Neither literally nor seriously

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On the roster: Neither literally nor seriously - Trump set to sign new refugee ban today - GOP ObamaCare repeal plan finalized - Nerd Bracket: The Orate Eight - You’ll do the time if you toss the beer

Political distractions are like a man’s cologne. A little splash will cover a multitude of sins, but too much becomes a worse problem all on its own.

President Trump may have over-applied this weekend.

Trump suggested that former President Barack Obama illegally ordered wiretaps of Trump’s phones during the 2016 campaign.

As Weekly Standard Editor Steve Hayes very usefully points out, proving or disproving Trump’s claims about Obama would be next to impossible…for anybody other than Trump, that is.

As president, Trump can order any document declassified. He surely could’ve answered his own question. Critics have suggested that Trump did not know he had such power and simply blundered into what could be a costly mistake.

But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that he was not being sincere in his charge of such a serious crime against his predecessor. Let’s also suppose that Trump was angry, frustrated and feeling stuck after seeing frittered away what had started as a great week for his administration with his well-received speech to Congress.

What cost Trump his momentum was another sub-controversy surrounding claims of connection between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Now, Republicans, including those within the Trump administration, had done a pretty good job by Friday of capitalizing on Democratic overreach on the undisclosed meeting between then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With Sessions having already recused himself from any investigations of the campaign of which he was a part, the tide seemed to be turning against Democrats.

But then the president got ahold of his phone and proved that he can still change the national discussion 140 characters at a time.

According to multiple reports, Trump was seething at his staff for this latest Russia stumble, with the clear narrative emerging that the president is especially angry at his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.

And if Trump did, in fact, want to punish Priebus, there’s little worse he could have done to his COO than blow up the administration’s communication plan with no warning, and divert all attention back to Russia just as they were pulling clear of the issue.

The administration has mostly gone to ground since then, with no on-camera White House briefing in more than a week and the official position of the president being that he will make no more comments on his own allegation until after Congress has investigated.

But again, Trump is the one who could answer these questions today. Kicking the ball to Congress is simply playing for time.

That’s not to say that there won’t be some benefits to Trump’s gambit. By seeking to discredit the investigation itself, Trump neatly discredits its findings, at least as far as his core supporters are concerned. One of the tools of scandal management is “muddying the water,” which Trump has done here with the efficiency of a Mississippi River dredge.

Trump’s attempt to inculpate Obama in such a grotesque political scandal not only will be given a credulous hearing by about a third of the electorate, but will also insulate Trump if the investigation eventually bears fruit.

But does Trump really believe his latest accusatory question about Obama? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and take him neither literally nor seriously.

Let’s also assume that this investigation, like the promised probe of 5 million fraudulent votes costing Trump a popular majority, will be stored in the same crate as the Ark of the Covenant.

With multiple actual investigations into Trump, his campaign and its relationship with Russian figures, all we can do now is basically wait for some sort of conclusion to be reached.

Nothing will ever satisfy enthusiastic partisans on the Democratic side, just as no evidence could convict Trump in the eyes of his strongest supporters. But at some point in the coming weeks or months, grownups will come to a conclusion about the actual allegations.

Until then, the rest of it is just a lot of noise. And those for and against Trump ought to spare themselves (and the rest of us) all of the frantic coverage and conversation about the facts of the case. Especially of a presidential weekend twitter outburst.

What matters right now is how long it takes for Trump to end the chaotic infighting in his White House and get back on message. Only then can we find out how much damage his claims did to a briefly-held optimism about his maturation in office.

“The utility of a Confederacy, as well to suppress faction and to guard the internal tranquility of States, as to increase their external force and security, is in reality not a new idea. It has been practiced upon in different countries and ages, and has received the sanction of the most approved writers on the subject of politics.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 9

On this day in 1930, frozen foods, undamaged by the freezing process, were first made available to the public. [Springfield, Mass.] Republican: “The scientist responsible was one Clarence Birdseye, of Gloucester [Mass.]…It all began in 1916, when Mr. Birdseye was a naturalist at the U.S. Biological Survey. That year, he visited Labrador, Canada, and noticed that meats such as fish and seal would freeze quickly in the Arctic winter, and stay fresh as long as the low temperatures held out…Back home, Mr. Birdseye began experimenting…Eventually, he hit upon the right process: freeze the food quickly down to minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, keep it at 10 degrees thereafter. The cold would be infused into the food by placing the food into its package, and then pressing the package between two metal plates…It chose Springfield for the first test market, regarding Springfield as a typical American town of medium size, with news media that would give the subject extensive coverage.”

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your tips, comments or questions.

Fox News: “A revised executive order temporarily banning the entry of people from several Middle Eastern and African countries and halting the nation’s refugee program is set to be signed Monday by President Trump, a senior White House official said. Counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed to ‘Fox & Friends’ that Trump plans to put out the new order on Monday. Amid confusion over the original measure, Conway said the new version includes ‘six or seven’ points that will clarify those areas. Among other changes, she said the new order will clearly exclude legal permanent residents and leave Iraq off a list of countries whose residents would be subject to a temporary travel ban. She also indicated the new version would no longer indefinitely bar Syrian refugees.”

WashEx: “House Republicans early this week will release the final text of a bill to repeal Obamacare and partly replace it, a GOP leadership aide said Monday. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Ways and Means Committee are expected as early as this week to mark up a measure that would repeal most of the law and replace it with tax credits and health savings accounts, among many other provisions. According to the GOP aide, committee staff worked over the weekend with the White House ‘to tie up loose ends,’ and add ‘technical’ input from the Trump administration…Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and key GOP lawmakers finalized the deal in a Saturday conference call. ‘We are in a very good place right now, and while drafting continues, we anticipate the release of final bill text early this week,’ the aide said.”

“I have a key to the Capitol and I can go in whenever I want. You can’t always be sure that there will be security.” – Arkansas Republican State Rep. Mickey Gates on why lawmakers authorized to carry a concealed weapon should be allowed to bring them into the statehouse.

Koch-backed groups frustrated with GOP on ObamaCare, activating constituents -

Inside the new political capital for Trump world, his D.C. hotel - AP

U.S. cautions Israel on West Bank annexation - AP

IRS cuts decrease chance of being audited - AP

You people really love politics!

The votes are in on the first round of our version of March Madness, and the response was overwhelming. We gave readers eight pairings of famous political speeches and asked you to pick your favorites.

There weren’t many bracket busters. All the top seeds all survived – except for one. In an upset, George W. Bush’s brief remarks through a bullhorn at Ground Zero knocked out John Kennedy’s iconic 1961 inaugural address. You can see the full listing in Friday’s note here.

But the tests are about to get a lot tougher for the favorites.

For the next round, we are pitting the top scorer, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, against Bush’s bracket buster, which won by a scant six votes of almost 300 cast. The new pairings promise considerable drama…

In the first round, you came through with not just a large number of responses, but very thoughtful insights, some of which we will share below. Our expectations are high for the next round.

Send you submissions by noon ET on Wednesday if you want to have your say in picking the final four. Email your submissions to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM

a) Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg address (1863)
b) George W. Bush: Ground Zero bullhorn speech (2001)

a) Ronald Reagan: “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” (1984)
b) Abraham Lincoln: Second inaugural address (1865)

a) George Washington: Farewell address (1796)
b) Franklin Roosevelt: “Day That Will Live in Infamy” (1941)

a) Martin Luther King: “I Have a Dream” (1964)
b) Patrick Henry: “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” (1775)

When you send in your submission to HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM, you can just list the corresponding number before the entry.

[Ed. note: A sample entry would look like this: 1b, 2a, 3b, 4a]

“The picture of Bush and the bullhorn is emblazoned forever in my memory. A proud moment for our nation.” – Fred MacDonald, Artesia, N.M.

[Ed. note: I have no way of knowing, but I wonder if the close race between Bush and Kennedy here isn’t reflective of a generational divide. For Baby Boomers, Kennedy’s speech, delivered bare-headed and imbued with the unflinching optimism of a post-war America, set the frame for many Baby Boomers’ concept of politics. For many Millennials and members of Gen Y, the events of 9/11 and Bush’s clear-eyed promise deliver swift justice upon its perpetrators reset the political world for a generation.]

“I believe no matter the outcome the greatest speech ever written is the ‘Gettysburg Address.’ All others pale in comparison, when speaking about our great experiment in self-governance. Like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, it is the cornerstone of our republic.” – John Zapatka, Phoenix, Arizona

[Ed. note: Though I promise we are not putting our thumb on the scale, I find it hard to disagree with you, Mr. Zapatka. Lincoln himself once observed that he could think of almost no political idea that he could not trace to the Declaration and its creed. And a note for politicians today, he got the whole thing done in less than three minutes.]

“The quotes from the Teddy Roosevelt speech have been up on my wall since the early ‘70s. Would have picked that in some other matchup. The one you missed listing was the 1964 Reagan speech televised before the election promoting the election of Goldwater. It launched Reagan and the rest is history.” – Lou Banas, Brea, Calif.

[Ed. note: You are not that only one, Mr. Banas! Others observed that Reagan’s 1964 speech was a turning point in American political history. Certainly, his election 16 years later would tend to reinforce that argument. But the selection committee has adjourned and we will simply have to live with our choices as they stand.]

“George Washington’s Farewell Address…voluntarily left after two terms, warned about factions, made the office what it has become…” – Steve Bell, Washington, D.C.

[Ed. note: On the matter of consequence, it would be hard to disagree, Mr. Bell. What we can’t really know, is how it sounded. A great speech isn’t just the words, but rather how they were delivered and received. Washington, in this regard, probably suffers for the modernist turn away from flowery language. But, no doubt, in defining the presidency and bestowing a glorious vision for the republic, Washington would be hard to beat.]

“Warning: sarcasm ahead! How can I take this list seriously? Sure you’ve included great speeches by the likes of giants like Lincoln, Reagan and MLK, Jr. But a true Sweet Sixteen would NEVER leave off Jimmy Carter’s ‘Malaise’ speech! Seriously, I really enjoy the Halftime Report. Your sense of humor and way with words, obviously having honed your craft (there’s that word again) during your time in West Virginia, Mountain Mama, are highlights of my day!” – Duane Brown, Decherd, Tenn.

[Ed. note: Maybe next time we will do the worst speeches! Thank you for the cornpone appreciation.]

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

WSPA: “According to the Wise County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, Travis Scott Pratt, 39, was in custody of the Norton Police Department when he escaped while outside of the Wise County Justice Center. … Another deputy from Wise County, Josh Edmiston, was in the area en-route to help, when he saw a blue Dodge truck on Christmas Lane speeding and driving recklessly. Deputy Edmiston turned and tried to stop the truck. While chasing the truck, empty beer cans were flying from the truck bed, leaving a trail. Deputy Edmiston followed the trail of beer cans and located the truck in a driveway on Pole Bridge Road. The driver of the vehicle noticed the deputy and sped off, driving through several yards then back onto the highway. The Sheriff’s Office said Pratt was the driver of the truck and jumped out of the moving vehicle and ran. Deputies were able to capture Pratt and take him back into custody.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.