The Hill's Morning Report — 99 days: Inside the sprint to Nov. 6




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The sprint to Nov. 6 is under way.

In 99 days we’ll find out whether Republicans maintain their majorities in Congress or if voters decide on a divided government to act as a check on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE.

Ringing in at over $1 billion in ad spending, it will likely be the most expensive midterm election cycle in history.

The backdrop

> There are 35 Senate seats up for grabs, with 26 held by senators who caucus with Democrats. It is a tough map for Democrats, with 10 senators up for reelection in states Trump won in 2016. Still, Democrats are eyeing pickup opportunities in Arizona, Nevada and even deep-red Tennessee, as they seek to overcome the GOP’s slim 51-49 majority in the upper chamber.

> All House members are up for reelection. Democrats need to flip 23 seats for a majority. Election experts are increasingly confident in forecasting a Democratic takeover of the House in 2019. If Democrats succeed, it will usher in a bloodier era of divided government, partisan warfare, oversight investigations and calculations leading into the 2020 elections.

> Primary contests, runoffs and a special election are ongoing through late September in 22 states, offering both parties plenty of opportunities to gauge messaging and mobilization.

A host of data points indicate that Democrats are poised for big gains in the House:

> More than three dozen Republican House members are retiring or seeking other office, with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden MORE (R-Wis.) headlining that group. Open seats are more difficult to defend.

The Cook Political Report: Democrats are substantial favorites for control of the House.

> Democrats have a 7.3 percentage point advantage in the generic congressional ballot, according to the RealClearPolitics average, although some recent polls have shown the lead to be as large as 12 points. In 2006, when Democrats picked up 31 seats, they entered Election Day with an 11.5 point advantage in the RealClearPolitics average.

> Historically, the party in power loses seats in a midterm election. And there are fears among Republicans that Trump, who has a historically low approval rating for a first-term president, will be a drag on the party. Trump is at 43 percent in the RealClearPolitics average, lower than former President Obama in 2010, when Democrats lost 63 seats.

> There is enormous energy on the left, underscored by the proliferation of street marches and Democratic upsets in special elections. A Pew Research Center survey from June found that Democratic voters are more likely than Republicans to be excited about voting in the midterm elections.

The Hill: Democrats have the midterm edge, but it’s not historic.

There is some good news for Republicans as they look to buck history:

> The U.S. economy expanded at a rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the highest rate in nearly four years. And Republicans are hopeful the public will continue to warm to their tax-cut bill, the GOP’s signature legislative achievement since Trump took office. The question is whether Republicans can overcome White House controversies and stay on message to sell their accomplishments. The Senate is focused on Russia right now and there are fears that Trump’s trade policies could dampen economic enthusiasm.

Bloomberg: Booming economy has not given GOP an edge.
The Hill: GOP frets Trump tariffs will hit midterm prospects.
The New York Times: Republicans ignore booming economy on the campaign trail.

> The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court should energize conservatives, many of whom view Trump’s judicial appointments as his greatest achievement and a GOP legacy for generations to come.

> Trump’s base of supporters are extremely loyal, and in part because of that support, Republicans continue to back the president despite a seemingly never-ending stream of controversies out of the White House. The president’s commitment to campaigning this fall and raising money for his party could be particularly helpful to the 10 Republicans seeking to oust incumbent Democrats in states Trump carried in 2016.

    "I am going to work very hard, I will go six or seven days a week when we're 60 days out and I will be campaigning for all of these great people that do have a difficult race, and we think we're going to bring them over the line." – Trump on Sean Hannity’s radio program Friday

The Hill: Trump grabs midterm spotlight.

A roundup of election analysis from around the web…

> Ed Kilgore: Democrats on the brink of a takeover.
> The Associated Press: Trump and Pence back Ohio state senator in key special election.
> Ohio 12th District special election to provide clues to 2018 outcome.
> Stephen Stanley: Good news – the economy is hot and has staying power.
> G. William Hoagland: Trump’s tariffs are hitting the farm economy hard.
> NBC News: Strong economic growth handed Trump a message for the midterms. Will it work?
> Cook Political Report: Can Republicans bridge the gender gap?

> National Journal: Trump’s golden touch in GOP primaries.



POLITICS - The Morning Report’s Jonathan Easley is reporting from Colorado Springs, Colo., where top donors and officials from the network of groups affiliated with billionaire conservative activist Charles Koch have gathered for their biannual summit.

Koch gave a rare interview here at a five-star resort in the Rocky Mountains, where he pledged his big-spending political groups would be more aggressive in holding Republicans accountable.

 “I regret some of the [lawmakers] we have supported … we’re gonna more directly deal with that and hold people accountable.” – Koch

The Koch Network is spending $400 million on politics and policy this cycle, most of it aimed at electing Republicans or promoting conservative causes.

But a major theme this weekend has been the network’s anger at the GOP-controlled Congress and Trump White House over policies that are anathema to the free-market conservatives in the network.

The Hill: Koch network officials vent frustration with White House, GOP-led Congress.

They’re furious over Trump’s tariffs and the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed earlier this year. They’re angry that Congress has not acted on immigration reform to provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers.” They’re eager for the Senate to take up a House-passed criminal justice reform bill. And they don’t like Trump’s tone, which senior officials here describe as divisive.

The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage. When in order to win on an issue, someone else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite and solve the problems of this country.”Brian Hooks, president of The Charles Koch Foundation

Takeaway: We’re awaiting a download on Monday from the Koch Network’s top political strategist about how the groups will engage over the next 99 days before the election. If they were to turn some of their formidable political arsenal on Republicans, it would be a major new development. Stay tuned…

> Looking ahead, the president will hold a rally in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday and another in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Thursday. Florida’s Senate race is a toss-up, but in Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyGOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report GOP senators: Trump should not declare border emergency during State of the Union MORE Jr. (D) is favored to win

The president forecast some of his potential lines of attack for the midterms over the weekend:

> In his weekly radio address, Trump attacked Democrats for calling to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Those calls came in response to the president’s massively unpopular “zero tolerance” policy of separating families at the southern border, but some Democrats are worried the “abolish ICE” movement sets them outside the mainstream and focuses on an agency with which few voters are familiar.

New York magazine: Is “abolish ICE” a winning midterm message for Democrats?

The Associated Press: ICE quest for detention center puts Trump county on tightrope.

Trump and many Republicans have wagered that Democrats stumbled:

“They want to abolish ICE – in other words, they want open borders and more crime. And that’s what you’re going to get. You’ll get more crime as you open up those borders.” – Trump 

Trump also furthered his long-running feud with the media – a fight that energizes his base.

Over the weekend, the president met with A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times.

Trump said they discussed “vast amounts of fake news being put out by the media.” Sulzberger said he confronted the president about his attacks on the press.

The New York Times: New York Times publisher and Trump clash over president’s threats against journalism.



 Trump resumed pummeling the news media in a string of tweets.




More on campaigns … Georgia gubernatorial contest asks where the South is heading: Stacey Abrams (D) v. Brian Kemp (R) (The New York Times) … Kansas gubernatorial race splits GOP (The Wall Street Journal) … States struggle to protect 2020 election despite assurances from Trump (Politico) … Poll show Cynthia Nixon is a long shot in the New York Democratic primary for governor but she thinks she’s being underestimated (The New York Times) … Celebrities dive into midterms, hoping to thwart Trump (The Hill).


CONGRESS - tilting toward autumn: Lawmakers face big challenges as they eye Election Day. Republicans worry about an unpredictable and volatile president, a divisive Supreme Court battle in September, a fight over keeping the government funded before October, and House GOP frictions over who will succeed Ryan to lead a fractious conference. On the Democratic side, the troubles include internal discord about an agenda that can gain altitude in the era of Trump, and aging leaders pressured by a new generation of impatient progressives.

> Kavanaugh confirmation: Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate MORE (D-W.Va.) has a courtesy meeting with the president’s nominee today. Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE on Aug. 15 will be the second Senate Democrat to meet with the judge. Manchin, among the red-state Democrats in tough reelection battles this year, says he’ll listen carefully to his constituents before deciding how he’ll vote.

The Hill: Senators are at an impasse over the breadth of Kavanaugh documents needed before a hearing.

The Hill: Judiciary Committee chairman wants some but not all of Kavanaugh’s paperwork from his White House years.

The New York Times: What did Kavanaugh think about former President George W. Bush’s claim to be able to override a ban on torture?

The Associated Press: Kavanaugh has clear views on guns.

The Daily Caller: Justice Elena Kagan says she worries that politicizing nominations harms the public’s perception of the courts.

 > Government funding by Sept. 30: A few Republicans, including the president, believe threats of an autumn showdown over funding the government could box Democrats in and frame voters’ choices just weeks before the elections. However, House and Senate leaders dread the shutdown risk, fearing it tramples over the preferred GOP themes of fiscal prudence, skilled governance and returning taxpayer money to voters.

“I don’t think it would be helpful, so let’s try to avoid it.” – Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it MORE (R-Wis.), chairman, Senate Homeland Security Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation”



Politico: Government shutdown not likely, House Republican campaign chairman says.

The Hill: GOP weighs postponing border wall fight until after midterms.

The Hill: House GOP leadership race is more complicated now.

The Hill: House Republicans start summer break with internal friction about July’s diversions.


INVESTIGATIONS: Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election will impact the 2018 midterm elections — the question is how?

Only Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE know whether the investigation will wrap before November, but that seems increasingly unlikely as new avenues open in investigators’ work. But the potential of a campaigns-rattling surprise (or several) hovers over Nov. 6.

The president railed against the investigations in a Twitter tirade on Sunday:



> The trial for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrump has publicly criticized Russia probe more than 1,100 times: NY Times Judge orders Stone to appear in court after he shared photo of her with crosshairs Roger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case MORE begins on Tuesday in Virginia. Manafort faces charges of financial corruption and fraud, although the case is a separate outgrowth from the Russia controversies that dog the White House.

The Hill: Manafort trial poses first courtroom test for Mueller.

Reuters: Mueller releases list of 35 potential witnesses in Manafort trial.

> The bitter feud between Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen seems to escalate daily. Cohen, who once described himself as Trump’s personal “fixer,” represents a new legal threat to the president. The FBI is investigating Cohen’s business practices, which are deeply entwined with Trump’s.

The Hill: Trump and Cohen wage credibility war.

The Hill: Trump’s legal team fights back against Cohen claims.

Jonathan Turley: Cohen’s fight to survive makes him dangerous to Trump.

> And now the investigation has ensnared a senior financial executive at the Trump Organization. Allen Weisselberg, who knows as much about Trump’s business empire as anyone, has been subpoenaed to testify in the Cohen case.

The Wall Street Journal: Trump chief financial officer thrust into legal spotlight.


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Putin wanted to interrogate me. Trump called it `an incredible offer.’ Why? by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (The Washington Post).

Fixing Flores agreement is the only solution to immigrant family separation and detention, by GOP Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive | Dems question IRS on new tax forms | Warren rolls out universal child care proposal | Illinois governor signs bill for minimum wage Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (Iowa), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration GOP senator dedicates heart photo to wife from Senate floor for Valentine's Day MORE (N.C.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report MORE (Texas) (USA Today).


The House is out through its August break.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes debate on the nomination of Britt Grant to be a judge with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate plans a procedural vote on the nomination at 5:30 p.m.

The president will welcome Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy to the White House for meetings to discuss NATO, Afghanistan, Iraq and conditions in the Mediterranean region, among other topics. At 2 p.m., both leaders will participate in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. Later in the Oval Office, Trump will lead the swearing-in of Robert Wilkie as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department (Wilkie immediately plans to reassign some Trump loyalists under his control, The Washington Post reports).

Vice President Pence’s interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business was rebroadcast today at 6 a.m. ET, on “Mornings with Maria.” He travels today to Newark, Ohio, to stump for state Sen. Troy Balderson (R), who is running for a U.S. House seat (Columbus Dispatch)

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump administration combining Palestinian mission, Israeli embassy next month: report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration MORE delivers the keynote address at the Inaugural Indo-Pacific Business Forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This afternoon he meets with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi at the department.


> Impatient Trump drives U.S. push for peace talks in Afghanistan (NBC News).

> The stealth campaign to kill off ObamaCare (The New York Times). The conservative American Action Network spent an estimated $10 million on an ad campaign last year focused on elimination of the Affordable Care Act. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America was a major, but unseen backer of the network.

> Decaying U.S. infrastructure: Mississippi’s closed bridges, delayed emergency responses and rerouted commerce (NBC News).

> Inside the Trump administration’s chaotic effort to reunite migrant families (Wall Street Journal).

> Sexual misconduct: Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals to face investigation for sexual assault (The Washington Post); Pope Francis suspends McCarrick from any public ministry (The Associated Press) … CBS and CEO Les Moonves face accusations of sexual misconduct (The New Yorker) ... 10 more ex-students sue Ohio State University over alleged sexual assault by now-dead wrestling team doctor (The Associated Press) ... allegations by classical musicians of sexual misconduct and harassment (The Washington Post).


And finally … how about some ingenuity in infrastructure? What if the 83-year-old Hoover Dam became a gigantic battery to create more power during peak demand hours? What would it take? Answer: a new pipeline and pump station downstream to regulate the water flow through the dam’s electric generators, cycling water back to the top. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power thinks such a project could solve some of California’s current and future power needs. Estimated price tag? $3 billion (The New York Times).