**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**
On the roster: GOP stuck in the past - Bannon ousted from National Security Council - Lots of talk, not much progress on health bill - Dems try to mar Gorsuch ahead of near certain confirmation - Does it cover snacks?
GOP STUCK IN THE PAST
Republicans have been drifting apart from each other on policy matters long before their current breakdown over health insurance.
But even in the toughest of times there’s always been one thing they can count on: their absolute agreement about the perfidy of Barack Obama.
But now they need more than that. Unfortunately, many of them including their president are still all about Obama.
Much of the political world, including quite a few Republicans, recoiled when President Trump’s White House issued a statement on the recent savagery in Syria that included a name-checked slam on the 44th president.
With women and children in a chemical weapons attack presumed to be launched by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, what kind of creep would take a gratuitous political shot – no matter how right – at a predecessor? The answer may be not creepiness but rather a curious form of blindness. For the past nine years, Republicans out ran their own divisions and lingering policy disagreements by rallying around a shared loathing of Obama.
Consider Syria itself. Some Republicans, like Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., and others wanted the U.S. to intervene in Syria’s civil war, even if it meant sending troops. Other, like Trump, wanted America to stay the hell out of this latest Middle Eastern tragedy.
But they could all agree that Obama, by setting and then forgetting a “red line” about the use of chemical weapons, had made a huge blunder. Many Democrats would agree. But that produces no agreement about what to do next.
Same for ObamaCare almost everyone right of center can agree that the law was ill conceived and poorly executed. As for policy prescriptions to fix it? You will hear everything from nuking the entire status quo to create a nearly absolute free market to others who say it’s time to suck it up and move toward a single-payer system.
Or watch Republicans fixate on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
There’s no doubt that if Team Obama engaged in improper or illegal targeting or leaking about a political rival’s campaign – something hardly out of the realm of possibility given some of the hackery in which Obama’s administration engaged - it would be an epochal scandal.
But similarly it would be no small beer if anyone in Trump’s campaign is found to have colluded with Russian operatives to shape the outcome of the 2016 campaign. Also hardly out of the realm of possibility given the repeated revelations about connections between members of Team Trump and the Kremlin.
A reasonable person can be concerned about both things. But a person seeing their party’s fortunes flagging might eagerly ignore the latter and focus on the former. “Let’s stop worrying about Russia and go back to talking about how much we hate Obama.”
Obama himself engaged in much of this conduct and Republicans rightly, if self-interestedly, called him on it repeatedly. The former president’s reflexive Bush bashing was tacky and, ultimately, counterproductive.
But much from the Obama era we have only intensified the faults of our system and its denizens in the age of Trump.
Democrats are up in arms over all of the Obama bashing, suddenly imagining that their departed hero was not guilty of any similar transgressions. But it also imagines that they will do differently than Trump & Co. in the future.
It is easy to imagine that the two-word Democratic platform for 2018 and 2020 will be only “not Trump.” It seems to be working for them and it requires no discussion about complicated, divisive topics.
But if they repeat the cycle again and succeed Trump with more graceless, backward-looking leadership they will fail to deliver on the issues that matter most to voters, and they too will be replaced by the next round of “anybody but.”
THE RULEBOOK: YOU’LL STILL GET BURNED
“But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 10
TIME OUT: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
NYT: “The train pulls into Pennsylvania Station during the morning rush, the doors open and you make a beeline for the escalators. You stick to the left and walk up the stairs, figuring you can save precious seconds and get a bit of exercise. But the experts are united in this: You’re doing it wrong, seizing an advantage at the expense and safety of other commuters. Boarding an escalator two by two and standing side by side is the better approach. It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers said it is more efficient if nobody walks on the escalator. To be clear, this is not better for the escalator itself, although that has been a matter of dispute.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at
your tips, comments or questions.
BANNON OUSTED FROM NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
Fox News: “President Trump’s controversial senior adviser, Stephen Bannon, was removed from the National Security Council on Wednesday, Fox News confirmed. Bannon was put on the NSC’s ‘Principles Committee’ as check on former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to make sure Flynn carried through with a directive to depoliticize the NSC, a senior administration official told Fox News. Bannon only attended one meeting of the Principles Committee. Now that HR McMaster is National Security Advisor, the Trump saw no need for Bannon to stay on the committee as a check on Flynn, the official said. Bannon is still permitted to go to NSC meetings. The reconfiguration also promotes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to ‘regular attendees.’”
Trump says Rice may have committed a crime in unmasking - NYT: “President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved. ‘I think it’s going to be the biggest story,’ Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office, declining repeated requests for evidence for his allegations or the names of other Obama administration officials. ‘It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.’ He declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim but pledged to explain himself ‘at the right time.’”
Trump calls for change in Syria policy – WSJ: President Donald Trump on Wednesday called the suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria “a terrible affront to humanity” and hinted briefly that a change in U.S. policy on Syria may be coming as a result. Mr. Trump addressed the chemical attack, which has killed at least 74 people, at the beginning a White House meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan that was likely to focus heavily on the six-year conflict. U.S. officials believe the attack was carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Just days before the chemical attack, Trump administration officials said the U.S. would no longer prioritize regime change in Syria and that they expect Mr. Assad to remain in power.
Tillerson says U.S. has ‘no further comment’ on NoKo missile launch failure - Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson reports that the Pentagon considers the North Korean missile launch a likely failure: “The missile did not go as far as intended, officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence reports said. It did not reach Japanese waters and may have ‘pinwheeled in flight,’ according to one official…A senior administration official told Fox News the launch didn't represent much of a provocation on North Korea's part. In a 23-word statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear the administration was moving in a new direction: ‘North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.’”
Schiff open to Rice testifying - The Hill: “Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says the House Intelligence Committee would welcome former national security adviser Susan Rice’s testimony during its probe of Russian election meddling last year. ‘If she has pertinent testimony, I’m sure she will be invited as will others,’ he said Wednesday on CNN’s ‘New Day.’ ‘Whether she has pertinent testimony or not, I can’t say,’ added Schiff, the panel’s ranking Democrat. ‘If she does, we’d be happy to have her come in.’ Schiff dismissed criticism of Rice’s decision to request the identities of U.S. citizens identified in raw intelligence reports connected to President Trump’s transition team.”
[Chairman of the Senate Intel Committee Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said he’d be interested in having Rice testify “if the reports are right.”]
LOTS OF TALK, NOT MUCH PROGRESS ON HEALTH BILL
AP: “The Trump administration and Republican lawmakers plan to continue their uphill effort to exhume the House GOP's health care bill, but remain adrift and divided over how to reshape it to attract enough votes to muscle it through the chamber. White House officials and leading legislators aimed to resume talks Wednesday. Late Tuesday, they failed in a Capitol basement office meeting to shake hands on a White House proposal to let states seek federal waivers to drop coverage mandates that President Barack Obama's health care law slapped on the insurance industry. … The White House offers got an uneven reception earlier Tuesday from GOP moderates and conservatives, leaving prospects shaky that the party could salvage one of its leading legislative priorities.”
Jonathan Swan, Caitlin Owens and Rebecca Zisser provide latest updates - Axios: “The Republican talks on patching up Trumpcare sure deteriorated in a hurry. For a while yesterday, they dissolved into bickering and finger-pointing, with members of the Freedom Caucus saying the proposed compromise is getting worse — and House Republican leaders saying it's bleeding votes. Now, they're back to talking again — and talking and talking and talking, with no legislative text and no visible signs of progress.”
[Meanwhile recent Gallup Poll shows ObamaCare gaining public support]
DEMS TRY TO MAR GORSUCH AHEAD OF NEAR CERTAIN CONFIRMATION
WaPo: “Mostly while we slept Tuesday night, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) seized the Senate floor for roughly 15 hours in an attempt to launch an old-school filibuster to block Judge Neil Gorsuch from getting on the Supreme Court. He ended it around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. But his filibuster came too late to be able to derail or even delay Gorsuch's confirmation. In fact, it probably wasn't even technically be a filibuster. That's because procedurally, there's nothing he nor his colleagues can do to stop Gorsuch from getting a vote on Thursday to advance his nomination — and, ultimately, not much they can do stop him from getting on the court.”
Kraushaar: Red state Dems acting unafraid - National Journal: “Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of the most endangered senators on next year’s ballot, is voting and talking like a down-the-line liberal, rarely breaking with her party. She represents a state that Trump carried by 19 points. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, up for reelection in a state Trump carried by 20 points, joined McCaskill in supporting the Gorsuch filibuster. … In a more conventional political environment, taking partisan votes against the will of constituents would be quite risky. But as Trump continues to struggle, these senators believe that Trump’s electoral performance in their home states was more a rejection of Clintonian elitism than an embrace of his political agenda.”
[Nate Cohn suggests some reason for Senate Democrats’ pluckiness: Their party’s voters may be getting better at midterm turnout.]
Trump repeats promise on infrastructure spending - WaPo
No surprise: Dems to hold Becerra House seat after primary - LA Times
AUDIBLE: STRANGER THINGS
“You know [Sen.] Ted Cruz threatened to shut the government down a few years ago if ObamaCare wasn't repealed with Obama as the president. So, we've done the craziest stuff you can possibly do.” – Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., talking to WashEx about the possibility of a partial government shutdown despite single-party control of Congress and the White House.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Why the obsession with Alexander Hamilton? Are you advocating a return of the Federalist Party?” – Glen Lautt, Shelton, Wash.
[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Lautt he was a pretty big deal… There has been a new vogue for our first Secretary of the Treasury thanks to the broadway show of the same name. But our interest in including a jot from the “Federalist Papers” – whether from Hamilton or his other colleagues, most notably James Madison and John Jay – is to remind ourselves and you why we are here. The purpose of these elections and these political fights on Capitol Hill fits into a larger framework. We are fortunate not just to have a Constitution, but also extensive notes on the thinking of the men who drafted it. Our federal system exceeds any other in the world in both virtue and practicality. I think a daily reminder of their intentions isn’t a bad idea.]
“If Susan Rice really said, ‘I leaked nothing to nobody.’ This double negative would mean that she must have leaked “something to somebody.’” – Jack Smith, Marlin, Texas
[Ed note: Love it, Mr. Smith! When grammarians rule the world, it will be a better place.]
“Please stop calling the American Health Care Act Trumpcare. This was Speaker Ryan's bill not the President or his team. You are one of my favorite Fox contributors. I can watch you on any show or the podcast you do with Dana and really learn so much. But this halftime report boggles my brain. I thought you were a conservative republican but now am unsure. Reached the breaking point [Tuesday] with the droning on about Trumpcare paragraph after paragraph, so had to say something. Speak truth brother just try not to be so snarky.” – RM Tennyson, Newark, Ohio
[Ed. note: I wish I could oblige you, Mr. Tennyson – and to be praised for writing by one with such a name as yours is quite a thing – but I am afraid to say that the name is a necessary device. The original in the series of –Care constructions was “HillaryCare,” a pejorative term used by Republican critics of the Clinton administration’s failed gambit on universal health insurance. Republicans tried the same thing with ObamaCare, but got a different result. That is in part because Obama embraced the moniker. And as the law as grown more popular since his departure from office, he no doubt feels greater confidence that he will wear the name as a badge of honor rather than the taunt it was intended to be. We don’t know yet whether TrumpCare will be a taunt or a laurel, and that substantially depends on the president taking ownership of what would be, whether he likes it or not, a key part of his legacy. As to my own political leanings, whatever they may be, I do my best to set them aside in order to provide you with the clearest, most dispassionate analysis I can. I was once asked in a public setting what my own political inclinations were. I answered only, “pro-American.”]
Share your color commentary: Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
DOES IT COVER SNACKS?
Bloomberg: “The University of Utah will become the first big-time sports school to offer scholarships for competitive video gaming, so far the most high-profile entry into collegiate esports. Backed by the Salt Lake City school’s video game development program, Utah’s first varsity esports team will play Riot Games’ popular League of Legends and compete in Riot’s collegiate league. More teams in other games will be announced this year. Utah is the first school in the ‘Power Five’ -- the five richest athletic conferences in college sports -- to offer scholarships for video gaming, lending a high-profile endorsement to the the rapidly-growing industry. ‘We want others schools to join us,’ said A.J. Dimick, who will run the new esports program. "Let’s move this along together." Funding for the program will come directly from Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering department, which The Princeton Review named the country’s best video game design program in 2016. Dimick declined to say how big the upfront investment would be.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons and Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.