GOP uses up its margin for error

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On the roster: GOP uses up its margin for error - Hurry up and wait: Senate standing by on health vote - Secret Service knocks down Trump lawyer claim - Voters in key Trump counties split on job performance - RDU to SBD

In politics, 11 weeks can be an eternity. But in government, it’s the blink of an eye. 

Those two realities are colliding just now as President Trump and Republicans in Congress try to come to terms with the fact that they are very short on time with a great deal to do. 

Just how precarious their position is was highlighted by the fact that an emergency surgery for one senator has managed to throw off the whole calendar. 

Whatever else the absence for at least a week of a convalescing Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., does, it certainly clarifies how little margin for error Republicans have. That is to say: none. 

Senate leaders have yanked down their legislation for cuts to ObamaCare, making sure that the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t provide what was expected to be a punishing score while everyone is sitting around waiting for McCain to get back to work. 

Yes, the ObamaCare cuts package is very important. This is the GOPs last chance, essentially, to have its own way in how to deal with the collapsing individual insurance market under the 2010 law. 

If they fail here, Republicans will face steep demands on Republicans for patching the law that currently threatens lost coverage and huge rate hikes for many of the 12 million Americans who got their health insurance through ObamaCare exchanges.

But ObamaCare is hardly the most important issue facing Congress in the coming weeks. 

First comes the debt ceiling. The federal government is set to breach its borrowing limit at some time in September. Senate Republicans had hoped to vote through a debt lift before getting out of town in the middle of August with the hope of jamming House members when they return after Labor Day.

McCain’s absence is squeezing the timetable on that as well, and the debt hike promised to be difficult whenever it came up. Senate leaders reportedly hope to push it through by attaching it to something like veterans’ funding, making a “no” vote too politically painful. But this will still leave a bruise, especially for a party that spent eight years demanding spending offsets for new debt.

The hope had once been to roll the debt lift into the budget deal so that the question of offsets could be dealt with in real time, as it had until the budget system really started to break down during fights over funding the second Iraq war a decade ago. But tax revenues have been disappointing and Treasury needs the scratch sooner than the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Plus, the budget is carrying a great deal of freight right now. It’s got to be the vehicle for not just the health insurance overhaul but also the tax cuts Republicans are hoping to push through. So give the budget a break, it’s got plenty to do and is already a couple of months behind schedule.

What looks increasingly likely now is that Republicans won’t actually finish the actual work of crafting a budget – the detailed points on how agencies should spend money, how entitlements should be directed, etc. – and instead just pick some topline numbers on spending and staple a list of tax cuts to it.

But to get to the point of heaving up a last-minute shot like that one, Republicans will first have to go through some thorny negotiations. First comes coming to terms with failing at what they mocked Democrats for not doing under Barack Obama, and then comes the part about negotiating new tax rates.

Given the low reservoir of trust between congressional Republicans and the White House right now, those negotiations will have to begin gingerly.

The president, meanwhile, is thinking about other things, like how to arrange his growing criminal defense team and how best to defend his eldest son for having been eager to have worked with a Kremlin cutout to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The White House line has shifted from initial denials to downplaying to legalistic defenses to now finally this: “That’s politics!” What was once decried as a baseless slur against the campaign is now called standard operating procedure.

It is hard to overstate the degree to which repeated White House missteps on this already punishing topic have startled Republican lawmakers in Congress. The behavior of the president, his family and his team in the past week have convinced many that there will be more and more damaging revelations to come. That means getting Republicans to take political risks on other subjects will be more difficult, too.

Whatever happens, the next 11 weeks will bring more noise and more distraction. Think of this: It was 11 weeks ago that we were discussing the first news that Jared Kushner was tangled up in this Russia business and the president’s son in law was volunteering to cooperate, which, it would seem, he has. We were also talking about how a congressional candidate who assaulted a reporter won his election anyway. Now, Kushner’s brother-in-law is the one in the dunking booth and Greg Gianforte is a sitting member of the House after coping a guilty plea.

Just imagine what the 76 news cycles between now and Oct. 1 will bring. 

It’s not too late for Republicans to close the gap over the next 11 weeks. That means passing ObamaCare cuts, raising the debt limit, coughing up a budget and agreeing on taxes.  

But it is now safe to say that the margin for error is gone. 

“There is a peculiarity in the federal Constitution which insures a watchful attention in a majority both of the people and of their representatives to a constitutional augmentation of the latter.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 58

Narratively: “Moonlight Rollerway (formerly known as Harry’s Roller Rink) opened in 1956 and occupies a building that was originally built as a factory for aircraft parts during World War II. Although there are traces of the intervening decades – a disco ball, gold tinsel, a rainbow carpet from the 1980s, a digital photo booth – owner Dominic Cangelosi, 80, has made a point of keeping the place’s character largely true to its original form. But what is perhaps most remarkable about Moonlight Rollerway is the fact that it is one of the last rinks in the country to feature a live organ player – as was standard in the ’50s – and that some of its current regulars have been coming since it first opened in 1956. Cangelosi isn’t exactly new to Moonlight, either. He started playing organ at the rink in the ’60s, and in 1985, he used his life savings to buy the place.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -16.2 points
Change from one week ago: -3.6 points

NY Post: “A new scoring of the GOP-backed health care bill by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has been delayed, further clouding the fate of the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed a vote on the plan scheduled for this week as Sen. John McCain recovers from surgery over the weekend to remove a blood clot. The Arizona Republican is among a handful of GOP lawmakers who are on the fence over how to overhaul ObamaCare. Many were waiting for the CBO’s latest score of the plan, expected Monday, to determine whether they would support it. But it has been delayed, Republicans said on Sunday. An earlier estimate from the independent number-crunching agency determined that 22 million Americans would lose health care in the next 10 years and premiums and out-of-pocket expenses would sharply increase for low-income people and those nearing retirement.”

With new delay, Senate has no timetable - Wash Times: “Sen. John McCain’s absence has left the Senate with no timetable for a vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, but some Republicans doubt the proposed health care bill has the votes to pass even with the upper chamber at full strength. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, indefinitely postponed a vote planned for this week to give Mr. McCain time to recover from a procedure to remove a blood clot above his eye. … Two Republicans, conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and centrist Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, have come out publicly against the health care bill. … Mr. Paul said the delay could blunt any momentum Republicans have built up and give undecided senators a chance to examine the bill’s shortcomings.”

Health plan hinges on the young, but they’re a tough sell - AP: “Insurers need young and healthy enrollees like him to buy insurance because they keep premiums down for everyone. The current law attempts to do that by mandating that everyone get coverage. The Republican plan replaces that mandate with penalties for those who let coverage lapse, and aims to entice young adults by allowing insurance companies to sell bare-bones coverage that could be cheaper. But cheap isn’t free, which turns off people like [JulianSenn-Raemont. And other young adults worry that opening the door to these bare-bones plans will make the more comprehensive coverage they know now too expensive or even unavailable.” 

Insurers speak out against Cruz plan - WSJ: “Insurers are ramping up their opposition to a new amendment in the Senate Republican health bill that would allow them to sell plans that don’t meet Affordable Care Act requirements, an effort that could add to the challenges faced by GOP leaders trying to shepherd the legislation. The provision, backed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, would authorize insurers to sell coverage that wouldn’t meet ACA standards on the condition that they also sell at least some plans that did.”

Reuters: “The U.S. Secret Service on Sunday denied a suggestion from President Donald Trump's personal lawyer that it had vetted a meeting between the president's son and Russian nationals during the 2016 campaign. … ‘Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me,’ Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, said on Sunday on the ABC news program ‘This Week.’ In an emailed response to questions about Sekulow's comments, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said the younger Trump was not under Secret Service protection at the time of the meeting, which included Trump's son and two senior campaign officials. ‘Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time,’ the statement said.”

Russia turns up the heat over seized property - Bloomberg: “Russia stepped up pressure on the U.S. to return seized diplomatic compounds in one of the first tests of whether Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin can convert the personal rapport of their initial meeting into improved relations. The country houses outside New York and Washington must be returned unconditionally after they were taken over by the U.S. ‘absolutely in breach of international law,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. ‘We continue to hope that our American colleagues will demonstrate political wisdom and political will’ to resolve the issue at talks in Washington on Monday between U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, he said.” 

Trump hasn't forgiven Sessions for Russia recusal - Axios: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions' administration allies were hoping President Trump could, as he himself might say, see his way clear to letting it go. But that's not happening. Trump's initial fury about Sessions' recusal from the Russia probe has turned to a simmering resentment that may have permanently poisoned their relationship, according to sources close to both of them. ‘It will never be like it was,’ says a source close to Sessions.”

Flynn laying low in Rhode Island - AP: “Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, at the center of multiple probes into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, seeks sanctuary from the swirling eddy of news coverage in the beach town where he grew up surfing and skateboarding, one of nine siblings crammed into a 1,200-square foot house. Middletown is his refuge and the ocean is his therapy, and he’s spent recent weeks here surfing and figuring out his path forward, according to friends and family members.”

Poll shows most Americans think Trump Jr.’s meeting was inappropriate -WaPo: “It’s hard to say precisely how much support for Trump colors views of his son’s meeting, but it’s clear that, at the very least, there’s a strong connection.”

NBC News: “President Donald Trump’s job approval rating in the American counties that fueled his 2016 victory stands at 50 percent, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of these ‘Trump counties.’ … But there’s a significant difference in Trump’s approval rating in the two kinds of Trump counties.  In the Trump ‘surge counties’ (for example: Carbon, Pa., where Trump won 65 percent to 31 percent, versus Romney’s 53-45 percent margin) — 56 percent of residents approve of the president’s job performance. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in these ‘surge’ areas nationwide by a combined 65 percent-to-29 percent margin in 2016. But in the ‘flip counties’ (for example: Luzerne, Pa., where Obama won 52 percent to 47 percent, compared to Trump’s 58-39 margin), Trump’s job rating stands at just 44 percent. Trump won these ‘flip’ areas overall in 2016, 51 percent to 43 percent.”

Poll shows Trump in the dumps, but voters not impressed by Dems - WaPo: “Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. … Whatever Trump’s struggles, the poll shows clear risks of Democrats’ opposition to Trump. Some 37 percent say the party currently stands for something, while 52 percent say it mainly stands against Trump. Even among Democrats, over one-quarter say their party primarily stands in opposition to Trump rather than for their own agenda.”

In Iowa, majority now disapproves of Trump’s job performance - DMR: “Self-identified independents have turned against Trump, with 59 percent now saying they disapprove of the job he’s doing compared with 35 percent who approve. In an Iowa Poll five months ago, his disapproval rating among independents was 50 percent, 9 percentage points lower than now. Poll respondent Ellen Pieper is among those disapproving of the president's performance so far. The independent from Waukee voted for Trump and said she still believes in his ideas and qualifications. It’s how he behaves that bothers her.”

House panel takes next step on budget this week - The Hill

Team Trump drops effort to estimate scope of domestic surveillance Wash Times

Bernie’s wife cites sexism as cause for criminal investigation - Fox News

Break-in at Sen. Heller's Las Vegas office WaPo

Well duh: Caitlyn Jenner considering a bid for U.S. Senate in California - LAT

Massive hack attack on S.C. vote may be microcosm of national effort against election integrity WSJ

Joe Biden
’s new book to be released in November - NYT

“I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t. So we didn’t expect to be in this situation.” – Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., at a town hall event, as quoted by Matthew Continetti

“California has new innocuous sounding law that will allow a voter to take a selfie of themselves with their completed ballot.  You could, of course, always do that with a mail-in ballot, but now it's okay at the polling site. That should make it much more efficient for an employer/union to reward those who can now prove they voted for the preferred candidate. I can just see the union hall with the photos of all ‘good’ members on the ‘wall of compliance.’ And the new secret code that employers will hide in their HR systems next to the names of employees seeking promotion.” – Terry Miller, Escondido, Calif.

[Ed. note: Good point, Mr. Miller. One of the advantages of our secret-ballot system is that those who would coerce others face a hard barrier in finding proof of compliance. Yes, it is possible that people who sell their votes could use the photograph as proof but coercion of the subtle kind that you mention or even more direct in nature is a real concern. The innocuous-sounding name for the legislation and its connection to social media belies the real potential dangers underneath.]

“Why hasn’t govt taken up Flynn on his request for immunity from prosecution? Seems like we would have had answers to a lot of questions by now – at least clear up the issue of collusion or no collusion regarding his role in early Trump administration and possibly others working with him.” – Dale Potts, Portland, Ore.

[Ed. note: I have no idea what Michael Flynn knows or does not know, but I suppose that if he had something that somebody wanted bad enough they would grant him the immunity he sought. But I would observe that the jailhouses are full of folks who would love an immunity deal but can’t provide enough incriminating evidence about somebody else to get any prosecutors to bite.]

“What sticks in my craw to this day regarding President Clintons’ transgressions with Monica was Hillary's Pavlovian, knee-jerk response that ‘this is a right-wing conspiracy.’ After the truth revealed itself and slapped her in the face, she never issued an apology or retraction.  What little respect I may have had for her back then evaporated, and hasn't been seen since.” – Madeline SchwarzWildomar, Calif.

[Ed. note: Once any politician decides survival is the only thing that matters, partisan warfare becomes imperative. It almost seems quaint now that Richard Nixon resigned the office of the presidency to save himself, his staff, his party and the country the humiliation of impeachment. Nixon, remembered as a twisted spike of resentments and ambition, demonstrated considerable grace at the end. Comparing that to what the Clintons did or what Republicans are doing now tells us how much has changed. The trap here is when one believes that it is not wrong to put party ahead of country because the other guys are just so awful. We should rightly understand partisanship as an impediment to patriotism, albeit one that might be necessary. When we see partisanship as patriotic duty, we are a lost cause.]

“Friday you point out separately two ways in which Donald Trump is killing off the GOP. First, a la Bill Clinton, allowing the drip-drip of Russia to continue by not being honest; secondly, by not having been an ideological candidate (medical care). So why do the mainstream media types say that it is “conservatives” who stick with this embarrassment?”– John Johnson, Tucson, Ariz.

[Ed. note: Some of it, Mr. Johnson, maybe intentional infliction of emotional distress. But, to be fair I think most of it is a combination of ignorance and sloth. Journalists have long confused partisan affiliation with ideology. This was even more confounding when there was lots of conservative Democrats and lots of liberal Republicans. But as has been demonstrated by Trump, even in the era of the well-sorted electorate, partisan affiliation does not equal ideology.]

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WHNS: “A person who ‘passed gas’ on an American Airlines plane on Sunday afternoon forced all passengers off the jet, officials said. The incident happened when passengers on the flight became ill with nausea and headaches, according to a spokesperson with Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The flight, which was not identified by RDU officials, landed at the airport around 4 p.m. when the incident was reported. All the passengers were taken off the plane and after the incident was investigated it was determined that a passenger ‘passed gas,’ the official said. Authorities later said that the incident was a ‘medical call’ and directed all questions to Wake County EMS. RDU officials did not identify where the plane was from or its destination or what type of aircraft was involved.”

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.