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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sought for years to put Medicaid recipients to work. Now federal officials have given him most of what he wanted, but he's delaying the process for fear the changes will doom his flailing reelection bid, say three federal officials familiar with the deliberations.
“Wisconsin's been stalling,” said one official, adding the Trump administration has been ready to formally approve and announce the state’s new work requirements for weeks. “It’s ended up being a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.”
The Walker administration disputed the governor is slow-walking the process, saying the state needs time to iron out the details and blaming delays on the Trump administration. "There are ongoing conversations," said Julie Lund, a spokesperson for Wisconsin's Department of Health Services. "We've felt it's close for a while."
Walker's hesitation to impose the strict Medicaid work rules comes as many Republicans have retreated from health care on the campaign trail — and as Democrats hammer the message the GOP is working to strip health protections from millions of people. Democrats have an 18-point national advantage on health care, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday.
The calculus is that focusing voters’ attentions on health care in a year when Republicans are playing defense on the issue is likely to hurt Walker with independent voters who are expected to decide the election. The two-term governor is effectively tied with or trailing Democratic candidate Tony Evers in multiple polls ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Democratic messaging on health care has already resonated with some voters in Wisconsin, where Walker supports a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and has aggressively reined in spending on social programs — the focus of some Democratic attack ads.
Walker's formal request to the Trump administration last year to overhaul Medicaid included provisions that were more aggressive than those sought by other GOP states — part of the governor’s effort to roll back Wisconsin’s safety-net programs.
“We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline, not a hammock,” Walker said in January 2017, laying out an ambitious plan for more cuts under the Trump administration.
Some of Walker’s Medicaid requests were deemed impermissible by the administration. For instance, Walker sought to drug-test beneficiaries, which the federal health department rejected; Federal Medicaid officials instead will permit Wisconsin to ask beneficiaries about their illegal drug use. But other measures, like requiring beneficiaries to pay toward their care, were approved by the Trump administration, which finalized the work requirements weeks ago.
Medicaid’s top official effectively teased the announcement last month.
“I’m happy to share with you today that we have finalized the terms for our next innovative community engagement demonstration, which we expect to deliver to the state very soon,” Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in prepared remarks on Sept. 27. “So stay tuned!”
Nearly three weeks later, CMS has yet to identify the state, although multiple officials told POLITICO that Verma was referencing Wisconsin and the holdup has been on Wisconsin’s end. A spokesperson did not respond to questions Monday about which state Verma was referencing or about Wisconsin's request.
"We are finalizing the terms of a few innovative community engagement demonstrations and we expect to have official announcements soon," the CMS spokesperson said.
In Wisconsin, Walker has gestured toward health care issues in recent days, taking credit last week for falling premiums on the ACA marketplaces and on Monday vowing to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, although he has supported a lawsuit to eviscerate the ACA.
But the health care issue has mostly flown under the radar in both his and his rival's campaign. Wisconsin’s gubernatorial candidates instead have battled over infrastructure and education; Evers is the state’s schools superintendent, providing a focal point for his campaign and for Walker’s attacks.
Here, as elsewhere around the country, though, voters are interested in health care, even if neither candidate is talking about it much, say election-watchers.
“When we’ve asked voters to identify their ‘most important’ issues, health care has been No. 2, right behind K-12 education, and ahead of roads and highways,” said Charles Franklin, who runs the Marquette Law School poll — which last week found that Walker was ahead by 1 point over Evers, 47-46.
The close race, and pitched camps, has meant that Walker and Evers are fighting over a thin slice of the electorate, said Brandon Scholz, a GOP strategist in the state.
“Any issue that comes up has to move the independents in the middle,” Scholz added. “The question is which issue is going to drive them most? Is it health care? Is it education? Is it the gas tax?”
In this context, Scholz thinks that Medicaid work requirements could help Walker, arguing that the state’s independent voters — "a mixture of working-class families [like] Joe Lunch Bucket and college grads" — would be receptive to a message about personal responsibility, he said.
Franklin, the Marquette pollster, is less sure if Walker’s plan would boost or undermine his campaign. “It's hard to tell,” he said. “We haven’t polled on Medicaid.”
Democrats believe that Walker is vulnerable on health care issues. Evers’ first campaign ad criticized Walker for failing to expand Medicaid through the ACA, and the Democratic Governors Association followed up with a similar ad campaign last month.
If new Medicaid issues emerge, “the Evers campaign plans to keep the focus on health care as a top issue for Wisconsin voters,” a campaign spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, health care organizations have loudly denounced Walker's proposed changes to Medicaid, with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families arguing the plan could hurt local health — as well as the state’s booming economy — because tens of thousands of residents could lose health coverage. “With more people uninsured, Wisconsin’s workforce would be less healthy,” the council concluded.
The health care groups also signaled they’d mobilize if Medicaid appears to be threatened — which could be a fight Walker doesn’t need a few weeks before Election Day.
“It’s not a hot topic right now,” said Stephanie Harrison, head of the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, who criticizes Walker’s plan because she expects residents to lose coverage. “If we got action from CMS, I think it would rise up to become a hot topic again during the election.”
Laura Ingraham’s ratings are surging, but big advertisers are still steering clear of her show months after a series of activist-led boycotts scared off many national brands.
Ingraham, the conservative radio talker-turned-Fox News opinion host, infuriated gun-control advocates in March when she mocked Parkland, Florida shooting survivor and activist David Hogg for getting rejected from a handful of colleges. Hogg called for his supporters to boycott brands until they stopped advertising on Ingraham’s show, leading several major companies to drop out. He renewed the call in June, after Ingraham compared facilities where immigrant children were being held to “summer camps.”
It’s not unusual for advertisers to flee temporarily when controversy strikes a television program. But the sustained loss of advertising minutes and big, nationally recognized brands from "The Ingraham Angle" shows the power of activist-led boycotts and the depth of major corporations' concerns about offending would-be consumers in the hyper-politicized era of President Donald Trump.
Early this year, Ingraham’s show averaged nearly 15 minutes of advertisements per hour, in line with that of her Fox News primetime counterparts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, according to an analysis for POLITICO by Kantar Media.
That number plummeted after the boycott campaign, and it still hasn’t recovered: Last month, “The Ingraham Angle” averaged 10 minutes and 50 seconds of ads per hour, Kantar Media found.
While that’s up a couple of minutes from directly after the spring boycott, more significant, according to Kantar Media chief research officer Jon Swollen, is the fact that Ingraham’s show remains bereft of blue-chip national advertisers.
Before April, her top advertisers included Geico, Arby’s, Liberty Mutual and Humira. Last month, though, that distinction belonged to lower-profile brands: HomeToGo.com, Sandals Resorts, Jenny Craig, ClearChoice Dental Implants and Nutrisystem.
“That boycott held firm, regardless of the fact that audience ratings are increasing,” Swollen said. “There are still a number of advertisers that don’t want to be associated with the program.”
“Brands are skittish about alienating potential customers,” he said.
Marianne Gambelli, the head of ad sales for Fox, told POLITICO that Fox News is not concerned with the state of advertising on Ingraham’s show.
She said the network’s strategy for the program involves keeping Ingraham’s advertising load light to help boost ratings. MSNBC shows tend to carry less advertising, and Gambelli said Fox News wanted to give “The Ingraham Angle,” which launched last Oct. 30, a better chance to compete in its first year on the air.
The idea is that during commercial breaks, viewers tend to flip channels, so having fewer ads leads to better ratings. While it’s unlikely that viewers flip directly from Ingraham to Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, they could leave for other programming. Cable news networks put tremendous value on the bragging rights of beating each other in the ratings.
Before the boycotts, Ingraham had significantly more ad time — nearly 15 minutes per show — but Gambelli said that was due to preexisting advertising obligations. Once the controversies began, she said, the network decided to keep a lighter load to help buoy the show, then just five months old.
Without doubt, Ingraham’s ratings have been high. The third quarter was her best on the air, with “The Ingraham Angle,” ranking as the fourth most watched show on cable news — behind just Hannity, Carlson and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — and averaging 2.7 million viewers per episode.
Conservative cheerleaders for Ingraham have been quick to point out that her ratings have increased in the face of the boycotts, but, it turns out, having fewer commercials could be a big reason for those gains.
“With Laura, we’ve purposefully kept a lower unit load,” Gambelli said. “It was a new show, and it was so important to launch her.”
“We are 100 percent supportive of what she’s doing. We’re very comfortable with where she is,” said Gambelli, who declined to address specific revenue figures.
She did not deny, however, that some advertisers had chosen to leave the show. Some brands, Gambelli said, do not want to appear alongside opinion programming. Ingraham’s show, she said, has not been “singled out.”
Still, big brands such as Acura, Subaru, Progressive Insurance and National Car Rental remain among the top advertisers on Hannity’s and Carlson’s shows, according to Kantar.
Gambelli said Media Matters, the liberal group that tracks conservative media, and other activists have made it uncomfortable for brands to align themselves with certain content.
Advertisers, Gambelli said, “don’t go away because they’re boycotting. They go away because they don’t want to be part of the conversation.”
“They’re kind of forced off, whether they want to be or not,” she said. “They go silent for a while because they don’t want to be part of the controversy either way…They go quiet and come back.”
Before the boycott, 229 brands advertised on “The Ingraham Angle,” according to Kantar. In the month following, it was 71 and, as of last month, it was 85.
With most big national brands gone, Swollen said Ingraham’s commercial breaks are now mostly filled with direct-sales ads — companies hawking a specific product to order. Swollen described them as “bottom feeders,” meaning that they often look to buy leftover space at discounted rates and are less picky about where their ads appear.
He estimated that the hit to Ingraham’s show could range from 15 percent to 30 percent of its advertising revenue. But Fox News, which rakes in billions per year, can easily weather that loss, especially since a big chunk of its revenue comes from cable and satellite companies that pay to carry the network.
Gambelli said that Fox News does not count revenue from individual shows and that it values direct-response advertisers as much as any other.
“We don’t base how we program based on revenue as much as how we’re appealing to our viewers. That’s our first and foremost objective,” she said. “Because her audience is so valuable.”
The bigger change is for advertisers, who are increasingly skittish about being associated with such controversial content.
“In this era, I don’t think that advertisers will dare to go back, at least not for a while,” said Pinar Yildirim, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Yildirim said that with polarization running so high, “people are more sensitive now.”
“We should not expect advertisers to go back as soon as they would have before Trump,” she said.
Ingraham, of course, is known for her penchant for inflammatory comments. In addition to the statements that led directly to the boycotts, she drew intense criticism over the summer for saying that “massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people” during a monologue about immigration.
One advertising executive said that most brands he works with find it easier to steer clear of the Fox News primetime block. He said CNN and MSNBC are not subject to the same concerns, since those networks’ hosts have not courted controversy at the same level.
“Those primetime personalities for the most part have proven themselves over time to be more trouble than they’re worth,” the executive said of Fox News.
Gambelli pushed back on this point in a statement, touting Carlson, Ingraham and Hannity as "appointment viewing" with top ratings and saying that “they have the most buzz of any anchors in cable news.”
But Ingraham’s controversies have also worn on her staff, contributing to low morale, according to two people familiar with the show’s dynamics.
Ingraham’s executive producer Tommy Firth disputed any morale issues, saying in a statement that the team was proud of its work. “The opportunity to work with Laura in primetime on the number one cable network on the planet is not lost on any of us and our entire team enjoys being part of a hit show,” he said.
There is no denying, though, that the same opinions that win Ingraham so many fans among her base have also offended others, leading to controversy after controversy.
“You’re not making a show when there’s all that stuff,” one of the people familiar with the show said. “You’re putting out fires.”
President Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his attacks on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), calling her a "complete and total Fraud" for taking a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry and demanding she apologize.
The senator, who has spoken about her links to the indigenous tribe throughout her career, released documentation on Monday in which a genetics professor stated that there was “strong evidence” that Warren has Native American heritage “6-10 generations ago."
The move, seen largely as a precursor to a 2020 presidential run, sought to quell the months-long spat between Trump and Warren. But the backlash the senator received from some Native Americans only ignited the feud further.
In a series of tweets Monday morning, Trump again used his favorite moniker for Warren, which she and many Native Americans have derided as a racial slur.
"Pocahontas (the bad version), sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren, is getting slammed. She took a bogus DNA test and it showed that she may be 1/1024, far less than the average American," Trump wrote. "Now Cherokee Nation denies her, 'DNA test is useless.' Even they don’t want her. Phony!"
Trump also renewed one of his often repeated claims that Warren used her Native American ancestry to become a professor at Harvard Law School. Several people involved in her hiring process denied any such claim in a video Warren released on Monday.
"Now that her claims of being of Indian heritage have turned out to be a scam and a lie, Elizabeth Warren should apologize for perpetrating this fraud against the American Public," Trump said. "Harvard called her 'a person of color' (amazing con), and would not have taken her otherwise!"
As early as June, the president had promised in one of his rallies to give $1 millon to Warren's charity of choice, "paid for by Trump," if she took a test and showed that she is genetically Native American. Since the release of the results on Monday, Trump has waffled on that pledge.
"Millions of people watched you, @realDonaldTrump, as you fumbled and lied on your $1 million pledge," Warren responded via Twitter on Tuesday. "It then took a day for your handlers to tee up this recycled racist name-calling. You’ve lost a step, and in 21 days, you’re going to lose Congress."
Warren's video angered some Native Americans for promoting a connection to the nation based solely on strands of DNA. Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin said in a statement on Monday that Warren's move was "inappropriate."
"Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong," Hoskin said. "It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven."
The next day, Hoskin doubled down on his criticism of Warren while also condemning Trump for not paying attention to the needs of indigenous tribes, especially relating to health care, education, job creation and the environment.
"We need a federal government that will listen to tribes, that will consult with tribes, that will live up to its end of the bargain — these are treaties, these are trust obligations," Hoskin said in an NPR interview. "It certainly doesn’t help when the president of the United States attacks a senator or if a senator gets bogged down on DNA results."
In the video, Warren says she does not claim tribal citizenship because only tribes — as sovereign nations — can decide who is a citizen. Warren also encouraged donations to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, an organization that works to counteract violence against Native women.
Trump seized on the backlash, tweeting on Tuesday morning, "Thank you to the Cherokee Nation for revealing that Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, is a complete and total Fraud!"
Steve Scalise was nearly killed last summer when a gunman opened fire at the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice. After months of surgeries and intensive rehabilitation, the Louisiana congressman met a thunderous ovation when he returned to work at the Capitol last September. The emotional scene—cathartic for Scalise and so many colleagues who were on the baseball field with him—might have obscured just how far he has to go. He’s still undergoing regular physical therapy and walks with the assistance of a cane; the wounds to his pelvis, hip and left leg were so severe that Scalise still doesn’t know whether he will ever be able to run again.
Mentally, however, he claims to have recovered fully. Scalise says he was able to process the incident and put the trauma behind him by reconstructing the events of the day with the help of his teammates and security detail. That included a trip back to the baseball diamond with David Bailey, one of the two U.S. Capitol Police officers who saved his life.
“We went back to second base, and he showed me where the shooter was,” Scalise told me in an interview for Politico’s “Off Message” podcast. “We’re looking at first base, where [Bailey was] in a gunfight with the shooter. And he [was] standing just kind of isolated on an island at first base with no protection, and the shooter is kind of hiding, pigeonholed behind this cinder-block dugout behind third base.”
Of course, Scalise doesn’t want to be defined by that event. And he’s a fascinating character for other reasons.
Control of the House of Representatives isn’t the only thing at stake in the Nov. 6 midterm elections—there’s also the future of the House speakership. Paul Ryan is retiring, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces an uprising among younger Democrats and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not demonstrated the ability to collect the requisite 218 votes needed to become speaker. That makes Scalise, the House majority whip, a popular dark-horse pick to become speaker of the House—that is, if Republicans hold the majority.
Scalise, one of Washington’s most reliably on-message lawmakers, is even more cautious than usual these days. He’s spending the homestretch of the election season traveling the country with his House Republican colleagues, raising money and collecting favors while hugging President Donald Trump at every turn. Right now, with a career-climaxing promotion potentially awaiting him next month, Scalise can’t afford to alienate Republicans on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The internal dynamics are fragile: McCarthy’s allies have eyed Scalise warily for months, worried that he is undermining his superior’s bid for speaker. Scalise, for his part, promises not to run against McCarthy for the top spot if Republicans hold the House, and moreover, he tells me, “I think Kevin would have the votes.”
We talked about the shooting, the fight for control of Congress and America’s hostile political climate while in Pittsburgh, where Scalise was campaigning for endangered Republican congressman Keith Rothfus. Excerpts of that conversation follow.
This transcript has been edited for length, readability and clarity.
Tim Alberta: We’re just past the one-year mark of your return to Congress following the assassination attempt, the shooting at the baseball field in Alexandria, Va., during the congressional baseball practice. We think mostly about post-traumatic stress as it would relate to the military or to law enforcement. Do you find yourself experiencing any sort of post-traumatic stress?
Rep. Steve Scalise: Thank God, I really don’t. And I think a lot of that has to do with the support structure around me—my family, my friends—and those months I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital for 3½ months, and you have a lot of time to reflect but also talk through those things.
I talked to my security detail, Dave Bailey and Crystal Griner, who were my two Capitol Police security detail officers with me that day—true heroes who not only saved my life, but saved the lives of all the other people on that ballfield that morning. They were both shot themselves. When I was laying on the field, I never saw the shooter. I didn’t see all the perspectives that they saw. We talked through our different experiences and emotions, and I think that helped me resolve it a lot.
When I got better and was able to get discharged from the hospital, I wanted to get back to the ballfield, just to go by myself with David Bailey. We’re looking at first base, where he [was] in a gun fight with the shooter and [was] standing isolated on an island with no protection, and the shooter is hiding, pigeonholed behind this cinder-block dugout behind third base. And you’re just thinking to yourself, “This is a special person that would put their life at risk to save me and everybody else out there.” A lot of hard work went into it, but you kind of confront all the demons, and fortunately I’ve been able to exorcise those demons by just facing them head-on.
Alberta: Before you were House majority whip, you were chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and the fact that the House Freedom Caucus wound up spinning off from the Republican Study Committee spoke to the ideological brinkmanship within the Republican Party from 2010 to 2016. It seems Donald Trump’s presidency has squashed those old beefs, and now, rather than conservative versus moderate, or tea party versus establishment, the divide within the Republican Party today seems to be Trump versus Never-Trump. Is that fair?
Scalise: It’s not the entire picture, but it definitely shows you that now President Trump is in place, we have a president we can work with. One of the good things, I thought, after the Freedom Caucus started, is that most of them still stayed as members of the RSC. And I thought that was important because it wasn’t a true break, and we don’t really disagree on philosophy. The differences might be really on tactics: How do we move as conservative an agenda as possible forward in a dynamic with a president who wants to work with us?
The Democratic Party is having, I think, [an] internal civil war. There is a lot of internal angst about who they are and what they’re going to be, because they really don’t have an agenda. They’re just against Trump.
Alberta: What you’re describing—a party organized around opposition to a sitting president—is how many folks would have described the Republican Party, circa 2008 to 2016. And it seems now, not only have the tables turned, but Trump’s presidency has stopped that internal bleeding in the Republican Party and pushed aside some of those old divisions. Is this fully Donald Trump’s Republican Party?
Scalise: Well, clearly, he’s the leader of our party, and he is [going in] the direction that people elected him to move forward on. “Promises kept” is a real important thing in politics. When Donald Trump ran for office, he ran saying very specific things. And he’s actually fighting to do all of those things for the people that he committed he would do those things for. And the highest profile, obviously, has been the Supreme Court.
Alberta: Do you see Trump as a legacy figure, the kind of president who will durably reshape the party in his image, like Ronald Reagan?
Scalise: Yeah, and the country. There are a lot of similarities in policy between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. It’s very much a Reaganesque conservative agenda, if you look at it. Clearly their styles are different, but in the end, you’re going to be judged on your results.
Look at the results: You’ve got one of the strongest economies we’ve ever seen, and now you’re seeing the president confront some of the underpinning trade problems. This country has cut bad deal after bad deal; he’s actually cutting better deals for America. Once we get through the trade negotiations, I think you’re going to see this economy take off even more.
Alberta: You talk with a lot of conservatives, though—I do, and I’m sure you do as well—who will acknowledge those accomplishments—
Scalise: It’d be nice if the media did, too.
Alberta: —but express a great deal of uneasiness with him. Is there anything about the president that makes you uneasy? Or a more direct way of asking the question: You have young children. Do you view President Trump as a role model for them?
Scalise: I think he is a role model in that he’s actually following through on his promises. One of the things that people don’t like about politicians are the people [who] go out and make promises and have no intention of keeping them. Donald Trump promised very specific things. He was criticized for saying, “We’re going to build the wall.” I voted to help build the wall and to put the money in place. Obviously, we don’t have enough votes yet to do that. That’s one of those things that hasn’t been done—like repeal and replace of Obamacare—that we need to go back to. We need to help the president deliver on that promise, but the president has done his part. I think that’s an important thing to be able to say, “You know what? Here is a person who ran for president, and he promised he would do these things, and he’s actually doing them.”
Alberta: A big pivot point in the Trump presidency will be the midterm elections. I’m curious from where you’re sitting today, what percentage chance do you give Republicans of holding onto the House?
Scalise: I would give over a 50 percent chance, but clearly there are a lot of races that are tight. This could be a long night, because there are a lot of elections that are going to be 50-50 races. And if you look today versus two weeks ago, Republicans are in a much better position because think momentum going our way. People are excited that we now have another justice on the Supreme Court, and they got to watch the Democrats literally implode and just go off the rails trying to destroy Justice Kavanaugh.
Alberta: You feel better about your odds of keeping the House today than you did before the Kavanaugh controversy erupted?
Scalise: Yeah, I think it really concerned a lot of people the way it was handled by the Democrats, the way they tried to make it purely political and personal and tried to destroy a man’s life whether he deserved to have it destroyed or not. And then you add that the economy continues to grow and people’s lives are better.
Nancy Pelosi wants to be speaker again. She said she would reverse the tax cuts. She would get rid of the border patrol agents keeping our communities safe. She literally said for everybody that’s out there that got $1,000 bonus or that’s seeing more real money in their paycheck today and their utility bills are going down because we cut taxes, she called that “crumbs.”
Alberta: If Republicans hold the House, the assumption is that it would likely be by a small margin. If that’s the case, does Kevin McCarthy have the votes lined up to become speaker?
Scalise: Well, I think Kevin would have the votes. We’ve got to hold the majority first, and then it’s going to probably be a smaller majority—I don’t think anybody is [under] any kind of delusions about that. But, at the same time, I still think we hold the majority. And there have been smaller majorities. There was a five-vote majority that Republicans had back in the early 2000s, and they managed to get some important things done. You can have a functioning majority, even if it’s smaller.
Alberta: To be clear, if Republicans hold the majority, you do not plan to run against Kevin McCarthy for speaker?
Scalise: No. I’ve been very clear. I’m not running against Kevin; I’m supporting Kevin, and ultimately, we need to make sure we’re focused right now on holding the House, and we are.
Alberta: I have to think back to John Boehner having a cushion of 30-plus votes, Paul Ryan having a cushion of 20-plus votes and how miserable their lives were. Who the hell wants to be speaker of the House with a three- or a four- or a five-seat cushion?
Scalise: It’s always a tough job, no matter who is Speaker, no matter what the time is. There are tough decisions you have to make every day, and so that’s why you see that job—there’s not a long shelf life for it no matter who is holding it.
Alberta: So if Kevin McCarthy is unable to get the votes to become speaker if Republicans hold the House, are you prepared to step in and throw your hat in the ring?
Scalise: I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Obviously keeping the House right now is my top priority, and there’ll be time for the races and who is going to run for what, but I’ve been very clear from the beginning: My focus is on keeping the House. That’s why I’m traveling around helping members in tough districts raise money. I just transferred another million dollars from my campaign account into the [National Republican Campaign Committee] last week so that we have the tools we need to compete against a Democrat[ic] machine, where you’ve got the likes of Michael Bloomberg—one person alone putting about $100 million of his own money in place to flip the House from Republican to Democrat. You’ve got [Tom] Steyer out there putting about $100 million in place to flip the House so that he can impeach Donald Trump. There is big money out there. We need to be focused on what’s at hand, otherwise we’ll be in the minority wondering about what we could have been.
Alberta: Now purely hypothetical here, but if you’re Donald Trump, isn’t there a part of you that thinks you would rather have a Democratic majority for the next two years because they provide an ideal foil—they would spend two years attacking the president, potentially overreaching, and helping him in his reelection cause?
Scalise: I’ve heard some of those same kind of ideas, but I think it discounts who Donald Trump is. Donald Trump is a person who wants to get stuff done. He didn’t run to play politics. He ran to shake up Washington, but more importantly to get this country back on track. And the president knows if Nancy Pelosi is speaker, the Democrats take the House, No. 1, all of the good progress that we’ve made in two short years is over. You’re at a status quo from there on, because their agenda is going to be to resist, to delay, to drag Cabinet secretaries into hearings every week, to stop them from unraveling all these radical regulations that Barack Obama put in place that were killing manufacturing jobs in America. It’s going to be testimonies; it’s going to be subpoenas; it’s going to be impeachment.
Alberta: Regarding our polarized political climate, your friend Jeff Flake likes to say, “The fever is going to break.” Do you think this is a fever that’s going to break, or is this the new normal?
Scalise: Well, we’ve seen for years that this is a very divided country. Election after election, it’s been going back and forth, but the divisions have been getting higher, the swing voters as a percentage of the country have been getting smaller, so people kind of get more polarized into whatever corner they’re picking. And then ultimately, there’s a lot less room in the middle where elections are ultimately decided.
I don’t think [Trump] is the reason why we’re a divided country. He came into a divided country as a president making some very specific promises about fixing some of the problems that were causing the division.
Alberta: But Trump certainly met the moment by exploiting some of those divisions and playing on some of the divides. Ideological, class warfare, identity politics—he exploited those things and was able to win the presidency because of it. And I wonder if you look 10 to 20 years down the road, will we be looking back on this as just a hiccup where the fever got a little bit high and then eventually came down, or do you see this getting worse?
Scalise: If you look at our country, we have gone through different pendulum swings. I mean, after September 11, you saw a real unification where people came together, and there have been inflection points like that, but, you can even look when George H. W. Bush was president. Right after the Gulf War, he was at a 91 percent popularity, and just a few years later he was not president and was voted out of office. The country moves around depending on what’s happening, and I don’t think that’s going to change.
Civility is one of the things I’m concerned about. Hillary Clinton just earlier this week was almost encouraging some of the violence you’re seeing against people based on their political views.
Alberta: Her quote was, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”
Scalise: There’s no place for that. And I think you start seeing why Donald Trump was elected, not her. That’s not what this country is about. This country is not about choosing when you’re going to be civil and when you’re going to be violent. There’s no place for violence in our political discourse. You can absolutely disagree with people, but you can’t pick and choose who you’re going to obey in terms of laws.
Alberta: Donald Trump in 2016 at multiple rallies [said], “I’ll pay your legal bills if you smack this guy around, if you punch that guy in the face,” seeming quite clearly to be inciting some violence at his own rallies. And this is where as I ask as a man who has been—
Scalise: Well, and I think that was in response to people that were paid to go and beat up some of Donald Trump’s supporters. You know, clearly you didn’t want to see it go there, but it went there because they were paying people to go in and attack people at Donald Trump rallies.
Alberta: I ask this to a man who was shot and who very nearly died: You would agree that there is no party or ideological tribe right now that has a monopoly on some of the insanity that we are witnessing in our political system?
Scalise: I’ve been very vocal recently that I’m concerned about the rhetoric on one side of the aisle. You can say all you want, “Well, gee whiz, it’s going around everywhere,” but it’s not. You don’t see this coming from the right. When Barack Obama was president, there were a lot of his policies that I disagreed with, that a lot of Republicans disagreed with, but threatening him, threatening to harass his Cabinet members, threatening his life was never acceptable. And any of us on our side would speak out, just as people on the left would if something like that happened.
I am real concerned about the radio silence when somebody on the left threatens violence against someone on the right, and it’s happening over and over again. It’s not equivocal; it’s not happening on both sides. It’s happening on the left against people on the right, and it’s well-documented, and it’s got to stop, and leaders on both sides need to call it out. I’ve called it out. I’d really like to see people on the other side call it out too. And they ought to, and frankly people in media should be asking them. If somebody is inciting violence, Republican, Democrat, regardless of party, we all ought to be calling it out because there’s no place for it in America.
Alberta: One of your best friends is Cedric Richmond, a progressive Democrat and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. A few years ago, when the controversy exploded surrounding your having spoken to a conference organized by David Duke, Cedric Richmond came to your defense and said you don’t have a racist bone in your body. He may very well have saved your political career. Do you worry about the lack of cross-party relationships in Congress today, and is there something that can be done to encourage more of those personal friendships that transcend the partisan differences?
Scalise: Cedric and I go back to our days in the state House, where you would still have ideological differences with people, but afterwards you would go out to dinner. You would run into people you didn’t know, and you’d get to know them better, and you’d build real relationships. And while we on the Republican side and the Democrats on their side do a lot of things together, I think it would be healthy for us to do more things, you know, almost like a buddy system—you go pick somebody on the Democrat[ic] side, go pick somebody you really have a lot in common with personally and just get to know them better. And I think that would be better to really understand where the other side is coming from.
I mean, friends sit around their own kitchen table, and husbands and wives don’t agree with each other on every issue, but they don’t call each other names and throw things at each other. I think we need to do more of that, because the more you get to know somebody, at least while you can respect their differences, you’re not going to demonize them. And I think that’s what really is at heart here, is respect people’s differences because that’s what makes our country great.
On a day when foreign policy experts worldwide were almost uniformly accusing Saudi Arabia’s government of murdering a prominent dissident, President Donald Trump spoke to the Saudi king, then offered an alternative theory: “Rogue killers” may be to blame.
Trump’s suggestion drew widespread scorn and ridicule, including charges that he could be complicit in a Saudi cover-up. Hours later, CNN reported that the Saudi government was prepared to admit that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a botched interrogation that was carried out without high-level approval.
The details of Trump’s Monday phone call with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud are not known, and it is unclear whether the Arab monarch actually floated the “rogue killers” line in his conversation with the president.
Regardless, Trump appeared to be endorsing an emerging Saudi line on the killing about which many experts are dubious. But it was hardly the first time that Trump has seemed to parrot a foreign government’s suspect line on a highly sensitive issue. In recent months, the president has startled observers with statements that echoed talking points from capitals ranging from Moscow to Beijing to Pyongyang.
This summer, for instance, Trump alarmed Pentagon officials and North Korea experts when he declared that the United States would stop joint military exercises with South Korea, echoing North Korean rhetoric by referring to the exercises as “war games” that are “very provocative.”
During a private meeting with G-7 leaders in June, Trump reportedly said that Crimea is Russian because the people there speak Russian — a position that closely mirrors that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but is widely rejected as Kremlin propaganda in Western capitals. During an infamous joint appearance with Putin in Helsinki this summer, Trump cited Putin’s assurances that the Kremlin did not interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has also made statements that seem to reflect the position of his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, whom Trump courted in his initial months as president before recently adopting a tougher stance toward Beijing. After his Commerce Department announced a major action against the Chinese electronics maker ZTE on national security grounds in May, threatening to put the company out of business, Trump tweeted that he was working with Xi to reverse the move. “Too many jobs in China lost,” Trump wrote, in what struck many ZTE critics as an oddly sympathetic response.
The comments underscore a uniquely Trumpian phenomenon. Perhaps more than any president in modern history, Trump is often willing — and sometimes even eager — to uncritically repeat the assertions of authoritarian leaders, breaking with his own government experts and infuriating Democrats and Republicans alike in the process.
“The surprising thing for most American observers is the president’s readiness to accept what appear to be very flimsy excuses for behavior that the United States generally has found reprehensible and would bring consequences,” said Jeff Rathke, a former U.S. diplomat and president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. “By failing to hold countries accountable for an outrageous act like an assassination on Turkish soil, the United States could increase the likelihood that our friends and our adversaries will lower the bar for engaging in precisely that activity.”
Where some critics see a sinister willingness on Trump’s part to accept foreign propaganda, others point to a personality quirk: The president often internalizes the thinking of the last person with whom he has spoken, leading some aides to pay eleventh-hour visits to the Oval Office in an effort to sway Trump’s thinking. A former administration official said that foreign leaders have sought to do the same.
While it’s unclear whether Trump’s “rogue killers” comment came from the Saudi king, they seemed to represented a softening of the president’s tone from remarks he made over the weekend, including in a “60 Minutes” interview in which he said that the Saudis had denied responsibility but added: “Could it be them? Yes.”
Trump spoke by phone with the Saudi king shortly before speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday.
"I don't want to get into his mind — but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said.
Even if the Saudis do cast the incident as an interrogation which went wrong, “there will need to be consequences,” said a former U.S. official in touch with the Trump administration. “However, the strategic importance of the kingdom to U.S. security, energy, and regional issues will sustain the relationship.”
The reported Saudi findings on the incident could prove politically helpful for Trump, even if they’re not true. “Some will have to believe it, some will want to believe it, others will never believe it,” said a former U.S. official familiar with Saudi thinking. “But it creates enough of a tea leaf to give people cover to believe what they want to believe.”
Declaring that the operation against Khashoggi was “rogue” could also be an attempt to shield from criticism Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the increasingly powerful heir to the throne who is close to Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Saudi watchers have said it is highly unlikely that such an operation could have been carried out with the crown prince’s knowledge.
“It’s stretches credulity to the breaking point that 15 Saudi agents could show up in Turkey and do this without the knowledge of the Saudi government,” said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution. “That seems very, very unlikely.”
A senior Saudi official stressed to POLITICO, however, “The kingdom is trying to deal with this very responsibly.” The official added that Saudi King Salman “has full confidence in the crown prince. Everyone has full confidence in the crown prince.”
Khashoggi, a journalist who wrote for The Washington Post and was critical of the Saudi government, disappeared on Oct. 2, after going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials have said they have evidence that he was murdered by Saudi agents, but Saudi leaders have denied that accusation.
Critics pounced on Trump’s Monday remarks suggesting the Saudis might not be responsible for the murder.
“The U.S. must not be complicit in an effort to cover up this heinous crime,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.
Robert Jordan, who served under President George W. Bush as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, added, “Blindly relying on denials is poor tradecraft. It’s a very dangerous position.”
Jordan, in an interview, said there is good reason to question the denials of Saudi leaders, recounting that just weeks after 9/11, Saudi Arabia's King Salman, then a prince, falsely told him there were no Saudis among the hijackers and blamed the attack on Israel. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Trump’s response to the murder echoed his reaction to U.S. intelligence officials’ assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election in an attempt to benefit his candidate for president. During his July news conference with Putin, Trump appeared to endorse the Russian leader’s denials.
"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said at the time. (White House aides later walked back his remarks amid global outrage.)
Trump’s willingness to take Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at their word has shaken confidence that Trump is willing to hold authoritarian leaders to account.
“When he wants to turn a blind eye to something, as long as the person he’s talking to denies it, that’s usually enough for him,” Wright said. “If anyone is going to lead on this, it has to be Congress. It’s not going to be him.”
White House officials, who long ago grew accustomed to Trump’s dizzying array of off-the-cuff remarks, did little to aggressively counter the impression that the president was siding with the Saudis.
Aides, who declined to comment on the record, privately insisted that Trump is taking the situation seriously, pointing to his comments in the “60 Minutes“ interview. They noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who departed for Riyadh on Monday, has been tasked with getting to the bottom of the incident.
Asked during the “60 Minutes” interview whether he believes the Saudis murdered Khashoggi, Trump said the United States “would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment, they deny it. And deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes.”
The former administration official said Trump’s approach to international affairs is heavily influenced by his personal relationships with world leaders, adding that he tends to trust those he likes and distance himself from those he doesn’t — regardless of decades-old alliances and political norms.
Trump, who has shown an affinity for strongman leaders, has developed what he believes are close relationships with Putin, Xi and — with the help of Kushner — the Saudis. In contrast, his relationship with European allies and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is strained.
Democrats pounced on Trump’s comments, using them to highlight the many well-known men that Trump has sided with since taking office.
“King Salman denies it. Vladimir Putin denies it. Roy Moore denies it. Brett Kavanaugh denies it,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence Committee, tweeted on Monday. “In the President’s world, the truth doesn’t matter. Admission is weakness. Denial is everything. The more vehement the better. But don’t ask Trump. He denies it.”
Sen. Marco Rubio warned Tuesday that "there isn't enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights" if the U.S. government fails to punish Saudi Arabia over its alleged involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia is a longstanding U.S. partner on key Middle East issues, including national and regional security, as well as a top purchaser of American-made defense equipment. But Rubio (R-Fla.) told CNN's "New Day" that the U.S. ought to prioritize human rights over a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi government.
"I can tell you that human rights is worth blowing that up and luring someone into a consulate where they're murdered, dismembered and disposed of is a big deal," Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. "It's a human being whose life was taken by a direct act of a foreign government by luring him into a diplomatic facility in a third country."
Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in the United States and has been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other members of the Saudi royal family. He was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain an official document required for his planned marriage.
President Donald Trump last week said he does not want to cancel an arms deal with Saudi Arabia over concerns that such a move could negatively impact the U.S. economy. Trump signed a memorandum in May, 2017, outlining intent from the Saudi government to buy nearly $110 billion in arms over the next 10 years.
In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday, the president did say that there will be "severe punishment" over Khashoggi's disappearance. But in a brief exchange with reporters on Monday, Trump said he had spoken to Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who Trump said "firmly denied any knowledge of" Khashoggi's disappearance.
"I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows?" the president said. "We'll try getting to the bottom of it very soon. His was a flat denial."
Rubio said that he realizes that selling weapons to another country also gives us leverage, as buyers have to rely on the U.S. to maintain the weapons. Still, he said, the benefits of prioritizing defense sales do not outweigh the human rights costs.
"There isn't enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights and the way nations should conduct themselves," Rubio said. "We lose our credibility and our moral standing to criticize [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for murdering people, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad for murdering people, [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela for murdering people, we can't say anything about that if we allow Saudi Arabia to do it and all we do is a diplomatic slap on the wrist."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday thanked Saudi Arabia King Salman for his "commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation" into the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen earlier this month entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement that Pompeo also thanked "the King for Saudi Arabia’s strong partnership with the United States." Pompeo was in Riyadh meeting with the King and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, prompting accusations that the Washington Post columnist was killed inside the consulate. The Saudi journalist, who had been living in exile in the United States, has been critical of the Crown Prince and other members of the royal family.
The Saudi government initially claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate through a back door, although it never offered evidence to support that claim.
Pompeo's visit to Saudi Arabia came at the request of President Donald Trump, who said Monday that he had spoken with King Salman. The president suggested that Khashoggi's alleged killing could have been carried out by "rogue killers" and said the king "firmly denied any knowledge of" the journalist's disappearance.
Saudi and Turkish officials began a joint investigation at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Monday.
BREAKING … SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO has arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. Photo, courtesy State Department
-- FASCINATING NUGGET, from NYT’s Gardiner Harris, David Kirkpatrick and Eileen Sullivan: “The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, left Washington last week, returned to Riyadh and will not be returning, a current and a former American official said on Monday. It was not clear when he might be replaced, or by whom. Prince Khalid is the crown prince’s younger brother.” NYT … Prince Khalid bin Salman has been ambassador to the U.S. since 2017.
EXCLUSIVE … PELOSI DETAILS HER PLANS FOR THE MAJORITY … HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CALIF.) was on the campaign trail in Philadelphia over the weekend -- stumping for Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean -- and sat down with Anna for a wide-ranging interview about her plans for a Democratic majority.
-- THE FIRST BILLS: They would start with a campaign finance reform bill, and then Pelosi said Democrats would move to lower drug prices, enact a background-check system for gun purchases and create a bill that protects Dreamers.
-- PELOSI WANTS TO RUN A TIGHT OVERSIGHT SHIP: “It’s very important we are not scattershot. I’m not having any pound-of-flesh club. … What is important is for us not to be them. We are not going to be them. On the other hand, the American people deserve the truth and we have to have oversight over the agencies, the oversight of seeking the truth about the most fundamental action a person takes is voting.” (Note here: Pelosi seems very aware that oversight can go sideways, like it did at times for Republicans in the Obama era.)
-- ZERO DEMOCRATS EXPECTED TO VOTE FOR TRUMP’S WALL IN DECEMBER: “I don’t see any of us voting for wall funding. … We have a responsibility to secure our borders. There are ways to do that that are consistent with civilization, humanitarianism and who we are as a nation. We have to remove all doubt about that.”
-- PELOSI EXPECTS AN OCTOBER SURPRISE: “An intentional surprise which we should expect and you always expect it. That’s why you build redundancy in your campaign. … We just have to own the ground and get out the vote and understand that it doesn’t matter what happens, we have to do that.”
-- WILL DEMS KNOW IF THEY’VE CAPTURED THE MAJORITY ON ELECTION NIGHT? DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) “says we should be prepared for not knowing, but I’m just hoping that we will. That the 23 for sure, and then is it a wave after that, a tsunami after that or just little drops -- and the races are this close 500 votes either way, 600 votes either way -- 25,000 votes could determine the gavel.”
-- PELOSI expects all committee ranking members to become chairs. “I don’t see any change in that.”
-- WILL PELOSI, STENY HOYER (D-MD.) AND JIM CLYBURN (D-S.C.) REMAIN ATOP THE PARTY? … “I don’t know. I have no idea and it’s the least important thing. … I haven’t asked one person for me in the House or outside of the House [for a vote]. ... I don’t ask but they do tell.”
-- Read more on Pelosi’s trip to Philadelphia and her quest to elect more women to office: POLITICO
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK -- PELOSI’S CASH HAUL … PELOSI raised $34.2 million for Democrats in the third quarter, including $30.5 million directly for the DCCC. She held 250 fundraising events in 29 cities. That brings her total fundraising haul for the 2018 cycle to $121.7 million for Democrats.
Good Tuesday morning. 21 DAYS until Election Day. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP will travel to Houston next week to campaign in the 10,000-seat NRG Arena for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Trump said he was going to choose the largest stadium in the state for the rally, but he did not.
CRUZ and REP. BETO O’ROURKE (D-TEXAS) will debate tonight in San Antonio. Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek on the debate
MIDTERM NUGGETS …
-- ONLY IN PLAYBOOK … VP MIKE PENCE held a fundraiser at the Trump Hotel Monday night that raised around $750,000 for the NRCC. Pence is raising cash for Reps. Dave Young of Iowa and Dave Brat of Virginia, and candidates Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Steve Watkins of Kansas. KELLYANNE CONWAY was at the Trump Hotel raising money for the RNC at the same time -- an event that a source told us brought in six figures.
-- AMERICA FIRST ACTION -- a Trump-aligned super PAC -- is spending nearly $1 million in an attempt to pick up Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, a seat in the state’s Iron Range. This is the second ad it’s run here, and it’s running from today through Oct. 22. The ad … NYT Upshot: “Did Minnesota’s Eighth District Really Swing by Almost 20 Points?”
-- END CITIZENS UNITED is putting $2.5 million into five House races, attempting to boost Democrats Colin Allred in Texas, Andy Kim in New Jersey, Katie Porter in California, Max Rose in New York and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia. The biggest expenditure is in Virginia for Spanberger, who is trying to oust Brat. The Virginia ad … The New Jersey ad, hitting Rep. Tom MacArthur
-- LORRAINE WOELLERT and MAGGIE SEVERNS: “Adelsons funneled $32 million into GOP coffers in September”
-- NEW YORK GOP REP. CHRIS COLLINS, under indictment, is up by 3 points in his R+11 district, according to a new Siena poll.
NYT’S KEN VOGEL: “Trump Campaign Doubles Spending Rate as the 2020 Race Draws Nearer”: “President Trump’s campaign more than doubled its spending over the past three months as the president worked to rev up the Republican base ahead of next month’s midterm elections through a series of rallies and online appeals.
“The increased spending — much of which was done through an opaque new corporate entity set up by the campaign — was reflected in filings that the campaign’s committees were set to submit on Monday evening to the Federal Election Commission.
“The filings showed that the campaign spent a total of $7.7 million from the beginning of July and to end of September — more than twice the $3.6 million spent in the preceding three months — according to a preview of the filings provided to The New York Times.” NYT
-- WAPO’S MICHELLE YE HEE LEE and ANU NARAYANSWAMY: “Trump tops $100 million in fundraising for his own reelection”: “President Trump has topped $100 million in fundraising for his 2020 reelection bid — an enormous haul for a president barely two years into his first term, according to new Federal Election Commission filings. ... No other president dating back to at least Ronald Reagan had raised any money at this point for his own campaign committee, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan research group. Unlike his predecessors, Trump began fundraising for his reelection shortly after his 2016 win.” WaPo
THINGS ARE GETTING UGLY IN ARIZONA -- “McSally attacks Sinema for ‘treason’ in contentious Arizona Senate debate,” by James Arkin: “Republican Martha McSally accused Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of ‘treason’ Monday night, latching onto recent reports about Sinema’s comments as an anti-war activist at the end of a contentious, fiery Arizona Senate debate.
“Near the end of the hour-long debate, McSally attacked Sinema over the comments from a radio show in 2003, reported earlier this week by CNN. The host made a hypothetical comment about joining the Taliban, to which Sinema responded: ‘I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead.’
“McSally demanded an apology, accusing her fellow congresswoman of saying ‘it’s okay to commit treason.’ Sinema didn’t respond to the attack or explain her past comments, instead accusing McSally of running a negative campaign by using ‘ridiculous attacks, and trying to smear my campaign.’" POLITICO
NANCY COOK and CHRIS CADELAGO in Lynn Haven, Fla: “Trump plays consoler in chief in key swing state”: “President Donald Trump may have found a new pastime he enjoys even more than campaign-style rallies: playing consoler in chief following major storms.
“On Monday, an upbeat Trump toured a Florida neighborhood wrecked by Hurricane Michael, with downed trees, damaged roofs and a deserted school. In the sweltering sun, dressed in khakis and a black windbreaker, he greeted neighbors, passed out water bottles and posed for selfies at an aide distribution center with a very friendly crowd including one onlooker who vowed to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections.
“The optics of late have been different than the images to emerged from past tours of disaster areas, where cable news channels and late night hosts picked up on scenes that made the president look out of touch or unrelatable — the president tossing paper towels to Hurricane Maria victims, or handing a bucket to a pickup truck driver instead of placing it in the back.
“The administration has sought to avoid such coverage by demonstrating — via frequent news conferences, though surrogates and on social media — that the president and top officials are on top of things, one official said. Trump has come to more fully understand the significance to the people in the midst of a crisis, as well as how the fallout is viewed by TV audiences who may judge the totality of the response by a brief snippet of exposure, according aides.” POLITICO
THE KHASHOGGI AFFAIR …
-- CNN’S CLARISSA WARD and TIM LISTER: “Saudis preparing to admit Jamal Khashoggi died during interrogation, sources say”: “The Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey, according to two sources. One source says the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible. One of the sources acknowledged that the report is still being prepared and cautioned that things could change.” CNN
-- NBC’S DYLAN BYERS: “Saudi ties entangle Laurene Powell Jobs' Emerson Collective”: “[O]ne of her closest aides at Emerson, Michael Klein, is a highly influential power broker for the Saudi kingdom and its U.S. investments. Klein, a Wall Street rainmaker and former Citigroup executive, is a managing partner at Emerson and helps manage the company's business, which includes investments in a variety of media properties such as Axios and OZY Media in addition to its majority stake in The Atlantic.
“Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, declined to comment. Klein, who runs his own boutique investing firm, M. Klein & Company, is also a top adviser to the Saudi kingdom’s Public Investment Fund and a key conduit between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. business community, according to multiple people who know him and are familiar with his business.” NBC
-- “Washington Think Tanks Still Divided On Whether To Return Saudi Donations Over Journalist’s Disappearance,” by BuzzFeed’s Emily Tamkin: “The Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of Washington’s most prominent think tanks on international affairs, still has not decided whether to return funding from Saudi Arabia in the wake of the disappearance and likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But another influential research center, the Middle East Institute, said it would stop taking Saudi donations ‘pending the outcome of the investigation’ into Khashoggi's disappearance. ... The Brookings Institution, on the other hand, which found itself in hot water over taking Qatari money in 2014, terminated its sole research grant with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Friday, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.” BuzzFeed
-- CNN’S HADAS GOLD: “New York Times shuts down $11,995 Saudi Arabia tours”: “The New York Times is shutting down three planned guided tours to Saudi Arabia as a result of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. ... The journey to Saudi Arabia was advertised as 'Saudi Arabia and the Emirates: The Past and Future of Oil.' The 10-day tours included lodging in five-star hotels and started at a cost of $11,995 per individual. The spokesperson said refunds will be issued to those who signed up for the tours.” CNN
-- DANIEL LIPPMAN, THEO MEYER and MARIANNE LEVINE: “Glover Park Group and BGR Group drop Saudi Arabia”: “Glover Park Group ‘determined that they were no longer able to continue their representation of the government,’ according to [a] person familiar with the matter. The firm declined to comment. A spokesperson for BGR Group told POLITICO the firm ‘is no longer working for Saudi Arabia.” POLITICO
-- “Endeavor Pulling Out of $400 Million Saudi Arabia Deal,” by The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters and Tatiana Siegel
AP’S ROBERT BURNS in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: “Amid speculation that he may soon be replaced, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump told him he supports the retired Marine general ‘100 percent.’
“The assertion comes just days after Trump mused on national television about Mattis leaving his post. Mattis said Trump gave him this assurance during a phone call while Mattis was flying from Washington to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Tuesday. A few hours earlier, Mattis told reporters traveling with him that he and Trump had never discussed the possibility of Mattis leaving the Pentagon job. …
“Later, Mattis approached reporters traveling with him to say he’d just spoken to Trump. He said he called the president aboard Air Force One to discuss damage to military bases caused by Hurricane Michael. During that conversation, Trump asked Mattis whether he had seen the “60 Minutes” interview broadcast on Sunday. Mattis said he had not. Trump then expressed his full support for Mattis and suggested Mattis let the press know this.” AP
REMEMBERING PAUL ALLEN -- Seattle Times’ Rachel Lerman: “Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and a prominent leader of both business and philanthropy in the Seattle area, has died at age 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Allen died Monday afternoon, according to his multifaceted holding company Vulcan Inc., just two weeks after announcing he had restarted treatment for the cancer that he was first treated for in 2009. Allen co-founded Redmond tech giant Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates in 1975.
“After leaving the company, he turned his focus to a wide range of other business and scientific pursuits, which including founding the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and the real estate arm of Vulcan, which went on to build much of Amazon’s campus. In a statement Monday, Gates said he was 'heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends.’ He added that personal computing would not have existed without Allen.” Seattle Times
TRUMP’S TUESDAY -- The president has no public events scheduled.
TAKE THE PLAYBOOK ELECTION CHALLENGE -- There are 21 days until the election -- now is the time to make your picks for who will win the most hotly contested House, Senate and gubernatorial races across the country. The challenge
JOIN US! ANNA and JAKE are heading out to Philadelphia for our last Playbook Elections event Oct. 29 at the Ritz Carlton. We’ll be talking with REPS. BRENDAN BOYLE (D-PA.) and RYAN COSTELLO (R-PA.) about what’s happening on the ground in Pennsylvania and across the country in the lead-up to the election. Doors open at 8 a.m. RSVP
“BASTA” … WAPO’S ELISE VIEBECK: “Judge throws out Stormy Daniels’s defamation lawsuit against Trump”
WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE -- @sarahcwestwood: “NEW: John Bolton’s chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, is leaving after just a few months. He’s going back to the conservative Center for Security Policy, and his last day at the WH will be Oct. 31, I’m told.”
UPDATE -- “Ex-Senate aide pleads guilty to lying to the FBI in leak probe,” by Josh Gerstein: “A former Senate aide who became the focus of a leak investigation entered a guilty plea on Monday to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with reporters. Former Senate Intelligence Committee Security Director James Wolfe, 57, admitted to a single felony count of making a false statement in the course of a federal investigation.
“The guilty plea could ease tensions between President Donald Trump and the Justice Department. For more than a year, Trump has been pressing for a crackdown on leaks, particularly those related to the investigations that have most angered the president — criminal and congressional probes into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.” POLITICO
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION -- “Rick Perry’s coal rescue runs aground at White House,” by Eric Wolff and Darius Dixon: “One of the Trump administration’s major efforts to prop up ailing coal companies has run aground in the White House, a setback to an industry that had hoped for a major resurgence after Donald Trump won the presidency.
“Energy Secretary Rick Perry has spent more than a year pushing various plans that would invoke national security to force power companies to keep their economically struggling coal plants running — a goal in line with Trump’s frequent pledges to revive what he calls ‘beautiful, clean coal.’
“But the White House has shelved the plan amid opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to four people knowledgeable about the discussions.” POLITICO
-- BEN LEFEBVRE: “Zinke’s energy export plan knocked as ‘harebrained’”
IN THE GOLDEN STATE -- “Republicans take gas tax repeal message to the pump in California,” by Jeremy B. White in Oakland: “The GOP plan to juice midterm turnout by rallying Californians against their state gas tax is languishing, so Republicans are taking their message to a place where they’ll have a captive audience: the gas pump itself.
“Californians who stop at gas stations in six competitive House districts will be greeted by 30-second spots on the television monitors above gas pumps. The [RNC]-funded ads seek to tie Democratic House candidates to a 12-cents-a-gallon tax increase signed into law last year. ...
“The RNC gambit seeks to jolt a campaign that has sputtered despite long figuring into the GOP’s plans in battleground California, home to a half-dozen fiercely contested congressional races.” POLITICO
OOPS -- “Donald Daters, a dating app for Trump supporters, leaked its users’ data,” by TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker: “A new dating app for Trump supporters that wants to ‘make America date again’ has leaked its entire database of users — on the day of its launch. The app, called ‘Donald Daters,’ is aimed at ‘American-based singles community connecting lovers, friends, and Trump supporters alike’ and has already received rave reviews and coverage in Fox News, Daily Mail and The Hill.
"On its launch day alone, the app had a little over 1,600 users and counting. We know because a security researcher found issues with the app that made it possible to download the entire user database. Elliot Alderson, a French security researcher, shared the database with TechCrunch, which included users’ names, profile pictures, device type, their private messages — and access tokens, which can be used to take over accounts.” TechCrunch
SPOTTED last night at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in West End: Magic Johnson. John Gizzi was also seen separately at the bar.
SPOTTED at the 2018 Shakespeare Theatre Company Gala at the Harman Center for the Arts with dinner at the National Building Museum: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Chris and Renee Liddell, Chief Justice John Roberts and Jane Roberts, British Ambassador Kim Darroch and Lady Vanessa Darroch, Renee Fleming, Phylicia Rashad, David Rubenstein, Jacqueline Mars, Nick Allard, Emily Lenzner, Kevin Chaffee, Jonathan Silver and Melissa Moss and Danish Ambassador Lars Gert Lose.
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Rodell Mollineau, partner at Rokk Solutions. Fun facts about Rodell: “It could be another 20 birthdays before you cycle back to me so I will give you two. 1. The Nature Boy Ric Flair is my life coach in all things except marriage and alcohol consumption. 2. While hip-hop is my preferred music choice, I’ve also been to over 40 Phish shows.” Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Ben Coffey Clark, partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive (hat tip: Tim Burger) ... Sarah Westwood, White House reporter for CNN (h/ts Melissa Brown and Gabby Orr) ... Bob Weir is 71 … Jim Courtovich ... John Goodwin, head of comms at the Weather Channel, is 4-0 (h/t Taylor Gross) … former North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple is 7-0 ... Amy Walter ... Jenny Hopkinson ... Beatrice Petersen … Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) is 44 ... Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) is 58 ... Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.) is 58 ... WaPo’s Alexandra Lemley ... Dan Hirschhorn, managing editor for news at Barrons, is 35 … Steve Friess is 46 … Deloitte’s Chris Faile is 41 ... Tiph Turpin ... Linda Miller (h/ts Jon Haber) ... WaPo tablet editor Andrew Heining ... Frank Green ... Ryan Walters ... Michael Pratt, AEI’s director of media relations and marketing ... Tim Flynn ...
… FT’s Brendan Greeley is 44 ... Tyler Evans, digital communications coordinator at Our Revolution ... Christopher Cox, former SEC chairman, is 66 … USAID’s Daniel Henke ... Lindi Harvey ... Dan Gross, senior adviser for citywide events for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ... Ivette Fernandez, VP of gov’t relations at Endeavor and a Bush alum (h/t Ed Cash) … Bradley Becnel ... Garrett Murch (h/ts Jon Conradi and Chris Bedford) … Vanessa Dennis ... Deloitte’s Kristen McGrath Dugan ... Delacey Skinner ... Nate Morris … Avi Fink … Devora Kaye, assistant commissioner for external affairs at NYPD ... Bruce Plaxen ... Emily Karl ... Alexandra Fetissoff … Elizabeth McGreevy … Becca Milfeld ... Susan Friebert ... Ric Arenstein ... Jim Pribyl ... Mark Bohannon ... Jeff Link ... McCloy Dickson (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren could be coming to Iowa after all.
A spokeswoman for Deidre DeJear, a candidate for state secretary of state, said the campaign has been in talks with Warren’s staff about a possible visit to help boost Democrats during a major get-out-the-vote push on the state’s six major college campuses next week — or possibly during a subsequent tour of universities before the November midterm elections.
DeJear spokeswoman Cynthia Sebian-Lander told POLITICO that DeJear’s campaign has corresponded recently with Warren’s staff “mostly by email” over the possibility of a visit and that DeJear’s camp is still “holding out hope” that the Massachusetts Democrat shows.
“She did reach out to us, to Deidre, a couple of months ago. Deidre and her sat down in D.C.,” Sebian-Lander said. “We’ve been asking for her to come; we just haven’t heard one way or another if a trip is going to be or when it’s going to be. They haven’t given us any hints of what’s in the plan.”
The Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment late Monday night.
Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California are planning separate visits beginning this weekend to the state with the first presidential voting contests, and both have scheduled appearances with DeJear. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey already visited the state and held a fundraiser for DeJear.
If DeJear defeats incumbent Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate in November, she would become the first African-American elected to a statewide post in Iowa.
There’s been mounting pressure on Warren to visit the first presidential caucus state after other potential top-tier candidates have come through.
Although Warren has sent a staffer to Iowa, sent fundraising emails and donated to the state Democratic Party, and is planning to take part in an upcoming conference call with Iowa Democrats, there’s been some on-the-ground grumbling that the Massachusetts senator hadn’t yet shown up to lend a hand in Iowa’s local elections, in which a slew of positions are up for grabs.
Like other Democrats on Monday, Dvorsky took issue with Warren’s headline-grabbing rollout of a DNA test showing she has Native American ancestry.
“If this is in fact part of a strategy, she would do well to get here,” Dvorsky said of a possible 2020 run for Warren. “It would be nice to get some help rather than just that kind of distraction.”
At a town hall meeting last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren finally revealed she was taking “a hard look” at running for president.
Now it’s clear just how hard she’s looking.
Monday’s grandiose, made-for-media detailing of her Native American ancestry — complete with DNA documentation — erased any questions about the Massachusetts Democrat‘s intent.
Something approaching a 2020 campaign slogan is beginning to take shape: “Persist.” Her political team rolled out a nationwide “PERSIST Project” campaign on Facebook this past June, hawking free state-specific “Persist” bumper stickers. At the progressive conference Netroots Nation in August, Warren’s team distributed signs with the single word to the audience to wave during her speech. The front page of her website currently includes a mosaic slideshow of supporters wearing “She Persisted” T-shirts.
The breadth of her national political operation was made clear in an exhaustive account on Sunday. In recent months, Warren has released 10 years of tax returns, introduced a major anti-corruption legislative package, published policy papers and even shifted from her studied avoidance of the press to stopping in the Senate hallway to take questions and taking private, off-the-record meetings with national reporters in New York and Washington.
All along, Warren has supported a sprawling network of Democratic candidates, pouring $8 million into campaigns across the country, placing staff in key races and making personal contacts with winning and losing candidates in pivotal states.
And if the 2020 choreography wasn’t unmistakable enough, Monday’s video rollout sent a clear sign to any Democrat who wondered whether Warren would fight back against President Donald Trump, who has taunted her as “Pocahontas” and stated he would donate $1 million to Warren's charity of choice if she took a DNA test that proved her claims of Native American ancestry.
By taking the test, demanding that Trump pay the money he publicly wagered against her and wrapping it all with an expertly produced video that detailed her roots to Oklahoma Republicans, Warren went about as far toward announcing her candidacy as she could without actually saying the words.
Jim Demers, a New Hampshire-based strategist on presidential campaigns, called Warren’s moves “smart” in today’s environment.
“Once the 2018 election is over, I think the presidential race is going to bust wide open,” Demers said. “That’s mainly because the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary will literally be less than a year and a half away. That’s not a lot of time to be organizing and campaigning. Any of the potential candidates who has laid the groundwork now will see it pay off. This campaign is going to move very fast.”
While some Democrats criticized Warren for distracting from November‘s midterms, her moves were in keeping with a flurry of recent positioning moves by potential 2020 candidates.
“You want to get out early enough so you can raise the money you need and lock in the political support you need but you also don’t want to appear getting out too early before a midterm election,” former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said. “I assume that’s the needle they’re trying to thread here.”
Democratic strategist and former adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Patti Solis Doyle called the video release a savvy play by Warren, allowing her to get out her message, signal she would stand up to Trump and take potential backers on a tour of her family background and professional credentials.
But Doyle also questioned Warren’s timing, saying her actions are different than other 2020 contenders who are laying the groundwork by campaigning in early presidential states.
“With a wink and a nod they’re going to Iowa campaigning for Democrats who are in serious races,” Solis Doyle said of other Democrats in the field. “You can’t even with a wink and a nod say this is for anyone but Elizabeth Warren, in defense of Elizabeth Warren, promoting Elizabeth Warren.”
Warren, who is in a reelection contest of her own — and still staring at three debates in the campaign homestretch — has not yet visited Iowa, and, as of now, has no events scheduled there before the midterm elections.
The Massachusetts senator has sent out emails on behalf of local candidates, offered financial support and in upcoming days, is set to take part in a conference call as part of the Iowa coordinated Democratic campaign.
Still, she risks getting outpaced in Iowa by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has already has stormed the state, and other top potential candidates including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California, who are scheduled to stump for candidates there next week.
“They were waiting for somebody to go first, Sen. Booker went first. Sen. Harris is coming,” Iowa campaign strategist Matt Paul said of possible 2020 contenders visiting the first presidential state. “The door is open. If [Warren] put out a video like this, it only makes sense she follow it up with a visit.”
As Monday’s rollout made clear, Warren’s “Pocahontas” problem still hasn’t been fully resolved. Her submission to a DNA test comes after six years of trying to find another way to defuse the issue.
Trump reignited it during the 2016 campaign as Warren became a high profile surrogate for Hillary Clinton. The president’s incessant taunts — combined with deep reporting in early 2018 by The Boston Globe — helped prompt Warren to give a speech to the National Congress of American Indians in February 2018 where she attacked Trump for “reducing Native history, Native culture, Native people to the butt of a joke.”
She then promised the group that “[e]very time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.”
On Monday, Republicans — led by the president — showed every sign they weren’t about to let it drop, despite reports and former superiors supporting Warren’s claim that she received no special treatment for her claims of Native American heritage while a university professor.
“Senator Warren’s latest ‘disclosure’ is a glaring signal that she recognizes this issue is going to be a major problem for her all-but-announced presidential campaign,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Reed said in a statement.
Donald Trump Jr., often the tip of the spear for White House attacks, also chimed in about Warren’s disclosure: “I’m gonna go out in a limb here and say she did it to get favorable treatment throughout her career. The real shame is that those benefits could have gone to someone who was way more than 0.0009765% maybe Native American. #fraud.”
The president, who denied Monday that he had wagered $1 million despite a public statement to the contrary, said he welcomed a presidential challenge from Warren while talking to reporters on the South Lawn.
“I hope she's running for president because I think she would be very easy," Trump said. "I do not think she would be difficult at all. She'll destroy the country. She'll make our country into Venezuela. With that being said, I don't want to say bad things about her because I would hope that she would be one of the people that would get through the process. It's going to be a long process for the Democrats.”
Gone are the days when congressional leaders spent so much time bickering about how to carve up the federal budget that they could hardly pass a single spending bill.
When faced with the age-old political trade-off between guns and butter, the same GOP that came to power by condemning the nation's rising red ink has now chosen to fund both — with potentially ominous long-term consequences for the nation and the party itself.
“There was absolutely no picking winners or losers. It was, ‘You get a billion, you get a billion, you get a billion,’” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Essentially, it was like, ‘Oh, you want more defense funding? I want more non-defense. ... OK, we’ll just go with that.'"
Since swearing in President Donald Trump, Republican leaders have ditched their sermons on fiscal restraint, running up a credit card bill that could saddle the federal government with tens of billions of dollars in interest, while taking decades to pay off. The precedent set by those drastic funding increases has begun to stoke fears of a potential fiscal crisis that could upend spending negotiations on Capitol Hill in the years to come. Already, the Trump administration reported Monday that the nation just produced its largest budget shortfall in six years.
Working with substantially higher funding limits thanks to this spring’s two-year budget deal, Congress' spending leaders have only fought about how and where to spend an extra $300 billion — not what to cut — making the Obama administration look like an era of austerity in comparison.
Polling shows that voters still decry deficit spending. In a survey last month by the nonprofit Peter G. Peterson Foundation, nearly seven in 10 people said the national debt should be one of Congress’ top three priorities next year.
But in this fall’s campaign, the nation’s nearly $21 trillion debt has been virtually absent in the political conversation, aside from mentions by a few red-state Democratic hopefuls, like Senate contender Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, who has called for a total spending freeze.
While Republican incumbents can't tout any penny-pinching, they can say they at least partially completed Congress' core mission of funding the government on time, an accomplishment that was far from guaranteed after the kind of legislative morass that led to two shutdowns this year.
So far under Trump, Congress has been surprisingly agile in clearing big funding packages, dodging the kind of fights that broke out during the Obama administration between defense hawks and Democratic advocates for more non-defense funding. Historically sizable spending bills seemed to glide across the finish line this summer at a pace unseen in years.
In late September, lawmakers easily cleared two funding packages that made up three-quarters of all federal spending. Unlike nearly everything else on Congress’ agenda, the votes were almost entirely drama-free.
Spending leaders like Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have attributed that outcome to bipartisanship, backed up by decades-old working relationships that are finally bearing fruit.
Congress cleared five of its annual appropriations bills by the Sept. 30 deadline, including the one funding the Pentagon and the vast majority of health care, education and labor programs. Neither of those bills had been completed on time in more than a decade.
But critics of this year’s deficit-ballooning budget deal have cautioned GOP leaders against taking a victory lap on regular order. They argue that the bills were greased with cash, a total of $153 billion this fiscal year alone, despite years of fierce conservative rhetoric about tamping down the national debt.
Even the lawmakers who take credit for stabilizing the spending process acknowledge that their work was made far easier by the sheer size of the budget deal.
“If you’ve got more money — with defense, social programs — you have more leeway,” Shelby said.
All that spending latitude started with Trump's campaign promise to “rebuild” the nation’s armed forces, which he reiterated in his first State of the Union address this year.
The president, surrounded by a close ring of military advisers, decided to start by freeing the Pentagon from the near-constant threat of sequestration.
At the time, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was making the rounds on Capitol Hill, warning lawmakers that those automatic cuts had "done more harm" to the U.S. military than any of the nation's enemies around the globe.
Under orders from Trump, spending negotiators began shaping a budget deal that seemed to grow in size with every back-and-forth of the negotiating process.
“Budgeting was supposed to mean: If you want more of something, you have less of something else,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “But instead of ‘plus one, minus one,’ it became ‘plus one, plus one.'"
In the first round of talks, Republicans had proposed a $37 billion increase for non-defense programs and $54 billion for the military over two years, a proposal that would stave off the automatic cuts that were set to occur through fiscal 2019 under the Obama-era sequestration law. But Democrats insisted on more non-defense spending to match Trump's military funding demands.
Over weeks of back-and-forth offers, those figures rocketed upward.
By February, congressional leaders locked in a two-year deal that showered the military with an additional $80 billion and domestic programs with an extra $63 billion. And that was just the first year. By year two of the deal, defense programs got $85 billion over previous caps and non-defense programs got $68 billion more.
Democrats ultimately walked away with more domestic funding than even President Barack Obama sought. Republicans, meanwhile, met the lofty dreams of defense hawks, reaching a peak in military spending not seen since the pre-sequestration days when the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was at its height.
“If you had told me on Nov. 9, after the last election, that we would have had the largest non-defense discretionary increase since the stimulus ... I would have told you no way. And yet here we are,” said Emily Holubowich, executive director of the Coalition for Health Funding.
The first payout from the budget deal came in March, in the form of the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus Trump said he only signed because of the massive increase in military spending.
Funding for the second year of that budget deal went into effect in late September, delivering fiscal 2019 windfalls for the Pentagon and most non-defense programs.
Three weeks into the fiscal year, congressional leaders and White House officials are already eyeing the next round of budget talks. Those talks will need to be completed by next fall to avert the final threat of sequestration under the 2011 budget law.
With a near-trillion-dollar deficit expected this fiscal year, long-time budget observers are warning that congressional leaders won’t be able to simply dangle more money in front of lawmakers — particularly conservatives — to win votes for future spending bills.
“All budget cycles go up and down. We’re in the up phase right now, so that’s why Congress can do this,” said Todd Harrison, who leads budget analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’re not worried about the deficit right now. That will change.”
Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.
One of the Trump administration’s major efforts to prop up ailing coal companies has run aground in the White House, a setback to an industry that had hoped for a major resurgence after Donald Trump won the presidency.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has spent more than a year pushing various plans that would invoke national security to force power companies to keep their economically struggling coal plants running — a goal in line with Trump’s frequent pledges to revive what he calls “beautiful, clean coal.”
But the White House has shelved the plan amid opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions.
It is unclear whether Trump himself has decided against following Perry’s proposal. Even if he has, the sources warned that Trump frequently changes his mind, and the idea could re-emerge in advance of the president’s reelection campaign.
The failure of Perry’s bailout efforts still leaves Trump with plenty to brag about in coal country: He has shredded former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations and pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. But the stalemate is frustrating the politically active coal mining companies that backed Trump’s presidential campaign and lobbied heavily for an economic lifeline for their industry.
Perry’s proposals — which would also keep aging nuclear power plants operating — have riled up the oil and gas industry, which has prospered as inexpensive natural gas has increasingly eaten away at coal’s share of U.S. power markets. Other critics include consumer groups worried about rising power bills for customers, environmental organizations concerned about the threat to wind and solar power, and conservative policy organizations that oppose what they see as heavy-handed federal intervention in the economy.
“The problem they’ve got is every option they might consider raises the costs for somebody at a time when nobody has an appetite for increased costs anywhere,” said Bob Coward, co-leader of energy advisory firm MPR Associates, echoing what people with knowledge of the discussions told POLITICO. “I think that’s the problem they keep running into. The political will to pay for it is not broadly there enough yet for them.”
The setback is a turnaround from the months of pressure Trump has placed on Perry to help the coal industry. Trump has even given public shoutouts to the obscure piece of the Federal Power Act — Section 202 — that the Energy Department could use to set things in motion.
“We’ll be looking at that 202,” Trump told the crowd at a speech in West Virginia this spring. “You know what a 202 is? We’ll be looking at that.”
The White House directed Perry to “prepare immediate steps to stop the loss” of retiring coal and nuclear plants more than four months ago, and Trump even interrupted an Ohio fundraiser in May to order an aide to call Perry to talk about the bailout. He also touted the national security benefits of coal a few months later at another West Virginia speech.
But in recent months, Trump has omitted mentions of a potential rescue even in his pro-coal speeches, such as at a rally last week in Richmond, Ky.
Industry lawyers and agency staffers say DOE leadership remains united behind a plan to keep the coal plants running, which would also help the coal-mining companies that provide fuel to the plants.
But the agency has struggled to provide the White House with details on which plants would get funding and who would pay, the sources said. Without a legally justifiable methodology, White House advisers have cooled to the idea of a major intervention in power markets.
A draft document DOE presented to the NSC in May proposed tapping federal emergency powers under a trio of laws to force economically struggling coal and nuclear plants to stay online for as long as two years. During this period, the NSC would conduct a study on grid vulnerability. The document did not mention how many plants would get federal help.
That lack of detail seems to have undermined DOE’s case in the White House, and the agency has not been able to convince key presidential advisers, such as National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, that it has a strong national security case for saving coal and nuclear plants, according to two of the sources.
Further damaging Perry’s arguments was an order in January by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation’s power markets, that the retirement of aging power plants did not pose an emergency or require federal intervention.
One of Perry’s biggest problems in formulating a bailout is figuring out who would pay the billions of dollars needed to keep money-losing power plants operating — raising the specter that electric customers would have to cover the cost in their monthly utility bills.
The leaked DOE plan also called for invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that would put the onus on Congress to appropriate money for the plants.
DOE declined to comment for this article, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Even without a bailout, the administration’s other regulatory rollbacks to help coal are likely to keep voters in coal-heavy regions solidly in Trump’s camp.
“If you’re Donald Trump’s speechwriter and you travel to West Virginia, you have everything you need. ... That’s your applause line,” said Jeff Navin, a founder of Boundary Stone Partners and a former chief of staff for the Energy Department under Obama.
But the White House silence has left ardent coal supporters on Capitol Hill frustrated.
“I’m trying to find the darn plan because I understand it’s gone from the Department of Energy over to the White House, and I don't know who in the White House would be sitting on it for whatever reason,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters last week.
Last year, Manchin pressed Trump and Perry to examine how regulations, subsidies and mandates have hurt the coal and nuclear industries. Shortly afterward, Perry kicked off a DOE study of the electric grid.
The stalled plan marks DOE’s third attempt to save coal plants since Trump took office. A grid study intended to highlight the benefits of coal and nuclear power found, inconveniently, that most of those units were shutting down because of competition from cheap natural gas rather than onerous regulations. A subsequent proposal that Perry submitted to FERC was struck down unanimously by the five commissioners — four of whom Trump had appointed.
The effort has been a priority of Bob Murray, a coal magnate who has been a staunch Trump supporter and who met with Perry last year to deliver a list of policy priorities that would benefit the industry. Executives at his mining company,Murray Energy,sent letters to the White House describing how Trump had directed Perry to help the company after having a conversation with Murray.
Murray has repeatedly called on DOE to use its emergency power to keep coal-fired plants running, and for most of the FERC commissioners to be fired after they rejected Perry’s initial proposal.
“President Trump has repeatedly directed members of his Administration to enact measures that will ensure the reliability, resiliency, and fuel security of our Nation's electric power grids,” Murray Energy spokesman Cody Nett wrote in an email. Still, he argued, it “is clear that there are those within his Administration that are working against the President’s wishes.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drew immediate flak Monday for proposing to use military bases on the West Coast to export coal and natural gas despite the opposition of environmentally minded state governments — with critics saying it just won’t work.
“It’s really impressive how this administration churns out harebrained schemes for their Department of Cock-Eyed Ideas,” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, a Democrat, told POLITICO. “The president must be getting really bad advice. It’s not going to work. Our clean water and clean air laws are still on the books and will still be enforced.“
In an interview with The Associated Press, Zinke cast the idea of using the sites like a former Navy base on a remote Alaskan island as a national security matter because it would ensure that the U.S. can supply allies with cheap energy. And it would circumvent opposition to new fossil fuel exports in Democratic-dominated states like Washington and California.
“It doesn’t sound logical or fully baked,” Tom Hicks, a former undersecretary of the Navy and now a principal at Mabus Group, an energy consulting firm, said on Zinke’s plan. “It sounds a little half-cocked.”
The bureaucratic and economic hurdles in building the infrastructure needed to turn military bases into export facilities would be difficult to overcome, experts said, and any development would still need the approval of state-level environmental regulators who have stymied other projects.
Inslee said the federal government had not reached out to his office about the idea, and he couldn’t think of any bases, active or shuttered, in Washington state that would be likely candidates. And he blasted Zinke and the Trump administration for pursuing coal exports despite warnings from the Department of Defense that climate change is a growing national security threat.
Zinke has complained that coastal states are harming their neighboring states by blocking fossil fuel export projects, such as the Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed export facility in Washington that would ship coal from Wyoming to Asia. And Zinke, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, has increasingly criticized state environmental regulators for blocking oil and gas pipelines and local governments on the West Coast for nixing new liquefied natural gas export facilities.
“It’s in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities.” Zinke said in the interview. He suggested the former Adak Naval Air Facility in Alaska could be used as an LNG export point that could receive Alaskan-produced gas by barge.
But Adak’s location on a remote island located near the western tip of the Aleutian Islands is in a region battered by storms, and natural gas must be turned into either LNG or compressed natural gas before it can be moved by ship.
“It sounds like a bit of a stretch,” Sarah Emerson, managing principal at oil and gas consulting firm ESAI Energy, said of the Adak idea. “The Adak base is on an Aleutian island, so you would also need an undersea [pipeline] connection. I think this would be a hard sell for the oil and gas industry.“
The list of military bases with access to deep water ports that sit far from population centers in case of accidents is a short one, according to Hicks. Even if one could be found, the economics of exporting coal “would flame them in the face,” he added. Foreign demand for U.S. coal is expected to wane in coming years, according to government forecasts.
Even Zinke’s proposal of using closed bases likely wouldn’t fly, Hicks said.
“Just because it was once a military base that’s closed, it doesn’t mean Department of Defense has anything to do with it. I don’t even know what the role of Interior would be at that point. Usually the land is turned over to the state,” he said.
An Interior spokesperson did not respond to a series of questions on how far along Zinke’s plan is, whether he had consulted with states, and whether the government had interest from the private sector for the plan. A spokesperson for the Commerce Department — which Zinke told the AP was involved in his proposal — referred questions to Interior.
Spokespeople for California Gov. Jerry Brown did not return calls for comment. A spokesman for Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who has been promoting an Alaska LNG project, did not immediately respond to questions.
Still, the administration may feel the need to do something to counteract the way its own trade policy has antagonized China, one of the largest potential customers for U.S. gas and coal, said Leslie Palti-Guzman, president of natural gas consulting firm Gas Vista.
“The timing of this announcement is interesting,” Palti-Guzman said. “It happens in a context of escalating trade war with China, which could negatively impact the US push for ‘energy dominance.’ Hence, the U.S. government is on the defensive, doubling down on its interagency commitment to removing barriers to energy developments and trade and to promoting exports of U.S. energy resources.”
PHILADELPHIA — Rep. Nancy Pelosi is laser-focused.
With 21 days until the midterm elections, the California Democrat and House minority leader is crisscrossing the country fundraising and rallying the Democratic troops, all while plotting her return to the speakership.
Electing more women is central to Pelosi’s mission. Of the 84 “Red to Blue” candidates whom Democrats see as top pickups in races to win the House majority, female Democratic candidates are running in 43 of them.
“It’s not a zero-sum game,” she said in an interview, talking about the need to add more women to the ranks of Congress. “We should celebrate the success because that opens another door.”
Of course, Pelosi was here in 1992, the last “Year of the Woman” election. But since then the number of women serving in Congress hasn't grown exponentially. Pelosi is hoping to take advantage of the groundswell of Democratic women getting more politically active — both in contributing to candidates and in running for office — to change that. Now, she said, “is the time women will cross the threshold. … There is nothing more wholesome in America than increased participation of women.”
Democratic women are favored to win in 68 of the 211 House races they are running in, and could add 45 women to their ranks if they do well in competitive races, according to POLITICO’s race ratings.
Over the weekend, Pelosi headed right into the heart of where Democratic women are poised to make gains — Pennsylvania. The state’s congressional delegation — 18 House members and two senators — is currently all male, but the Keystone State is now expected to elect women to its delegation for the first time since 2015. In all, seven women, some of whom face a steep climb in the general election, made it past the primaries.
Pelosi was campaigning Saturday with two who are leading in their races. Madeleine Dean, a state legislator, is favored to win in the 4th Congressional District, and Mary Gay Scanlon, a member of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board, is likely to represent the 5th Congressional District.
“What a time for Pennsylvania to make up for lost time,” said Pelosi, who was speaking with Dean and Scanlon at an event for Emerge Pennsylvania, a statewide network for getting Democratic women to run for office. The room was packed with more than 50 women, including some who had gone through Emerge’s candidate training, former candidates who had run, and others willing to brave the rainy, cold weather to get a chance to hear Pelosi tell her story.
And while Pelosi and the candidates focused on the gains women are making this election cycle, one woman — who described herself as a former sex worker who is also transgender and now works in advocacy — served as a reminder of how distant the goal can be. She questioned how those who don’t have a law degree or other more typical experiences that lead to public office can still make a difference for there to be true representation for all people.
Both candidates, and Pelosi, said they believed in all voices being heard and represented, and they encouraged her to run for office.
Of course, women are just part of the equation. Democrats are also going to need big money as they try to eke out wins in districts that lean Republican.
Pelosi is doing just that. In the third quarter, Pelosi will report raising $34.2 million for Democrats, including $30.5 million for the DCCC. She is by far the biggest source of cash for House Democrats and House Democratic candidates. During her Pennsylvania swing, Pelosi attended an event for retiring Rep. Bob Brady and also a fundraiser for Dean in the Philadelphia suburbs, drawing contributors from the Pakistani community and members of PAKPAC, a group that educates Pakistani-Americans on policy issues.
Pelosi’s return to the top of a Democratic-majority leadership was anything but assured several months ago, with potential challengers lurking and unrest in Democratic ranks over what some said was a need for new and younger leadership. But as Democrats appear positioned to take back the House, Pelosi has solidified her support among her caucus and has begun mapping out their priorities with her colleagues.
Similar to 2007 — the first time Pelosi took the speaker’s gavel — House Democrats plan to introduce a package for campaign finance reform as their first bill of the 116th Congress.
“People believe you that if you want to reduce the goal of money in politics … then they trust you to do the right thing,” Pelosi said in an interview in a downtown Philly food court before heading out for a trio of campaign events.
After that, Pelosi said, Democrats are looking at lowering drug prices and then will try to work with Republicans on a gun background check bill and protecting so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
And while oversight is a key for Democrats, Pelosi said she isn’t in favor of a “pound of flesh” club. In particular, she said, she would like Democrats to make sure there is integrity in the U.S. voting system and allow for standards to be put in place that states could implement.
This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on Oct. 16, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Washington was highly concerned about China’s “predatory” behavior and militarization of the South China Sea but insisted Washington was not trying to contain the country.
Mattis was speaking en route to Vietnam, where he arrived on Tuesday to meet with officials to bolster military ties between Hanoi – which has its own competing claims in the South China Sea – and Washington.
His comments followed the speech made by Vice President Mike Pence on October 4 that laid out U.S. grievances with China.
Mattis, a former general, highlighted not only U.S. concerns about the disputed waters, but also Beijing’s piling of unnecessary debt on smaller countries to pay for Chinese-funded infrastructure projects.
“We remain highly concerned with the continued militarization of features in the South China Sea,” he said, saying that this continued to happen despite a pledge by President Xi Jinping not to do so.
He continued that “we look at the — what we consider to be almost predatory, in some cases certainly predatory — economic behavior” of China, which was encouraging smaller countries to pile on “massive debt” that “fiscal analysis would say they are going to have difficulty, at best, repaying."
But Mattis said the U.S. wanted a relationship with China grounded in fairness, reciprocity and “respect for international rules and for all nations’ sovereignty, whether they’re large or small."
“We’re not out to contain China,” he added.
Mattis said the U.S. and China were cooperating where possible, highlighting North Korea as an example. “We are not seeing a more military, confrontational approach vis-à-vis China,” he added.
He said China and the U.S. would sometimes “step on each other’s toes” as two large powers in the Pacific, and had to find ways to manage their relationship.
Last month a Chinese naval vessel nearly collided with the USS Decatur near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, prompting Mattis to cancel a trip to Beijing.
US government sources subsequently told CNN they were planning more “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
However, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the U.S., blamed the Americans for the incident, saying the Decatur was sailing close to Chinese waters.
He also argued that Beijing was not to blame for the tensions between the two sides because its warships were not “going to the coast of California or to the Gulf of Mexico”.
But Mattis dismissed that argument, saying that even if Chinese ships did sail to the Gulf of Mexico, they would be in international waters.
“The South China Sea is one of the most heavily trafficked international sea lanes of communication,” he said. “So when the Chinese ships are putting bumpers over the side of it, you don’t do that when you’re out in the middle of the ocean, unless you’re intending to run into something.”
Mattis’ visit to Ho Chi Minh City is his second trip to Vietnam this year, having visited the capital Hanoi in January.
His meeting with Defense Minister Ngô Xuân Lich will be the fifth time he has met his Vietnamese counterpart and he described the Southeast Asian country as a “growing defense partner."
Mattis will also attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Singapore on Thursday.
He said the U.S. considers the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “central to the security interest and maintaining peace in the … Pacific."
In an echo of the language U.S. officials use to describe their relationship with China, he also said Washington wanted a “constructive relationship so prosperity and security grow together, not apart."
President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to "go after" adult film actress Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti after a defamation lawsuit against the president was dismissed in court on Monday.
Trump, who has repeatedly mocked women's appearances, also offered up a demeaning nickname for Daniels, calling her "horseface."
"'Federal Judge throws out Stormy Danials lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees.' @FoxNews Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas," the president tweeted. "She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!"
District Judge S. James Otero of the Central District of California dismissed a defamation lawsuit on Monday against Trump. Daniels sued the president after he wrote in a tweet on April 18 that her story about a man threatening her to not come forward about her alleged affair with Trump was "a total con job."
It's not clear what Trump is referring to when he wrote he will "go after" Daniels and Avenatti, but he seemed to be railing against Avenatti, who is toying with a Democratic presidential bid. Avenatti is from California, but Daniels lives in Texas and the judge applied Texas law in dismissing the libel suit and ordering her to pay Trump’s attorneys’ fees. Avenatti has appealed that decision.
Another lawsuit Daniels filed against Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen remains pending before the same federal judge in Los Angeles. That case seeks to have the alleged $130,000 hush money deal declared void. It also accuses Cohen of libel for a statement appearing to claim she made up her story about a sexual encounter with Trump.
Lawyers for Trump are trying to have the president dismissed from that lawsuit. They say no one is seeking to enforce the alleged hush money deal so there is no controversy properly before the court.
Trump’s prediction that Daniels “will confirm the letter she signed” appears to be a reference to the fact that Daniels signed a statement in January 2018 denying an affair with Trump. She later retracted the denial. How Trump could use a suit he is seeking to dismiss to prove no affair took place is unclear.
Avenatti responded to Trump's tweet, saying the president is a "disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States."
"Bring everything you have, because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are," Avenatti wrote. "How many other women did you cheat on your wife with while you had a baby at home?"
Daniels also hit back at Trump, tweeting, "Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your president. In addition to his...umm...shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control on Twitter AGAIN! And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny."
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.
NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is facing a growing scandal surrounding his administration’s decision to hire a former campaign aide for a state job despite an allegation of sexual assault.
Murphy says he’s ordering an independent investigation into how his staff handled the matter and was prepared to change state law to ensure nothing like it happens again. The governor, at a Monday press conference ahead of a nine-day overseas trade mission, denied learning any of the details of the allegations against Albert J. Alvarez until Oct. 2, but he insisted members of his staff had properly handled the matter after it was brought to their attention in March. His transition team, he said, was another story.
“Let me be absolutely and unequivocally clear: This never should have happened,” Murphy, a Democrat, said at his offices in Newark, where he was peppered with questions by reporters and appeared at times to be left uneasy by the spectacle. “In this instance, the hiring process of the transition did not reflect our values or the seriousness with which we believe allegations of assault should be taken, period.”
The governor’s comments come a day after The Wall Street Journal published an interview with Katie Brennan, an administration official who says Alvarez sexually assaulted her inside her Jersey City apartment April 8, 2017, after driving her home from a gathering of campaign staffers at a bar.
Also Monday, POLITICO reported that a State Department inspector general‘s report on U.S. diplomatic operations in Germany in 2011 — when Murphy served as ambassador there — said the embassy and consulates were not “attentive” or “proactive” in dealing with harassment claims. A follow-up report in February 2013 said corrective action was taken, and that that embassy complied with recommendations from the audit.
Alvarez was never charged with a crime in either case and was hired as chief of staff in the Schools Development Authority even though top transition officials — including the governor’s current chief of staff — knew about the case. Alvarez resigned two weeks ago, seven months after Brennan said she contacted the governor’s chief counsel about the matter and four months after she tried to reach Murphy himself.
The governor, who said he had no role in hiring Alvarez but was likely made aware of his appointment, said Monday he was hiring attorney Peter Verniero, a former state Supreme Court justice and state attorney general, to undertake an inquiry into the matter.
“Sexual misconduct in any form is and will continue to be treated by this administration with the utmost gravity,” Murphy said. “Now we must lead and prove that commitment. Words are not enough.”
Verniero, who was also the top aide to Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, faced his own controversy when he was state attorney general as lawmakers in 2001 looked into allegations of racial profiling by the State Police. His forgetful testimony during a public hearing, in which he repeatedly said he did not “recall” a number of details and was accused of misleading lawmakers, nearly led to his impeachment.
Verniero, of the Sills Cummis and Gross law firm, said he would pursue a “systemic review of the hiring and vetting practices of the Governor-elect’s transition office, including the hiring and vetting of Mr. Albert J. Alvarez.” He said he spoke to the governor on Monday and agreed to provide a summary of his findings by the end of the year.
“Within that mandate, I have been assured that I will have complete independence to request interviews with whomever I deem appropriate as fact witnesses as well as access to relevant documents,” Verniero said in a statement.
Murphy, who took office in January and fashions himself a champion of women’s issues, insisted the investigation would be thorough, complete and independent, and nothing like the short inquiry the FBI undertook this month into decades-old sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the governor didn’t directly answer a question about whether he would support an investigation by the state Legislature, which Republicans leaders from both houses have requested.
“I think these are very meaningful steps we are taking right now,” he said. “This is a moment where folks can either grandstand or call balls and strikes to make New Jersey better for victims of sexual assault."
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said Monday afternoon she was calling for the creation of a special legislative committee to conduct an inquiry into the ways allegations of sexual assault, abuse and harassment are handled by law enforcement, the criminal justice system and government in New Jersey.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Weinberg and other Democratic leaders in the upper house released a joint statement calling the new disclosures “alarming and disturbing” and that “unanswered questions multiply with each new allegation and assertion.” They called for a “full accounting of what occurred, what complaints or accusations were made, what was done to get the full truth and what actions were taken in response.”
“The conduct and behavior that has been described to this point cannot be ignored and the claims of the survivors must be taken seriously. If true, these are abuses of power that leave victims in their wake. The impact of any abuse is made worse by any failure to fully respond,” the lawmakers said. “The people of New Jersey deserve a full and straightforward accounting of what happened during the campaign, what carried forward into the transition and what continued into the administration.”
Meanwhile, the governor said he and his wife, Tammy Murphy, planned to speak with Brennan by phone on Monday to express their “profound heartbreak for what she has and is going through.” Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver will also reach out to Brennan, who remains the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Murphy said he and the first lady “admire Katie’s bravery,” and believe that it is “critical” they learn from what’s she going through. He said he was open to changing both state policy and state laws in order to make it easier for accusers to seek justice.
“Our current policies and procedures were adhered to,” Murphy said. “But that is no longer enough.”
Alvarez, whose attorney denied the allegation to The Wall Street Journal, was the Murphy campaign's director of Muslim and Latino outreach. Brennan, his accuser, later became a volunteer for the campaign. Brennan said she reported the alleged assault to police a day after it occurred. The case was investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, but no charges were ever brought against Alvarez.
On Monday, the Attorney General’s Office announced that Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez had asked the state Division of Criminal Justice to take over the case after she realized she knew both Alvarez and Brennan. The division referred the investigation to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, which will review the matter.
"Although these personal relationships in no way affected the investigation that was conducted in 2017, Prosecutor Suarez decided — out of an abundance of caution — to request that DCJ supersede the case," the Division of Criminal Justice said in a statement.
Murphy’s aides learned of the allegation against Alvarez in late November, shortly after the election. Pete Cammarano, now the governor’s chief of staff, was among those made aware Alvarez was facing an allegation of sexual assault, according to a senior administration official. None of the top transition aides knew the name of the accuser, the official said.
In a statement, Murphy spokesman Mahen Gunaratna said transition officials learned law enforcement had investigated an allegation against Alvarez “and that they closed the case and declined to pursue charges.”
“Following a clear background check, Mr. Alvarez received an offer of employment in state government,” Gunaratna said.
Brennan contacted Matt Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel, in March 2018 and told him about the allegation she made against Alvarez.
“The matter was immediately and properly referred to the Chief Ethics Officer of the Governor’s Office and to the Attorney General’s Office, in accordance with state policies and procedures,” Gunaratna said.
Platkin told Alvarez’s supervisor at the time, SDA Chief Executive Charlie McKenna, that Alvarez should “separate himself” from the state government, according to the senior administration official.
McKenna told the Wall Street Journal he conveyed the message, and that Alvarez said he would start searching for a new job, but no timeline had been set. “He wasn’t being fired, he wasn’t being ordered to leave,” McKenna told the newspaper. “It was just a conversation where I said, ‘I was told that this would be a good idea.’”
In June, nearly 14 months after the alleged attack and with Alvarez still working for the administration, Brennan contacted the governor and his wife, who had said publicly last year that she was sexually assaulted when she was a college student.
“Sensitive Matter-Meeting Request,” was the subject line of the email, sent at 7 p.m. June 1 to the couple’s private addresses. A copy of the exchange was provided to POLITICO.
“Reluctantly, I am coming to you today to discuss something that happened during the campaign. If possible, I would like to meet with either of you one on one for this sensitive matter,” Brennan wrote after reintroducing herself. “Thank you for your consideration.”
The governor wrote back 41 minutes later, addressing her by her first name.
“We know you well,” he said. “Adding our respective teams to get on with scheduling something. Hang in. We are on it. If we prove not to be fast enough don't hesitate to come back to Tammy or me directly.
Many thanks. Phil and Tammy M.”
The governor copied two staff members on the email.
The governor insisted Monday he learned nothing else about what Brennan had contacted him about, or that there was an allegation against Alvarez, until this month.
He said he did not follow up with Brennan because he had been counseled in general that he can’t attend to every matter personally and needs to delegate such issues.
Asked if he thought his aides had sought to give him plausible deniability, he said he did not want to speculate, and he did not respond directly when asked if he posed such a question to his staff.
“We’ve had, believe me, a lot of soul-searching over the past 15 days. Believe me, we’ve turned this thing over a thousand times,” Murphy said.
The Journal story, he said, revealed new details “and shocked the hell out of us.” He defended staying away from the matter.
“You’ve got a confidentiality process, and if you make an exception, you run the risk that someone with my power and influence can put their finger on the scale and tip it one way or the other,” Murphy said. “And that’s not right — that’s not what the people of New Jersey deserve.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday said the U.S. should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” and vowed to never work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as long as he remains in charge of the country, slamming him as “toxic” and a “wrecking ball.”
The disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the 33-year-old crown prince and royal family, ignited an international uproar after he was last seen at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.
“He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey,” Graham said on "Fox and Friends" on Tuesday. “And to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused. I was on the floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because they're a good ally.”
Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi officials, but President Donald Trump has told reporters that King Salman vehemently denies those accusations. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Saudi Arabia on Monday as the kingdom is expected to explain the journalist's disappearance.
“I’m not going back to Saudi Arabia if this guy’s in charge,” Graham said. “He can never be a world leader on the world stage,” he said of the crown prince.
“We deal with bad people all the time,” Graham said. “This is in our face. I feel personally offended. They have nothing but contempt for us."
"This guy has got to go. Saudi Arabia, if you're listening. There's a lot of good people you can choose, but MBS has tainted your country," he said, referring to the crown prince's moniker.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied having any personal financial interest in Saudi Arabia as his relationship with the country comes under scrutiny amid the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!" the president tweeted.
Trump had said Monday that Saudi King Salman "firmly denied any knowledge of" Khashoggi's disappearance in a call to Trump, which the president quickly relayed to reporters.
Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi royal family who had been living in exile in the United States, was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The president has alleged that "rogue killers" could be responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance — a remark that critics seized on as evidence that Trump was parroting Saudi leaders' narrative.
More recently, a lobbying firm for Saudi Arabia paid Trump International Hotel in Washington more than $270,000 between October 2016 and March 2017 for lodging and catering.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to cancel aid to Honduras unless a group of Honduran migrants making its way toward the United States is stopped and returned to its home country.
"The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!" Trump wrote Tuesday morning, among a diverse flurry of tweets.
The "caravan" comment referred to a group of hundreds of migrants who are fleeing poverty and gang violence in Honduras, spilling into Guatemala, which lies between Honduras and Mexico. The migrants overwhelmed Guatemalan border guards, who eventually allowed the group to pass and accompanied them deep into the country, The Associated Press reported.
Trump's threat reflects his America First campaign rhetoric, which spurned foreign entanglements. Trump has advocated rolling back foreign aid, which represents less than 1 percent of federal spending, and his administration attempted to kill $3 billion in foreign aid over the summer.
The migrants set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Friday, a day after Vice President Mike Pence met with the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras urging them to keep their citizens from coming to the United States.
"Tell your people: Don’t put your families at risk by taking the dangerous journey north to attempt to enter the United States illegally," Pence said.
But the migrants showed no signs of stopping as they trekked onward toward Mexico, the AP reported Monday.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday said that President Donald Trump assured him that he is "100 percent" behind him, and that the two have never discussed the retired Marine Corps general leaving his position.
The comments come after the president implied during a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday that Mattis “may leave” his administration.
Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that Trump called him during his flight from Washington D.C. to Ho Chin Minh City, Vietnam, according to the Associated Press. He said the president asked him if he had seen the interview, to which Mattis said he hadn't. Mattis also said Trump told him he has his full support and that he should let the media know, the AP reported.
“We have never talked about me leaving," Mattis said, according to AP.
Mattis also addressed Trump's remark on "60 Minutes" that he thinks Mattis is “sort of a Democrat" — another perceived blow.
“We’re all built on our formative experiences. When I was 18 I joined the Marine Corps, and in the U.S. military we are proudly apolitical," he told reporters.
When pressed on whether he's formally affiliated with any political party, Mattis replied, “I’ve never registered for any political party.”
Conservative mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson funneled nearly $35 million into Republican coffers in recent months, making them a primary source of strength for the GOP as it fights to maintain control of the House and Senate going into the midterm campaign‘s final stretch.
The Adelsons have spent more than $90 million on GOP causes so far this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings, and their third-quarter giving cemented their status as the Republican Party’s biggest donors.
Sheldon Adelson, a backer of President Donald Trump, is CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands, a global casino empire. In September, he and his wife each gave $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan, a new FEC filing Monday showed. It was the couple’s second major infusion of cash to help save the Republican House majority and accounted for nearly 80 percent of the fund’s haul of about $25.5 million last quarter.
That was on top of $55 million the pair had already given the Congressional Leadership Fund and another super PAC focused on helping Republicans keep control of the Senate. They have also given smaller amounts to individual GOP candidates.
The Adelsons also gave a combined $10 million to America First Action, a super PAC that supports Trump's agenda, contributing the lion's share of the $12 million the group brought in during the third quarter. In recent weeks, the PAC has funded negative television ads targeting Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who is in a tough re-election fight.
In September, the Adelsons also gave $2 million to ESAFund, which supports small-government candidates. Last quarter, the fund spent $1 million to oppose Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.
All three political action committees are super PACs, meaning they have no limit on donations or spending.
In addition, the couple gave nearly $3 million to the Republican Governors Association in July and September, the filings showed.
Republican Martha McSally accused Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of “treason” Monday night, latching onto recent reports about Sinema’s comments as an antiwar activist at the end of a contentious, fiery Arizona Senate debate.
Near the end of the hourlong debate, McSally attacked Sinema over the comments from a radio show in 2003, reported last week by CNN. The host made a hypothetical comment about joining the Taliban, to which Sinema responded: "I don't care if you want to do that, go ahead."
McSally demanded an apology, accusing her fellow congresswoman of saying “it’s OK to commit treason.” Sinema didn’t respond to the attack or explain her past comments, instead accusing McSally of running a negative campaign by using “ridiculous attacks and trying to smear my campaign.”
The exchange in Monday’s debate, the only one scheduled in Arizona, epitomized the campaign to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. McSally repeatedly accused Sinema and Democrats of lying about her positions, while Sinema attacked McSally as overly partisan and unwilling to cooperate across the aisle.
The candidates sparred over immigration, health care, the Republican tax law and the Supreme Court, among other issues, diverging sharply on nearly every topic.
On Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, McSally said she would have voted yes, while Sinema said she would have voted no, adding that she thought Kavanaugh was overly partisan and may have lied under oath during his testimony responding to allegations of sexual assault against him.
McSally praised President Donald Trump — who is rallying for her in Arizona on Friday — at the outset of the debate, praising him as a “disrupter.” She said she was “proud that he has gone to the White House and he is leading our country in the right direction.” When Sinema said McSally voted with Trump 98 percent of the time, McSally touted the Republican Party agenda, highlighting her vote for the tax cuts.
Sinema touted her willingness to work across the aisle but named several areas in which she disagreed with the president, including tariffs and the administration’s previous policy of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I believe it’s our duty to stand up against the president when he’s doing something wrong, but join with him when he’s doing something right, like working for veterans,” Sinema said.
Sinema closed by touting herself as the "third-most independent" member of Congress and said she would work in a bipartisan way to get things done.
The debate also grew contentious over health care, which Sinema has made a central issue in her campaign. Sinema accused McSally of voting to get rid of protections for people with pre-existing conditions by supporting the Republicans’ Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation last year. McSally called the accusation a “flat-out lie,” saying she supports protections for pre-existing conditions but that the Affordable Care Act has “failed.”
McSally attacked Sinema over border security, saying the Democrat has “very dangerous” positions on immigration and criticizing her for voting against two Trump-backed immigration measures that failed in the House earlier this year. McSally, who chairs a border security subcommittee, has used that issue as one of her central campaign themes. Asked about Trump’s proposed border wall, Sinema said it could be part of a solution but was not sufficient. Sinema said she had “bucked my party” to support increased funding for border patrol and immigration enforcement in the past.
Near the end of the debate, McSally — an Air Force veteran — attacked Sinema for her past as an antiwar protester, which McSally has made a central contrast in the campaign.
"While we were in harm's way, she was protesting our troops in a pink tutu," McSally said. In her closing statement, she called herself a "fighter" and touted her record of service.
President Donald Trump’s campaign organization spent $1.6 million on legal expenses between the start of July and the end of September, the most it has spent on legal fees in any quarter, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission.
The payments, the bulk of which went to Jones Day, the law firm representing the campaign, come as the president’s reelection organization has both fought lawsuits related to the 2016 campaign and helped pay legal fees for staffers roped into investigations related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
Mintz Levin, the law firm hired by former Trump campaign aide Corey Lewandowski in the Russia probe, was the next highest-paid firm, receiving $173,121 during the quarter, the filing showed.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about its legal expenses.
Overall, the Trump organization — which includes the campaign and two joint fundraising committees operated by the campaign and the Republican National Committee — raised $18 million during the third quarter. The campaign spent $7.7 million and ended the quarter with $35 million on hand, a massive war chest that Trump has been building since soon after he assumed the presidency and that likely will put his cash stockpile leagues ahead of any 2020 challengers who emerge in the coming months.
The Trump campaign also appears to have taken steps to start earning money from one of its most valuable assets: its email list. The filing shows the campaign made $300,380 during the quarter from Parscale Strategy, a firm affiliated with campaign manager Brad Parscale, from “list rental revenue.”
Email lists are a valuable asset for any campaign, and many candidates rent their lists to others to generate extra cash. Trump’s campaign raised huge sums of money from his supporters via an email list built up during the 2016 campaign.
The Trump campaign's spending on legal expenses totals $5.9 million since the president filed to launch his 2020 reelection bid. The campaign has acknowledged that some of that money has gone to pay legal bills for individuals involved in various investigations, including paying for Trump family members facing scrutiny related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
But the campaign has not specified how much money it has spent on those legal bills as opposed to other expenses, and the payments are simply marked “legal consulting” in the filing.
It’s legal for the campaign to cover such expenses tied to investigations, so long as those expenses are for costs that were incurred during the campaign.
The campaign also doled out $214,000 in donations during the quarter to more than 100 congressional candidates running for reelection, the filings show.
Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.
The adult-film actress Stormy Daniels’ libel suit against President Donald Trump was thrown out Monday by a federal judge, who also ordered Daniels to pay Trump's legal fees in the case.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles said Trump was engaged in “rhetorical hyperbole” in April when he sent a tweet casting doubt on threats that Daniels claimed to have received in 2011 as she debated whether to go public with her claim of a sexual encounter with Trump.
“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the fake news media for fools (but they know it),” Trump wrote on Twitter.
In a 14-page order, Otero noted that the tweet was a one-time statement by Trump and said it failed to meet the standard of a clear factual claim that Daniels had lied.
“Mr. Trump’s tweet constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole,’ which is ‘extravagant exaggeration [that is] employed for rhetorical effect,’” the judge wrote.
“Specifically, Mr. Trump’s tweet displays an incredulous tone, suggesting that the content of his tweet was not meant to be understood as a literal statement about Plaintiff. Instead, Mr. Trump sought to use language to challenge Plaintiff’s account of her affair and the threat that she purportedly received. … As the United States Supreme Court has held, a published statement that is ‘pointed, exaggerated, and heavily laden with emotional rhetoric and moral outrage’ cannot constitute a defamatory statement.”
Otero, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said that allowing the suit to go forward would create an imbalance in public discourse on a matter of significant public interest.
“If this Court were to prevent Mr. Trump from engaging in this type of ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ against a political adversary, it would significantly hamper the office of the President,” the judge wrote. “Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation. This would deprive this country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process.”
“In short, should Plaintiff publicly voice her opinions about Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump is entitled to publicly voice non-actionable opinions about Plaintiff,” Otero added. “To allow Plaintiff to proceed with her defamation action would, in effect, permit Plaintiff to make public allegations against the President without giving him the opportunity to respond. Such a holding would violate the First Amendment.”
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, immediately appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Twitter, Avenatti called the ruling “limited” and noted that a suit that Daniels filed against Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen relating to an alleged $130,000 hush-money deal remains on the books.
“Daniels’ other claims against Trump and Cohen proceed unaffected,” Avenatti said. “Trump’s contrary claims are as deceptive as his claims about the inauguration attendance. We will appeal the dismissal of the defamation cause of action and are confident in a reversal.”
Charles Harder, a Trump lawyer, hailed the ruling, highlighting the requirement that Daniels pay Trump’s legal fees.
“No amount of spin or commentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today’s ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels,” Harder said in a statement “The amount of the award for President Trump’s attorneys’ fees will be determined at a later date.”
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed the defamation suit in New York last April. She later agreed to a request by Trump’s lawyers to transfer the case to Los Angeles, where Otero sits and has been handling the litigation over the alleged hush money deal.
Since Daniels is a Texas resident, Otero held that Texas law applies to the libel case. Like many states, Texas has a so-called anti-SLAPP law, allowing for early dismissal of lawsuits based on statements on controversial public issues. Most such laws have a provision requiring the losing party to pay the other side’s legal fees if a case is ordered dismissed.
A federal judge on Monday approved a request to end GPS location monitoring of Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign deputy chairman who is a key cooperating defendant in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted Gates’ request, allowing him to be relieved of a bracelet that tracks his movements as he awaits sentencing and continues to meet with prosecutors. She also agreed to allow Gates, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, to travel freely in the area around his home, northern Virginia and Washington, and to end a nightly curfew.
Prosecutors from Mueller’s team did not object to Gates’ request, nor to a similar one he made in February just after he pleaded guilty to two felony charges: conspiracy against the U.S. and making a false statement in a federal investigation.
However, while Jackson turned down the request earlier this year, she took a different stance Monday.
“The Court now has the benefit of additional information, including defendant’s record of ongoing cooperation with the government, his testimony at the trial in the Eastern District of Virginia under difficult circumstances, as well as his compliance with all of the travel conditions to date,” Jackson wrote in an order. “In light of all of those circumstances, and in consideration of the matters set forth in all of the previous bond motions, the financial conditions imposed in previous orders, and the government’s consent, the motion will be granted, and the conditions of defendant’s release will be modified to eliminate the curfew and the requirement of GPS monitoring.”
Jackson said Gates would still be required to advise a probation officer in advance about his travel plans.
No sentencing date has been set for Gates. After his testimony in the trial of his former business partner and co-defendant, Paul Manafort, in August, Manafort was convicted on eight counts, while the jury deadlocked on 10 others.
Whether Gates’ testimony at the trial actually aided prosecutors is open to doubt. Some jurors indicated they didn’t trust him and disregarded his testimony.
Manafort cut a plea deal of his own last month as a second trial loomed in Washington. He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In addition, he remains convicted on the eight felony counts in Virginia, although the agreement calls for the 10 mistried counts there to be dismissed.
A judge in Alexandria has called a hearing for Friday to discuss the details of when those counts will be dismissed and under what circumstances.
TOKYO—Five years ago, China’s Xi Jinping rocked the Communist Party establishment by pledging to let markets play a “decisive role” in decision making. Reformists rejoiced as President Xi signaled a revival of Deng Xiaoping’s pro-capitalism revolution.
Things haven’t gone as planned. First, Xi slow-walked steps to reduce China’s reliance on runaway credit, debt and an antiquated state sector. He prioritized short-term growth over long-term upgrades. And then Donald Trump came along to imperil both objectives.
Initially, Xi’s government figured the president was bluffing. Beijing’s calculation was that, sure, Trump might slap some tariffs on Chinese goods, but it’s a mere negotiating tactic – his “Art of the Deal” writ large. After all, past American presidents had often attacked China on the campaign trail—only to make nice while in office. Xi’s men held it together as Trump slapped taxes of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. They figured Trump’s initial attack on $50 billion of Chinese imports in June would satisfy Peter Navarro and other protectionist voices in the White House.
Hardly, as Xi’s team is realizing. If the extra $200 billion of levies Trump tossed Beijing’s way in September weren’t reality-check enough, Mike Pence’s Oct. 4 “we-will-not-stand-down” speech suggests 2019 could get even worse for Beijing.
Pence accused Beijing of trying to “malign” Trump’s credibility, of “reckless harassment” and of working to engineer “a different American president.” On both economic and military issues, Pence declared: “We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”
The vice president seemed to confirm that Trump’s trade war is more about tackling China than creating U.S. jobs. Worse, perhaps, taxing Beijing is shaping up to be a 2020 re-election strategy. Forget Russia, Pence suggested: China is the real election meddler. It “clearly laid down an official marker for a much more competitive and contentious New Era of U.S.-China relations,” says China analyst Bill Bishop.
All this is throwing Xi’s domestic strategies into disarray – perhaps permanently.
Six months ago, Beijing was throttling ahead with “Made in China 2025,” a multi-trillion-dollar effort to dominate the future of self-driving vehicles, renewable energy, robots and artificial intelligence. Party bigwigs were also planning festivities to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Deng’s reforms -– and Xi’s steps to accelerate them.
Now, Xi’s undivided attention is on making this year’s growth numbers. Trump’s trade-policy grenades are sending a few too many market forces Beijing’s way for comfort. China’s currency is down 6.4 percent this year. Shanghai stocks are down 22.3 percent this year as JPMorgan Chase and other investment banks turn cautious despite China’s 6.7 percent growth.
The headwinds heading China’s way are unmistakable, particularly with Trump threatening to up the tariff ante to $505 billion. In August, export growth weakened to just under 10 percent from the previous month -- crisis levels for a trade-reliant developing nation. Fixed-asset investment has stalled, falling to a record low in August. And the latest purchasing managers’ data from the government and Caixin at right at the 50-point mark -- just a small step from contraction.
That’s unleashed a frantic push to keep China’s growth engine from crawling to a stop. Almost daily, Xi’s team rolls out new plans to cut taxes, boost business lending and ramp up infrastructure spending. Regulators are easing up on credit curbs and limits on property speculation. On Oct. 7, the central bank slashed the amount of cash lenders must set aside as reserves for the fourth time this year. It is as clear an admission as any that China’s 6.5 percent growth target is in trouble.
So are Xi’s designs of raising Deng’s upgrades to 11. In 1978, Deng set the most populous nation on a journey from impoverished backwater to surpassing Japan’s GDP on the way to America’s. Deng replaced Maoist egalitarianism with meritocratic forces. He loosened price controls, decollectivized agriculture, allowed entrepreneurs to start businesses, welcomed foreign investment and morphed China into a global manufacturing juggernaut.
Xi’s Made in China 2025 gambit aimed to push the economy upmarket – making it more about tech companies like Alibaba and Tencent than sweatshops. Yet now Xi is engaged in all-hands-on-deck battle against Trump’s ploy to turn back the clock on China’s rising influence.
A key element of moving China beyond boom-and-bust cycles and making growth more productive is tackling dueling bubbles in credit, debt and property prices. That means increasing transparency, policing an out-of-control $20 trillion shadow-banking sector and dropping support for state-owned enterprises to create a vibrant private sector. Such upgrades will necessitate slower growth -- 5 percent or below.
Yet they are now largely on hold. Xi reverting to the stimulus-at-all-costs playbook that got China into financial hot water is a worrisome bookend for the Deng revolution. Xi is ensuring that when China’s debt-excess reckoning comes, what economists call a “Minsky moment,” it will be bigger, more spectacular and more globally impactful. If you thought the “Lehman shock” of 2008 was scary, wait until the No. 2 economy with $14 trillion of annual output goes off the rails.
Beijing is well aware of its plight – and the air of panic and paranoia is manifesting itself in bizarre ways.
The disappearance of a beloved actress, the detention of an Interpol bigwig and the visa troubles of a Western journalist wouldn’t normally be big concerns for economists. But there’s nothing typical about the lengths to which China is going to fend off Trump’s escalating trade war.
The first narrative involves “X-Men” star Fan BingBing, who resurfaced last week after vanishing from public view. She was detained for alleged tax evasion and ordered to cough up $129 million. Yet her case was a stark reminder about something else: President Xi’s paranoia about capital outflows as wealthy mainlanders spirit their fortunes abroad.
The second concerns Meng Hongwei, the Chinese head of Interpol who went missing last month. Meng is being investigated for bribery. Yet Xi’s heavy-handed tactics highlight the lengths to which the Communist Party will go to maintain absolute control over its subjects, even those on the world stage. Couldn’t Interpol deal with any credible allegations in-house? It hardly helps that Xi’s anti-graft drive often seems more about sidelining rivals than cleansing the system.
The third narrative relates to Hong Kong-based Financial Times editor Victor Mallet, whose visa renewal was just rejected. Mallet is vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which in August enraged Xi by hosting a pro-Hong Kong independence speaker. It may be the latest sign of Chinafication in a city that once stood as a financial green zone for investors tapping the mainland market.
Taken together, these plotlines make a mockery of Xi’s market-forces pledge. Rather than creating a predictable rule of law on which trusted economies thrive, Xi’s China is regressing in ways sure to chill foreign investment. This imperils his efforts in the Trump era to portray China as a credible power ready to fill the global leadership void. Xi is engaged in his own Trumpian battle against the media –- even outside the mainland –- and going after high-profile rivals.
Trump doesn’t get all the blame. If Xi had worked with Deng-like determination to recalibrate growth engines and wean China off exports, the economy would be less vulnerable to Trump’s attacks. By certain metrics, meantime, Xi, is dragging China backward. Its press-freedom ranking from Reporters Without Borders worsened to 176th, three notches below 2013.
Irony abounds, of course. Earlier this year, Xi convinced the party to effectively make him president for life rather than the traditional 10 years. Past U.S. presidents would’ve condemned the power grab; Trump was all compliments. Yet the stronger Xi becomes, the more he clamps down on the media and dissenting voices needed to police the government and corporate titans.
Nor has Xi addressed a central paradox: how China increases innovation while walling off innovators from Google, Facebook and the big debates of the day. Those market forces Xi pledged to heed are coming from Silicon Valley, too. While Trump complains about fake news, Xi’s China has a “fake reform” problem, says Wang Yiming, deputy director of the State Council Development Research Center.
A propensity for own-goals, too. Case in point: allegations that China’s government inserted tiny spying chips into smartphones and other devices. Might that troll Trump to retaliate further? “Conflict with China over trade, investment, technology and geopolitical dominance will only escalate,” says analyst Arthur Kroeber of Gavekal Research in Beijing.
That’s likely to further reduce China’s appetite for risk. Since Xi’s legitimacy is predicated on rapid growth, he’s likely to punt Deng 2.0 forward. It follows that the faster China grows over the next 12 months, the less reforming Xi’s men are doing behind the scenes.
Trump’s reign, unfortunately, may just enable Xi’s impulses. For decades, America’s grand strategy once was to usher China gently into the community of developed nations. That seems to be gone now, trumped by a U.S. leader for whom “trade” is a four-letter word.
John Moran is a Florida nature photographer, but lately he sees himself as a Florida crime photographer. The crime, he likes to say, is the slime.
Moran has chronicled the blooms of toxic algae that have shrouded the peninsula in recent months — the neon guacamole glop that ravaged Lake Okeechobee and the sparkling estuaries of the east coast before oozing its way to the west coast, as well as the rust-colored red tide that massacred millions of fish along the white-sand beaches of the west coast before arriving last week on the east coast. Moran’s images are stomach-churning, yet strangely beautiful. One overhead shot of a swirly vortex of algae looks like a fluorescent green version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. His portrait of two men on a fishing boat in Sarasota Bay, overlooking a floating expanse of snapper and eel corpses, has the feel of a Renaissance masterpiece.
But one of Moran’s most popular images, a grinning man relaxing on a pink inner tube with his feet slathered in algae, is considerably less artsy. The man’s face is a crudely Photoshopped Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, with a speech bubble that reads: “Come on in. The water’s fine!” Scott is running for U.S. Senate, and Moran wants to make sure voters associate him with the nasty mess that is sickening puppies and beachgoers, forcing lifeguards to wear gas masks, and imperiling the coastal tourist economy that makes Florida go.
“Scott has been so terrible on these issues, he’s really promoted the cause of environmental awareness in Florida,” says Moran, whose more serious work on the devastation is on display at a “Summer of Slime” exhibit at Gainesville’s Florida Museum. “It takes a moment like this and a person like that to wake people up.”
It’s rarely good news for a politician to become a meme, especially when the meme involves scum. The ecological meltdown of Florida’s waters — a toxic rainbow coalition of red tide, blue-green algae and a touch of brown algae — has been very bad news for Scott, or, as he’s been dubbed on social media, #RedTideRick. Before scenic beaches in snowbird meccas like Sanibel and Sarasota were inundated with dead manatees, dolphins and turtles, most polls had Scott ahead of Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, even as other Republican candidates struggled in more safely Republican states. The prediction model at FiveThirtyEight now gives Nelson a slight lead, a shift that seems to owe more to biological red tide than any political blue wave.
Scott would prefer to focus the race on Florida’s low unemployment rate, Nelson’s low profile in Washington, and his own leadership handling storms like Hurricane Michael. But the putrid slime befouling his state has been difficult to avoid — Hurricane Michael actually blew the red tide back into Tampa Bay, where it littered the area's beaches with dead mullet — and Scott has found it difficult to change the subject.
He recently cut short a statewide bus tour after eco-protesters chanting about Red Tide Rick chased him out of an event in heavily Republican Venice on Florida’s west coast. In August, he dodged a much larger crowd of disgruntled homeowners after taking a private boat tour of the algae-choked St. Lucie River in heavily Republican Stuart on the east coast. The environmental destruction is hurting Scott so badly in coastal GOP counties that President Donald Trump provided a tweet of support on Tuesday: “Rick Scott has been relentless in securing the funding to fix the algae problem from Lake Okeechobee … Bill Nelson has been no help!” Scott has declared two separate states of emergency, and is pumping money into cleanups, tests and business loans, but he’s clearly chasing the issue from behind.
“Oh, yeah, people are angry at the governor,” says state Representative Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers real estate appraiser who is the Republican nominee for agriculture commissioner in Florida. “I think it’s unfair to suggest he hasn’t cared about this issue, but obviously, people are frustrated.”
Scott has argued that the saltwater red tides are a natural occurrence, which is true but somewhat beside the point, because pollution makes them much worse. He has tried to blame the freshwater blue-green algae on Nelson and Congress, for complicated reasons involving a leaky dike around Lake Okeechobee in the middle of the state. But water quality is a state responsibility, and while Scott has made occasional eco-friendly moves during his eight years in office, he has consistently weakened regulation and enforcement of the nutrients that fuel algae blooms. And even though warmer water can supercharge those blooms, as well as hurricanes like Michael that can spread those blooms, Scott has not pushed policies designed to prevent climate change. State employees in his administration were even reportedly cautioned not to say those two words.
It’s not unusual for a Tea Party conservative to side with agricultural interests and other economic interests over environmental interests. Ideology aside, Florida’s politicians have a long and sordid history of promoting the exploitation rather than the conservation of the state’s unique natural resources. But it’s become a real political problem for Scott now that Florida’s waters, its economic golden goose, are in such a conspicuous state of crisis. National publications keep running bad-for-the-brand headlines like “Toxic Slime Is Ruining Florida’s Gulf Coast” (in Bloomberg BusinessWeek) and “A Toxic Tide Is Killing Florida Wildlife” (in the New York Times).
After red tide unexpectedly showed up Thursday in Miami, shutting down beaches and threatening a multibillion-dollar hospitality industry, local filmmaker Billy Corben tweeted a parody of the state tourism bureau’s Visit Florida ads, featuring footage of poisoned marine life interspersed with footage of Scott assuring the public Florida is open for business, over the pounding beat of Pitbull’s “Sexy Beaches.” Len Seligman, a songwriter on Florida’s west coast, recently released a folksy single with lines like “Rick Scott cut funding for water quality, blames everybody else for this catastrophe.” The chorus goes: “Red Tide Rick, Red Tide Rick, the smell of dead fish is making me sick.”
“Nothing ever stuck to Teflon Rick, but pardon the pun, the algae is sticking,” Corben says. “It’s such a rich irony that he’s going to be done in by Mother Nature.”
Scott hasn’t been done in yet. Republicans have dominated state elections in Florida for the past two decades, especially midterm elections, and Scott has already won two tough ones. He’s got a vast pool of corporate money behind him, and he’s shown he’s willing to spend huge amounts of his own fortune on his campaigns. Scott has overcome big vulnerabilities before—including a Medicare fraud scandal at his health care company that led to a record $1.7 billion fine—and he’s been adept at running to the center after governing from the right. Nelson has won several statewide races, too, but he’s never faced such a formidable opponent, and it’s hard to find anyone who describes him as an unusually inspiring or effective public servant.
The problem for Scott is that his victories were 1-point squeakers during the Republican landslides of 2010 and 2014, while 2018 looks like a much more Democratic year. And even loyal Republicans don’t seem to enjoy slime in their backyards. People come to Florida to enjoy the outdoors, and the recurring water crises of recent years—in the Everglades, Florida Bay, Lake Okeechobee, the springs of north Florida, and the near-shore estuaries along the east and west coast—have inspired a new movement of digitally savvy activists determined to punish politicians who neglect the state’s natural jewels. Bullsugar.org, a local group formed a few years ago to counter the sugar industry’s influence on water decisions, now has 330,000 followers on Facebook, and it’s using its own influence to support Nelson.
“His greatest asset,” says Bullsugar co-founder Chris Maroney, a retired internet entrepreneur, “is that he’s not Rick Scott.”
Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus help things grow, which is why they’re key ingredients in fertilizer. But the things they help grow include the microorganisms that create dangerous red tides and blue-green algae blooms, which is why it’s important to keep nutrients from farms, lawns and septic tanks from fertilizing water bodies. The state of Florida began shirking that duty long before Scott took office. A federal judge actually monitors water quality in the Everglades because of a 30-year-old lawsuit over Florida’s failure to protect the River of Grass from the sugar industry’s polluted runoff. Hundreds of less prominent Florida water bodies are also considered “impaired” under the Clean Water Act; they’ve just been subjected to less intense federal scrutiny than the Everglades.
Since becoming in governor in 2011, Scott has pushed to evade even that limited scrutiny. One of his early moves was to petition the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency to drop its push for specific numerical limits on nutrient pollution in Florida; he argued that the feds should leave nutrient control entirely to the state. At the same time, Scott was gutting the budgets and staffs of state environmental agencies and water management districts, shifting their focus from enforcement of pollution violations to reduction of regulatory burdens, and eliminating the state’s growth management agency entirely. He would later repeal a law requiring routine inspections of septic tanks to make sure they weren’t leaking untreated waste into state waters. He would sign another law extending a 2015 deadline for reducing nutrient flows into Lake Okeechobee to 2035, letting agricultural polluters comply by adopting best management practices even if their runoff remained dirty.
Lake Okeechobee is often described as the liquid heart of Florida, and it’s now in cardiac arrest. The state has never come close to meeting its nutrient goals for the lake, but the pollution has gotten worse in the Scott years. Last year was the worst ever, as Hurricane Irma and other heavy rains washed more than 1,000 metric tons of phosphorus into the lake from farms, ranches and communities to the north. As a result, blue-green algae linked to cancer, respiratory diseases and an array of testicular problems blanketed more than 600 square miles of the lake’s surface, the worst bloom in its recorded history. And when the lake got high, water managers had to blast that filthy water east and west to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to prevent catastrophic flooding, exporting the sludge to the coasts.
In a recent debate, Nelson described the mess as a direct result of Scott “systematically disassembling the environmental agencies of this state … You put pollution in the water, it will grow the algae in the heat of summer.” His ads are just as blunt: “The water is murky, but the fact is clear: Rick Scott caused this problem.”
Scott has tried to turn the tables, making a somewhat circuitous argument that the blue-green algae wouldn’t have reached the estuaries if Nelson and his colleagues in Congress had done their jobs. Scott argues that the Army Corps of Engineers has been forced to dump the dirty lake water out to sea because the leaky dike around the lake becomes a safety hazard when the water rises, and that Nelson failed to secure enough funding to fix it until Scott got Washington to act.
“We get that the governor is the executive, people see him on TV, he’s going to get tagged with everything good and everything bad that happens in the state,” says Chris Hartline, a political adviser to Scott. “But when does Nelson get to take some responsibility? That dike has been in disrepair for a long time, and Bill Nelson has been in the Senate for 18 years. His strategy seems to be to stay on the sidelines and hope he doesn’t get tagged for any of this.”
Nelson adviser Dan McLaughlin calls the dike repairs and the Army Corps a distraction from the real issue: “Rick Scott has turned the lake into a toilet.” In fact, the lake has been trending toward toilet for decades, and limiting releases really could help limit the glop in the estuaries. But the most effective way to limit releases would not be repairing the dike. It would be building water storage to replace the millions of acres of Everglades wetlands that were drained and paved to create the South Florida megalopolis.
And Scott has helped prevent that from happening. The $16 billion state-federal partnership to restore the Everglades was supposed to produce new storage reservoirs that would provide desperately needed water for farms, cities and the Everglades in the winter dry season while reducing the need to shunt polluted lake water into the estuaries during the summer rainy season. The 18-year-old project has produced zero reservoirs to date. Scott, an ally of the sugar industry, has personally thwarted the green community’s push for a giant reservoir on sugar fields south of the lake, refusing to exercise the state’s options to buy land the industry no longer wants to sell even though Floridians passed a ballot issue that could have financed the deal.
After the last blue-green algae crisis, in 2016, Scott did sign a law approving a much smaller reservoir on public land south of the lake. He’s also provided funding and support for other restoration projects, most notably an effort to elevate a key highway to let more water flow south into Everglades National Park. But pollution has not been his focus as governor.
“Everything’s out of whack,” says John Cassani, an advocate for the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast. The blue-green algae is clearly coming from the lake, but the source of the red tides that have littered the west coast beaches with dead fish is not clear at all. Scientists have speculated about everything from dust from the Sahara Desert to runoff from Hurricane Harvey. The first Spanish explorers to Florida spotted red tides in the 16th century, and the Scott administration invariably describes them as “naturally occurring.” The state Department of Health website even notes that “they are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.”
But red tides need nutrients to grow, too, and the state’s efforts to downplay the problem is galvanizing a new generation of Florida activists. “Forest fires are naturally occurring, too, but you don’t want to pour gasoline on them,” scoffs Daniel Andrews, a 27-year-old Fort Myers fishing guide with a scraggly hipster beard. Andrews helped launch Captains for Clean Water after watching algae ravage the area’s sea grasses and oyster beds in 2016. The group now has 100,000 Facebook followers, and its website was getting 10,000 hits a day in August after the red tide killed a 26-foot whale shark in Sanibel and a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Siesta Key. Andrews says the group is getting hundreds of inquiries from citizens who want to know who they should vote for to take care of Florida’s waters.
“They keep saying it’s the only issue they’re voting on,” Andrews says.
Chris Peterson, owner of Hell’s Bay Boatworks along the Indian River in Titusville, is a Republican who believes in limited government. But he says the mass outbreaks of “dead fish and putrid algae” are depressing sales of his high-end fishing skiffs by about 50 percent — and, more important, destroying the natural Florida he has loved all his life. “I know it can’t be the way it was 50 years ago, but I’d like to see it mature gracefully rather than become a meth-head with bad teeth,” he said. “That’s where we’re heading if we don’t do something about these nutrients.” And by “we,” he means government: “I don’t want government to do anything but the things we can’t do individually, but I can’t fix these water problems individually!”
Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, is also a Republican who served as a city commissioner in West Palm Beach. She thinks the toxic nightmare seeping around the state will hurt her party in November — and after two decades of using its control of Tallahassee to help agricultural interests and other polluters, she thinks that hurt will be well-deserved. “People see the death and destruction on their social media, and they realize they’ve got to do something,” she says. “They’re awake now, and I think a lot of Republicans don’t want that.”
In surveys, Americans rarely cite the environment as a top priority, even though most voters support strict environmental regulations. But nature is so intimately connected to Florida’s economy and culture that green issues can tilt elections here. In 1994, Jeb Bush ran for governor as a “head-banging conservative,” vowing to take back Florida from eco-radicals, and he narrowly lost despite a national Republican wave that put his younger brother George on a path to the White House. Jeb ran again in 1998 as a green Republican in a Democratic year, and he won in a landslide. In 2000, thousands of Florida environmentalists supported Ralph Nader when Al Gore refused to commit to killing a proposed airport near the Everglades, helping George W. Bush beat him in Florida by just 537 votes. The Clinton administration did end up killing the airport, but Gore told me, years later, that the issue may have cost him the presidency.
Now, nature is having another political moment in the Sunshine State. The activist Erin Brockovich was in Fort Myers last week to raise awareness about the crisis. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor, attracted an astonishing crowd of more than 1,200 to an environmental rally in Stuart over the weekend, promising to “put the word ‘protection’ back into the Department of Environmental Protection.” His opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis, has been a reliable vote for the House Republican war on environmental regulation, but he’s running as a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist; his first general-election ad touted his determination to take on Big Sugar and save the Everglades.
The news is packed with reminders that something has gone terribly wrong in Florida. Florida Sportsman magazine, after publishing an article on the algae crisis titled “Dead in the Water,” had to close its office by an algae-infested canal in Stuart near the St. Lucie River because its staff was suffering from nausea, headaches and dizziness. The area’s schools pulled their students out of an educational Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon event because red tide was detected in the lagoon. A blob of black water washed up in Boca Grande on the west coast last week, and no one is sure what it was. Nearby, Fort Myers Beach restaurants are serving Fishkill Cocktails to raise awareness about clean water.
“Republicans, Democrats, purple people-eaters, it doesn’t matter: We’ve all had enough of this,” Peterson says.
Rick Scott did not create this crisis by himself. It’s been building in southern Florida for over a century, as dreamers and schemers and government engineers carved a desolate backwater jutting into the Gulf of Mexico into a fantasyland for more than 8 million people and 80 million annual tourists. Everyone who goes to the bathroom or uses fertilizer in Florida contributes to its nutrient problems, and every home, farm or business that relies on government flood control—most of them—contributes to its larger water plumbing problems. “These are incredibly complex issues,” says Caldwell, the Republican agriculture commissioner nominee. He’s a close ally of Florida farm interests, and he happens to be unusually well-versed in Florida development history. “The water used to go to places that are now farms or roads or cities like Miami Lakes or Davie,” he says, “and now it has to go somewhere else.”
In some ways, though, the situation is simple. Scott has spent eight years portraying himself as the jobs-jobs-jobs governor, rolling back environmental rules and enforcement that job creators didn’t like, and now he’s having trouble convincing Floridians he’s also been a nature-nature-nature governor. Whether Mother Nature helps knock him off, or whether he manages to win despite the slime spreading on his watch, the race could send a national message about the environment’s power or lack thereof to take revenge on politicians who mistreat it.
The situation has also provided a timely reminder that in Florida, nature-nature-nature creates jobs. The state’s $9 billion recreational fishing industry, for example, employs about 120,000 people. While the blooms have created lucrative short-term work for fish-corpse haulers and toxin-testing labs, they’ve been brutal for bait shops, waterfront restaurants, and other businesses that depend on fishable waters and breathable beaches. And if they become an annual phenomenon, they could scare away out-of-state visitors who spend more than $100 billion in Florida every year.
The algae crisis feels a bit like a primal scream from a landscape that is hurtling toward disaster. Florida’s coral reefs are dying. The Everglades, home to panthers, spoonbills and 67 other endangered species, is yo-yoing between drought and flood, while under siege from invasive pythons and plants. Biscayne Bay is emerging from the storm drains of Miami Beach at high tide, a herald of rising seas that could put most of South Florida underwater by 2100. John Moran, the nature photographer turned nature-destruction photographer, says he can’t wait to go back to shooting pretty pictures of scenic Florida, but the eco-wreckage is too visually compelling and politically important to ignore.
“The closer we get to the tipping point, the more weird stuff we’re going to see,” says Andrews, the young water activist in Fort Myers. “And the more things deteriorate, the more people will decide they can’t put up with it anymore.”
CLARIFICATION: The story originally said that Scott has done nothing to deal with climate change as governor, but he has signed budgets that finance projects that could mitigate the effects of climate change.
The scraping sound you heard while reading about the Trump scandal this week was the clank and chafe of a serving spoon reaching for the last edible morsels in the pot. Absent any additional indictments from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s pen or investigative breakouts by the news thoroughbreds at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, it was largely a week of casseroles and soups made from news leftovers but reinforced with added bits of protein.
Not that I’m complaining! As every cook knows, when you reheat old ingredients, the chemical reactions recommence to break constituent elements into a variety of flavor-packed amino acids and sugars. If you read a reconstituted news story with the right mindset, it can be as rewarding as its first serving.
At the top of my leftover buffet this week were the new stories about Republican activist Peter W. Smith, with the Wall Street Journal doing the culinary honors. Before the election, Smith dove into the dark web in pursuit of the 33,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server—which he thought contained incriminating information—and hoped to make them useful to the Trump campaign. The Wall Street Journal, which wrote the first big story about Smith on June 29, 2017, conveyed his claim that he had obtained batches of emails from hackers but couldn’t authenticate them. Just days after talking to the newspaper, the 81-year-old dropped dead in a Rochester, Minn., hotel room. His death was ruled suicide by helium asphyxiation.
The Smith angle got a tasty reheating this week thanks to the Journal, which advanced the story with its finding that he had raised at least $100,000 from at least four wealthy donors to finance the hunt for the missing emails that he thought hackers—perhaps Russians—possessed. “Numerous people familiar with Mr. Smith’s quest have been questioned by Mr. Mueller’s investigators, including at least one witness who was called before a grand jury,” the newspaper reports. Smith met with Mike Flynn in 2015 when Flynn was just a Trump campaign adviser, the Journal notes. Flynn, you recall, was briefly Donald Trump’s national security adviser until the revelations that he had lied about his pre-inaugural discussions of sanctions with the Russian ambassador led to his sacking. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and currently awaits sentencing.
Is Smith a Russia scandal main course or an amuse bouche? In his Popular Information newsletter, Judd Legum adeptly reviewed the evidence this week without giving a definitive ruling. Smith’s quest for the emails left a trail that shows he was well-connected with both senior Trump campaign operatives and alt-right goofball Charles Johnson, and a bank wire to a fund for “Russian students” gives credence to the theory that Smith had connected with Russia hackers. Smith’s estate has surrendered his hard drives to Senate and House intelligence committee investigators, the Daily Beast reports.
Smith’s untimely death gives a woo-woo element to the Russia scandal that it has long been lacking. Usually when scandals erupt, wild dot-connectors descend on the story to discover intrigue and mystery not readily digestible for those with high evidentiary standards. The fact that Smith, who was experienced in opposition research, should croak just hours after he spoke enthusiastically with associate Charles Ortel about a new project would argue against suicide, but that’s what the police report says.
The Smith saga doesn’t show that Russian hackers—or anybody else—possessed Clinton’s deleted emails, but it points to a quest for damaging information that is consistent with the fabled meeting in Trump Tower between Russian operatives and the top brass of the Trump campaign—Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. In the June 2016 session, the Russians promised to reveal “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Was Smith onto something? Was he being hustled by grifters? Or was he targeted for exploitation by Russian spies? According to the FBI, Clinton’s server was never compromised, making the rediscovery of deleted Clinton emails a low probability. Yet Smith’s professional association with Flynn, who became a part of the Trump inner circle, and his WikiLeaks connection—he solicited money for the organization and reportedly told possessors of Clinton emails to forward them to the organization—makes him a background object of interest.
Elsewhere on the Russia scandal buffet, steaming over the Sterno pots, we find the latest—and still inconclusive—dueling between Mueller and Trump’s attorney over the questioning of the president by the investigators. News that Trump’s legal team is scribbling answers to Mueller’s written questions doesn’t mean Mueller won’t still subpoena the president for a sit-down interview about obstruction. New York magazine served an excellent appetizer at midweek with a story about President Barack Obama’s plan to seal the results of the 2016 election should Trump make good on his threat to repudiate the results of the election if he lost. I can’t wait for somebody to completely reheat these ingredients and turn it into an entrée.
And in a weird bit of convergence—which I’ll call dessert—opposing sides in the Russia scandal loudly asserted their First Amendment rights. First, according to a crackerjack piece by the Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand, Trump’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit accusing his campaign of illegally conspiring to distribute stolen emails citing the First Amendment protections to disclose even stolen information. Meanwhile, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, whose firm commissioned the Steele dossier, from which journalists and government investigators have been feasting for almost two years, told the House Judiciary Committee he’d invoke First and Fifth Amendment rights in declining a subpoena to testify. “The Founders specifically designed the First and Fifth Amendment as fail-safe features should the three branches of government malfunction and abuse the rights of individual citizens,” Simpson lawyer’s letter to the committee stated.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still hungry. What I’m really craving is the investigative equivalent of the timpano that kicked off the epic banquet in the movie “Big Night.” Bring it on, chef Mueller.
Had your fill? Send restaurant reviews via mail to [email protected]. My email alerts cooks an amazing tuna casserole. My Twitter feed claims to have invented pizza from leftover dough, tomato sauce and cheese. My RSS feed is on a hunger strike until the Russia scandal is concluded.
CNN before lovemaking is not his idea of a turn-on.
But she can hardly turn it off—engrossed as she is in the latest unnerving gyrations of Washington.
Who else to blame but Donald Trump? A president who excites hot feelings in many quarters has cooled them considerably in the bedroom of a Philadelphia couple, who sought counseling in part because the agitated state of American politics was causing strain in their marriage.
The couple’s story was relayed to POLITICO by their therapist on condition of the couple's anonymity. But their travails, according to national surveys and interviews with mental health professionals, are not as anomalous as one might suppose. Even when symptoms are not sexual in nature, there is abundant evidence that Trump and his daily uproars are galloping into the inner life of millions of Americans.
During normal times, therapists say, their sessions deal with familiar themes: relationships, self-esteem, everyday coping. Current events don’t usually invade. But numerous counselors said Trump and his convulsive effect on America’s national conversation are giving politics a prominence on the psychologist’s couch not seen since the months after 9/11—another moment in which events were frightening in a way that had widespread emotional consequences.
Empirical data bolster the anecdotal reports from practitioners. The American Psychiatric Association in a May survey found that 39 percent of people said their anxiety level had risen over the previous year—and 56 percent were either “extremely anxious” or “somewhat anxious about “the impact of politics on daily life.” A 2017 study found two-thirds of Americans’ see the nation’s future as a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.”
These findings suggest the political-media community has things backward when it comes to Trump and mental health.
For two years or more, commentators have been cross-referencing observations of presidential behavior with the official APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder. Journalists have compared contemporary video of Trump with interviews from the 1980s for signs of possible cognitive decline. And even some people on his own team, according to books and news reports, have been reading up on the process of presidential removal under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution—fueled by suspicions that the president’s allegedly erratic and undeniably precedent-shattering approach to the Oval Office might prove eventually to be a case of non compos mentis.
A more plausible interpretation, in the view of some psychological experts, is that Trump has been cultivating, adapting and prospering from his distinctive brand of provocation, brinkmanship and self-drama for the past 72 years. What we’re seeing is merely the president’s own definition of normal. It is only the audience that finds the performance disorienting.
In other words: He’s not crazy, but the rest of us are getting there fast.
Jennifer Panning, a psychologist from Evanston, Illinois, calls the phenomenon “Trump Anxiety Disorder.” She wrote a chapter on it in a collection by mental health experts called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” In an interview, she said the disorder is marked by such symptoms as “increased worry, obsessive thought patterns, muscle tension and obsessive preoccupation with the news.”
A study from the market research firm Galileo also found that, in the first 100 days after Trump’s election, 40 percent of people said they “can no longer have open and honest conversations with some friends or family members.” Nearly a quarter of respondents said their political views have hurt their personal relationships.
This goes beyond office arguments or the Thanksgiving gathering in which some cousin or in-law drinks too much and someone storms out after the diner-table conversation turns to politics. Even the closest daily relationships can suffer.
The Philadelphia couple who found Trump had a detumescent effect on their love life weren’t arguing about the president, said their therapist, Cynthia Baum-Baicker. They were just coping with shared distress in different ways. Information for many people reduces anxiety, and so TV news was a kind of psychic tether for the wife.
“I remember the husband basically said, ‘If you ever want to be intimate again, you’ll turn the TV off in the bedroom. I can’t have that man present and listen to him and feel any sense of arousal,’” said Baum-Baicker.
Some of the explanation for Trump’s effect lies not just in psychology but in political theory. In countries like the United Kingdom, the head of state (the queen) and the head of government (the prime minister) are separate roles. In the United States they are one. In an era of media saturation presidents tend to be omnipresent figures. And even polarizing figures like Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing or George W. Bush after 9/11 served as national consolers—suggesting the way people subconsciously assign an almost parental role to the presidency.
Trump’s relentless self-aggrandizement, under this interpretation, makes him less a national father than adolescent at large.
“Authority figures represent the parent, [so] President Trump sits in the seat of parent for all Americans,” said Baum-Baicker. “So now, my ‘father figure’ is a bully, is an authoritarian who doesn’t believe in studying and doing homework. ... [Rather than reassurance] he creates uncertainty.”
Even Trump supporters are not insulated from this modern age of anxiety.
Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, who practices psychotherapy in the nation’s capital, said she “doesn’t view it as a party-specific thing.”
“Conservatives are hurting, too,” she said. “I view this anxiety as collective in a very strong sense. They’re hurting in part because they feel they don’t have permission to share their real views, or they feel conflicted because they agree with things that the president is doing but they’re uncomfortable with his language and tactics. ... And they feel alienated and isolated from friends and family who differ from their views, as if there’s not permission to view it in a different way in D.C.”
Nearly every interview with psychologists returned to the theme of “gaslighting”—the ability of manipulative people to make those around them question their mental grip.
Trump daily goes to war on behalf of his own factual universe, with what conservative commentator George F. Will this week called “breezy indifference to reality.”
Examples include false boasts on the size of his inauguration crowd; his denunciation of unfavorable stories as “fake news”; the assertion that an investigation into his campaign which has already produced multiple criminal convictions is “a hoax.” Some people can’t just roll their eyes at obvious bullshit—they experience an assault on truth at a more profound psychic level.
“Gaslighting is essentially a tactic used by abusive personalities to make the abused person feel as though they’re not experiencing reality, or that it’s made up or false,” said Dominic Sisti, a behavioral health care expert at the University of Pennsylvania who penned an article with Baum-Baicker on Trump’s effect on stress. “The only reality one can trust is one that is defined by the abuser. Trump does this on a daily basis—he lies, uses ambiguities, demonizes the press. It’s a macroscopic version of an abusive relationship.”
When people are frightened by erratic behavior and worry what’s coming next in any arena of life, said Panning, that creates an extraordinary amount of anxiety and often a feeling of dread.”
Even Washington actors in the Trump dramas aren’t immune. A recent New York Times story alleged that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speculated about invoking the 25th Amendment and considered wearing an FBI wire in a meeting with Trump in an attempt to catch him obstructing justice. The story cited unnamed associates saying Rosenstein was behaving “erratically” and that he appeared to be “conflicted, regretful, and emotional.”
The recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings revealed many others in public roles behaving out of sorts—full of red-faced rants that left some partisans cheering but struck others as unhinged. Legal activist Ed Whelan was widely described in news reports as a temperamentally sober-minded guy. But he took a leave of absence from his think tank, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, after combing through online floor plans and Google Maps to suggest, without evidence, that Kavanaugh’s accuser had confused him with someone else Whelan identified by name. His statement of apology said he made “an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment.”
But therapists say today’s political conditions are ripe to send people of all partisan, ideological and cultural stripes to the emotional edge.
“Human beings hate two things,” said Michael Dulchin, a New York psychiatrist who has seen Trump anxiety in his practice. One is “to look to the future and think you don’t have enough energy to succeed and live up to your expectations. The other is to not be able to predict the environment.”
Put these together, he said, and the psychological result is virtually inevitable: “Anxiety and depression.”
It’s not just Jamal Khashoggi.
The disappearance and reported killing of the reform-minded Saudi journalist at a consulate in Istanbul is only the latest in a succession of developments that have cast serious doubt upon the trajectory of Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Since the 33-year-old son of King Salman leapfrogged dozens of older and more experienced cousins to become Saudi Arabia’s next-generation leader in 2015, he has lurched from one mistake to another.
He launched a seemingly unwinnable war in Yemen. He demanded a blockade of neighboring Qatar that appears more pointless with every passing month. He ordered the detention of hundreds of journalists, clerics, activists, officials and businesspeople, including, briefly, Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri. He oversaw a diplomatic rupture with Canada in a furious overreaction to fairly routine criticism.
This pattern of behavior has earned “MBS,” as he is commonly known, a reputation as an impulsive, even reckless decision-maker, but until recently he has faced little domestic or international pushback or crossed a bridge too far. Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that the young Saudi leader was being feted in America’s op-ed pages and foreign-policy salons as a visionary reformer who just wanted to drag his hidebound country into the 21st century.
All that now may change if it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate on October 3, or that senior policymakers in Riyadh either ordered or were aware of the plan to target him. Circumstantial evidence, and the fact that Khashoggi remains missing a week after he was last seen alive entering the consulate, has accumulated to the point that the burden of proof falls on the Saudis to show that Khashoggi left the consulate unscathed and of his own accord. This the Saudis have been unable to do, on the flimsy pretext that the surveillance system at the consulate was livestream only and did not record video footage. A drip-drip of other tidbits of detail, such as the suggestion that Khashoggi was asked to return to the consulate three days after his initial appointment to complete paperwork needed for his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish woman, or that local Turkish staff reportedly were told not to come to work the day of his disappearance, and the discovery that a team of 15 Saudi security personnel flew into Istanbul and were at the consulate during Khashoggi’s visit, have added to the crescendo of accusations that the Saudis have been unable to explain away or offer even a plausible alternative course of events.
If the Saudis indeed killed Khashoggi and thought they could get away with it, they have made a grave miscalculation. Not only was he a contributing writer for the influential Washington Post op-ed page — which has been thundering in its demands for accountability — but Khashoggi was well-known on Capitol Hill as a leading Saudi reformer. Members of Congress, including prominent Republicans such as Foreign Affairs chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and Trump-whisperer Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have expressed outrage at Saudi Arabia’s behavior and threatened to invoke sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, a bill that allows the executive branch to impose targeted sanctions and visa bans on individuals worldwide responsible for human rights violations.
MBS’ crackdown goes well beyond Khashoggi, however. Over the past year, the authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested dozens, if not hundreds, of writers, journalists, clerics and, most recently, women’s rights advocates, whose arrest in May and June sparked international criticism but little else. The furious Saudi response to comments by the Canadian foreign minister served notice that Saudi Arabia under MBS is not prepared to tolerate external criticism of its domestic affairs, and the descriptions of many of the political detainees as “agents of embassies” and “traitors” in Saudi state-linked media left foreign diplomats shaken by the vehemence of the authorities’ reaction. And yet, the only real international pressure that forced MBS into a climbdown came after Hariri’s detention in November 2017, when then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear the action was unacceptable to the U.S. and French President Emmanuel Macron intervened to secure the Lebanese prime minister’s release.
None of that had any lasting effect, it seemed. This time, though, MBS and his entourage appear to have gravely underestimated the scale of the U.S. political reaction to Khashoggi’s disappearance and presumed death, in part because for much of the foreign policy community in Washington, Khashoggi was a colleague, a friend and, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recklessly revealed, a source. Khashoggi’s fate is personal in a way that the plight of many of the other political detainees is not, and the horrifying nature of his apparent death — some reports say he was dismembered with a bone saw and his body parts carried out of the consulate — has added to the sense of shock and disbelief that any state would engage in such activity — still less a state that had invested so heavily in crafting a narrative that many inside the Beltway appeared to want at least to give the benefit of the doubt and a chance to succeed. Three years of patient, well-funded Gulf advocacy on behalf of MBS and his “reforms” have suffered probably irreparable damage. Moreover, in a deeply polarized Washington, the outrage at Khashoggi’s fate is not only raw and real but also the increasingly rare issue that crosses political lines and reaches deeply into the foreign policy establishments of both parties. Rarer still in Washington, it includes previous regime boosters engaging in very public expressions of mea culpa.
If the worst that happens to Saudi Arabia is a rap on the knuckles from the State Department and reputational damage inside the Beltway, that would likely be a price MBS deems worth paying for silencing the kingdom’s highest-profile and best-connected critic. The outpouring of political fury from Congress, though not from the president himself, has taken the Saudis by surprise, and the more the circumstantial evidence accumulates the more the firestorm may intensify. Should Saudi government officials or elements of the Royal Court be implicated in the disappearance, it risks creating even greater reputational blowback than the September 11 attacks, as by and large the political and intelligence communities in Washington accepted that the Saudi government had no official role in those atrocities. No such plausible deniability may exist this time to buffer Saudi ruling circles from the political fallout of an action that once again has reportedly involved 15 Saudi nationals, only this time with suggestions that they may have been acting on some sort of official order.
Having bragged in 2017 about how he got the Saudis to stump up $110 billion in deals as the price of making Riyadh his first overseas visit as president, Donald Trump has signaled his reluctance to see those agreements jeopardized as a result of an anti-Saudi backlash in the U.S. Trump has touted the agreements made in Riyadh as evidence of his ability as a deal-maker to secure U.S. jobs and expressed concern that the Saudis would turn to competitors, such as Russia or China, if the U.S. became hostile to Saudi investment. Should this happen, Trump told Fox News, it “would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.” Trump and parts of his White House might therefore share the Saudi view that the outrage will dissipate over time, especially as attention in the U.S. returns to the midterm elections as November 6 nears.
But if congressional anger persists, it may translate into renewed actions to rein in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and support for Saudi initiatives such as the war in Yemen, building on the momentum from a Senate attempt last spring to invoke a provision in the 1973 War Powers Act that would force a vote to end U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition. That March 20 vote was defeated 55-44, but political concern over the war has escalated since then as Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has spiraled and atrocities such as the bombing of a busload of schoolchildren in August have galvanized public opinion against the three-year conflict. MBS already had an image problem among members of Congress from both parties who did not take favorably to him during his meetings on the Hill in his March 2018 Washington visit.
Khashoggi’s disappearance could just be the spark that jolts the Beltway into action as it looks to have claimed one of its own in a real-world consequence of the cavalier approach of the Trump administration during its first 18 months to the rules-based international system.
For decades, Saudi Arabia has been an awkward partner for the U.S., but the relationship was robust enough to endure periods of acute crisis such as September 11. This time, however, the goodwill might finally have run out as politicians and businesspeople have turned on MBS with a speed last seen in the case of Libya’s Saif Gadhafi, another youthful leader-in-waiting championed by his Western supporters as a reforming influence.
Jamal Khashoggi spent his career flitting in and out of the Saudi establishment and the last year of his life chronicling the trajectory of the kingdom MBS was attempting to make his own. How tragically ironic that in his disappearance and probable death, Khashoggi may have done more to get Washington to see the troubling reality of MBS’ Saudi Arabia than he ever could have done alive and through his writing.
The winds of swoonery blasted through Texas this year and traveled halfway across the country to dust the Eastern media establishment with love eternal for senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. Not since the press corps fell in love with Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign has such a sirocco of worshipful candidate profiles and commentaries appeared in the national press.
“Is Beto O’Rourke the Left’s Obama-like Answer to Trump in 2020?” asked Vanity Fair. “Beto O’Rourke Could Be the Democrat Texas Has Been Waiting For,” offered BuzzFeed. Still more positive Beto coverage sprinkled the pages of Yahoo News, Time, GQ, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico and Esquire as they worked off the same template. The Washington Post indulged Betomania with a feature, another feature, a column and the sort of ancillary coverage it ordinarily gives the Washington Redskins.
The media’s adoration for the three-term House member from El Paso knows a simple origin. He’s lauded and cuddled by reporters for the simple reason that he’s not Ted Cruz, the Skeletor of American politics. Former Senator Al Franken captured the cross-party feelings for Cruz in a recent book, in which he wrote: “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.” A “jackass,” former Speaker of the House John Boehner once called him. A “wacko bird,” said Sen. John McCain. “Ted’s a nasty guy,” said Donald Trump, who knows everything about being nasty. “That’s why nobody likes him.”
By being gracious where Cruz is unmerciful, by listening instead of shouting, by spraying sunshine rather than cloaking everything with doom, by running as the underdog, by being a former punk rocker instead of a cheapjack punk, O’Rourke has given reporters the easy contrasts that make political journalism write itself. He exudes youth (he’s 46). Cruz looks old (he’s 47). He makes reporters nostalgic for the 1960s by conjuring the spirit of Robert Kennedy, complete with the bangs, the teeth, the rolled-up sleeves, the paeans to the oppressed, the uplift and the liberal platitudes. Cruz comes armed with darker purposes—as if auditioning for a part as a Blue Meanie in an amateur production of Yellow Submarine. Remember Cruz’s machine-gun bacon? Reporters got their fill of this sort of thing during Cruz’s 2016 campaign. If you were covering the Texas contest, wouldn’t you rather spend your time skateboarding at the Whataburger with O’Rourke than watching Cruz cook pig with a firearm?
The O’Rourke swoon was bolstered by his respectable showings in the polls. As recently as Sept. 21, New York magazine was calling the race “Officially a ‘Toss-up.’” The polls made O’Rourke’s crusade to turn Texas from red to blue, a prospect that has possessed liberal Texans since 1994, when they last elected a Democrat to statewide office, seem less than quixotic. In some ways, the O’Rourke campaign is a replay of Wendy Davis’ failed 2014 run for the Texas governorship, another liberal-against-conservative contest in which the Democrat was buoyed by a flotilla of encouraging East Coast coverage. But today’s Quinnipiac University Poll put O’Rourke down 9 points against Cruz, with Cruz trending up. If the poll holds, Texas will not transmogrify into California this election cycle and the attempt to run a Brooklyn campaign against his Texas opponent will have failed again.
In late August, Texas Monthly took O’Rourke swoonery to its highest altitudes when it started gaming out the political possibilities that await the candidate should he lose this contest in a piece titled “Will Beto O’Rourke Become President?” If O’Rourke loses to Cruz, he’ll be free to politick his way to the bottom half of the Democratic ticket in 2020, and if he’s lucky enough to lose that contest he’ll be perfectly positioned to wrestle the party away from the old and in-the-way Democrats—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. “Such has been the El Paso congressman’s streak of good press and respectable polls of late that it’s beginning to look like even a loss in his Senate race might not diminish his political momentum,” the article concludes.
When the local press says you can win by losing, how can the national press disagree? By positioning himself as the anti-Trump, both in terms of policy and temperament, O’Rourke dredged a safe harbor for political reporters weary of the combat-fatigue inducing ack-ack of covering Trump. They owed him for providing this relief—and they have paid their debt.
More than Skeletor or a Blue Meanie, I’ve always thought that Cruz most resembled Spiderus from Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends. Which cartoon character do you think he looks like? Send your nominations to [email protected]. My email alerts swoon for liberals. My Twitter feed swoons for conservatives. My RSS feed would rather puke than swoon.
It’s doubtful that a former American presidential candidate has ever endorsed incivility before, but Hillary Clinton is ever full of surprises.
In an interview on CNN, the erstwhile advocate of “if they go low, we go high” switched around to unapologetically call for going low, at least until Democrats retake some power in Washington.
“You cannot be civil with a political party,” she explained, “that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” She added that if Democrats retake a house of Congress, well, then, “that’s when civility can start again.”
Clinton’s statement is yet more confirmation of the radical mood of the current Democratic Party, not just in blessing tactics that once would have been anathema to the mainstream, but questioning the legitimacy of core elements of our system. The party’s base is just a few steps — and perhaps the loss of another big national election to Donald Trump — from beginning to give up on our common national life.
Civility is a rather fundamental thing to throw under the bus. It isn’t knowing that you really shouldn’t stick your pinky in the air when drinking a cup of tea, or how to tell the difference between a soup spoon and a teaspoon.
Derived from the Latin word civilis, relating to public or political life, civility is the basis of our life together, assuring that disagreements are settled within certain bounds and don’t escalate into blood feuds.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be intense arguments, harsh condemnations, passionate controversies and partisan donnybrooks. These are all endemic to a free society and very healthy things. It does mean that there are certain widely accepted guardrails.
This is now thought to be a sucker’s game, though, from the attorney-provocateur Michael Avenatti to former attorney general Eric Holder to the opinion outlets of the center-left. Vox ran a piece that argued, “Civility is not an end on its own if the practices and beliefs it upholds are unjust.”
In the Brett Kavanaugh debate, the normal pressure points of the democratic process, rallies and demonstrations, phone calls to congressional offices, online, print and TV advocacy and the like were deemed insufficient — senators had to be berated in the hallways, chased out of restaurants and harassed at their homes.
By the way, none of the people treated this way were Trump, whose rhetoric at rallies and on Twitter is routinely crude and inflammatory. The targets were elected officeholders who serve in what is still the most distinguished legislative body in the nation, and routinely call each other “friend” and “colleague.”
Asked on CNN if the actions against her fellow senators went too far, Mazie Hirono stood by the harassment. “I think it just means that there are a lot of people who are very, very much motivated about what’s going on.” Asked again, she replied, “This is what happens because when you look at white supremacists and all that, this is what’s coming forth in our country.”
There has even been resistance on the left and in the media to calling these groups of activists by their proper name, “mobs,” because it is considered too pejorative.
But when you angrily confront someone, especially as part of a group, it carries an inescapable whiff of physical intimidation. When you shout Ted and Heidi Cruz out of a Washington restaurant, you aren’t trying to convince them of anything, you are merely abusing them. When you yell at Senate hearings and floor votes, you aren’t influencing the process, but disrupting it.
In short, seeking to make it impossible for our elected representatives to do their business isn’t an expression of democracy but a transgression against it.
But our system is increasingly held in low regard on the left. The 2016 election was somehow stolen and the mechanism that gave Trump his victory, the Electoral College, is illegitimate. The Senate, which confirmed Kavanaugh and gives small, red states the same representation as large, blue states, is also illegitimate. Finally, the Supreme Court, now home to two Trump-appointed justices, is illegitimate, as well.
That’s a lot of illegitimacy, all stemming from one lost presidential election. Imagine if Democrats lose another? The fact is that if you believe an institution is legitimate only if you control it or it works in your favor, you never truly believed in its legitimacy to begin with.
Perhaps the Democratic fever will pass, if the party gains some power again, as Clinton suggested in her remarks. Perhaps it’s only a passing mood, whipped up in reaction to the provocations of President Trump. But it’s notable enough that one of our major parties is showing signs of contemplating a divorce from our system as it currently exists.
What has Nikki Haley stood for at the United Nations? The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has been showered with plaudits on announcing her decision to exit at the end of this year. President Donald Trump praised her for making the job “glamorous” and earning foreign diplomats’ respect.
For once, his foreign policy analysis was on the money. Since arriving in New York in January 2017, Haley has impressed other ambassadors as a tough-minded and politically savvy operator.
Despite having little prior knowledge of the U.N., the former South Carolina governor steered a series of hefty packages of sanctions against North Korea through the Security Council in 2017. She has been a consistent and forceful critic of Russia’s war in Syria, in contrast to the administration’s lack of strategic direction over the conflict. She has worked with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to streamline the institution’s bureaucracy and cut the costs of its peace missions.
Yet while Haley has been one of the Trump administration’s most prominent members, her vision of international affairs has been opaque. That’s in part because her ambassadorship has been a diplomatic juggling act. Haley has tried to speak forcefully for the U.S. about Israel and Iran but also maintain decent working relations with other nations in the Security Council. Her foreign counterparts have willed her to succeed, shrugging off her more egregious boasts about “taking names” of U.S. opponents.
With Haley’s departure, there is a high chance that the U.S. posture at the U.N. will become both less opaque and more aggressive. Trump and national security adviser John Bolton, America’s leading critics of the U.N., may well aim to replace her with someone much more hawkish. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly two weeks ago, Trump blasted international institutions ranging from the World Trade Organization to the International Criminal Court. It would be logical for him to send a die-hard anti-multilateralist to New York.
This would be unfortunate, as Haley’s efforts to balance U.S. and foreign interests at the U.N. have proved unexpectedly effective. Grappling with the North Korean issue in mid-2017, as Kim Jong Un’s missile and nuclear tests created a deepening crisis, Haley managed to work out a series of compromises on sanctions with China that put Pyongyang under serious economic pressure.
U.N. officials and foreign diplomats also say they have been impressed by her handling of trouble spots in Africa, a region in which she initially had little interest. This summer, she coaxed China to acquiesce to an arms embargo against war-torn South Sudan that Beijing had strongly opposed.
This sort of work involved give-and-take diplomacy over sanctions terms of the type not normally associated with the Trump administration. While Haley often relied heavily on expert foreign-service officers to hash out the details of such efforts and was sometimes criticized for appearing at U.N. meetings too infrequently, she showed a politician’s knack for hard, transactional diplomacy. Other ambassadors enjoy the cut-and-thrust of dealing with her.
Haley has not, however, always been so successful when the Middle East has been up for debate. When discussing Israel, Palestine or Iran, the ambassador has generally become less pragmatic and far more focused on advancing the administration’s hard-line positions. This has often backfired. Haley failed to stop the Security Council and General Assembly from condemning Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem last December. In contrast to the quiet diplomacy over North Korea with China, the U.S. turned this dispute into a high political drama, threatening allies with aid cuts if they did not fall into line. Many did not. When Haley tabled an amendment criticizing Hamas to a Security Council resolution on Gaza this June, all 14 other members voted against her, the biggest margin in a council vote since the 1960s.
Haley has also been markedly unsuccessful in swinging other council members, including Britain and France, behind U.S. attacks on the Iranian nuclear deal. Overall, her ambassadorship offers two pretty straightforward lessons for U.S. foreign policy. First, despite Washington’s deepening tensions with China and Russia, it is still possible for the big powers to carve out significant deals in the Security Council if the U.S. is willing to engage in hard-headed bargaining. Second, trying to bully those powers—and even U.S. allies—through public diplomacy is a recipe for failure. Haley is said to have found her defeat over Gaza especially embarrassing and looked for ways to tone down disputes with other Security Council members after that to avoid further isolation.
“Bargain hard” and “don’t get too loud” are not exactly new lessons in diplomacy. But they may be worth repeating, because there is a significant risk that the administration will ignore both at the U.N. after Haley moves on. Bolton, who was notoriously unwilling to compromise with other countries while ambassador to the U.N. in 2005 and 2006, appears to have been hardening Trump’s already tough line against multilateral institutions and international law. Having already pulled out of a litany of international bodies and treaties—ranging from the Paris climate agreement to the U.N. Human Rights Council—the administration is now looking to curb the powers of the International Court of Justice and even potentially walk away from the WTO.
In this context, it might seem tempting to put an ardent proponent of “America First” atop the U.S. mission in New York, to find new ways to cut back the U.N.’s supposed encroachment on U.S. sovereignty. Trump has said that he will nominate Haley’s replacement in the next two to three weeks. U.N. officials will spend the run-up to Halloween scaring themselves silly with stories about which right-wing maverick the White House will try to impose on Turtle Bay.
But if the administration does opt for a hard-liner who alienates other powers and hollows out the U.N. system, it will ultimately only reduce its own diplomatic clout. Haley was always ready to defend Trump’s anti-U.N. maneuvers in public. She made some—such as quitting the Human Rights Council over its persistent criticisms of Israel—hallmarks of her tenure. But when it came to crises like North Korea, she knew multilateralism had to work. Haley was never, as she often pointed out, an unquestioning friend of the world organization. But, just as diplomats from other powers learned to respect her, Haley learned to respect the U.N. as a place where the U.S. can cut urgent political deals. The U.N., and U.S., may soon come to miss her.
With Brett Kavanaugh, and the dark cloud permanently fixed above his head, on the Supreme Court, fury on the left is palpable. Yet even if the battle for his seat is lost, the battle against sexual assault continues. For inspiration on how to move forward, the focus on the role of alcohol in Kavanaugh’s life should compel us to look to the origins of the women’s movement. It was the temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th century, after all, that served as a catalyst for the women’s suffrage movement. It could do the same today for the #MeToo movement.
The allegation that a heavily inebriated 17-year old Kavanaugh attempted to rape neighboring high school student Christine Blasey Ford has reminded us about the strong link between alcohol and sexual assault. In approximately half of all sexual assaults, either the perpetrator or the victim has consumed alcohol. Usually in those cases, both people have been drinking, but the likelihood is higher with perpetrators than victims.
Like Ford, 19th-century women abused by drunken men often kept quiet. In 1873, a Springfield, Ohio, newspaper published the view of a woman who was hesitant to go public with the story of a husband who was once “tender and loving” but due to alcohol had become “moody, morose [and] abusive”:
“We are told that the law is now on our side, and are exhorted to go into the courts. … But how little do people know of the difficulties that surround the drunkard's wife. The shame and mortification of a public exposure … the difficulty of getting such witnesses as will testify to the facts necessary to a successful prosecution; the shrinking from appearing in a court-room alone … where even respectable lawyers can be bought for a price to plead against her, using low, personal attacks, when the facts fail them.”
The author of that plea was Eliza Daniel “Mother” Stewart, one of the founders of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which grew to become the largest women’s organization in the world at that point in history. The WCTU was interested not only in banning the sale of alcohol to end abusive behavior by men; it also linked the temperance cause to the suffragist cause. When in 1879 Frances Willard, the president of the WCTU, argued that women needed both temperance and suffrage for “home protection,” she broadened the appeal of suffrage beyond radicals like Susan B. Anthony and reached the larger constituency of traditionalist homemakers.
The #MeToo movement has made enormous strides in a short time. But the Kavanaugh episode reminded us that the movement has limited reach on the conservative side of the cultural divide.
Moreover, binge drinking — all too often a factor in sexual assaults — remains a plague among the young. In a research study released last year, about 40 percent of people between 18 and 24 reported recently consuming four (for women) or five (for men) drinks in a two-hour period. In light of those facts, why don’t we do more to combat excessive alcohol use?
One big reason is that the original temperance movement went overboard. What began as a campaign of moral suasion evolved into an intimidating political lobby determined to criminalize the production and sale of alcohol, whatever it took. (What it took was whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment, especially toward Germans, during World War I.) And once Prohibition was achieved, it was a policy disaster, driving alcohol use underground and fueling organized crime.
A second reason we hesitate to focus on alcohol is we correctly do not want to treat alcohol as the primary driver of sexual assault when, in cases of male perpetrators and female victims, misogyny is the root cause. FiveThirtyEight science reporter Maggie Koerth-Baker recently called attention to a 2015 study of sexual assaults that tracked several hundred men through four years college. Those that committed more assaults over the time of the study “reported a growing sense of peer support for forced sex, peer pressure, pornography use, and hostility toward women.”
Even so, alcohol is an impediment to tackling misogyny. To break misogynistic norms among men, Koerth-Baker says that “the big focus in sexual violence prevention right now is [encouraging] bystander intervention.” But she also notes that many sexual assaults happen in drunken environments. When even the bystanders are intoxicated, there is much less of a chance for effective intervention.
So we need a more modern, a more temperate, temperance movement, one that learns from both the successes and mistakes of the past. Bigotry and moral absolutism shouldn’t be replicated. But the WCTU and the even more powerful Anti-Saloon League are amazing examples of broad grass-roots coalition-building. And decades later, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (later changed to Mothers Against Drunk Driving) showed how a powerful narrative combined with a tightly focused legislative agenda could rapidly move political mountains.
It took MADD a lot less time than the WCTU and ASL to achieve its political goals, just four years between its formation and its capstone legislative achievement. The group had leaders with gripping personal stories—children killed or severely injured by drunk drivers—which it leveraged into an Emmy-nominated made-for-TV movie.
The group successfully galvanized Americans to support new laws lowering the legal limit of blood-alcohol content when driving, and cutting off federal highway funds to states that didn’t raise the legal drinking age to 21. President Ronald Reagan was initially opposed to withholding highway funds but eventually flipped and signed the plan into law. There was some conservative grumbling over the deployment of Big Government—one New York state legislator called the law “Little Prohibition”—but 10 years after the law passed, nearly every state had raised the drinking age to 21 and the rate of drunk driving fatalities dropped 43 percent.
A modern temperance movement should complement, not supplant, other critical efforts to eliminate toxic masculinity, such as requiring sexual education classes to teach the principles of consent. But the battle against sexual assault should be waged on all fronts, especially because many promising ideas are bound to get snagged in our politically polarized culture war.
For example, the quality of high school sex education is widely uneven. Only 13 states require sex education to be medically accurate, while 10 states require the use of abstinence education, which is notoriously inaccurate and ineffective. Local cultural mores tend to dictate what is taught in local schools. And where local sensibilities concur with Donald Trump—that the big problem today with sexual assault is men being falsely accused of sexual assault—you may not find consent education catching on.
A modern temperance movement, however, has the potential to transcend the red-blue divide. While feminists may see reduced alcohol use as a means to combating sexual assaults, many devout Christians consider drunkenness to be a sin. Habakkuk 2:15 reads, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk.” And Romans 14:20 has been interpreted as admonition against encouraging addiction,: “It is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.”
A 21st-century temperance push need not look as gendered as the 19th-century version. We don’t need women, held up as paragons of virtue, traveling the saloon circuit and saving men from the demon rum. It’s not the job of women to fix men. In fact, one recent study found that white men are more likely than women and non-white men to binge drink on college campuses. One of the study’s authors concluded that changing the accepted norms among white men is “the biggest challenge at this point.” As peer-to-peer communication is often the most effective approach, men will need to step up.
What exactly should a modern temperance movement fight to achieve? Legislatively, it could pursue stiffer penalties for adults who provide alcohol to minors, which today is often just a misdemeanor. And while parents can be held criminally responsible for underage drinking in their homes, why aren’t college administrators and fraternal organizations held accountable for underage drinking on their watches?
As past efforts to curtail the college culture of binge drinking have proven challenging, many administrators threw up their hands. A 2014 New York Times exploration of the reasons behind inaction reported that some college presidents “are reluctant to take on boosters and alumni who fervently defend rituals where drinking can get out of control.” Furthermore, “many educators are resistant to the idea of policing students. They would prefer to treat them as young adults who can make good choices with the right motivation.” While easy solutions may not be at the ready, these are unacceptable excuses.
Beyond legislative remedies, a modern temperance movement could also apply cultural pressure. It wasn’t long ago when much of Hollywood was shamed into keeping cigarettes off-screen so it wouldn’t look cool to children. Yet excessive alcohol consumption remains a plot-point staple. With the entertainment industry reeling after its long history of tolerating sexual misconduct has been exposed, what better time to pressure it into making amends?
Of course, a modern temperance movement would have to guard against moral excess to avoid being cast into irrelevance. MADD’s founders walked away from the group in the mid-1980s once it became, in the words of one, “neo-prohibitionist.” While MADD’s current agenda isn’t that extreme, it never regained its early influence.
But the need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from sexual assault knows no party or ideology. Alcohol may not be the sole culprit, but it’s a culprit. It’s long past time our policies and our culture treat it so.
It arrived on Page One of the New York Times last Wednesday with all the subtlety of a supertanker berthing at a sailing marina, consuming all the editorial space above the fold. Based on more than 100,000 pages of documents, countless interviews, and the voluminous Freedom of Information Act requests that accompany such investigations, the piece, written by three of the paper’s ace reporters, was more than 18 months in the making. Overflowing eight broadsheet pages, the 15,000-word story, titled “Trump Took Part In Suspect Schemes to Evade Tax Bills,” served also as the subject of a Showtime documentary. It accused President Donald Trump of “outright fraud” involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
The piece stirred both New York City and state regulators to commence investigations of their own that could ensnare the Trump family in years of consuming legal battles and force them to choke up hundreds of millions in fines and penalties. But even though the Times aggregated this piece for slow readers, produced clever video takes on the material and reprinted the original as a special section of the Sunday paper, the story has all but melted from sight. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “very boring,” as did Trump. By the time the pundits convened on the big Sunday political shows, the story was a goner—according to Matt Gertz at Media Matters, none of the shows covered it. (State of the Union mentioned it in passing; Joy Reid had a segment; and CNN’s press show, Reliable Sources, interviewed one of the Times authors.)
Why? Perhaps it’s because a tax fraud story doesn’t burst with the crowd-pleasing juices of pieces about mistress payoffs, Russian meddling, the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, the hurricane response in Puerto Rico, Hope Hicks’ lies, and Kellyanne Conway and the Hatch Act. A story—no matter how long—about tax evasion is too dry to arouse the public into acts of viral chatter. Stories about mistresses and spies and firings and lies give every reader a platform where they can stand to voice their opinion. But a tax story provides no scaffold. Taxes are so painfully complex that most of us outsource our own filings to an accountant or a piece of software. Sure, the Trumps might have swindled various tax collectors out of hundreds of millions, but even devoted followers of the news have trouble following a narrative dealing in grantor-retained annuity trusts, illegal loans, dubious gifts, and fraudulent mark-ups of expenses. If only Trump had robbed a bank!
The Times story was also undercut by Trump’s willingness to own what he did. He’s repeatedly grinned when asked about his low tax bills and said they only prove how smart he is. In his formulation, theTimes exposé is just the death rattle of a dying newspaper. In his lawyer’s words, the Times piece is “100 percent false, and highly defamatory.” Here, Trump is taking his own advice on what to do when accused of assaulting women: “Deny, deny, deny.” And in the short term, it seems to be working! Three days after the Times investigation ran, the paper’s top political reporter, Peter Baker, called the week the “best” of Trump’s presidency.
Another reason the story might not have entered the nation’s bloodstream is that it contained too much for anybody—outside of the most committed—to read in a single sitting. Perhaps if the Times had chopped its monster into three installments, as many newspapers do with Pulitzer-Prize fodder, it might have grown legs and combined with all the other Trump scandals to enter the national conversation. Maybe if Michael Avenatti had found a specific dollar Trump defrauded and offered to represent it in a civil action against the president and took his case to CNN and MSNBC, we’d be talking about it today in addition to global warming. But more likely not.
The national obsession with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination also worked against the tax story, but its other great liability was that it was so exclusively exclusive to the New York Times. Ordinarily, if a big story lands, say on domestic spying or the botched Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina, all the big newspapers and even smaller media outlets can add something immediately to the story. But no paper had anything close to what the Times had on the tax story, so Times competitors couldn’t immediately chase the tax scoop to create the updraft of coverage that distributes a topic into the high ether for all comers to inhale. (That said, the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold has capitalized on the Times story to advance his work on Trump’s money.)
Perhaps the Times should have distributed some of the building blocks of its tax story to the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and the Daily Beast before it published its magnum opus so that they could have done their own takes to give the story additional momentum. I’m not suggesting that the Times should have done as Bastian Obermayer did with the Panama Papers and given its documents to a consortium for greater distribution to other news organizations. But by sharing a small taste of what he had with other papers, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet could have amplified the story and perhaps turned up new leads that would benefit the Times.
How about it, Dean? I’m not ordinarily a big fan of collaborative efforts, but this story is too good for us to allow it to vaporize. How about rationing some of your hot documents to competitors who can use it as starter-dough to keep this story expanding?
President Donald Trump has historically low favorability among women, with the Pew Research Center now reporting that 63 percent of women disapprove of how he is doing his job—compared with 30 percent who approve. That might not be surprising, given the range of things that Trump has said and done that might be seen as offensive to women. There’s the famous “Access Hollywood” tape that gave rise to thousands of pussy hats, the 22 women who have publicly accused him of sexual harassment and assault, and the hush money his personal lawyer has admitted to paying to cover up marital indiscretions. There is Trump’s tendency to insult women, from Carly Fiorina to Megyn Kelly to Mika Brzezinski. Most recently, there was his rally in Mississippi, during which the president mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Brett Kavanaugh, who has since been confirmed to the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Trump’s election and performance in office have clearly pushed independent and Democratic women into action, resulting in record numbers of women running for office, and surges of women involved in local political organizing for the first time. But what about Republican women? Is it possible that Trump—and the Republican politicians who enable him—are not just alienating left-leaning women, but are permanently damaging the GOP’s female ranks, driving some splintering portion of women away for good?
Republican women still overwhelmingly support the president—84 percent of them, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this week. But that statistic overlooks a broader trend: Fewer and fewer American women identify as Republicans, and that slow migration is speeding up under Trump. My conversations with pollsters, political scientists and a number of women across the country who have recently rejected their lifelong Republicans identities suggested the same—and illuminate why this moment in American politics might prove a breaking point for women in the GOP. According to pollsters on both sides of the aisle, that doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party either in this fall’s midterms—which are likely to bring a record gap between how men and women vote—or for the party’s long-term future.
The gender gap began with white men leaving the Democratic Party in the late 1950s and early 1960s in response to the civil rights and women’s movements, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg explains. Only more recently did women start actively leaving the GOP. For two decades now, they have been leaking away from the Republican Party, very slowly becoming independents, while independents have been drifting toward the Democrats. In 1994, according to Pew, 42 percent of women identified as or leaned Republican, as did 52 percent of men. By 2017, only 37 percent of women and 48 percent of men still did. In 1994, 48 percent of women and 39 percent of men identified as or leaned toward the Democrats. By 2017, those numbers were 56 percent of women and 44 percent of men.
Trump’s election put this gender shift “on steroids,” Greenberg says. According to Pew, the share of American women voters who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party has dropped 3 percentage points since 2015—from 40 percent to 37 percent—after having been essentially unchanged from 2010 through 2014. By 2017, just 25 percent of American women fully identified as Republicans. That means that when, say, 84 percent of Republican women say they approve of Trump and his actions, or 69 percent of Republican women say they support Kavanaugh, or 64 percent say they, like Trump, don’t find Ford very “credible,” those percentages represent a small and shrinking slice of American women.
These shifts in party allegiance might seem mild, but they matter. As Rutgers political scientist Kelly Dittmar recently wrote, women have voted in higher numbers and at higher rates than men for decades. In 2016, according to Dittmar, 9.9 million more women than men voted, and about 63 percent of eligible females voted, compared with 59 percent of eligible males. If more women than men vote in November, women’s shift toward the Democrats is likely to be over-represented on Election Day—especially in an election like this one, in which women are highly mobilized and motivated. The Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter recently noted: “The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that [white college-educated women] support a Democrat for Congress by 22 points—58 percent to 36 percent. In 2014, they preferred a Democratic Congress by just 2 points.”
“If these trends continue,” political scientist Melissa Deckman of Washington College told me, “women’s preference for Democrats will be a big contributor to the midterm results.”
And beyond the midterms, too. “Once you give up that party label, you’re less inclined to easily take it back,” says University of Virginia political scientist Jennifer Lawless. Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former National Republican Senatorial Committee staffer, notes that the Republican loss of college-educated white women “is not balanced out by a huge spike among white men—on net, that’s a real problem for the Republicans.” Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, of all people, put it more starkly this summer: “The Republican college-educated woman is done. They’re gone. They were going anyway at some point in time. Trump triggers them.”
In recent weeks, I sought out women who had crossed over from Republican to Democrat, to understand what motivated their shift and how permanent they think it will be. The 10 women who ended up talking with me—before the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings, it’s worth noting—were all white college graduates, married or widowed, ages 31 to 80, and living in suburban or exurban areas from California to Kansas to North Carolina. Some had voted straight-ticket Republican all their lives; others had crossed the line occasionally but remained proud Republicans until Trump. Some have converted fully to the Democratic Party; others are hoping the GOP will return to the moderate, small-business party they once loved—but even so, can’t imagine going back to being its unquestioning followers. Each woman’s experiences and motivations were different, but some clear themes emerged about their disillusionment with the Republican Party.
First is their dislike of Trump himself, whom these women see as offensive, impulsive and dangerous to America’s standing in the world. “He is just the most amoral person,” said Jennifer Pate, a recently married 31-year-old devoted churchgoer in San Antonio, raised in that city by what she called “very conservative” parents in a church where women still can’t be pastors. “He is everything—I don’t have kids yet—everything I don’t want my kids to grow up to be. He’s entitled. He’s pompous,” Pate told me.
“His honesty is in question,” said Julie Vann, a 68-year-old in Beavercreek, Ohio. She points to Trump’s company’s multiple bankruptcy filings. “That was just his way of doing business,” she says. “And that’s the same way he thinks now. He doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as he wins.” Vann is still a registered Republican, but she has been supporting Democrat Theresa Gasper against incumbent Republican Mike Turner in Ohio’s 10th Congressional District.
Another born-and-raised Republican, Kansas teacher Janea Lawrence, 54, is dismayed because she believes Trump handed out Cabinet positions to unqualified “friends or people who could buy their way in”—because of wealth or, she assumes, campaign donations. She finds that approach shockingly counter to what she calls her Midwestern ethos of working hard and doing right. While she said she has voted for Democrats sometimes in the past, it wasn’t until Trump’s election that she changed her registration; she is now backing Democrats in both House and gubernatorial races.
Cate Kanellis Zalmat of Plano, Texas, a 61-year-old grocery store manager and grandmother, has been a Republican since she first voted for Ronald Reagan. “I haven’t felt as angry about politics in my life as Trump makes me,” she told me—angry, among other things, at Trump’s instability, at what she sees as the GOP’s pandering to the religious right, at what she described as Republicans’ anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bias. Zalmat is married to an engineer who was raised a Muslim in Libya.
That brings us to another reason these women are disillusioned: Under Trump, they say, many Republicans are peddling intolerance and exclusion. “It’s become normal to be a racist and a bigot, and those are not normal things,” said Jennifer Hackel Thrift, 43, a corporate headhunter in Austin, Texas. She had never voted for a Democrat until 2016—and now compares Fox News to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. When others in her family praise Trump’s handling of the economy, her answer is, “At what price? … We no longer have values as a country—except for ‘me first,’ ‘white is right.’ And that’s not right.”
Karen Winslow, 66, a former Navy nurse who now lives in Austin as well, worked furiously at her consulting business after her first husband died so that her three daughters would be able to get excellent educations and travel widely. Now she is appalled at how Trump slanders Latinos—a group that includes two of her sons-in-law—and how the party treats women. “Having had daughters, I wanted them to have opportunities, which is part of the reason I can’t stand Trump, because he’s such a misogynistic jerk,” she says. “If that’s the Republican Party, I’m not part of it.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina, 58-year-old CPA Beth Monaghan said that in 2016, when her state senator, Dan Bishop, helped sponsor HB2, the North Carolina “bathroom bill,” she took it as an attack on the entire LGBTQ spectrum and was furious that the government was “telling my son he’s less-than because he’s gay.” She was so furious that she ran as a moderate against Bishop in her state Senate district’s Republican primary and lost. When she realized Trump would be the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2016, she threw herself into Hillary Clinton’s campaign, putting a “huge” banner up at her house in a district that’s two-thirds Republican.
Trump alone didn’t push these women to shed their Republican labels; other GOP politicians’ unquestioning support for Trump did that. Several told me they were angry that an all-Republican government has become the party of fiscal waste, deficits, trade wars and rebates for the wealthy. Zalmat said she is angrier at the “spineless Republicans in the Congress” for “enabling [Trump’s] crazy” than she is at the president himself. “The Republicans that I knew and held beloved really have disappointed me,” Thrift agreed. “They’ve become such sycophants for power. It’s no longer about what’s right for people in my district or my state; it’s about how do I keep my position.” Or as Lawrence, the Kansas teacher, put it, “The Republican Party to me seems like it’s being run by white, upper-class or wealthy businessmen who aren’t paying attention to the rest of us.”
Sentiments like those are telling, says UVA’s Lawless. “If the Republicans had stood up to [Trump], not necessarily on substance, but in terms of style and rhetoric,” she says, the reactions among voters might be, “I’m still a Republican, but I’m not supporting Donald Trump.” Instead, she continues, “because the Republicans have been complicit in a lot of what Trump has done,” many women no longer feel they can consider themselves Republican. And that’s a big step out the door.
But will they keep going out the door?
Seth Masket, political science professor at the University of Denver, told me, “All my training tells me that party ID is quite sticky.” Only major world events like war and depressions tend to shake up those allegiances. “You’ll sometimes get some pushback against an unpopular politician, but that does tend to be pretty short-lived. At some point, Trump won’t be president, and these women who’ve been leaning away from the Republican Party may return to that fold.” Democratic strategist Celinda Lake says that if “in 2020 or 2024, [Republicans] nominate a woman, if they start to put women in prominent leadership positions, if they nominate someone like [Ohio Governor John] Kasich who has had strong appeal to women—it could change. But it’ll definitely last through 2020 unless the Democrats blow it, because Trump’s going to be the nominee, and Trump’s style isn’t going to change.”
Donovan, the former NRSC staffer, says he wonders how far women who leave the GOP will actually go. Will they call themselves independents who tend to lean Republican, akin to leaving the team’s clubhouse but staying in its yard? Putative independents who aren’t registered with one party but who tell pollsters that they nonetheless sympathize with one party, Lawless explains, tend to vote for that party’s ticket as reliably as those who embrace the party label. That means the big question is whether, as she puts it, “these women who are saying the Republican Party no longer represents them and are eschewing the party label—will they still lean Republican?”
Among the small sample of women I spoke with, several said they are fundraising, campaigning or otherwise organizing for Democratic state or congressional candidates this fall. Dana Fortier of Michigan, a 51-year-old former paralegal who grew up Republican, is now a paid-up and active member of her state and local Democratic Party clubs, while running two local Democratic women’s campaigns for city council. In fact, she said, every single person she is planning on voting for in November is a Democratic woman: Debbie Stabenow for Senate, Haley Stevens for Congress in Michigan’s 11th District, Gretchen Whitmer for governor and on down the ballot. Similarly, Thrift in Texas is fully outfitted with Beto O’Rourke stickers, buttons, signs and pamphlets that she distributes wherever she can, explaining, “I can’t sit still. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I have to do everything I can to try and stop, or at least neuter, this horrible president.” Monaghan in North Carolina said, “This may be the first time in my life, at 58 years old, that I vote a straight Democratic ticket. That’s how frustrated I am.”
“If they are actively working for Democrats this cycle, they may be true independents,” Lawless says, which suggests “they are not beholden to the party label. I don’t know any research that suggests that they are any more likely to flip back” than they are to keep walking away from the Republican Party.
But, with a few exceptions, most of the women I spoke with said they aren’t fully diving into the Democratic Party. Some continue to be registered Republicans, while others are independents. As Thrift put it to me. “I’m going to choose the best candidates for the job.” Even Fortier does not promise to stay a Democrat. “In five years, in 10 years, there could be a set of Republicans whose ideas and values are very close to me,” she explained, “and I’ll vote for them.”
Of course, a lot rides on what the Republican Party does in the years ahead. Certainly, by saying recently that it’s “a very scary time” to be a young man, Trump has “put the pedal to the metal” on the GOP’s appeal to angry white blue-collar men, Donovan says. But as Masket put it, “There are a lot of young women coming of age in this presidency who will vote for the first time either this year or in 2020, with this very stark view of gender relations between the two parties.” He sees the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings as a powerful influence at such a formative moment for social identity: “Those images aren’t ones that go away very quickly.”
Whether or not their mothers drift away from the Republicans for good, in other words, young women might be signing up for the other team. “If millennials vote three times for the same party, they hold that identification their whole lives,” Lake says. “So, this is a very, very critical erosion. The Republicans could pay the price for decades.”
Nearly 8,000 words into its exhaustive investigation of the elaborate and allegedly illegal schemes by which Donald Trump’s father conserved his wealth and promoted the myth of his son as a self-made billionaire, the New York Times revealed the existence of a sham business the Trump family used to hide massive gifts from Fred Trump to his children, saving himself millions in federal taxes.
The company was called All County Building Supply & Maintenance and it was created in 1992 for the purpose of providing inflated invoices to contractors for Fred Trump’s sprawling real estate holdings in Brooklyn and Queens.
“All County had no corporate offices,” the Times reporters wrote. “Its address was the Manhasset, N.Y., home of John Walter, a favorite nephew of Fred Trump’s. Mr. Walter, who died in January at the age of 83, spent decades working for Fred Trump, primarily helping computerize his payroll and billing systems. He also was the unofficial keeper of Fred Trump’s personal and business papers, his basement crowded with boxes of old Trump financial records.”
Walter, as any Trumpologist knows, was the self-appointed family historian and enjoyed sharing family lore and memorabilia with journalists. He had assumed this role by virtue of his close relationship to the family: He was the son of Fred Trump’s older sister, Elizabeth, who had herself served as Fred Trump’s bookkeeper early in his career as a builder and developer. When I was working on my Trump family biography in the 1990s, I met with Walter in a modest office that was down the hall from Fred’s own longtime quarters at Beach Haven, a government-subsidized apartment complex near Coney Island that Fred had built nearly half a century earlier. Walter, it seemed to me, doled out bits of info in a somewhat gloating way.
For many years, during the long stretch of time when his younger first cousin Donald was a regular on the gossip pages of the New York tabloids and then the star of “The Apprentice” TV show, there wasn’t much demand for Walter’s archival services. Donald Trump was master of his own narrative. That changed when Trump ran for president and soon Walter was the increasingly beleaguered target of an almost unending stream of media requests. By the time his cousin had become the surprise 45th president, Walter had all but resigned his unofficial job. As he said to Michael Kruse in the summer of 2017, “I’m not doing anything. I’m letting Donald do his thing. I just can’t get involved and give information that always comes out wrong … I promised everyone I’m not going to do that.”
Now, Walter’s assiduous work as an amateur historian appears to have become a major source for the Times’ blockbuster piece. For me, having chronicled multiple generations of the Trump family, it’s quite the ironic moment to see this stark violation of Donald Trump’s long practice of never leaving a paper trail. No memos, he told his staff back in Trump Tower, a habit he may well have inherited from his father, who was legendary for keeping details in his head.
But Walter, as the Times notes, kept things in his basement. The Times reporters say their work “draws on tens of thousands of pages of confidential records—bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices and canceled checks. Most notably, the documents include more than 200 tax returns from Fred Trump, his companies and various Trump partnerships and trusts.” Whether that trove emerged from those boxes, the writers don’t say.
The roots of Walter’s minor but pivotal role in the family go back 100 years.
When Fred was 12, his father, Friedrich, a fledgling real estate developer in Queens, died at 49 in the influenza pandemic. He left a $30,000 estate, worth about $500,000 in 2018 dollars, but it was soon battered by severe post-World War I inflation. His widow, Elizabeth Christ Trump, got by with squeezing what she could from his holdings and taking in sewing, but she was determined to continue what he had started and came up with a long-range, family-oriented plan. Her oldest child, also named Elizabeth, who was 14 at the time of Friedrich’s death, would run the office and keep the books; the youngest, John, 10, would be the architect; and the middle child, Fred, would be the builder.
In order to pull off this plan, the younger Elizabeth left high school early, not unusual at the time, and went to secretarial school; John began to study architecture; and Fred, who was taking courses in carpentry, plumbing and other construction skills, built his first structure, a garage for a neighbor. Because the children were under 21, their mother incorporated the new company under the name E. Trump & Son, and the family became real estate nomads, moving from one newly finished home to another all over Queens.
Unfortunately, the two brothers found it trying to work together. Fred wanted to sell the houses as soon as possible, regardless of whether they were completed, whereas John wanted to linger over the final details of each one. When Fred prevailed, John bailed and went on to a career in physics, but Elizabeth stayed put even after she married William Walter, a bank trainee, in June 1929. But four months later, in October 1929, the stock market crashed, the real estate market dried up, and Fred Trump was forced to suspend home building and open a food market in Queens
The career shift was only temporary. In 1934, Fred deftly maneuvered his way into bankruptcy proceedings in federal court in Brooklyn that involved a large mortgage company. Through a series of inflated claims and side deals, the same strategy that Donald would use repeatedly decades later, he emerged with a mortgage-servicing contract that would put him back into real estate. This time, it was for good.
In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Fred Trump honed his approach to maximize his profits from government-subsidized housing on a national and state level. He routinely submitted bids for projects like Beach Haven to the Federal Housing Administration on the basis of cost estimates, delivered the finished product for far less, and pocketed the difference— a practice that drew a harsh rebuke in the press and a subpoena to testify at a congressional hearing, but no actual penalties. He earned additional windfall profits from New York State housing programs with scams like setting up shell corporations from which he rented construction equipment at inflated prices. This brought more bad press and an appearance before a state commission, but no fines or criminal charges.
Throughout these years, he constantly worked to make sure that his family never faced the same financial pressure that had confronted his mother and his siblings after his father died. Well before Donald Trump would meet Roy Cohn and embrace his do-whatever-you-can-get-away-with philosophy, Fred employed that same approach, making Donald a millionaire when he was in third grade and providing him a lifetime safety net that would protect him from the consequences of unwise moves and impetuous decisions.
Fred was also protective of other members of his family, including John Walter, who received a 20 percent share of the proceeds from All County Building Supply & Maintenance. Donald also watched out for his cousin. In the early 1980s, he insisted that Alan Lapidus, architect of Trump’s first Atlantic City casino, Trump Plaza, use Walter as a security consultant on the project despite Lapidus's objection that Walter, who he found “brusque,” had “no discernible credentials in this field.” In turn, Lapidus said, Walter looked out for Donald and told Lapidus to install video cameras over the women's stalls in the count-room because "the women have twice as many places to stash the cash as the men."
Fred Trump died in June 1999, and in 2004 his four surviving children sold off ownership of most of his real estate empire. According to the New York Times, Donald has received the lion’s share of Fred’s largesse, some $413 million in assets and a further $60 million in loans, many of which were never repaid. Unless and until the outside world is able to see Donald Trump’s own tax returns, it’s impossible to know exactly how and where his father’s money may still be playing a role in his life. There’s little doubt it would be welcome, given a recent report in Forbes that his net worth is down nearly $1 billion since he began his run for president, putting him 138 spots lower on the Forbes 400 list of the nation’s wealthiest citizens.
Walter’s family has not responded to calls from Politico to discuss the financial records. But when Michael Kruse reached out to him in September for comment on another story, Walter sounded as if he were in no mood to cooperate with any kind of journalistic inquiry, much less one that alleged actual wrongdoing. He did sound somewhat nostalgic for the days before Trump entered politics.
“Way back when, things were fine. But it all got nuts,” he told Kruse. “I just can’t help you. I’m sorry.
“Maybe later,” he said, “when things get right. But right now, things are all screwed up.”
Michael Kruse contributed to this report.
Joe Biden is heading to Nevada this weekend, appearing at the influential Culinary Workers Union as he mulls a 2020 presidential run.
The former vice president will stump for state Democrats in Las Vegas on Saturday, according to an adviser. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, where he will appear, is a major force in presidential politics in the state.
The visit follows an appearance by Biden this past weekend in South Carolina, another critical early primary state. Biden, a frontrunner in early presidential polls, has been ramping up his midterm campaign appearances in recent weeks.
In first-in-the-West Nevada, Biden has endorsed Rep. Jacky Rosen for U.S. Senate, Steve Sisolak for governor and Aaron Ford for state attorney general, among other Democrats.
Biden also campaigned in 2016 for Hillary Clinton in Nevada in her winning campaign against Donald Trump in the state.
In recent weeks, the former vice president has been meeting with potential donors and stumping for fellow Democrats.
A recent CNN poll showed Biden far ahead in a large field of potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rode an anti-Washington wave into the Senate in 2012, became a disruptive outsider in the chamber the next year, and ran against the establishment when he sought the presidency in 2016.
But when his reelection campaign wobbled earlier this year under pressure from upstart Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Cruz leaned hard on a new strategy: the inside track.
Cruz’s TV ads have touted his record bringing home billions in federal relief spending after Hurricane Harvey, highlighting “bipartisan” tax relief for those affected by the storm. Cruz’s Texas colleague, Sen. John Cornyn — whom Cruz declined to endorse in 2014 when Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, faced a primary challenge — headlined a six-figure fundraiser for Cruz in Washington. And Cruz has leaned on help from the highest echelons of the Republican Party, campaigning with Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. in Texas recently and getting a commitment from President Donald Trump for a future event.
Cruz remains as conservative as ever, but he sanded down some of the sharp edges on his personality and political strategy in the Senate last year, working within his party on Obamacare repeal and other legislative efforts instead of from the outside as he had in 2013. Now, Cruz’s insider connections are powering his effort to return for a second term.
“It would be disingenuous for Cruz to campaign as an outsider when he’s in there in the thick of things,” said Dave Carney, a veteran Republican strategist who worked with Cruz’s GOP opponent in 2012 before briefly working with him in 2016.
“He was talking about the dysfunction of Washington, that nothing good was happening from his perspective, and he was going there to shake things up,” Carney added. “There’s no question he shook things up. Now he’s outlining what he’s delivered in the shakeup.”
There’s another reason for Cruz’s insider turn. O’Rourke, who is drawing big crowds and raising even bigger money from a grassroots army of supporters, has seized Cruz’s stylistic sweet spot — running not just against Cruz but against the political system in general as he seeks to make up a deficit in the polls.
“It seems to me Beto has become the Ted Cruz of the general election,” said one Republican consultant in Texas, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. “He’s running almost a Ted Cruz style of race in the sense of the way Ted ran with the primary [in 2012].”
But Cruz has responded. While O’Rourke raised a record $38 million last quarter, Cruz brought in a more-than-passable $12 million, an impressive haul that’s allowed him to narrow a TV spending gap that grew earlier this year. Cornyn’s fundraiser netted six figures, and multiple events with Trump Jr. in Dallas pulled in nearly half a million dollars. Three recent polls of the race showed Cruz at or above 50 percent, and leading O’Rourke by a comfortable margin.
Still, many Republicans were caught off guard by O’Rourke’s summer surge, and they grew nervous when the race appeared more competitive.
“I think he needs all the help he can get, and he's asking for it,” said a veteran Republican operative from Cruz’s home base in Houston. “He's never done that before.”
(Cruz's campaign declined multiple requests to make him available for an interview.)
A Republican lobbyist in Texas, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Cruz’s outreach wasn’t easy at first, given the frosty relationships he had with some state political figures whose support he had never wanted or needed before. But the lobbyist said most of the party has warmed up to Cruz and gotten fully behind his reelection bid.
“It was a little slow warming up, but one thing about Cruz is he sticks to the game plan,” the lobbyist said. “His game plan was to cultivate them and over time, and over the last couple years, he's made inroads. It’s been to his advantage. He couldn't have stayed where he was and get reelected.”
Not everyone agrees with the notion that Cruz has changed. Mark Miner, a veteran operative in the state who worked for former Gov. Rick Perry, said Cruz is the same firebrand as the one who defeated the establishment favorite in his 2012 primary.
“Ted Cruz has managed to remain an outsider while he's in elected office,” Miner said.
But David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth — one of Cruz’s earliest political allies, which aided his primary campaign in 2012 — called Cruz’s transformation a “smoothing of the sharp edges a bit.” He pointed out that the Club, an anti-tax organization, urged members of Congress to vote against the Hurricane Harvey relief Cruz pushed so hard for and now touts on the trail. McIntosh said it was wise of Cruz to launch his campaign ads on the issue.
Scott Reed, the senior political strategist from the establishment-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Cruz went on a “charm offensive” to woo local chamber chapters around Texas in an effort to win support from the business community, which has been receptive.
“There's no doubt he needed to do redefining after the 2016 election, but welcome to politics,” Reed told POLITICO. “I wouldn’t say it was tough, but it took work. And to his credit, he rolled up his sleeves and went and did it.”
The willingness of Cruz’s former adversaries to aid his campaign stretches to the White House. Cruz and Trump famously traded bitter personal attacks during the presidential race — Trump retweeted a supporter mocking Cruz’s wife and linked Cruz’s father to John F. Kennedy’s assassin without evidence, leading Cruz to call Trump a “pathological liar” and a “serial philanderer.”
But the president has been an eager ally to Cruz since then. James Dickey, the Texas GOP chairman, told POLITICO that during his first time meeting Trump, in July 2017, the president told him he was “100 percent” behind Cruz — long before O’Rourke became a national sensation and Republicans of all stripes rode in to aid Cruz’s campaign.
Still, Cruz has faced questions throughout this campaign about his newfound positive relationship with Trump. In the first and so-far only debate of the campaign, Cruz defended working “hand in hand” with the president, calling it the only way to be effective in the Senate.
"Yes, I could have chosen to make it about myself, to be selfish and say my feelings are hurt so I'm going to take my marbles and go home, but I think that would have been not doing the job I was elected to,” Cruz said.
OAKLAND — The GOP plan to juice midterm turnout by rallying Californians against their state gas tax is languishing, so Republicans are taking their message to a place where they’ll have a captive audience: the gas pump itself.
Californians who stop at gas stations in six competitive House districts will be greeted by 30-second spots on the television monitors above gas pumps. The Republican National Committee-funded ads seek to tie Democratic House candidates to a 12-cents-a-gallon tax increase signed into law last year.
“A lot of these districts are commuter districts, so since we do have the technology to put [the ads] above the gas pumps, there’s no better place to deliver this message,” said RNC spokeswoman Christiana Purves.
The RNC gambit seeks to jolt a campaign that has sputtered despite long figuring into the GOP’s plans in battleground California, home to a half-dozen fiercely contested congressional races.
Prominent California Republicans like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, top Trump ally Devin Nunes and now-gubernatorial nominee John Cox pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Proposition 6 campaign to repeal the gas tax in the early going, supplemented by money from non-Californians like Speaker Paul Ryan. The investment was intended to spur turnout and cull voter data.
By one measure, the tactic seemed to be working: challengers Katie Porter and Joshua Harder, who are respectively seeking to unseat Rep. Mimi Walters and Rep. Jeff Denham, disavowed the gas tax and said they supported Prop 6. They’re still targeted by the new spate of ads.
But GOP funding has dried up in recent months — a stretch in which polls have shown Prop 6 struggling to attract enough support. Elected Republicans and party committees went months without pumping in cash, though the California Republican Party has recently put money towards slate mailers.
Even the national money coming in represents a relatively paltry five-figure investment — the first time the Republican National Committee has spent money to advance Prop 6 — although Purves said the “unique way to reach voters” was expected to make its way before around 750,000 voters.
A formidable coalition of business, labor and top California Democrats — including Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders — has filled a hefty war chest to defend the tax increase, which Brown and other supporters call a desperately needed source of funding for transit improvements.
A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman dismissed the latest ad buy as a distraction.
“After a year of Washington Republicans crowing about how their tax scam that raises taxes on Californians was a silver bullet for them in November, it’s clear now that they would rather talk about anything except their disastrous record in Washington,” spokesman Drew Godinich said.
A deluge of Democratic spending in the final days of the battle for the House has triggered recriminations among Republicans and forced the party to lean on its biggest patron to salvage its majority.
Since the end of July, Republican candidates in the 70 most contested races have reserved $60 million in TV ads, compared with $109 million for Democratic hopefuls, according to figures compiled by media trackers and reviewed by POLITICO. The disparity is almost certain to grow, as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes good on plans to spend nearly $80 million to help Democrats flip the House.
“From Democrat candidates to outside groups, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Brian Walsh, president of America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC. “They are dumping in cash by the truckload.”
Desperate for help, Republicans are turning to their go-to benefactor: Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The 85-year-old ally of President Donald Trump has made another contribution in the range of $20 million to the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, according to two Republican officials familiar with the donation. Party leaders are hopeful he'll fork over even more.
Senior Republicans are in touch with other influential givers. On Tuesday, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who’s been in regular contact with Adelson and courted many of the party’s most elite donors in recent weeks, appeared at a board meeting of the influential Republican Jewish Coalition. That evening, at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, he addressed a gathering hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But despite those and other steps, party officials concede they’ll be significantly outspent. On Thursday morning, Corry Bliss, the House GOP super PAC’s executive director, invited about 50 top Beltway lobbyists to his downtown Washington office to make a plea for cash. Bliss walked the group through polling in top races and made the case that the GOP is making late gains.
But the party’s biggest hurdle is money, he said. Bliss told the group that Republicans are facing a “green wave” and that he's trying to raise another $20 million. That would be in addition to Adelson's latest contribution.
Charlie Black, a longtime Republican Party hand who attended the breakfast, said the problem isn’t hard to diagnose: Democrats want to send a message to the president, so they’re pumping the war chests of House candidates with online donations.
“We’re raising more money than we usually do on our side, and they’re raising more than they ever do and it’s because of Trump," Black said. "He’s the great motivator.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee is expected to secure a loan to help the party compete in the final weeks. Party officials declined to divulge the size of the credit line, though in previous election years the committee has received loans of between $10 million and $20 million.
NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers has also reached out to party leaders, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, seeking financial help. McCarthy, who spent part of the week in Texas huddling with donors, has transferred $5.7 million to party groups over the past two weeks.
Still, Republicans have hit roadblocks. House GOP aides had hoped to receive a late cash transfer from the Republican National Committee, but they now don’t expect that to happen. The RNC, which is running an extensive national field campaign, has already allocated its remaining funds for the rest of the election season, according to two senior Republicans.
Meanwhile, a blame game is underway. Many Republican lawmakers and strategists are frustrated with the NRCC over its failure to raise more money, they said in interviews. The committee has reserved $46 million on the TV airwaves, compared with $64 million by their Democratic counterpart. A committee spokesman said the NRCC has eclipsed its fundraising record by $20 million this election cycle.
Critics also contend that the House GOP campaign arm has miscalculated by continuing to spend on behalf of Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Northern Virginia Republican who faces an uphill path to reelection. The committee has reserved nearly $5 million in the pricey Washington, D.C., media market — resources, some argue, that could be used to buttress other lawmakers with more realistic odds of winning.
NRCC officials insist Comstock can still pull through. This week, in a show of solidarity with the congresswoman, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) held a fundraiser for the congresswoman that brought in more than $300,000. The event drew an array of major GOP figures, including Clinton-era prosecutor Ken Starr.
Other senior party officials, however, say fault lies with Congressional Leadership Fund. They argue that the group erred by spending millions of dollars on TV ads well before the fall campaign season kicked into gear, when voters weren't as tuned in.
People close to the super PAC, however, insist the commercials were critical in helping to define Democratic candidates, many of whom are seeking office for the first time.
“When you’re dealing with challengers, they’re generally unknown until late in the election cycle. Being able to define the race early is important when you’re dealing with a challenging election climate,” said former Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), a lobbyist who attended the group’s Thursday morning breakfast. “You’re going to be less at the mercy of the environment when time is running out.”
Critics also say the super PAC has spent too much on its own national field program, which has traditionally been handled by the RNC. The investment has detracted from the amount it spends on TV commercials, they say.
But people involved with the group say the total spent on field deployment has been relatively small and that it's made a difference in key races. They also argue that CLF has raised $100 million more this election cycle than in 2016, allowing it to spend more on get-out-the-vote.
Still, the cash disparity with Democrats is forcing Republicans to do triage. Party officials the past several weeks have begun diverting cash from races no longer seen as winnable, rankling some lawmakers who feel they've been abandoned.
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) was angered after learning that the NRCC had canceled planned TV ads in his district, though he’s since been in frequent contact with Stivers. After Congressional Leadership Fund pulled out of Republican Rep. Michigan Rep. Mike Bishop’s Michigan district, his campaign immediately released a polling memo arguing that he still had a path to reelection.
Democrats are using their financial advantage to expand their target list and put Republicans on defense in areas long thought safe for the party. In recent days, Democrats have begun advertising against Republican incumbents in conservative-leaning districts in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
Republicans are taking notice. The Democratic cash tsunami was among the topics discussed at a fundraising lunch held last week at the New York City offices of GOP megadonor Paul Singer. The event drew an array of big givers and several of the party’s most vulnerable members, including New York Rep. John Faso and Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam.
“As the Democrats’ financial position continues to improve, the greater their opportunities become,” said Ken Spain, a former NRCC official. “Not only will they be able to pump more money into winnable races, they can also expand the map by investing in races that were once on the periphery.”
Elena Schneider contributed to this report.
President Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” by cracking down on Washington lobbying. This year, a group calling itself the Badass Grannies is trying to convince North Dakota voters to take matters into their own hands.
The women, backed by the national anti-corruption group RepresentUs and a glossy celebrity retinue that includes actress Jennifer Lawrence, are pushing a ballot initiative that would establish an independent ethics commission, ban foreign money from state elections and restrict lobbying gifts. They’re running up against Big Oil and other corporate interests that have flooded into the state over the past decade.
The ballot effort, known in North Dakota as Measure 1, is part of a wave of choices billed as good-government initiatives that will go before voters in the November midterms. In Colorado, Utah and other states, there’s a move to change how congressional districts are drawn. Reformers in Missouri want to reduce how much statehouse candidates can accept from individual donors. And in Florida, there’s a push to give voting rights to more than 1.4 million felons in time for the 2020 presidential election.
The national push comes as Trump has failed to deliver on many of his promises to crack down on Washington lobbying and refused to sever ties to his businesses.
At the same time, partisan processes to draw congressional districts have made many of them uncompetitive. The Federal Election Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws, hasn’t had a full slate of members since February 2017 and is effectively neutered. And in June, the Supreme Court refused to block voting maps in two partisan gerrymandering cases. A unanimous court said the plaintiffs — Republicans in one case, Democrats in the other — failed to show “irreparable harm.”
Frustration over perceived political corruption helped boost Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016. Two years later, data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows 13 political and campaign-reform measures on state ballots this cycle, the highest number since at least 1974, the year President Richard Nixon resigned after the Watergate political scandal.
Behind the efforts are national progressive groups, including the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, and conservatives, such as Take Back Our Republic’s John Pudner. RepresentUs advisers include Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig and the tea party’s Catherine Baer, and its model anti-corruption language was drafted with help from Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist who spent 43 months in prison after conspiring to bribe public officials.
In North Dakota, Badass Grannie Dina Butcher, a former lobbyist, said the anti-corruption push started, for her, in 2015. That’s when the legislature — awash in out-of-state money following the oil boom — abruptly introduced a tax break for oil producers that was quickly passed and signed into law.
“It was rushed through,” said Butcher, 78, a Republican. “We could tell what the influences were driving policy.”
By early 2017, Butcher had teamed up with Ellen Chaffee, 74, an independent who ran on the Democratic ticket for lieutenant governor in 2012. Over weekly coffees and cookies, their bipartisan group of more than a dozen women and men — not all of them grandparents — crafted Measure 1 and got it on the ballot. Going into November, money is tight and airtime is out of reach, so the group is relying on phone banks and town halls to get their message out. On Monday, at the Fargo Theatre in the state’s most populous city, they’ll host a free screening of “Dark Money,” a documentary about corporate influence on politics.
RepresentUs plans to spend $200,000 backing Measure 1 in North Dakota, according to its political director, Dan Krassner.
“Voters are taking matters into their own hands,” Krassner said. “The hope from political reformers and the people is this will be a record year for political reform victories that will serve as a mandate for Congress.”
RepresentUs says it’s already getting results. The group claims nine wins already this year — including in Ohio, where voters in May approved the creation of a bipartisan commission to redraw political districts — and 12 in 2016.
But the North Dakota effort has drawn an unlikely coalition of opponents.
The Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the North Dakota Petroleum Council, whose members include energy giants Halliburton and ConocoPhillips, the American Civil Liberties Union and the North Dakota Catholic Conference all have announced opposition to a provision that requires anyone spending more than $200 on lobbying or government influence to disclose their funding sources.
At the federal level, individuals who spend at least 20 percent of their time trying to influence Congress or high-level government officials must publicly disclose who they’re lobbying for and what they’re being paid. But there’s no limit on what companies or groups can spend, and a lot of activity — including grass-roots organizing and media campaigns — doesn’t meet that threshold.
The ACLU says the North Dakota proposal would violate the First Amendment by restricting political advocacy. Catholic churches, fearing they might be forced to reveal their donations, are sending emails to parishioners urging them to oppose the measure.
“Churches would have to reveal the name of every member who contributed to the church, even if only a small fraction of the church's total budget was used to ‘influence government action,’” Catholic Conference executive director Christopher Dodson said in a statement.
A business alliance — North Dakotans for Sound Government — plans to spend between $250,000 and $500,000 before Election Day to defeat the measure.
“These are companies that have invested millions, billions in North Dakota; they pay thousands and millions of dollars in taxes,” said the group’s chairman, Geoff Simon. “All our donors are expecting back is good government. We’ve got it now, and we’re trying to keep it.”
North Dakota’s corporate establishment has accused the pro-Measure 1 activists of hypocrisy for relying on Hollywood money to wage political war in a red state, noting that donors to the reform cause include entertainers Christina Applegate, Steve Carell and Judd Apatow.
“Ours may be individual donors who may be on the East and West Coasts, but they don’t expect anything in return for their money,” Butcher said of the celebrities. “The money that’s being brought in to defeat our measure — they’re going to make sure there’s something they get in return.”
The Glover Park Group and BGR Group are dropping Saudi Arabia as a client, as K Street tries to figure out whether it’s still worth lobbying for the kingdom amid allegations that it murdered a journalist in Turkey.
They are the second and third lobbying firms to sever ties with the country. The Harbour Group said last week it would drop Saudi Arabia as a client.
Glover Park Group “determined that they were no longer able to continue their representation of the government,” according to the person familiar with the matter. The firm declined to comment. A spokesperson for BGR Group told POLITICO the firm “is no longer working for Saudi Arabia.”
News of Glover Park Group’s decision to drop Saudi Arabia was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Lobbying shops that represent Saudi Arabia, including prominent firms in Washington, are weighing whether to continue representing the country. President Donald Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Monday as he and members of Congress evaluate how to respond to the situation.
According to Glover Park Group’s latest filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia was paying the firm $150,000 a month for “providing government relations and communications counsel and support … in connection with general foreign policy and related matters, as well as public policy and media-related activities of interest.” The contract had been set to expire at the end of the year.
BGR Group received a monthly fee of $80,000 for providing “public relations and media management services.” Its contract was set to expire in February.
The Saudi Embassy did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington canceled a reception to celebrate the 88th Saudi National Day, amid mounting scrutiny over the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered in a Saudi consulate.
"The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia thanks you for your interest in the celebration of the 88th Saudi National Day. Please be advised that the reception for the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, October 18, from 6:00 pm-8:00 pm has been cancelled," the embassy said in an email sent to potential attendees on Monday.
The reception was due to commemorate the unification of the country as a kingdom.
Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of the crown prince. President Donald Trump on Monday said he talked with Saudi King Salman and reiterated his denials, while also suggesting that "rogue killers" could be responsible.
Trump also dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Salman in Saudi Arabia.
President Donald Trump on Monday suggested that "rogue killers" may be responsible for the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while also dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.
"We are going to leave nothing uncovered," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. "With that being said, the king firmly denied any knowledge of it. ... I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows? We'll try getting to the bottom of it very soon. His was a flat denial."
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had been living in exile in the United States, was last seen in Istanbul on Oct. 2, entering the Saudi Consulate to obtain an official document required for marriage. Khashoggi has been critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other members of the royal family.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement that Pompeo will travel to Riyadh on Monday. "The President has called for a prompt and open investigation into the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi," she said in the statement.
Trump has swung between offering harsh words for Saudi leaders and apparently accepting their denials of responsibility. Trump and his aides, including son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have cultivated closer ties with the Saudi royal family and have announced billions of dollars in arms sales.
The president on Monday morning tweeted that he had spoken with the king, whodenied having any knowledge about Khashoggi's disappearance.
"Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen,'" the president wrote in a tweet. "He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!"
In an interview on "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday, Trump warned that there would be "severe punishment" over Khoshoggi's disapperance.
The president also noted in the interview what the U.S. "would be very upset and angry" if Saudi Arabia ordered Khoshoggi to be murdered.
"As of this moment, they deny it and they deny it vehemently," Trump said of Saudi Arabia. "Could it be them? Yes.”
A defense contractor pressing for a U.S.-Saudi weapons sale visited Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker’s office recently. And as the Tennessee Republican tells it, he gave the man a stark warning: “Look. Do not push this.”
“If it came to a vote in the Senate, it would fail," Corker recalled telling the contractor about the chance that lawmakers would halt the Saudi arms deal he was pursuing. That was before journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Middle Eastern kingdom’s government, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Now Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder is pushing Capitol Hill's long-simmering frustrations with Riyadh to a boiling point. Whether that fury manifests in a formal rejection of a U.S.-Saudi weapons sale remains to be seen. But interviews with more than a dozen senators reveal bipartisan pressure to hold the Saudis accountable — while the White House tries to keep a lukewarm distance from the case.
Weapons sales “are certainly going to be a huge concern if” the Saudis are proven responsible for Khashoggi’s vanishing, said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a member of GOP leadership.
“Saudi Arabia needs to clear this up immediately,” Gardner said. “Obviously, there’s a way that this can end very badly, and that is if Saudi is indeed responsible for this — as, at least reports I am seeing, would point to that direction.”
That aisle-crossing anger over Khashoggi is again testing GOP willingness to break from President Donald Trump, whose administration has urged an investigation by the Saudi government that’s believed to be culpable. Trump has shown little interest in punishing Saudi Arabia, saying that Khashoggi “is not a United States citizen” and “I don’t like the concept” of halting arms sales after vowing to “get to the bottom of” what happened to the journalist.
“We’ve got some people who are pretty animated by all of this. And some probably less so. We’ve got extremes,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, who said he was waiting for more information before taking a firm position on arms sales.
“It’s important to have allies in that part of the world,” Thune added. “But I do think there are lines that get crossed from time to time that require a response.”
The last time the Senate took up a portion of Trump’s $110 billion Saudi arms deal, the sale survived on a 47-53 vote. Two of the five Democrats who voted against blocking that sale said in interviews this week that they could reexamine that stance based on the outcome of an investigation into Khashoggi’s apparent abduction.
“I certainly think if it’s determined that the leader of Saudi Arabia had this journalist murdered, that everything should be on the table in terms of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said.
One Republican senator who voted against blocking arms sales last year after wrestling with the decision also raised an alarm about Khashoggi, insisting on anonymity to be candid: “Something like this could be a tipping point for me and for others.”
Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, was last seen entering the government’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2. Saudi officials have denied any improper behavior, claiming that he left the building later that day. But Turkish intelligence sources have alleged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate in a Saudi-government-approved assassination.
Corker said this week that available evidence points to Saudi responsibility for Khashoggi’s vanishing and alleged murder. He led 21 fellow senators in both parties this week in asking Trump for a U.S. inquiry into Khashoggi's death that could end in sanctions, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that "we don’t know the facts of this case just yet. So I think they’re getting ahead of themselves at this point."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and top Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel of New York urged Trump on Friday to take several steps in response to Khashoggi's disappearance, including a review of Saudi nationals holding diplomatic and consular credentials in the United States. "[M]urder and other blatant violations of international norms and agreements cannot be done with impunity," they told Trump.
A joint Saudi-Turkish investigation is underway, and multiple U.S. companies have pulled out of a major investment conference set for later this month in Riyadh. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, told CNBC Friday that he still plans to attend and described the Saudis as “a very good partner.” And Trump told reporters on Friday that he would discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance with the Saudi king “pretty soon.”
Some of his fellow Republicans, though, are reassessing Washington’s long-held view of Riyadh as a staunch U.S. ally. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who voted to block the arms deal last year, asked Mnuchin to bow out and avoid "the erroneous and counterproductive message that all is well."
“We need to figure out what the hell went on and get to the bottom of it,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who admitted that her opinion on Saudi Arabia has changed for the worse after Khashoggi disappeared.
Ernst added that “I’ll reserve any discussion of” blocking arms sales “until we get more facts,” but that “something needs to be done.”
U.S.-Saudi politics don’t easily fall along party lines, given that the kingdom has aligned against Washington’s longtime antagonists in Iran. But tension over Saudi policy is rising in both parties thanks to U.S. support for the Saudi-backed side in the violent Yemeni war – creating a harsh climate for arms sales that Corker recalled telling the defense contractor about even before Khashoggi went missing.
As the journalist’s disappearances draws global attention to Saudi Arabia, some top Democrats are calling for a significant reordering of America’s relationship with Riyadh.
“I know what I’m thinking: I’m thinking we’ve got to cut off the assistance from going from Saudi Arabia to Yemen,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “People are fed up with the Saudis. If we don’t make it clear to them, shame on us.”
“This is a brazen assault on the freedom of the press and a slap in the face to the United States, if this murder occurred, as it seems it did,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who’s planning to again partner with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on forcing a vote on the next Saudi arms sale that’s formally sent to Congress.
That sale could sit in limbo for longer than expected, given the informal hold imposed in June by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democrats’ senior member on the Foreign Relations panel. Once any new Saudi arms deal comes before Congress, any measure disapproving of it would get privileged consideration in the Senate but not in the House. That could put more pressure on the Trump administration to resolve lawmakers’ concerns with U.S.-Saudi ties while Republicans still control the House, giving them power to slow down any blockade attempts.
“Obviously, we’ve got common adversaries and common interests. But there are limits,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who helped write a bill that allowed 9/11 survivors to proceed with a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia. “We just don’t know the facts yet. We know what the allegations are … we should not jump to conclusions.”
And even if congressional outrage over Khashoggi fades amid a crush of campaign-season energy, the GOP has a healthy number of skeptics about using weapons sales to broadcast discontent with Saudi Arabia.
“Everybody’s concerned about it. It’s like a mystery novel or spy thriller,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Intelligence chairman. But blocking arms deals “would be a mistake at this point,” Roberts said. “This is the crown prince, he’s new: apparently a pretty rough customer.”
Senators in both parties are gearing up to force a vote on scrapping U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid mounting frustration over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Riyadh government.
As Republicans and Democrats raise alarms over Khashoggi, whose vanishing and potential killing have been linked to the Saudis by Turkish intelligence, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Thursday that he plans to introduce a resolution of disapproval once Congress is notified of the next potential U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.
Murphy and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), his ally in pushback against the arms sales, fell four votes short of blocking a Saudi weapons deal last year — and Murphy predicted that they would fare better this time around.
“I don’t think that a military sale could pass the Senate today. I don’t think that it could pass the House,” Murphy told reporters.
Murphy and 21 other senators in both parties aligned on Wednesday to urge President Donald Trump to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance and sanction those responsible — even if they hailed from the Saudi government. Murphy said, however, that he’s “very doubtful” that the Trump administration would slap on sanctions.
Trump said Thursday that he’s not interested in stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia, $110 billion of which he rolled out during a trip to the kingdom last year. “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters, adding that the money from sales the U.S. lost out on would likely would flow to China or Russia instead.
However, any move that senators can make against Saudi arms deals couldn’t begin until Congress is formally notified of the next sale, which Murphy said he expects within the next 30 to 60 days. And that clock won’t start until an informal hold by the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, is relinquished.
A forthcoming portion of the U.S.-Saudi arms deal has “already been held for some time,” Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Thursday.
Menendez said Thursday that he plans to keep his informal hold going for as long as possible.
“Look, if the administration wants to blow the hold and violate the traditional norms, then they face the consequences of getting more resolutions of disapproval on the floor,” Menendez said in an interview. “And as it relates to the Saudis at this time, I think they’d better calculate. Because their calculation may be wrong, that they can sustain a vote. I think they might lose such a vote.”
Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week before he vanished, and subsequent Turkish intelligence has pointed to Saudi culpability in his disappearance. While the Saudi government has denied any responsibility in Khashoggi’s possible killing, and Trump has described relations with the longtime U.S. ally as “excellent,” Corker warned that all the evidence he’s seen suggests the Saudis killed the journalist.
What the matter “feels like to me is Saudi Arabia is responsible, and that [Khashoggi] is dead. I hope he’s alive,” Corker said. “And it’s possible that some other country was involved. But everything points to Saudi Arabia today.”