Schumer faces failure in first test as leader

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On the roster: Schumer faces failure in first test as leader - Report: Susan Rice unmasked identities in Trump intel - Trump leverages China’s cooperation over Norks - Audible: Sidearm - Like Batman, but for commas

At this writing, Democrats are just one vote in the Senate away from the first successful filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee in history.

But success, here, is a relative term.

With the announcement of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s home-state Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that he will not join 40 of his Democratic colleagues in refusing to allow an up or down vote, just four members of the upper chamber remain undecided.

If any of Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Angus King of Maine, Robert Menendez of New Jersey or Ben Cardin of Maryland decide to join the effort to block Gorsuch we will enter a new political paradigm. And not a pretty one.

The choice facing the remaining four Democrats is not whether they’ll keep Gorsuch off the high court but how his confirmation will take place. In a town where stupid, symbolic victories on procedural matters has often taken the place of real governance, this one would be a doozy.

Having failed to generate legitimate concerns about the highly-regarded Gorsuch, Democrats are left in the unenviable position of having to satisfy the angriest part of their political base even when they know it will hurt them in the long run.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was thought by many to be an ideal choice to lead Democrats in the Trump era. Aside from his long rapport with President Trump from their New York days, Schumer is the kind of cagy pragmatist that many thought would be a relief after the curdled partisanship of his predecessor, Harry Reid.

But in his first test, Schumer is so far proving unequal to the moment.

It’s like this: because Gorsuch is so well respected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had no trouble getting even the most moderate Republicans on board with a change to Senate rules that would allow a Supreme Court nomination with just a simple majority rather than the current 60 votes.

Schumer himself has joined the filibuster crew in what may still prove to be a smart gambit of placating liberals but still preventing the deployment of the so-called “nuclear option.”

The broad assumption in Washington is that Trump will get to make at least one more Supreme Court pick during his term. And there is no guarantee that the next one will be as broadly admired and qualified as Gorsuch. If Republicans were trying to ram through a less well-regarded jurist, it might be harder for McConnell to get the votes for rule change.

While you only need 51 votes to change the rule of 60, plenty of Republicans might balk at blowing up long-standing procedures for the sake of a nominee of whom they were less enamored.

But the thinking here is clear: if Democrats will filibuster Gorusch, they will filibuster anybody.

Now, Democrats’ thinking may be that nuclear winter is coming no matter what, so why bother being the goat to liberals who votes to advance the nominee of a president universally and passionately despised on the left.

This is one of those moments when if senators voted by secret ballot, the outcome would be enormously different.

A Senate leader’s job involves a great deal, but the crucial skill is the ability to get members of your conference to do politically painful things in the name of helping the party.

If on Friday, Schumer and his team can get eight Democrats to take the plunge and join Republicans in moving Gorsuch on to a final vote, the new minority leader will have proven himself the practitioner of politics he was repudiated to be.

However, if Democrats go for a short-term, symbolic victory in exchange for the possibility of a more valuable future win, then Schumer will have shown himself to be out of his depths and headed for the same fate as Reid: A toxic asset for Democrats.

“To this reasoning it may perhaps be objected, that if any State should be disaffected to the authority of the Union, it could at any time obstruct the execution of its laws, and bring the matter to the same issue of force, with the necessity of which the opposite scheme is reproached.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 16

The Paris Review: “Fiction is, by definition, a world away from fact—but Santiago Ramón y Cajal, often heralded as ‘the father of modern neuroscience,’ used it to find objective truth. Cajal spent his days at the microscope, gazing down at faint, entangled fibers that appeared to his fellow anatomists as inscrutable labyrinths. Contrary to prevailing theory, the Spaniard discerned that the nervous system, including the brain, comprises distinctly individual cells (neurons), which, he theorized, must communicate across the infinitesimal spaces between them (synapses). It was Cajal who first applied the term plasticity to the brain; he went so far as to recommend ‘cerebral gymnastics’ for mental enhancement, presaging twenty-first century insights and trends about brain exercise.” 

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Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reports that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice was behind the “unmasking” identities of those mentioned in Intel reports relating to Trump’s transition team. “White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on ‘unmasking’ the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally.”

How Team Obama blew its handling of Russia and the 2016 election - Politico: “It’s a question that still rankles many a Clinton loyalist: Why didn’t the Obama administration do more to sound the alarm over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign? Few former officials have explained it, but in a new interview for The Global POLITICO, Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, describes a White House afraid of ‘doing the Russians’ work for them.’  By going public before the election with evidence that the Kremlin was trying to help Donald Trump, the Obama team feared, they’d be accused of intervening to help Hillary Clinton. So they mostly kept quiet despite intense lobbying from fellow Democrats to say more before the voting.”

[Who is Devin Nunes? Roll Call provides the backstory.]

Fox News: “President Trump has said the United States is ready to act alone against North Korea’s nuclear program if China does not take a tougher stance, just days before he hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida. Trump made the comments in a Financial Times interview posted Sunday on the newspaper’s website. ‘We will talk about North Korea,’ Trump said. ‘And China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.’”

Trump’s son-in-law makes trip to Iraq - USA Today: “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, is visiting Iraq on an unannounced trip. Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is a senior adviser to the president, is in the Middle Eastern country with Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford invited Kushner and Thomas P. Bossert, Trump’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, on the visit to meet with Iraqi leaders and senior U.S. advisers and visit U.S. troops to get an update on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said Capt. Greg Hicks, Dunford’s spokesman.”

Eliana Johnson
 reports Nikki Haley outshining her Trump administration counterparts Politico

Stephen Dinan reports that Border Patrol union wants its helicopters back - Wash Times

For one town of Trump voters a mix of hope and anxiety WaPo

Pew Poll: Optimistic Republicans drive boom in economic outlook Pew Research Center

Trump struggles to fill Pentagon jobs - The Hill

Mapping the six degrees of Trump opposition - FiveThirtyEight

IRS chief John Koskinen still in place despite Republicans calls for his resignation - The Hill

“I'm leaving you in first place. You take it from here.” – President John Kennedy to Washington Senators Manager Mickey Vernon after the team won their 1962 Opening Day game, at which Kennedy threw out the first pitch. The Senators would go on to win only 60 games and finish last in the American League.

“Pres. Trump hasn't been in office for 100 days yet (still can't figure out why that's such a magic number), yet prognosticators at both ends of the political spectrum are already setting up his likely defeat for reelection in another  3 years and a few hundred some days. Do they possess ‘real’ Magic 8 Balls that can predict the future that accurately?” – John-William Gibson, Coos Bay, Ore.

[Ed. note: One of the reasons I think it was unwise for Trump to declare for re-election even before taking office is that it will affect not only his thinking, but that of those observing his presidency. To deliver the kind of change he promised, Trump would have needed to be unbound by the concerns of setting up a re-election bid. And I think voters would have liked it better if he appeared to be swinging for the fences.]

“Is it possible that political commentators fail to distinguish between governing and legislating? Suppose Trump got nothing new through Congress for the rest of his term except conservative judges and departmental/agency staffers. Instead, suppose he continued his current pattern of nullifying the Obama legacy by executive order and/or inaction, blocked any new regulations, and enforced existing immigration laws vigorously.   Would that not constitute successful governing, from the perspective of those who elected him?” – Richard Dorsey, Orange, Calif.

[Ed. note: Mr. Dorsey, I think many conservatives who voted for Trump would be very pleased with the outcome you described. I have often said that volume is a poor measure for the performance of a legislative body. But, quality is in the eye of the beholder. I suspect before too long, however the log jam will break and we will see new laws cascading forth from Washington. They just can’t help themselves.]

“Really enjoyed the new feature and hope to see more of it.  Of course Charles Hurt would be a hit no matter what the format was.  HT Report continues to be my favorite daily read.  The only way to improve would be to produce it on the week end.” – Ellen TensenSparta, N.J.

[Ed. note: I’m glad you enjoyed our new, more frivolous Power Play game-show format. I liked it very much, and we have what we think are good ideas to make it better in this and subsequent weeks. Mr. Hurt, of course was a perfect choice for the first round: a good attitude and a surprise victory. As for working weekends, that would be a lot to ask any time, Ms. Tensen, but its baseball season for crying out loud!]

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The Guardian: “He has been branded ‘the Banksy of punctuation’ and describes himself as a ‘grammar vigilante.’ For more than a decade, an unknown corrector of poor English has been venturing out in the dead of night and tidying up the punctuation on Bristol’s shop fronts and street signs. The identity of the man remains unknown but on Monday the BBC announced it had tracked him down and had accompanied him on one of his night-time missions. He told the BBC he was a family man who worked in engineering. ‘I’m a grammar vigilante,’ he said. ‘I do think it’s a cause worth pursuing.’ The man said he began by scratching out an extraneous apostrophe on a sign but had since become more sophisticated and has built an ‘apostrophiser’ – a long-handled piece of kit that allows him to reach up to shop signs to add in, or cover up, offending punctuation marks.”

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