Is it playing dumb or the real thing on Kavanaugh and Ford

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On the roster: Is it playing dumb or the real thing on Kavanaugh and Ford - I’ll Tell You What: Supreme uncertainty - Heller changes tune on Trump ahead of MAGA rally - House Democrats create new plan to oust Pelosi - Goes great with stoned crab

IS IT PLAYING DUMB OR THE REAL THING ON KAVANAUGH AND FORD
Senate Democrats who ask what the rush is to get to a vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court are being just as facile as the Republicans who pretend to not understand why the woman who accused him of a teenage sexual assault wants an investigation before she testifies.

We have discussed before the relative advantages and disadvantages politically for the two parties if Kavanaugh‘s nomination is delayed or withdrawn compared to those if he is confirmed.

The short version is that no matter what, this will intensify support among strong partisans at either end of the spectrum. Midterms are about base sentiment and this will sure-as-shooting get sentiment in an uproar. But given the already howling-mad condition of those clustered around the partisan poles, one wonders what further intensification is possible. At a certain point, the people screaming “feminazi” and “pig” at each other through clenched teeth can’t be intensified any more before they spontaneously combust. And little piles of ashes are darned hard to get to the polls.

But what about the non-immolation set? There’s not yet been any methodologically sound polling to assess where voters nationally are on the accusations and the nomination in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s claims. But if what we saw previously on the pick holds true, we’d imagine that there is more opposition than support for the nomination, but that's something like a third of the electorate is undecided or only lightly attached to either position.

To state the obvious, much will depend on what is revealed (or withheld) and the means and timing of what transpires. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is trying to walk the fine line between pushing the matter to conclusion and railroading a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the land. Democrats, as they consistently have been throughout the process with Kavanaugh, are ham-fisted in their efforts to seize on the controversy.

But that does not mean that Republicans couldn’t still end up overreaching themselves. It would be dire for the GOP to push the nomination out of committee without a hearing only to have it fall apart in the full Senate. The reason Republicans on Judiciary want a hearing with Ford so badly is that they fear new allegations or details after they vote.

That’s a reasonable fear since Democrats certainly would like nothing better. The longer Kavanaugh twists in the wind, the more flies he will attract. We have read in recent days about the sexist conduct of Kavanaugh’s college fraternity, the louche conduct of his prep school classmates and even the suggestion that he was prurient in his estimation of female applicants for his clerkships.

The longer the nomination stays in limbo, the better chance Senate Democrats will have to re-establish their original preferred narrative about Kavanaugh: “some frat boy named Brett.”

Since neither side in the Senate can know what really did or did not happen between Kavanaugh and Ford in the early 1980s, we have to interpret their actions as being in service of their desired outcomes. And regardless of the facts, Democrats want to delay the pick long enough to make Kavanaugh toxic, regardless of the facts of the case.

Republicans, well aware of that tendency given the history of nominations dying of asphyxiation in the vacuum of Senate inaction, are getting desperate to get the air flowing again. They, regardless of the facts of the case, are focused on getting this nomination through as quickly as possible. The assumption seems to be that of the charge can neither be conclusively proven nor disproven, better to have a conservative justice now than take a risk on what comes later. Believing correctly that many Democrats would never believe Kavanaugh anyway, why not just disregard the matter and let the Senate majority rule?

But if swing voters, especially the traditionally Republican-leaning white women with college degrees, perceive Republicans as disregarding Ford’s claim, disrespecting her or otherwise steamrolling, it will leave a mark.

In this high-stakes, highly uncertain environment, Republicans have to bend over backwards to accommodate Ford. As fearful as they are that Kavanaugh will wither as the hours pass and the narrative takes hold, they mustn’t be bullies. If Kavanaugh is innocent, better to allow some Democrats to make themselves ridiculous as Republicans follow the process to its end.

There is already broad media disapproval for the way Democrats have tried to exploit the charge and their inept efforts in so doing. Spartacus does not do nuance. Already, some red state Democrats are expressing their fatigue.

Grassley scrapped the vote set for today in favor of a hearing with the accused and the accuser on Monday. In public, in private, by phone — anything. Ford wants an FBI investigation like the one conducted into Clarence Thomas in the wake of 1991 sexual harassment allegations. But the difference now is that the charges are already public so the committee is free to use its own staff to investigate, rather than the secret study conducted 27 years ago.

That was asking an executive agency for information about still-secret alleged workplace misconduct at another executive branch. This is the allegation of a juvenile crime in Montgomery County, Md. that, because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is widely known. The Senate has the ball here, not the Trump administration.

But Republicans surely understand why Ford would like to have some independent fact finding here. She could surely imagine sitting before senators, stumbling on details and ending up with her reputation in ruins. Memory is a tricky business and it’s entirely possible that while both she and Kavanaugh can’t both be right, neither of them is lying. It’s understandable that a person who is facing personal and professional ruin would want some kind of additional factual footing.

Republicans who allege or assume that she is only asking for an investigation because she is in league with the Democrats may be right. It may be a cynical ploy to further exploit a false accusation. But it may also be that she’s telling the truth — or at least what she believes to be the truth.

She has apparently not been willing to talk to committee investigators or staffers at a certain point, Republicans will have no choice but to proceed without her. But at least until Monday, it’s crucial for the Senate GOP to maintain a strong preference for a full hearing and a strong opposition to any effort to brush aside her claims as immaterial.

Proposals like the one to allow attorneys for Kavanaugh and Ford question the witness on the other side or something else might break loose the log jam. But if, after every effort, Ford can’t be convinced to speak to the committee or some other accommodation, Republicans should proceed in a spirit of regret, not vindication.

Democrats who claim puzzlement over why Republicans would be in a hurry to advance a nomination the Blue Team is trying to poison by the passage of time are acting absurdly. So too are Republicans who are trying to treat Ford as the enemy.

Republicans are relying on suburban women who are Ford’s contemporaries and peers to vote for GOP candidates in November despite their deep and deepening misgivings about the party and its leader. Republicans outraged over her reticence to jump over Niagara without a barrel surely don’t help their own cause. 

And with Ford’s attorney today opening the door wider to testimony, it would appear that Grassley’s patient approach is paying off.

THE RULEBOOK: MORE LIKE UNDERRATED
“But experience assures us, that the efficacy of the provision [of security for the branches of government] has been greatly overrated; and that some more adequate defense is indispensably necessary for the more feeble, against the more powerful, members of the government.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 48

TIME OUT: AN ELECTION LONGTIME COMING
Lapham’s Quarterly: “In the months before the opening of the Thirty-Fourth Congress in December 1855, Americans north, south, and west predicted tough times ahead. A ‘popular sovereignty’ clause in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had been passed in May 1854, allowed for settlers in those territories to decide their state’s slavery status for themselves, dividing the nation into two warring factions. … When slaveholders began to grill Northern candidate Nathaniel Banks—another Massachusetts Know Nothing on his way to becoming a Republican—about his antislavery views, Preston Brooks of South Carolina took a stand. Resistance to Northern aggression should begin among the South’s appointed leaders in the House, Brooks insisted. … It took two months and 133 ballots to resolve the election, but ultimately, something remarkable happened: the House elected an anti­slavery Northern Speaker. Banks’ election was a shocking victory for the nascent Republican Party. When it was announced on the evening of February 2, 1856, the Republican side of the House erupted in a shout of triumph followed by hearty handshakes and heartfelt embraces.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 38.8 percent
Average disapproval: 54.2 percent
Net Score: -15.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.8 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; CNN: 37% approve - 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 54% disapprove; NPR/Marist: 38% approve - 54% disapprove; Grinnell College/Selzer: 43% approve - 50% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
39.8 percent
Democratic average: 50.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 10.4 points
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: CNN: 52% Dems - 42% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 52% Dems - 38% GOP; NPR/Marist: 50% Dems - 38% GOP; Grinnell College/Selzer: 45% Dems - 43% GOP; ABC/WaPo: 52% Dems - 38% GOP.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: SUPREME UNCERTAINTY
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss the latest on the Kavanaugh nomination, some midterm race updates and Chris completes week one as a published author. Plus, test your knowledge on some Supreme Court themed trivia. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

HELLER CHANGES TUNE ON TRUMP AHEAD OF MAGA RALLY
NYT: “Senator Dean Heller on Wednesday called President Trump ‘a great leader’ who had revived Nevada’s economy, a striking departure from the arm’s-length approach Mr. Heller took with Mr. Trump in the 2016 campaign and in the first months of his presidency. In a private conference call with White House aides, other Nevada Republican officials and local activists, Mr. Heller — the most endangered Senate Republican up for re-election this November — offered an unqualified embrace of the president. ‘Our arms are wide open,’ Mr. Heller said on the call, held to drum up interest in Mr. Trump’s campaign rally scheduled for Thursday in Las Vegas. ‘We’re so thrilled to have the president.’ Mr. Heller has steadily moved closer to Mr. Trump, finally acknowledging last year that he voted for the president, but the senator has not gone as far in public as he did Wednesday.”

Scott calls Nelson a socialist
- Florida Today: “Gov. Rick Scott brought his campaign for U.S. Senate to Titusville on Wednesday, slamming his opponent, incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott, a Republican, is completing his second four-year term as governor, and cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Instead, he is challenging Nelson, a Democrat, for Nelson's U.S. Senate seat. ‘We can't have the other side’ get elected, Scott told about 50 people at a private campaign event at Shiloh's Steak & Seafood restaurant in Titusville. ‘Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum — they're socialists.’ Nelson is seeking his fourth six-year term as senator. Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, is running for governor against Republican Ron DeSantis, who resigned from his U.S. House Representatives seat last week to focus on his campaign for governor.”

HOUSE DEMOCRATS CREATE NEW PLAN TO OUST PELOSI

CBS News: “An ongoing feud over who will lead House Democrats next year is poised to enter a new round as early as next week, as members eager to oust House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, are floating a new way to do so. The latest attempt — which senior leadership aides anticipate will be futile — once again exposes that a handful of House Democrats remain concerned about whether Pelosi is dragging down candidates locked in competitive races that the party needs to win in order to gain control of the House. This group of anti-Pelosi Democrats is seeking to change the way the caucus elects its top leader. On Wednesday, these members submitted a way to tweak the byzantine procedural rules governing the makeup of the caucus. Current House Democratic rules require that their leader win a majority of the caucus in order to secure the job… Under the plan unveiled by anti-Pelosi Democrats, if the party wins control of the House, their new leader would need to win the votes of at least 218 Democrats — representing a majority of the entire House — in order to win the leader position and be considered as speaker. If the Democrats fail to retake control, their new leader would require just a majority of voting members.”

Dem takes small lead in N.J. district - Monmouth University: “Democrat Tom Malinowski holds a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Leonard Lance in the race for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, according to the Monmouth University Poll. Malinowski benefits from running in a district with a large number of college educated voters who have swung more Democratic in the past two years. But Lance is keeping this race close despite President Donald Trump’s low ratings in the district. New Jersey’s 7th is home to Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, where the president has spent a good deal of time since taking office. Malinowski is supported by 47% and Lance is supported by 39% of all potential voters – that is voters who have participated in an election since 2010 or have newly registered to vote (a group that represents about 84% of all registered voters in the district).”

CONGRESSMAN CONDEMNED FOR CRUDE JOKE
[S.C.] Post and Courier: “A South Carolina GOP congressman opened an election debate Thursday by joking that he almost had to miss it and fly back to Washington to address the latest drama involving the Supreme Court. ‘Did y’all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?’ said U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill. ‘Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.’ … Norman’s line appeared to elicit some scattered laughter and applause from the Kiwanis Club of Rock Hill crowd but drew immediate condemnation from South Carolina Democrats and many others on social media. ‘Ralph Norman just proved he may be rich but he doesn’t have any class,’ tweeted S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson.”

Roy Moore defends Kavanaugh, says GOP should ‘take a stand’ - AL.com: “Former Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore called on Republicans to ‘take a stand’ and support suggested U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh following the sexual misconduct allegations levied against him, adding that he believes the Democrats are using Kavanaugh's accuser as a political pawn. Moore is no stranger to such allegations. He was accused by nine women of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred during the 1970s - allegations that surfaced about a month before the December special election between Moore and Doug Jones. Moore denied the allegations, although he conceded to dating young women at the time. The former Alabama Supreme Court urged Republicans to continue their support of the Supreme Court nominee.”

COMEY: MUELLER MAY BE IN THE 'FOURTH QUARTER' OF RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
Fox News: “Former FBI Director James Comey is speculating that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be in the ‘fourth quarter’ of his Russia probe, citing the plea deal struck with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Comey, when asked at what stage he believes the Russia investigation is in, told St. Louis Public Radio there’s ‘an argument to be made that the conviction – the plea and cooperation by Paul Manafort – may represent that we’re in the fourth quarter.’ ‘The way you normally do investigations is you work from the bottom up, and so they're getting pretty high,’ Comey said. … Comey’s comments come the same week Trump ordered the declassification of several key documents related to the FBI investigation of Russian actions during the 2016 presidential election, including release text messages from Comey and a number of other key players in the Russia investigation ‘without redaction’ -- including Bruce Ohr, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.”

The Judge’s Ruling: Don’t forget about Manafort -
This week, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explains why he deems Paul Manafort as the president’s “beast in the night”: “Last week, on the eve of Manafort’s second trial, that prosecutorial strategy paid off when he entered a guilty plea before a federal judge in Washington, D.C. Manafort’s guilty plea is unique and extraordinary. In the plea, Manafort, who only pleaded guilty to two federal crimes -- witness tampering and conspiracy to defraud the government -- also admitted that he committed dozens of other federal and state crimes. This was intentionally maneuvered by Mueller as part of the plea agreement so as to make it bulletproof from a presidential pardon. I have never seen this before. The president can only pardon federal crimes. Should he do so for Manafort, state prosecutors in New York, Virginia and California … can seek indictments immediately. It will be easy to indict and easy to convict Manafort because of his public admissions last Friday.” More here.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Give this a read: ‘Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Anymore’ - Atlantic

Trump names retiring Rep. Darrell Issa to head U.S. Trade and Development Agency - Politico

Trump slams Republicans for ditching wall funding in ‘ridiculous’ spending bill - Fox News

AUDIBLE: GOP CANDIDATES BE WARNED
“This is the killer app of Obamacare. … What you have to do at this point is duck and cover.” – Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist, said about pre-existing conditions as a campaign issue to Politico.

FROM THE BLEACHERS

“Hi, Chris: Thanks for your work spreading the news in a way that is far more balanced than many of your contemporaries! You stated ‘...I suspect in time we will eventually tear down the Electoral College completely.’ Unless I'm wrong, that would require three quarters of the states to agree.  What would convince enough ‘small States’ to agree to moving to a popular vote, when doing so would essentially remove their input in selecting Presidents? Absent 75% agreement, is there another way to eliminate the Electoral College? Keep up the good work.” – David Zick, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

[Ed. note: Thanks for the kind words, Mr. Zick! The most immediate threat to the Electoral College is from the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, which together comprise 172 electoral votes, passed laws that would award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. The states, anchored by California and New York, have agreed that when the compact includes enough participants to control the requisite 270 electoral votes they will all take the plunge together. Proponents are hard at work in state legislatures across the country in an effort to enroll the 100 electoral votes necessary to bring it into effect. There are LOTS of questions about implementation. For example, let’s say that in the first year of implementation, a Republican wins the national popular vote. When the inevitable legal challenges to the scheme arise post-election, would all of the members of the compact, including California, vigorously defend the law in court? It may sound harebrained, but the popular sentiment against the Electoral College is strong enough and its foes are relentless enough to make it a possibility. I’d say there’s a significantly better chance this will happen than term limits. If Donald Trump wins another popular-minority presidential term, the march would be on for sure. Federalism and republicanism are out of style on both sides, though. The growing demands for direct democracy and the unfiltered will of the people are not unlike what we’ve seen before. The demand for a majoritarian, omnipotent national government is always with us.]

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GOES GREAT WITH STONED CRAB

BBC: “A US restaurant is using marijuana to sedate lobsters before killing them. Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound, a restaurant in Maine, says the process is more humane as it lessens their pain before death. Lobsters are often cooked by being dropped into a pot of boiling water, seen as cruel by some. There is growing evidence the crustaceans feel pain. Customers at the restaurant can choose whether they want the marijuana-sedated lobster or not. A growing body of scientific findings suggest that not only lobsters but other invertebrates, such as crayfish and crabs, are able to feel pain. In January, Switzerland decided that lobsters must be stunned before boiling. The owner of Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound, Charlotte Gill, says eating the sedated lobster will not make customers high and using marijuana leads to better quality meat, as the animal is more relaxed when it dies.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor, no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets, therefore he is.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on July 27, 2017.

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.