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What firing Mueller would mean for the GOP - Corker all in for Blackburn - Chinese ruler offers carrot, stick to Trump on trade - Trump cancels South America trip to oversee Syria plans - Mr. Stinky triumphant
WHAT FIRING MUELLER WOULD MEAN FOR THE GOP
When Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says it would be “suicide” for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller what exactly does that mean?
Grassley and other Republicans have been moved to weigh in once again on Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and almost universally they agree with the plain-spoken Iowan’s sentiment.
They’ve had to pipe up because the president, at a meeting of his war council to discuss attacks on Syria, openly, angrily mused on whether or not he might fire Mueller or Mueller’s overseer, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
We have no reason to believe that Trump’s lashing out is more likely to result in action than before. The president is obviously upset to know that a number of Justice Department officials whom he selected gave the go-ahead for an audacious raid on the office, home and hotel room of Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen.
But Trump has also seen other confidants, including his own son, sucked into the ongoing scandal and not taken provocative actions.
That’s not to say the president is not hearing some very loud, very angry voices telling him to brook a constitutional crisis and smash the probe before it reaches even deeper into his inner circle. Trump has many friends and advisers who believe Mueller is a crook and represents nothing more than the “deep state” usurping power by any means necessary.
One main reason that Grassley and others do not take this point of view goes beyond their distaste for what they see as crackpot conspiracy theorizing. Even though it has not been a happy time for Republicans of late, it’s been quite a while since things have looked this good for the GOP.
In a Quinnipiac University poll out today Trump’s approval rating nudged up to 41 percent and disapproval for his job performance hit its lowest point ever at 52 percent. Those numbers roughly match our Halftime Report Scoreboard and reflect the general improvement for Trump and his party since hitting the skids late last year.
While Republicans certainly face tough odds in holding on to the House of Representatives, their chances for expanding their Senate majority look pretty good. Americans are optimistic about the economy, generally pleased with the Republican tax cuts and, according to the Q Poll, less concerned about Trump’s foreign policy, immigration and trade stances than even just a few months ago.
As we have discussed before, voters have acclimated themselves to Trump’s unusual style. While we did see markets roil at his tough trade talk, even edgy investors seem to have learned to listen less to what Trump says and pay more attention to what he and his administration do.
And as the Q Poll shows, Americans not only believe Trump had an extramarital affair with a sex worker in 2006 and that he paid to cover it up, but overwhelmingly don’t care about those facts.
Not even the return of consistent chaos in the West Wing has been able to hold down this modest restoration of Trump’s and his party’s fortunes.
Even as things get better for Trump, though, voters show little sympathy with his constant complaints about Mueller.
A whopping 69 percent of voters think the president should not fire the special counsel, including a majority of Republicans. The White House has been successful in driving down confidence in the fairness of Mueller’s investigation, but the percentage of respondents who believe the special counsel is acting fairly still outstrips those who think he’s a crook by 20 points.
No matter how low the White House and its allies are able to drive confidence in Mueller among Republicans, that wouldn’t spare Trump from the constitutional crisis that would follow if Trump did fire the prosecutor. Not only would the Justice Department likely respond by appointing a replacement, Congress would likely be moved to take steps of its own to rein in executive power.
Let’s imagine, though, that somehow Trump could end the investigation that has ensnared so many of his former aids and associates without another one taking its place.
What would happen to the president’s party in this scenario?
Right now, Republicans are trying to push a narrative for the midterm elections that Democrats are obsessed with impeaching the president and will damage the country, interrupt prosperity and generally upset the applecart with a pointless impeachment proceeding.
If Trump hacks his way through the Justice Department to escape what is widely seen as a fair and appropriate investigation imagine what the narrative would look like then. The House would be long gone and the hopes for a stouter Senate majority would be, too.
We don’t mean to doubt the sincerity of the Republicans in Congress who say they are interested in preserving Mueller for the sake of separation of powers and the rule of law, but it’s hard not to notice that they have plenty of political consequences on the question to think about.
THE RULEBOOK: OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
“A stranger to our politics, who was to read our newspapers at the present juncture, without having previously inspected the plan reported by the convention, would be naturally led to one of two conclusions: … that standing armies should be kept up in time of peace; or that it vested in the EXECUTIVE the whole power of levying troops…” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 24
TIME OUT: ‘HELLO, OLD SPORT’
On this day in 1925 “The Great Gatsby” was published. On its anniversary, we bring back a piece from 2013, around the time the movie was released. New Yorker: “When ‘The Great Gatsby’ was published … F. Scott Fitzgerald … cabled Max Perkins, his editor at Scribners, and demanded to know if the news was good. Mostly, it was not. … Fitzgerald later complained to his friend Edmund Wilson that ‘of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.’ For a writer of Fitzgerald’s fame, sales were mediocre … and when Fitzgerald died, in 1940 … the book was hard to find. … At the same time, the initial failure of ‘Gatsby’ has yielded an astounding coda: the U.S. trade-paperback edition of the book currently sells half a million copies a year. Jay Gatsby ‘sprang from his Platonic conception of himself,’ and his exuberant ambitions and his abrupt tragedy have merged with the story of America, in its self-creation and its failures. The strong, delicate, poetically resonant text has become a kind of national scripture, recited happily or mournfully, as the occasion requires.”
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HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
Trump job performance
Average approval: 41 percent
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve - 51% 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: no change in Democratic advantage
[Average includes: CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP; 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.]
CORKER ALL IN FOR BLACKBURN
WaPo: “Weeks after saying definitively that he would retire, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Monday expressed his strongest public support yet for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who is running against a top Democratic recruit in the closely watched contest to succeed him. Corker wrote on Twitter that he would contribute to Blackburn’s campaign ‘now that the Republican primary has essentially concluded.’ His support comes after last Thursday’s filing deadline for the race and amid a growing sense among Republicans that the general-election campaign could be competitive. The relationship between Corker and his allies and Blackburn and hers has been tense in recent months. After Corker said last year that he would not run for reelection, Blackburn jumped into the race to fill his seat. But earlier this year, Corker reconsidered running before eventually standing by his decision to retire.”
Scott’s ability to spend will cause problems for Nelson - Politico: “Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s long-awaited clash with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has the makings of the most expensive Senate race ever — and that spells trouble for Democrats everywhere else. Strategists in both parties think this race could cost up to $200 million, dwarfing the record $180 million they spent fighting over Pennsylvania in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Scott, a multimillionaire, hasn’t ruled out spending tens of millions of his own money as he has in the past. Not only does Nelson lack that luxury, but Democrats are defending nine other incumbents in states President Donald Trump carried as they challenge for control of the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 edge. And a free-spending Scott campaign in the nation’s largest swing state could strain Democratic resources across the red-tinted Senate map.”
Dave Brat stunned with Cantor defeat, but can he win in a tough year? - WaPo: “As an unknown economics professor, Dave Brat personified the grass-roots revolution that shook the Republican Party four years ago when he dethroned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and was elected to Congress from a district outside Richmond. But facing reelection after two terms, Brat is himself the target of a rebellion, this one by Democrats infuriated by President Trump’s election, which galvanized a new wave of political activism nationwide, particularly among suburban women. In a recent fundraising pitch, Brat exploited the dangers he faces as he campaigns… ‘The fight will be brutal,’ Brat warned in the fevered appeal to Republican donors. ‘The Democrats will be out for political blood, and they will throw everything they have at me.’”
Spending, air war intensify in Arizona House special - The Republic: “Voters in Arizona's solidly GOP 8th Congressional District are getting something they haven’t had for a long time: a new representative. They're also getting unusual attention as Republicans across the country see their candidates falter while Democrats stand united against President Trump. Either Republican Debbie Lesko or Democrat Hiral Tipirneni will replace former Rep. Trent Franks, who represented the area for 15 years before resigning in disgrace over sexual misconduct allegations in December. Outside groups, mainly aligned with the GOP, have invested in the race in recent weeks, raising questions of how worried the party is about losing the seat. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, are reportedly coming to Arizona for Lesko fundraisers.”
Massachusetts Republican Gov. Baker steers clear of Pence visit - Politico: “Vice President Mike Pence is traveling to Boston Tuesday for two fundraisers — including one for the Republican National Committee, which is expected to haul in $500,000. But Massachusetts’ Republican governor won’t be at either of them. Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters Monday that he will be in New Bedford during Pence’s visit and won’t attend the RNC event, adding ‘I didn’t know about it.’ Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said she ‘wasn’t asked to attend’ and has other commitments. Pence’s office said it extended an invitation to the governor’s office. … Baker denied he was making any statement by not attending the fundraiser. ‘I’m not sending a message,’ Baker told reporters. ‘I’m just not going to be here because my calendar has all kinds of other stuff on it which is important.’”
CHINESE RULER OFFERS CARROT, STICK TO TRUMP ON TRADE
Bloomberg: “Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated pledges to open sectors from banking to auto manufacturing in a speech that also warned against returning to a ‘Cold War mentality’ amid trade disputes with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump. Xi pledged a ‘new phase of opening up’ in his keynote address Tuesday to the Boao Forum for Asia, China’s answer to Davos. While the speech offered little new policy, Xi affirmed or expanded on proposals to increase imports, lower foreign-ownership limits on manufacturing and expand protection to intellectual property -- all central issues in Trump’s trade gripes.”
Farm state Republicans turn up the pressure - The Hill: “Republican senators want to know if President Trump has an endgame in the escalating trade fight with China. The fight over tariffs has sent markets into turmoil and clouded economic prospects, worrying senators ahead of the midterm elections. Prices for soybeans, corn and wheat dropped in anticipation that China will hit U.S. exports hard if Trump goes through with a plan to impose tariffs on another $100 billion in Chinese imports. Chinese retaliation on such crops would be felt acutely in states such as North Dakota, Missouri and Montana that are crucial Senate battlegrounds this fall.”
Bannon worried Trump will cave to ‘donor class’ - NYT : “If Mr. Trump stands firm on $150 billion worth of tariffs he has threatened to impose on China, Mr. [Steve Bannon] said, he will fulfill the promise of his nationalist presidential campaign. If he retreats, because of either a hemorrhaging stock market or a rebellious Republican Party, he will demonstrate that the Trump movement was not much of a movement after all. ‘This is going to be a bumpy ride,’ Mr. Bannon said in an interview Monday. ‘I don’t think he’ll back off because of a couple of bad days in the stock market – and I do think he’ll have a couple of bad days.’”
TRUMP CANCELS SOUTH AMERICA TRIP TO OVERSEE SYRIA PLANS
Fox News: “President Trump is scrapping plans to travel this week to a summit in South America because of the situation in Syria, the White House said Tuesday. Trump had been scheduled to depart Friday for Peru before traveling to Colombia. ‘President Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogota, Colombia as originally scheduled,’ White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Sanders said Vice President Mike Pence will travel in Trump’s stead. Pence will only go to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, but will not go to Colombia. ‘The president will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world,’ she said. The announcement follows Trump on Monday calling the suspected chemical attack in Syria over the weekend ‘atrocious’ and saying the United States will make ‘major decisions’ about its response over the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Senators are creating a bipartisan plan to keep Trump’s war powers in check - Politico: “President Donald Trump would have broad authority to wage war against terrorists across the globe under a new proposal being crafted in the Senate — though Congress would win some key checks on his power. According to a summary obtained by POLITICO, the proposed bipartisan authorization of the use of military force would cover all terrorist groups that the United States is currently engaged with and do nothing to restrict operations against those groups. The authorization would also not restrict the president from taking immediate action against enemies in new hot spots, although all new conflicts would be subject to congressional reviews. No final decision has been made on the authorization’s language pending sign off from senators in both parties. But the summary reflects the latest thinking in a bipartisan effort to finally force Congress to vote on issues of war and peace.”
Bolton bumps Bossert out of homeland security gig - Reuters: “[President Trump’s] homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, has resigned, the president’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday, in the latest departure from the White House of a senior adviser. An administration official said Bossert, a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, had left at the request of Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, who began working in his post at the White House on Monday.”
PRUITT CHIEF OF STAFF TAKES THE HEAT ON DUBIOUS RAISES
Politico: “EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson is taking responsibility for controversial raises given to two of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s top aides. Pruitt has been under fire over a report in The Atlantic last week that he used special hiring authority to give hefty pay increases to two political appointees who joined EPA after working for him in Oklahoma. On Monday, the Atlantic cited two administration officials who said one of the employees had sent an email indicating that Pruitt had signed off on her new salary level. In a response to the latest report, Jackson distanced Pruitt from the salary decision. ‘Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me,’ Jackson said in a prepared statement Monday.”
PERINO PACKS A PUNCH
AP: “When Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg made the media rounds in advance of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony this week, it was a telling sign that Dana Perino was chosen to question her for Fox News Channel. The assignment speaks to Perino’s growing role at Fox, and a sense that sources are trusting her as an honest broker of information. Perino, who hosts an afternoon news hour and is a panelist on ‘The Five,’ is quietly persistent in a medium where bluster pays. She believes in homework at a time when ‘fake news’ is used as an epithet. She’s a Bush Republican in a Trump world. ‘My nature,’ said the former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, ‘is to try to show people that we may actually agree on things more than we think.’”
[Ed. note: I’ll tell you what, that lady is a darn good journalist. Luckily for her they did not ask about her taste in food, especially terrible truck stop candy.]
Trump company warns Panamanian president of ‘repercussions’ - WaPo
Cornyn, Thune facing leadership term limits ponder next moves - Politico
New Alabama Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith sets record for female senators at 23 - ABC News
Dems dig in for fights on farm bill, spending - Roll Call
Collins, Murkowski tell Trump to focus on next fiscal cliff, not the last one - WaPo
Wegmann: ‘Publius pulls the ripcord and Michael Anton bails out of ‘Flight 93’’ - WashEx
AUDIBLE: NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT…
“Are you gay? . . . I don’t give a s--t. I’m just curious. There are a lot of gays in Brighton, right?” – Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci in the opening of an interview with the Financial Times’ Edward Luce, who does hail from Brighton, England, but is not gay.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“In Monday's Note, you reference ‘liberty-minded conservatives.’ I haven't encountered that phrase before. Please provide a general definition. And dare I ask, are there corresponding liberty-minded liberals?” – Eleanor Parker, San Francisco
[Ed. note: Good catch, Ms. Parker! I wanted a category broader than “libertarian,” especially because that term comes with some additional political freight because of the party of the same name. Here we are talking about Madisonian kinds of conservatives who are mostly focused on restraining government power. And there most certainly are liberty minded folks on the left, too. The Bill of Rights has lots of defenders, but political orientation tends to dictate which components get the most attention. In fact, one of the central tensions in American liberalism today is between those traditional liberals who are primarily interested in preserving freedom of speech, freedom of expression and other personal liberties versus those who are more interested in social justice concerns. The two often don’t align well. Conservatives have a similar problem between those liberty-minded folks we mentioned and those who think a little extra authoritarianism is merited these days. Great question. Thank you for reading and taking the time to write.]
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MR. STINKY TRIUMPHANT
Australian Financial Review: “The Victorian Supreme Court has thrown out a [$1.4 million] on negligence case against a construction company, rejecting claims a manager farting at a subordinate amounted to workplace bullying. Justice Rita Zammit rejected allegations by retrenched contract administrator David Hingst from Melbourne firm Construction Engineering Australia that his supervisor repeatedly abused him, resulting in depression, anxiety and physical injuries equating to [$1.4 million] in damages. Among the series of claims, the administrator alleged his supervisor would regularly ‘lift his bum and fart’ on him or at him and that the behaviour progressed to the point where he would do it every day. Mr. Hingst said Mr. Short's behaviour was insulting and humiliating and that he had responded by buying a can of deodorant and spraying it over Mr. Short. On one occasion, he refused to step into a lift with Mr. Short and, when asked why, called him ‘Mr. Stinky.’”
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.