How will Trump handle probes in his big speech?

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On the roster: How will Trump handle probes in his big speech? - Pennsylvania special House race heats up - Pressure on GOP over Wynn cash - In Otter news… - That’ll do, donkey. That’ll do.

HOW WILL TRUMP HANDLE PROBES IN HIS BIG SPEECH?
Richard Nixon made a lot of history as president, as you may have heard.

But did you know that of all the singular achievements and failures of his extremely consequential presidency, he was also the last president to not deliver a State of the Union address in person to Congress. 

Since Franklin Roosevelt revived the practice in 1934, every president, every year has made the big speech, except Nixon. 

Now you may know that 1973 was not exactly a friendly, happy, fluffy bunny of a year for the 37th president. He was already deeply at odds with Congress over the investigation into the 1972 election, including him and his CREEP crew. Rather than dignify the legislative branch with his visit, Nixon shunned the speech and sent written messages instead. 

A year later though, Nixon was focused on a strategy to finally emerge from his Watergate malaise and took the fight to Congress. Nixon made clear that he had “no intention whatever, of ever walking away from the job that the people elected me to do.” But, Nixon also made clear that he would cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee. 

We all know how that one turned out… 

Twenty-five years later, it was Bill Clinton’s turn to give the big speech under the clouds of a scandal. In 1998 news of the president’s affair with a 21-year-old White House intern had broken just days before. You can probably guess what Clinton had to say about it: absolutely nothing. 

Even in 1999 when Clinton was smack in the middle of his impeachment, the Big Dog didn’t woof or whine even a bit about the subject. 

So what will President Trump do on Tuesday in his first State of the Union address? 

It’s hard to imagine that Trump would do anything like Nixon’s darkly personal confession of his turbulent year and far more likely that he will follow the precedent of his fellow bologna wholesaler Clinton, at least as it relates to the actual special counsel investigation into the 2016 election and his campaign. 

But Trump may not be able to escape related issues entirely.

Trump has been waging war on his own Justice Department for months, and Congressional Republicans have joined the attack with the gusto of raccoons in an open picnic cooler. 

Usually it’s the opposition party that creates a crisis of confidence surrounding a cabinet member, but in this case it’s actually Republicans who have fatally undermined Jeff Sessions’ credibility. 

There’s much that Trump needs Congress to do right now, and he surely must be tantalized by the possibility of an immigration deal that would flip the script on his presidency. Having learned what it takes to get legislation passed, Trump undoubtedly wants some more of it.

But given all of the attention, some of it quite hysterical, being paid to alleged corruption in the Justice Department and Trump’s own suggestion that the FBI crookedly helped Trump’s 2016 rival escape prosecution can Trump address Congress but not address the elephant in the room?

When the termination of an FBI official unknown to all but a few just a year ago causes a five-alarm fire, it’s a sign of the country’s preoccupation with both the special counsel investigation and the Republican’s investigation of the investigation. 

Trump could either try to help Sessions by making brief remarks praising the Justice Department, including Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray. That could go a long way toward calming anxious voters concerned that some purge might be underway.

If Trump is silent on the subject of his Justice Department and the probes upon probes from which we are all now waiting to see results, it’s probably safe to assume that Sessions really is out of time. 

THE RULEBOOK: THE BEST AND THE REST
“This piece of history proves at once the inefficiency of the union, the ambition and jealousy of its most powerful members, and the dependent and degraded condition of the rest.” – Alexander Hamilton and James MadisonFederalist No. 18

TIME OUT: AN UNCOMMON MAN 
On this day, in 1737, political theorist and American Patriot Thomas Paine was born. About 40 years later, he anonymously published his pamphlet, “Common Sense,” in which he strongly encouraged Americans separating from Great Britain. In his memory, we share a piece from his written work: “But the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connection, are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance: because, any submission to, or dependence on, Great Britain, tends directly to involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions…”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
39.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 56.2 percent 
Net Score: 
-16.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.8 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve - 58% disapprove; Gallup: 36% approve - 59% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 38% approve - 58% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.4 percent
Democratic average: 48.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 8.4 points 
Change from one week ago: 
down 1.2 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 38% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems - 39% GOP; CNN: 49% Dems - 44% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 49% Dems - 43% GOP.]

[Watch Fox: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looks ahead of the State of the Union and Senate Republicans’ agenda on “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino” at 2 pm ET Tuesday.] 

PENNSYLVANIA SPECIAL HOUSE RACE HEATS UP 
Politico: “A Western Pennsylvania House seat that backed President Donald Trump by 20 points became the latest special-election battleground this week. After months of shadow-boxing in the otherwise solidly Republican district, investments this week by both the DCCC and the NRCC signal the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone is more competitive than recent history would suggest. The NRCC has reserved more than $1 million on ads on broadcast and cable TV stations to boost Saccone in the race to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). Murphy resigned last October, after reports surfaced that the anti-abortion lawmaker had an extramarital affair and allegedly encouraged his lover to terminate a pregnancy. The DCCC's investment is smaller, but both committees are signaling that they would make major investments if the race is close between now and the March 13 election.”

House appropriations chairman to retire - The [Bergen County, N.J.] Record: “New Jersey Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen announced Monday he will retire rather than seek another term in November, when he was expected to face the toughest campaign of his career. Frelinghuysen, 71, became chairman of the House Appropriations Committee last year, a post that made him more beholden to the House Republican leadership at a time his suburban 11th District was the site of regular protests urging him to resist the policies of President Trump. Frelinghuysen is the latest Republican to not seek re-election this year. He becomes the 18th Republican to step aside in the House. Three Republican senators have said they will not seek re-election. Frelinghuysen initially opposed the Republican-crafted American Health Care Act, but then supported a revised version even as he said he hoped the Senate would make it better. In December, he opposed the sweeping tax overhaul that was one of the major legislative accomplishments of the GOP Congress and the Trump administration.”

Dems land top recruit in key Ohio House race - Cincinnati Business Courier: “National Democrats probably have landed a big Cincinnati recruit in their quest to take back the U.S. House this year. Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval requested donors support him if he runs for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot’s, R-Westwood, seat in November and told them he intends to jump in the race. ‘I think it’s happening,’ said a person familiar with the calls Pureval has made who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  A Pureval spokeswoman declined to comment. Pureval is a first-tier candidate for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, but unseating Chabot, who has served all but two of the last 23 years in the seat, will be a tremendous political challenge. Pureval also will have to beat two Democrats in the primary – Rabbi Robert Barr and Michele Young, who ran for the seat two years ago.”

Cruz trails in fundraising race - Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, easily outraised U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz over the last three months in his campaign to unseat the Texas Republican, raking in over $2.4 million to Cruz's $1.9 million. Yet Cruz maintains a big cash-on-hand advantage, closing out 2017 with $7.3 million in the bank, his campaign said late Sunday. O'Rourke, who revealed his haul a short time earlier, has $4.6 million to spend, according to his campaign. Still, O'Rourke's $2.4 million haul shows his fundraising is gaining steam — it's his biggest fundraiser quarter since launching his bid in March. O'Rourke said the figure was accompanied by a spike in the number of individual contributions that his campaign received — from almost 33,000 in the third quarter to over 55,000 during the most recent period, he said in an interview.”

Minnesota AG will pass on governor run - Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Attorney General Lori Swanson told supporters Sunday that she is running for re-election, ending months of speculation that she would enter the race for governor. The third-term DFL attorney general had been considered a top contender for her party's nomination for governor. She has a high-profile job that has made her well known to the state's voters and a big list of previous supporters she could turn to for campaign contributions. Swanson's decision, which other DFL candidates and power brokers waited on for months, changes the DFL race for governor. Most importantly, it diminishes the likelihood of an expensive and crowded DFL primary in August, good news for party leaders who had feared an intraparty battle ending just 10 weeks before Election Day.”

PRESSURE ON GOP OVER WYNN CASH 
NY Daily News: “Two GOP senators said Republicans should return donations from casino mogul and accused sexual predator Steve Wynn. Wynn resigned Saturday from his post as Republican National Committee finance chairman after he was accused of a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct, including demanding naked massages from female employees and pressuring them for sex. On Sunday, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins said Republicans should give back his cash. ‘We should do of ourselves what we ask of the Democratic party,’ Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC’s ‘This Week.’ RNC officials pressured Democrats to return donations from disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein after accusations of rape and pervasive harassment emerged against the major Democratic donor. But RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniels, in accepting Wynn’s resignation, did not address whether his contributions would be returned. … Wynn has been described as a friend by President Trump, and at the helm of the RNC during Trump’s first year in office helped the committee bring in more than $130 million.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Fake Twitter accounts mean real problems NYT

Former Hillary campaign chief Patti Solis Doyle pins blame on Clinton in handling of sex harassment CNN

Franklin Foer goes deep on Paul Manafort Atlantic

Administration cuts deal to end high-stakes airline impasse with Qatar - Bloomberg

AUDIBLE: STATE OF THE WHAT?
“Uniom.” – Tickets printed by the office of the House sergeant at arms for Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Needless to say a reprint was in order. 

IN OTTER NEWS…
Our apologies to readers in Idaho, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Connecticut for missing the mark in our entries of your states in our 2018 gubernatorial power ranking. We really do know that Gov. Butch Otter is not seeking another term, that Gov. Mary Fallin cannot, that Secretary of State Ed Murray and, as apparently everybody knows, Gov. Dan Malloy really should not. We thank you for your emails that gently, and sometimes not so gently, pointed out our mistakes or lack of local perspective on the conditions of a race. We hope you will keep them coming about not just gubernatorial races, but Senate and House ones, too. We will be updating ratings and descriptors throughout this midterm election year and we count on you to be our eyes and ears on the trail. 

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

THAT’LL DO, DONKEY. THAT’LL DO
Tribune Media Wire: “In an incident police described as ‘one for the books,’ a lone donkey was found leading a herd of goats and sheep through residential streets of West Covina after escaping from a property in a neighboring city on Thursday. Officers responded to the area of Francisquito and Valinda avenues around 12:30 a.m. after receiving a call of a group of animals roaming a neighborhood… And that was exactly what they found when they arrived at the location -- a lone donkey leading several goats and sheep through residential streets. At first, the animals ‘failed to comply’ with police orders as they ‘evaded capture,’ prompting officers to call the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for assistance… Eventually, authorities managed to corral the group. Police later discovered the donkey, goats, and sheep slipped through an unsecured gate from a property in nearby Valinda. … No injuries were reported.”

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.