Another black eye for House GOP

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On the roster: Another black eye for House GOP - Trump rebukes NATO allies at dedication ceremony - CBO score tough medicine for GOP on ObamaCare cuts - I’ll Tell You What: That’s a good lookin’ bear! - Texas gonna Texas

It seems like every day, Republicans wake up and say, “Now what?”

The answer today was a doozy.

Who would have thought that the cowboy poet who played gigs at a nudist camp would have ended up looking like the normal one in today’s special election for Montana’s at-large House seat?

Democrat Rob Quist may have strummed Sons of the Pioneers covers for bare-bottomed Montanans, but at least he never threw a reporter to the ground and punched him.

The queasy looks on the faces of House Republicans when they were asked about the conduct of their prospective colleague, Greg Gianforte, said it all. Whenever you find yourself explaining why you want the guy charged with assaulting a reporter to win the election, it is not your favorite Thursday ever.

Gianforte, who lost his 2016 bid for governor, was favored to win today, even though the limited polling available suggested the race was closer than Republicans would have liked. Gianforte devoted a big chunk of his personal fortune to the bid and outside pro-GOP groups have poured money into the race.

And with much of the vote already cast through mail-in ballots, Gianforte may still win, despite his bizarre behavior.

How bizarre was it? It would be one thing for a candidate to throttle and hit a reporter, but to do so in the presence of other journalists, in this case a crew from the Fox News Channel, is just plain reckless. Then his campaign put out a statement essentially defending his actions and putting the blame on the “liberal journalist,” Ben Jacobs, but did so knowing that there would be a recording of the incident released.

Whether police listen to the damning audio or not, we don’t know. But we do know that the local sheriff, himself a donor to Gianforte’s campaign, felt strongly enough about it to go ahead and arrest the Republican nominee.

Now, state newspapers are withdrawing their endorsements of Gianforte and some are calling for him to withdraw himself from the race. But Gianforte, at least so far, is trying to hold the line of describing himself as the real victim here, leaving House Speaker Paul Ryan reduced to suggesting today that Gianforte should at least offer an apology.


Republican queasiness is compounded because a loss in Montana, especially given the bad signs for the party coming from suburban Atlanta about the June 20 special election there, could be the thing that sets off a stampede.

Donors, members mulling retirement and others GOPers weighing whether to jump back from their party’s embattled legislative agenda will be watching closely. And while a Democratic upset in Montana might now be partly attributed to a colossally bad GOP nominee, it will still come as a harbinger of a 2018 wipeout.

The thing about wave elections is that its only really when the party in power comes to believe one is coming that the whitecaps really start forming. Today could be the day that Republicans in Congress start hearing the ocean’s roar.

“The inordinate pride of State importance has suggested to some minds an objection to the principle of a guaranty in the federal government, as involving an officious interference in the domestic concerns of the members.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21 

Hyperallergic: “Which color would you rather paint your kitchen: Burf Pink or Rose Colon? You can probably rule out Gray Pubic, while Stoner Blue could be a chill choice. Those are some of the paint swatch options generated by a neural network programmed by Janelle Shane, a research scientist who plays with machine-learning software when she has some spare moments. Shane posted the results of her experiment on her Tumblr earlier this week, where she explains that she fed a learning algorithm a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint color names and their RGB values… But Shane’s results, for the most part, suggest that companies may want to leave AI out of the christening process for now. Below, you can see how her neural network gradually trained itself to produce colors, improving in spelling over time, but often producing less-than-appealing names, like Sindis Poop, Bank Butt, and Turdly.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -15.6 points
Change from one week ago: +1.2 points

I’ll Tell You What… there is never a dull moment these days. In a wide ranging podcast Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the terror attack in Manchester, England, the current state of the American Health Care Act and the Melania Trump of West Virginia black bears. Plus a round of “presidential firsts” trivia! LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

LAT: “President Trump used his first NATO meeting to rebuke member nations who fail to meet the trans-Atlantic alliance’s defense spending target, saying American taxpayers unfairly are left to pick up the slack. Speaking at dedication ceremonies for NATO’s new headquarters, Trump noted that the defense budgets of 23 of the 28 members don’t meet a target equal to 2% of each respective nation’s economic output, while the United States has spent more on defense in eight years than the other 27 combined. ‘Many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years,’ he said. ‘We have to make up for the many years lost.’ By his scolding, Trump was directly delivering to NATO allies the criticism that was a staple of his nationalist campaign for president. But his lecture came at an event intended to be celebratory, showcasing unity and resolve for the nearly 70-year-old alliance: the dedication of its shining, glass-enclosed new headquarters in Belgium’s capital.”

Trump orders probe into leaks on Manchester bombing -
WaPo: “President Trump on Thursday denounced U.S. leaks about Britain’s investigation of the Manchester terrorist bombing and ordered the U.S. Justice Department and other agencies to launch a full investigation. In a statement issued amid meetings in Brussels with leaders of NATO member nations, Trump responded to British outrage over the leaks by calling them ‘deeply troubling’ and vowing to ‘get to the bottom of this.’ He added: ‘The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Brits shut down intelligence sharing - BBC: “Police investigating the Manchester Arena bomb attack have stopped sharing information with the US after leaks to the media. UK officials were outraged when photos appearing to show debris from the attack appeared in the New York Times. It came after the name of bomber Salman Abedi was leaked to US media just hours after the attack, which left 22 dead. Theresa May said she would tell Donald Trump at a Nato meeting that shared intelligence ‘must remain secure’. The US's acting ambassador to the UK ‘unequivocally condemned’ the leaks in a BBC radio interview.”

Obama trolls Trump: ‘We can’t hide behind a wall’ - NYT: “The former president basked in the affection of Berliners and returned the favor on Thursday during an appearance with the German chancellor, endorsing Mrs. [Angela Merkel]’s refugee policies as she seeks a fourth term. In the process, he took a swipe at his successor. ‘We can’t hide behind a wall,’ Mr. Obama said when discussing the difficulties of leading nations through war, peace, migration and climate change. His remark seemed clearly aimed at Mr. Trump, who has vowed to build a wall along the United States border with Mexico. Mr. Trump was not mentioned once during the 90-minute Obama-Merkel appearance.”

WaPo: “Fifty-one million people would be uninsured within a decade under the House Republicans’ health-care plan. That not only reverses all the coverage gains made under the Affordable Care Act, but also leaves a million more people uninsured than at the height of the recession. … Those numbers come from an analysis of the American Health Care Act released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, almost three weeks after the House narrowly passed the bill. The report paints a coverage-loss picture that is similar to that of bill's withdrawn predecessor. … Some of the loss-of-coverage increase over current law comes from amendments in the bill allowing states to opt out of key ACA provisions such as protections for people with preexisting conditions. The CBO predicted that states accounting for about half the U.S. population would take advantage of these, and similar, opportunities to roll back the ACA.”

Preexisting conditions finding hits close to home for Freedom Caucus head - IJR: “The CBO analysis was likewise adamant that AHCA's current high-risk pool funding isn't enough to cover sick people if states use the mandate waivers. After reading the paragraph, [Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)] told reporters he would go through the CBO analysis more thoroughly… Meadows, suddenly emotional, choked back tears and said, ‘Listen, I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it’s me. I’m not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody’s sister or father because I wouldn’t do it to myself.’ … Meadows indicated he would support less-conservative changes to provide more funding for high-risk pools in the Senate, if needed.”

Mulvaney says it’s about jobs, growth - PBS: “On Thursday, budget director Mick Mulvaney testified to Congress on President Donald Trump’s budget. ‘Every single time I’m in the Oval Office with the President, whether it’s on budgets, tax policy, trade policy, energy policy, regulatory policy, those discussions are driven by one goal and one goal only: How do we get America back on track in the economy,’ he told lawmakers. Congress’ official budget analyst is projecting that the House Republican health care bill would produce 23 million more uninsured people and costly, perhaps unaffordable coverage for the seriously ill. The Congressional Budget Office report, issued Wednesday, also found that average premiums would fall compared with President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, a chief goal of many Republicans.”

NYT: “American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. … The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.”

Manafort stayed in contact with administration on Russia probe - Politico: “Manafort had been forced to resign as Trump’s campaign chairman five months earlier amid scrutiny of his work for Kremlin-aligned politicians and businessmen in Eastern Europe. But he had continued talking to various members of Trump’s team and had even had at least two conversations with Trump, according to people close to Manafort or Trump.”

Team Trump ready to fight - Axios: “West Wing officials are prepping for a years-long war with investigators and the bureaucracy, with plans to beef up legal, surrogate, communications and rapid-response teams as part of a ‘new normal’ for President Trump — besieged. ‘The White House is embracing the fight, which is going to last as long as Donald Trump is president,’ said a Trump ally familiar with the preparations. ‘We're getting street fighters ready to go.’”

Lieberman withdraws from consideration to be FBI director - WSJ: “Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, once a leading contender for FBI director, on Thursday withdrew himself from consideration for the post in a letter to President Donald Trump, citing the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Fox Poll: Overwhelming support for special counsel investigation - Fox News: “Nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) approve of the Justice Department appointing a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling. Expectations on the investigation’s outcome split:  43 percent think the special counsel will find that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, while 45 percent disagree. Few Republicans (13 percent) believe Russian hackers helped Trump in the election, yet they split on a special counsel investigating:  46 percent approve vs. 50 percent disapprove. A majority of Republicans (58 percent) thinks Trump’s recent sharing of counterintelligence with Russian officials was a reasonable thing to do.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Study up - Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano examines if the bad news that keeps going the president’s way will get him in trouble or not: “But if Donald Trump wants to stay in office, he needs to be well-grounded in the powers of the presidency and their just and lawful use.” More here.

Trump’s new iPhone has only one app. Guess which one… Axios

Trump stonewalls on lobbyists’ waivers WashEx

Wisconsin seeks to be first to drug test Medicaid applicants - AP

“Al is trying to sell books, and apparently he's decided that being obnoxious and insulting me is good for causing liberals to buy his books. I wish him all the best.” – Sen.Ted Cruz in an interview  with Politico about Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., devoting an entire chapter in his new book to discussing his hatred for the Texan.

“I found your ‘Back to Reality’ piece a little condescending. I have never been a fan of Trump, but I am a fan of fairness. Why was a special counsel appointed to investigate claims of ‘collusion’ between the Trump campaign and Russians (which as your associate Gregg Jarrett pointed out is NOT a crime, even if collusion DID occur) based upon ZERO evidence, when no special counsel was appointed to investigate REAL crimes such as Hillary Clinton's obvious negligence in her handling of classified information, the IRS actions against conservative groups, the politically charged lies that were told about the events that led to the Benghazi murders of Americans, the Operation Fast and Furious debacle, etc.  Why is it that when Republicans clamor for a special counsel the DOJ ignores them, but when Democrats clamor for a special counsel the DOJ trips over itself to provide one? Until actual evidence replaces hot air, I am inclined to agree with the Trump administration that the Russia investigations are indeed a ‘witch hunt.’” – Alan RiggPhoenix

[Ed. note: This is politics! Who said anything about fairness? We certainly did not mean to condescend, but we did mean to suggest that some of the president’s supporters in Congress and across the country are in danger of delusion. We know the Russians meddled and we know that at least three individuals who were part of Trump’s campaign had questionable contacts with Kremlin-allied figures. We also know that while “collusion” is not a crime, being an unregistered agent of a foreign power is – that’s the basis of the FBI’s ongoing work in counterintelligence. So what we know already would merit an investigation. But that’s not what brought about the special counsel. Remember, a special counsel isn’t appointed because of the severity of the crimes alleged but rather because of questions about the independence of the ordinary investigatory process. What got the special counsel was Trump himself firing the FBI director and then stating explicitly that it was partly because of the Russia investigation. I’m sure had Obama been so foolhardy as to fire the FBI director over one of the investigations you mentioned and then brag about it, he would have ended up with a special counsel, too. But whether one thinks the investigation is fairly undertaken or not doesn’t matter anymore. It is underway and now voters beyond the Democratic base have taken close notice, and not in a good way. For Trump now, the only way out is through. The investigation has to reach its conclusion and find that either there were no inappropriate contacts or, at least, that Trump reasonably couldn’t have been expected to know about them. Wishing that were not so or complaining about the process is fine, but only up to the point that it begins to shape an alternate reality that allows the president and his supporters to ignore the peril.]

“Love your Halftime Report and I make time each day to read.  Provides some enlightenment as well as needed satire for political and world events of the day.  However, in today’s Report, you took no prisoners in bashing Trump supporters yet let the detractors walk?  A primary premise of the American judicial system is “innocent until proven guilty”.  With daily statements, the detractors (Pelosi, Schumer, Kane, Clinton, mainstream media, et. al.) have Trump tried and convicted without one iota of evidence.  This, at least, would seem to be a better topic to pen than irresponsible statements concerning Trump supporters and defense of the President.” – Steven Scaplehorn, Gainesville, Va. 

[Ed. note: Thank you, Mr. Scaplehorn, for both the kind words and gentle reproof. I guess my defense would be this: I am not surprised by Democrats saying all the worst things about Trump and Russia. They started at a full-fledged hissy fit so of course they are in even fuller lather now. The political market mostly discounts these statements. There are only a handful of mostly moderate Democrats who could make waves by their comments about Trump. Unless she becomes speaker again or retires, there’s very little that Nancy Pelosi can do or say of much consequence. What I do find surprising, as I was just saying to Mr. Rigg, is the way supporters of the president are handling the situation. The president has been absolute and unsparing in his denials, so why aren’t his people acting like they believe him? There’s no reason to think that Muller is anything but fair, so this should be a good thing, not a bad one. Republicans should take the president at his word, let the investigation work and in the meantime get back to talking about better things.]

“I never quite understood the mathematical faith reporters put in a simple average of selected polling results. It always seemed to me to be the arithmetic equivalent of averaging the colors of all the houses on my block. Polling methods vary widely from firm to firm. They are taken at different time periods, poll different populations (qualitative and quantitative), ask different questions, and are weighted using different algorithms, among other differences. Simply averaging them seems an exercise in arithmetic over-simplification where that is totally unwarranted. I would label any simple average of multiple polling results as meaningless gibberish, useless for the purpose to which you (and, to be fair, other news organizations) put it.” – David KaiserDowners Grove, Ill.

[Ed. note: A good point, Mr. Kaiser… up to a point. We use only apples to make our applesauce. First, we have the advantage that all major public pollsters ask essentially the same question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way the president is doing his job? We get our score on the president’s net job approval rating by taking the average approval and disapproval in the five most-recent, methodologically sound public polls and then subtracting the disapproval average from the approval average. That way, anything in positive territory is, well, positive and anything below zero is bad. Today, that -15.6 score includes surveys from Fox News, Quinnipiac University, Gallup, ARG and Monmouth University. While methods vary slightly, they are within the normal range and also all happen to fall within three points of each other on approval. Our national polling average for the 2016 general election followed similar rules and produced an impressively close result. But you’re quite right that if you put oranges with your applesauce, you just get mushy fruit.]   

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KXAN: “Texas lawmakers have approved the hunting of feral hogs and coyotes from hot air balloons. Texas’ growing hog population causes millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops every year. Texas has an estimated two million feral hogs. Their high breeding rate and lack of natural predators has seen their population explode. The state already allows the shooting of feral hogs from helicopters, but that is expensive and has not been very unsuccessful because the aircraft often scare the animals away. Hot air balloons are quieter and offer a more stable shooting platform. The bill requires the state to license hot air balloon hunting. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday night and now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his consideration.”

“But the real story is not the Vatican, it’s not even the Israeli trip.  It's the realignment of American policy over Iran.” – Charles 
Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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.