The Hill's Morning Report — Trump optimistic about GOP’s midterm prospects as Republicans fret

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill's Morning Report, and happy Monday! Our daily email gets you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch, co-created by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger. (CLICK HERE to subscribe!) On Twitter, find us at @joneasley and @asimendinger.

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., salutes the anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with James Jones, former White House top adviser to President Johnson (at age 28); Cornell William Brooks, senior fellow, Brennan Center for Justice; and Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation. As part of Hill.TV’s recurring look at midterm contests, Republican Jeff Dove, running against Virginia incumbent Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem on Puerto Rico and Trump: ‘God only knows’ what he'd consider a failure Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence MORE (D), for a House seat, joins the program, along with Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. http://thehill.com/hilltv


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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE’s optimism about the GOP’s prospects in the 2018 midterm elections is at odds with how most Republicans see the political landscape.

Over the weekend, Trump cited the economy and a survey from the conservative polling outlet Rasmussen that put his approval rating near 50 percent as evidence that a “red wave” is forming three months out from Election Day.

 

 

Many Republicans and election forecasters, however, believe the GOP is facing a bloodbath in the House.

The Associated Press: GOP grumbles as Trump reshapes midterms.

It’s possible that the president’s optimistic views are being colored by his campaign rallies.

Trump loves to campaign and he’s hitting the trail with vigor, both for GOP candidates and his own reelection bid. The president routinely draws thousands of adoring supporters who show up to cheer his attacks on Democrats and the media.

The Hill: Trump roars into campaign season.

But that enthusiasm for Trump doesn’t square with the GOP’s struggles to defend safely Republican House seats, like in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where state Sen. Troy Balderson (R) is trying to hold off a challenge from Democrat Danny O’Connor in a special election for a seat that the GOP has held for 35 consecutive years.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who represented Ohio’s 12th Congressional District from 1983 to 2001, had this to say on ABC’s “This Week”:

"It’s really kind of shocking because this should be just a slam dunk and it’s not. It really doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party because this ... shouldn’t even be contested." – Kasich

Trump was in the Columbus suburbs on Saturday, so we’ll get another test of the president’s midterms strength on Tuesday, when voters head to the polls for the special election.

But even if Republicans hold the seat, it will come at the cost of millions of dollars spent by GOP outside groups to protect a seat that is not historically competitive.

Among the other data points that have Republicans worried:

> Polls show Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) within striking distance of Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzViral video shows O’Rourke air-drumming to the Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ after Cruz debate Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions MORE (R-Texas). Cruz is still expected to win the race, but the Cook Political Report moved his race over the weekend from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.”

> Dozens of Republicans in the House are retiring or seeking other office and open seats are harder to defend. Rep. Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackTrump’s endorsements cement power but come with risks The Hill's Morning Report — Trump optimistic about GOP’s midterm prospects as Republicans fret Women poised to take charge in Dem majority MORE (R-Tenn.), who was running for governor, lost in a primary last week, making her the fifth GOP House lawmaker to lose a bid for higher office this cycle.

> There is tremendous energy on the left, with Democrats saying they’re more excited to vote this year than Republicans and liberals organizing protest marches in the streets. Celebrities are working to goose turnout for Democrats. Singer John Legend posted this plea to get out the vote for O’Connor in Ohio’s 12 Congressional District from what looks like an island resort.

> The president’s approval ratings are stable but low at this point for a first-term president. Some Republicans fear that he’ll be an albatross for the party, or energize Democrats to turn out and vote against him.

“Now you come out ... from the 'Trump church' in the Republican primary with a big Trump halo. But in the general election, Democrats all hate Trump and among independents he’s mostly upside-down. So what is your magic light sword in the primary becomes an anchor around your neck in the general.” – GOP strategist Mike Murphy on NBC's "Meet the Press"

Trump’s allies note that none of the experts foresaw his historic election victory in 2016 and that there’s no reason he can’t help Republicans buck history one more time in 2018.

LEADING THE DAY

CAMPAIGNS & POLITICS: In addition to Tuesday’s House special election, there are primary elections in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. Here are a few links highlighting the dynamics in key races from those state:

The New York Times: Democrats see an opening in Kansas if Trump ally wins primary.

The New York Times: John James, black and Republican, thinks he can crack the “blue wall” in Michigan.

The Hill: Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I) boosts progressive candidate ahead of Michigan governor primary.

 

 

> If Democrats win the House in November, more than 30 women would rise to lead committees or subcommittees in the next Congress — a historically high number that would put female lawmakers in the driver’s seat over some of the party’s most urgent legislative goals. The Hill’s Mike Lillis has the story (The Hill).

> Trump continued his attacks against billionaire conservative activist Charles Koch over the weekend.

The president is furious with Koch and his network of political groups for criticizing his trade policies. At the Saturday rally in Ohio, Trump claimed that Koch is angry about his tariffs because they harm foreign workers. The Koch network responded:

“Reports that Charles Koch has said U.S. tariffs are unfair to foreign workers are incorrect. They get it backwards. He said U.S. tariffs hurt American workers and American consumers. They’re an unfair tax on the U.S. and this counterproductive policy should be stopped.” – Koch network co-chairman Mark Holden

Also over the weekend, the Morning Report obtained a letter from Holden to the group’s donors standing by their decision not to back some Republicans who they believe have strayed from their fiscally conservative principles.

The letter also accuses Trump’s allies at the Republican National Committee of mischaracterizing the Koch network’s political operations. Read more HERE.

> The president dove back into the culture wars, attacking NBA star LeBron James, who criticized the president during an interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon. Trump said he prefers Michael Jordan over James, but Jordan and other sports stars rallied around James (The Washington Post).

More from the campaign trail … Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump Fox News poll shows Dems with edge ahead of midterms Poll: Democrats in position to retake the House MORE endorsed Democrat Haley Stevens in a crowded House Democratic primary in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District (Detroit News) … The Georgia governor’s race, in effect, pits Trump against former President Obama (Atlanta Journal Constitution) … Early 2020 polls are positive for former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden to campaign for Stacey Abrams next week Dems with political experience could have edge in 2020 primary, says pollster Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE but Senate officials are skeptical (The Hill) … The 65 races that will determine the House (NBC News) … A ‘Rainbow Wave?’ 2018 has more LGBT candidates than ever (The New York Times) … Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) says he’s not ready to run for president in 2020 (The Hill) … Can Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s playbook work in the heartland? (The New York Times).

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INVESTIGATIONS: With the president, the House and the Senate all out of town, Trump filled the void of political news with a torrent of tweets about special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s probe.

Trump was furious with a Washington Post report that said he has expressed concern to top aides that his son Donald Trump Jr. may have inadvertently broken the law by meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in 2016 who had promised opposition research about Hillary Clinton.

 

 

Trump Jr. has insisted that although he was drawn into the meeting by the promise of campaign dirt, the Russian instead tried to lobby him to oppose a U.S. law that Russian President Vladimir Putin hates, called the Magnitsky Act.

Trump and his lawyers say that either way, no laws were broken — an argument that dovetails with their recent claims that “collusion” is itself not a crime.

“The question is how would [the meeting] would be illegal. You have to look at what laws, rules, regulations, statutes are purportedly violated here." — Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on ABC’s “This Week”

However, Trump’s tweet confirmed that the president knew the Trump Tower meeting was arranged around opposition research, and not the Magnitsky Act. That’s contrary to a statement the president released at the time the Trump Tower meeting was first reported.

The Washington Post: Trump defends son’s meeting about Clinton information as “totally legal.”

 

 

 

 

Of course, none of this back-and-forth matters in the big picture. Only Mueller’s eventual findings are important.

Still, the president continues to raise new questions and create problems for himself over Twitter amid reports that Mueller is keeping tabs on Trump’s tweets as part of the broader investigation into potential obstruction of justice.

The Hill: Debate rages over Trump tweets and obstruction.

"Obstruction of justice by tweet is absurd. The president has a First Amendment right to put his opinions out there." – Sekulow

Elsewhere, the trial for Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Ex-White House official revises statement to Mueller after Flynn guilty plea: report Former White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report MORE enters its second week on Monday. The Hill’s Lydia Wheeler has a recap of the first week, in case you missed it (The Hill).

It’s possible the trial could be sent to the jury by the end of the week.

The Washington Post: Manafort accountant says she helped him falsify records.

The New York Times: Deep in debt, Manafort saw opportunity in Trump.

The Associated Press: All eyes on Manafort’s right-hand man, Richard Gates.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

INTERNATIONAL: The United States is in a sanctions swirl around the world…

Iran: The Hill: The Trump administration today is poised to impose an initial batch of new sanctions on Iran, the first since the president withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Such punishment follows Trump’s invitation to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to meet anytime without conditions.

> Returning from Asia to Washington on Sunday, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Pompeo rejects ‘good cop, bad cop’ characterization of Russia strategy Pompeo: 'Enormous mistake' for Iran to blame US, allies for attack on military parade MORE told reporters that U.S. conditions for sanctions relief require Iran “to behave like a normal country. That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple” (Reuters).

North Korea: The Hill: North Korea's return last week of 55 boxes of what it says are U.S. remains from the Korean War is being seen as a negotiating tactic by Pyongyang to try to remain in the Trump administration’s good graces.

> On Saturday, U.S. and North Korean diplomats at the annual ASEAN summit simultaneously shook hands and lobbed critiques at one another in what appeared to be another roadblock in the path to negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, The Washington Post reported.

> North Korea has not stopped expanding its nuclear missile program, the United Nations determined in a confidential report (Reuters).

> Seoul advised North Korea today to speed up denuclearization, while advising the United States to keep its promises (Yonhap News Agency).

Senate GOP - Russia sanctions: The Hill: A legislative effort to slap new financial penalties on Russia ahead of the midterm elections has sparked divisions among Senate Republicans. A growing number say they’re skeptical that approving new sanctions legislation, after Congress passed stiff penalties last year, would alter Russia's aggressive behavior.

> Russia seeks U.S. help to rebuild Syria (Reuters).

China tariffs: The Hill: Beijing threatens tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. imported goods as trade tensions continue without resolution. “We need fair and reciprocal responses from China,” Pompeo told reporters Sunday.

Turkey: In a continuing dispute over a captive U.S. pastor and Trump-ordered levies, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered retaliatory sanctions over the weekend against U.S. officials. Pompeo warned on Friday that time has “run out” for Erdoğan to release the pastor (The Washington Post).

MexicoThe Hill: This week, Americans might see a breakthrough between the United States and Mexico on trade, or at least that’s what Mexico keeps saying. Negotiators for the two countries continued working through the weekend, and Canada could rejoin the discussions later on. Trump has said he won’t sign a North American Free Trade deal before Nov. 6.

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!

OPINION

Trump, the media both to blame for toxic atmosphere, by Carl M. Cannon, The Orange County Register. http://bit.ly/2Odmz1w

Trump often attacks women, minorities as ‘dumb,’ by Charles Blow, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2nhNP3I

 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House is out until after Labor Day.

The Senate is out this week.

The president is on a working vacation in Bedminster, N.J., through Aug. 13. On Sunday, he played golf with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary chair threatens subpoena if DOJ doesn’t supply McCabe memos by Tuesday Rosenstein report gives GOP new ammo against DOJ Graham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump MORE (R-S.C.) Tonight, Trump will dine with unidentified “supporters.” The gathering is closed to the press, according to the White House.

Vice President Pence speaks this morning by telephone with Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. This afternoon, he meets with Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green speaks at a State Department event at noon to mark the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Those catastrophic blasts, for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility, killed more than 200 people on Aug. 7, 1998.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Ky.) is on a trip to Moscow today to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (The Washington Post).

ELSEWHERE

> Cincinnati, Ohio, biology teacher on Saturday may have set a record for a 2,000-mile solo row across the Atlantic in 38 days (The Associated Press).

> Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change, by Nathaniel Rich (The New York Times magazine, special issue).

> NASA chose nine men and women to serve as crew members on the first SpaceX and Boeing commercial space test flights to the International Space Station in 2019 (Space.com).

> To tackle a problem many cities experience with homelessness, Albuquerque, N.M., will build a village of tiny, transitional houses for 25 to 35 select recipients at the start of a new program (Albuquerque Journal).

> Eight migrant teenagers in an Arizona detention center were allegedly sexually molested by a 25-year-old HIV-positive youth-care worker hired in 2016 and arrested last summer (ProPublica). Police nationwide have responded to hundreds of calls in recent weeks reporting details of possible sex crimes at shelters under contract to the Health and Human Services Department, ProPublica reports. One Tucson, Ariz., shelter worker has been convicted of molestation of children.

> The Catholic diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., lists 71 clergymen and seminarians accused of sexual abuse of children and removed the names of all bishops since 1947 from every space marked and named in their honor (York Daily Record). A Pennsylvania grand jury report describing abuse by 300 clergymen in the state is to be released this month (The Washington Post).

> Response to Ebola outbreak in Congo complicated by conflicts among ethnic groups (The Hill) … Ebola vaccinations in eastern Congo set to begin on Wednesday (Reuters).

THE CLOSER

And finally … On Aug. 6, 1965, former President Johnson signed into law one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, the Voting Rights Act. The law was a long time coming, but moved with speed through Congress. Following shocking images of violence in Alabama that spring as demonstrators for voting rights tried to march peacefully from Selma to Montgomery, the Senate responded by embracing reforms, and the House followed in July.

    “The challenge to this right is a challenge to America itself.” – LBJ, March 15, 1965, address to Congress

Fifty-three years later, U.S. voting procedures, secure elections, and state and local enforcement of voting laws still dominate the news in an election year.

> The New York Times: How the U.S. is fighting Russian interference in American elections.

> Newsday/The Associated Press: Trump endorsed a photo identification threshold to vote, erroneously claiming during a Tampa rally that Americans need a photo ID to buy groceries.

> The New York Times: In a North Carolina county, a dozen people face years in prison for casting what the state says were illegal votes in 2016. Nine of the defendants are black.