are carrying firearms or installing security systems at their homes and offices. Some have decided not to hold town hall meetings at all … All of it brings unsettling implications for democracy and discourse, and has prompted a debate about how much security is necessary — and affordable. ‘There are a number of members who’ve had very specific threats that scare them or their spouses or their staffers,’ said [Rep. Kevin] Yoder, who is a member of the GOP baseball team … ‘I’ve heard of members with staff who are too scared to come to work.’”
— Rep. Mo Brooks (R), who is running for Sessions’s Alabama Senate seat, invoked the shooting in a pro-gun rights campaign ad that prompted instant criticism from a pair of Scalise’s colleagues. David Weigel reports: “[The spot] begins with audio of gunshots and people scrambling for cover. There’s no image, just white text on a black screen: ‘June 14: A Bernie Sanders supporter fires on Republican Congressmen. Mo Brooks gives his belt as a tourniquet to help the wounded. What’s the liberal media immediately ask?’ There’s a cut to a video interview with Brooks, where an unnamed reporter asks whether the shooting has changed his thinking on guns, and over swelling string music Brooks explains that the Second Amendment was written ‘to help ensure that we always have a republic.’ … Brett Horton, Scalise’s chief of staff, said on Twitter that audio of the shooting made his ‘stomach turn,’ while Chris Bond, Scalise’s spokesman, suggested that the use of the footage was ill-advised.”
“Brooks is the first candidate to run an ad about the shooting through his own campaign. In June, however, the little-known Principled PAC made an attention-grabbing spot that attempted to link the shooting of Scalise, carried out by a man who had supported left-wing candidates for office, to Georgia’s 6th District Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. … But the general theme of this and the Brooks spot, that Democrats have lapsed into insanity in opposing the Trump presidency, is increasingly appearing in Republican campaigns. … Several other Republican campaigns have embraced an argument that opposition to the president is irrational and tied to a dangerous agenda. Brooks, who has been attacked by a Republican super PAC for having criticized Trump in 2016, is the first candidate to directly tie the left to political violence.”
THE TRUMP AGENDA:
— A federal judge has ruled that the White House is exempt from privacy review requirements, clearing the way for Trump’s voting commission to collect data from every state. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “The ruling averted a public setback for a president who has claimed that widespread fraud cost him the popular vote in November. … [U.S. District Judge Colleen] Kollar-Kotelly, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997, ruled against the Electronic Privacy Information Center … She concluded that although the watchdog group had the right to sue under the law for a privacy review, the commission was a presidential advisory panel, not a federal agency subject to the privacy law.”
— The same day that the decision was announced, Eric Holder, former attorney general for Obama, called Kris Kobach, who is leading the commission, a “fact-challenged zealot” in a speech to the NAACP. Holder said: “This commission, led by a fact-challenged zealot, will come up with bogus reasons why further restrictions should be placed on the right to vote. …This commission is up to no good. … Let me be frank. Voter fraud did not become an issue in North Carolina, as in other places, until people of color started to cast ballots in record numbers.” (Politico’s Diamond Naga Siu)
— The House Freedom Caucus is targeting the Congressional Budget Office with budget cuts. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former HFC member, and other members of the hard-line GOP group have railed against the group for its less-than-rosy scores of the various GOP health measures. Mike DeBonis reports: “An amendment filed Monday by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) would eliminate the agency’s Budget Analysis Division, cutting 89 jobs and $15 million of the CBO’s proposed $48.5 million budget. A separate amendment filed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) would also eliminate the same division and specify that the CBO instead evaluate legislation ‘by facilitating and assimilating scoring data’ compiled by four private think tanks — the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Urban Institute. … The amendments are being offered to a $790 billion spending bill[.] … The bill was largely written by Republicans and is not expected to garner support from Democrats, meaning that even if it passes the House, it is unlikely to emerge from the Senate intact.”
— “House Republican appropriators are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to cancel the first week of recess and tackle a massive spending package full of goodies for the base — a strategy leadership rejected last week,” Politico’s Rachael Bade, John Bresnahan and Sarah Ferris report. “A handful of appropriators are urging leadership to reconsider and bring up a $1 trillion appropriations bill before leaving for summer break. They argue they worked at record pace to finish all their spending bills. And they were furious when leadership decided last week to only pursue a smaller, scaled-back version for national security priorities. Some appropriators even threatened to vote against the so-called ‘minibus’ of Pentagon spending plus-ups and border wall funding unless the other bills were included. … Sources close to GOP leaders say they’re were once again re-considering a full, 12-bill omnibus instead of the minibus on Monday. By Monday evening, however, it appeared they still sorely lacked the votes.”
DEMOCRATS CHART A PATH OUT OF THE WILDERNESS:
— Democratic congressional leaders yesterday launched “A Better Deal,” a pitch to voters for 2018 that they hope will win back some key constituencies who went for Trump in November. Jenna Portnoy and Ed O’Keefe report: “‘Democrats have too often hesitated from directly and unflinchingly taking on misguided policies that got us here,’ Schumer said. ‘So much so that too many Americans don’t know what we stand for. Not after today.’ In one of the few references to Trump in the hour-long event, Schumer said the president campaigned on a populist message but abandoned working people when he took office. … After years of watching GOP lawmakers successfully make similar pitches to voters, Democrats have decided they must do things differently, and they think focusing more on pocketbook issues — and less on Trump — will resonate.”
— “For all the fanfare on Monday, Democrats acknowledged that the message might serve more as a flexible skeleton for their 2018 campaigns than a precise ideological or political road map,” the New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer and Alexander Burns report. “The ‘Better Deal’ concept appeared designed to satisfy as many factions of the party as possible — populist liberals, suburban moderates, social justice activists — while attaching the Democratic Party in formal fashion to a few broad economic themes. But the themes did aim at issues familiar to struggling Americans.”
— “To the happy surprise of Democratic leaders, the economics-focused agenda earned positive reviews on the left, where the party is regularly accused of compromise or sellout,” David Weigel reports. “There was antitrust language, and an apology for the party’s neoliberal past. There was a reiteration that the party now backed a $15 minimum wage. There was a door swinging open to expanded or even universal Medicare. … The Better Deal, which included nothing that the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents fear running on — no environmental or social issues — seemed to slam the door on small-government ideas that had occasionally infiltrated the party.”
— “Sherrod Brown thinks he could have helped Democrats win in 2016. But what about 2020?” by Ben Terris: “He’s fluent in pension plans, overtime work rules and what he calls the ‘myths’ of free trade. It’s what helped one of the most progressive members of the U.S. Senate win this county, Trumbull, [in 2012] — the same place where Trump would go on to score a six-point victory. In an alternate universe where Hillary Clinton picked Sherrod Brown as her vice-presidential candidate, which she almost did, the Democratic ticket could have won Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the White House. At least that’s what Brown thinks. … But instead of settling in to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Brown finds himself up for reelection in a state redder than the president’s face during an anti-CNN tweetstorm … His party, desperate to figure out a way to win back Rust Belt voters, will be scrutinizing this race like a laboratory experiment. If Brown pulls it off — well, perhaps they aren’t as doomed as some think.
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
— Trump’s undercutting comments about his own attorney general appear to be affecting other Cabinet members, namely Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. CNN’s John King reports: “Tillerson has a growing list of differences with the White House, including a new debate over Iran policy and personnel. His frustration is hardly a secret and it has spilled out publicly at times. But friends sense a change of late. For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat. But [two sources connected to Tillerson] said they would not be surprised if there was a ‘Rexit’ from Foggy Bottom sooner than that.”
— “The Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as second in charge at the Interior Department on Monday despite recent claims that he continued to represent a client as a lobbyist after his registration was deactivated,” Darryl Fears reports. “Bernhardt’s confirmation passed by a 53-43 voted largely along party lines. Republicans praised Bernhardt, who previously worked as a solicitor at Interior, as an experienced complement to Secretary Ryan Zinke. Democrats called him a ‘walking conflict of interest’ for representing corporate interests opposed to regulations at the department that aim to help clean the air and water …”
— A new report found that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt traveled to his home state of Oklahoma 10 times over a three-month period this year — trips that were made largely at taxpayers’ expense. The New York Times’s Lisa Friedman reports: “The findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group founded by former E.P.A. officials, are drawn from Mr. Pruitt’s calendar and the travel expenses he has submitted for reimbursement. Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the documents show Mr. Pruitt spent 43 out of 92 days from March through May in Oklahoma or traveling to or from the state. … Many in Oklahoma speculate that Mr. Pruitt, who was the state’s elected attorney general until assuming the E.P.A. job in February, plans to again seek statewide office. Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project … said he had sought Mr. Pruitt’s travel documents because agency staff members told him they had difficulty scheduling meetings because Mr. Pruitt was frequently out of town.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump attacked The Post late last night for last week’s scoop on his decision to end a CIA program that armed and trained anti-Assad rebels in Syria (which is exactly what Putin wants):
The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
He suggested that the Post was being used as a lobbyist by its owner, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (it’s not):
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Is Fake News Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
From one of The Post’s national security correspondents:
1) Post not owned by Amazon. 2) Days of Amazon not charging sales tax long gone. 3) Sure you want to bring up taxes? https://t.co/2fxaRClL9O
— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) July 25, 2017
From a New York Times reporter:
President apparently confirming existence of US covert program to aid anti-Assad rebels in Syria right here on Twitter https://t.co/NQy1BqLAkB
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) July 25, 2017
Trump had already gone after “fake news” earlier in the day. He also criticized members of Congress for their handling of the Russia investigation and pressed Republicans to pass health-care legislation:
Drain the Swamp should be changed to Drain the Sewer – it’s actually much worse than anyone ever thought, and it begins with the Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on Repeal & Replace after years of talking & campaigning on it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who recently resigned his House seat to cash in, posed this question on Fox News:
Hard to Imagine Dumber Question—Jason Chaffetz: Why is Congress questioning Jared & not Chelsea Clinton for Benghazi https://t.co/QAQasXqrwL
— Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) July 24, 2017
Chelsea Clinton responded:
Thank you Mr. Entwisle for teaching me about Red Herrings in 9th Grade English. https://t.co/qI0RqETAog
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) July 24, 2017
A presidential biographer flamed Kushner:
Seeking answers on Russia does NOT “ridicule” Trump voters. What’s condescending is idea they can’t handle the truth, whatever it may be.
— Jon Meacham (@jmeacham) July 24, 2017
From the former House GOP staffer who ran for president last year as an independent:
There is almost zero chance that Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr. would’ve all attended a meeting that they expected to be inconsequential.
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) July 24, 2017
From a journalism professor at Columbia:
Historic photo of Jared Kushner’s assistant prematurely filing his incorrect SF-86. pic.twitter.com/qOnejeqWAr
— BGrueskin (@BGrueskin) July 24, 2017
Note the lack of diversity among the White House’s summer intern class:
ah, here is this year’s white house intern class, per the white house snapchat.. pic.twitter.com/KjLpg3fXAr
— kelly cohen (@politiCOHEN_) July 24, 2017
Reality check from The Post’s White House editor:
Nearly half of “millennials” (age 18-34 in 2015) are not white, which makes this photo particularly striking. https://t.co/Q5bxiN51wm
— Dan Eggen (@DanEggenWPost) July 24, 2017
A Republican House member from Texas blamed female GOP senators for the health-care bill’s stumbles:
GOP Congressman @farenthold blames women senators for repeal failure and says if they were men he’d engage in a duel.
(Real pic on right) pic.twitter.com/TQDv55iAmm
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) July 24, 2017
From a Politico reporter:
Reminder that this congressman was sued for sexual harassment by a female staffer. https://t.co/jzXVcn2Sr7
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) July 24, 2017
Rick Perry joined Trump at his Boy Scout speech:
Rick Perry on his phone like 🙄 pic.twitter.com/mHoBhdMnv8
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) July 24, 2017
It prompted captions like:
“Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.” https://t.co/hmYvF4Psh2
— DJ Judd (@juddzeez) July 24, 2017
Obama’s photographer keeps on trolling Trump on Instagram:
Some reaction from lawmakers to Trump’s harsh words at the Boy Scout speech:
As a Scout leader, my stomach is in knots about what Trump did today. If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t. It’s downright icky.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 25, 2017
And Sen. Elizabeth Warren did a little dance for Glass-Steagall:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
— The New Yorker, “The TV That Created Donald Trump,” by Emily Nussbaum: “It’s become a wearying, ugly observation, a media truism at once superficial and deep: if ‘The Apprentice’ didn’t get Trump elected, it is surely what made him electable. Over fourteen seasons, [Mark Burnett] helped turn the Donald Trump of the late nineties—the disgraced huckster who had trashed Atlantic City; a tabloid pariah to whom no bank would lend—into a titan of industry, nationally admired for being, in his own words, ‘the highest-quality brand.’ … The Trump of ‘The Apprentice’ receives endless praise, even behind his back. He’s a family man and a business genius. Frequently, he narrates from a helicopter, hovering like Zeus … [Through The Apprentice], Trump’s relationship with viewers was transformed: ‘He was a hero, and he had not been one before,’ [said former NBC publicity director Jim Dowd].”
— Buzzfeed News, “The Moneyman behind Donald Trump,” by Aram Roston: “How did explicit racism move from a taboo to an open, unabashed force in American politics? A loose but sprawling internet army, [dubbed] the alt-right … gave white supremacy a massive megaphone. And with the rise of [Trump’s] candidacy, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere at once. In fact, that movement had an infrastructure — organizations, journals, conferences, money — that had been laid down years before. It was in large part funded by one person: a secretive and aging multimillionaire named William H. Regnery II, the most influential racist you’ve never heard of. Still, for more than a decade and a half, Regnery’s investments and activism achieved no measurable results … Until, that is, they were redeemed by an extraordinary historical event: the candidacy of Donald Trump. In a rare interview, Regnery reached for a word to describe the effect: ‘I think Trump was a legitimatizer,’ he said. White nationalism ‘went from being conversation you could hold in a bathroom, to the front parlor.’”
— The New Yorker, “A Veteran ICE Agent, Disillusioned with the Trump Era, Speaks Out,” by Jonathan Blitzer: “The agent, who has worked in federal immigration enforcement since the Clinton Administration, has been unsettled by the new order at ICE. During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible. ‘We’re going to get sued,’ the agent told me at one point. ‘You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.’”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“MSNBC finishes first in primetime basic cable for first time ever,” from the Hill: “MSNBC finished as the most-watched network in all of basic cable in primetime on Monday, for the first time in its 21-year history, according to Nielsen Research. The Comcast-owned network averaged 2.34 million viewers, edging Fox News and its average of 2.25 million. Disney’s 1.74 million, USA Network’s 1.57 million and HGTV’s 1.51 million viewers rounded out the top five.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Lana Del Rey tried to put a hex on Donald Trump,” from Page Six: “Lana Del Rey is proud of her attempt to put a hex on President Donald Trump. ‘Yeah, I did it. Why not? … ” the 32-year-old New York native [said]. In February, Del Rey made headlines when she joined a large group in the witchcraft community to perform a ‘mass spell to bind Trump.’ … Del Rey didn’t expound much on the specifics of the spell but explained how beliefs and attitudes, more than potions and cauldrons, can inspire change.”
Trump has a morning meeting with the national security adviser before his afternoon events with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The two leaders will participate in a meeting and a joint press conference. The president and first lady will then travel to Vienna, Ohio, for a “salute to American heroes” and campaign rally.
Pence will spend the day on Capitol Hill, working with Republican senators as they hold a pivotal vote to advance a health-care overhaul. In the evening, he has an event with his PAC.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Republican Sen. Richard Burr on the murky details surrounding today’s health-care vote: “It doesn’t concern me. As I said, I’ll vote for anything.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— It’s going to be cooler with less humidity in D.C. today, but we may get some storms later in the week. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Happy high pressure brings us lower humidity, mostly sunny skies and highs mainly in the lower to middle 80s today. Winds from the northwest at 5 to 10 mph assist our drying-out process after that saturated weekend.”
— A new poll shows Virginia’s two gubernatorial candidates locked in a dead heat. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The poll of likely voters by Monmouth University found [Ed] Gillespie and [Ralph] Northam tied with 44 percent each. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra drew 3 percent, while 9 percent were undecided. President Trump, seen unfavorably by 57 percent of Virginia voters and favorably by 37 percent, is looming large in the November gubernatorial contest, the country’s marquee statewide race this year. Nearly four in 10 voters said Trump was a factor in their choice for governor. Half of Northam supporters listed Trump as a factor in their decision-making, compared with one-third of Gillespie backers and one-third of undecided and third-party voters.”
— Rep. David Brat of Virginia, who complained that female constituents were “in my grill no matter where I go” regarding holding a town hall, now faces five women challengers for his district’s Democratic nomination in 2018. (Jenna Portnoy)
— “Krishanti Vignarajah, a onetime policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday that she is ‘seriously considering’ joining a crowded field of Democratic candidates running for Maryland governor,” Ovetta Wiggins reports.
— Montgomery County officials removed a Confederate statue that has stood next to Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse for over a century. (Bill Turque)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
The Daily Show compared Anthony Scaramucci’s gestures to his boss’s:
The Mooch did his homework. pic.twitter.com/Wku0DF2ovd
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) July 24, 2017
Stephen Colbert introduced his Scaramucci impression:
Seth Meyers called the new communications director “a human pinky ring:”
Trump compared Washington to a sewer in his speech last night:
Trump told a reporter to “be quiet” after she asked questions about Jeff Sessions and health care during the president’s photo-op with White House interns:
The Fact Checker’s Michelle Lee explains the differences between Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer and the Clinton campaign’s contact with the Ukrainian Embassy:
The Vatican was forced to shut off the water running to roughly 100 fountains because of a recent drought:
Michael Phelps’s race against a shark may have been simulated, but The Post’s video team compiled four examples of humans actually racing animals:
And a woman in Kansas set her apartment on fire when she tried to kill a bug with a lighter: