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On the roster:  Seriously, Nancy Pelosi? - Trump returning to campaign trail with Iowa rally - Holder reportedly mulling 2020 run - Experts say Russia meddled, but didn’t hack vote - Toes up

Imagine that Republicans had lost four consecutive contested special House elections, including one into which the party sluiced more than $25 million.

Do you think that Paul Ryan would be in trouble? Quite certainly. Might he even be in increasing danger of losing his perch at the top of the House GOP? Probably.

And yet, the Democratic leadership team in the House is not only apparently unruffled but remains essentially unchanged for 14 years. Mind you, in those 14 years Democrats did win the House, but also lost it and failed to retake control in three consecutive cycles.

By comparison, none of the members of senior House Republican leadership following the party’s loss of majority in 2006 are still on the team. In fact, none of them are even in Congress anymore. One is retired, one is in the Senate and the other is in a federal prison hospital.

Admittedly, the terrain for Democrats has been testy in not only general elections but in the special elections this year. But, even so, going 1-4 and gaining no seats, despite enormous sums of money and intense focus, is just plain embarrassing.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. responds to questions about President Donald Trump's actions and agenda, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP)

Democrats certainly can’t be expected to suddenly be competitive in four heavily Republican districts, but party leaders not only chose to back contestants in each one but also made the race for Georgia’s 6thCongressional District into a proxy war for the national parties. This was a battleground of their choosing.

So why does Nancy Pelosi still have her job?

Democrats have been feverishly debating the proper direction for their party in the Trump era. Some say overt socialism is what’s needed. Others say definitional opposition to President Trump is the key. Still others say a renewed focus on socially moderate white, working-class voters is the answer. And don’t forget those who believe the party’s focus should be on social justice for gender and ethnic grievances.

This is every bit as silly as the Republican ideological and strategic soul searching that took place after the party’s 2012 defeat.

After losing the national popular vote in five out of six elections, Republicans were rightly growing concerned that while as a rural-suburban coalition, their party could be competitive on the Congressional level, the presidency could be falling out of reach.

So, members of the GOP gassed on endlessly on what to do. The consensus view, reached after an anguishing autopsy process, was that the party had to modernize and intensify on outreach toward younger voters, women and ethnic minorities.


As it turned out, the Republican Party would have very little to say about what its voters or its candidates would do. Even now, with control over both houses of Congress and the presidency, Republicans are doing a poor job at setting constraints on message, methods and ideology.

By design and by nature, political parties reflect their memberships. Republican elders might have wanted voters and candidates to say and do certain things, but in the end, it didn’t matter. There is no dial on the wall at the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee to set ideological or attitudinal positions. These things inherently come from the ground up, not the top down.

But what you can do as a party is elect new leaders: party chairmen or chairwomen, state and local bosses and, especially for a party out of power, Congressional leaders. You have heard the old saw in Washington “personnel is policy.” It’s been around so long because it’s true.

Republicans could have done all of the autopsying they wanted, but in the end, he direction and policies of the GOP are determined by Trump and the top Republicans in the Senate and House. If Democrats want things to be different, and Lord knows they do, they cannot keep the same leadership team.

And yet, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly after the 2016 election to retain Pelosi, despite a third failed attempt to recapture the majority. Her challenger, Rep. Tim Ryan D-Ohio, could only scrounge together fewer than half of the votes that Pelosi got.

Now, some Democrats like Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts are calling again for change and “a new generation of leadership in Washington and in the Democratic Party.” Moulton, who served four tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine and knocked off incumbent Democrat John Tierney in a 2014 primary challenge, told Boston’s WCVB that “some of the leadership that we have today, mostly in their mid to late 70’s – I think it’s time to move on.” It’s no mystery that he means 77-year-old Pelosi and her 78-year-old lieutenant, Steny Hoyer.

But Democrats need something beyond a new approach and a new attitude: they need a new face.

The Blue Team is debating now whether its nominee in Tuesday’s Georgia special election failed to attack Trump to a sufficient degree. One could certainly argue that John Ossoff already had the votes of the most intense opponents of the president and was right to focus on persuadable voters. But it would be equally defensible to say that Ossoff missed an opportunity to tie Rep.-elect Karen Handel more thoroughly to a president who is unpopular in the district.

There was no need for debate on the Republican approach. The GOP was able to use the same playbook it has since 2010: Stop Pelosi. While Democrats were muddling their message in their ads, Republicans had a famous villain to run against.

Any legislative leader who stays around long enough will become unpopular. People generally hate Congress. But Pelosi, a sharp-elbowed partisan from an elite, ultra-liberal San Francisco district, is a particular lightning rod.

If Ryan had defeated Pelosi for the minority leader slot in December, what would Republicans have had to run on? Heck, Ryan even has the same last name as the Republican speaker of the House. What were they going to say? “Don’t give Ryan a rubber stamp.”

Republicans can be happy that they avoided a humbling defeat that would have banished hopes for the revival of their agenda.

But they also have to remember that their ability to get out of the scrapes depends on the adamancy of Democrats in refusing to change, even when it hurts so much to stay the same.

Dems need diversity of opportunity - “How might this translate for Democrats next November, when all 435 seats are up for grabs? The results simultaneously suggest that an impressively wide array of Republican-held seats might be competitive next year — perhaps as many as 60 to 80 — and that Democrats are outright favorites in only a fraction of these, perhaps no more than a dozen. To some extent, this configuration is a result of Republican-led gerrymandering in 2010. Republicans drew a lot of districts where their members are safe under normal conditions, but not in the event of a massive midterm wave. In order to win a net of 24 seats next year — enough to flip the House — Democrats may therefore need to target dozens of Republican-held seats and see where the chips fall. They can variously attempt anti-Trump, anti-Republican or anti-incumbent messages depending on the district.” – Nate Silverwriting at FiveThirtyEight

‘This might be the worst democratic freak-out ever’ - “So what accounts for the deep gloom overtaking Democrats? There are the atmospherics of repeatedly losing, which overpower any circumstantial explanation. There is also a long-standing party division over tactics, which gives all sides an incentive to play up the direness of defeat in order to emphasize their own customary remedies. (‘My strategy will make our party stronger, but we’re doing fine anyway’ is an argument nobody in history has ever made.) And then there is the psychology of surprise. A few months ago, a 4-point Ossoff defeat would have met expectations. After a frenzied nationalized race, it comes as a massive blow, which requires explanations large enough to bear the weight of the trauma it has inflicted upon Democrats.” – Jonathan Chaitwriting at New York Magazine

“There is a wide difference, also, between military establishments in a country seldom exposed by its situation to internal invasions, and in one which is often subject to them, and always apprehensive of them.” –Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 8

Neurologist Robert Burton’s examines what happens when neurology becomes a religion. Nautilus: “As a fledgling neurologist, I’d already seen a wide variety of strange mental states arising out of physical diseases. But on this particular day, I couldn’t wrap my mind around a gene mutation generating an isolated feeling of being spied on by the FBI. How could a localized excess of amino acids in a segment of DNA be transformed into paranoia? Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had run headlong into the ‘hard problem of consciousness,’ the enigma of how physical brain mechanisms create purely subjective mental states. In the subsequent 50 years, what was once fodder for neurologists’ late night speculations has mushroomed into the pre-eminent question in the philosophy of mind. As an intellectual challenge, there is no equal to wondering how subatomic particles, mindless cells, synapses, and neurotransmitters create the experience of red, the beauty of a sunset, the euphoria of lust, the transcendence of music, or in this case, intractable paranoia.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.8 points
Change from one week ago: -0.6 points


WashEx: “President Trump returns to Iowa on Wednesday during the administration's tech week to draw attention to technological innovations in agriculture before holding an evening campaign-style rally. The president will visit Kirkwood Community College, the Cedar Rapids institution that White House says is recognized as a center for innovation in the agriculture sector. Trump will take a tour of the college and give remarks. ‘We believe the takeaway is even in American agriculture, technology is the key to better yields and to more return,’ Ray Starling, a special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, told reporters on Tuesday. … Starling said the event will also serve as send-off of sorts for former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who was confirmed as Trump's ambassador to China last month. He said Trump will also make an announcement about how ‘he is committed to including internet connectivity as a component of the infrastructure effort that he is working on with Congress.’”

Fox News: “Eric Holder, the Obama-era attorney general who delighted in sparring with congressional Republicans and has since joined the anti-Trump ‘resistance,’ said in an interview he’s planning to become ‘more visible’ – and reportedly could be considering a 2020 presidential run. Yahoo News reported that Holder is mulling a bid and stepping up his public appearances. ‘Up to now, I have been more behind-the-scenes,’ Holder told Yahoo News. ‘But that’s about to change. I have a certain status as the former attorney general. … So I want to use whatever skills I have, whatever notoriety I have, to be effective in opposing things that are, at the end of the day, just bad for the country.’ According to Yahoo News, he said, ‘Now is the time to be more visible.’ What exactly he means by that remains to be seen. For now, it means helping lead the legal charge against President Trump’s agenda.”

AP: “The Russians ‘used fake news and propaganda and they also used online amplifiers to spread the information to as many people as possible,’ Bill Priestap, the FBI's top counterintelligence official, told the Senate Intelligence committee. While he said the Russians had conducted covert operations targeting past American elections, the internet ‘has allowed Russia to do so much more’ than before. But, he added, the ‘scale and aggressiveness’ was different this time, with the primary goal being to sow discord and aid the candidacy of Republican Donald Trump, the eventual winner. … Jeanette Manfra, Homeland Security undersecretary for cybersecurity, said there is evidence that 21 state election systems were targeted… Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson from the Obama administration told the House Intelligence committee that Moscow's high-tech intrusion did not change ballots, the final count or the reporting of election results.”

Despite concerns about blackmail, Flynn heard C.I.A. secrets -NYT: “Senior officials across the government became convinced in January that the incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had become vulnerable to Russian blackmail. At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies — career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem. Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence — with Mr. Flynn listening. Mr. Pompeo has not said whether C.I.A. officials left him in the dark about their views of Mr. Flynn, but one administration official said Mr. Pompeo did not share any concerns about Mr. Flynn with the president.”

NYT: “A growing rift among Senate Republicans over federal spending on Medicaid and the opioid epidemic is imperiling legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act that Senate leaders are trying to put to a vote by the end of next week. President Trump had urged Republican senators to write a more generous bill than a House version that he first heralded and then called ‘mean,’ but Republican leaders on Tuesday appeared to be drafting legislation that would do even more to slow the growth of Medicaid toward the end of the coming decade. And conservative senators, led by Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, are determined to hold the line on federal spending, pitting two Senate factions against each other. Senator John Cornyn of Texas emerged from a contentious closed-door lunch with Republican senators on Tuesday saying that he hoped the Senate would be able to meet the deadline of a vote before July 4.”

EPA plans early retirements more than 1,200 employees this summer - WaPo

State Department probes Clinton emails, could pull her security clearance Fox News

Congressional Black Caucus expected to decline Trump meeting 

“Frankly, I think Republicans are going to get tired of winning at some point if the Democrats don't ever get an agenda.” – White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders borrowed a token phrase from President Trump on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning.

Rodney Stooksbury raised $0 for his 2016 campaign for Georgia's 6th District and received 124,917 votes. Jon Ossoff raised $23.3 million for his 2017 campaign and received 124,893 votes. Any lessons to be learned from these results?” – Michael Friend, Atlanta

[Ed. note: I think the first lesson, Mr. Friend, is the same one from the 2016 election which is that superior spending is not guarantor of success. The other thing is that it’s sometimes far better to sneak up on your prey, especially when you hope to benefit from a favorable environment. The fact that Democrats did about as well in the sleepy contest in a more challenging South Carolina special election on Tuesday than they did in the scorched earth of suburban Atlanta is testament to that.]

“Just finished an interesting history of the Civil War in WV and found that the population was almost evenly split on a decision to become a separate state. The NE portion of the state sided with the Union and the SW portion of the state sided with the Confederacy. WV sent more troops to fight for the confederacy than did the state of TN. The issue of slavery was not the primary reason for loyalty to the south given the very low number of slaves in the state. The SW half of the state STRONGLY believed in States Rights. As a proud daughter of the state, it is also ingrained in my DNA.” – Marilyn Moore, Scottsville, Va.

[Ed. note: Having grown up in Wheeling, I have heard this argument many times. And there is some truth to it. The 55 western counties of Virginia that seceded from succession certainly included a large number of Confederate sympathizers, especially from the Kanawha Valley and points south. There were thousands of West Virginians in the fight for CSA just as there was thousands in the fight for the Union. Evidence of the new state’s division was revealed after Confederates, even those who had not sworn an oath to the Union, were re-enfranchised. The balance of power in the state swiftly shifted from the industrial centers of the North to the South, a region also helped by a growing number of miners for the burgeoning coalfields. Democrats took the capital from Wheeling to Charleston in 1870, but then in 1875 Republicans had their revenge and took the statehouse back to the original capital until 1885 when after a statewide plebiscite in which voters chose among Wheeling, Clarksburg, Martinsburg and Charleston for the permanent site of the capital. Charleston and the Democrats entered a period of ascendency that would last for more than a century, with near absolute control from 1932 until 2014. Part of the shift has had to do with the descendants of Confederates changing their political affiliations but also in the shift in population as the coalfields emptied out and growth came to North Central West Virginia and the eastern panhandle. While it is true that West Virginia’s separation was motivated by the economic aspirations of its founding fathers who were eager to be a part of the industrializing North and not the agrarian South, slavery was undeniably the main cause of the rift between the two Virginias. In the foreground of the Great Seal of the State of West Virginia is a Phrygian, the hat worn by freed slaves in Roman times – known to Americans as a liberty cap. The hat symbolizes not just the fact that West Virginians are free from the rule of far-away Richmond, but also as the state motto, montani semper liberi, reminds us mountaineers are always free, even from the bonds of slavery.] 

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Vancouver Sun: “The Yukon hotel’s Sourdough Saloon is down one human toe after a patron boasted about and then followed through with stealing a mummified toe that is used in the saloon’s infamous Sourtoe Cocktail on Saturday. ‘We are furious,’ said Terry Lee, the hotel’s toe captain who performs the Sourtoe ceremony. ‘This guy asked to do the Toe after the 9 to 11 p.m. toe time hours and one of the new staff served it to him to be nice — and this is how he pays her back. What a low life.’ The cocktail involves downing a shot of whiskey that contains a human toe inside the glass. The drinker’s lips must touch the toe in order to be initiated into a club and issued a certificate. In a statement, Lee said the man is from Quebec, had a French accent and had been bragging about possibly stealing the toe before he took the drink. The hotel plans to fine the patron $2,500 and is offering a reward for anyone who has information about the theft. The man also left his certificate, which bears his name, and police are now investigating.”

“But I really think these special elections are very special. Where else are you going to pour in $25 million into a House race? It's rather insane. And the 2018 elections are more than a year away, a year and a quarter away.” – 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.