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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.24.18

09/24/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Kavanaugh says he's not quitting: "In a defiant new letter Monday, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said he would 'not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process.'"

* I wonder if Trump expected otherwise: "Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News Monday that he had no plans to meet President Donald Trump during his visit to New York, saying the United States had employed only threats and sanctions against his country."

* And speaking of Iran: "Iran summoned diplomats from Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands early Sunday for allegedly harboring 'members of the terrorist group' that launched an attack in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60."

* This might affect Ted Cruz's campaign strategy: "The Dallas Police Department on Monday fired an officer who barged into the wrong apartment in her building and killed a man who was inside. The dismissal of Amber Guyger was announced by Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall on Twitter."

* It's hard to have confidence the White House knows what it's doing: "China raised tariffs Monday on thousands of U.S. goods in an escalation of its fight with President Donald Trump over technology policy and accused Washington of bullying Beijing and damaging the global economy."

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

It's not too late for Congress to protect Mueller from Trump

09/24/18 01:52PM

The political world experienced a small earthquake this morning in response to multiple reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would soon part ways with the Trump administration, either by way of a resignation or a presidential firing. It now appears the uproar was premature: Rosenstein will meet with Donald Trump on Thursday.

But while the senior Justice Department official's fate remains unclear, the reason for this morning's tumult couldn't be more obvious: Rosenstein is, for all intents and purposes, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's superior in the investigation into the Russia scandal. Rosenstein's ouster would put the entire federal probe in jeopardy.

All of which renews interest in a familiar question: maybe Congress can take steps to protect Mueller? NBC News reported today:

As conflicting reports emerged concerning the fate of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday, Democrats sounded the alarm about what his potential departure from the Department of Justice could mean for the Russia probe.

"Saturday Night Massacres don't need to happen on a Saturday," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Twitter. "If President Trump fires DAG Rod Rosenstein or forces his resignation, he will come one giant leap closer to directly meddling with the Special Counsel's Russia investigation." [...]

Leahy and other legislators on Monday called for the passage of bipartisan legislation designed to protect the special counsel's investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for a vote to occur immediately. "We can no longer afford to wait," she wrote in a tweet.

A wide variety of House Democrats pushed a similar line.

It was five months ago when the Senate Judiciary Committee easily approved a bipartisan bill to protect Muller from White House interference. Soon after, Republican leaders ignored the proposal as if it didn't exist.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.24.18

09/24/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 52% to 40%, among registered voters. That 12-point advantage is up from an eight-point Democratic lead a month ago. Among likely voters, however, that Dems' lead is eight points, 51% to 43%.

* The new Fox News poll, meanwhile, shows Democrats with a seven-point lead among likely voters on the generic ballot, 49% to 42%. The network's report, however, added this tidbit: "When looking only at counties where the 2016 presidential vote was close (Clinton and Trump within 10 points), Democrats have a 17-point lead in the ballot test."

* A new University of Florida poll found incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) tied with Gov. Rick Scott (R), 45% each, in this year's closely watched U.S. Senate race.

* On a related note, the same poll found Andrew Gillum (D) with a modest lead over Ron DeSantis (R) in Florida's gubernatorial race, 47% to 43%. (Don't ask me to explain the voters who supported both Gillum and Rick Scott in the same poll.)

* In Pennsylvania, the latest Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll found incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) easily defeating Lou Barletta (R) in the commonwealth's U.S. Senate race, 53% to 35%.

* On a related note, the same poll found Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) with a very similar lead over Scott Wagner (R), 55% to 36%.

* In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), running for a second term, was probably pleased to learn that the NRA isn't endorsing his re-election bid.

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Image: Donald Trump

New poll suggests opposition to Kavanaugh nomination is growing

09/24/18 11:30AM

Hugh Hewitt, a prominent conservative observer and an MSNBC contributor, made the argument this morning that journalists living inside "blue bubbles" -- major urban areas on the costs -- have a skewed perspective when it comes to public support for Brett Kavanaugh. Those media professionals are "talking to each other and not Americans across the country," the conservative host wrote.

The "smears" against the Supreme Court nominee, Hewitt added, "are going to backfire," whether urban-based journalists realize it or not.

I try to be mindful of this dynamic. The controversies surrounding Kavanaugh seem to be intensifying, jolting the broader political debate, but it's not hard to imagine much of the Republican base rallying behind Donald Trump's nominee in ways those voters might not have before recent developments.

It's why polling has become so important: it offers us a quantitative way to gauge public attitudes about an evolving debate. And according to a new national Fox News poll, opposition to the conservative jurist is surprisingly broad.

Voter support for Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is down in the wake of Christine Ford's assault allegations, as more believe her than him.

Currently, 40 percent of voters would confirm Kavanaugh, while 50 percent oppose him, according to a Fox News poll. Last month, views split 45-46 percent (August 19-21).

Note, the survey was conducted Sunday through Wednesday of last week.

The same poll found a plurality of Americans believe Christine Blasey Ford more than they believe Kavanaugh, and a 59% majority expressed support for delaying the confirmation process.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Ind., April 26, 2016. (Photo by Michael Conroy/AP)

Why Ted Cruz's latest attack against Beto O'Rourke is so important

09/24/18 11:00AM

The details of what transpired in the Dallas shooting are still under investigation, but based on what we know, a local police officer, Amber Guyger, mistakenly entered her neighbor's apartment, and proceeded to shoot and kill him. The officer is a white woman, while the victim, Botham Shem Jean, was a black man.

A few days after the slaying, Guyger was charged with manslaughter, but soon after, local officials were accused of trying to smear Jean by alerting the media to the fact that he allegedly had 10 grams of marijuana in his apartment when he was killed.

Not surprisingly, this has become an important election-year topic for candidates in Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R), in his first debate on Friday with Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), chastised his rival over his criticisms of the officer who killed her unarmed neighbor. As the Washington Post  reported, after the debate, Cruz went a little further.

Sen. Ted Cruz's most popular tweet Friday night -- the one with tens of thousands of likes, retweets and comments -- ostensibly was meant to slam his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

"In Beto O'Rourke's own words," tweeted the Texas Republican, who has found himself in the midst of a surprisingly tight reelection race for his U.S. Senate seat in a formerly solid-red state.

Cruz then linked to a video of a speech O'Rourke gave at a Dallas church in which he discussed the death of a local resident named Botham Shem Jean.... "How can it be -- in this day and age, in this very year, in this community -- that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer?" O'Rourke asked the congregation, which grew increasingly animated.

On the surface, the fact that Cruz was eager to promote O'Rourke's remarks seemed baffling: the Texas congressman didn't say anything controversial. Indeed, it wasn't at all clear what it was, exactly, that O'Rourke said that the far-right senator disagreed with.

It seemed like a message that was destined to backfire: it showed Cruz's opponent making sensible observations in a Baptist church about a tragic shooting, where the congregation gave every indication it agreed with what O'Rourke had to say.

But to limit the analysis to the surface would be a mistake.

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A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.

In gubernatorial races, one region offers Dems a unique opportunity

09/24/18 10:30AM

The race for Congress is dominating the political conversation, and for good reason, but it'd be a mistake to overlook the importance of this year's gubernatorial races. This report over the weekend from the Des Moines Register is emblematic of a larger truth: this is shaping up to a rough year for Republicans in the Midwest.

Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell edges out Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in a race for the governor's office that still falls within the margin of error just more than six weeks before Election Day, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.

Forty-three percent of likely voters say they support Hubbell, and 41 percent say they support Reynolds. Seven percent say they support Libertarian Jake Porter, and 9 percent are undecided.

Given the narrow margin, and the fact that there are still six weeks remaining before Election Day, Hubbell's narrow lead over Reynolds is hardly evidence of guaranteed success. But the poll results are a reminder that Iowa -- a state Donald Trump won by nearly 10 points two years ago -- may not be as "red" as some Republicans like to think.

What's more, the picture for Democrats looks even more encouraging when put in a regional context (I generally define the Midwest as including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio):

* Minnesota: The latest statewide polling found Tim Walz (D) well ahead of Jeff Johnson (R), and the Republican Governors Association is reportedly scaling back its investments in the state.

* Illinois: Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is widely seen as an underdog against J.B. Pritzker (D) in the fall.

* Wisconsin: Incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) trails Tony Evers (D) in the latest statewide polling.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

Trump explicitly makes 2018 midterms a referendum on his presidency

09/24/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump's latest campaign rally was in Missouri on Friday night, and part of the president's pitch was unfamiliar: the president told his Springfield audience that this year's midterm elections must be seen as a referendum on his presidency. From the transcript:

"You've got to get out. Can't be complacent. It's fragile. You've got to get out. You know, a poll came out, they said, 'Everybody's going out in 2020, because they want to vote for you, they want to vote for the president. But they're not maybe coming out in 2018.'

"Get out in 2018, because you're voting for me in 2018. You're voting for me. You're voting for me."

Trump went on to explain why he prefers "Democrat Party" to "Democratic Party" -- the grammatically correct version, the president explained, sounds "sweeter" -- before telling supporters, "To me, it's the Democrat Party, and they aren't just extreme. They are, frankly, dangerous, and they are crazy. They're crazy."

There is no scenario in which Republican officials want this to be the president's message six weeks from Election Day.

For one thing, Trump is plainly unpopular. If a vote for a Republican candidate is a vote for the president, the GOP is likely to have a very bad night on Nov. 6. (A new Fox News poll asked respondents, "Do you think President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or not?" The fact that 43% of Americans support impeachment isn't a good sign.)

Indeed, I wonder how vulnerable Republican incumbents in competitive areas would respond if asked whether they agree with Trump's "You're voting for me" formulation.

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In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/File/AP)

Grassley's team faces new controversy at an inopportune time

09/24/18 09:30AM

After Christine Blasey Ford came forward publicly with a sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, the obvious move would've been for the FBI to re-open its background check of the Supreme Court nominee. Republicans, for reasons that still haven't been fully explained, rejected such an approach.

In fact, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) specifically argued that his committee's staff is capable of examining the controversy, writing on Twitter, "No other OUTSIDE investigation is necessary."

It's never been altogether clear exactly which investigatory tasks the Judiciary Committee's staff would tackle, but relying exclusively on Grassley's team has become a much tougher sell. Last week, for example, Mike Davis, the committee's chief staffer for nominations, announced publicly that he was "unfazed and determined" to "confirm Judge Kavanaugh," making clear that the investigation wouldn't be fair and impartial.

Over the weekend, an NBC News report raised new questions about Grassley's team.

A press adviser helping lead the Senate Judiciary Committee's response to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has stepped down amid evidence he was fired from a previous political job in part because of a sexual harassment allegation against him.

Garrett Ventry, 29, who served as a communications aide to the committee chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had been helping coordinate the majority party's messaging in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford's claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago at a high school party. In a response to NBC News, Ventry denied any past "allegations of misconduct."

I'm sure the Iowa Republican has many capable aides, but these developments hardly bolster the case that Grassley's staff can be counted on to do the FBI's job.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Lindsey Graham: 'I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this'

09/24/18 09:00AM

Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wasn't exactly subtle in his response to Christine Blasey Ford's allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. "This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh," the Senate Judiciary Committee member said. "I'll listen to the lady, but we're going to bring this to a close."

If Graham was trying to hide his disdain for the controversy, he wasn't trying very hard.

Yesterday, the South Carolina Republican went a little further.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the 11 Republicans who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made it clear Sunday that while he is willing to hear out Christine Blasey Ford about her sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, he has not heard enough evidence to "ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this."

"What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy's life based on an accusation?" Graham asked in an interview with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. "I don't know when it happened, I don't know where it happened. And everybody named in regard to being there said it didn't happen. I'm just being honest. Unless there's something more, no I'm not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life over this."

"But she should come forward, she should have her say. She will be respectfully treated," he added.

Ah, yes. Graham isn't inclined to ignore Dr. Ford right now; he's inclined to treat her respectfully and then ignore her.

But it was the senator's specific concerns that struck me as especially remarkable: to take the California professor's allegation seriously is to "ruin Judge Kavanaugh's life," Graham argued.

That's not even close to being true.

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