Hope Hicks, ultimate White House insider, resigns

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Hope Hicks, ultimate White House insider, resigns - Poor Jeff Sessions - Roy Moore redux? McDaniel defies Trump - Dems push Trump for stronger background checks - Meatball larceny is the highest compliment

HOPE HICKS, ULTIMATE WHITE HOUSE INSIDER, RESIGNS
Fox News: “White House communications director Hope Hicks is resigning, it was announced Wednesday. ‘There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump,’ Hicks said in a statement. ‘I wish the president and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country.’ Hicks, 29, is Trump’s longest serving aide, having worked with him before he announced his candidacy, through the campaign and into the second year of his administration. ‘Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years,’ Trump said in a statement provided by the White House. ‘She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future.’ Hicks’ exact departure is to be determined but it will be sometime in the next few weeks, an aide said. ‘When I became Chief of Staff, I quickly realized what so many have learned about Hope – she is strategic, poised and wise beyond her years,’ chief of staff John Kelly said in a statement. … Hicks joined the White House after the campaign, and was promoted to communications director over the summer. She is credited by the White House with leading strategic messaging for tax reform effort and working with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to stabilize the press and communications teams.”

POOR JEFF SESSIONS
What’s the matter with Jeff Sessions?

President Trump’s favorite victim within his own administration was back on the meat hook today as Trump blasted Sessions for allowing an inspector general at the Justice Department to investigate the potential misconduct in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of state secrets as well as the investigation into Trump’s own campaign.

This came as quite a surprise to Republicans in Congress who have been quite cheerful about Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s work so far.

Horowitz’s investigation covers some real lulus, including the infamous tarmac meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former president Bill Clinton, former FBI James Comey’s competing publicity stunts on the Clinton probe and a host of other irregularities about the case.

Horowitz is also looking into the way that Comey and others handled obtaining warrants to monitor at least one Trump aide who was in contact with Kremlin affiliates.

The findings are expected soonish and those in the know are expecting some fireworks. Once Horowitz’s work is done, that’s when next steps could conceivably include firings, removal of pensions or, yes, prosecutions.

But the president, upon hearing that the person in charge of the investigation was not one of his own appointees went bonkers on Twitter.

“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”

The good news is that ALL CAPS don’t count against your 280 character limit…

Some context here is useful. The president’s son-in-law just lost his own security clearance in part because of the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems to be coming down to the wire and Jared Kushner is one of those whose pre-administration conduct could cause real-time problems.

Trump presumably wants some hostages of his own as the Mueller matter comes into the homestretch. He obviously now wishes he had not been gracious after the election when he demurred on the demand to “lock her up.”

So not only does Trump hold against Sessions the fact that the attorney general recused himself from an investigation that involves a campaign in which he was a part, but he also obviously resents that Sessions has not directed swifter retribution for Trump’s political enemies.

Plus, the president wants very much to be true the claims made by his staunchest defenders that potentially damning evidence about some of those around him was improperly obtained and therefore inadmissible.

Trump knows that regardless of the tit-for-tat part of this, it would help him enormously in the court of public opinion to remind America of Clinton corruption even as his own former aides plead guilty to crimes.

This puts Sessions in a terrible position since he was evidently sincere when he said that, like most conservatives, he just wanted a Justice Department that was fair and impartial.

For the president’s supporters who believe the game is so rigged that the only response to corruption is more corruption, Sessions has turned into a boogeyman. And yet, that wins him no friends with the critics of the administration who mock Sessions as a prude and a scold.

But today, Sessions actually fought back against the president. “We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” Sessions said. “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor.”

Sessions’s big problem with Trump is that the president is misinformed about how the system works and about the possibility of some deus ex machina ending in which Hillary Clinton goes to prison and Kushner delivers peace in our time in the Levant.

Trump has so far been afraid to fire Sessions knowing that what he gets next will probably be worse, including the potential to have Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein serve as the acting attorney general for a long, long time.

Perhaps the president feels that he can scapegoat Sessions so thoroughly that the Alabamian accedes to Trump’s demands, but there’s the pickle. Sessions can’t give the president what he wants. Nobody can give the president what he wants.

Sessions taught Sunday school at his family’s Methodist church in Mobile, but he is getting a very practical education in the Roman Catholic concept purgatory.

THE RULEBOOK: NOT TOO MUCH POWER
“Allowing the utmost latitude to the love of power which any reasonable man can require, I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons intrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the States of the authorities of that description.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 17

TIME OUT: **SHIVERS**
Atlantic: “‘At first, I did not like it,’ says Johanna Nordblad, who holds the Guinness World Record for 50-meter free-diving, in a new short film from Ian Derry. ‘The cold was agony. But slowly, I got used to the feeling.’ … ‘There is no place for fear,’ she says. ‘No place for panic. No place for mistakes. Under the ice, you need total control.’ … Nordblad began free-diving after suffering an injury; she was required to submerge in freezing water for treatment. Derry, too, suffered an accident and received a settlement, which he used to fund the film, his first directorial effort. … But the process of making the film was characterized by strict intentionality. … Despite the various setbacks, Derry and his team managed to capture the serene beauty of Nordblad’s sport. ‘She is not just a woman who can free-dive in freezing water,’ Derry said. ‘She genuinely is a creature with aquatic DNA.’”

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

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
38.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 56.6 percent 
Net Score: 
-18 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 38% approve - 60% disapprove; CNN: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Marist College: 40% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 37% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.2 percent
Democratic average: 49.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 1.2 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 54% Dems - 38% GOP; Marist College: 46% Dems - 39% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 53% Dems - 38% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP.]

ROY MOORE REDUX? MCDANIEL DEFIES TRUMP
WashTimes: “After a couple months lull following the White House-Steve Bannon fallout, the anti-establishment side of the primary cycle returned Wednesday with Chris McDaniel announcing he is running against Sen. Roger Wicker in the Mississippi GOP primary. The announcement was a long time coming as Mr. McDaniel has been mulling over another run for higher office since coming out on the losing end of a bitter primary campaign against Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014. The timing of the announcement was striking, coming hours after President Trump declared that he was all-in for Mr. Wicker. … ‘I am not going up there to be a leadership lapdog. I am going to be Mississippi’s bulldog,’ Mr. McDaniel said. The race in some ways will be a repeat of the clash from three years ago between the GOP establishment in Mississippi and Mr. McDaniel, who aligned himself with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the conservative uprising that shook up the 2010 and 2012 primary cycles.”

Wegmann: ‘Why did Trump throw water on Chris McDaniel?’ -
WashEx: “But President Trump apparently plans on keeping [McDaniel] out of the Senate. With one tweet, Trump just dumped a big-old bucket of ice water on the insurgent Republican [tweeting support for Sen. Wicker]… But why would the president meddle in a primary down south? Why would that president even care which Republican sits in a Senate seat that Democrats haven’t held for thirty years, literally since Ronald Reagan was in the White House? Personal loyalty. To be sure, Trump doesn’t want to lose an ally in the Senate. Wicker votes with him something like 97 percent of the time. An early endorsement will do a lot to inoculate the incumbent from an assault. Remember, Trump won the Republican primary and then the general election, both by double digits.”

Dem special election advantage continues in CT and NH -
The Hill: “Democratic candidates on Tuesday won two special elections for state legislative seats in the Northeast, another indication for the party that a blue wave is forming ahead of November's midterm elections. In New Hampshire, Laconia voters elected substance abuse counselor Philip Spagnuolo (D) over Republican Les Cartier, a former state employee, in a district President Trump carried by a 13-point margin in 2016. The district opened up when the incumbent, state Rep. Donald Flanders (R), died in September. In Connecticut, Democrat Philip Young defeated Republican Bill Cabral to win a Stratford-based district that has been in Republican hands for decades, even though Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried a narrow plurality there in 2016. Both Young and Cabral were former Stratford town councilmembers. The seat became open when state Rep. Laura Hoydick (R) resigned to become mayor of Stratford. The wins Tuesday night extend the Democratic advantage in special elections held since Trump was inaugurated last year.”

Pa. special election shifts from Lean R to toss up - Cook Political Report: “It's not normal for Republicans to be worried about losing a seat President Trump carried by 20 points. But with two weeks to go before the March 13 special election, Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone is locked in an extremely close contest against Democratic prosecutor/Marine veteran Conor Lamb, who has significantly outspent him. We're moving the race from Lean Republican to Toss Up. There's no doubt part of the problem for the GOP in PA-18 is the national political climate. … However, the climate alone wouldn't be enough to push a district as Republican as the 18th CD into the Toss Up column. After all, Trump is still a net asset to the GOP here, and Nancy Pelosi is unpopular. What's made the race so close, many Republicans admit, is that Lamb has simply proven to be a stronger candidate than Saccone.”

Dem super PAC launches looks to boost Lamb - The Hill: “A top Democratic super PAC is launching a $250,000 television ad buy to boost Democratic candidate Conor Lamb ahead of next month's Pennsylvania special election. Republicans have far outspent Democrats on the airwaves in the district as they look to support Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone's bid for the March 13 election. The new ad campaign — which includes about a quarter-million dollars of spending on digital and television — is meant to help close the spending gap between the two candidates amid tightening polls. The ad buy by Patriot Majority PAC seizes on recent reports that Saccone used an expense account while serving in the legislature, which Democrats have framed as excessive.”

Arizona voters select replacement for Franks - WaPo: “Arizona Republicans picked Debbie Lesko, a former state legislator, as their nominee to replace disgraced former congressman Trent Franks Tuesday night — after a race that was rocked by more allegations of inappropriate behavior. Lesko pushed past 11 other Republicans, including Steve Montenegro, a rising conservative star who had been endorsed by Franks and some national conservative figures and then tumbled into a scandal over racy text messages sent by a staffer. Lesko, the only woman in the race, built a 12-point lead over Monte­negro in early votes, with Tuesday’s final ballots pushing her over the top to win the Republican nomination for the April 24 special election for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. With 55 percent of all votes counted, Lesko had won 35.8 percent of the vote to 24.1 percent for Monte­negro, the Associated Press reported.”

Q Poll: Nelson leading in close Florida race - Quinnipiac University: “The U.S. Senate campaign in Florida is a real horse race out of the gate as Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson has 46 percent to Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican challenger, with 42 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released [Tuesday]. Sen. Nelson leads 46 - 33 percent among independent voters and 87 - 7 percent among Democrats, while Gov. Scott takes Republicans 86 - 7 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds. There are wide gender and racial gaps, as men back Scott 49 - 38 percent, while women back Nelson 53 - 35 percent. White voters go Republican 49 - 40 percent. Nelson leads 74 - 15 percent among black voters and 46 - 37 percent among Hispanic voters. Scott, who has a seven-year history of negative approval ratings, gets a positive 49 - 40 percent score, by far his highest score ever.”

DEMS PUSH TRUMP FOR STRONGER BACKGROUND CHECKS
Politico: “Senate Democrats are urging President Donald Trump to endorse stricter background checks ahead of a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday to discuss gun safety proposals. Trump has variously praised efforts to raise the age to buy some rifles to 21 and ban bump stocks that increase the rate of rifle fire, and has said that he is ‘strongly pushing comprehensive background checks.’ It remains unclear whether he is merely supporting a narrow bill to improve the background check system or a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks to include gun show and online purchases, but Democrats assume it is the latter. … On Wednesday afternoon, Trump will meet with lawmakers including Murphy and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dianne Feinstein (R-Calif.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Manchin wrote a bill to expand background checks in 2013 with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that previously failed in the Senate, but Manchin and other Democrats say it could pass if Trump endorses it.”

Nelson didn’t get the invite - Tampa Bay Times: “President Donald Trump this afternoon will discuss gun legislation with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, seeking momentum amid concerns of a slowdown on the issue just two weeks after Parkland. Among the participants: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ted Deutch, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy and John Rutherford. But the state's senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, got passed over. Nelson's office said this morning he hadn't gotten an invite, which other lawmakers received Tuesday. It's not clear why Nelson — who shared the CNN town hall stage with Rubio and Deutch — was snubbed.”

House GOP takes hard stance against calls for new gun legislation - The Hill: “House Republicans brushed aside calls for stricter gun laws on Tuesday, signaling they want to focus on school security and figuring out why law enforcement failed to act on repeated warnings about the suspect in a mass shooting at a Florida high school this month. At his weekly leadership news conference, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the House had already acted on a bill to strengthen federal criminal background checks for gun purchases. And he suggested the House would not vote on legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) that would ban assault weapons. ‘We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,’ Ryan said at a news conference. ‘We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns.’”

CDC looks to add funds for federal research on mental health and mass shootings - WashTimes: “One of the big unknowns in the gun debate is the actual role mental health plays in fueling mass shootings. And analysts say the reason it’s still unknown is because a provision of federal law has prevented the federal government from funding that research for more than two decades. The Trump administration this month suggested some cracks in the ban. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he sees room for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund some research — but not actual lobbying efforts. CDC cash could spur the country’s major research universities, which have been reluctant to spend their own money on the issue. … It remains to be seen, however, whether Congress will push the CDC to go further.”

Kraushaar: ‘The Politics of Gun Control Is Changing’ - National Journal: “The battle over guns is as much a regional battle as a partisan one—and the country’s geographic divide over the issue is what will make passing significant gun-control legislation so difficult. But it’s also undeniable that there’s been a clear boost in support for new gun regulations, making the politics of this moment more treacherous than ever for Republicans. The shift on gun control from leading Republicans who need suburban votes has been head-snapping. … And it’s not just centered in Florida; the shifts are taking place in suburban areas across the country. … Dig deeper into the data, and it’s clear that white women—amply represented in suburban swing districts—are driving this change. … That momentum, however, is tempered by the continued resistance to gun control in rural and small-town America.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Senators leave White House meeting with no clear solution to federal ethanol policy - WashTimes

New conservative group promotes free speech on college campuses
- Speech First

Pelosi is donating her old Speaker gavel to the Smithsonian - The Hill

Ethics panel begins investigation of harassment allegations against Rep. Meehan - WaPo

AUDIBLE: HE’S BAAAACKKK
“In this new entity that I'm setting up, part of it is—weaponizing ideas maybe is too strong a term—but getting ideas out there. One is economic nationalism, one is populism, one is this world that ‘America first’ is coming into. And certainly I'll be arguing this, or just pointing to the facts.” – Former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, in an interview with GQ, talking about his “new axis.”

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“A few readers have called you out as a ‘non-President’ believer and even further as a Democrat in mind & spirit. Apparently you still relate Democratic Party to democracy. A couple of my observations: You’re a WV Dem with the Beltway elitism.   Yeah, I get your syllabus vocabulary writing and it's not really fitting. In closing, your ‘monologue’ today shows who you really are… just another pollster. What did ‘your’ poll say around Nov 2017? I clearly recall you constantly poo-pooing the LAT/USA showing it was a horse race electorally. Publish this for a change.” – Bob Fuller, Los Angeles

[Ed. note: I get the sense that you do not enjoy reading our offerings, Mr. Fuller. And that is too bad. I don’t know why you are so angry about it, but I promise we are doing our best every day to bring you a good product. I would wonder why you keep reading and even writing in, but I imagine that you must be getting something out of this, even if it is just being able to hate me. We wish you the best and, most of all, peace.]

“Just in case you were worried about ‘placidity bordering on torpor’ in the 2018 Senate races, along comes Mississippi's latest reincarnation of Theodore Bilbo in the person of Chris McDaniel. This flamethrower and his band of hangers-on managed to set off a nursing home scandal, inject racial politics into every corner of the race and drive a lawyer to suicide while challenging Thad Cochran a few years ago. Now, with his hopes of being the designated replacement for the fading Senator Cochran dashed, he is turning his cannons toward Roger Wicker. What's coming will be a no-holds-barred donnybrook as McDaniel and Wicker fight for the far cliff of the right-wing constituency. Here in the Magnolia State, we watched in horror as our neighbor to the east (that curious land of football champions and coon dog cemeteries) was pilloried and ridiculed in 2017, hoping no one would pull out a map and ask ‘Hey, whatever happened to Mississippi? Haven't heard from them lately.’ We're working hard to move forward down here and the national spotlight is usually not a good thing. As one of the most respected media observers in the business, I hope you will help keep a lid on the approaching chaos of this suddenly more crowded political season. Many thanks and keep those podcasts coming.” – Mary Carol Miller, Greenwood, Miss.

[Ed. note: Ms. Miller, we now know McDaniel really will run against Wicker, even with the president’s endorsement of the incumbent. But regardless, having read your line “that curious land of football champions and coon dog cemeteries,” I want to start grooming you immediately as my fill-in when I’m on vacation!]

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

MEATBALL LARCENY IS THE HIGHEST COMPLIMENT
AP: “Police say a damning clue led to the arrest of a Pennsylvania man charged with stealing a pot of meatballs — red sauce smeared on his face and clothes. Authorities in Luzerne County have charged 48-year-old Leahman Glenn Robert Potter with burglary, criminal trespass and theft by unlawful taking for allegedly swiping a pot of meatballs from a man's garage on Monday. Police say the victim reported his meatballs missing and told officers at around 2:30 p.m. Monday that he saw Potter standing in front of his house with red sauce on his face and clothes. The pot was found on the street. It's unclear if Potter washed the sauce off before he was arrested a short time later. Potter's attorney did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.”

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.