Freedom Caucus tries to put Ryan out to pasture

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

On the roster: Freedom Caucus tries to put Ryan out to pasture - Trump plays it safe with third V.A. pick - Banking records broaden Cohen investigation - Pelosi to play favorites in home state primaries - While the rest of you were eating Tide pods…

FREEDOM CAUCUS TRIES TO PUT RYAN OUT TO PASTURE
Springtime has been soggy in the east this year, but in much of farm country it has been too dry. The Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas, and other parts of the interior are in a bad way.

Industry experts estimate that about a third of the nation’s cow herd lives in a drought-stricken state. The worry now is that we will see a repeat of 2011 when summer thunderstorms failed to break up the pattern, leaving cattlemen, farmers, and consumers feeling the pinch.

But if you are a politician not from one of those states, you might not care so much. And if what you really wanted to do was get yourself booked on television so that you could run for House speaker or a higher office for your home state, those parched shorthorns wouldn’t mean much to you at all.

The big news in Washington today was that members of the House Freedom Caucus united to defeat a farm bill, backed by soon-to-be-former House Speaker Paul Ryan. It’s not that caucus members oppose the legislation itself. In fact, the reason they were able to kill the bill was that it had been made in their likeness.

Agriculture legislation in the United States has to do with a lot more than soybeans. One of America’s principle welfare benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, is a $70 billion behemoth that supplies more than 1 in 10 Americans with food. We call them “food stamps,” but by any name they are a key component of U.S. domestic policy.

Ryan wants to finish out his term as Speaker having said that he had done something about welfare reform. Frustrated by his own party in his efforts to make changes to underfunded entitlement programs, Ryan’s last shot to do something about big-ticket domestic spending is probably food stamps.

Populist Republicans like those in the Freedom Caucus and President Trump initially grumbled that Ryan wasn’t being tough enough on food stamp recipients, but seemed to accept that his administrative reforms were enough. They certainly were enough to lose every Democratic vote on what was traditionally bipartisan legislation.

The reason the farmers aren’t getting a new farm bill, though doesn’t have anything to do with farming or food, this is about breaking the Republican establishment’s back.

Freedom Caucus members said that they would not vote for the legislation unless Ryan brought forward their preferred bill on dealing with young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as minors. Their bill on the “DREAMers” probably could not pass the House and definitely could not pass the Senate. By forcing the vote, though, Freedom Caucus members hope to punish their fellow Republicans who take more moderate positions about those in the United States illegally.

These are votes that could be used against moderate Republicans in primaries or elections for other offices. The Freedom Caucus came up short in a bid to win a House primary in Ohio last week, but they’ll be back. This is how the 31-member group is trying to hold up the other 206 Republicans in the House.

Part of the problem here is Ryan’s decision to announce his departure but try to serve out the year. The Freedom Caucus and its leaders have plenty of time to extract desperate promises from Ryan’s designated successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Failing that, they will attempt to install one of their own, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, in his place.

Making this potboiler even more dramatic is that the other recent aim of the Freedom Caucus, impeding and discrediting the investigation into misconduct by members of Trump’s 2016 campaign apparatus, is heating up at the same time.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is doing his best to give Trump a reason to force out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Nunes and the rest of Trump’s team in the House have been pushing Rosenstein to disclose what he says is sensitive information that could damage this case and potentially others if exposed.

Without offering any evidence, Nunes said on “Fox & Friends” this morning that federal agents may have “set up” members of Trump’s campaign team. The suggestion that federal agents were trying to entrap the members of a political campaign into criminal wrongdoing is, needless to say, a very serious one. But then, making such an accusation without evidence would be very serious stuff, too.

But whether or not there was a “spy” doesn’t matter for the purposes of what Nunes is doing right now. Rosenstein has been playing along with Nunes’ demands up to the point that other, less determined intercessors for the president have been satisfied that no wrongdoing has occurred. But at some point, Rosenstein will flatly refuse Nunes, which could be just the pretext Trump would need to order Rosenstein to comply.

Rosenstein would then be obliged to quit. That way, Trump and his legal team (both inside and outside of Congress) could say that the president’s just interested in transparency and accountability, not impeding the investigation that has so dogged his administration.

Nunes suggests that Trump staffers may have been entrapped into canoodling with Russian agents, but what he was doing to Rosenstein certainly looks like entrapment itself.

Ryan and McCarthy, with the help of Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., have been trying to keep Nunes on some kind of a tether for months. Nunes needs Gowdy because for some unstated reason the intelligence committee chairman does not read the intelligence reports in the case provided to him. Instead, Gowdy reads them and briefs Nunes. It’s all impossibly weird. But the strange arrangement may be coming to an end.

Freedom Caucus members have been applying maximum pressure against the Justice Department for months. But, this moment with a lame-duck speaker, a designated successor worried about flopping the way he did when he tried to replace John Boehner and anxieties all over the conference about a possible midterm rout makes for a season of rich opportunity.

The other 206 republicans do not want to end up the way Rep. Robert Pittenger R-N.C. did last week when he lost to a primary challenger who deemed ultra-conservative Pittenger to have insufficient MAGA zeal. As the president has shown with Nunes booster Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla, in DeSantis’ bid for Florida governor, the president richly rewards those who are the most outspoken against the Justice Department.

The rest of the Republican conference has relied on the fact that Ryan and others could keep the investigation into the investigation from running afoul of decency and good standards, but few of them are likely to take a chance on appearing to be sympathetic to the “Deep State.”

The Farm Bill revolt doesn’t have anything to do with farmers. The intelligence committee has increasingly little to do with intelligence. And the legislative branch doesn’t seem to have much to do with legislation.

If you are a farmer waiting for help or certainty or a citizen hoping that we can find some way to maintain the rule of law while still holding powerful people to account, you will just have to wait until all of the ambitions of the member of the House are satisfied.

THE RULEBOOK: FROM THE GROUND UP
“Civil power, properly organized and exerted, is capable of diffusing its force to a very great extent; and can, in a manner, reproduce itself in every part of a great empire by a judicious arrangement of subordinate institutions.” - Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 13

TIME OUT: IT STAYS WITH YOU 
Live Science: “When a mosquito bites you, it doesn't just help itself to some of your blood — it also kindly gives you some of its spit in return. It's this saliva that's responsible for the irritating itch of a mosquito bite, thanks to a concoction of proteins found in it that people are slightly allergic to. Now, a new study in mice suggests that your immune system could react to these allergy-inducing proteins for up to a week, potentially explaining why an itchy bite lingers so long. … By analyzing blood bone marrow, skin and spleen cells from the mice, the researchers found that a number of immune cells remained active even seven days after the mice were bitten. This was the ‘most interesting’ part of the study — ‘that the effects lasted that long,’ said senior study author Rebecca Rico-Hesse, a professor of virology at the Baylor College of Medicine.”

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

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent 
Net Score: -12.2 points
Change from one week ago: up 0.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; CBS News: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average:
 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: CNN: 47% Dems - 44% GOP; CBS News: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Monmouth University: 49% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP.]

TRUMP PLAYS IT SAFE WITH THIRD V.A. PICK
WaPo: “President Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department's permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie. ‘I'll be informing him in a little while — he doesn't know this yet — that we're going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the veterans administration,’ Trump said at a Friday morning event at the White House that Wilkie attended. The president added that Wilkie has done ‘an incredible job’ as the acting secretary. As the crowd applauded the announcement, Wilkie stood to shake the president's hand, nodding his head as he did so. Wilkie then received a standing ovation. … Trump named Wilkie VA’s acting secretary in March, upon firing David Shulkin. Wilkie, 55, moved into the job from the Defense Department, where he was undersecretary for personnel and readiness.”

Administration moves against Planned Parenthood - NPR: “The Trump administration is reviving a rule that would deny federal family planning funds to organizations that provide abortions or abortion referrals. The rule is similar to one in place during the Reagan administration. The proposal was drafted by the Health and Human Services Department and is currently under review by the White House budget office. The proposed regulation would apply to Title X, the federal program that provides at least $260 million annually for contraception, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health services to millions of low-income people, according to the official, who asked not to be named. The rule change would put Planned Parenthood back in the crosshairs after repeated attempts by congressional Republicans to defund the family planning group, which provides abortions but says the federal money it receives does not go toward paying for the procedures.”

DOJ reins in judges in immigration cases - NYT: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive on Thursday that places limits on a tool commonly used by immigration judges and could put hundreds of thousands of deportation cases that are essentially closed back on federal court dockets. The move, issued in an interim decision, is unlikely to reopen all the cases. But Mr. Sessions said that immigration courts could not put such cases on indefinite hold by using a practice known as administrative closure, which temporarily removes a case from a judge’s calendar and delays a proceeding that could remove an immigrant from the country. … The Justice Department said Mr. Sessions’s opinion eliminated the ‘unfettered use’ of administrative closures and better aligned the immigration system with the rule of law.” 

President pressuring postmaster to punish Trump foe Bezos - WaPo: “President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars. Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission... She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries. Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon.”  

BANKING RECORDS BROADEN COHEN INVESTIGATION
WaPo: “The Treasury Department’s inspector general is expanding a probe into leaks of confidential reports about suspicious banking activity by Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, to include an uncorroborated allegation that some of those reports were mysteriously absent from a government database. The investigation began last week after Michael Avenatti, an attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, detailed transactions in which large firms with business interests before the U.S. government transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to Essential Consultants, a company controlled by Cohen. Several news outlets reported later that they had reviewed financial records detailing the transactions. The information appeared to come in part from a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR).”

Giuliani plans to prepare Trump for Mueller interview this summer - Politico: “Donald Trump’s lawyers have begun planning a series of summer prep sessions for the president before a possible sit-down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Thursday. The planning meetings — to be held during off-hours at the White House and perhaps over rounds of golf at Trump’s private courses, Giuliani said — will mirror the then-GOP nominee’s 2016 debate preparation, in which aides briefed an impatient Trump in several brief sessions over many weeks. Giuliani said the briefings likely will begin after Trump returns from a June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if a Mueller interview is agreed to.”

Manfort’s ex son-in-law reaches plea deal with DOJ - Reuters: “The former son-in-law of Paul Manafort, the one-time chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, has cut a plea deal with the Justice Department that requires him to cooperate with other criminal probes, two people with knowledge of the matter said. The guilty plea agreement, which is under seal and has not been previously reported, could add to the legal pressure on Manafort, who is facing two indictments brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort has been indicted in federal courts in Washington and Virginia with charges ranging from tax evasion to bank fraud and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner of Manafort, was divorced from Manafort’s daughter last August.”

PELOSI TO PLAY FAVORITES IN HOME STATE PRIMARIES
LAT: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation are going to put their thumbs on the scale in some key House primary races to make sure strong Democratic candidates are among the top two facing voters in the fall. ‘They may be subjected to criticism for that, but I’d rather be criticized for winning than criticized for losing,’ Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said. Under the state’s top-two primary system, the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes advance to the general election in November, regardless of party. Democrats fear that high numbers of primary hopefuls could split the vote and leave the party without candidates in high-stakes congressional races in November. … ‘This is not a reform, it is terrible, it prolongs the process. It costs more money ... it shuts out small parties. So, I don’t recommend this as a policy matter,’ she said.”

DCCC April fundraising tops last cycle - Roll Call: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $11.2 million in April, exceeding its monthly fundraising total at the same point last cycle. Nearly $3.1 million of the April haul came from online donations, with an average donation of $16, according to figures provided first to Roll Call. The $11.2 million total surpassed the $8.5 million the campaign arm of the House Democrats raised in April 2016. ‘The DCCC’s historic grassroots fundraising combined with incredible candidate fundraising will ensure that Democratic candidates have the resources to share their records of service with the voters who will determine control of the House,’ DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. The New Mexico Democrat said he still expected his party to be outspent by Republican outside groups.” 

Deportation bus tour breaks down - WashEx: “A spokesman for a candidate in Georgia’s race for governor says the politician’s ‘deportation bus’ broke down during its tour to promote a tough stance on immigration. GOP candidate Michael Williams says the bus will visit what he calls Georgia’s ‘dangerous sanctuary cities.’ The former state co-chair for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign says he wants to send people living in the country illegally ‘home.’ The candidate’s spokesman Seth Weathers says that water somehow entered the fuel tank, stopping the bus Thursday morning on the side of Interstate 75 in north Georgia. Weathers said the bus has been repaired and is continuing its tour. Tuesday’s upcoming five-candidate GOP primary appears headed for a runoff, though Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is seen as the front-runner.”

Livestream in Denny’s restroom turns ugly for House candidate - WashEx: “Republican Jazmina Saavedra, who is running for a House seat in California, accused a transgender woman of invading her privacy as she live streamed herself challenging the woman in a public restroom in Los Angeles. ‘I’m trying to use the ladies’ room and there is a man here claiming that he is a lady,’ Saavedra said in the Facebook Live video, filming just outside the bathroom stall in a Denny’s restaurant. ‘You’re invading my privacy,’ the transgender woman said in response. … Saavedra is running in the 2018 midterm election against Rep. Nanette Barragan for a seat representing California’s 44th District, which includes the cities of Compton, Watts, and San Pedro.” 

PLAY-BY-PLAY
WH cancels daily morning communications meetings after McCain insult comments - Fox News

Democrats advocate against bipartisan prison reform bill - Politico

States apply to receive resources from Congress’ election security upgrades Axios

Negotiations underway for legislation that would lower drug pricing - The Hill

$150,000 price tag for upcoming Trump fundraiser for clients of Chinese bank Bloomberg

Executive order mandates efficient energy for federal agencies - WashEx

AUDIBLE: THIS IS WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE WHEN MEMES DIE 
“I hear covfeve.” - President Trump delivered the kicker in an official White House video posted to social media that debated the viral ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’ controversy.  

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This weekend Chris will sit down with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and former Trump Campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. 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
“Hello Chris (and Dana), When did ‘Appa-lay-cha’ become ‘Appa-lah-cha?’ I heard you both say the latter on the podcast this week, which would have been the first time I had heard it that way but for a coal-mining documentary currently on Netflix that I watched just a few days ago.  Is it like when ‘Pack-is-stan’ suddenly became ‘Pok-is-ston’ a few years ago?  Or has my California accent just heard it wrong all this time?  I do want to be audibly correct so as not to seem insensitive should I have the good fortune to visit the region someday. Thanks for the great newsletter, and the podcast which I have quickly come to enjoy very much.” - Michael Grabowski, Mission Viejo, Calif.

[Ed. note: There’s a little town in New York named Apalachin that’s name is pronounced “App-a-lay-kin.” But it’s in the northern range of the Appalachian Mountains, which in that part of the country are pronounced “app-a-lay-chin.” But if I was there to visit the scene of the famous meeting of New York mobsters that took place in 1957 and someone asked me where I was from, I might reply that I was of Appalachian origins, pronounced “app-a-latch-in.” So I guess I can understand your confusion! The short answer is that its regional. Where I grew up, people did and sometimes still do talk about the Allegheny Mountains instead of the Appalachians, but that is now generally understood to only refer to the range that runs from central Pennsylvania down to just north of Roanoke, Va. (Some of the most glorious sights in the continent are in this section. Visit the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson national forests if you ever get the chance.) Going back to the roots doesn’t help either. The root word is a Spanish corruption of the name of an indigenous tribe, now known as the Apalachee. But in West Virginia, it’s “app-a-latch-a,” and since West Virginia is better than other places, that’s good enough for me!]

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

WHILE THE REST OF YOU WERE EATING TIDE PODS…
WHNT: “There's one Sylvania [Ala.] High School senior who is having an extra special graduation week. … Christian Townson will be graduating twice. ‘I am going to be able to walk here at Northeast Alabama Community College a day before I walk at my high school class at Sylvania High School,’ said Christian. He said it all started after his 9th-grade year. He and his parents found out that he could do dual enrollment at Northeast Alabama Community College while in high school, just to earn some extra credits. … After 3.5 years, Christian completed both high school and an associates program last December. … He was able to spend this past semester choosing the perfect college out of the 21 he applied for. He's also been offered more than $1.1 million in scholarships. … Christian said it was a tough decision, but he couldn't resist the Tide.”

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.