The Hill's Morning Report — Senate focuses on Russia as midterms loom




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Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) discussing her resolution supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement. GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson (Wis.) talks about his race against Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinPrimary turnout soars in 2018 with Dems leading charge Senate rankings: 10 seats most likely to flip Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE (D-Wis.). And discussing their respective new books, journalists Annie Lowrey and Dan Kaufman.

With just over 100 days to go before the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans in Congress are focused on Russia, Russia, Russia.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s one-on-one meeting and subsequent press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this month set off a storm on Capitol Hill unlike anything we’ve seen in some time.

The hearings begin in earnest today, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force outlines plan for biggest force since end of Cold War | Trump admin slashes refugee cap | Mattis accuses Russia of meddling in Macedonia's NATO bid Hillicon Valley: Elon Musk sued by diver from Thai cave rescue | Researchers find new malware family | FEMA delays new presidential alert test Trump administration to cut refugee admissions to 30K for 2019 MORE’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Hill: Pompeo faces GOP grilling on Russia, North Korea.

Pompeo will be pressed to divulge the details of what Trump and Putin discussed in their more than two-hour-long meeting with translators, and no one else.

Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., has said that Trump and Putin made “important verbal agreements” related to arms control and cooperation in Syria.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the only agreement the countries came to was that their national security teams would continue to have an open dialogue.

Pompeo’s testimony is only the start of an extended focus in the Senate on Russia’s election interference and Trump’s relationship with Putin.

> The Senate Banking Committee will also hold hearings on the matter. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) has instructed Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Tenn.) and Banking Committee Chairman Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoHillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Idaho) to recommend additional measures that could “respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”

> Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCriticizing Trump’s ‘unsung success’ in Puerto Rico is valid — empty rhetoric is not Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Ken Starr says 'I trust Brett Kavanaugh' over allegations that are 'so wildly out of character' MORE (R-S.C.) and Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap MORE  (D-N.J.) are working on legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia.

> Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections MORE (D-Md.) have asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods Trump: China tariff announcement to come Monday afternoon Trump could hit China with tariffs of 0 billion as soon as Monday MORE to impose financial sanctions on the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee. Van Hollen and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioNYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story Rubio defends Haley over curtains story: Example of media pushing bias House lawmakers urge top intel official to probe national security threat of doctored videos MORE (R-Fla.) have a separate bill proposing new sanctions if Russia interferes in the 2018 election that has 10 co-sponsors.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to thumb his nose at lawmakers, who are frustrated by the president’s mixed messages over whether he believes the intelligence community’s assessment that Russians interfered in the 2016 election and plan to do so again in 2018.

On Tuesday, the president warned the Russians might interfere in the 2018 election to help Democrats who oppose his agenda.




Despite the uproar over his first summit with Putin, the president has invited the Russian president to Washington in the fall for a follow-up meeting. The Kremlin has not yet determined whether it will take Trump up on that offer (Reuters).

Harry J. Kazianis: Putting Putin in the Oval Office is political suicide.

McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Wis.) reiterated on Tuesday that Putin would not be invited to the U.S. Capitol should he come to Washington.

"I can only speak for the Congress. The Speaker and I have made it clear that Putin will not be welcome up here, at the Capitol.”  – McConnell


*** OVERNIGHT *** CNN late Tuesday obtained audio of Trump’s pre-election conversation with his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, from Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis. The tape will roll endlessly on cable news today and be dissected like audio fragments from the Gene Hackman film, “The Conversation.”


The Washington Post: Transcript of Cohen and Trump provided by the president’s legal team suggests Trump knew about model’s deal to sell story of alleged affair.


Upshot: In 2016, Trump appeared to assent to paying a publishing company to bury a story about a woman who alleged she had an extramarital affair with him in 2006. The transaction to buy the rights to the story to keep it out of the press was handled by Cohen before voters went to the polls.


Why it matters: The FBI is investigating Cohen’s personal businesses and he seems increasingly willing to drag Trump’s dirty laundry into the court-ordered sunlight. There are reportedly a dozen recordings that involve Trump in some way, as well as thousands of other documents the FBI seized from Cohen.


Could the hush payment and Trump’s apparent approval put the president in legal jeopardy? Trump’s legal team denies that the discussed payment — which would have sent $150,000 to tabloid-publishing company American Media Inc. for the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s claims — ever took place. The transaction may be more essential to Cohen’s backstory than Trump’s legal vulnerability. However, with the explosive audio tape out in public, the president’s team is on the defensive to explain what happened.


The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, California’s Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Manafort went ‘above and beyond’ with plea deal, says ex-federal prosecutor Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report MORE, wasted no time in tweeting his takeaways:





TRADE: The administration intervened Tuesday to salve the bruising impact of the president’s new tariffs, announcing $12 billion in payouts to U.S. wheat and soybean farmers, among other agriculture sectors. The announcement failed to quiet growing criticisms in Congress about Trump’s tariffs, which the president declared “the greatest!” The payouts increased the unease among some Republicans that “bailouts” from Uncle Sam run afoul of conservative orthodoxy and fiscal prudence.





Agriculture Department officials said the direct payments would help producers of soybeans, along with sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton and dairy, and farmers raising hogs. The food purchased from farmers would include some types of fruit, nuts, rice, legumes, dairy, beef and pork, The Associated Press reported.

The Oklahoman: Trade war threatens $208 million in Oklahoma exports, including pork.

American Farm Bureau Federation: “We will continue to push for a swift and sure end to the trade war and the tariffs impacting American agriculture.”

Trump said during a Tuesday speech in Kansas City, Mo., that farmers would be “the biggest beneficiary” of his tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which, in turn, triggered retaliatory levies on U.S. products of all kinds. The president called for “patience” from manufacturers, automakers, farmers, cheesemakers, bourbon distillers and other U.S. sectors hit by trade taxes from abroad. He said his plan was to get European, Mexican, Canadian and Chinese trade officials to cut better deals with the United States.

Some GOP lawmakers said they were exasperated, arguing the administration was making poorly conceived trade policy even worse.

“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches. America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose – they want to win by feeding the world. This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.”  – Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Bill Kristol building 'war machine' to challenge Trump in 2020 primary Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE (R-Neb.), whose term expires in 2020

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R-Ky.), whom Trump is eager to win over to vote for his Supreme Court nominee this fall, slammed his trade actions. “Tariffs are taxes that punish American consumers and producers. If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers the answer is, remove the tariffs,” the senator tweeted.

Other lawmakers faulted the administration for playing favorites, providing an emergency federal safety net for farmers, but not for other affected industries and businesses.

“Farmers are hit but there are a lot of others that are hit by these tariffs as well,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Alaska) said on Tuesday. “I have a seafood industry up north that is not considered to be farmers. We’re farmers of the sea."


Today: Trump will discuss trade and autos with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, at the White House this afternoon.

The Associated Press: EU ready to respond to U.S. tariffs with duties of $20 billion if Trump puts duties on cars and auto parts from Europe.

CONGRESS: House members from both parties are looking for new leaders, new ideas and commitments to promises.

House Speaker – leadership: The Hill: A small group of House Republicans are discussing a fallback should neither Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Calif.) nor Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseGOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker Scalise: Democrats need to denounce political violence MORE (R-La.) secure the 218 votes needed to become the next Speaker if the House remains under GOP control.

House Democrats – new influencer: The Hill: New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has caused a stir inside the Democratic Party since her primary victory, will be on Capitol Hill, where she’s expected to meet with lawmakers, as well as some progressive activists off the Hill.

House GOP new tax measure: The Hill: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods New GOP tax cuts would add .8 trillion to deficit, says report House panel advances key bill in new round of GOP tax cuts MORE (R-Texas) is pitching "tax cuts 2.0" to House Republicans, and sees a legislative path to make some changes to the tax law Trump signed in December. The election-year ideas unveiled on Tuesday are unlikely to become law but could energize party voters this autumn with promises of permanent tax cuts for individuals and most business owners (Reuters).

House Rules GOP reforms: The Hill: House lawmakers today will unveil proposed reforms to House rules, which they hope can make the House more bipartisan and inclusive. But the Problem Solvers Caucus backing the plan wants lawmakers to weld their support for the next Speaker to a promise to enact the reform ideas.

House – immigration: House GOP leaders are reneging on a vow to hold an immigration vote before the August recess, a move that puts McCarthy in a particularly awkward spot as he seeks to become the next speaker (Politico).

House flood insurance: The Hill: The House is expected to vote today on a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, racing to meet a July 31 deadline and to complete action ahead of future hurricanes. But GOP clashes emerged Tuesday, even as the White House, in a statement, urged Congress to adopt changes that can “help develop the private market for flood insurance.”  


POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) triumphed over Lt. Gov. Casey Cable (R-Ga.) in the gubernatorial primary last night in the Peach State. Trump had backed Kemp in the race, giving him another endorsement victory this cycle.


Looking ahead to August, The Hill’s Lisa Hagen has the rundown on dozens of pivotal primary races that will shape the general election. Among the highlights: The brutal and costly GOP primary battles in Arizona and Wisconsin will finally come to a close. And a nationally watched House special election in suburban Ohio is drawing big money and could be another barometer of Democratic enthusiasm heading into the midterms.

The Hill: August primaries may determine the shape of 2018 general election.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle presents a tough challenge for Senate Democrats up for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016.

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-Ind.) on Tuesday became the second Democrat to agree to meet with Kavanaugh, with the date set for Aug. 15. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-W.Va.) will meet with Kavanaugh next week. Trump won Indiana by nearly 20 points and he won West Virginia by more than 40.

The Hill: Senate Democrats struggle with Kavanaugh nomination.

More in politics and campaigns … A federal judge has ruled that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) election officials discriminated against young voters by blocking early voting at college campuses and universities (Tampa Bay Times) … Businesses tied to Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE’s (D-Mo.) husband have been awarded more than $131 million in federal subsidies since she took office (The News & Observer) … GOP lawmakers have decided to brand their 2018 midterm efforts “Better Off Now,” with messaging that will focus on tax reform, the economy, “safer communities” and strengthening the military (The Hill) … In a new Latino Decisions battlegrounds poll, conducted for pro-immigration organizations, 66 percent of registered voters surveyed between July 5-14 believe immigrants come to the U.S. for a better life, while 34 percent think immigrants take jobs away from American citizens and hurt the economy.


ADMINISTRATION & WHITE HOUSE: Trump’s average approval rating for his sixth quarter in office was 41.9 percent, his best yet, according to Gallup. Still, that puts Trump on the low end historically, tied with Jimmy Carter for the lowest rating at this point in the first term of a presidency (Gallup).

> Trump tapped Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyOvernight Defense: Air Force outlines plan for biggest force since end of Cold War | Trump admin slashes refugee cap | Mattis accuses Russia of meddling in Macedonia's NATO bid Nikki Haley accuses Russia of undermining international sanctions against North Korea NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story MORE to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to “carry out his disruptive agenda,” Reuters reports. But Haley has also shown the president “how the world body serves his purposes.” Michelle Nichols’s rare interview with Haley is worth a read.

“Every day I feel like I put body armor on.” – Haley


> Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpEx-Trump, progressive strategists battle over charges of anti-Semitism surrounding Eric Trump Ethics watchdog requests probe into Trump officials traveling to campaign events Trump praises Arizona governor's pick of Jon Kyl to succeed McCain MORE, the daughter of the president and a senior White House adviser, is shuttering her namesake fashion brand, The Wall Street Journal reports. She had separated herself from the day-to-day operations of the business more than a year ago amid concerns over conflicts of interest, and now says she will focus full time on her responsibilities at the White House. She will retain the copyrights and intellectual property with her brand and continues to seek trademarks, The Washington Post explained.


The Hill’s Judy Kurtz has the full backstory HERE.


> The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to roll back car emissions and efficiency standards, arguing that they make vehicles less safe. The Hill’s Timothy Cama writes that the argument has been a favorite of opponents of strict efficiency standards, who say the rules encourage the manufacturing of smaller, lighter cars. But several new analyses and studies say that efficiency doesn’t necessarily compromise safety (The Hill).

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Global ambivalence about Trump’s foreign policy sends clear message to the White House, by Ahmed Charai, international counselor at the Center for National Interest and opinion contributor for The Hill.


I’m an immigrant and I find open borders troubling, by Jason Hill, professor of philosophy at DePaul University and opinion contributor for The Hill.


The House convenes at 10 a.m. and takes up legislative business at noon.


The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of fiscal 2019 spending bills.


The president meets this morning at the White House with Ryan and McConnell. Then he confers with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and has lunch with Pompeo and Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenInvestigation into FEMA head referred to prosecutors: report Gowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Later, Trump meets with European Commission President Juncker at the White House. Trade and tensions about tariffs are expected to dominate the conversations.


Pompeo will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 3 p.m. about “American diplomacy to advance our national security strategy.”


The EC’s Juncker, after meeting with Trump, will speak at 4 p.m. in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies about "transatlantic relations at a crossroads." His speech will be webcast live.


The Washington Post today hosts a newsmaker event with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson from 9:30-10:30 a.m. She’ll be interviewed by columnist David Ignatius.


> A San Francisco-based U.S. appeals court upheld the right to carry guns in public. The ruling could set a path toward the Supreme Court, which has not taken up a major gun rights case since 2010 (Reuters).


> Court records show duck boat in Missouri disaster was designed by entrepreneur with no engineering training (Los Angeles Times).


> Facebook announced a plan to combat Russians and others who use false information and deceptive tactics to influence public opinion via the platform, but the company won’t say if such manipulation is occurring now (Reuters)


> The Tour de France was interrupted Tuesday by tear gas when police, working to disperse protesters, accidentally sprayed riders during the first stage in the Pyrenees. Four-time champion Chris Froome was among those hit and treated for exposure. The annual competition ends July 29 (Associated Press).


> Career moves: Lisa Grabert becomes visiting professor and health policy researcher at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Georgetown University in Washington. Grabert formerly served as a senior staff member for health policy on the House Ways and Means Committee.


And finally … Everyone has complaints about modes of transportation, it seems. In D.C., the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is cause for red faces while weeks of summer maintenance commence through Labor Day. The subway system in the nation’s capital has been denounced in print as “an ongoing train wreck.” Frustrated commuters vent their travails over Twitter with the hashtag “#UnsuckMetro.”


There is hope that dockless bike-shares will take off and help ease urban congestion. But The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Chinese startup Ofo is pulling its bikes out of the D.C. market, citing tensions with the government over regulations.


In Los Angeles, Tesla auto owners can’t get their many and varied safety flaws repaired without the kind of long waits that commuters in the City of Angels just won’t abide, reports the Los Angeles Times, describing “scenes of strife.”


And if you’re in Pittsburgh, beware. Uber is back on the road with its driverless cars. But in “manual mode,” as if that makes sense. “While we are eager to resume testing of our self-driving system, we see manual driving as an important first step,” says the chief of Uber’s self-driving program.



--This report was updated at 7:44 a.m. to correct the characterization of President Trump's tweet regarding Russian election interference.