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On the roster: Some meta Mueller questions - Time Out: R&Brie - Fox Poll: It’s Biden and Bernie by a mile - Audible: Claws out - The case of the cruel crop-duster
SOME META MUELLER QUESTIONS
After two years of frothy speculation over the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, we finally have some answers.
But here we go getting all frothed up again.
We haven’t yet seen the report, which is currently being scrubbed and scoured by lawyers at the Justice Department who are redacting the bits that might harm national security, damage ongoing investigations or improperly malign innocents and bystanders.
But because of Mueller’s topline finding that neither President Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian operatives to defeat his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, we’re watching an abrupt changing of lanes.
Democrats who had defended Mueller and his conduct are shifting into attack mode against a Justice Department some of them say is covering up Trump’s misdeeds. Some Republicans, meanwhile, are renewing their own attacks on federal law enforcement. They’re arguing that since Mueller has now cleared the president on the key concern, it’s evidence of systemic corruption inside the department.
But we don’t know what else is in the report and we don’t yet know how much of it will be released. Depending on the decisions of Attorney General William Barr, we may be just at the beginning of a weeks-long fight over what Congress and the public will get to see.
But spin in the absence of evidence is worse than a waste. As we just observed after two years of Mueller time, insubstantial spin creates false, arbitrary expectations and often leads to rank embracement. But since grievance is the coin of our current political realm, there are plenty on both sides happy to ignore the giant object lesson dropped on their heads Sunday afternoon.
But there are lots of good questions to be asked today and in the days to come.
- Will this news help break the fever among Democrats or intensify it? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has for months been cautioning her fellow Democrats away from impeachment proceedings, instead urging them to instead focus on winning in 2020. We would guess that this reality check from Mueller will strengthen her hand in the long run.
- How does a post-Mueller Trump behave? The presence of Mueller’s investigation was a powerful tool for the president’s aides in finding ways to constrain the mercurial chief executive. While there will certainly be ongoing state and federal investigations into alleged ethical and legal breaches by the president, his administration and his family, a great weight has been lifted. How will Trump behave now that he is unbound by Mueller? Remember that voters consistently have shown dislike for chaos in Trump’s White House.
- Which Democratic presidential candidates are best positioned to thrive in the new environment? The political ground is shifting rapidly, but we can’t yet know in which direction. As we considered in our first question we can’t say yet whether this will make Democratic voters dispirited or even more bloodthirsty. Certainly it will be a painful adjustment for the percentage of the Blue Team that felt assured that Trump would not serve out his first term. Will those and other Democratic voters demand a nominee who promises legal retribution for Trump? Will other Democrats try to forget the whole thing to focus on more traditional issues?
- Will this increase or decrease Republican unity? As long as Trump faced an existential threat from Mueller it was somewhat easier to paper over intra-party disputes. Just as Republicans could use the dangers of Mueller to try to keep Trump in line, the White House could use the threat of Mueller to help back down dissent. As we saw in recent weeks the Republican Senate has become increasingly restive. On the other hand, anyone who was withholding some loyalty to Trump out of a concern about collusion has no more excuse.
We are in the beginning hours of the next political era and know very little about the facts and decisions that will shape it. That sounds like a good time to consider the possibilities but a bad time for bold pronouncements.
Politicians and members of the press should act accordingly.
THE RULEBOOK: ABOUT BAD APPLES
“Because the prospect of present loss or advantage may often tempt the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice; but those temptations, not reaching the other States, and consequently having little or no influence on the national government, the temptation will be fruitless, and good faith and justice be preserved.” – John Jay, Federalist No. 3
TIME OUT: R&BRIE
NPR: “[The] finding of a recent experiment by researchers in Switzerland … set out to determine how soundwaves might affect the microorganisms that give cheese its flavor. The experiment, titled Cheese in Surround Sound, started last fall with nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese placed in nine separate wooden crates. The assorted fromage was played various types of sound waves and songs… There was also one control cheese wheel that wasn't given any music at all. The cheese was exposed to the music 24 hours a day over six months through a transmitter that focused the sound waves into the cheese wheels. … Once the cheese matured, it was analyzed by professional food technologists, who concluded the cheese wheels exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the control cheese. The group also determined the cheese that was played hip-hop had ‘a discernibly stronger smell and stronger, fruitier taste than the other test samples,’ according to a summary of the experiment's findings.”
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.
Trump job performance
Average approval: 44 percent
Average disapproval: 52 percent
Net Score: -8 points
Change from one week ago: up 4.2 points
[Average includes: Fox News: 46% approve - 51% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 48% approve - 49% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve - 52% disapprove.]
FOX POLL: BIDEN, SANDERS TOP DEMOCRATIC PREFERENCE
Fox News: “So many Democrats are running for president the race feels like a March Madness bracket. If it were, the No. 1 seeds would be former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Either would be favored to beat President Donald Trump in the 2020 finals, according to the latest Fox News Poll. Democratic primary voters were read a list of 20 announced and potential candidates for the 2020 nomination. Biden is the top choice at 31 percent, followed by Sanders at 23 percent. California Sen. Kamala Harris (8 percent) and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (8 percent) make up a second tier. They are followed by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (4 percent), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (4 percent), and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (2 percent). … Two-thirds of Democratic primary voters want Biden to run, and he is the top choice among those who prioritize beating Trump, followed by Harris, Sanders, and O’Rourke. Among those who say it is more important to vote for the candidate they like than the one who could win, Sanders is the first choice, followed by Biden.”
What do voters want? - Fox News: “The poll also asks Democratic primary voters about policies. Majorities are ‘very’ likely to back a candidate who supports Medicare for all (67 percent) and a 70 percent tax rate on income over $10 million (53 percent). Less than 4 in 10 are very likely to vote for a candidate who supports passing the Green New Deal (37 percent), paying reparations to descendants of slaves (31 percent), and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE (25 percent). The hypothetical head-to-heads among registered voters show support for Trump stays between 40-42 percent against each Democrat tested. He tops both Harris (39-41 percent) and Warren by 2 points (40-42 percent). Sanders has a 3-point edge over the president (44-41 percent), but Biden performs best, topping Trump by 7 points (47-40 percent).”
Buttigieg’s youth movement - WaPo: “[Pete] Buttigieg, who was elected mayor of South Bend, Ind., before he turned 30, is used to the double-takes. As his dark horse candidacy has gotten more attention, he's leaned into his age, declaring himself a member of the ‘school shooting generation’ that will live through the ‘business end of climate change.’ … The Indiana Democrat, who is expected to officially launch his candidacy next month, has turned years of 'next big thing' coverage into a genuine presidential boomlet. He raised more than $1 million after a CNN town hall and appeared to have met the standard for entering the first Democratic debates. He's adding to a skeletal staff, expanding his campaign headquarters and beginning to build the sort of operation that could compete in early states. Here's what it looks like on the ground."
Party activists test Booker’s loyalties - Politico: “In an interview, [Cory] Booker laid bare what he is grappling with: He’s been in the minority most of the time he’s been in the Senate and seen the power of the filibuster block the conservative agenda. And he’s worried that if Democrats make changes to the fabric of the Supreme Court, it will be exploited to potentially greater effect by Republicans in the future. … But his institutional loyalties are being tested by an activist base lurching left and a need to break out of the sprawling Democratic field where he registers in the low- to mid-single digits. His ambivalence toward such explosive changes reflects Booker’s broader positioning in the 2020 race and within the Senate Democratic Caucus. … It’s a profile that could ultimately help him stand out among his 2020 counterparts…”
Dems give cold shoulder to GOPers on bipartisan bills - Politico
Hoyer heralds U.S.-Israeli friendship, subtly rebukes Rep. Omar - WaPo
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., announces he will retire in 2020 - Medium
Pergram: ‘Mueller probe findings trigger a different kind of March Madness on Capitol Hill’ - Fox News
AUDIBLE: CLAWS OUT
“There's more than one way to skin a cat, and not everything has to be done through legislation explicitly.” – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., discussing her use of Twitter to target big banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Responding to you call for comments [on] March 22: ‘a lack of civics education in which too few Americans understand the value of their votes.’ My wife and I have never failed to vote in an election where it was legal and possible. Lately I observe that the freedom of elections no longer exists in CA and some other states. In CA, a proposition has allowed only the two leading candidates to appear on the final election ballot. That, together with an open primary wherein cross party voting is permitted, resulted in no Republican candidate appearing on the ballot for US Senator this year. Hence, despising the Democrat party of today (previously being a ‘liberal’ Democrat years ago), I had NO VOTE in that election. Now there appears to be a ‘trend’ for malicious leaders of some states to force the presidential electors to vote in proportion to the national vote. Hence, citizens of those states will have no vote at all. Their vote is being stolen. If there ever will be a justification for armed rebellion in this country, this is it. Incredible. Disastrous. Criminal. Treasonous. All appropriate descriptions.” – Victor Galindo, Laguna Woods, Calif.
[Ed. note: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. Galindo! It’s a little early in the week to already be at “armed rebellion.” You’ve got to give me time to get warmed up! I certainly understand the frustration of California Republicans who are watching Democrats press their partisan advantage by consigning the already weakened GOP to permanent majority status. You might talk to Democrats in some Southern states that have similar election laws as California. Louisiana’s Blue Team would tell you that a jungle primary system is no fun for the weaker party. And while I certainly am concerned about what is now a collection of 13 states looking to hack the Constitution by awarding an Electoral College victory to the winner of the national popular vote, I would caution you against calling the elected leaders of those states “malicious.” You may think that they are wrong, but I don’t necessarily see malice in what they’re doing. These folks believe in more direct democracy, a view that I assume is sincerely held and one which they believe would benefit the country. And most of all, I would urge you to be especially careful with accusations of treason against your fellow Americans. Using such serious words so readily not only ensures that no fruitful discussion can follow, it diminishes their value in those rare times where they might be needful. In politics and life, it is possible to assume the best of others while always being prepared for the worst. The practice of patriotic grace is a blessing to both its recipient and its giver.]
“I am embarrassed that this thought just dawned on me at the young age of 61... but is there any linkage to the name ‘Republicans’ to the US being a ‘republic’ and therefore supporting such concepts as the Electoral College and the Senate? Likewise, is the name of the ‘Democratic’ party directly linked to the strict concept of ‘democracy’ and therefore such things as majority rule?” – Ted Toburen, Wake Forest, N.C.
[Ed. note: There are such linkages, indeed! The roots of our parties trace back all the way to the debate over independence and most definitely the construction of the Constitution. The first antecedents of the modern Republicans were the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton. They favored a strong federal government, a powerful executive branch, lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary and the indirect election of presidents and senators. On the other side were the Anti-Federalists who favored de-centralized power and stronger states. As the weak Articles of Confederation foundered, the Federalists, who were mostly northerners, had their moment. With the help of Virginian James Madison from the other side of the aisle, they gave us the basic republican structure of our government. The Anti-Federalists had suffered for lack of a leader to match Hamilton, but that matter was remedied when newly elected George Washington summoned Thomas Jefferson home from his diplomatic post in Paris. The struggle inside Washington’s cabinet between Secretary of State Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Hamilton was the flash point for a new, sharper partisanship. Jefferson’s emerging party took the name Democratic-Republican for itself, meaning to signal that they were for both the will of the people but in favor of republican institutions that would act as a check on tyranny. The Federalists soon fumbled. John Adams got bounced after one term and Hamilton was permanently disgraced because of hush money he paid to cover up an affair. Jefferson’s victory in 1800 was the beginning of the end of the Federalist Party. By the 1820s, they were done. The successor party, the Whigs, that arose in the 1830s substantially carried forward the Federalist cause but soon enough collapsed on the issue of slavery. In the mid-1850s, abolitionists opposed to the expansion of slavery organized in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the 1820 compromise that forbade slavery in new states north of the southern border of Missouri. As momentum grew for the anti-slavery cause, the members of this group took the name Republican for themselves. By this point, the Democrats had long ago dropped the R-word from their name. With Andrew Jackson and his successors, the party’s passions were clearly with the will of the people over the republican restraint. The new party that would be defined by Abraham Lincoln, however, wanted to put the rule of law and federal authority first. There are many, many exceptions, but generally we can say that Democrats have traditionally placed the greatest value on the will of the people while Republicans have been more interested in the rights of individual persons.]
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THE CASE OF THE CRUEL CROP-DUSTER
WJW: “The Court of Appeal in Australia will take a look at a lawsuit Monday that claims a supervisor bullied a man with his flatulence. David Hingst, 56, is an engineer. ‘I would be sitting with my face to the wall and he would come into the room, which was small and had no windows,’ Hingst told the Australian Associated Press. ‘He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day.’ ‘He thrusted his bum at me while he’s at work,’ Hingst told a panel of judges in a previous claim that was dismissed. Hingst filed an appeal after the case was thrown out. Hingst said the flatulence caused him ‘severe stress.’ The Court of Appeal judges will deliver a ruling on the appeal on Friday.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Loyalty to the president is good, but loyalty to truth and integrity of the country is better.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) speaking on "Special Report with Bret Baier" on June 5, 2013.
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.