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On the roster: Quick, read this before news breaks! - Trump’s message with new Saudi friends: So long Obama - Congress steps back on Russia as Mueller steps up - Power Play: What a week! - Just bust a move
QUICK, READ THIS BEFORE NEWS BREAKS!
We say, with some fear of sudden and urgent correction, that today marks something of an anticlimax.
After nine consecutive days of chaos – beginning with President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, continuing with Trump’s admission that he fired Comey in part because of the agency’s investigation into Trump’s campaign, the revelation that Trump shared state secrets with the Kremlin and concluding with the appointment of a special counsel – there is quiet.
As Trump departs for a long overseas trip, there is only the sound of jet wash along the Potomac.
Given the intensity of events and the occasionally unhinged coverage of them, a reasonable person might have expected that there would be some sort of dramatic conclusion to this action-packed mini-series.
Sorry to disappoint, but we are likely a long way from an ending, regardless of the turns the tale takes. Special counsel Robert Mueller is only beginning an investigation that will last months, if not years. Trump is not going to be impeached, resign, be removed by his own cabinet or abducted by aliens anytime soon.
Just as during the can-you-believe-it 2016 election, the show will go on and on, like it or not.
We are often told that the premise of that election was a broad populist revolt sweeping across the interior of the country and that the anger of dislocated Rust-Belt residents manifested itself in the unlikely person of a New York billionaire and reality-show host. Their eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Trump.
And there is surely truth to that, as the places in America left behind in the torrent of technological change of the past generation sided strongly with Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who chose against them in favor of more affluent suburban voters.
And certainly Trump’s platform matched up with the concerns of older heartland voters: new tariffs on foreign goods, federal programs to prop up manufacturing, a crack-down on immigrant workers and a preservation of ailing entitlement programs.
Some of those things have gotten atention since the blockbuster finale of the 2016 season, but most of the issues have been diminished, disregarded or obstructed in the face of the political realities of Washington and the political incapacity of the president and his team.
Here we must remember that perhaps just as much or even more of the 2016 dynamic was attributable not to these forgotten voters but rather to the sheer spectacle of the race itself.
Both candidates talked about issues, but the overall thrust was toward a plot-driven dynamic that would have seemed right at home in a soap opera or professional-wrestling bout. If the past ten days felt familiar to you, it is perhaps because it had all the hallmarks of last year’s election.
What you may be tempted to forget, just as many voters did during the election, is that all this drama is a damaging distraction. Which of the mostly already rich and powerful people in this agonizing reboot of “Melrose Place” comes out on top doesn’t matter at all. Sure it’s fascinating, but while trash TV will just rot your brain, trash politics will actually rot your republic.
It looks more unlikely than ever that the bold strokes of Trumpism will result in any kind of broad policy changes this year. At this point, even producing a budget and avoiding a government shutdown sounds slightly ambitious.
But boy oh boy there will be drama and epic takedowns and weird tweets and betrayals and leaks and stunning revelations and probably, eventually, some intrigue that is sexual in nature. Just like the election, this show will have it all.
What it will not likely have, however, is much of an answer for those Americans of both parties wondering what we are supposed to do with a culture that is broken, continuing economic disruption and a conspicuous lack of national purpose.
As the players take their respective places on stage for the current melodrama, silent stands the actor taking the part of posterity.
Democrats may defeat Trump or Trump may survive this and the other outrages to come, but you would not be wrong to ask, “So what?”
THE RULEBOOK: MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON
“To be more safe, [states] at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 8
TIME OUT: BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER
Atlas Obscura: “That brand would be Hydrox, the second banana of the cookie aisle, which these days simply can’t compete against the marketing juggernaut that is Oreo, even if it did get a bit of a head start. In 1882, the entrepreneur Jacob Loose bought a biscuit and candy company that would eventually be known as Sunshine Biscuits (after the company’s baking plant designs) and, in 1908, launched the biscuit sandwich known as Hydrox. The name, they thought, would be reminiscent of the sunlight that glimmered through its factories, in addition to speaking to a basic purity of product. The truth was a bit more complicated, however. Intended to imply hydrogen and oxygen—the two chemicals that make up water—the result has a more clinical, less roll-off-the-tongue convention to it, and instead evokes hydrogen peroxide, a chemical you probably don’t want to drink.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -16.8 points
Change from one week ago: -4.2 points
TRUMP’S MESSAGE WITH NEW SAUDI FRIENDS: SO LONG OBAMA
Andrew Exum looks at the message and meaning behind President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia. The Atlantic: “The past four U.S. presidents, when making their first trips abroad, traveled to either Canada or Mexico. Donald Trump, by contrast, will go to Saudi Arabia—to meet not only with the Saudi leadership but with other Gulf and Arab leaders. This is a move by the anti-Obama. The former president’s relations with America’s traditional regional partners were strained, so what better way to advertise that you’re not the former president than to embrace them whole-heartedly—despite some of the pointed things you yourself said about them on the campaign trail. [The] Gulf Arabs are still excited about Donald Trump, even as the president’s position among his own people continues to collapse following a weeklong artillery barrage of bombshells on everything from the president’s firing of the FBI director to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”
Trump son-in-law at the center of major arms deal - The Hill: “President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner personally called the CEO of Lockheed Martin during a meeting with a Saudi delegation earlier this month to ask her to cut the price of a missile defense system, The New York Times reported Thursday. The call was part of Kushner's effort to secure a roughly $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia before Trump's scheduled trip to the kingdom on Friday.”
Ivanka and Jared get permission to roll on Shabbos - Politico: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday, after receiving a rabbinical dispensation to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, according to a White House official. As practicing Orthodox Jews, Trump's daughter and son-in-law typically observe the weekly Shabbat holiday, unplugging from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.”
Oh the places he’ll go - Fox News: “His trip begins Friday with a stop in Saudi Arabia, followed by planned visits to Israel and the Vatican. Trump will later attend the 28th NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, and the 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Italy.”
CONGRESS STEPS BACK ON RUSSIA AS MUELLER STEPS UP
NYT: “Republican senators signaled on Thursday that the Justice Department’s special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and possible collusion by associates of President Trump would quite likely slow and narrow the scope of their own inquiries. Five different Senate and House committees — including both congressional intelligence committees – are running inquiries into the Russian meddling. But the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed on Wednesday, is widely expected to ask Congress to scale back public hearings with witnesses who might be integral to his investigation. The entire Senate, in a highly unusual gathering, was briefed on the Justice Department inquiry by Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who stunned some lawmakers when he suggested that he had known President Trump had planned to fire James B. Comey as F.B.I. director before he provided a memo to the president outlining a rationale for his dismissal.”
Trump lawyers up - Politico: “The huddle, according to four people briefed, took place the day after it was announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would serve as the investigation’s special counsel. One White House official said the discussion, which came the day before Trump leaves for his first trip abroad since taking office, centered around the nuts and bolts of how the investigation would work – and how the administration will need to handle the inquiry. Among those in attendance was longtime Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen, who came down from New York to attend. … White House Counsel Don McGahn and his team, one official said, is urging the White House – and Trump – to be cautious in its comments with a special prosecutor involved.”
Draped with intrigue - WashEx: “Former FBI Director James Comey now says he tried to hide among the tall, blue curtains adorning a White House meeting room in an attempt to hide from President Trump at an Inauguration Day event. Comey said the incident was one example of what he believed were times Trump tried to create a public image that showed Comey was on his side.”
FBI California Republican that Russia was recruiting him - NYT: “The F.B.I. warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, officials said, an example of how aggressively Russian agents have tried to influence Washington politics. The congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California, has been known for years as one of Moscow’s biggest defenders in Washington and as a vocal opponent of American economic sanctions against Russia. … He is one of President Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.”
Dems dour about Lieberman - Politico: “President Donald Trump may be dramatically miscalculating how much support Sen. Joe Lieberman would have among his former Democratic colleagues if nominated to become FBI director. Some Senate Democrats hold a grudge against Lieberman for his rightward turn and opposition to some of President Barack Obama's agenda late in his Senate career.”
Can’t help himself - Free Beacon vizier Matthew Continetti writes that the president seems unable to help himself and now needs to help rather than hinder his own team. “His firing of FBI Director James Comey, then his changing explanations of the dismissal, birthed an enemy he does not want to have and alienated a staff whose loyalty he needs.”
WHITE HOUSE READIES MIX OF SPENDING HIKES, CUTS
NYT: “The White House released some details of two of the larger components of the 2018 budget it will send to Congress on Tuesday. Money it wants to spend on the military and a southern border wall will be part of a wish list that will serve as the opening bid in negotiations over funding the government next year. A beefed-up version of the ‘skinny’ budget President Trump released in March is expected to include long-term projections on spending for government services, tax revenues and economic forecasts. It will also shed light for the first time on how the Trump administration plans to address funding for programs such as Social Security and Medicare. … Congressional budget committees are expected to craft their own budget proposals in June, and many Republicans have already signaled that the draconian cuts Mr. Trump wants to make to domestic programs are nonstarters.”
Federal worker pensions targeted - WaPo: “It calls for a 1.9 percent pay raise in January for civilian workers and a 2.1 percent hike for the military. But in real terms, the civilian increase would be less than it looks if proposed hits on retirement benefits are adopted. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would: Increase Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) contributions from workers by 1 percentage point each year until they equal the government’s contribution.”
House may have to do-over vote on ObamaCare cuts - Bloomberg: “House Republicans barely managed to pass their Obamacare repeal bill earlier this month, and they now face the possibility of having to vote again on their controversial health measure. House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects. House leaders want to make sure the bill conforms with Senate rules for reconciliation, a mechanism that allows Senate Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority. Republicans had rushed to vote on the health bill so the Senate could get a quick start on it, even before the CBO had finished analyzing a series of last-minute changes. The CBO is expected to release an updated estimate next week.”
POWER PLAY: WHAT A WEEK!
Hey internet, need a break from the nonstop news in Washington? Try your hand at this week’s “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt” news and trivia quiz. This week saw an unprecedented result in the match between Mercedes Schlapp and Josh Kraushaar. You’ll want to see the surprise ending and test your own news knowledge. WATCH HERE
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
After a week of nonstop news leading up to the president’s first foreign trip, there is a lot going on in Washington. This Sunday, Chris Wallace will interview Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from overseas on Trump’s trip and Senator John McCain will be live and in studio to discuss White House leaks. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.
#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.
AUDIBLE: COME CORRECT
“I never thought [Hillary Clinton] was the correct candidate. I thought I was the correct candidate.” – Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking at an investor conference in Las Vegas about the 2016 election. Biden also reportedly said he “may very well” run in 2020.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Mueller was appointed to head the investigation into Russia's influence in the election. You color choice of headlines makes it appear that Trump is the target. While he may end up being so in the end he is not now the target of the investigation. You place yourself in the category of Fake News or tabloid journalism with your poor choice. I enjoy reading your reports daily but you can do better than this.” – David Fischer, Memphis, Tenn.
[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Fischer, I would submit that I’m not the only one who sees the special counsel as a foe to the president. I would submit that Trump himself takes that point of view, given his reaction to the news. I am among what is perhaps a minority that believes Mueller’s arrival on the scene is good news, at least in the short term, for this administration. Mueller certainly represents an existential threat to Trump’s presidency if, in fact, serious wrongdoing occurred in Trump’s campaign. But the former FBI director, known for discretion, will likely stanch the steady flow of leaks that have bedeviled Team Trump. Best still for the White House is that the presence of the famous G-man seems to have finally convinced Trump of the severity of the situation and, perhaps, the necessity of steering clear of it. Investigations such as these generally don’t target one individual so much as they target questionable conduct inside an organization. Trump says that does not include him or anyone who works or worked for him. And in all the leaks so far, there has been no evidence presented, beyond that relating to Michael Flynn, of any improper conduct vis-à-vis Russia. If Trump is telling the truth, Mueller might not be his Javert, but rather his emancipator.]
“He's not necessarily a Republican just because he chose that ticket to exploit.” – Carl Robie, Charlotte, N.C.
[Ed. note: I have written before that the way Trump won the presidency was first by defeating the Republican Party and then turning his attention to the Democrats. And there was a time when I thought the successful way to a Trump presidency was to bring Democrats into a new, populist coalition. That’s not what happened, in part of because of drama, scandal and the total commitment to intransigence among Democrats. Instead, Trump and his adopted party have taken on the roles of two escaped inmates shackled to one another, seeking sanctuary and survival.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
JUST BUST A MOVE
KSAZ: “While the crash involving three cars in Scottsdale on Wednesday did cause damage to the cars, as well as an office, but it did make an internet sensation out of a man who was working in the area. The man, Bryan Amann, was working in a nearby office building, and went outside to see what was going on when he decided to put on a show for the SkyFOX cameras up above him. … Amann told the people he [works] with at a logistics company that he was going to the top of the parking garage, [to] get the helicopter's attention. … ‘When I ran over there, I had to look at my phone to make sure that the guy was looking at me. You gotta get the guys attention and then when he had me on the zoom it was go time,’ said Amann. ‘As I was doing my moves, I had to make sure I was still in the screen, because I wouldn't want to waste good dance moves.’ … In the end, the ‘Scottsdale Dancing Man’ said he was just trying to make people laugh.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“And the reason we are in dangerous territory for Trump is once you've done the big one, once you've shot the big adversary, meaning you got rid of the director of the FBI, which is pretty unusual step, then you really don't have a lot of bullets left.” – 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.