Fox News Halftime Report

All eyes on Trump, always

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: All eyes on Trump, always - Trump to nix part of Obama’s Cuba pact - Handel, Ossoff go local in final stretch of race - Dems win annual game with special meaning - Uplifting tale

ALL EYES ON TRUMP, ALWAYS

Two years ago today, Donald Trump rode the golden escalator down from the ranks of the political gadflies and into the realm of historical consequence.

Americans were taken immediately by the rambunctious candidate’s unusual style and pugnacious attitude. His first remarks as a presidential candidate, after all, began with making fun of Rick Perry’s sweat-soaked campaign announcement and ended by declaring the America dream “dead.”

It was rambling and in some parts incoherent. It was by turns funny and then darkly ominous. But it was also riveting. You couldn’t look away.

Trump’s ability to captivate public attention helped his defeat his Republican rivals. All of his opponents liked the idea of an election that was a referendum on Trump, assuming they would prevail over a novice politician with loads of personal baggage and a light grip on policy points. 

Wrong!

As he moved into the general election, though, Trump’s gift for placing himself at the center of endless controversies proved damaging. Trump suffered for feuds with beauty pageant queens, gold-star parents and the women who accused him of sexual misconduct took him by the middle of August to a deficit of more than 10 points and another similar nosedive in mid-October.

For most of the past two years, Trump has not been able to resist the impulse to swat at the buzzing hive of critics and rivals. He and his core supporters delighted in it. But it was only when the GOP nominee reined in his appetite for creating controversy could the view of the voters shift more fully to the flaws of his opponent.

As president, though, there has been little such restraint, if any.

This point has grown shopworn, but still merits mentioning in this context: What would we be discussing today if the president was not locked in a deepening feud with his own Department of Justice?

Even assuming extensive coverage of leaks from the investigation into his campaign, there’s big, controversial news on immigration policy, Cuba, Afghanistan, health insurance and even the hazy afterglow from the escape and survival of a group of Republican lawmakers targeted for death by a liberal zealot.

Almost any one of these stories could dominate the news day. Some of the coverage might be quite negative, but it would at least be about the vital topics on which Trump is seeking to make progress.

Instead, Trump nearly demands that the world pay closer attention to the investigation that has brought havoc to his entire organization – publicly accusing his deputy attorney general of what is essentially corruption and the investigation itself as rigged.

Trump keeps acting guilty about that which he says he is innocent and of which there has been no evidence presented. He can blame press bias for the coverage, but he is the one who continues to make sure daily to find a way to keep the story propped up.

Even if you want to talk about policy matters, his threat of firing the second investigator on his case forces even fair-minded reporters to keep the spotlight on Trump himself.

Even the most boring men become famous by virtue of assuming the presidency. A nuclear arsenal is an accessory that will jazz up even the dowdiest looks. But Trump still acts as if he’s trying to get people to see him, even as the eyes of the world are upon him.

We often talk about how winning elections and governing requires different and sometime contradictory skills. In Trump’s case, it’s that the man who knew how to get famous by courting controversy and even scandal can’t seem to stop himself even when it’s hurting him.

Deputy AG's role in question as Trump turns up heat Fox News: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s role overseeing the special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign came into question Friday as President Trump openly suggested the top DOJ official is conflicted and a new report said Rosenstein has discussed the possibility of recusal. Senior Justice Department officials pushed back on the ABC News report, saying Rosenstein has not at this point requested any official opinion on the matter from career ethics attorneys in the department.”

Kushner cash considered in Russia probe - WaPo: “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter."

Rosenstein issues cryptic statement on anonymous sources - 
NYT: “Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, encouraged Americans in a statement issued late Thursday … ‘Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country – let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated,” Mr. Rosenstein said in the statement.”

Pence hires personal defense lawyer - WaPo: “The vice president’s office said Thursday that Pence has retained Richard Cullen, a Richmond-based lawyer and chairman of McGuireWoods who previously served as a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.”

Trump’s personal lawyer hires attorney - The Hill: “President Trump's personal lawyer,Michael Cohen, has hired his own attorney as the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference progresses, NBC News reported Friday. Cohen has hired Washington, D.C., attorney Stephen M. Ryan…”

Trump revives attacks on Clinton - Politico: “President Donald Trump revived his campaign rhetoric against Hillary Clinton on Thursday, questioning why ‘Crooked H’ and the Democrats aren’t being investigated for their alleged ‘dealings with Russia’ as Trump faces deepening FBI and congressional probes.”

Trump transition to preserve Russia-related materials - NYT: “Members of President Trump’s transition team were ordered on Thursday to preserve documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.”

THE RULEBOOK: FOLLOW THE MONEY 
“In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 79

TIME OUT: LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Axios: “In a new paper, Facebook researchers claim an advance in the capacity of chatbots to conduct sophisticated conversations — the ability to negotiate. … artificial intelligence researcher Mike Lewis and four colleagues say they trained chatbots to find a fair resolution of a conflict over possessions. The interesting thing is that the chatbots were started out knowing only their own interests _ which of the possessions they wanted _ and not those of their negotiating opponent. But, speaking grammatical English, they figured out the reasonably just solution by themselves. They even at times employed deceit. … the proof of concept suggests more advanced digital assistants than commercially available at the moment that can not only organize your calendar but resolve complex conflicts, such as sales negotiations.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -23 points
Change from one week ago: -2 points

TRUMP SAYS HE’S NIXING OBAMA’S ‘ONE-SIDED’ CUBA PACT
Fox News: “President Trump, speaking at a Miami theater associated with Cuban exiles, announced Friday he is nixing his predecessor’s ‘one-sided deal’ with the Communist nation – moving to restrict individual travel to the island, crack down on the flow of U.S. cash to the Cuban military and demand key reforms in Havana.  While stopping short of a full reversal, Trump said he would challenge Cuba to come back to the table with a new agreement. ‘Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,’ Trump told a cheering crowd. Trump cast his announcement Friday as a fulfillment of a campaign pledge to turn back former President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to the country. ‘I keep my promises,’ Trump said. ‘And now that I am your president, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime.’”

Miami Herald op-ed: Trump is right on Cuba deal - Miami Herald: “Smart move. The law was as inequitable as it was a dangerous lure. … In the two and a half years since the Obama administration announced the thaw… the United States has made most of the concessions, while Cuban president Raúl Castro has given very little, especially in the realm of human rights, in return.”

Obama adviser Ben Rhodes: Trump’s policy will fail - The Atlantic: “But there are dozens of authoritarian governments; we do not impose embargoes on China or Vietnam, Kazakhstan or Egypt. Last month, President Trump travelled to Saudi Arabia—a country ruled by a family, where people are beheaded and women can’t drive. He announced tens of billions of dollars in arms sales, and said: “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live.” Can anyone credibly argue that Trump’s Cuba policy is motivated by a commitment to promote human rights around the world?”

Trump backs off illegals who entered as minors - Politico: “President Donald Trump's administration has issued its most explicit promise to date that so-called Dreamers can keep their permission to work legally in the U.S. ‘No work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates,’ the Department of Homeland Security said in guidance posted on its website Thursday night. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said recently that the administration is not seeking to deport those who received quasi-legal status under a policy President Barack Obama adopted in 2012.”

But will withdraw protections for parents - The Hill: “The Trump administration on Thursday night ended an Obama-era policy that protected undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, known as DAPA or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, according to multiple news reports. Homeland Security SecretaryJohn Kelly sent a memo to agents Thursday telling them not to follow the Obama-era rule, which was enacted by his predecessor Jeh Johnson in November of 2014. In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security said that it was ending the DAPA program because there was ‘no credible path forward to litigate the currently enjoined policy.’”

HANDEL, OSSOFF EMPHASIZE LOCAL IN FINAL STRETCH OF RACE
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “He said nothing about Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign appearance with Karen Handel last week. He bit his tongue over President Donald Trump’s tongue-lashing robocall sent to thousands of 6th Congressional District voters over the past week. And he held back after former FBI Director Jim Comey’s explosive testimony. For a candidate who once put his opposition to Trump at the center of his campaign, Jon Ossoff has been walking a much finer line in the final days before Tuesday’s runoff. … Handel has tried a similar balancing act in an appeal to conservatives in the Republican-leaning district, trying to cast herself as an experienced conservative who is also eager to shake up the status quo. … Both are trying to tread delicate ground in a hypernationalized race that’s the most expensive of its kind, and both of their final pitches reflect the caustic nature of the contest.”

Stalled GOP agenda looms over close Georgia race - WaPo: “The unfolding drama over Russian meddling in the 2016 election and President Trump’s handling of it has transfixed Washington — and bored Mather Lindsay. ‘Probably a little overdone,’ Lindsay, a 46-year-old economist and father of three girls, said during lunch this week at the Salt Factory Pub. What grabbed Lindsay’s attention was the GOP’s stalled legislative agenda — in particular the promised overhauls of the tax code and the nation’s health-care law. ‘Trump’s self-inflicted wounds are my biggest disappointment,’ Lindsay said. ‘He has squandered a huge opportunity to get all that done.’”

Voters intense - Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “More than 119,500 people have already voted in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, easily doubling the early vote total from April when a special election decided this month’s nationally watched runoff between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. The early vote pace has surprised both pundits and local election officials, some of who are predicting a higher early voting turnout for the race than on Tuesday, which is Election Day. … many are expecting between a 200,000 and 210,000 voter turnout —with some saying it will go even higher. If so, that would be incredible for a district that boasts almost 530,000 registered voters.”

And keep an eye on South Carolina… - Post and Courier: “Candidates vying to replaceMick Mulvaney in Congress are making their final televised pitches just days before voters will pick among them. South Carolina Education Television is taping conversations with the Democrat, Republican and third-party candidates who'll compete in next Tuesday's special general election in for the state's 5th District seat. Republican Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell are slated to appear, as well as Green Party candidate David Kulma and American Party hopeful Josh Thornton.”

DEMS WIN ANNUAL GAME WITH SPECIAL MEANING
USA Today: “Republicans and Democrats took the field for their annual charity baseball game Thursday, setting aside politics for a few hours of spirited competition a day after a shooting rampage left a wounded colleague fighting for survival. The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, played before a record crowd, took on a more serious tone this year, as organizers and attendees said it was a chance to show the nation that more unites Americans of both parties than divides them, and that the event could not be shut down by a gunman.”

Doctors call Scalise’s condition improved - AP: “Doctors say the Louisiana congressman wounded during Wednesday’s attack by a gunman on a baseball practice session remains in critical condition but has shown improvement. MedStar Washington Hospital Center says Rep. Steve Scalise, who was shot in the left hip, had surgery Thursday related to his internal injuries and a broken bone in his leg. The hospital says Scalise ‘will require additional operations, and will be in the hospital for some time.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
 
Why is trump causing chaos in Washington but not the stock market? - FiveThirtyEight

GOP aims to bring health-care legislation to the floor by end of June - WaPo

Conservatives sound alarm about senate health bill - WSJ

Nuclear scramble on tax credits - Axios

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY 
After a tragic week, Chris Wallace sits down this weekend with Rep. Rodney Davis R-IL., to discuss the Congressional baseball shooting and where party unity stands. Plus, Mr. Sunday talks about the Trump investigation with Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s legal defense team. 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: NICELY DONE
"Next year we won't be so nice." – Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., after offering the Democrats’ trophy in the Congressional baseball game to be mounted in the office of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I have no idea when this divide started. Some will say it started during the Vietnam era, others George W. Bush when he was president. We started out as a country with many differences and in the past worked out the problems. What if the groups that opposed each other's agendas came together and did a little brainstorming by writing what they liked or disliked about the other's policies? It is becoming difficult to go into public places and have to thro out bait phrases in order to see which way one leans.” – Jerry Wegrzyn, Orchard Park, N.Y.

[Ed. note: Sad indeed. One of the biggest changes is how people increasingly put politics first. About how many of your friends and acquaintances could you honestly say that you don’t know how they vote? When I started covering politics, it was much harder to get people to open up about their beliefs and views. It was long considered unseemly to talk about politics in social settings, in the same way that religion was considered a taboo topic. Now, everything feels like it’s being pushed through the prism of politics. And frankly, it’s exhausting. Like romance, a little mystery about our politics makes life better.]

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UPLIFTING TALE
Gainesville Sun: “An investigative report ... shows a former city of Gainesville employee, accused of stealing more than $93,000 from the city, spent some of it on a Brazilian butt lift. … City staff specialist Natwaina Clark, 33, charged her city-issued credit card 136 times for roughly $61,000 in unauthorized charges, used her bosses’ cards at least 36 more times for an additional $31,000, and spent nearly $900 on a coworker’s card five times between November 2015 and March 2017. The report also finds department heads acted negligently, allowing city funds to be misspent. … Clark, who was hired in August 2015, funneled roughly $41,000 to her personal PayPal account, linked to her bank account, and that $8,500 of it went toward a Brazilian butt lift. The cosmetic surgery procedure uses fat from one part of the body to augment one’s buttocks.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“People ought to fight over policy, but once you begin to question the motives, the patriotism of your opponents, you have gone too far.” –Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet 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.