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On the roster: Bannon gets company in his misery - Rosenstein briefs Ryan on Russia probe - Jones boosts moderate Dems, shifts Senate battle - White House, Hill leaders eye Jan. 19 deadline - Follow up file: A burning river of scorn
BANNON GETS COMPANY IN HIS MISERY
It was Tony Bennett who sang, “I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart.” And that’s the number that ought to be playing on repeat in Steve Bannon’s iTunes tonight.
Even in a presidency of firsts, we can certainly count it as noteworthy to have the first ever official White House statement questioning the mental health of a former senior White House adviser.
And that wasn’t even the roughest part of the statement!
President Trump was reacting to excerpts from a forthcoming book by Michael Wolff. Bannon, Trump’s chief campaign strategist who for a time enjoyed equal footing with the chief of staff in Trump’s White House, said the president’s son and son-in-law had engaged in conduct that was “treasonous,” “unpatriotic” and “bad s--t” when they met with Kremlin contacts to try to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s son, Bannon said, would get cracked like an egg on national television before it was all over.
The press plotzed. But wait, there’s more…
To get a taste of what Wolff picked up in his 18 months of reporting, including many days in “a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” at Trump’s invitation, check out the take in New York magazine. Depending on how much you believe Wolff, (a not inconsiderable question) you may conclude that Anthony Scaramucci wasn’t the crazy one, after all.
To wit: “In the first days, [Trump] ordered two television screens in addition to the one already [in his bedroom], and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the Secret Service, who insisted they have access to the room. He reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor: ‘If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.’ Then he imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.) Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed.”
Why Trump (or anyone else) thought it would be wise to give Wolff this level of access is mind-boggling. Giving a biographer who makes his living by getting people to gossip about their enemies and rivals time and space like this in any administration would be daft. Doing so in what was the most bitterly divided, dysfunctional new administration since at least Bill Clinton’s Arkansan misadventures of 1993 was just plain foolish.
But, then again, the book does seem to kind of be about how no one was in charge…
Bannon, of course, seems to believe that Trump would have avoided the depredations of his first year in office if, of course, Bannon himself had been in control, using dry-erase markers and memoranda in a swashbuckling attack on the administrative state.
The aforementioned press plotzing and the president’s own histrionics seem a little out of proportion to Bannon’s attack, though.
Bannon has been in an open war with his West Wing rivals, particularly those in the Trump family, shortly after he got dumped in August. At rallies in Alabama, on the pages of his nationalist website, in interviews and in recruitment visits to drum up challengers for Republican lawmakers in 2018, he has tried to bring the war to his enemies.
That Bannon is out for blood should surprise no one.
The lacerated feelings of wealthy and influential people don’t really matter, though. If Steve is mad at Jared and Donald is mad at Steve for being mad at Jared and Kellyanne is furious and so on and so on it doesn’t make any more difference than who took home the rose on “The Bachelor.”
Establishment Republicans have succeeded to varying degrees in getting Trump to moderate not his stances so much as his behavior. Yes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have worked to move Trump away from Bannon’s trans-partisan nationalism, but it has been Bannon’s method – chaotic disruption through constant political warfare – that they have most strenuously disdained.
Last year began with Trump offering an inaugural address that sounded like one of Bannon’s scripts, a dire warning about “American carnage” and a frontal assault on the dignitaries gathered behind the podium for their failings. This year begins with Trump celebrating his accomplishments and cooperation with those same people and banishing Bannon.
Bannon may have run out his string in Alabama where he helped deliver not one but twoelectoral defeats for Trump in one Senate race. Not many political strategists can claim to have done the same to a president of their own party.
We are skeptical of claims that Bannon can continue his assault on the GOP now that he has been officially unpersoned by the MAGAizer in chief. There’s probably still some juice to be squeezed out of the rind of his war with the New York Democrats who bested him in the battle for West Wing supremacy. But this is rapidly becoming a niche product. The folks at InfoWars and RT already have that market pretty well covered.
Folks seldom are interested in a second helping of carnage, American or otherwise.
So now, Trump is stuck with the establishment and the establishment is stuck with him. That netted both sides a tax cut and the promise of navigating the opening months of this year to avoid a shutdown or other self-inflicted wounds.
But hanging over this union of last resort is the same thing that hung over the White House in Bannon’s days: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. It was making Team Trump act crazy then, and that’s one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed, Bannon or no Bannon.
As we move deeper into the penalty phase of that investigation, and assumedly its conclusion, the bitter enmities that Wolff heard are likely to intensify.
And maybe then, there in the wreckage, Bannon will be able to claim he had been right all along. And then he can sing, “And that's when I'll discover that revenge is sweet. As I sit there applaudin' from a front-row seat. When somebody breaks your heart like you, like you broke mine.”
THE RULEBOOK: **COUGH** SWITZERLAND **COUGH**
“The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 11
TIME OUT: TO SAY NOTHING OF KING ARTHUR’S COURT!
Atlantic: “Mark Twain’s reputation for spotting trends in technology is not great. His most famous foray ended poorly, after the great man of letters fancied himself a man of letterpress as well… But what if Twain was, in fact, a prescient scout for new innovations? …Twain’s ‘The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton,’ … is weird enough to deserve more than a mere footnote for early phone adoption. Alonzo, the first titular character, is what readers today would identify as an exemplar of stereotypical Millennial dissolution: He is lazy, slovenly, entitled, romantically uninvolved, and living with his mother in Maine. … Alonzo calls Aunt Susan, though Twain doesn’t make his method explicit… Susan, it transpires, is in San Francisco… slyly passes the line over to Rosannah, who seems to be a young woman boarding with her… Alonzo travels the country, listening in to phone calls and hoping to hear Rosannah’s distinctive off-key singing.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -20.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points
[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]
ROSENSTEIN BRIEFS RYAN ON RUSSIA PROBE
The Hill: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday about the House Russia investigation, a GOP aide confirmed. Rosenstein, escorted by his security detail, walked by a number of reporters who were staking out budget negotiations between top White House officials and top congressional leaders. The meeting in the Speaker’s office came at the request of Rosenstein and Wray, the aide said. ‘Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray asked to meet with the speaker and we accommodated the request,’ Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email. ‘I’d refer you to their offices for anything further.’ No other information about the meeting and what was discussed was immediately made known. The Wednesday meeting in the Capitol comes amid an intense feud between House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).”
Manafort suing Justice Department, Mueller - Politico: “Attorneys for former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court accusing special counsel Robert Mueller and the Justice Department of overreaching with criminal charges brought last fall that included money laundering and tax evasion. Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to the multi-count indictment, urged the court to strike down Mueller's appointment as illegal. The 17-page complaint argues that the Russia special counsel exceeded authority DOJ gave him in May to investigate any links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — and that DOJ granted Mueller too much power in the first place by giving him the green light to go after ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.’”
JONES BOOSTS MODERATE DEMS, SHIFTS SENATE BATTLE
WSJ: “After Mr. Jones is seated, Republicans will control 51 seats compared with 49 for Democrats. With that narrow majority, Republicans can lose no more than one GOP vote and still confirm President Donald Trump’s nominees on party-line votes. It also means that Republicans will need Democratic support to pass most legislation, which typically requires 60 votes to move past procedural hurdles. How Mr. Jones – and the Democrats – use their strengthened position will go a long way toward determining what Congress accomplishes heading into the 2018 midterm elections. … ‘I’m starting fresh,’ Mr. Jones said in an interview. He said he wants to “reach some consensus to try to get things done…”
Moore’s lawyer was a ‘passionate’ Jones supporter - WashEx: “The Jewish attorney who Roy Moore's wife touted employing in an attempt to fight off claims of anti-Semitism is actually a longtime friend and supporter of Senator-elect Doug Jones, who defeated Moore last month. Richard Jaffe is an Alabama defense attorney hired by the Moores to defend their son, Caleb Moore, against drug charges in 2016. Jaffe told the Washington Examiner he has been close personal friends with Doug Jones for more than 30 years and he both contributed to, and raised money for, his campaign. ‘There could not be a more passionate supporter of Doug than me!’ Jaffe said.”
Senate control may come down to handful of races - Fox News: “…[Republicans] success or failure will likely come down to a handful of closely watched races. … West Virginia has become increasingly conservative in recent years, with the GOP now holding all three House seats, controlling the state legislature and voters skewing Republican in the past five presidential elections. … Beyond Trump’s 2016 success in Florida, Washington Republicans like their chances of beating [Sen. Bill Nelson] based on strength of their preferred candidate, outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott. … Democrats say a prime example of Republicans’ candidate woes is the likely GOP primary battle to replace outgoing Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, an outspoken Trump critic.”
Trump v. Romney, Round two - Politico: “…the 10-minute chat only further raised suspicions within [Mitt Romney’s] inner circle that the president was out to stymie the former GOP presidential nominee’s political ambitions. … The conversation highlighted the fraught relationship between the Republican heavyweights — one that will now take center stage as Romney prepares a Senate bid in the wake of [Sen. Orrin Hatch’s] announcement Tuesday that he won’t seek another term, contrary to Trump's wishes. Should Romney run and win, as many expect, he will be poised to be Trump’s most prominent GOP foil, representing the wing of traditional Republicanism that the president has purposefully cast aside. While laying the groundwork for a prospective bid, Romney has made little secret that he will be unafraid of taking on the president.”
Bachmann tells televangelist Bakker she may run for Franken’s seat - Fox News: “Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is considering running for the recently vacated U.S. Senate seat held by Al Franken. ‘I’ve had people contact me and urge me to run for that Senate seat,’ Bachmann said recently on televangelist Jim Bakker's television show.”
WHITE HOUSE, HILL LEADERS EYE JAN. 19 DEADLINE
Bloomberg: “Two top White House officials, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Director Marc Short, will meet with congressional leaders of both parties Wednesday to discuss a spending plan for fiscal 2018, an issue Congress repeatedly punted last year. The White House and Capitol Hill Republicans say the meeting will be limited to the issue of caps on domestic and defense spending. Any effort to bring up issues other than the caps, like immigration, will be considered a distraction, a senior Republican aide said. But the Democratic leaders are under pressure from Latinos to use the spending legislation as leverage to force Trump’s hand on protection for the young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children whom advocates call ‘Dreamers.’ … The latest in a series of stopgap measures funding the government runs out Jan. 19. Some Democrats are determined to use the next deadline to restore the DACA protections.”
Trump administration would consider immigration legislation for citizenship, Homeland chief says - AP: “The Trump administration would consider immigration legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young people, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary said Tuesday, while emphasizing no decision on that issue has been made and a border wall remains the priority. Congress is considering three options, including citizenship or permanent legal status for people who were temporarily shielded from deportation, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in an interview. Details on qualifying for citizenship, including on how many years to wait and other requirements, would have to be addressed. Asked whether the president would support citizenship, she said, ‘I think he's open to hearing about the different possibilities and what it means but, to my knowledge, there certainly hasn't been any decision from the White House.’”
Trump to give ‘awards’ for ‘fake news’ next week - Politico
Foreign governments’ goodies for Trump businesses prompt concerns - McClatchy
George Will: ‘A knock against unions could boost public workers’ rights’ - WaPo
AUDIBLE: HANDS-OFF APPROACH
“I just hope he doesn't touch it.” – Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking to reporters after attending the swearing in of Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., when asked about President Trump’s brag that he had a bigger nuclear button than the dictator of North Korea.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“… pondering before Christmas led me to the idea that House Dems could have saved themselves a load of midterm hoohah by voting for the House 2nd Tax Relief Bill back on 12/20, eh? As the results were a foregone determination, why not cast aside the pure party line and vote for the bill, thus eliminating one political jab the [Republicans] could make against each and every one of them later this year? Huh?” – Rick Randell, Ada, Mich.
[Ed. note: I think your question is a good one, Mr. Randell, but I’d limit it in scope. For a handful of Democrats, it might have made sense to get on board a bill that was going to pass anyway. But for the party as a whole, Democrats are making a big bet that they’d be better off running against the tax cuts. They have their eyes not just on suburban districts where upper middle class voters may see their tax bills rise but, more significantly, in an argument about economic populism. What you will hear a great deal of this year is Democrats saying that Trump and the GOP stiffed working families in order to provide tax breaks for big business, Wall Street and the ultra-wealthy. The Republicans are betting that the overall stimulus from the cuts will be so great that voters across the socioeconomic spectrum will have warm and fuzzy feelings about low taxes. This is one of the kinds of political fights that I actually think are good to have. One party enacted a controversial measure, Americans will get to see how it works and then we will have an election in which voters will pass judgment.]
“As a classically trained Le Cordon Bleu chef I regret to inform you that once again you are often in error but seldom in doubt. No such thing as a pimento pepper. To make pimento cheese you use a roasted red bell pepper. My guess is that since the pimento in a green olive is originally a red bell pepper, you are confusing olives in your martini with pimento cheese on your bread.” – Doreen Howard, Newmarket, N.H.
[Ed. note: The key, Chef Howard, is to be understood. When we talk about pimento cheese we are referring to the common ingredient: A sweet and piquant variety of jarred red peppers that were common pantry staples for much of the previous century, including when nestled into green Spanish olives. I would hazard that most Americans know their, ahem, stuff on pimentos. The pimento itself is a delicious pepper on its own: medium to large in sizee, bright red, sweet and far more aromatic and distinctive than its cousin, the humble red bell pepper. Another thing I love about pimentos is the variety. Despite being quite mild, there are zippier strains that do particularly well when pickled. If you ever see freshly pickled pimentos at your deli – sometimes labeled as “cherry peppers” – grab a bunch and serve them with a pungent cheese and cured meats. They may be common, but they are uncommonly good. They may not do pimento cheese or picked cherry peppers at Le Cordon Bleu, but I promise you they are larapin.]
“While I mostly enjoy reading your stuff, I must admit being totally bored by the second by second shift (ok, week by week, but you get the point) in Trump's approval ratings that seem to have captured your interest. Any chance of your banning all polling numbers of any kind until the day after an election?” – Bill Panagakos, Santa Fe, N.M.
[Ed. note: Mr. Panagakos, we feel your pain. That old political saw – “the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day” – is true. And believe me when I say I often wish that there was a fast forward button on this contraption that would let us scan ahead to November and see how this all plays out. But, in the whole, I am glad that we don’t have such a device. Campaigns are organisms that sometimes change events but are more often changed by them. Soon you will see the addition of our tracker that will keep account of shifts in the so-called generic ballot, in which pollsters asks voters whether they would prefer the Red Team or the Blue Team to control Congress next year. We will include that for the same reason we include the president’s approval ratings, which is to say we want to know how it’s going. Are Republicans rallying? Are Democrats seizing their advantage? Will there be a boost for GOP in the wake of tax cuts? Plus, if we skipped all of the stuff in between, we’d miss out on a great deal of fun, to say nothing of my sandwich recipes.]
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FOLLOW UP FILE: A BURNING RIVER OF SCORN
WKBN: “It is hard to believe, but the Cleveland Browns’ winless season is going to be celebrated by fans. They’re throwing a perfect season parade in the city of Cleveland. Excedrin is sponsoring the parade, telling Browns’ fans that it understands their pain. It starts at noon Saturday outside of First Energy Stadium, and it will loop around it in a giant zero. There will be floats showing support — or discontent — for the team and its leadership. Parade Organizer Chris McNeil said he is a huge Browns fan. The parade is free. You can donate a canned food item for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Cleveland Browns Coach Hue Jackson also promised to jump in the lake after a winless season. That hasn’t been planned yet.”
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.