Russia wars sap credibility of both parties

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On the roster: Russia wars sap credibility of both parties - House readies first volley in shutdown showdown - Embattled Manchin pleads for Senate campaign truce - Tit for tat memo fight lands at White House - In stitches

Keeping track of things when dealing with politicians is like trying to climb a light pole in Philadelphia – you can get there, but it’s going to be challenging, greasy and, most certainly messy.

That’s why it has been so challenging for even conscientious reporters in Washington to keep track of the ongoing probe into Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential campaign and the counter-investigation into the probe itself. 

Democrats say they are only interested in protecting elections even as they exploit every finding publically revealed as well as every leak to race ahead to the conclusion that President Trump is a Kremlin dupe. 

Conversely, Republicans swear up and down that they are not trying to interfere with the investigation that has already swept up several Trump advisors, some of them quite senior. Their claims of impartiality ring about as true as those of their rivals across the aisle. 

But rather than wasting our time on the blandishments of politicians, who in this case include some of the most energetic spinmeisters in Congress, we usually do better to focus on actions and their consequences instead of palaver. 

A new poll just out from Quinnipiac University measures the relative success and failure of the president’s wingmen and women in Congress, situationally Russophobic Democrats and the institutions caught between the two. The first thing that comes apparent is a deep partisan split on such questions.

Only 28 percent of Republicans say they approve of the way the FBI is handling its job while 67 percent of Democrats give the agency passing marks. We don’t have data readily available to compare, but one imagines that this is quite a role reversal for the two parties as it relates to the Feds. 

Similarly, Democrats led Republicans by five points in expressing trust in the U.S. court system, 70 percent to 65 percent.

But here’s where it gets crazy. Republicans who have fought for increase powers for the intelligence community since the 9/11 attacks now express far less trust in the intelligence community than Democrats, 56 percent compared 70 percent. Somewhere, John Ashcroft is having a good laugh at that one. 

Less surprising but more star is the measure partisans’ trust in the news media. Only 9 percent of Republicans expressed any degree of trust for the press compared to 67 percent for Democrats. 

While these data points are revealing as it relates to the ability of members of both parties to shape the perceptions of their supporters and, conversely, how these altered perceptions then shape the larger agendas for the two parties, we are definitely in the primate house at the zoo here. There’s a lot of howling, a lot of fecal matter flying but nobody is exactly living up to Abe Lincoln’s Second Inaugural… 

While the intensity of base support may help decide midterm elections, it is the opinion of the plurality of Americans who shun both party labels that sets the direction of the republic in the long run.  

And the independents are truly disgusted by what they’ve seen from Washington as it relates to this three-ring Russia circus. 

Independents still strongly approve of the job the FBI is doing and express a great deal of confidence for the federal court system and U.S. intelligence agencies. Respondents in the Q poll look slightly askance at both the news media and the president, with majorities expressing distrust in both cases. 

So we could say that to some substantial degree, that all of the fulminations, memo histrionics and loose talk of treason hasn’t done much to change the point of view of persuadable voters. 

But there is one place in which they seem to have taken a sharply negative turn: their esteem for members of both parties in Congress.

Quinnipiac asked respondents whether they trusted Republicans and Democrats to “put country over party.” 

Now, it’s no surprise that almost all Republicans thought that Democrats were partisans before they were patriots and vice versa. But consider this: just 18 percent of independents thought Republicans put the country before their party. Democrats did ten points better, but still, 28 percent is a pretty abysmal score on a question like that. 

In an era when political expediency was still considered a shameful offense, these numbers would be cause for substantial alarm in the parties themselves. The reality now is that partisans increasingly choose their own realities, fair-minded voters be damned. That will eventually add up to serious consequences.

As the trench warfare intensifies over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, members of both parties and Washington would do well to remember that they are doing far more to erode their own credibility than they are of their preferred targets’. 

“The principal purposes to be answered by union are these the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 23

New Yorker: “As Thomas Lennon’s forty-minute Oscar-nominated documentary short ‘Knife Skills’ begins, it’s opening night at Edwins, a new French restaurant in Cleveland. Just before show time, a sharp-dressed proprietor in a pink necktie talks to his staff in the dining room. ‘This is going to be the most anticipated restaurant opening that Cleveland’s seen,’ he tells them. … The proprietor introduces himself as Brandon Chrostowski and says, ‘The short of it is, a restaurant saved my life. And, because of that, I’m here today and we’re doing what you see.’ … [‘Knife Skills’] is a chance to get to know a group of people in a specific time and place and to feel the energy of a good idea in action; we, like the participants, hope for its success and worry about potential defeat. Recidivism is common among former inmates, drug relapses by former addicts are pernicious, and the first year of reëntry is an especially perilous time. The film portrays this sensitively and straightforwardly…”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.2 points
[Average includes: IBD: 35% - 58%; Gallup: 40% approve - 57% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve - 48% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 36% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.2 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.6 points 
Change from one week ago:
 Democratic advantage down 2 points  
[Average includes: IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP; Fox News: 44% Dems - 38% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 38% GOP; ABC News/WaPo: 51% Dems - 39% GOP.]

Weekly Standard: “With just three days remaining until a government shutdown deadline, House Republicans on Monday night moved forward on a stopgap funding measure that is likely to breeze through the chamber on a party-line vote but will face slim odds in the Senate. House Republican leaders laid out their game plan to members during an emergency GOP conference meeting Monday night. The continuing resolution/omnibus mash-up (dubbed a ‘cromnibus’ by denizens of Capitol Hill) would keep the government running through March 23, fund community health centers for two years, and would include the rest of the year’s worth of defense funding. Republicans want to bust spending caps adopted as part of the Budget Control Act to supplement defense spending to the tune of $659.2 billion. Government funding runs out at midnight on Thursday, and Congress is scrambling to avoid another shutdown just weeks after a January spending lapse caused in part by a still-unresolved immigration debate.”

Freedom Caucus on board - The Hill: “The House Freedom Caucus will support GOP leadership’s strategy to pair a full year of defense funding with a temporary spending patch for the rest of the government, the group announced Monday night. The expected stamp of approval likely puts the funding bill on track for passage in the House on Tuesday, though it’s unclear whether the proposal will be able to pass the Senate, where Democrats have demanded equal increases for defense and nondefense spending programs. Current government funding runs out on Thursday. The Freedom Caucus took a formal position, which require consensus from 80 percent of its members, on the continuing resolution (CR) after a GOP conference meeting in which Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.) pitched the defense CR package to lawmakers.”

Trump’s ‘treason’ talk against Dems chills hopes for compromise - WaPo: “President Trump said Monday that it was ‘un-American’ and ‘treasonous’ when some congressional Democrats did not applaud during last week’s State of the Union address as he touted the low rates of black and Hispanic unemployment. … In the very State of the Union address that Trump is so perturbed about, the president declared that he was ‘extending an open hand to work with members of both parties.’ … Not only do Trump’s remarks in Ohio underscore the hollowness of such bipartisan bromides, they further poison the well. Why would Democrats cooperate or compromise with someone who questions their loyalty to the country? While the president was certainly being flip, this wasn’t just idle talk. It appears to be part of a coordinated effort to raise questions about the motives of the opposition. The Republican National Committee pushed out a web advertisement earlier Monday attacking Democrats for not standing during the State of the Union.”

Kelly says Trump may not be able to extend DREAMer deadline - WaPo: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said Tuesday that President Trump is not expected to extend a March 5 deadline for when legal protection and work permits begin to expire for young immigrants known as ‘dreamers’ — raising the stakes for lawmakers struggling to reach a solution. ‘I doubt very much’ Trump would extend the program, Kelly told reporters during an impromptu interview at the U.S. Capitol. He told reporters that he was ‘not so sure this president has the authority to extend it’ because the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants was not based on law.”

WashEx: “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., signed a pledge on the Senate floor Tuesday not to campaign against any colleagues currently serving in Congress, and he hopes other lawmakers will pledge to do the same. Manchin said in a Tuesday tweet that he made this promise to himself several years ago, but is now making it official because ‘Washington sucks but it doesn’t have to.’ ‘The time has come for all senators to make this pledge & commit ourselves to being Americans first,’ Manchin tweeted. Manchin’s pledge comes among an already heated 2018 election season where multiple first-time potential candidates have launched campaigns against incumbents.”

Hatch act: Retiring Utah senator recruited Romney - Boston Globe: “One day last March, Mitt Romney and Senator Orrin Hatch sat together in a hotel suite on the top floor of the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Washington, a few blocks from the White House. After eating lunch, Hatch revealed why he had called to meet with Romney, who happened to be in town to deliver a keynote address before an annual meeting of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. … ‘I told him it was likely I would retire, and I’d sure like to have him succeed me,’ Hatch, a senator since 1977, said in an interview. … That moment firmly planted the seeds for Romney’s unlikely foray into statewide Utah politics nearly six years after he won the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2012 only to lose to President Obama. The seeds Hatch planted would not sprout in earnest for another nine months, but now Romney is by all accounts committed and poised to announce a Senate run as an overwhelming favorite on Feb. 15.”

Bachmann skipping Senate campaign - MPR News: “Former Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has ruled out a run for U.S. Senate seat next fall. Bachmann’s reasoning: She didn’t have any ‘sense from the Lord’ that she should try for the seat, which was left vacant after Al Franken resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. ‘It became very clear to me that I wasn’t hearing any call from God to do this,’ Bachmann told radio host Jan Markell. MPR News confirmed Bachmann is staying out of the Senate race. Bachmann served four terms in Congress and attempted a run for president in 2012…”

Menendez ready to reclaim top committee spot - Politico: “Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to reclaim his post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just days after the Justice Department dropped corruption charges against him, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Monday. Menendez is poised to take back the job from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who has been serving as ranking member of the influential panel for nearly three years. … But Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is Democratic leader now. The source said that Schumer gave Menendez the OK to reclaim the post when charges were dropped last week.”

Fox News: “The House Intelligence Committee on Monday approved the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the highly-publicized GOP memo that alleges government surveillance abuse during the 2016 campaign. ‘We think this will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies in the majority memo,’ California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, told reporters. The vote was unanimous, he said. Schiff said Democrats have given the DOJ and the FBI a copy of their counter-memo and have asked them to tell them what redactions should be made for national security reasons. On Friday, Republicans on the Intelligence Committee released the memo from Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., which claimed the FBI and DOJ would not have sought surveillance warrants to spy on onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without the infamous, Democrat-funded anti-Trump dossier. The White House responded by saying the memo ‘raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI…’”

Bannon blowing off House committee - Reuters: “Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon will not testify before the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, two sources said on Monday, despite a subpoena requiring him to appear. The panel wants Bannon to testify as part of its investigation of allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States, following up on his Jan. 16 appearance that failed to satisfy some members of the committee. Representative Mike Conaway, a senior Republican committee member, told reporters on Monday he expected Bannon to comply with a subpoena and answer questions on Tuesday.”

Trump may push for new special counsel to investigate special counsel - CNBC: “President Donald Trump’s legal team backs the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate the FBI and Justice Department, a White House spokesman said Monday. The president’s attorneys have already signed off on the notion of picking a special counsel to probe U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ actions during the 2016 presidential campaign, Axios reported Monday, citing White House spokesman Raj Shah. The Justice Department would have to appoint the special prosecutor. If a second special counsel takes shape, it would mark perhaps the most drastic move by the Trump administration to delve into accusations of wrongdoing at the FBI and Justice Department leveled by the president and conservative lawmakers.”

NYT seeking documents behind the Carter file - NYT: “The New York Times is asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal secret documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser at the center of a disputed memo written by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee. The motion is unusual. No such wiretapping application materials apparently have become public since Congress first enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. That law regulates electronic spying on domestic soil — the interception of phone calls and emails — undertaken in the name of monitoring suspected spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for investigating ordinary criminal suspects.”

Conservatives warn of coming capitulation on ObamaCare - National Review

Dems head to Maryland for annual retreat - Politico

White House rivals draw a bead on rising star Raj Shah NY Mag

Government ethics chief warns federal workforce of ‘perilous times’ Politico

Noemie Emery:
 ’The Clintons’ political death by delayed reaction’ - WashEx

“I just go by the old rule: whatever they accuse you of doing, they’re actually doing.” –Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., on “Hannity” promoting his efforts to discredit the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. 

“In your Feb 5th Halftime Report, you quoted a Washington Post article commenting on the increasingly leftward tilt in California politics, and the fact that every statewide contest will probably feature a November ballot exclusively filled with Democrats. Considering the state was very competitive politically when I first moved here in 1988, I wonder if you can guess what has changed to make us a one-party state? I think I know the answer, but would be interested if a so-called pundit from the other coast can answer the question.” – Lou Segal, Santa Barbara, Calif.

[Ed. note: Maybe it’s because you asked too many sneering rhetorical questions! Sincerely, a so-called pundit.] 

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Telegraph: “Armed police were sent to an Aberdeenshire farm after a farmer checking his livestock thought he spotted a tiger in his cow shed. Bruce Grubb, 24, called the police, fearing the predator would attack his pregnant cows, but became suspicious when it failed to move during a 45-minute stand-off. After driving towards it in his truck he realised he was looking at a large cuddly toy. By that time several police vehicles, including an armed unit, had responded to the incident at the farm near Peterhead on Saturday. Officers even checked with a local wildlife park in case a tiger was on the loose. When the truth emerged, Police Scotland said they were regarding it as a ‘false call made with genuine good intent’. Officers removed the tiger, telling an embarrassed Mr Grubb they wanted to keep it as a mascot.”

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.