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On the roster: Republicans are weary water bearers on Russia - Trump declares: ‘I'm not under investigation’ - As insurance options shrink, pressure on Congress grows - I’ll Tell You What: Jalapeñ-yo business - Who moved my cheese?
REPUBLICANS ARE WEARY WATER BEARERS ON RUSSIA
Politics being what it is, there’s almost nothing that Democrats can say about President Trump’s handling of the investigation into his 2016 campaign that would matter.
By the time you’re talking about impeachment and criminal abuses of power, there isn’t really much left to say.
Now Republicans, on the other hand…
We talked to some GOP lawmakers in the House and the Senate to try to get a sense of their mindsets after two days of being buffeted by Hurricane Comey. The consensus: they’re feeling pretty waterlogged.
Trump’s inability to leave alone the Russia inquest is proving increasingly frustrating to the very Republicans on whom his success and survival depend.
First there was Trump’s disputation of the intelligence findings that Russia was behind the hacking of Clinton campaign emails. Then there was Trump’s claim that Obama had tapped Trump’s phones. Then there was the weirdness around Rep. Devin Nunes’ unmasking allegations. And now, there is the wrathful firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
Taken alone, any of those things can be and have been explained. Less than four months in, though, Republicans are getting tired of having to explain so much and so often when it comes to the Russia mess.
“Even a cat only has nine lives,” said one Republican senator.
The reason the opinions of Republicans matter so much for Trump right now is that they are what stands between him and the creation of an independent commission and, potentially, the appointment of a special prosecutor to probe the matter.
So how does Trump reassure Russia-weary Republicans that the end of their ordeal is in sight?
First, pick a replacement for Comey that is beyond reproach. Ideally the nominee would get some Democratic support in the Senate but at the very least some Democratic praise. One name with a nice bit of ironic appeal being floated is Judge Merrick Garland, the Obama Supreme Court nominee that Republicans left at the altar. But that’s the idea for whoever Trump picks: cleaner than Caesar’s wife.
In the same category of showing that the president has nothing to hide, the White House should be open and accommodating with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation currently ongoing. Strangeness like that which derailed Nunes’ House-side probe could be big trouble.
As one House member told us, Republicans, Democrats, the White House and everybody else has “a lot riding on the success” of the Senate Intel probe. If it doesn’t come to a conclusion, whatever it is, the need for a special committee would be impossible to ignore.
One other thing Trump could do to avoid finding the next Ken Starr rooting through the president’s back pages is to appoint a special counsel of his own. This step is risky because, of course, it could get away from Trump. But if the president tapped a trusted figure outside of the Justice Department to conduct a thorough review and share publicly his or her findings would do a great deal to reassure anxious Republicans.
Democrats are quite sure that Trump is hiding something and explain all of his actions this way. Most Republicans are at least willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on the claim that his top aides were canoodling with Putinists.
While there is a great deal that Trump could do to improve their morale and bolster their arguments, one thing stands out among all the rest: stay out of it.
This is probably the last mistake that key Republicans will allow Trump on the Russia stuff. Firing Comey was going to be complicated, whenever it happened. But doing it as a suspicious-looking surprise attack on a Tuesday afternoon deepened and hardened Republican misgivings about the whole affair.
Trump burned a great deal of political capital with the Comey uproar. The president is operating on credit with his fellow Republicans now. But the limit has been reached.
TRUMP DECLARES: ‘I'M NOT UNDER INVESTIGATION’
NBC News: “President Donald Trump… revealed he asked Comey whether he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia. ‘I actually asked him’ if I was under investigation, Trump said, noting that he spoke with Comey once over dinner and twice by phone. ‘I said, if it's possible would you let me know, ‘Am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation’.’ … It would be highly unusual for someone who might be the focus of an FBI probe to ask whether he were under investigation and to be directly told by the FBI director that he was not under investigation.”
Says he was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation - WashEx: “President Trump said Thursday that he had decided to remove FBI Director James Comey long before his deputy attorney general recommended he do so, and said Comey had informed him that he was not under investigation during a previously unreported private dinner. ‘What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision,’ Trump told NBC's Lester Holt just two days after dismissing the FBI director. Previously, his White House had suggested that it was the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that prompted Comey's termination.”
McCabe says no White House interference on Russia probe - WaPo: “Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe vowed Thursday that he would tell the Senate Intelligence Committee if the White House tried to interfere with the bureau’s probe of possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election — though he asserted that there had ‘been no effort to impede our investigation to date.’ McCabe made the assertions at a public hearing with top U.S. intelligence officials before the Senate Intelligence Committee — a hearing that has taken on new significance since Trump suddenly removed James B. Comey from the FBI’s top post.”
But disputes Trump’s new rationale for firing - Politico: "Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday said his fired predecessor, James Comey, had not lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI agents, contradicting a claim by the White House. ‘Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,’ McCabe said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.”
Senate Intel leaders jump out for closed-door huddle with Rosenstein - The Hill:“The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee [Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C. and Mark Warner, D-Va.] meeting on Thursday abruptly stepped out of a long-scheduled hearing on worldwide threats for a previously-undisclosed meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein."
Comey invited to testify in front of Senate panel Tuesday - Politico: “Ousted FBI Director James Comey has been invited to testify in a closed session next Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a committee aide.”
[David Harsanyi reminds us how the Comey commotion is part of the price of the bipartisan assault on the separation of powers.]
THE RULEBOOK: INSIDE-OUT
“The utility of a Confederacy, as well to suppress faction and to guard the internal tranquility of States, as to increase their external force and security, is in reality not a new idea.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 9
TIME OUT: HITS YOU HARD
The Atlantic: “A collection of young men enter through double doors and walk up the theater steps… They wear shorts and baseball caps, athletic t-shirts and cut-offs, jewelry and headphones, sandals and sneakers, hearing aids and cochlear implants. There is talking, yelling, laughing, singing, and signing. They are black, white, and Latino. … Yet as Head Coach Chuck Goldstein makes clear during this first team meeting of the season, such a collection of young men represents the entire deaf and hard-of-hearing community. ‘We’re the only deaf football team in the world,’ he says and signs, using a method of communication called ‘sim-com.’ … ‘We’re America’s deaf team. We have the best deaf recruiting class in the country. Better than Alabama’s deaf team!’ After he gets a couple chuckles, he turns serious and addresses the reason why there are both talking and signing in Room G41: ‘The biggest challenge we have at Gallaudet University,’ he says, ‘is communication.’”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
AS INSURANCE OPTIONS SHRINK, PRESSURE ON CONGRESS GROWS
AP: "While Republicans rewrite the Affordable Care Act in Washington, the immediate future of the law has grown hazier with the nation's third-largest health insurer saying that it will completely divorce itself from state-based insurance exchanges. Aetna said late Wednesday that it won't sell individual coverage in Nebraska and Delaware next year after projecting a $200 million loss this year. The insurer had already pulled out of several states after losing about $450 million in 2016. … Every exchange had at least one insurer offering coverage for 2017, but a growing number were down to only one. Insurance experts expect holes to develop in 2018. Customers may be able to find individual insurance coverage off the exchanges, but those marketplaces offer the only way for people to get tax credits to help pay the premium. … Insurers have to make preliminary coverage plans by late spring or early summer, depending on the state…”
THE JUDGE’S RULING: LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE
Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses the past, present and future of ObamaCare: “But Barack Obama may have subtly succeeded in changing the landscape of thinking about federal involvement in health care.” More here
Trump net job-approval rating: -12 points
Change from one week ago: -4 points
I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: JALAPEÑ-YO BUSINESS
It has been an interesting 48 hours in Washington... The dynamic duo is back with a lot to say! Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss all things Comey, the current state of the Trump administration and what the future may hold. And, who would have thought there’s a solution to chapped lips and cravings!? Grab some Red Lobster lip balm… yum? LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE
Trump to announce commission to investigate his claims that 2016 election was rigged - ABC News
McCain and Sasse oppose Trump U.S. trade rep nominee, Robert Lighthizer - WaPo
Pilot episodes? Trump seeks performance review on potential Spicer replacement Sanders - Politico
Rick Scott mulling 2018 Senate campaign - WaPo
Congressional Budget Office to report on ObamaCare cuts in the next two weeks - NBC News
AUDIBLE: KEYNES YOU BELIEVE IT?
“Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just… I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.” – President Trump in an interview with The Economist regarding the expression “prime the pump” to describe governments borrowing and spending money to stimulate the economy, a term common since the Great Depression.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“What if Comey going away now clears the deck for Hillary to be prosecuted?” – Jerry Van Pelt, Frisco, Texas
[Ed. note: Now that, Mr. Van Pelt, would be an ending that not even Charles McCarry could have conjured!]
“I think that you are dead wrong about the purpose of the way that Trump fired Comey. It's more of the ‘New Sheriff in Town’ action. Trump took this opportunity to devastate an enemy as example to others. I expect such example will cause some of them to ‘Duck & Cover’ for self-preservation. For nearly two years now, we have been drowned in opinions of what Trump Shoulda/Woulda/Coulda done better, all while he continued his winning ways, and you just joined the group....” – Frank Forster, Aptos, Calif.
[Ed. note: We should remember, Mr. Forster, that there’s no reasonable argument whether Trump was within his rights to fire Comey and there’s very little disagreement in general about whether Comey deserved to be fired for his election-year conduct. What is being debated instead is the means and timing of Trump’s actions, which are not insignificant things. Trump’s poor execution gave rise to new questions about his seriousness of solving, once and for all, the question of whether anyone who had worked for him was in contact with the Kremlin or its agents about damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Whether these questions are fair or not, Trump left himself open to these woes. Governing has been hard for Trump, which is understandable given his outsider status. But the clock is running…]
“Comey's fate was sealed the moment Bill Clinton walked aboard AG Lynch's airplane. Once Lynch said she would accept the recommendation of the FBI vis-a-vis prosecution, Comey had to choose between going down in history as the person who: (1) killed the campaign of the first woman nominated by a major party to be president by recommending prosecution or (2) succumbed to political pressure to let a potential criminal become president. He decided to split the baby and portray Hillary’s actions as criminal yet shield her from prosecution. Time will tell what Comey’s legacy will eventually be.” – Pat Conroy, West Lake Hills, Texas
[Ed. note: In the history of bad meetings, the one between Lynch and Clinton will hold a special place. And it certainly put Comey in a bad place. But, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explained, Comey had options other than going public with his political but not legal indictment of the former secretary of state. We have a lot of protections for whistleblowers in our government, especially those who blow whistles as large and as loud as the FBI director’s.]
“The Republican party will be judged for generations on how it reacts to Comey’s firing and the Russian probe more generally. Short term political power vs abandonment of all great hallmarks of a free democracy. If they don’t insist on an independent, properly resourced exploration of Russian ties they will sink without trace.” – Lena Rodriguez, Sydney, Australia
[Ed. note: Yup.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?
WPXI: “It's not something you see every day, especially when it comes to local elections: a rat trap pinning a campaign sign to the ground. Joseph Kowalchick is running for township supervisor in Norwegian Township [Pennsylvania]. He says he came up with the idea for a human-sized rat trap, because a lot of his campaign signs were being stolen. ‘Yeah, it's meant to be a little funny. It's meant to prove a point that we're actually fed up with it,’ said Kowalchick. The oversize rat trap weighs about 250 pounds, so no one should be able to steal the sign again.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I think the key point is the administration's surprise. I think Trump is totally sincere in his attacks, one after the other, on the hypocrisy of the Democrats. But it's surprising that he should be surprised.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
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.