Back to reality

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On the roster: Back to reality - Perdue defends food stamp cuts in proposed budget - Report card time for House ObamaCare cuts plan - Team Trump takes lumps on Hill over budget - NATO allies sounding out Trump - Mommmm…

Is it possible that there are those still seeking to ignore or minimize the significance of the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and its contacts with Russia?


We understand there are people who are overcome by the news and obsess about it daily. We also know there are people who are intentionally, dishonestly distracting from the issue.

That’s what partisans do. And in the sense that it is, at least, transparent, we get it. During the campaign, it was fake allegations of child sex slavery at a pizzeria. Same idea, different bunkum.

What defies such easy explanation, though, are those who are trying to make good on President Trump’s claim that the investigation is a “witch hunt.” Like past efforts to make true or at least contextualize Trump’s claims about inauguration crowd sizes, voter fraud and wiretapping, this is not a good look.

Consider the response to the very interesting insight offered by Fox News colleague Gregg Jarett that it isn’t a crime to collude with a hostile foreign power in an American election. As he points out, you might think it should be, but it’s not against the law to be a tool of the Kremlin.

What is astonishing, though, is that defenders of the president – including a sitting member of the United States House of Representatives in a private conversation – have offered this interesting legal curlicue as a defense.

People, this is not that hard.

There are plenty of crimes that would descend from being an unidentified agent of a foreign government in the United States. But even aside from legal definitions, if you are adopting a posture that working with the number-one geopolitical foe of the United States in an election is okay because it’s not technically a crime, you’re already out where the buses don’t run.

One of the persistent mysteries about Republicans in Washington today is that they don’t understand what a godsend, at least in the short term, special Counsel Robert Mueller represents.

After months of leaky, concurrent investigations across two branches of government, the Trump administration finally has adult supervision of the Russia probe. At last, there is hope that a fair, authoritative and transpartisan conclusion can be reached.

Simply put, if you think that the appointment of Mueller is a bad thing for Trump then you probably think Trump is guilty.

Like the inexplicable consideration at the White House of blocking Mueller by refusing him an ethics waiver because the former FBI director’s law firm represented Trump associates in other matters, the larger concept of opposition to Mueller makes no sense.

When he took office, Trump reportedly tried to put the kibosh on the whole investigation and then compounded the error by admitting he fired the FBI director over his handling of the case.

But we haven’t heard anything much from him of late on the subject because it seems that Trump, at last, has gotten the message. Smart people let their lawyers do the talking, and now Trump is lawyered up.

This is not a witch hunt in the sense that there are obviously individuals who worked for Trump who had inappropriate, or at the very least, questionable contacts with Russia.

There’s been no evidence leaked so far that inculpates or exculpates anyone working for the now-president. But that doesn’t make it an inappropriate inquiry. And if Trump is right that his team was clean, that’s what the investigation will show.

Mueller is the closest thing we have to Kenesaw Mountain Landis these days. If you won’t take his word for it, there’s probably no answer you would accept.

Trump says he’s innocent. His supporters ought to start acting like they believe him

“But whatever may be our situation, whether firmly united under one national government, or split into a number of confederacies, certain it is, that foreign nations will know and view it exactly as it is; and they will act toward us accordingly.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 4

Nat Geo: “On a fortified hill in Scotland some 1,900 years ago, a Roman army attacked local warriors by hurling lead bullets from slings that had nearly the stopping power of a modern .44 magnum handgun, according to recent experiments. The assault seems to have been deadly effective, for the local warriors were armed only with swords and other simple weapons, says John Reid, a researcher at the Trimontium Trust and one of the co-directors of the archaeological fieldwork at Burnswark, south of Edinburgh. ‘We’re fairly sure that the natives on top of the hill weren’t allowed to survive.’ But Burnswark was just the opening salvo in a war against the restive tribes living north of Hadrian’s Wall. Despite their superior weaponry, Roman soldiers seem to have gotten bogged down in Scotland as they fought a tough, resourceful enemy capable of melting away into the hills and marshes.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -17.2 points
Change from one week ago: -2.4 points

NYT: “Today, the Congressional Budget Office will issue important numbers about the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace portions of the Affordable Care Act. Although the budget office had analyzed an early version of the bill, the House on May 4 took the unusual step of voting before the budget office could gauge how several last-minute amendments might affect the deficit or the number of uninsured. Senate leadership has vowed to make major changes to the House bill. But a detailed accounting of the House bill’s effects will still guide the legislative process. As we did when the budget office first scored the Republican proposal, we sought the advice of a panel of former C.B.O. directors, consultants and other budget experts to help us predict what the budget office would say.”

AP: “White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump's plans to slash social programs are designed to increase economic growth to 3 percent and put "taxpayers first." Mulvaney told the House Budget Committee that he went "line by line" through the federal budget and asked "Can we justify this to the folks who are actually paying for it?" Mulvaney's appearance was one of four slated Wednesday as Trump Cabinet officials fanned out on Capitol Hill to defend Trump's budget, which contains jarring, politically unrealistic cuts to the social safety net and a broad swath of domestic programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are also testifying before House panels.”

Politico: “Senior officials who thought they had won Donald Trump over when he declared last month that the alliance was ‘no longer obsolete’ are hoping no plates or silverware go flying at a dinner Thursday where the U.S. president, after helping to inaugurate the alliance’s new headquarters, plans to browbeat his colleagues yet again about their meager defense spending. … On the campaign trail, he famously branded the alliance as ‘obsolete,’ saying it did not do enough to fight terrorism, and in his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel he declared that her country ‘owed vast sums,’ irking her and suggesting to many in Brussels that he understood little about NATO finances. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has worked diligently in recent months to appease Trump, including by promising during a meeting last month in Washington that allies not meeting NATO’s spending target of 2 percent of GDP would develop individual plans by the end of the year, showing how they will reach that goal by 2024.”

[New poll finds that more people view NATO favorably in both the U.S. and Europe]

Politico: “Republican Greg Gianforte’s closing motivational speech to voters ahead of Thursday’s special House election in Montana is the same thing GOP strategists are whispering in private: ‘This race is closer than it should be.’ It’s a recurring nightmare of a pattern for Republicans around the country, as traditional GOP strongholds prove more difficult and expensive for the party to hold than it ever anticipated when President Donald Trump plucked House members like Ryan Zinke, the former Montana Republican now running the Interior Department, for his Cabinet. Gianforte is still favored to keep the seat red, but a state Trump carried by 20 percentage points last year became a battleground in the past few months. Democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer and first-time candidate, has raised more than $6 million for his campaign, including $1 million in the past week alone as energized Democratic donors pour online cash into political causes this year.”

Pence records robocall for Montana special election - Politico: “Vice President Mike Pence is wading back into the special election for Montana’s at-large House seat with a new robocall urging voters to support Republican Greg Gianforte this week.”

Trump praises Rodrigo Duterte for brutal Philippine drug crackdown - NYT

Trump calls Kim Jong Un a ‘madman with nuclear weapons’ - WaPo

Pence to hold rally in Louisiana today - Politico

Cabinet members head to Hill to defend Trump budget - AP

GOP pins hopes on fresh face in race to replace Ros-Lehtinen - Roll Call

Branstad confirmed as ambassador to China, Iowa gets new governor - Des Moines Register

“What do you give him to eat -- potica?” – Pope Francis asked Melania Trump if she feeds the president a nut-filled cake known in her homeland of Slovenia as “potica.” The First Lady did not dispute the Holy See’s assessment.

“Between the I'll Tell You What podcast and your and Dana's all to short TV show, I became a defender of polls by reputable polling agencies. What do you base your daily Halftime Report Scoreboard on?”Steven Lentz, Cypress, Texas

[Ed. note: Good question! We get our score by taking the average approval and disapproval in the five most-recent, methodologically sound public polls. His score is the average approval minus the average disapproval. A score of “even” would be quite sound. Anything more than 10 points in the positive would be, by historical standards, very strong. Anything more than 10 points negative, by the same standard, is very weak. As we get closer to midterm elections, we will also be adding a test for generic congressional vote.]

“The GOP knows that entitlements need to be cut but don’t have the courage of their convictions.  If we wanted spending to continue we would not have elected any of them.  The Progressive Democrats are experts at pouring our tax dollars down the drain.  It’s time for the Republicans to quit talking spending cuts and tax reform and do something positive.  Trump at least has proposed something which more than anyone in Congress of either side can claim.  The House and the Senate all talk but no action.  A pox on all of them.” – Michael Johnson, Fairfield Glade, Tenn.

[Ed. note: Well, to be fair, Mr. Johnson, lots of people have proposed lots of things in Congress. It’s just that their ideas don’t have majority support. One of the problems of living in the era of absolute partisanship is that even basic functions of the government, like confirming presidential appointments or passing a budget, become intense partisan warfare.]

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Grand Forks [ND] Herald:Jackie Marks thought her third-grader would be home by 1:30 last Tuesday afternoon, the last day of school. South Point Elementary in East Grand Forks normally gets out at 3 p.m., but wrapped up early on the last day. By 1:40, she started getting nervous and drove down to the bus stop. Another mom told her some buses take the kids to Dairy Queen on the last day of school, but Marks was unaware of that. She had not been notified by the school or asked to sign a permission slip. She headed to Dairy Queen, where one bus was pulling out and her daughter's bus was still parked and picked up her child. … She said when she told the driver she had been unaware of the trip, he said he had an issue with that last year, too. It appears some parents did know about the trip, which has happened in years past.”

“And I think this could be the beginning of Saudis and other Sunni radical nations, spread their radical ideology, reining it back and that would be a major step.” – 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.