The Hill's Morning Report: GOP House divided ahead of midterm elections

 

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Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoDemocrats press Trump Treasury picks on donor disclosure guidelines McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE (D-Nev.), who will talk about her bill dealing with migrant children at the border. And GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson (Wis.) talks about his race against Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinTrade wars and the over-valued dollar Overnight Health Care: Senate panel advances drug pricing bill amid GOP blowback | House panel grills Juul executives | Trump gives boost to state drug import plans | Officials say new migrant kids' shelter to remain open but empty Senators vow to bring transparency to drug pricing MORE (D-Wis.). http://thehill.com/hilltv

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Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus backed off one political fight on Thursday but hit the gas on another, as pressure grows on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s allies in Congress to protect the president with just over three months to go before the midterm elections.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash Hurd retirement leaves GOP gloomy on 2020 MORE (R-N.C.) withdrew his proposal to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWhy the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing Rosenstein: Trump should focus on preventing people from 'becoming violent white supremacists' MORE, who is in charge of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE’s investigation, after the measure split Republican leaders.

House conservatives have been at war with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI, accusing the nation’s top law enforcement organizations of stonewalling lawmaker efforts to obtain sensitive documents pertaining to the investigation into Trump’s campaign.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, opposed the impeachment efforts. So, too, did Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' MORE (R-Wis.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute MORE (R-Va.).

"I don't think we should be cavalier with this process or this term. I don't think this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors." – Ryan

After conversations with Republican leaders, Meadows agreed to table the impeachment effort but said he’d move forward with contempt of Congress proceedings if lawmakers don’t get the documents they seek.

Alan Dershowitz: Impeaching Rosenstein would hurt Trump.

Jonathan Turley: Congress has powers other than impeachment against Rosenstein.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Ohio), co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, announced his bid to replace Ryan as Speaker. Ryan is retiring from Congress after this year.

“President Trump has taken bold action on behalf of the American people. Congress has not held up its end of the deal, but we can change that.” – Jordan, writing in a letter to colleagues

The move was cheered by Jordan’s conservative allies, such as Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Gaetz cleared by Florida Bar after Cohen tweet probe Bottom Line MORE (R-Fla.), and by conservative groups, including FreedomWorks.

Still, the conservative coalition in the House will not be enough to propel Jordan to the speakership, assuming Republicans maintain control of the House after November. And Jordan is still dealing with allegations from former wrestlers at Ohio State University, who claim he turned a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse when he coached there decades ago. Jordan denies the allegations.

Regardless, the next GOP leader is likely to be either House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Tlaib says she won't visit Israel after being treated like 'a criminal' MORE (R-Calif.), who is Ryan’s choice, or House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseManchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Sunday shows - Trump's Epstein conspiracy theory retweet grabs spotlight Sanders: Trump doesn't 'want to see somebody get shot' but 'creates the climate for it' MORE (R-La.).

Jordan’s bid for Speaker could be used as leverage to push one of those lawmakers over the top with support from the Freedom Caucus, which counts more than 30 members.

If that’s the way it breaks, Scalise may have gained an edge on Thursday. He backed the impeachment proceedings against Rosenstein, while McCarthy declined to take a position.

TAKEAWAY: Meadows and Jordan have been among Trump’s most persistent and vocal defenders on Capitol Hill, aggressively going after what they view as political bias at the FBI and DOJ. If Republicans maintain a majority in the House, they’ll continue to be influential backers of the president’s agenda. If Democrats take over, they face the possibility of being relegated to the back of the pack within a GOP minority.

 

LEADING THE DAY

*** Good economic news this morning *** In the Capitol, lawmakers got a tantalizing tip from the president’s top economist on Thursday that the economy in the second quarter may have expanded at a blockbuster rate. Did it hit 4 percent? We’ll know in an hour or so …The economy grew 2.3 percent in 2017, and GDP growth for a full year hasn't crossed the 3 percent mark in 14 years. … This would be big news for Republicans up for reelection in 2018. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports on what Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told senators (The Hill).

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INVESTIGATIONS: A couple of important developments we’d like to draw your attention to…

> The New York Times reports that special counsel Mueller is combing through Trump’s Twitter feed and analyzing his past remarks about Attorney General Sessions and former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Barr predicts progressive prosecutors will lead to 'more crime, more victims' James Comey shows our criminal justice system works as intended MORE.

The president has repeatedly lashed out at Sessions over Twitter for having recused himself from the Russia investigation, paving the way for Rosenstein to appoint the special counsel.

And Trump’s firing of Comey while the FBI was investigating whether campaign officials had improper contacts with Moscow remains one of the most self-injurious actions the president has taken in office.

Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.” Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times

> The Wall Street Journal reports that a senior financial officer at the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the probe of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Weisselberg has worked for the Trump Organization for decades and knows as much about Trump’s personal business as anyone. It’s possible that Weisselberg is solely acting as a witness in building the case against Cohen, but it has to be worrying for the president that the myriad probes swirling around the White House increasingly involve his longest and most steadfast allies.

> Finally The New York Times has a profile on Lanny Davis, the former lawyer for the Clintons who is now representing Cohen.

The report looks at Davis’s aggressive strategy of publicly clashing with the president and sending warning shots by releasing private audio recordings:

“For Mr. Cohen, this has translated to an aggressive defense in the news media — as much reputational management as legal wrangling — responding in kind to Mr. Trump and his team where other lawyers might be inclined to lie low, with federal prosecutors watching closely.” Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times

(Davis is an opinion contributor for The Hill.)

More from investigations … Top Facebook and Twitter executives will testify before a Senate panel in September about Russia’s election interference (Reuters) … Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharEight Democratic presidential hopefuls to appear in CNN climate town hall Biden, Buttigieg bypassing Democratic delegate meeting: report Poll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity MORE (D-Minn.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Graham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (R-S.C.) have teamed up on a bill to crack down on Russia … Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.) is the first known campaign of the 2018 cycle to be the target of Russian interference (The Daily Beast) … Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is disputing a report that Trump had advance knowledge of a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his campaign officials and a Russian lawyer (The Hill).

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IMMIGRATION: The Trump administration, rushing to meet a court-ordered deadline Thursday to reunite families separated by the government at the border, said it delivered 1,442 children to parents detained in immigration custody and is on track to return all of those “eligible” for reunification (The Washington Post). Both sides are due in court today to review what comes next.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case against the government, said in Thursday’s court filing that data showed “dozens of separated children still have not been matched to a parent” (Reuters). Once reunited, the families remain subject to deportation under the law.

The Hill: Hundreds of migrant children still separated from parents.

The court-ordered reunification effort followed the administration’s halt of its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which resulted in the separation of families, often with migrant children transferred to U.S. shelters hundreds of miles from parents.

For 431 parents no longer in the United States, reunification with children is a different challenge and the government awaits guidance from the court; 120 parents declined to be reunited, opting to leave their offspring in the United States with relatives, the government said.    

> DOJ role: Democratic lawmakers, in particular, have condemned what they describe as the Trump administration’s inhumane efforts to discourage migrants from entering the United States through Mexico. A group of at least 30 lawmakers asked the Justice Department’s watchdog to examine the department’s role in the separation of families (The Hill).

> U.S. census: Meanwhile on Thursday in another case that went against the administration, a federal district court judge denied the government’s request to toss out a lawsuit challenging its decision to add a new and potentially discriminatory question about citizenship to the 2020 census (The Hill).

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

TRADE & ECONOMY: Trump made a swing Thursday through Iowa and Illinois and took a victory lap in hailing his own efforts to avoid a trade war with the European Union after his critics charged him with starting one.

"We just opened up Europe for you farmers. You're not going to be too angry with Trump, I can tell you," the president said during an event in Peosta, Iowa.

Although the United States and European exporters agreed to a period of détente in order to allow additional trade discussions to proceed, Trump told Iowa farmers they now have “one big market” as a result of his meeting at the White House on Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (The Hill).

> Trump’s White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, says the administration and the European Union will join forces to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. In an interview with Fox Business Network, Kudlow blamed China for a “broken” trading system. He said Juncker “made it clear” to Trump that the EU backs U.S. efforts to end Beijing’s trade abuses (The Hill).

> Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump administration delays penalty on Huawei for another 90 days WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Recession fears surge as stock markets plunge MORE, speaking to reporters during the president’s trip to the Midwest, said the administration has pledged to stand down on its threats to impose auto tariffs on imports from Europe as long as the new talks are ongoing. Ross said some companies are using Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs as excuses for their job layoffs and weaker earnings reports (The Hill).

“If we hadn’t had steel and aluminum tariffs, we never would have gotten to the point we are now. … This is a real vindication of the president’s trade policy.” – Ross

The Hill: Is Trump backing down on trade?

Reuters: U.S. Senate quietly votes to cut tariffs on hundreds of Chinese goods. The House also approved the so-called miscellaneous tariffs measure.

> In advance of the government’s report on second-quarter gross domestic product… CNBC: Growth in second quarter seen over 4 percent, but some economists trim estimates ... CBS News: Friday’s data will be more closely watched than usual, thanks to Trump's repeated pledge to hit annual growth above 3 percent.

CAMPAIGNS: There are a couple of political factors that will play an outsized role in who controls the House and Senate after the Nov. 6 elections:

> Republicans are simultaneously worried that Trump’s retaliatory tariffs will slow economic growth, anger the president’s core constituents and imperil the GOP’s efforts to maintain majorities in both chambers of Congress this fall (The Hill).

> Democrats believe they have a winning electoral issue on Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The party’s strategists and pollsters are urging candidates to focus more on Russia (The Hill).

More from the campaign trail … Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE (R-Texas), the architect of the 2010 GOP takeover, is at risk of losing his seat (Politico) … Trump’s approval rating is holding steady at 45 percent (The Hill) … Democrats are spending big in an effort to win in red states (The New York Times) … Democrats running for Senate in three midwestern states have double-digit leads over their GOP challengers (NBC News/Marist Poll).

 

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The Morning Report is created by journalists Jonathan Easley jeasley@thehill.com & Alexis Simendinger asimendinger@thehill.com. Suggestions? Tips? We want to hear from you! Share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

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OPINION

High hopes for Trump’s drug pricing plan, by former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, opinion contributor with The Hill. http://bit.ly/2vadSgz

The real questions senators need to ask Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, by Roger Evans, senior counsel for Planned Parenthood and opinion contributor with The Hill. http://bit.ly/2v3khu6

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 10 a.m. 

The Senate is out until Monday at 3 p.m. when it will resume consideration of the nomination of Britt C. Grant to be a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eleventh Circuit. 

The president meets with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoAfghan president vows to take revenge after Islamic State attack on wedding The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Latest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong MORE this afternoon. In the White House Situation Room, he’ll meet with his national security team to discuss election security. An hour later, the president and Melania TrumpMelania TrumpEx-Melania Trump adviser raised concerns of excessive inauguration spending weeks before events: CNN The Hill's Morning Report - Trump moves green cards, citizenship away from poor, low-skilled White House seeks volunteers, musicians for Christmas celebrations MORE depart for their home in Bedminster, N.J., to spend the weekend.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the second-quarter report on U.S. gross domestic product at 8:30 a.m. ET.  

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhy President Trump needs to speak out on Hong Kong Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (D-Calif.) tonight makes a guest appearance on JEOPARDY! at 7:30 p.m. ET, to present a category of contestant questions dealing with Congress. She tweeted a preview clip HERE.

ELSEWHERE

> North Korea returns 55 cases of what it says are remains of some U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean War (The Associated Press). The war killed millions, including 36,000 American soldiers. The White House called North Korea’s action a “significant first step … to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”

> U.S.-Middle East peace plan: Trump team prepares economic pillar as part of pending peace proposal (Reuters).

> Facebook's stock plunged 20 percent after the company said it expects revenue growth to slow as it "puts privacy first" and rethinks its product experiences (CNN). 

> Promising Alzheimer’s drug attacks brain changes and symptoms (The New York Times).

> Judge won’t order disclosure of Trump White House visitor logs (Politico).


THE CLOSER

And finally …    Morning Report’s QUIZ CONTEST winners knew a lot about the presidential limousine!

Readers Patrick Alford and Moe Myint answered all six questions correctly, and Susan Harber, John Harding Jr., Lorraine Lindberg, Paula Hassinger, Sandy Sycafoose, Dara Umberger and Gary Breakfield missed just one out of six. Congratulations to all who emailed their best guesses!

The answers: The Secret Service nicknamed the massive presidential state vehicle “the Beast.”

The armored limo weighs 5 to 10 tons (the exact weight is secret).

The fortified doors are 8 inches thick, without keyholes and have windows that do not open (except on the driver’s side). In other words, the quiz answer was “all of the above.”

The badge on the front grille brands the president’s custom-designed transportation with Cadillac.

The trunk of the limo holds chilled pints of the president’s blood type, just in case the leader of the free world gets separated from his medical team in an emergency.

At the Helsinki summit last week, Russian President Putin showed off his own new limo. It’s 4 feet longer than the Beast.