Country roads, take us home

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

On the roster: Country roads, take us home - Time Out: Urp - Abortion fights flare ahead of midterms - Williamson: When the Twitter mob came for me - When a Post-it just won’t do 

COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE US HOME 
It’s a sunny Friday here in Washington, so how about some news nuggets to ease your way into the weekend?

-
 It’s said that House Speaker Paul Ryan is getting heartburn over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s resistance to the House plan to push through a second wave of the GOP tax cut plan – some new cuts and a measure to make the rates for middle-income earners permanent. The WaPo reports that the objection in the Senate is that having the vote now would give red state Democrats a do-over on their initial opposition to the plan, blunting the effect of tens of millions of dollars in attack ads. What could be more Washingtonian than not wanting to take a vote on an issue because too many members of the opposition would side with you?

The latest edition of The Economist has some stern words for Republicans about the degree to which their party is becoming a cult of personality. The magazine’s cover features the GOP elephant morphing into the face of an angry President Trump. The piece rightly acknowledges the degree to which the trend was in place in both parties long before Trump, though lets Barack Obama and his acolytes off too easily for their worshipful ways. But the dangers outlined – policy incoherence, erosion of limits on presidential power and worsening political tribalism – are unquestionably real. “Speaking to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 George Mason put it best,” the piece says. ‘Shall that man be above [justice], who can commit the most extensive injustice?’” That’s good to remember, whichever party is power.

From the West-Virginia-is-the-best-Virginia files: “FOX News Channel (FNC) will launch the America’s Election Headquarters 2018 midterm election series, the network announced today. Kicking off the series will be a West Virginia GOP Senate primary debate held on Tuesday, May 1st with co-moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum at the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown, West Virginia from 6:30-7:30PM/ET. Candidates who reach a threshold of 10% in a FOX News poll released next week will be invited to participate in the debate. On Thursday, June 28th, FNC will partner with the Florida GOP to host a Republican gubernatorial primary debate in Orlando, Florida. Again, Baier and MacCallum will co-moderate the event live from the Gaylord Palms Resort in front of a live audience. Candidate entry will be based on state polling.”

Republicans worried about how picking the wrong candidate in the West Virginia Senate primary may be looking at the wrong Virginia. Corey Stewart has to be considered the frontrunner in the fight for the chance to take on incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine. Stewart gained fame first with his hardline immigration policies as a county executive and then with his bloody minded primary fight against Ed Gillespie in last year’s gubernatorial contest. Liberty University hosted a debate between Stewart, who has the support of the university’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., and his two rivals this week. One state delegate, Nick Freitascomplained that Stewart campaign operatives had been making fun of Freitas’s last name, saying it sounded like something from “Taco Bell’s dollar menu.” Here was Stewart’s response, “I pledged to run a vicious and ruthless race against Tim Kaine in November. You know why? Because he’s going to run one against us. And if all it takes is to make a little bit of fun of your name by some supporters out there of mine, if that’s all it takes to get under your skin, you’ve got some major problems if you were ever to get this nomination. I don’t think you’re gonna do it, but if you did, he’s going to eat you up, spit you out.”

In the latest bit of 1970s nostalgia in Washington, Democrats are replicating one of their Watergate-era gambits and bringing civil suit over the break-in of their email servers in 2016. This is a political, not a legal note, but even we know that this case will prove trickier than the one of four decades ago since the primary target of the suit is the sovereign state of Russia. Courts tend to take a dim view of trying to sue countries. But one imagines the real intent here is to, of course, get some publicity and also to further multiply the legal woes of President Trump, his administration and his campaign. 

Perhaps you can tell us, dear readers, why you think Republicans were so danged eager to get James Comey’s memos out? The former FBI director’s media blitz was already starting to droop a bit as he continues his assault on every greenroom from New York to Washington to Los Angeles. When you’re platooning with Wu Tang Clan for couch space and coming up short, you may have reached the point of super-saturation. Republicans have developed a strategy to provide air cover for the president in his long-running struggle against the scandals that occasionally engulf his White House. By raising a stink on Capitol Hill about what they say is a secretive and unaccountable Department of Justice, congressional Republicans bolster Trump’s defense teams’ efforts to discredit prosecutors. Sometimes it works, as it has in the case of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe but this time it seems to have backfired. 

Is Rudy ready? President Trump’s addition of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the presidential defense team raised lots of eyebrows in Washington. When last we saw much of Giuliani he seemed out of sorts, a perception reinforced by the presidential transition that not only rejected Giuliani for his preferred post of secretary of state but left the high-ranking Trump booster without any spot at all. But there’s no denying Giuliani’s credentials. As the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a highly effective prosecutor and a cagey politician, Giuliani might very well be the best man for the job. Certainly, the president’s team needs help in communicating its message, which often comes out in turns as confused and paranoid. We will soon find out which vintage of Giuliani the president has hired. 

The gentrification of American politics continues apace with the addition of Republican megadonor Foster Friess to the Wyoming gubernatorial race. This should be an easier lift for Friess an investment wiz with a net worth of more than $500 million, than his flash-in-the-pan flirtation with a Senate run last year. Incumbent Gov. Matt Mead is term-limited and the primary looks at least to be competitive. State Treasurer Mark Gordon might have been as close to a favorite as there is for the Aug. 21 Republican primary. And the primary winner will be a shoo-in this fall. Those who criticize rich men and women who look to use their wealth to obtain political power should bear a couple of things in mind. First, it may be better if they’re seeking office in their own rights as opposed to pulling strings behind the scenes. Second, this is hardly a new development. 

NASA has a new administrator now that former-Rep. Jim Bridenstine won Senate confirmation this week. But that is not the biggest news in space exploration. The agency is preparing to start accepting bids on its lunar “gateway” program aimed at turning our moon into a staging area for the missions of the future. The government will start spending money on power and propulsion elements early next year with the goal of having a platform orbiting the moon by 2025. Zoom!

NYT reporter Amy Chozick has done outstanding work for many years in her efforts to cover Hillary Clinton’s career. A tenacious and fair-minded reporter, Chozick is out with a new book that looks to be quite useful in understanding how Clinton collapsed in her second presidential run. The Times has an appetizing tease from the book in which she shares the moment that Clinton’s campaign manager told the candidate that she was going to lose. “I knew it. I knew this would happen to me,” Clinton said. “They were never going to let me be president.” Double woof. Clinton’s tendency toward self-pitying conspiracy theorizing has always been one of her least attractive traits. Before today’s Republicans were squawking about the evils of the “Deep State,” Clinton was all about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her and her husband. American politics needs more happy warriors on both sides, please.  

THE RULEBOOK: TASK AND PURPOSE
“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” – Alexander Hamilton or James MadisonFederalist No. 57

TIME OUT: URP
Smithsonian: “It’s equally sobering to note that carbonated beverages are outlawed on the International Space Station. Gas bubbles in a carbonated drink don’t act the same as on gravity-rich Earth. Instead of floating to the top, the bubbles lie there, evenly distributed in the liquid. Maybe that’s just as well. The drink would be a frothy mess. To rework the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ the head on a brewski poured from a tin can far above the world would float in a most peculiar way. How peculiar? Tristan Stephenson, author of The Curious Bartender, has speculated that the bubbles in this slop would ‘flocculate together into frogspawn-style clumps.’ Frogspawn would make a great craft beer name, if it isn’t one already. And though weightlessness might make falling off one’s bar stool safer, as the British magazine New Scientist once delightfully explained, ‘without gravity to draw liquids to the bottoms of their stomachs, leaving gases at the top, astronauts tend to produce wet burps.’ It ain’t easy to belch in outer space.”

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

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent 
Net Score: 
-14 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.8 points 
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 39% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approval - 55% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval - 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 52% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 46.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 5 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.8 points  
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 46% Dems - 43% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP.]

ABORTION FIGHTS FLARE AHEAD OF MIDTERMS

WaPo: “Mississippi’s governor just signed a law, more restrictive than in any state, banning abortions after 15 weeks. Iowa’s state Senate is trying to go even further and stop abortions at around six weeks. And 20 Ohio legislators have proposed outlawing all abortions, even if the woman’s life is in danger. In many state capitols, Republican lawmakers are backing unusually strict antiabortion laws. Many are emboldened by President Trump, who has been more supportive of their agenda than any president in decades. Conservative lawmakers also are eager to get more restrictions on the books in case November’s elections bring a surge of Democrats hostile to them. Federal courts have immediately blocked many of these antiabortion laws, including Mississippi’s. But they still have a purpose: to set up legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, at a time when Trump could appoint the justice who helps overturn it.”

Trump makes support for Blackburn Twitter official - 
AP: “President Donald Trump has endorsed Marsha Blackburn in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee. Trump tweeted Thursday that the sitting congresswoman is a ‘wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her.’ Trump added that she's great on his key issues of the military, border security and crime and works hard for the people of Tennessee. Trump said, ‘I will be there to campaign with her!’ He did not announce any dates. Blackburn initially faced a challenge from former Republican U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher in the August GOP primary, but he left the race earlier this year. Blackburn currently faces token GOP opposition. The seat became open when incumbent Sen. Bob Corker, a Trump critic, announced his retirement.”

Blankenship continues to self-fund his Senate campaign - [W. Va.] Metro News: “Former coal executive Don Blankenship has been writing big checks to his campaign and then spending the money almost as quickly. Blankenship’s most recent campaign finance report was made available Friday morning by the Federal Election Commission. Blankenship, who remains on supervised release for his sentence on a coal mine safety conspiracy charge, is part of a crowded and competitive Republican primary. He stands out, not only because of his controversial background, but because he can write his own checks. Blankenship’s quarterly filing showed that he has loaned his campaign $2,015,000. The campaign reported only one other donation — $1,000 from a North Carolina resident. Blankenship’s campaign had $214,229 cash on hand after the reporting period, which ended March 31. Before the period began, the campaign had $146,490.”

And Renacci appears to be doing the same - cleveland.com: “Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci's U.S. Senate campaign announced he and his allies had raised slightly more than $4.5 million , an eye-popping amount, since he jumped in the race in January. As it turns out, $4 million of that was Renacci's own money, according to a newly available federal campaign finance filing. A document summarizing Renacci's fundraising for the first three months of 2018 also shows he brought in $257,000 in contributions, of which about $101,400 came from political action committees. An affiliated committee raised another $253,000, and Renacci also seeded his Senate campaign with about $223,400 from his now-dormant congressional campaign.”

Tiberi makes endorsement for his old House seat - Columbus Dispatch: “Former Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi will endorse state Sen. Troy Balderson of Zanesville on Friday in the May 8 primary to pick the GOP candidate for Tiberi’s old seat in central Ohio. … In the ad, Tiberi says, ‘I want our next congressman to be worthy of the job. That’s Troy Balderson. Troy’s a conservative fighter who’ll stand for what is right, not what’s easy. … Tiberi’s old campaign committee paid for the TV spot."

Hawley comes up short in fundraising against McCaskill - Kansas City Star: “Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is the only Senate candidate President Donald Trump has helped with fundraising, but Hawley still only managed to raise less than half the amount raised by the Democrat he hopes to unseat, Sen.Claire McCaskill. Hawley reported raising $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2018, according to paperwork his campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission. That total includes $1.29 million in contributions plus $206,220 transferred from the Trump fundraiser and other authorized committees in March. McCaskill raised $3.9 million during the same time period. Hawley has $2.12 million in the bank, compared to McCaskill’s $11.5 million.”

Republicans team up to block Rorabacher -
 Orange County Register: “A GOP congressional candidate running against Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has withdrawn from the crowded race just six weeks before the Primary Election in an effort to consolidate GOP votes behind the congressman’s top intra-party opponent, Scott Baugh. If Baugh, the former chair of the county GOP, siphons enough Republican votes from Rohrabacher in the June 5 top-two primary, it’s possible the two men could both advance to the November ballot, leaving Democrats without a candidate in the General Election even if, as a group, they get more votes than the GOP candidates. ‘If I were to stay in the race, Scott would have had a much harder time to be able to make it to the (November) runoff against Dana and win,’ said businessman candidateStelian Onufrei, who announced his withdrawal at a Thursday morning press conference. ‘I believe that Scott is a much better choice than Dana.’”

WILLIAMSON: WHEN THE TWITTER MOB CAME FOR ME
WSJ: “What matters more is the issue of how the rage-fueled tribalism of social media, especially Twitter, has infected the op-ed pages and, to some extent, the rest of journalism. Twitter is about offering markers of affiliation or markers of disaffiliation. The Left shouts RACIST!, and the Right shouts FAKE NEWS! There isn’t much that can be done about this other than treating social media with the low regard it deserves. But when it comes to what appears in our newspapers and magazines, some of the old rules should still apply. …Do the work, ask the questions, give readers a reason to assume that what’s published adheres to some basic standards of intellectual honesty. To do otherwise is to empower those who dismiss the media as a tangle of hopeless partisan opportunism. Without credible journalism, all we have is the Twitter mob, which is a jealous god. Jealous and kind of stupid.” 

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Paul continues to stiff arm Pompeo - Politico

Jim Jordan
 gets nudged to run for speakership - The Hill

McConnell shifts focus to prioritize confirmation of conservative judges - Politico

Diamond & Silk, will testify to House Judiciary Committee next week - Daily Beast

Schumer introduces legislation to decriminalize marijuana NPR

U.S. Trade Representative advocates withdrawing from NAFTA before new pact is ready - Politico

Kushner Cos. subpoenaed by feds for false documents - AP

EPA IG to investigate Pruitt’s travels - Reuters

AUDIBLE: ISWYDT
“Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well!” – Then-first lady Barbara Bush in a 1990 commencement speech at Wellesley College. The speech had become an enormous controversy because of feminist students’ protests that Bush was undeserving of the distinction since she had not earned her prominence by her own right. Instead, her remarks were considered an enormous triumph. R.I.P.

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

EXCLUSIVE: Chris Wallace sits down with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace ahead of his state visit to the United States. 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 am a young man, but even I can recall a time when it felt like: despite our disagreements, we were all Americans, and we may debate at town hall, but we were all going to the mom-and-pop diner together afterwards. This country has lost that and it isn’t recoverable.  It is my personal view that the extremes of the progressive movement have alienated the conservative, who really hasn’t moved any further right.  We cannot find common ground anymore without compromising too much of our own viewpoints. Nancy Pelosi is the last real holdout of the old blue guard – what a time when Republicans consider her preferable simply because she is a known quantity and still seems to have some standards of decency. The Ellisons, Harrises, Warrens of the legislature – their rhetoric is incendiary and I fear one day will push their followers into more than a street protest.” – Sean White, Trinity, Fla.

[Ed. note: I hear you, Mr. White. And there is no doubt that the level of invective on the left runs pretty hot. But I would encourage you to search your own heart first. There is plenty of blame to go around with what’s wrong with civil discourse in America. Lord almighty there is. But I think you let conservatives off too easily by suggesting the misconduct in their ranks is the unavoidable result of even worse behavior among liberals. I have found through hard-bought experience that the first, best thing to do in the face of troubles with another person or people is to check my conduct first. Only when I am quite sure that I have acknowledged, been accountable for and sought to remedy my own failings can I with a clean conscience and clear eyes address the deficiencies of my fellow man. I think this is true in politics just as it is in the rest of life. Even when we do not think that our failings are commensurate, we are obliged to take our own inventory first. Both sides are guilty of rhetorical excesses and both sides are in the habit of questioning patriotism and humanity of the other. It is not useful, particularly to try to establish who fired the first shot because we can always stretch the timeline a little longer to take in some earlier transgression that tends to shift the blame. It may be helpful for you to think in less tribal terms, and instead of considering yourself a soldier in battle with another army to consider yourself as one person, and arrange your conduct accordingly. If we forget the humanity of others, we tend to forget it of ourselves. And I would most of all encourage you to be of good cheer. You write in very dire terms in how decency will not be restored. But remember our endeavor is not to restore what was old and good but rather to make ourselves anew while maintaining the verities of the past. I have courage because I have faith.]

“Love the Halftime Report and could not agree more on the undesirability of settling issues through the internet mob. However, I wonder if you’ve joined the mob, if only in a tiny way, by stating that ‘If any of your friends ever tell you that racism is not a thing, just tell them about the two guys who showed up early for a meeting getting arrested.’ But was this really a case of racism? Perhaps my judgement is affected by an incident I witnessed while on vacation in Daytona Beach a few weeks ago. While in a Starbucks I noticed a man sitting at a table who later asked to use the bathroom, which was kept locked. The manager stated that the bathroom was for paying customers only and proceeded to ask him to leave. After refusing quite vocally for a while, the man finally acquiesced to the manager’s firm and persistent request. I have no doubt that had he continued to refuse, a call to the police would have been the next step (although I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to result in an arrest). Was racism in play here? I doubt it as the man was white and reasonably dressed and the manager was female and white. My only point is that we need to wait for all the facts to come out and not make conclusions based on the race of the parties involved and a video showing only the final result but none of the prelude.” – Russ Kiekhaefer, Midland, Mich. 

[Ed. note: One of the dangers about the internet mob is that it tends to turn us into moral imbeciles. I’m more than willing to be found wrong in this instance, but based on the accounts of the individuals involved, the company and the police department, this one was a pretty clear cut case of bias. Unlike the case in your experience, the men were apparently not being troublesome. The amount of hostility, the summoning of the police, the arrests and all of the context here suggest something at work more than just store policy. You may think differently than I do, and that is certainly okay. The two of us can hold different perspectives on the subject reached through our own reasoning and an examination of our own values. What the new, situational ethical code of the mob does, though, is to encourage people to leave their own reason and beliefs aside in favor of joining the throng. If we wait to decide what is right or wrong based on what is popular or unpopular – morality by plebiscite – we will end up under a new kind of oppression. The reason we have ethical standards is the same reason we have a Constitution. What’s good and right may well be unpopular. Having rules helps keep us honest.] 

“Hello Halftime Report Team, The last time an incumbent President did not run for re-election alongside his incumbent Vice President was FDR in 1944. I was wondering what the possibility of President Trump replacing Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket was? And if Trump did in fact replace Pence, who with?” – Mason Rutgers, Lynden, Wash.

[Ed. note: I confess that I had not even considered such a possibility. And now I wonder what you think Trump would have to gain by dumping Pence? The vice president’s adoring gaze and fulsome flattery of the president are important to Trump not just on a personal level but as a way to keep conservative Christians in the tent despite various outrages that might have otherwise softened their support. Pence’s plain-vanilla consistency is also a reassurance to congressional leaders. If Trump were to throw Pence over, he would immediately face serious anxiety from the right wing of the Republican Party. Replacing Pence with someone more dynamic would also risk friction on the campaign trail since Trump makes no secret of the fact that he wants to be the star of the show. I suppose if Trump sees himself in big enough trouble with female voters he might decide to swap Pence out for Nikki Haley or another female conservative, but it’s hard to imagine that the disruption would be worth the trouble. Pence is a prodigious fundraiser, tireless campaigner and absolute party man.] 

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

WHEN A POST-IT JUST WON’T DO 
KSHB: “Adam, you need to empty the dishwasher. Neighbors in the area of W. 103rd Street and Sagamore Road in Leawood [Kan.] sent 41 Action News a picture of a sign in the front yard of a house at the corner of the intersection. The sign, in all caps, reads: ‘ADAM, EMPTY THE DISHWASHER!’ … The owner of the house couldn’t immediately be reached, but a neighbor told 41 Action News that Adam lives at the house with a couple other young men. Interestingly, the neighbor said it’s usually Adam who is out doing yard work at the house, so she was surprised to learn he wasn’t as tidy inside the house. But the neighbor says the roommates are the ones who don't do much and rely on Adam to do everything, including emptying the dishwasher. The neighbor said Adam usually comes home around noon for lunch. Hopefully he’ll also empty the dishwasher.”

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.