The Hill’s Morning Report – Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election?
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President Trump made a campaign appearance in North Carolina on Monday night as Republicans make a last-ditch effort to win a special election in the state’s 9th Congressional District, a race that could be a sign of things to come on both the presidential and congressional scene in 2020.
Trump campaigned in support of Republican Dan Bishop, who looks to fend off Democrat Dan McCready in a district that leans Republican, but where Democrats have been competitive as they continue a surge of energy against the president that was exhibited in November.
McCready infamously lost in November to Republican Mark Harris, but Harris was never certified the winner after an illegal ballot-harvesting effort cost Republicans the seat, setting up the special election. However, Trump expressed optimism that Bishop will win the contest, calling it the first step to taking back the House majority
“Tomorrow, right here in North Carolina, we take the first steps to firing Nancy Pelosi and taking back the House,” said Trump, who called Bishop up earlier in the rally to address the crowd.
The contest is viewed as a toss-up despite the district in 2016 going heavily for Trump, who pulled 54 percent support over 42 percent for Hillary Clinton.
According to one GOP strategist who’s been closely following the race, optimism is not high that Bishop will pull out a win Tuesday night, noting that Bishop — best known for authoring the North Carolina “bathroom bill” — has not spent a ton on his own, although Republican outside groups have come in heavily on behalf of the GOP candidate. According to The Charlotte Observer, GOP groups have dropped nearly $7 million in the district, with Democratic groups spending nearly $4 million on behalf of McCready as of Friday.
“It’s not looking good,” the GOP strategist said, predicting that Bishop will lose somewhere inside the margin of error.
If Bishop wins, Republicans believe it’s largely going to be because Trump will have dragged him across the finish line after rallying support in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday night. According to a recent Inside Elections poll, Trump’s approval rating in the district sits at 47 percent, down from 52 percent at the end of 2018, according to a different poll.
“The presidential push will give Dan Bishop a lead when all votes are counted. The picture two weeks ago was very bleak,” said one North Carolina GOP operative.
A win for Democrats would be a major boon to the party, both on the 2020 presidential scene and in the party’s push to keep hold of the House majority. As one Democratic operative noted, among the 31 House Democrats who sit in districts won by Trump in 2016, there are only two where Trump won by a greater margin: Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, which Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) represents, and New York’s 22nd Congressional District, where Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) won in 2018. Trump won the districts by 30 and 15 points, respectively.
Democrats also believe that a tight race, let alone a McCready win, could bring with it a new round of retirements by House Republicans. Fifteen Republicans have announced that they will either retire, resign or run for a different office, with more likely to come in the coming weeks and months.
“Putting a pin where the battlefield is for the 2020 cycle,” said the Democratic strategist when asked what’s at stake on Tuesday. “GOP leadership cannot get them to keep them in their seats. A tight race in North Carolina accelerates the rate of GOP retirements.”
“If we are playing in this part of the battlefield, Democrats are fully on offense,” the strategist continued.
The Hill: Influential tribe set to play key role in N.C. election.
The Associated Press: At rally, Trump paints bleak picture of Democratic control.
The New York Times: Moderate Democrats fared best in 2018. One gets another chance today.
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Congress made its long-awaited return to Washington on Monday, with open questions surrounding what could be done to reduce gun violence in the wake of three mass shootings since the beginning of August.
More than any, the answer to one question remains elusive as the conversation heats up on the topic: What will the president support?
As Jordain Carney writes, just over a week after the shooting in West Texas and over a month since those in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the president is facing a make-or-break moment on gun reforms. Lawmakers, who say they are still in the dark about what the president would sign, are calling on him to provide “guidelines” for potential legislation. On Sunday, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) did just that, saying the president needs to “step up” and create guidelines for lawmakers to follow.
“The president needs to step up here and set some guidelines for what he would do,” Blunt told “Meet The Press.” “I’m afraid what’s going to happen here is what always happens, is we take this silly ‘if we don’t get everything, we won’t do anything.’”
Since the shootings in early August, Trump has consistently sent mixed signals about what he could back, having said on a number of occasions — including in discussions with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — that he wants to look at expanded background checks but then backing off and arguing that mental illness is the main issue to tackle. Murphy said in a statement on Monday that while he continues to negotiate, “time is running short” to strike a deal on background checks, adding that it’s more likely that nothing will get done on the issue the way things are moving at this point.
“I think time is running short to find a compromise on background checks. I’m still negotiating in good faith to find a bipartisan proposal that will expand checks to cover more commercial sales and save lives, and I continue to take the president at his word that he wants the same thing,” Murphy said. “But as each day goes by, it seems more likely that we’re going to find ourselves back in a familiar place where 90 percent of the Americans who want more background checks are going to be disappointed once again.”
Nevertheless, supporters need him on their side to strike a deal. Senate Republicans, under pressure to act on some gun control measures, say they don’t want to move forward without political cover from Trump, as they want to keep support from their base strong ahead of the 2020 election, as Alexander Bolton reports.
Trump’s lack of clarity has made life difficult for vulnerable Republicans, giving mixed signals as to where he might go on the issue and leaving them stalling for time as they try to figure out where the president will ultimately end up.
> Impeachment: House Judiciary Committee Democrats have expanded their already sprawling investigation into Russian interference to include new areas of inquiry, as the panel weighs whether to introduce articles of impeachment against the president.
In addition to Democrats examining possible episodes of obstruction as laid out in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has announced in recent days that the panel will also examine payments made to two women claiming they had affairs with Trump, reports the president dangled pardons to border officials, and whether the president has profited from government trips in which administration and Air Force officials used taxpayer dollars to stay at his family-owned properties.
Additionally, the panel is also preparing to have its first recorded vote this week on a resolution that would formalize procedures for the panel amid its growing impeachment investigation. Both the expansion and efforts to lay out its investigative powers come as the panel lacks public support for impeachment (The Hill).
Politico: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) lashes Michael Flynn for refusing to cooperate.
The Washington Post: Democrats investigate whether Trump, Giuliani pressured Ukraine to aid 2020 reelection bid.
The Hill: Ten notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment
POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: The president’s reelection campaign is moving to block three Republicans challenging him in next year’s primary election, cognizant of the potential threat those challengers represent to Trump’s hold on his vaunted Republican base.
Trump’s campaign has worked for months to limit a challenger’s ability to test the president’s hold on his Republican base, as Reid Wilson reports. His team has moved to install pro-Trump party officials in key states, ousting incumbents to do so if necessary.
Most recently, several states voted over the weekend to end primaries or caucuses that would have given those challengers an opportunity to attract votes and attention. South Carolina party officials went so far as to do so in apparent violation of their own rules.
The Hill: Trump says he won’t debate primary opponents.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution: Jon Ossoff to run for Senate in Georgia.
The Wall Street Journal: Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) weighs future in Trump’s GOP.
> Criminal Justice: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) released a new criminal justice plan on Monday that would end mandatory minimum sentencing, the death penalty and cash bail in an effort to create a system focused on fairness and building safe communities.
Harris says her plan to end mass incarceration is part of a shift to a “crime reduction” policy. Ending mandatory minimum sentences would be effective at the federal level, with her pushing for states to follow suit. Her plan would also legalize marijuana, expunge records containing marijuana convictions, and nix federal bans that prevent previously incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance programs.
“My entire career has been spent making needed reforms and fighting for those who too often are voiceless — from young people arrested for the first time and getting them jobs instead of jail, to grieving Black mothers who wanted justice for their child’s murder as the system ignored their pain,” Harris said in a statement. “This plan uses my experience and unique capability to root out failures within the justice system.”
Harris released the plan only days before she is set to take part in the third Democratic debate in Houston and as she tries to claw her way back into the top tier of the primary battle. After a polling surge following the first debate in Miami, Harris has seen her support levels crater to where they were before that debate (The Hill).
Politico: “It’s a deceptive lead”: Why former Vice President Joe Biden’s rivals are planning around his big collapse.
The Hill: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorses Rep. Henry Cuellar’s (D-Texas) primary challenger.
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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
WHITE HOUSE/ADMINISTRATION: The president said Monday that peace negotiations with the Taliban are “dead” after he cancelled planned meetings at Camp David with Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani over the weekend.
“They are dead. They are dead. As far as I’m concerned, they are dead,” Trump told reporters about the peace talks, noting that the Taliban took responsibility for the attack that killed an American soldier.
“You can’t do that. You can’t do that with me. So they are dead as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said.
Trump said the administration is “looking at” whether to move forward with reducing troop levels in the region. A possible reduction of forces was one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban that was not finalized (The Associated Press).
“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.
The Associated Press: Trump’s Afghanistan decision pushes country toward vote.
The New York Times: C.I.A. Informant extracted from Russia had sent secrets to U.S. for decades.
> Alabama, cont.: The president’s unending claim that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian took a new turn Monday when news surfaced that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top staffers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted the president.
According to The New York Times, Ross told Dr. Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, “to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president,” adding that political staffers would be fired if the situation was not rectified.
The battle over Alabama is one Trump has continued to tweet about as recently as Saturday when he sent out three missives on the subject, including a video taking a shot at CNN.
After news of Ross’s intervention was reported, Democrats began calling for the commerce secretary’s resignation. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said in a statement that the threat directed at NOAA employees is an “embarrassing new low” for the secretary, adding that he “does not deserve the trust of the American people or a place in the Cabinet.”
“He should be dismissed immediately,” Beyer said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to call for Ross’s ouster, but blasted the commerce secretary for “thuggish behavior” and forcing NOAA staffers to “bow down in obeisance to an anti-science president.”
> Housing: The president is facing an arduous path to overhaul the federal housing finance system as lawmakers remain sharply divided on how to address the issue.
The administration’s first test comes Tuesday, when top officials are slated to appear before the Senate to explain and defend their plan to end the federal government’s control over two pillars of the U.S. housing finance system. Lawmakers have struggled for more than a decade to release the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, better known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from Washington’s control.
While there is wide bipartisan agreement that federal housing policy is in dire need of reform, Congress lacks consensus with the 2020 presidential election approaching and remains unlikely to take action in the near future (The Hill).
The Wall Street Journal: Judge blocks Trump restrictions on asylum claims nationwide.
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Why impeachment of William Sulzer is solid precedent for Donald Trump, by Allan Lichtman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2lDyAEF
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WHERE AND WHEN
Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features Annie Pforzheimer, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, to discuss her latest op-ed for The Hill about the path forward in Afghanistan; Gilad Edelman, executive editor of Washington Monthly, to talk about his story about Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) push against big tech; and Mike Lillis, staff writer covering Capitol Hill, to look at Congress’s return to Washington. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.
The House meets at 10 a.m., and will consider a series of Housing-related bills.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of Kelly Craft’s nomination to serve as United Nations ambassador. A confirmation vote is expected at 11:50 a.m.
The president has lunch with Vice President Pence at 12:30 p.m. and will deliver remarks at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference at 2:15 p.m. He will meet with GOP Congressional leaders at 4 p.m. in the Oval Office, and will participate in a ceremonial swearing in for Craft as U.N. ambassador at 5:30 p.m.
The Hill hosts the next installment in the Leadership in Action series today at 1777 F Street NW. We will be joined by Reps. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), John Curtis (R-Utah) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) to take the political pulse of the country’s young voters and discuss what issues matter most as we approach the 2020 cycle. RSVP HERE.
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➔ Brexit: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to suspend Parliament until shortly before the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union. Lawmakers responded by demanding Johnson’s government release private correspondence by officials about its plans for Brexit, which they are required to release under parliamentary rules. Lawmakers are pushing for those to be released by Wednesday (The Associated Press). Johnson reiterated on Tuesday that he would not request a Brexit extension as lawmakers once again blocked his request to hold an election on the issue (Reuters).
➔ Cargo rescue: The Coast Guard rescued all four men who were trapped in a cargo ship more than a day after it overturned while leaving a Georgia port. Three of the crew members were rescued mid afternoon, with a fourth member who was trapped in a separate part of the ship being pulled from the vessel three hours later. “Best day of my 16-year career,” said Lt. Lloyd Heflin, who coordinated the effort for the Coast Guard (The Associated Press).
➔ Silicon Valley: A coalition of 50 attorneys general will be investigating Google for potential violations of antitrust law, a step that could lead to a broad legal challenge to the company’s market dominance. The investigation into the tech giant, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine (D), was announced on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday afternoon after months of rumors about states seeking to turn up the pressure on Silicon Valley. The investigation is expected to focus on Google’s dominance in the online search and advertising markets (The Hill).
And finally … a dose of positive news. Former Boston Red Sox great David Ortiz made his first public appearance on Monday night three months after being shot in the Dominican Republic.
Ortiz, a three-time World Series champion, took the mound at Fenway Park to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox took on the New York Yankees. Ortiz made a high toss to former Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek, and thanked the fans for their continued prayers and support through the ordeal (The Boston Globe).
“I want to thank all of you for all the prayers,” Ortiz said. “I really appreciate it. Thank you very much. I want to thank my former teammates for being there for me. So, a lot of them came home to check up on my boy. Also, I want to thank the Yankees, a lot of my boys over there and checked up on Big Papi. Thank you very much, appreciate it. CC (Sabathia), (Edwin) Encarnación. Thank you very much. God bless you all. Go Sox.”