Donald from Washington, you're on the line

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On the roster: Donald from Washington, you’re on the line - I’ll Tell You What: Don’t outsmart yourself - Senate advances measure to protect Mueller - Pruitt admits knowing about disputed staff pay raises - **Wheezes**

DONALD FROM WASHINGTON, YOU’RE ON THE LINE
The realization that Congress is almost done for the year is sinking in here in Washington. It’s an election year and that means members in both parties are eager to avoid painful votes and to stay on the campaign trail and the fundraising circuit.

That means that the days, as Calvin and Hobbes would have said are just packed. And if you are escalating the news intensity in 2018 that’s like chugging Mountain Dew out of a beer bong.

With that in mind, how about some nuggets?

- Maybe there is more to come out that will shape our perceptions, but it’s hard not to feel very bad for Dr. Ronny Jackson. His career cratered in a single Scaramucci Unit, but he does not have Scaramuccian riches on which to recline. We will grant Jackson the benefit of the doubt that he brought compassion and patriotism to his decision to accept President Trump’s nomination to lead the Veterans Administration. Jackson could not have known just how ill-conceived and poorly executed that nomination would be, even if the doctor should have foreseen that his career was about to be vivisected.

- Trump was in rare form today as he returned to what had been his preferred medium for much of his career – call in guest to morning television and radio shows. The president talked himself into a little trouble about his ongoing legal difficulties but very evidently enjoyed being back in the saddle as a caller to “Fox & Friends.” It’s hard for most of us to understand, but Trump’s gusty calls to that show, other cable news morning shows, Howard Stern and other venues were an almost daily occurrence for Trump for many years. He evidently missed it. Listening to the president, it was impossible not to wonder how he is ever going to find someone willing to take on the agonies of the VA. Even with all of the administrations' problems, you can always find someone to take on the positions that carry enormous power and prestige. But getting someone to risk their livelihoods and reputations to go into government service is always hard, but for a thankless task like running the VA? Trump had better hope that there are saints among us or he will watch a key campaign promise vaporize before his eyes.

- One broadcast Trump will be sure to watch will be James Comey’s interview with our colleague Bret Baier this evening. Comey has rankled Trump during the former FBI director’s week long media blitz in service of Comey’s best-selling account of his struggle with the president. Tonight at 6 pm ET Comey can be assured that he will get a tough but fair examination by one of the best questioners in the business. In an appearance on CNN Wednesday Comey said he would be on a network “that thinks I should be in jail” in reference to his interview with Bret. That may have been a good bit of pandering to a live studio audience at a rival outlet, but we will assure the former director that he will get a full and fair hearing. Though, to be fair, unprepared or dishonest subjects of Bret’s interviews past have probably wished they could have been in protective custody.

- Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., is pushing a compromise on nominations. There is growing pressure from the president and his staunchest allies to abolish the 60-vote threshold for legislation in the Senate. There’s not much appetite right now to make such a change, but Lankford and other conservatives are looking for ways to speed things up in the Senate anyway. His proposal to cut down on the time for debate on nominations just cleared the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and is headed out for a vote. It might get enough Democratic support if it is seen as a way to take the pressure off of the filibuster.

- It is definitely getting wild but we are not sure how wonderful in the West Virginia Senate race. The Fox News Channel’s primary Republican debate in Morgantown is set for Tuesday and you can already feel the intensity level picking up. Former frontrunner Don Blankenship is trying to battle back after a sustained barrage from his competitors, negative press coverage and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If you were frontrunner Rep. Evan Jenkins or his competitor Attorney General Patrick Morrisey you would just be hoping that Blankenship’s time in the barrel doesn’t run out too soon. Both would probably be very happy to have the closing ten days of the campaign be a bonfire.

- From the don’t-mess-with-Texas file, former Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, has promised to pay back taxpayers the $84,000 he paid out in a secret settlement with a sexual harassment victim. Ever the keen-eyed lawyer Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to get to the front of the line. Abbott wants Farenthold to first pay the state of Texas the cost of holding a special election to replace the disgraced member.

- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was feeling fine talking to reporters, scoffing at the idea that he would have to reconsider his role if his party fails to retake the House this fall. “We’re not going to fall short of a majority, so I don’t really have to consider that,” he said. But it may not matter what happens this November for the current House Democratic team. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, increasingly a pariah in her own party, was forced to defend Hoyer after a recording of her deputy emerged trying to push a liberal candidate out of a Colorado House race. We suspect wholesale changes are in store for Democrats, whatever happens.

THE RULEBOOK: COMMIT TO MEMORY
“Although the absolute necessity of system, in the conduct of any business, is universally known and acknowledged, yet the high importance of it in national affairs has not yet become sufficiently impressed on the public mind.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 64

TIME OUT: TWO FOR ONE
Smithsonian: “April is both National Poetry Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, so a few years ago science writer Stephen Ornes dubbed it Math Poetry Month. If the words ‘math’ and ‘poetry’ don’t intuitively make sense to you as a pair, poet and mathematician JoAnne Growney’s blog Intersections… Growney casts a wide net on her blog, which begins with the words: ‘Mathematical language can heighten the imagery of a poem; mathematical structure can deepen its effect.’ Some poems she features, like ‘Geometry,’ use mathematical themes or images; some are by mathematicians or math students. Growney has also gotten interested in the mathematics of poetic forms and poetic forms that employ mathematics. Of course, sonnets and haiku are famous for employing strict counts on lines and syllables. But she is also interested in newer forms, often inspired by the constrained writing exercises of the French Oulipo group, which was founded by mathematicians and poets.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.8 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent 
Net Score: 
-13.6 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.4 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 44% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 39% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve - 57% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 39% approve - 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.2 percent
Democratic average: 47.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up one point
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% Dems - 39% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: DON’T OUTSMART YOURSELF
It's been a while since Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt have spoken and a lot has happened in the interim. Dana discusses her four days on the road, Chris reviews President Trump’s appearance on FOX & Friends and so much more. Plus, Dana answers your mailbag questions and Chris takes on Secretary of State trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

SENATE ADVANCES MEASURE TO PROTECT MUELLER

Politico: “The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday that would protect Robert Mueller's job, a bipartisan rebuke that came hours after President Donald Trump said he may try to influence the special counsel's Russia probe. The measure still faces stiff opposition from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has said he would not bring it to a vote in the full Senate. But the 14-7 committee vote indicates a growing appetite among GOP senators to pushing back against Trump as the president flirts with further involvement in the investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia and potential obstruction of justice. Every committee Democrat backed the bill, alongside four Republicans: Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. The vote followed an early Thursday warning by Trump that he might try to play a more direct role in the DOJ's inquiry.”

Sessions stands up for Rosenstein -
WSJ: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday he has confidence in his second-in-command, Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and approved high-profile raids this month of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney. ‘He works every day to do the job that he is called upon to do, that got dropped in his lap,’ Mr. Sessions said at a Senate hearing in response to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). ‘I have confidence in him.’ Mr. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, has drawn the ire of Mr. Trump, particularly after FBI agents raided the home, offices and hotel room of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, on April 9. The deputy attorney general approved the searches, according to people familiar with the probe.”

Judge will have outside counsel review evidence first -
 Business Insider: A federal judge on Thursday sided with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longtime lawyer, on the most significant issue in his case — and in doing so, she added another wildcard to the proceedings. US District Court Judge Kimba Wood said she would appoint a special master to initially review documents seized during the FBI's raids of Cohen's hotel room and office earlier this month to determine what falls under protected attorney-client privilege and what prosecutors could use against Cohen. Wood appointed Barbara Jones, a partner at Bracewell who specializes in white-collar litigation, as the special master. Jones, a former federal judge for the Southern District of New York, was not among the candidates submitted by either Cohen's team or the government.”

Trump acknowledges Cohen represented him in deal with porn actress -
 NPR: “President Trump acknowledged on Thursday that his longtime attorney Michael Cohen had ‘represented’ him in what he called the ‘crazy’ deal in which Cohen paid $130,000 to buy the silence of a porn actress just before the 2016 election. Trump's comments in an interview with Fox & Friends were the first time he has conceded his connection to Cohen's deal with Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, after Trump's marriage and the birth of his youngest son. Previously, Trump denied any relationship with Daniels and told reporters he wasn't aware that Cohen paid Daniels.”

Cohen to plead the fifth in porno suit -
NPR: “President Trump's longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a civil lawsuit brought by adult entertainer Stormy Daniels — a move that would prevent him revealing anything that could be used later by federal prosecutors. ‘Based on the advice of counsel, I will assert my 5th Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York,’ Cohen wrote in the filing in Los Angeles federal court. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution spells out the right of individuals not to be compelled to testify against themselves.”

Giuliani tries to make a deal for Trump interview -
NYT: “Rudolph W. Giuliani, the new head of President Trump’s legal team, met with the special counsel’s office on Tuesday as he tries to expedite the end of the far-flung inquiry into possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian officials, three people familiar with the meeting said. Mr. Giuliani declined to confirm whether a meeting took place. But the three people briefed on the sit-down — the first since the former New York City mayor joined the legal team last week — described it as a productive effort to reopen negotiations over a possible interview that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is seeking with the president. News of the meeting was first reported by The Washington Post. In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said that his goal in the coming days was to find out where Mr. Mueller stands, particularly as it relates to the credibility of James B. Comey…”

FOX POLL SHOWS VOTERS FEELINGS TOWARD DC POLITICIANS 
Fox News: “Over half of voters feel political leaders in Washington look down on them, and that feeling isn’t unique to just certain groups, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday. The poll asks voters if political leaders in Washington look down on ‘people like you.’ Fifty-five percent say yes, including roughly equal numbers of Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (54 percent), and independents (54 percent).  Whites (54 percent) and non-whites (57 percent) agree, as do those with a college degree (51 percent) and those without (57 percent). An even larger majority, 84 percent, says Washington leaders are out of touch with people like them. There’s also consensus on that across party, race, and education. … Meanwhile, 43 percent are happy with the direction of the country. That’s about where it was on the 100-day mark of the Trump administration (45 percent in April 2017). A 55 percent majority is dissatisfied with how things are going.”

Q Poll: Voters believe Comey over Trump -
Quinnipiac University: “American voters have a 30 - 41 percent negative opinion of former FBI Director James Comey, but they believe him more than President Donald Trump 54 - 35 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Believing President Trump more than Comey are Republicans 76 - 13 percent, white men 47 - 39 percent and white voters with no college degree, 47 - 40 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds. Every other party, gender, education, age and racial group backs Comey. American voters believe 53 - 35 percent that the Russian government has compromising information about President Trump. Only Republicans and white men don't believe this. White voters with no college degree are divided 45 - 46 percent. Trump should not fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, voters say 74 - 13 percent, including 59 - 25 percent among Republicans.”

PRUITT ADMITS KNOWING ABOUT DISPUTED STAFF PAY RAISES

Fox News: “Embattled EPA Director Scott Pruitt acknowledged in congressional testimony Thursday that he was aware of at least one of two controversial pay raises for members of his staff -- despite downplaying his knowledge of the move in a recent Fox News interview. When asked by Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Ill., about the pay raises and conflicting accounts, Pruitt responded, ‘I was aware ... one of those individuals was receiving a raise.’ Pruitt, testifying before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, said he had delegated authority for the raises. He said he authorized his chief of staff to sign off, but: ‘I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the process not being respected.’ Pruitt had originally told Fox News on April 4 that he didn’t approve the raises for fellow Oklahomans Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp and didn’t know who had. He claimed he had only learned of the raises the day before.”

It’s official: Pompeo confirmed as 70th secretary of State -
Fox News: “The Senate voted Thursday to confirm CIA chief Mike Pompeo as President Trump’s next secretary of state, ending a contentious nomination battle. Pompeo was confirmed on a 57-42 vote. All Republicans present voted to confirm Pompeo. Seven senators who caucus with the Democrats voted yes, including several in tight re-election contests, like North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly. After the vote, Pompeo was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a State Department spokesman said. The Senate also confirmed Richard Grenell, Trump's choice for ambassador to Germany whose nomination had been held up. Grenell, a former spokesman at the United Nations, was confirmed 56-42. Grenell's confirmation comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with the president at the White House on Friday. Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, replaces Rex Tillerson, the oil executive who was ousted by Trump last month.”

Dems press for more disclosure on CIA chief nominee - Roll Call: “The CIA will be providing senators with an opportunity to review more classified information about President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the agency in a secure room deep beneath the Capitol. But some senators are not convinced about the commitment to transparency about nominee Gina Haspel, the current deputy director who spent much of her career serving in clandestine capacities. Jaime Cheshire, the CIA’s congressional affairs director, wrote in identical letters sent late Tuesday to Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Ron Wyden of Oregon, that there would also be efforts to increase the amount of publicly available information. ‘Inaccurate public conjecture clouds the discussion and makes the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities more challenging,’ Cheshire wrote. … The three Democrats said in a joint statement that they were unsatisfied with the CIA’s response.”

Bush alumnus to be Trump’s pick for top policy post at State -
Bloomberg: “The Trump administration plans to nominate Paula Dobriansky, a senior diplomatic official under President George W. Bush, to the top policy job at the State Department, according to three people familiar with the decision. Dobriansky, a former special envoy for Northern Ireland and undersecretary of state for global affairs, will replace career diplomat Thomas Shannon, who announced his retirement earlier this year, according to the people, who asked not to be identified ahead of the public announcement.”

FREEDOM CAUCUS BOSS LAMENTS PLAY-IT-SAFE APPROACH
Vice: “The Republican Party has complete control over the federal government, and yet with six months to go before the November elections, they don’t have any ambitious plans to exercise that power other than to confirm a stable of conservative judges. Republican congressional leaders are no longer pushing any more signature reforms; no infrastructure, or entitlement reform, or welfare revamp, or an overhaul of the immigration system. … Some conservatives on the other side of the aisle agree: They see a party leadership more worried about taking controversial positions before the 2018 elections than focused on taking advantage of this rare moment of unified control of government. ‘It's all about political cover for perhaps those who are in more difficult districts,’ Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina told VICE News. ‘What the American people expect is that when given the opportunity that you actually run toward the finish line and you run through the tape, and what it seems like we're doing is coasting to a November election.’”

Ryan’s heir raises big bucks -
CNBC: “The Republican frontrunner in the race to fill House Speaker Paul Ryan's seat in Wisconsin's 1st District raised more than $250,000 during the first week of his campaign. Bryan Steil, who used to work as Ryan's legislative aide, announced the rapid fundraising haul in an email to supporters. ‘We came out of the gates hard,’ Steil said in the email. ‘In just one week, we have raised over $250,000 and received an outpouring of support from across the district that is incredibly encouraging. We are just getting started.’ A Steil campaign official confirmed the announcement to CNBC. Steil entered the fray after Ryan announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election to the seat he has held for two decades. The nonpartisan elections-analysis site Sabato's Crystal Ball called the race a ‘toss-up’ after the speaker's announcement.”

Primary fight could cost GOP in Minnesota - MinnPost: “In southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District — considered a must-win U.S. House race by both parties — Republicans and Democrats wrapped up their convention business in short order last Saturday. But they set the table for two very different election-year circumstances: the DFL quickly coalesced behind one candidate, and though Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed one candidate, they’ll get a months-long primary fight that could turn bitter and contentious. In Le Sueur on Saturday, Dan Feehan, a former Department of Defense official under Barack Obama, picked up the DFL endorsement following two rounds of voting by delegates, and a unanimous pledge of support from his main rivals. In Mankato, meanwhile, Republican activists met and endorsed Jim Hagedorn, the GOP candidate here in 2014 and 2016, on the first ballot. As expected, state Sen. Carla Nelson, his main rival, declared her intent to take the nominating decision to voters in an August 14 primary.”

THE JUDGE’S RULING: HOW DID TRUMP BOMB SYRIA?
This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano discusses war and the separation of powers: “Can the president legally use military force to attack a foreign land without a serious threat or legal obligation or a declaration of war from Congress? In a word: No. Here is the back story. The Constitution is clear that only Congress can declare war and only the president can wage it. Federal law and international treaties provide that -- short of defending the country against an actual attack -- without a congressional declaration of war, the president can only constitutionally use military force to repel an enemy whose attack on America is imminent or to defend U.S. citizens and property in foreign lands from foreign attack or in aid of an ally pursuant to a treaty with that ally. In the case of Trump's bombing Syria earlier this month, none of those conditions was met.” More here.

AUDIBLE: SOUNDS MORE LIKE SKEPTICAL
“We’ve heard different summaries of where [the administration] might be headed and we’re weighing in. We’re hopeful and cautiously optimistic.” – Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, regarding Congress reaching a deal on NAFTA.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“You had your Arizona election story about half right – which puts you pretty far ahead of the utterly contemptible portion of the media.  Special elections don’t mean a whole lot in terms of drawing voters. I’ve been around state politics for ummm… ever, it feels like. Been just watching for the last few years but it doesn’t get any more enjoyable.  But there WAS a time, I tell ya… Debbie Lesko wasn’t the most attractive candidate. Her service in the Legislature from the unfashionable West Side of the Valley of the Sun made her a juicy target for the sharpies in the hunt-and-peck section. She’ll do all right. Didn’t make too many mistakes during the run-up to the vote. The delegation looks to have dispatched Rep. David Schweikert to ‘help’ her bring it home. The thing the cool kids in the media usually didn’t point out was that Lesko’s opponent, who ran endless, earnest TV ads promising to save the thousands of poor sick people who would be abandoned under the mean Republicans, never once identified herself as a (hush now!) Democrat. Is that going to be a strategy going forward from Big Blue: ‘We’ll get them to vote for us unless they find out we’re Democrats, so shut up about it?’” Jack Lavelle, Phoenix

[Ed. note: Well Mr. Lavelle, half right is better than I can manage some days, so I will take it as a compliment. I would caution you, though, it’s exactly because special elections do not draw that many voters that they are worth watching. Midterm elections are substantial tests of partisan voter intensity, and if you want to know who is fired up check and see who is voting when regular folks take a pass.]

“Chris, I came to college in Temple Terrace, Florida in 1985 and spent my first weekend under hurricane evacuation.  Strange new territory for a boy who grew up in the Willamette Valley.  Over the past 33 years I've become very comfortable with our annual ‘spaghetti plots’ and how they do and do not add value.  I would not passionately lobby that one plot line is THE plot line, nor entirely dismiss the outliers, even though I have a decent handle on the difference between theoretically possible and highly probable.  The spaghetti plot helps us prepare for what is more or less likely to happen, and is useful only because there is no single model that shows us exactly what will happen.  The letters fussing with you over your use of this poll or that poll make me think of all of that. And, since I'm here, let me say thank you for the excellent tip on Boston Coolers, which my daughter and I tried this weekend.  I'll tell you what, if your readers wanna MAGA, let them spend less time fretting over political polls and more time pouring ginger ale over ice cream with people they love. Best wishes to you and yours.” – Keith Craig, Tampa, Fla.

[Ed. note: We should say, Mr. Craig, for those who may not know it that a “spaghetti plot” is a kind of visual interpretation of data that lets us compare many different sets. It’s called a spaghetti plot because lying next to each other on the graph, the lines tend to look like noodles. And they are particularly useful when talking about weather forecasts – this model goes up here, that model goes down here, this model stays flat, etc. And I associate myself wholly with your remarks about fuss. If we get fixated on one piece of information we tend to blind ourselves to the rest. We often quote here George Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” And nothing is that more true than in polling data. But I particularly want to send hosannas over your embrace of the Boston cooler, the far superior cousin of the root beer float. As with many things in my life, I owe Bill Hogan, the sage of Ohio County, for introducing me to that delight.]

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**WHEEZES**
Austin American Statesman: “Not all of us will run a marathon in our lifetime. Or a half marathon, even. Or a 10K. Nope, not a 5K. But now there’s a running event for those who never thought they could say, ‘I can’t. I have my race that day.’ An Antonio neighbor Boerne has announced it will host a .5K, or a .31 mile-race, May 5. The Facebook page for the event reads, ‘Underachievers welcome!’ and boasts a ‘doughnut and coffee hydration station.’ The page estimates the event will last ‘like 10 minutes’ and promises finishers a sticker for their car, beer and a medal. The race also offered participants a VIP option for an additional $25 that would not require them to run at all. VIP ’runners’ get a larger medal. The event’s website was updated on Apr. 18 to announce that the race is full and no longer accepting sign ups. Don’t let that keep you from your dreams! You can go out and walk .31 miles right now. Or spring for VIP and stay right where you’re at.”

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.