Fox News Halftime Report

Nuts, sprinkles for your midterm double dip

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Nuts, sprinkles for your midterm double dip - GOP operative teamed up with alleged Russian hacker - Not so bad: EU chief gives Trump a pass on Germany swat - Power Play: A grand news quiz - Thou shalt taketh Uber next time, my liege 

No matter what flavor of ice cream you scoop from the political cooler, Thursday’s special election in Montana can be seen as good news.

If you like Republican Ripple, your party managed to win a seat in the face of astonishing headwinds, including, just for instance, a candidate who was charged with assaulting a reporter the day before the vote.

If you prefer a scoop of Democrat Delight, your party continues to substantially outperform expectations in a series of races in bright-red Republican districts. 

So who’s right? Both of them.

The GOP does have to deal with the embarrassment of a member-elect either pleading guilty or facing trial for a shocking attack on a reporter even before Greg Gianforte takes office. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s mastery of a facial expression conveying high-minded regret and a deepening sense of resignation will come in very handy for that swearing in.

But, thanks to the fact that more than two-thirds of the vote was already cast before Gianforte went berserk, as well as a weak Democratic nominee, a win is still a win. And if you are a Republican House member dreading 2018, you have to feel better about your chances knowing that the GOP base is still out there marching for the party.

As Daniel Halper and others have pointed out, a helpful way to look at this election is to focus on the early vote alone, since it doesn’t take the candidate’s criminal charges into account. And there we see margins for the Republican pretty close to prior performance.  

We don’t have as much early vote to compare in Montana as we would like, but prior to Gianforte’s episode there was no sign of any Democratic wave lapping at the borders of Billings.

In this best-case scenario for the GOP, the party retains much of its turnout advantage for midterm elections and while losing a number of seats in toss-up districts, manages to hold the House next year. It might be by the skin of their teeth, but, like we said, a win is a win.

Democrats, on the other hand, see harbingers of wins to come in Thursday’s loss.

We use the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index when we evaluate races. It’s a handy way to look at the map. The score is an average of how much more Democratic or Republican a district is then the rest of the country. If your district is “R+21” that means voters there were an average of 21 points more Republican than the country at large in 2016 and 2012. If your district is “D+10,” it’s the same thing, just in reverse.

Montana’s statewide House district clocks in at “R+11” and as Cook’s Dave Wasserman points out that means the Democrat should have gotten about 39 percent of the vote. And that means Rob Quist did about five points better than history would suggest he should have.

Democrats did 12 points better than they should have in Kansas last month and about 7 points better in April’s first-round vote for a special election in Georgia.

If we look across the country, there are a lot of districts that would fall into that bandwidth as promising Democratic pickups. If the Blue Team runs, on average, 8 points better than their district’s composition, it would be a slaughter for the GOP.

Just as Republicans can be pleased that they survived a special election in the wake of what was probably the worst week yet of the Trump administration and a president hitting all-time lows on job approval, Democrats are hoping that this is only the beginning.

We will know a lot more on June 20 when we see results of two competitive House races, the one in Georgia and the other in South Carolina, but we are in a position to know a couple of things.

Firstly, all of the ingredients are present for Democrats to retake the House of Representatives. Their base is mobilized and although their donor class seems a little sleepy, the party seems to be waking up to its primary purpose for 2018. It’s all hands on deck in the battle for the House.

Secondly, it’s not too late for Republicans to change this dynamic. Recent polling is starting to show Republican voters falling away. And who could blame them? After more than four months of one-party rule in Washington and GOPers have relatively little to show for it. They may still love Justice Neil Gorsuch, but that’s not going to feed the bull dog for 2018. If the next four months of 2017 are like the previous ones and are dominated by scandal and incoherence, 2018 will be a punishing blow to the party.

So whether you think Republicans can hold the House pretty much depends on how you think Republicans will govern over the medium term. If you see order and achievement just over the horizon, then it all may work out fine for the Red Team. But if you foresee more of the same, then add a second scoop to your ice cream cone, Democrats.

“As the safety of the whole is the interest of the whole, and cannot be provided for without government, either one or more or many, let us inquire whether one good government is not, relative to the object in question, more competent than any other given number whatever.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 4

On the occasion of Memorial Day, a look back at the origins of this sacred observance. Time: “The original vision for the day, as expressed by Union General John A. Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a powerful national veterans association of Union soldiers, emphasized honor and dignity. ‘Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan,’ he wrote in his order to organize such a day. In 1868, some 5,000 people responded to his call by visiting the then-new Arlington National Cemetery on the appointed day, to hear future President James Garfield deliver an address on the ‘immortal’ virtue of the war dead and the decorate the graves of the soldiers buried there with flags and flowers.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -15.6 points
Change from one week ago: +1.2 points

WSJ: “The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to Democratic National Committee memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. The hacker also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins. … Learning that hacker ‘Guccifer 2.0’ had tapped into a Democratic committee that helps House candidates, Mr. Nevins wrote to the hacker to say: ‘Feel free to send any Florida based information.’ Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents, some of which he posted on a blog called that he ran using a pseudonym. Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.”

They went to Jared: Trump son-in-law figures in Russia probe - AP: “President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is willing to cooperate with federal investigators looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, his attorney said. The statement from attorney Jamie Gorelick was issued Thursday amid reports that the FBI was investigating meetings Kushner had in December with Russian officials. ‘Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,’ the statement said.”

Kushner’s woes offer opening for Bannon - Axios: “The escalating crisis surrounding the Russia investigation (with reports last night on FBI interest in Jared Kushner) looks like good news for somebody in the White House: Steve Bannon. Nine sources in the West Wing and within Trump's close orbit said the Russia situation is Bannon's shot at redemption. He's being described as a ‘wartime consigliere’ relishing a fight against the ‘deep state,’ media, Democrats and investigators. … Bannon had been on very rocky footing recently (to the extent that the President has vented to a number of people about him), but the bolstering of the White House team to respond to the outside crises is a joint effort led by Kushner, Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, two sources said.”

Report: Foreign hackers targeted Trump Organization - ABC News: “The FBI is investigating an attempted overseas cyber-attack against the Trump Organization, summoning President Donald Trump’s sons, Don Jr. and Eric, for an emergency session with the bureau’s cybersecurity agents and representatives of the CIA, officials tell ABC News.”

Politico: “Jean-Claude Juncker appeared to confirm reports that Donald Trump had complained in private about Germany being ‘very bad’ for selling so many cars to the United States. The European Commission president described a ‘very frankly constructed meeting’ with the U.S. president in Brussels, but insisted Friday it was not ‘aggressive’ and the sense of Trump’s remarks had been lost in translation. Juncker’s intervention, at a press conference ahead of Friday’s meeting of G7 leaders in Taormina, Sicily, came after reports in the German press, sourced to someone in the room, claimed that Trump had complained about the ‘terrible’ trade deficit between the U.S. and Germany.”

Trump goes on offense against European leaders - AP: “But in Europe, Trump has faced a far cooler reception and has been eager to go on the offensive. Cajoled on issues like climate change and NATO's defense pact, he's responded by scolding some of the United States' most loyal allies for not paying their fair share. He's also refused to explicitly back the mutual defense agreement that has been activated only once, during the darkest hours of September 2001. Still, Trump hailed the trip a success as he arrived to the G-7 summit in Sicily Friday, the final stop of his maiden international trip, a grueling nine-day, five-stop marathon.”

Euro leaders double teaming Trump on climate accord - AP: “European leaders have mounted a last-ditch effort to stop President Donald Trump from abandoning the Paris climate accord, using multiple meetings this week to sell the American leader on the global agreement to reduce carbon emissions. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Trump at length about the climate deal during a meeting Thursday in Brussels. At the Vatican earlier in the week, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin made his own pro-Paris pitch to Trump and his advisers. … Nikolai Fichtner, spokesman for the German environment ministry, said the Europeans were ‘lobbying at all levels right now for the U.S. to remain in the Paris agreement.’”

U mad bro? - NY Post: “The Prime Minister of Montenegro said he took no offense to being shoved aside by President Trump during a photo op at NATO’s new Brussel’s headquarters, calling the push a ‘harmless situation.’ ‘It didn’t really register. I just saw reactions about it on social networks,’ Dusko Markovic told reporters after the summit, The Mirror reported. Instead of being insulted, Markovic said he took the opportunity to thank Trump for supporting Montenegro’s membership in NATO.”

NYT: “The unveiling of President Trump’s first budget and the initial congressional hearings on overhauling the tax code should have brought clarity to the administration’s top legislative priorities. … Instead, testimony from Mr. Trump’s top economic advisers cast even darker shadows over a murky legislative process that has fallen well behind schedule. Their explanations of the budget and their tax plans in public seemed to generate more questions with almost every answer. … The most confounding aspect of the White House budget was that it appeared to double count the effects of economic growth. It appears to improperly use the economic expansion that it predicts its policies will produce to both pay for tax cuts and reduce the deficit. … After being called out for using fuzzy math, Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, explained at a congressional hearing on Thursday that the administration used a tax plan placeholder in its budget that was revenue neutral on a ‘static’ basis.”

Administration may move student loans to Treasury - The Hill: “The Trump administration is considering shifting oversight for more than $1 trillion in student debt to the Treasury from the Education Department, according to a new report. … Trump's proposed budget, unveiled this month, also recommends cutting nearly $5 billion in funding from the Education Department, or nearly 50 percent of the department's budget.”

Hillary uses commencement speech to bash Trump - NPR

California Democrats advance universal health insurance bill but still haven’t addressed funding - Sacramento Bee

Texas Republicans look to use redistricting to head off 2018 losses - Texas Tribune

After a big week of news at home and abroad, are you ready to test your knowledge against the pros? Eliana Johnson and Harry Enten join Chris Stirewalt to try their luck. Plus, do you know how many presidents were Civil War veterans? See if you have what it takes to win this week's quiz. WATCH HERE

As the president returns from his first foreign trip, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will discuss the response to the Manchester attack with Fox News colleague Chris Wallace. Mr. Sunday will talk budget and health care with Sens. Dick Durbin D-Ill. and Bill Cassidy R-La. 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.

“I don’t want to be president. I drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. I golf. I cut my own grass. I iron my own clothes. And I’m not willing to give all that up to be president.” – Former Speaker John Boehner R-Ohio, said during his speech as the keynote speaker for the KPMG Global Energy Conference.

“…based on [yesterday’s] halftime, I understand that Senator [Joe Lieberman] has withdrawn himself from consideration for FBI director based on possible conflict of interest or perception of conflict of interest. I heard a news report questioning whether Special Prosecutor [Robert Mueller] may have a similar conflict of interest with respect to his appointment. … Can you give us the details on that?  I am aware that every lawyer in a firm is held to the same knowledge of every other lawyer in the firm, even though they may not even have known the file was in the firm, and it was never seen or discussed.  That is why ‘conflict checks’ are such a hassle for law firms, especially large ones! I am not certain whether those ‘rules’ have been changed, or if there are exceptions which may apply. It may be that Mr. Mueller was not a member of the firm at the time the firm was handling the related file… but it warrants some investigative journalism or clarification.” – Liana Silsby, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

[Ed. note: Right you are, Ms. Silsby! Some in the Trump administration briefly pondered the possibility of seeking to block Mueller as special counsel because the mega law firm where he worked represented two Trump staffers who may be material to the ongoing investigation. In that case, the idea was to try to get Mueller tossed on a technicality. In the end, the Justice Department’s ethics office looked into the matter and decided Mueller was not tainted by the association and could responsibly be expected to ignore the interests of his former firm’s clients. Other times, as seems likely in Lieberman’s case, the appearance of conflict can serve as a face-saving excuse. Just as law firms use conflicts to politely decline clients, government officials or individuals sought for government posts might do the same. Lieberman’s law firm is bound to be very happy with him this month. Not only did he raise his own profile and then stick around to keep bringing in clients, but he also seemed to have helped a top lawyer at his firm with what promises to be an impossibly lucrative gig of leading the president’s legal team.]

“I am having a hard time trying to process why the administration is unable to determine who is leaking information. While I understand that ‘leakers’ can pass information on to others, what is the potential universe for those who have direct access to information being leaked? For example how many folks would have direct access to a transcript of the President's phone conversation with a world leader?” –Nancy Reed, Lincoln, R.I

[Ed. note: One of the lessons the United States learned from 9/11 was that compartmentalized intelligence kills. Over the past 16 years, intelligence agencies have been dragged into partnership with the law enforcement community in a bid to prevent attacks. Cops on the beat are the first line of defense when it comes to counterterrorism and our national security apparatus now acknowledges that fact. Attacks like the one in England this week show how important it is for law enforcement to be in the loop. Buuuutttttt… the more you share the information the more chances there are for leaks. As far as the revelation that the president blabbed state secrets to the Russians, that appears to have been the result of the memo circulated across the administration after the meeting, as would normally be the case. It is important for agencies to know what the boss said to a high-level diplomat, especially from America’s number one geopolitical foe. Some supposed that the leak came from someone inside the room but, it seems clear that as the memo made its way across the expanse of the executive branch it slipped out.]

“‘Official Washington and the press corps may mostly despise the president, but they love how easy he makes their jobs.’ – Halftime Report [from May 22]. I would offer that this equates to laziness, and it is much of why people are dissatisfied with the press, especially at MSM organizations. The lack of sources, and the presence of an abundance of anonymous sources, with similar-themed statements is alarming. My question is, what happens to these unnamed sources and their journalistic counterparts if nothing in their story is found to be true? We know the answer to this. Nothing. And when people can spew rampant crisis stories every day, to the point of creating a perception that just isn’t true, there really should be some repercussion. Right?” – Scott Schriver, Nashville, Tenn.

[Ed. note: There are certainly reporters who have made whole careers out of reporting on things that are impossible to check. This is especially the case on beats like national security and law enforcement where agencies are not able to knock down every story without either compromising classified information or confirming whether or not an investigation is ongoing. Not all of these stories are fakes, obviously, but sometimes it’s hard to tell which ones are and which ones aren’t. My advice to you is to look at the track records of the reporters and outlets. Washington listens when somebody like David Ignatius at the Washington Post gets a secret-source on the record about something significant because he has been right so many times before. You may question his conclusions, but nobody questions his sourcing. Conversely, if you see a reporter who either has no track record to speak of or has gotten lots of scoops that never turned into the real deal, narrow your eyes a bit. Is the organization reputable? Does the story sound plausible? Does it comport with the findings of others? It is true that there’s a lot of lazy reporting taking place in Washington, but there’s also some of the best journalism I’ve ever seen taking place right now. You have to be a discerning consumer of news to find the good stuff.]

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BBC: “A senior druid has lost his legal challenge with English Heritage over car parking charges at Stonehenge. King Arthur Pendragon argued a parking fee of £15 for the 2016 summer solstice breached his human rights. At an initial court hearing in January, Mr. Pendragon said the claim was not about money or costs, but because the fee ‘unfairly targeted his religion’. But Salisbury County Court ruled that introducing car parking charges was a ‘reasonable and legal measure.’ Mr. Pendragon had argued that this treatment was in direct violation of his human rights and that he has a right to worship at Stonehenge without unnecessary restriction or hindrance from English Heritage, which he claims is merely managing the site ‘on our behalf’. English Heritage said it introduced the parking charge to encourage more people to car share or travel by bus. However, Mr. Pendragon said he wanted to prove English Heritage was wrong to turn him away when he refused to ‘pay to pray'.”

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 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.