GOP Eager To Exploit Dem Court-Packing Fight

Republicans are seizing on the Democratic fight over expanding the Supreme Court as they look for leverage in the 2020 White House fight.

The intra-party debate is seen by Republicans as a political gift that could pay dividends after several presidential candidates signaled they are open to adding justices to the bench or imposing term limits.

GOP strategists and conservative activists say the progressive push to expand the Supreme Court fits nicely into the broader Republican narrative about Democrats swinging too far to the left. And it’s an issue they view as a political boon.

Long considered a fringe idea, reforming the nation’s highest court has vaulted into the spotlight with the backing of progressive outside groups and high-profile leaders like former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served during the Obama administration.

GOP lawmakers are quickly moving to weaponize the fight by introducing legislation that would force Democrats to go on the record on a constitutional amendment to keep the number of Supreme Court justices at nine.

An amendment is likely to go nowhere in the Democrat-controlled House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn't weighed in on the current Supreme Court fight, or the prospect that he would bring legislation on the issue up for a vote. He previously dismissed talk of expanding the courts as Democrats “scrounging through the ash-heap of American history” for their ideas.

“McConnell is very savvy about these sorts of things and he knows … that he wants to have all this stuff documented before Democrats have a nominee,” said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist.

O'Connell added that forcing Democratic senators to vote on a constitutional amendment, even though it has little chance of being enacted, would allow Republicans to help define the Democratic Party before they are able to unite behind a 2020 strategy.

“A lot of this stuff that is being thrown around the Democratic primary, the Republicans want to capture now regardless of who the nominee is because the nominee will then try to pivot, duck, dodge and dive this stuff,” he said. “If Trump and the Republicans can define the Democrats before the Democrats have a nominee that’s how they’re going to win this race.”

Read more from Jordain Carney at The Hill

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Trump's Golan Heights Tweet May Further Complicate Situation, Escalate Tensions, Experts Say

U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that it is time for the United States to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in 1967.

Trump's unexpected announcement, which came on the heels of controversies over U.S. planned withdrawal from Syria, may further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the region, U.S. experts said.

In a surprise tweet, Trump said that "after 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!"

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has asserted that the Israeli presence in the Golan is "thwarting" Iran's ambitions of expansion, tweeted that "at a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights."

U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt also tweeted that Trump's move is "another bold, courageous, and historic decision" and the U.S. president "understands Israel and its security needs."

Israel seized the Golan Heights in the third Middle East war in 1967 and annexed it in the 1980s, but the international community never recognized the move.

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, told Xinhua that Trump is "one of the few people who's pretty outwardly pro-Israel," and "when it comes to Israel, Trump wants to come up with a solution there."

"And remember, he's the first person after five presidents who said we were going to move the embassy (to Jerusalem), who actually moved the embassy. For him, this is a long term project," he said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Trump's McCain Comments: Has Nothing To Gain By This, Should Be On The Economy 24/7, Fmr. McCain Campaign Director Says

Former McCain campaign director Ford O'Connell on concerns President Trump's comments on the late Sen. John McCain will distract from his economic successes.

Watch the video at Fox Business

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Trump Already Amassing Huge War Chest For 2020 – Challengers Beware

While President Trump is facing murmurs of a primary challenge – as well as a massive field of Democratic candidates jockeying to take him on – the incumbent president enters the 2020 melee with an undeniable advantage: a war chest that would be the envy of any modern president.

Unlike most incumbents, Trump started his re-election bid on day one of his presidency. He filed papers with the Federal Election Commission within hours of being inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. Many saw it as a comical – albeit in character – step for the audacious Trump. Yet, by doing so he was able to raise huge sums of money four years before the election.

According to recent FEC data, the Trump campaign has raised over $67 million from 2017 to 2018, with nearly $20 million on hand. Combined with the hauls from two major joint fundraising groups – Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee – the president has raised over $130 million as of the end of 2018, with over $35 million on hand.

By contrast, former President Barack Obama had raised only $4 million in the first two years of his presidency and didn’t file for re-election until April 2011. Former President George W. Bush had raised $3 million by the end of his second year in office and filed for re-election in May 2003.

Despite the fundraising totals, the president still faces serious election challenges. His approval rating has remained stagnant in the mid-40s, with the latest Fox News poll showing him at 46 percent. The 2018 midterms had historically high participation and enthusiasm on the Democratic side, which helped the party flip the House.

These vulnerabilities have led some Republicans to think there’s room for a primary challenge. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland has done several interviews insinuating that he’s interested in a run.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, meanwhile, has already formed an exploratory committee, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that Republicans deserve “a choice” in 2020.

But Trump’s cash would stand as a sizeable deterrent to any Republican hoping to start a primary bid from scratch – while going up against not only his war chest but the GOP establishment.

Analysts say while there are obvious vulnerabilities for Trump, particularly if Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team concludes their investigation with incriminating evidence, they do not see a clear way forward for a primary challenger.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who also chairs the conservative CivicForumPac, said the party is committed to win and they see Trump as their path to victory.

“There are two chances that Trump won’t be the nominee -- and they are slim and none and slim has already left town,” said O’Connell.

Democrats, of course, hope none of this dissuades primary challengers from jumping in.

Read more from Sally Persons at Fox News

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Republican Strategist Predicts His 2020 Dem Primary Final Four

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said he thinks the 2020 Democratic primary will come down to four candidates.

“I’m sure I’m going to take heat for this several months for now,” O’Connell told Hill.TV during an interview on “Rising" as he unveiled his Democratic final four.

“I think when it comes to the Democratic Primary you’re actually down to four people and that is the three B’s and Kamala Harris: Biden, Beto and Bernie,” he continued.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) have all announced their 2020 bids. Former Vice President Joe Biden has not jumped into the race officially but is telling supporters he will get in.

O’Rourke entered the race last week and is already sparking controversy after he said in a Vanity Fair interview that he was “just born to be in it.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), another 2020 contender, referenced the line during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” while on the campaign trail in Iowa.

“I have a lot of respect for Beto and it’s great to have some Texas in this race,” Klobuchar told NBC host Chuck Todd. “I wasn’t born to run for office, but I am running.”

O’Connell told Hill.TV that O'Rourke nevertheless poses a "true threat" to some left-leaning candidates like Sanders.

"Clearly Bernie sees Beto as a true threat, they seem to be fighting over the same turf based on how I’m watching the opposition research within the Democratic Party," he said.

While O’Connell said the Texan shouldn’t be written off as a contender, he predicted that O'Rourke would instead likely be the running mate of the eventual nominee. 

“When someone raises $6 million in 24 hours, I can’t sneeze my nose at them,” the strategist said, referring to O’Rourke’s massive fundraising haul that came from more than 128,000 donors.

“I see Beto going off most likely being the VP nominee when you start looking at the age difference,” he added.

Watch the video and read more from Tess Bonn at The Hill

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McCain Campaign Aide: He Would Be 'Very Happy' To See Trump 'Still Pissed Off At Him'

A former campaign aide to John McCain said Wednesday that the late GOP senator would be “very happy” to see that President Trump is “still pissed at him” amid the president’s renewed attacks.

“For me, I stay out of it,” Ford O’Connell, who served as McCain’s director of rural outreach for his 2008 presidential campaign, told Hill.TV. “But I also understand where Trump is coming from — I don’t always agree with his methodology, but I do see why he’s so hacked off at John McCain.”

“John McCain did not like Trump and he made it known and I’m sure that John McCain in his death would be very happy to see Trump is still pissed off at him,” O’Connell added.

Trump in recent days has renewed his attacks on McCain, who died in August following a battle with brain cancer.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, the president took a swipe at the late GOP senator, citing a dossier of unverified allegations about Trump's ties to Russia. Trump accused him without evidence of sending the dossier to media organizations "to have it printed BEFORE the election."

Still, O’Connell argued that despite the two figures' rocky political relationship, they have both made the party stronger in their own ways.

“I’m one of the few people who’s a John McCain supported and a Donald Trump supporter, and a lot people don’t see that squaring — I disagree,” he told Hill.TV.

“John McCain taught the Republican Party honor, Donald Trump taught us how to win.”

Watch the video and read more from Tess Bonn at The Hill

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Maryland Moderate Larry Hogan Is No Threat To Trump, Say Analysts

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he hasn’t decided whether to challenge President Trump in 2020, but he might just want to sit this one out, according to political analysts and poll data.

Hogan, 62, is extremely popular in his traditionally blue state. He boasts a 69 percent approval rating, and he won re-election in 2018 by double digits over challenger Ben Jealous.

His unique success in Maryland and his public opposition to the president has led to intense speculation about his political future and whether he could pose a serious threat to Trump, whose own approval ratings have remained tepid throughout his presidency. Hogan has fueled those talks by publicly mulling a primary challenge.

Barring a blockbuster report from Mueller, Hogan would appear to stand no chance against Trump.

History is on Trump's side. Republican incumbents have won three out of every four elections, Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, told the Washington Examiner.

Trump is also wildly popular with his core supporters, and if he were somehow dropped from the ticket, O’Connell said, many of those voters would stay home in November 2020.

“And nobody has the type of enthusiasm necessary among the Republican base,” O’Connell said. “It’s about intensity. Donald Trump gives you the best chance to win the White House.”

Read more from Susan Ferrechio at the Washington Examiner

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Trump, Bolsonaro Look To Reset Ties

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday met his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro at the White House, looking to reset bilateral ties with the country, a major regional player in South America.

However, domestic and regional challenges still haunt the two leaders' efforts to rekindle the relationship, experts said.

Before their bilateral meeting, Trump told the media at the White House that he may support Brazil joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The United States reportedly would grant Brazil status as a major non-NATO ally, which will give Brazil preferential access to the purchase of U.S. military equipment and technology.

The U.S. president also said he supports Brazil joining the OECD.

A joint statement by Trump and Bolsonaro issued later on Tuesday by the White House also confirmed that Trump had announced his intent to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally, and "noted his support for Brazil initiating the accession procedure to become a full member of the OECD."

Ford O'Connell, Republican Strategist and TV news personality, told Xinhua that among the reasons for giving Brazil the status is Trump's concern about Venezuela.

"But the president of Brazil has also shown himself to be very similar to Trump, pro-business and having a capitalistic platform," he said.

"Also Brazil's got over 200 million people. It's a very large country. You've got two countries that back into Venezuela -- Colombia and Brazil -- and you want both of them on your side," he added.

Furthermore, Brazil's agenda on South America and its overall view on issues ranging from illegal immigration to capitalism "pretty much align with Trump's vision," he said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Republicans Up For Reelection Fear Daylight With Trump

Senate Republicans who are up for reelection next year are sticking as close to President Trump as possible, especially on his signature issue of illegal immigration and border security.

Even as some Senate Republicans broke with Trump over his emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border, most of those running for reelection next year backed Trump — a sign of their fear of Trump-fueled primary opponents.

Only one of the 12 Republicans who voted on Thursday for a Democratic-backed resolution overturning Trump’s emergency declaration is up for reelection next year: Sen. Susan Collins (R), who has a well-established reputation in Maine as an independent.

Republicans running in other swing states who arguably might have benefited from distancing themselves from Trump, such as Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.), stuck with him.

GOP strategists said Republicans have little choice given the potency of the issue of border security with Trump’s base.

A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of Republicans said they would be more likely to vote for a senator or representative who supports Trump’s national emergency declaration. 

“The reason why you had Gardner and Tillis do this is because they knew that the process/principle argument wasn’t going to fly with the Republican base when this is their No. 1 issue. They want execution, and they don’t care how you get it,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. 

O’Connell said Gardner and Tillis, who have two of the most competitive races next year, need to worry about fending off primary challenges and turning out conservative voters in the election, when Democratic turnout is expected to be high. 

“Even though they want to fend off primary challenges, this is also a situation where, in the general election, if they cross Trump on this issue, Trump could win their state and they could still lose,” he added. “In a lot of these races, it’s going to be two-point races, whether it’s Gardner or it’s Tillis.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is in a slightly different position.

“Obviously Sasse is more concerned about a primary challenge,” O’Connell said, noting that Trump won Nebraska by 20 points in 2016. Sasse describes himself as a “constitutional conservative” and warned in a statement to National Review magazine in February that Trump’s emergency border declaration undermined the Constitution’s separation of powers.  

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Voters In 2020 Battleground State Struggle To Excuse Trump's Hiring Of Illegal Immigrants

President Trump’s supporters are shocked and disappointed that his business empire employed illegal immigrants, even while he was in the Oval Office and calling on Congress for a crackdown.

In interviews with Trump voters throughout Pennsylvania, the president got the benefit of the doubt. His supporters said he either was not responsible for front-line hiring decisions or that employing illegal immigrants is a common and near-unavoidable practice in America’s hospitality and construction industries.

About 11 million illegal immigrants are living in the U.S. and 7.8 million have jobs, accounting for nearly 5 percent of the civilian workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the U.S., illegal immigrants make up roughly 53 percent of farmhands, 15 percent of construction labor, and 9 percent of manufacturing and service industry workers, according to Pew.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist closely allied with the White House, said the criticism will ring hollow because it comes from Democrats pushing an open-borders agenda of sanctuary cities and voting rights for illegals.

“Obviously the Democrats are going to throw the kitchen sink at him and try to dislodge any support he has in the Rust Belt. That’s what they see as their path to victory,” he said.

Mr. O’Connell said the president can easily bat away the criticism by saying, “As a businessman, I took advantage of a rigged system that works against the American worker. As president, my foremost concern is the American worker, and that’s why I’m working to fix our broken system.

“The problem is the broken system,” he said.

Read more from S.A. Miller at The Washington Times

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