The Hill's Morning Report: Frustration mounts as Republicans blow up tax message

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Wednesday! This daily email, a successor to The Hill’s Tipsheet, is reported by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger to get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch.  (CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

 

Republicans face brutal electoral conditions in 2018 and a new foe: Themselves.

Over the past 48 hours, key figures in the party have uttered head-scratching statements about the tax-cuts bill that will be millstones for those Republicans fighting for their political lives in the midterm elections.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump once asked Paul Ryan why he couldn’t be ‘loyal': book George Conway on Giuliani walking back Trump Tower Moscow comments: ‘Translation: I made sh-- up’ MLK weekend marks longest span without a press briefing in Trump presidency MORE’s former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Cummings sends 51 letters to White House, others requesting compliance with document requests Interior chief Zinke to leave administration MORE, forced to resign last year after racking up $400,000 in travel bills, said that repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate — an act the GOP achieved in its December tax bill — “drives up the cost for others in the market.”

“We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.” - Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerProtecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress Baldwin's Trump plays 'Deal or No Deal' with shutdown on 'Saturday Night Live' Sunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal MORE (D-N.Y.).

“Price just exposed every single GOP Senate candidate.” - Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Lauren Passalacqua.

A day earlier, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWashington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal MORE (R-Fla.) said there’s “no evidence whatsoever” that the GOP’s corporate tax cuts are helping workers, undermining the cornerstone of the party’s electoral strategy this cycle.   

            “It’s disappointing to see Marco Rubio echo some of the false rhetoric of tax reform opponents and we hope he clarifies his remarks.”Brent Gardner of Americans for Prosperity, which is spending tens of millions of dollars to sell the tax-reform plan and protect the Republicans who supported it.

Polls show the public has been slow to warm to the tax cuts bill. The comments from Price and Rubio — and previous remarks from retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (R-Tenn.) — make the sales campaign more difficult.

The landscape was already bad for Republicans. Democrats have the advantage in essentially every metric, from grass-roots energy to the generic ballot. Republicans increasingly concede privately that their House majority seems a lost cause.

There were plenty of intraparty fissures within the GOP before the messaging fiasco of the last few days but until recently, all Republicans agreed they should stake their electoral hopes on the benefits of tax reform for the economy. Now?

“If Republicans can’t unify behind tax cuts, what can they unify behind?,” said Andy Surabian, a former special assistant to the president and deputy White House strategist. “Republicans have to laser focus on the benefits of the tax bill every day between now and Election Day, especially the long-term effects of the bill, since most of the positive impact hasn’t been felt yet.”

One celebratory GOP pitch to conservative voters … Senate Republicans are on pace to confirm more of Trump’s appeals court nominees than any other recent president in his first two years. (The Hill)

LEADING THE DAY

INVESTIGATIONS: The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE threatened to subpoena the president to appear before a grand jury if Trump refused to talk to his team voluntarily.

That story dropped as Washington was still trying to wrap its collective mind around The New York Times bombshell report detailing the dozens of questions Trump's representatives anticipate he could be asked.

Trump’s allies are seething.

    “Robert Mueller’s merry band of Trump-hating Democratic sycophants are completely and totally desperate to find anything, something on President Trump … If any of these [leaked] questions are true, be warned – Mueller is laying a huge perjury trap.” - Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity.

The Memo: Leak fuels new Mueller intrigue.

MORE:

CNN: Mueller has asked for a delay in sentencing former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pled guilty to lying to investigators and is cooperating with the government.

The Hill: GOP committee chairmen press Justice Department for information on Comey friend who leaked personal memos.

The Hill: Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay Rosenstein5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress MORE, who is overseeing the special counsel, says he won’t be “extorted” by lawmakers trying to impeach him.

OPINION:

Jonathan Turley: The gravest danger to Trump lies in sneaky questions from Mueller.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas): We must get to the bottom of Russian efforts to interfere in the election.

Mark Penn: A few questions for Mueller.

POLITICS: A trio of Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for Senate in West Virginia faced off in a wild debate on Tuesday night that was broadcast live in prime time on Fox News Channel.

National Republicans are hopeful that either Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE or West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wins the nomination. But former coal executive Don Blankenship walked away with most of the headlines on Tuesday night, which is not great for the GOP.

Ahead of the debate, Blankenship explained a campaign ad called “Cocaine Mitch,” in which he alleges that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security Pence quotes MLK in pitch for Trump's immigration proposal MORE’s (R-Ky.) father-in-law, a shipping magnate, profited from the cocaine trade.

During the debate, Blankenship defended referring to McConnell’s father-in-law, who was born outside Shanghai, as a “Chinaperson.” And he blamed the government for a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners in West Virginia. Blankenship spent a year in prison for his role in the disaster.

For many Republicans, he cannot leave the midterm stage fast enough.

More from the Senate:

From the House:

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLICY: The Hill: Drug makers are on defense about high drug prices as President Trump prepares to take aim at the issue, likely in a speech next week.

The Hill: FDA, Federal Trade Commission crack down on e-cigarette liquid sold in kid-friendly packaging.

The Hill: NASA cancels the lunar rover despite Trump’s vow to return astronauts to the moon.

The Hill: Congress is expected to act soon on an administration-backed plan to enlarge the jurisdiction of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) to add additional national security analyses to reviews of foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses or other investments, particularly involving China.

The Hill: Anti-abortion groups urge the Trump administration to jettison Planned Parenthood from federal family planning grants, a shift that could reinstate a regulation put in place by President Reagan.

The Hill: California, 16 states and the District of Columbia join forces to sue the Trump administration over its decision to roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

ADMINISTRATION: Trump is “very happy” with chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured reporters Tuesday, one day after Kelly denied an NBC News report that he referred to his boss as “an idiot” (The Hill).

Why it matters: Some West Wing staffers want the retired Marine general gone, and the question remains whether the president’s second chief of staff is around to see his one-year White House anniversary in July. Sanders said locating another Cabinet post for Kelly is not Trump’s aim. … Finding the next nominee for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking time.

Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittChristie says Trump hired 'riffraff' in new book Meet 3 women who stood up to Trump to protect the American people — and lost their jobs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans MORE, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is still turning slowly on several investigatory spits:

  • A longtime friend and lobbyist helped Pruitt arrange a pricey trip last year to Morocco, accompanied the administrator, and later won a lucrative contract with the Moroccan government (The Washington Post). Lawmakers and EPA’s inspector general are investigating.
  • The Hill: Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee are probing Pruitt’s effort to build a new EPA office in Tulsa, Okla., his hometown, at taxpayer expense.
  • Another top Pruitt aide at EPA is exiting: Albert Kelly, whose agency portfolio was toxic waste cleanups, decided to resign from the agency following a spate of negative publicity about his former career in banking, Axios reports. Also gone: senior Pruitt security aide Pasquale Perrotta (The Hill).

Dr. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew as Trump’s nominee to lead the VA following misconduct allegations he denied, is no longer the president’s personal White House physician (The Hill). And he’s under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, reports The Wall Street Journal.

CNN added to the Jackson puzzle with a report that the retired rear admiral clashed last year with Vice President Pence’s physician, in part over Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceLady Gaga blasts Pence as ‘worst representation of what it means to be Christian’ Thank God — or don't — for private schools CNN's King questions taxpayers funding Karen Pence's security while teaching MORE’s medical privacy. The complaints, documented in memos, reportedly went up the ladder to John Kelly. Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying MORE (R-Ga.), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said CNN’s reporting “corroborates” information obtained by his panel.

Separately, the White House defended its confiscation of Trump’s personal medical records from his former physician, Harold Bornstein, in New York early last year. And to add to the intrigue, Bornstein told CNN that Trump, during the 2016 campaign, dictated the laudatory wording of the doctor’s publicly released letter attesting to the candidate’s health.

A group of Democratic senators is calling on the Office of Special Counsel to investigate Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE following his comments to bankers last week appearing to link government access to campaign donations (The Hill). Mulvaney is a former congressman from South Carolina.

OPINION

Trump will leave but his damage will endure, Richard Cohen, The Washington Post. https://bit.ly/2Kp23dv

 

The resistance is cracking, Conrad Black, The National Review. https://bit.ly/2w9srFg

WHERE AND WHEN

The House and Senate are out this week.

 

President Trump visits the State Department for the first time and will be part of a swearing-in ceremony for Secretary Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo: US 'absolutely not' getting out of the Middle East Pompeo taking meeting about running for Kansas Senate seat: report Ex-US envoy in ISIS fight: 'There's no plan for what's coming' after US troop withdrawal in Syria MORE (who was confirmed by the Senate and formally sworn in last week). He’s having lunch with the vice president and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. In the afternoon, Trump speaks at a reception for the National Teacher of the Year.

 

Vice President Pence hosts a swearing-in ceremony this afternoon for Carlos Trujillo, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.

ELSEWHERE

> China urges all sides to uphold Iran nuclear pact; says IAEA affirms Iran’s compliance (Reuters).

 

> Dollar gains ahead of Fed meeting and rate-hike rumors (The Street).

 

> Next step for immigration caravan will take place out of public view (AP).

 

>  Trump trade chief wants to open China, not change its economic system. (Reuters)

THE CLOSER

If you’re in the Washington, D.C., area today, expect summer-like temperatures (89 degrees) and again tomorrow (90 degrees), but without summer’s hot-blanket humidity. Live large: allergy meds + al fresco drinks and dining!

 

 

 

 

And finally… if Facebook can keep the world in touch with its friends, how about steering the world to new friends and new intimates? Think life partner, soulmate, the love that lasts beyond Friday night. … CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergThe free-market case for a clean slate Facebook takes down anti-NATO pages linked to Russia Congress needs to address consumer data privacy in a responsible and modern manner MORE announced a Facebook dating service on Tuesday (Recode). (Answers about privacy protections and functionality remain a little foggy).

Correction: Yesterday’s alert readers noted that mention of Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, should have referenced his home state, Colorado.