Trump Demoralizes His Own Team With Dizzying Russian Moves

President Trump’s bungled effort to warm up to Russian President Vladimir Putin has driven a wedge between him and his own administration as it seeks to crack down on Moscow’s hostile activities.

Rank-and-file intelligence and national security officials feel demoralized by the president’s failure to publicly call out Putin for interfering in the 2016 election, according to sources inside and outside the federal government.

One U.S. official who formerly worked as an intelligence analyst said the general attitude within government is that “it does damage to our reputation globally” when Trump refuses to acknowledge the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 contest.

But the official said there is “strong faith that our intel folks will continue to do their job, regardless of the undermining.”

The dizzying and often contradictory array of statements from the president and White House have also posed a dilemma for handpicked aides and advisers who are hawkish on Russia: remain on board or resign.

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray declined to shoot down reports he has considered stepping down.

Even the president’s supporters admit that his summit with Putin in Helsinki was a missed opportunity to focus on his administration’s efforts to punish Moscow for its interventions in Ukraine and Syria and its efforts to meddle in U.S. political affairs.

“He could have avoided all of this if he said literally 1 1/2 sentences in Helsinki,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “But he didn’t do that.”

“Look, he has got to stick to one thing, and that is, ‘I have been tougher on Russia than Obama and Bush,’ ” O’Connell said.

Read more from Jordan Fabian and Morgan Chalfant at The Hill

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Two Big Reasons Trump Will Bounce Back From The Putin Mishap

If President Trump had simply, publicly stated in Finland, “I pressed Putin on it. The election meddling happened under my predecessor’s watch and no votes were changed. If it happens in the future, there will be a price to pay,” the entire Helsinki kerfuffle could have been avoided, regardless of what was said by the two world leaders behind closed doors. It was certainly a missed opportunity for Trump, and as such, he has had to clarify his position on multiple occasions since the ill-fated press conference.

In spite of all the current furor, Trump will ultimately rebound, as he always does, from this misstep for two reasons.

First, when he makes a political miscalculation, you can usually count on his opponents becoming so unhinged and blinded by their hatred for the president that the White House is able to flip the script so that the bullseye is no longer on Trump’s back, but affixed squarely on his detractors.

This time is no different. Within 96 hours of Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, John Brennan, a former Obama-era CIA director, labeled the president’s actions as “nothing short of treasonous;” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., seemed to promote a military coup to remove Trump from office; and former Watergate prosecutor and Carter aide Jill Wine-Banks compared the president’s comments to the Sept. 11 attacks, Pearl Harbor, and Kristallnacht. You can’t make this stuff up. These hyperbolic responses make Trump’s initial statements seem almost quaint by comparison. Further, the folks uttering these words are well-known public figures, not exactly your run-of-the-mill loons from the darkest corners of the Internet.

Second, luckily for Trump, there is a difference between words and actions. Action-wise, Trump has been tougher on Russia than former President Barack Obama or even perhaps former President George W. Bush. From the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats following the poisoning in Britain, to the countless sanctions levied on Russia, to the sale of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, to increased U.S. oil production, to calls for more NATO defense spending, Trump has been extremely tough on Russia. To say otherwise just isn’t true.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at the Washington Examiner

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GOP Looks To Blunt Dems’ Attacks On Rising Premiums

House Republicans are trying to blunt Democratic attacks over rising ObamaCare premiums, an issue that’s poised to play a key role in the November midterm elections.

The House is planning to vote next week on several GOP-backed health-care measures that supporters say will lower premiums, and passing them could give a boost to some vulnerable Republicans.

Blaming Republicans for rising premiums is a top priority for Democrats heading into the midterms, and Republicans do not want to leave the attacks unanswered.

The bills slated for votes in the House next week include measures expanding health savings accounts, a tax-free way for people to save for health-care costs. Sources say other measures include a repeal of ObamaCare’s medical device tax and a delay of the health insurance tax, which some members of both parties have criticized for driving up premiums.

Democrats say passing these bills doesn’t come anywhere close to repairing the damage Republicans have done, namely repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate for coverage, a move that the Congressional Budget Office says will raise premiums by 10 percent on average next year.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said “it’s clear that the Democrats see an advantage here over voter anxiety over rising health-care costs.”

He advised Republicans to focus instead on criticizing Democratic calls for single-payer health care.

Read more from Peter Sullivan at The Hill

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Trump Strikes Back After Criticism Of Helsinki Summit With Putin

President Trump attempted Tuesday to douse the political firestorm over his kid-glove treatment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Republican leaders were already preparing an end run around the White House with legislation to stop Moscow from meddling in U.S. elections again.

Mr. Trump reaffirmed his full faith in U.S. intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Moscow tampered with the 2016 presidential election. He insisted that he misspoke when he raised doubts about his views on the Russian cyberattack on the election while standing beside Mr. Putin after their meeting Monday in Helsinki.

He misspoke, the president said Tuesday, when he said in front of the microphones a day earlier that he “didn’t know why it would be” Russia that interfered.

What he meant to say, he said, was: “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

The president also vowed to stop Russia or any other country from cyberattacks on this year’s midterm elections.

“Unlike previous administrations, my administration has and will continue to move aggressively to repeal [it], and we will stop it, we will repel it — any efforts to interfere in our elections,” he said. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.”

For the president’s base, his performance in Helsinki threatened to dent his image as a fearless bare-knuckle negotiator.

“It hurts his brand with his supporters,” said Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell, who predicted Mr. Trump would rebound. “He came in as a law-and-order guy, and in that respect that’s what he has to repair.”

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

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Trump's Putin Reversal Not Enough For Dems, Some GOP

President Trump’s attempt to walk back his expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of election interference drew mixed reviews as the White House tried to move past the explosive joint appearance of Trump and Putin in Helsinki this week.

Trump’s explanation that he misspoke was welcomed by some GOP lawmakers eager to move the party past one of the most controversial events of Trump’s presidency. But others, questioning Trump’s sincerity, were not quelled.

Experts said Trump would not have been able to put the episode behind him without fully endorsing intelligence officials’ assessment that Russia engaged in an election interference campaign, and proving that he can be tough on Putin.

“People wanted to hear him say he backed the conclusion of the nation’s intelligence community and that he thinks the Russians meddled in the 2016 election,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

For some Republican lawmakers, Trump’s pivot yesterday was welcome.

“I’m just glad he clarified it,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I can’t read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time. Suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker, what really matters is what we do moving forward.”

But for Democrats and some Republicans, the change in tone was not only insufficient, but predictable.

Democrats accused Trump of political gaslighting.

Read more from Kimberly Atkins at the Boston Herald

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Trump's Supreme Court Pick Tests Vulnerable Senate Democrats

It may soon become difficult to determine who sits in the hotter seat: U.S. President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or Senate Democrats from conservative states who must decide whether they are jeopardizing their political careers by opposing him.

Trump, a Republican, named Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge from Washington, to the highest court on Monday, setting the stage for a political fight that could consume the weeks before the congressional elections in November.

Conservative advocacy groups are ready to pressure five moderate Senate Democrats to support Kavanaugh, all of whom are up for reelection in states that overwhelmingly backed Trump in his presidential run. They argue that not doing so will damage the senators politically.

The Senate must confirm Trump’s nominee by a majority vote. The president’s party holds 51 of 100 Senate seats, so liberal groups will apply pressure on those same Democrats to hold firm against Kavanaugh because the loss of only a Republican vote or two could sink the nomination.

“They are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Three of those largely rural state Democrats, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted to confirm Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last year. All three have touted their ability to work with Trump on various issues.

The other two Democrats in so-called red states that lean Republican, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, are also at risk of losing their seats.

Read more from James Oliphant at Reuters

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Republicans Are Running Out Of Time

Republicans are running out of time. Today they control all of Washington. Come January, they may be confined to the White House.

The loss of even just the House of Representatives after the midterm elections in November, the likeliest scenario, would put Democrats in charge of originating tax and spending bills as well as initiating the impeachment process. If the Senate falls, it will stymie President Trump’s ability to fill executive and judicial branch vacancies.

Either chamber falling under Democratic control also means an uptick in congressional hearings about various scandals involving the Trump administration and its officials. Time devoted to Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election or potential violations of the emoluments clause will mean less time spent on Trump’s legislative priorities. And investigations targeting the administration will be covered more sympathetically than committee hearings on Whitewater or Benghazi. Additionally, lawmakers may augment or accelerate investigations that are already underway.

As the days tick down to the November election, incumbents on Capitol Hill facing tough races will be increasingly reluctant to take hard votes. Note how little Democrats did with majorities much bigger than the ones the Republicans have now after passing Obamacare — which by itself arguably cost them the House. At-risk Republicans may decide controversial votes to cut corporate tax rates and (mostly unsuccessfully) scuttle Obamacare are enough for them to contend with on the campaign trail.

Still, Republicans need to pass a dozen appropriations bills with the fiscal year set to end Sept. 30. In the Senate, they will need some Democratic votes to do so because of the filibuster rules. The more Republican defections there are, the more Democrats will be required. Otherwise they risk a partial government shutdown just weeks out from the election.

“The second Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, the agenda on Capitol Hill became about one thing — confirming a new justice to the bench,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “And given the slim majority Republicans have in the Senate, both parties will have a laser-like focus on the confirmation process, which will likely last through September. Beyond that Republicans will be counting on President Trump to continue to deliver on his campaign promises, but that will likely be relegated to executive orders and the foreign policy front.”

That means both pushing through must-pass legislation under the wire as well as getting congressional Democrats on record on issues that will rally the GOP base ahead of November.

Read more from W. James Antle III at the Washington Examiner

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Elizabeth Warren’s Foreign Fourth Of July Trip Seen As Bid To Bolster 2020 Presidential Bona Fides

Bay State U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spent another Fourth of July visiting troops overseas as she bolsters her foreign policy credentials — a crucial step if she plans on running for president in 2020.

Warren left Iraq and Kuwait yesterday after visiting with military personnel, foreign service officers and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In a series of tweets, Warren described her trip, praising U.S. troops, but also called for more global effort to help maintain Iraq’s security.

Last year, Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016, spent the Fourth of July on a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates along with a bipartisan congressional delegation. And earlier this year, she visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone on a trip to South Korea, Japan and China.

The trips are part of a pattern to provide Warren foreign policy experience that would be necessary for a presidential run, said Republican political consultant Ford O’Connell.

“Obviously she’s trying to put together her foreign policy portfolio in case there’s a opening for her to get the Democratic nomination for the presidency,” O’Connell said. “It’s a smart play.”

Warren’s image is more tied to domestic issues, particularly the economy, O’Connell said, so the trips give her a showcase in an arena she needs to demonstrate her bona fides.

“It’s not something she has a passionate stance on already, like consumer protection, where she feels a certain way,” O’Connell said. “If she runs for president she needs to get her ducks in a row on foreign policy.”

And it gives her an advantage over some — but not all — potential Democratic challengers, O’Connell said.

“Bernie (Sanders) is not that tested on foreign policy ... it gives her a leg up on (California) Sen. Kamala Harris,” O’Connell said. “On the other hand, Joe Biden was vice president ... he has that gravitas.”

Read more from Dan Atkinson at the Boston Herald

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'Abolish ICE' Is A Political Winner — For Donald Trump

When President Trump makes a political miscalculation, you can usually count on his opponents becoming so unhinged that the White House is able to flip the script so that the bullseye is no longer on the president’s back but affixed squarely on his detractors. That is precisely what is happening as some Democrats around the country push to “abolish ICE,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As The Hill recently reported, the call to abolish ICE is quickly being adopted by Democrats who want to see their stars rise in the 2020 presidential election. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif) have all called for the agency to be abolished or to “start from scratch.” Another likely 2020 hopeful, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), joined the chorus too.  

Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy calls for the prosecution of illegal border crossers, where previously “catch and release” was the standard process. Due to inadequacies with the current law on the books, a side effect was that parents who illegally crossed the border were separated from their alleged children. After several weeks of the policy, it was clear that the practice of separating parents and children was rapidly becoming an optics nightmare. The Trump administration has since ceased the practice of separating children from their parents and will now “detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry.”

Democrats, predictably, went straight to the Nazi/fascist/inhumane playbook. However, since Trump signed his executive order ending the separation of families, Democrats have doubled down. Their continued badgering of the president and his administration on the issue of illegal immigration turns out to be vastly out-of-touch with the majority of American voters. And the campaign by some on the left to “abolish ICE,” the government entity tasked with enforcing immigration law inside the country is a political loser.

According to the latest Harvard-Harris poll, 70 percent of registered voters, including 69 percent of independents, think we need stricter enforcement of the country’s immigration laws. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said ICE should not be abolished. Further, the survey found tremendous opposition, 84 percent, to the sanctuary city practice of not notifying immigration authorities when an an illegal immigrant has been arrested for crimes and taken into custody.

Trump seems to have landed on a political winner with his “four pillars” immigration policy. This proposal, which would provide work permits and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here as children, otherwise known as DACA beneficiaries, in exchange for ending the diversity visa lottery program, funding barrier security on the U.S. southern border, and limiting chain-migration in favor of merit-based, is supported by 63 percent of registered voters.

The takeaway for an increasing number of Americans is that the Democratic Party is insincere about enforcing our immigration laws or borders. When you strip away the hyperbole and hysteria, the campaign against ICE is, at its core, a campaign for open borders. It is so far outside of mainstream thinking, it not only plays right into the hands of Donald Trump, but it also provides Congressional Republicans with a much needed counter-balance to Democratic enthusiasm four months out from the 2018 midterms. After all, immigration will drive more Republicans to the polls than any other issue, according to Gallup, offsetting the supposed enthusiasm gap Democrats are counting on to retake one or both houses of Congress.

If Democrats fail to wise up and tone down the theatrics, Republicans will ride this issue all the way to the ballot-box.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at The Hill

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Pro-Obamacare Groups: Supreme Court Nominee May Gut 2010 Law

Democrats say Americans’ access to Obamacare is at risk with the next Supreme Court justice, though some legal experts say they’re exaggerating the issue to try to defeat President Trump’s eventual nominee.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and his troops don’t have the votes to stop Mr. Trump’s nominee, but they are eager to use the pick for political purposes, hoping to rally liberal voters ahead of November’s elections and perhaps make life uncomfortable for several centrist Republicans.

While abortion and the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling have taken most of the focus, Democrats insist the next justice could play a deciding role in striking down the Affordable Care Act should another case reach the high court, even though the retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had already voted to strike it down.

Protect Our Care, a pro-Obamacare coalition, released a TV ad on Monday driving home that message.

But Justice Kennedy wasn’t part of the 2012 case majority — the key swing vote in the 2012 Obamacare case was Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who sided with the court’s four Democratic-appointed members.

Legal experts doubted a new justice will change that.

Mr. Schumer says Democrats can’t take any chances. The specific question around severability at this juncture in Obamacare’s history hasn’t been tested — so in his view, the chief justice’s ultimate position is as an open question.

His strategy is also just Politics 101 — much as immigration is animating the GOP base, Democrats are fired up over health care heading into November’s elections.

“He is, without question, trying to pull every lever to fire up the Democratic base ahead of the midterm,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “He’s also, interestingly, trying to turn the heat up on Collins and Murkowski — because if they bless the nominee, this is over.”

Read more from Thomas Howell Jr. at the Washington Times

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