Mr. Jefferson's wager

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On the roster: Mr. Jefferson’s wager - Sessions rules out second special counsel for now - Ryan undecided on reelection run - House Dem took it easy on abusive chief of staff - Talk about a big brain freeze

MR. JEFFERSON’S WAGER 
Thomas Jefferson
 was, if anything, a man of self-confidence. 

And lucky for us that he was. Who else but a cocksure person could have written the American Creed – “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” – at age 33 and as one of the youngest members of the Continental Congress with the bold strokes that he did and make it stick?

Jefferson’s exuberant sense of himself extended to seemingly everything: architecture, education, agriculture, foreign policy, cuisine, engineering and even religion.

Like many elites of his day and many of ours, Jefferson was a deist. He believed that there was a God (probably) and that the understanding that came to Abraham of God’s unitary nature was true (probably). But while he might have been baptized, married and buried in the Episcopal Church and attended services regularly, it would be wrong to call him a Christian.

Jefferson was a great admirer of Jesus of Nazareth, whose teachings Jefferson said were “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” The problem, as Jefferson the empiricist and gentleman scientist saw it, was that the good teacher Jesus’ works had been corrupted by the “mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

Jefferson believed that scoundrels, starting with the Apostle Paul, had cooked up the whole idea of Jesus’ divinity as a scam to fleece and control the weak and uneducated. In Jefferson’s mind, the pity of it all was that Jesus’ sublime teachings and moral code had been corrupted and obscured by these hustlers.

“In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests,” Jefferson wrote to his enemy turned friend John Adams in 1813, “who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.”

Jefferson’s solution was to produce a version of the New Testament of his own, one stripped of miracles and prophecies, literally cutting and pasting passages from the Christian Bible into a book of moral philosophy.

It took chutzpah to stick your thumb in George III’s eye, but stripping Jesus of his divinity in the America of 1819 was another thing altogether. So Jefferson was careful not to refer to his work as a “bible” per se, instead calling his book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels.” Wink, wink.

Just as Christian believers pine for what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a condemned man writing from his cell in a Nazi prison, called a “religionless Christianity” rooted in pure faith and love unobstructed by legalism, non-believers like Jefferson have long yearned for faithless religion. 

This was the challenge of the Enlightenment, especially for those who believed that it was society and institutions like churches that had corrupted man’s basically good nature: How can we obtain the benefits of religion – community, charity, morality, education – if we do away with the fear of damnation?

It’s the same conversation that many Roman Catholics around the world are having today after the Vatican’s narrow non-denial denial that Pope Francis observed that perhaps there is no Hell after all, but simply Heaven and oblivion. Can you still get butts in the pews if there’s no lake of fire into which a sinner’s soul might be cast? 

On this Good Friday, millions of American Christians heard and believed the words that at the death of their crucified Lord, the barrier between God and mankind was finally torn asunder. When the songs say “were you there when they Crucified my Lord,” they feel as if they were and they “tremble, tremble, tremble.”

On Sunday, many millions more will hear and believe the good news that sin and death have been defeated and that they too will be resurrected to live in eternity in Heaven.

But for centuries, there have been many Jeffersons in their midst, smirking to themselves as the “Abracadabra” of it all, but playing along in the same way an older sibling might about Santa Claus. It’s fun for the kids and gives mom and dad a way to impose order amid a hectic season, so why tear down the stockings?

For a growing number of Americans, though, even paying lip service to these ideas doesn’t seem necessary anymore. With neither the eternal threat of damnation nor the temporal sanction of shunning, Americans increasingly do as they please. Jefferson’s hope that there could be religiosity without faith has not materialized.

Since a republic is a system of government designed for a virtuous people, this presents special problems. If people do not regulate themselves, order will always eventually be imposed by other means.

The fear among American conservatives has long been that a too-powerful government would fill the voids left by weakened cultural institutions, but a different force is rising in this age of moral imbecility when people, even the pious acting, have lost the ability to understand right from wrong.

Jefferson would not have seen the threat as clearly as his rivals in the north since he was most interested in freeing (certain) people from the oppression of elites. But the Federalists were ever warning that the rule of a king would be preferable to the rule by the mob.

In this era of devolving social standards, Americans are increasingly substituting the judgment of the mob for their own. 

Connectedness has produced wonders the likes of which the Founders could not have imagines. But it has also produced something they knew well and rightly feared: Clannish factions that seek to stifle and destroy their enemies rather than live peacefully under the blessings of liberty.

One wonders if Jefferson could see us now if he wouldn’t have gone a little lighter on the “Abracadabra” stuff.

[Ed. note: Whether this be Easter weekend, Passover, something else or nothing at all for you and yours, Brianna and I wish you and yours a peaceful weekend and send our love to you.]

THE RULEBOOK: BUT IT DOESN’T GROW ON TREES
“The wealth of nations depends upon an infinite variety of causes. … The consequence clearly is that there can be no common measure of national wealth, and, of course, no general or stationary rule by which the ability of a state to pay taxes can be determined.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 21

TIME OUT: MAJOR DIGS 
Fox News: “Paleontologists in Montana have unearthed a fossil that may be the remains of a baby Tyrannosaurus rex. Researchers and students from the University of Kansas recently excavated the fossil from the Hell Creek Formation in central Montana. The remains include a complete section of the upper jaw with all of the teeth intact, as well as parts of the dinosaur’s skull, foot, hips and backbones, according to the University of Kansas. The remains likely belong to a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex that lived 66.5 million years ago, according to researchers, but could also belong to another species of small, carnivorous dinosaur. ‘The teeth suggest it’s a Tyrannosaurus rex; however, there is still more work to be done,’ said David Burnham, preparator of vertebrate paleontology at Kansas University’s Biodiversity Institute. … Burnham noted that the University of Kansas is fortunate that it has an older T. rex to use as comparison with the latest find, as well another young T. rex on loan.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.8 percent 
Average disapproval: 52.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-11 points
Change from one week ago: up 2.8 points
[Average includes: CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 52% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 40% approve - 53% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.4 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.4 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 3.4 points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; Fox News: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 50% Dems - 40% GOP; George Washington University: 49% Dems - 40% GOP.]

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**we now return you to our regularly scheduled political palaver**

SESSIONS RULES OUT SECOND SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR NOW
Fox News: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions revealed Thursday a federal prosecutor was evaluating certain issues involving the FBI, the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One, but said he would not appoint a second special counsel at this point. In a letter directed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, Sessions revealed that he asked U.S. Attorney John Huber to lead the evaluation into issues raised by the committees in recent months. ‘I write in response to recent letters requesting the appointment of a Special Counsel to review certain prosecutorial and investigative determinations made by the Department of Justice in 2016 and 2017. I take the concerns you raise seriously,’ Sessions wrote, noting how important it was that the American people and Congress had ‘confidence’ in the Justice Department.”

McCabe soliciting online donations for legal defense fund - Fox News:Andrew McCabe – the top FBI official by fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions hours before his planned retirement – is now soliciting donations online for his legal defense fund. ‘The support for Andrew #McCabe has been overwhelming, humbling & deeply appreciated,’ Melissa Schwartz, a spokesperson for McCabe, tweeted Thursday. ‘Unfortunately, the need for a legal defense fund is a growing reality.’ Schwartz linked to a GoFundMe account sponsored by ‘Friends of Andrew McCabe’ that displays a photo of McCabe and his family. It says it has a goal of $150,000 but that was later changed to $250,000 after the goal was nearly reached by Thursday evening. The site showed hundreds of people donating between $5 and $1,000 each, eventually reaching the new goal by the Thursday night. As of early Friday, the account had raised over $375,000 from more than 8,500 people.”

Clinton campaign app may have harvested Facebook data of millions -Fox News: “Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign may have harvested the Facebook data of millions of people using an app that asked them to pair their Facebook friends list with their smartphone's contacts list – in a bid to reach those people and persuade them to vote for Clinton. In the midst of the election, the Clinton campaign launched a mobile application called ‘Hillary 2016’ that worked its way around the banned practice of gathering information from users’ friends without their consent. The Clinton campaign’s use of big data raises concerns amid controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica, a data-driven company with ties to the Trump campaign that was accused of mining Facebook data and using it to target potential voters.”

Grassley, Feinstein request new Trump campaign emails - 
Politico: “The Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman and top Democrat on Thursday released a request for new emails from two senior campaign aides to President Donald Trump, taking a fresh bipartisan step in their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s chairman, and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter earlier this week to the Trump campaign’s attorney seeking emails from Rick Dearborn, who went on to play a prominent role in the presidential transition before reportedly leaving the White House earlier this year, and John Mashburn, who served as the campaign’s policy director and remains in the administration.”

Report: Russian ambassador can’t get meetings with members of Congress - 
Politico: “Congressional leaders won’t meet with him. Neither will the vice president or the White House chief of staff. And the Russian ambassador says he is at his wit’s end. In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) earlier this month, Anatoly Antonov asked for help in obtaining meetings with a slew of U.S. lawmakers and officials. The March 9 letter was written two days after a POLITICO story detailed some of Antonov’s travails in securing meetings in Washington. ‘I would be very grateful for your advice on how to develop contacts with members of U.S. Congress, departments and agencies, as well as for your possible assistance in setting up such meetings,’ Antonov wrote in the letter, obtained by POLITICO. Hatch has previously confirmed he met with Antonov, but a Hatch spokeswoman did not immediately reply for comment on this story. The Russian Embassy also did not reply. A White House spokesman declined comment.”

Page admits talking about Russia involvement during RNC - The Hill:Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign, acknowledged on Thursday that he spoke with FBI investigators asking about whether he met with Russia's ambassador on the sidelines of the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC). ‘I told them, you know, a lot of everything I've essentially been doing for quite a long time, including, obviously, you know, everything in Cleveland,’ he said in interview on MSNBC… Page's comments came hours after Reuters reported that investigators on special counsel Robert Mueller's team have been questioning witnesses about interactions with Russians during an event on the sidelines of the RNC.”

Kremlin propaganda channel going off air in DC - Voice of America: “Russia’s RT television network is going off the air in the Washington, D.C., area, one of the channel’s most coveted markets in the United States. The Kremlin-backed English language news channel will still be available via satellite, but two Washington-area stations that carry it are set to suspend operations at midnight Saturday, prompting cable operators to drop the channel. MHz Networks, a Virginia-based distributor of international programming in the United States that broadcast RT and other foreign news channels on the two stations, said it was ending distribution in the wake of the station operator’s decision to auction off their licenses.”

RYAN UNDECIDED ON REELECTION RUN 
AP: “Paul Ryan’s future as House speaker has been such a topic of speculation that even the simple question of whether he will seek re-election to his Wisconsin seat remains secret. Officially, Ryan says he’s still deciding. But a person familiar with Ryan’s thinking told The Associated Press this week the speaker plans to file campaign paperwork and intends to win his seat. To do so, the Republican would have to fend off primary challengers, including one styled after President Donald Trump, and Democrats are fired up about a union ironworker, Randy Bryce, who goes by the Twitter moniker ‘Iron Stache.’ If Ryan emerges victorious, even those closest to him aren’t certain he’ll stay in Congress, particularly if Republicans lose their House majority. Asked whether Ryan would serve in the minority, the person who discussed his re-election plans with AP would not say.”

Biden stumps for Feinstein’s reelection -
 LAT: “Former Vice PresidentJoe Biden is endorsing Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bid for a fifth full term in the Senate. ‘She’s tenacious. She’s accomplished. And she’s exactly who we need in the Senate to stand up to this Administration and its Republican allies in Congress. Dianne is a dear friend, and I’m proud to endorse her re-election,’ Biden said Thursday in a statement provided by Feinstein’s campaign. Biden and Feinstein served together in the Senate, and Feinstein’s assault weapons ban was included in Biden’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.”

Connecticut Republicans exclude candidate from gubernatorial debate - Hartford Courant: “New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart will be on the outside looking in when Republicans hold their next gubernatorial debate on her home turf. The latecomer in the crowded GOP field hasn’t met the fundraising threshold set by the state party for the April 4 debate at New Britain High School, which will be an all-male lineup. Stewart declared her candidacy for governor March 19, seven weeks after setting up an exploratory committee. The only female candidate in the Republican nominating contest, Stewart isn’t staying quiet. She and her supporters will hold a rally before the start of the debate.”

HOUSE DEM TOOK IT EASY ON ABUSIVE CHIEF OF STAFF
WaPo: “The threat from Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s chief of staff arrived in a voice mail. ‘You better f-----g reply to me or I will f-----g kill you,’ Tony Baker said in the May 5, 2016, recording left for Anna Kain, a former Esty aide Baker had once dated. Kain, who provided a copy of the recording to The Washington Post, alerted the police, filed a report for felony threats and obtained a 12-month restraining order against Baker. According to emails obtained by The Post, Esty found out about the episode within a week. At that point, the Connecticut Democrat took matters into her own hands. Rather than firing or suspending Baker, the congresswoman consulted her personal attorneys and advisers, she said. She also spoke to Kain on May 11, emails show; Kain said she provided detailed allegations that Baker had punched, berated and sexually harassed her in Esty’s Capitol Hill office throughout 2014, while she worked as Esty’s senior adviser.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
House leaders to hold memorial service for Rep. Louise Slaughter in April - Roll Call

Judge says due to ‘plausible interference’ lawsuit against DACA can proceed -Bloomberg

AUDIBLE: TRUMP THE BUILDER
“I was always very good at building, I think better than being president. … But I think I’ll be better as president... that will be good.”– President Trump said during a campaign-style speech in Ohio Thursday afternoon.

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This weekend, Mr. Sunday will sit down with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 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.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I'd feel a lot better about the future of the free world if President Trump went into seclusion for a month -- to do intense homework and put a responsible plan of action together in advance of the ill-conceived North Korean Summit. This venture into the dark recesses of international intrigue is not for the faint of heart or the ill-prepared. Ideally a non-partisan briefing team can be assembled, both to prepare protocol and substantive positions on key issues. Just ‘gaming’ the positions of North Korea and the many affected nations requires unprecedented knowledge and expertise, not to mention lead time. Given America's tenuous international stature, it is hard to imagine a positive outcome from the May talks. So much is at stake, time's a-wasting, and so little preparation seems to have done to date. Realistically, the best we can hope for is a series of photo-ops, plenty of glad handing, and a promise to get together again soon.” – David Wiltsee, Applegate, Calif.

[Ed. note: Birds have to fly, fish have to swim and President Trump has to wing it. The idea that Trump, who is famous for his short attention span and disdain for details, would suddenly undertake a crash course in foreign policy would be about as farfetched as me embracing a vegan lifestyle. But I do think you should perhaps worry less about what is going to happen. It will be in the interests of both men to declare the talks a success. But whatever policy changes are going to come to North Korea and the region will be more about what happens between Beijing, Moscow and Washington. Kim is absolutely beholden to his paymasters in China and can be depended on to do only as much as they will allow.] 

“I read with interest the recent Halftime report on the lack of amending the Constitution since the 1970s. I think this has contributed to the increasing partisanship and discord that is building in our country. When the people fail to exercise the means to shape the supreme law of the land through amendments, the political seats of power (Congress, Presidency) and judiciary become more bitterly contested. I would hope more of my fellow citizens would get behind grassroots movements to call for an Article V convention for constitutional amendments that have bi-partisan support (balance budget, term limits). A renewed push for constitutional amendments may be healthy for national discourse and future as a country.” – Andrew Couch, Salina, Kan.

[Ed. note: I agree with you on all counts, Mr. Couch. I was skeptical about the push for a so-called convention of the states on the grounds that the document we have is working pretty well. But, I don’t know if I can say that with the same confidence I once did. I do not blame our charter, but rather the failure of our society to produce citizens in a large enough number who are able to use it. There’s no question that an Article V convention comes with considerable risks. A second American republic is not guaranteed to bring with it the virtues of the first. We know that the genius of our current republic is that it protects things that are unpopular like free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to keep and bear arms, etc. Things that are popular have no need of protection, and I don’t know that our new framers would be of a mind to do unpopular things. But I certainly think that we are approaching a point where a constitutional convention is needed.]

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TALK ABOUT A BIG BRAIN FREEZE
UPI: “Thousands of volunteers gathered at a festival in Texas to put together a record-breaking ice cream treat measuring nearly a mile long. Attendees at the Spirit of Texas Festival in Wolf Pen Creek marveled at the 4,549-foot and 3.36-inch long ice cream sundae which broke the Guinness World Record for the longest ice-cream dessert. The sundae was made using 500 gallons of H-E-B Texan Tackle Crackle ice cream and topped with 300 gallons of chocolate and strawberry syrup, 2,000 cans of whipped cream, 25 pounds of sprinkles, and 20,000 cherries. A Guinness World Records adjudicator inspected the dessert to ensure all of the ingredients were connected in a single line. Once the record was confirmed more than 4,000 festival attendees consumed the record-breaking sundae in 30 minutes.”

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.