The Daily 202: Trump’s hardball tactics backfire as ‘skinny repeal’ goes down – Washington Post
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) comes off the Senate floor early Friday morning after breaking with her party on an Obamacare repeal bill. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
THE BIG IDEA: President Trump’s attacks on Republican senators are finally catching up with him, and Lisa Murkowski will not be bullied.
— A last-ditch effort to keep the Obamacare repeal effort alive went downby a vote of 49 to 51 in the wee hours of Friday morning, with three GOP members breaking ranks: John McCain, Susan Collins and Murkowski.
Mitch McConnell then pulled the legislation from consideration. “It is time to move on,” a dejected majority leader said.
— There is nothing Trump can do any more that will get to McCain. Battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, the maverick was willing to vote “no” on the “skinny repeal” amendment so that other GOP colleagues who were also opposed to the measure could vote “yes” to save face with the conservative base. To this day, Trump has never apologized for saying that the former fighter pilot was not a war hero because he got captured in Vietnam. It gets less attention, but the president also besmirched the Arizona senator’s character by repeatedly accusing him of not taking care of other veterans. McCain has never forgotten.
— A lot of the media coverage in the wake of the vote will focus on McCain, and Collins was always going to vote “no.” But Murkowski’s opposition was equally decisive and perhaps most illustrative of the problems ahead for Trump.
Trump, who won Alaska by 15 points, ripped the state’s senior senator on Twitter Wednesday after she opposed a key procedural motion to open debate on health care:
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Later that day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to threaten that the Trump administration may change its position on several issues that affect the state to punish Murkowski, including blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. “The message was pretty clear,” Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News.
Nevertheless, Murkowski persisted. In fact, she took it one step further and demonstrated that she has more leverage over Zinke than he has over her. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski indefinitely postponed a nominations markup that the Interior Department badly wants.
This demonstrated the degree to which Zinke’s ham-handed phone call was political malpractice. The secretary, or whoever at the White House ordered him to make the calls, clearly doesn’t understand the awesome power that comes with being the chairman of a Senate committee. Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency! If she wants, Murkowski can make Zinke’s life so unbelievably miserable. He has no idea. (The Interior Department did not respond to requests for comment.)
A Murkowski spokeswoman denied that putting off the hearing was revenge or retaliation. Even if you believe that, and color us skeptical, postponing the hearing sent a crystal-clear message to the administration that she is not to be messed with. “I base my votes on what I believe is in Alaska’s best interest,” Murkowski told reporters, with a smile.
Senators serve six-year terms, so they’re more insulated from pressure than representatives who are up every two years. Murkowski, who easily won a fourth term last year, is not up again until 2022, when Trump may no longer be president.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) talks to reporters. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
— Machiavelli said it’s better to be feared than loved. For many Republican senators, Trump is neither.
On the Hill, this week has felt like it might be a turning point of sorts. “Republican lawmakers have openly defied President Trump in meaningful ways this week amid growing frustration on Capitol Hill with his surprise tweets, erratic behavior and willingness to trample on governing norms,” Mike DeBonis reports. “They passed legislation to stop him from lifting sanctions on Russia. They recoiled at his snap decision to ban transgender Americans from the military. And they warned him in no uncertain terms not to fire the attorney general or the special counsel investigating the president and his aides.”
— The Senate voted 98 to 2 yesterday to pass a bill increasing sanctions against Russia, despite a veto threat. Only Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul opposed it. White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said yesterday morning that Trump “may veto the sanctions” so that he can “negotiate” with Russia, and incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later in the day that the president is still reviewing the final legislation.
Many leading conservatives said publicly they are prepared to override Trump. “No president likes Congress to tie their hands,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “This is a very unique and particular case at a key moment. … If the president vetoes it, as is his right, there will be a debate, but I believe it will be overridden.”
Jeff Sessions was a member of the world’s most exclusive club until earlier this year. Here he’s seen with Sens. Mike Lee, John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
— There’s also been escalating backlash from Senate Republicans to Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would not hold any hearings on a replacement if Trump dismissed the attorney general:
Everybody in D.C. Shld b warned that the agenda for the judiciary Comm is set for rest of 2017. Judges first subcabinet 2nd / AG no way
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 27, 2017
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced plans yesterday to introduce legislation that would prevent Trump from being able to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. “Some of the suggestions that the president is making go way beyond what’s acceptable in a rule-of-law nation,” Graham said. “This is not draining the swamp. What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.”
“If you’re thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it,” added Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), also a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The presidency isn’t a bull, and this country isn’t a china shop.”
“For the most part, Republicans on Capitol Hill have sought to avert their gaze whenever the president’s tweets or actions spark controversy. So there has been nothing like this so far in Trump’s presidency,” Dan Balz explains. “Whether that’s because it involves a former member of the Capitol Hill club or because of the potential implications for a constitutional crisis if the president tries to scuttle the Mueller investigation, the response to this has been different.”
Jeff Sessions tours a police station and detention center in San Salvador, El Salvador, yesterday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
— Knowing that his former colleagues have his back, Sessions appeared on Fox News last night to declare that he will stay on as attorney general — despite suffering a week of deliberate public humiliation at the hands of the president. He made clear that the only way he will leave is if he’s fired, which he knows Trump is reluctant to do. “If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it,” Sessions said, adding that the sustained attacks by POTUS have been “kind of hurtful.” He also said he does not regret his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. “I understand his feelings about it because this has been a big distraction for him,” Sessions said. “I talked to experts in the Department of Justice … I’m confident I made the right decision, a decision that’s consistent for the rule of law.” (Sari Horwitz wrote up the interview with Tucker Carlson.)
“What makes the spectacle so excruciating is that the wounded Sessions plods on,” conservative Charles Krauthammer writes in his column this morning. “Trump relishes such a cat-and-mouse game and, by playing it so openly, reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance. Dominance is his game.”
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board noted earlier this week that Trump has crossed “a red line” with his “unseemly campaign against his own attorney general”: “A sitting President is not a one-man show. He needs allies in politics and allies to govern. Mr. Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions makes clear that he will desert both at peril to his Presidency. … Past some point of political erosion, Mr. Trump’s legislative agenda will become impossible to accomplish.”
As a New York Times reporter quipped after the health bill went down:
In the end, the president’s closing message – that his attorney general is terrible – couldn’t put the bill over the top
— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) July 28, 2017
— Trump has made several other enemies in the Senate.
America First Policies, a pro-Trump outside group that is closely linked with the administration, launched a $1 million campaign of attack ads against Sen. Dean Heller last month after he announced opposition to an earlier health-care bill because of its cuts to Medicaid. The group backed off after Senate leaders told the White House to cut it out.
Meanwhile, Trump and White House officials have been actively trying to recruit a primary challenger to Jeff Flake next year. The animus grew out of the senator calling on Trump to drop out after the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape emerged last October.
Both guys voted for skinny repeal, but does the president really think Heller and Flake are going to have his back down the road when stuff really hits the fan? If he is that delusional, I’ve got some oceanfront property in their home states of Nevada and Arizona that I’d love to sell him.
The bottom line is that Trump’s shortsightedness and penchant for taking everything personally causes him to constantly make myopic decisions that may ultimately undermine his presidency. He’s so focused on trying to win the day that he is perennially unable to play the long game.
MORE ON HOW THE HEALTH-CARE BILL WENT DOWN:
— “In a last-minute rescue bid, Vice President Pence — there to be the tiebreaking vote if needed — stood at McCain’s desk for 21 minutes cajoling the senator to no avail,” Juliet Eilperin, Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell report. “McCain and Pence then walked to the Republican cloak room to confer in private and later to the lobby off the Senate chamber. When McCain returned — without Pence — he stopped in the well of the chamber, cast his ‘no’ vote — sparking stunned gasps and some applause — and returned to his seat. McConnell and his leadership deputies stood watching, grim-faced and despondent.
“Some senators in both parties said they hope the two sides can begin talks on shoring up the current health-care system, a debate that is expected to be handled by Senate committees overseeing budget, tax and health-care policy. ‘Maybe this had to happen to actually begin to have a conversation,’ said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who had tried brokering a bipartisan deal in recent weeks.
McCain explained his vote in a statement: “We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
— For much of the day yesterday, it looked like McCain, who was diagnosed recently with brain cancer and returned to the Senate for the vote, could get to “yes”: “McCain had been seeking an ironclad guarantee from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that, if the Senate approved this latest proposal, the House would not move to quickly approve the bill in its current form and instead engage in a broad House-Senate negotiation … Ryan issued a statement intended to assuage the concerns of McCain and two others, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), but the 2008 presidential nominee deemed the speaker’s statement as insufficient.”
— McCain may have been the decisive vote, but he was hardly the only Senate Republican to be deeply skeptical of skinny repeal, which McConnell sold as a placeholder to get to get to conference.Matt O’Brien reports: “[If the skinny repeal were enacted], according to the CBO, about 16 million fewer people would be insured 10 years from now under this Republican plan. … [T]he CBO [also] estimates that premiums would increase 20 percent more than they already would as a result of this plan. In other words, millions more people wouldn’t have insurance, and it’d be more expensive for everybody else. It’s no wonder, then, that even the Republicans who [were] voting for this bill [didn’t] want it to become law. ... (Graham) called it a ‘disaster’ and a ‘fraud.’”
— McCain issued a statement early this morning saying the GOP needed to start over: “From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people. The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. … We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
— Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer seconded that approach. CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk reports: “Schumer said Democrats ‘are not celebrating’ but are ‘relieved’ for Americans. He urged the Senate to return to regular order and the committee process on legislation, highlighting the speech McCain made with a similar sentiment when he returned to the Senate Tuesday. ‘All of us were so inspired by the speech and the life of the senator from Arizona,’ Schumer said, tearing up. ‘And he asked us to go back to regular order … maybe this can be a moment when we start doing that.’”
— Trump expressed disappointment. The president has repeatedly threatened to cut off ACA subsidies to insurance companies that help cover lower-income Americans.The defeat may give Trump an excuse to pull the trigger:
3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Ed O’Keefe has a tick-tock on how McCain got to “no”: “The bold move by the nation’s most famous senator stunned his colleagues and possibly put the Senate on the verge of protracted bipartisan talks that McCain is unlikely to witness as he begins treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer. … Rumors swirled late Thursday that the Arizona Republican, who had captured the nation’s sympathy this week after delaying his cancer treatment in order to return to Washington, might vote against the GOP’s ‘skinny repeal’ plan[.] … McCain headed for the stage — the Senate floor — around midnight. … ‘I knew it when he walked on the floor,’ [Chuck] Schumer later recounted, explaining that McCain had already called to share his plans. But few, if any, of his Republican colleagues realized what was about to transpire.”
— “Russia on Friday seized two American diplomatic properties and ordered the United States Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, the government’s first retaliatory steps against new American sanctions,” the New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar reports. “The move, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the [Senate] approved a law expanding economic sanctions against Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. … The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said the United States Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff throughout Russia to 455 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.”
GET SMART FAST:
- The prime minister of Pakistan was removed from office by the country’s Supreme Court. Nawaz Sharif has faced corruption charges tied to his family’s overseas real estate transactions. (Shaiq Hussain and Pamela Constable)
The State Department criticized the launch of an Iranian space satellite as a “provocative action.” A spokesperson added that the launch violates the spirit of the nuclear deal brokered under Obama’s administration. (Carol Morello)
- Hillary Clinton has a new memoir. “What Happened” chronicles her experience in a 2016 presidential race “marked by rage, sexism … stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules,” a news release said. It’s slated for release this September. (CBS News)
- Vladimir Putin signed a law that ratified a deal with Syria, which will allow Russian forces to stay at an air base in the war-torn country for almost 50 years. (Reuters)
- Village elders in Pakistan ordered a 17-year-old girl to be raped as a “retaliation punishment” after her brother was accused of raping another girl. (CNN)
In his closing argument, Martin Shkreli’s defense attorney dismissed the complaints of his wealthy investors as “rich people B.S.” The jury could start considering the verdict against the “Pharma Bro” as early as this afternoon. (Renae Merle)
- A new study of more than 4,000 college students in the Netherlands found that those with access to recreational marijuana on average earned worse grades — and failed classes at a higher rate than their nonusing counterparts. (Keith Humphreys)
- Think twice before grabbing that slice of birthday cake: Researchers at Clemson University found that blowing out birthday candles increases cake bacteria by a whopping 1,400 percent. (The Atlantic)
- California scam artists were sentenced to prison after stealing more than $11 million from homeowners in a fraudulent mortgage modification program, but thousands of victims are still struggling to recover from the financial hit. One woman, who stands at 4-foot-10 and had her home custom-designed to accommodate her height, said she would lose her home. (Rachel Weiner)
The New York Times’s legendary book critic Michiko Kakutani is stepping down. Those familiar with Kakutani’s decision say she wants to focus on writing essays about Trump’s America. (Vanity Fair)
Showtime plans to create an animated series based on Donald Trump. Stephen Colbert will serve as an executive producer for the project. (Michael Cavna)
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leave the White House grounds in April. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
— The Pentagon said it has made no change yet to its transgender policy, as the Trump administration struggled to explain the fine print of a “ban” that Trump abruptly announced on Twitter the day before. Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports: “The military’s highest-ranking officer said in a letter to senior leaders Thursday that there would be ‘no modifications’ to the current policy on transgender troops until further direction was received from the president. ‘In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,’ said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. … The lack of clear direction from officials left the status of thousands of active transgender service members in limbo.” (Mattis is on vacation this week, and Dunford’s statement made clear that the Pentagon was caught off guard — despite Trump’s insistence that he was implementing the ban at the behest of “my generals.”)
— “The Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the New York Times’ Alan Feuer reports. “The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues. … The department filed its brief on Wednesday, the same day President Trump announced on Twitter that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military.”
— The House approved a $790 billion spending bill to boost military spending and provide $1.6 billion for Trump’s border wall – but it stands almost no chance of making it through the Senate. Mike DeBonis reports: “The bill blasts through the defense spending cap enacted under the 2011 Budget Control Act by $72 billion. If enacted, the bill would result in an across-the-board 13 percent cut in Pentagon spending absent an agreement with Democrats to lift the caps.”
— The National Security Council’s top official for the Middle East was ousted.The departure of Derek Harvey comes after complaints about his management style, as well as repeated clashes with national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe report: “As senior director for the Middle East and special assistant to [Trump], Harvey supervised officials who specialized in various policy areas throughout the region, but much of his attention was focused on Iran, where he was a persistent advocate for a more hard-line policy. He has also been a key player in the administration’s ongoing review of the Iran nuclear deal. … Shortly after arriving, [several] officials involved in Middle East and counterterrorism policy drafted a memo that outlined some alternatives to the policies that Harvey was championing … As soon as Harvey learned of the memo, officials said, he attempted to dismiss the people who had drafted it … It took a last-minute intervention by McMaster to stop the reassignments … Harvey also drew the ire of [Rex Tillerson, Mattis], and Pentagon officials, who thought that he was trying to set policy rather than coordinate among the different departments and agencies.”
— The head of the Boy Scouts of America apologized “sincerely” for the “politics” inserted into Trump’s speech at the National Scout Jamboree, after the president used his remarks to bash political opponents, rehash his election victory and reminisce on attending cocktail parties with all “the hottest people in New York.” “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent,” Michael Surbaugh, whose title is chief Scout executive, wrote in a message posted online. “That was a break from the Boy Scouts’ earlier statements about Trump’s speech … [which] merely noted that the Scouts were ‘respectful of the wide variety of viewpoints in this country,’” David Fahrenthold notes. Asked about the new statement, [incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders said the president has nothing to apologize for: “I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40- to 45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks.”
White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media outside the White House. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
THE MOOCH VS. PRIEBUS:
— New Yorker Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza published a story last night detailing a vulgar and profanity-laced phone call he received from White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, who unloaded on him — at times, in the third person — after Lizza reported The Mooch had dined with Sean Hannity and Bill Shine at the White House on Wednesday night. During the course of their conversation, Scaramucci slammed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, mused about “killing leakers” and forcefully pressed Lizza to reveal his sources.
Much of The Mooch’s ire was focused on Priebus, whom he described as a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” – and vowed to get him fired. “Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly,” Scaramucci said, noting that he expected Priebus to launch a “campaign” against him. “He didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he said. He repeatedly insisted Priebus leaked details of his financial disclosure form to Politico, telling Lizza that the action was a “felony.” In fact, the Politico reporter obtained the publicly available document from the Export-Import Bank.
Before hanging up, Scaramucci told Lizza he was about to tweet at Priebus to suggest he was a leaker. “[Let] me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some [s–] to make this guy crazy,” Scaramucci said. He deleted the tweet early Thursday, later insisting that his mention of Priebus was simply presenting a united White House front against the leaks, a public denial undercut by Lizza’s story.
And he repeatedly pressured the reporter to reveal who told him about the White House dinner — threatening, after several failed attempts, to fire “everyone.” “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” he said.
— After the story popped, Scaramucci stopped well short of an apology on Twitter:
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 27, 2017
He later added:
I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 28, 2017
Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci. (Getty/Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
IN TRUMP’S WHITE HOUSE, CHAOS AND PARANOIA REIGN SUPREME:
— Incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last night that Scaramucci was simply expressing “strong feelings” in the profanity-laced tirade. “He’s a passionate guy and sometimes he lets that passion get the better of him,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll do it again.” Earlier in the day, she pointedly declined to say whether Trump still has confidence in his chief of staff: “We all serve at the pleasure of the president, and if he gets to a place where that isn’t the case, he’ll let you know,” Sanders said. When pressed, she said only that the White House has “a lot of different perspectives because the president hires the very best people.” “Unlike previous administrations, this isn’t groupthink,” she added. “We all have a chance to … have a lot of healthy competition, and with that competition, you usually get the best results. The president likes that kind of competition and encourages it.” (Jenna Johnson)
— Paul Ryan came to the defense of Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite, praising him as doing a “fantastic job at the White House.” “I believe he has the president’s confidence,” the speaker said. “If those two gentlemen have differences, my advice would be to sit down and settle [them].” (This amounts to a much stronger defense of Priebus than Ryan offered a day before when asked about Sessions.)
— “Scaramucci’s anger toward Priebus was burning long before he joined the White House this week,” Jenna Johnson, Philip Rucker and David Nakamura report. “Priebus is considered an establishment figure in a sea of nontraditional White House staffers, and he has long faced criticism from some of Trump’s staunchest allies who view him as ill-prepared for the job and too concerned about his own reputation. But the attacks that had been quietly waged against him for months in behind-the-scenes trash talk are now being spoken aloud by Scaramucci, who claims he has the president’s blessing to do so. … Scaramucci and his allies are compiling a diagram of the news organizations that they suspect received leaked information from Priebus, and they plan to present it to the president on Friday, according to a White House official[.]”
— Ian Shapira compares Priebus and Scaramucci’s nasty rivalry to the “hatefest” that existed between LBJ and RFK: “[I]nternecine conflict has always been part of presidential administrations. … But perhaps the most epic White House feud was the smackdown between Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The two men’s hatred of each other began as soon as Johnson was selected as John F. Kennedy’s running mate in 1960, and never really ended — not even when Bobby was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 1968. Unlike today’s broadsides that instantly travel from the mouths or fingers of the attackers straight to everyone’s handheld devices, LBJ and RFK sniped at one another privately, with the most quotable insults appearing in books decades after the men wielded power. … LBJ and Bobby despised each other so much that an entire book — 576 pages — was written about their enmity.”
— “The clash between Mr. Scaramucci and Mr. Priebus offers a case study in how the Trump White House operates, a conflict divorced from facts, untethered from the basics of how government works,enabled by the lack of any organizational structure and driven by ambition, fear, animosity and envy,” the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report. “So many figures inside Mr. Trump’s orbit have been declared on their way out that it takes a scorecard to keep track. Aside from Mr. Priebus and Mr. Sessions, many wonder about the future of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser whose Afghanistan war plan was rejected by the president last week. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson disappeared for a few days off, stoking speculation that he may leave. (‘Rexit,’ it was dubbed on Twitter.) And the president, who has already fired one F.B.I. director, this week called for the acting head of the bureau to be dismissed too …
“Lately Mr. Trump has resumed subjecting [Priebus] to frequent indignities in front of the White House staff. According to one aide, the president, who had ceased for a time, has regularly mentioned how Mr. Priebus suggested that Mr. Trump consider dropping out of the presidential race last October after a tape of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals emerged. ‘Do you remember when Reince did that?’ the president has asked associates.”
— Steve Bannon has his own private spokeswoman: “In an arrangement prominent ethics experts say is without precedent and potentially illegal, the White House is referring questions for [Steve Bannon] to an outside public relations agent whose firm says she is working for free,” Center for Public Integrity’s Christina Wilkie reports: “Alexandra Preate, a 46-year-old New Yorker and veteran Republican media strategist, describes herself as Bannon’s ‘personal spokesperson.’ But she also collaborates with other White House officials on public messaging and responses to press inquiries. It was Preate who responded when the Center for Public Integrity recently asked the White House Press Office questions about Bannon. Preate, however, is not employed by [Trump’s] administration or paid by the federal government. The unorthodox setup means Bannon … is potentially violating the Antideficiency Act, which provides that federal employees ‘may not accept voluntary services for [the] government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law …’”
— The last 24 hours have made “glaringly obvious” that the White House’s war is not with leaks — it’s with transparency, says Philip Bump: “What Trump wants isn’t solely an end to unauthorized information dripping out the White House windows (though he certainly wants that). He wants, more broadly, for no negative information about him or anyone he likes to be released at all, regardless of past practice and expectations. His frustration with the media isn’t really that the media makes things up, it’s that the media has the gall to tell the truth. He loves ‘Fox and Friends’ … and he loves Sean Hannity because neither has shown any interest in critical, objective coverage of his presidency. That’s the sort of information-sharing Trump supports. President Trump and his core allies want you to know only what President Trump wants you to know. Everything else is leaks or ‘fake news.’ Or, somehow, both.”
— GOP strategist Alex Conant, who ran comms for Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, explains in Politico Magazine why the leaks won’t stop: “During the campaign, Trump united his team around the goal of winning an election. But in the White House, Trump has failed to unite his team (let alone the American people) around an organizing principle that is larger than defending the president’s own reputation. Without a common purpose, factions feel the need to leak against one another. The leaks are also the result of deep disloyalty, for which the president has only himself to blame. Trump demands blind loyalty from his subordinates. But blind loyalty does not exist in politics, except among sycophants and people without principles—neither of whom make for trustworthy aides. If Trump wants loyalty from his Cabinet and staff, he must recognize that loyalty is a two-way street … With his attacks on [Sessions], he’s demonstrating precisely the opposite[.]”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives at a White House event on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
THE BAT IS OFFICIALLY DEAD, AS TAX TALKS HEAT UP:
— “The Republican tax negotiators in Congress and the Trump administration announced on Thursday that they had reached an agreement on the core principles of how they will press forward with an overhaul of the tax code,” the New York Times’ Alan Rappeport reports. “They also pledged to redouble their efforts to pass tax legislation before the end of the year. The five-paragraph joint statement in many respects raised more questions than it answered … [highlighting] the challenge that Republicans face as they try to make difficult trade-offs on legislation … The most notable development was the jettisoning of the proposed border adjustment tax on imports. [Paul Ryan] had suggested the tax a year ago as a central plank of the plan, arguing that it would accelerate economic growth and protect American manufacturers. But the idea drew the ire of retailers, energy companies and the billionaire Koch brothers, who invested heavily to undermine it.
“The so-called big six — Mr. Ryan; Representative Kevin Brady of Texas … Mitch McConnell … Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah … Steven Mnuchin …and Gary D. Cohn … huddled on Wednesday evening to hash out differences ahead of the August recess. Republicans appear poised to heed the lessons from their health care legislation efforts and use a more conventional process to get a tax bill drafted … [and policy staffers are] expected to work through August to write the tax legislation. Mr. Trump is expected to spend time next month barnstorming the country to make the case for the tax overhaul…
“How the legislation will actually look remains unclear. The statement on Thursday said Republican leaders were prioritizing permanent changes that would reduce tax rates for all American businesses, encourage companies to bring back cash parked abroad and allow ‘unprecedented’ capital expensing, or write-offs of big investments.”
— Happening Monday: The Koch political network will convene a public event with Mnuchin and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, who previously worked for the network, to talk about the coming tax fight. The afternoon panel discussion at the Newseum will be co-sponsored by Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity. It will be the first official event with the network and the administration. The Koch-allied groups are poised to spend millions promoting a rewrite of the tax code.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
After John McCain cast the deciding vote against a health-care overhaul, this Trump tweet from just three days ago received renewed attention:
So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare and Medicaid under Obama, retweeted Trump’s message with this caption after skinny repeal went down:
From a ProPublica writer:
“I like people who weren’t captured.”
Has some new meaning now.
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) July 28, 2017
John Weaver, who worked on both of McCain’s presidential campaigns, added this:
Thank you my old friend.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 28, 2017
It was the latest near-death experience for a piece of legislation that has faced many:
· Survived by one vote in the Senate in 2010
· Survived by one vote in SCOTUS in 2012
· Survived by one vote in the Senate in 2017
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) July 28, 2017
Democrats and their supporters rejoiced over the bill’s demise:
I ran into John McCain as we walked underground to the Senate for the final vote. Someday I’ll get to tell my grandkids what he said to me.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 28, 2017
Tonight, Senate Republicans were on the brink of denying health care to millions. You made sure that didn’t happen.
— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) July 28, 2017
Thanks to Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain for showing such strong leadership tonight.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) July 28, 2017
From the president of NARAL:
Appreciate Sen. McCain’s late breaking conscience, but can’t we just admit it was two women who showed early courage and humanity? #SaveACA
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) July 28, 2017
John McCain is entertaining a lot of cheerful Democrats rn pic.twitter.com/hRsEfwsOPa
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) July 28, 2017
Conservatives were … less cheerful:
Front page of Drudge “THE END: MCCAIN KILLS REPEAL” pic.twitter.com/UeTNvHdQBC
— Chris Donovan (@chrisdonovan) July 28, 2017
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 28, 2017
On Dean Heller, the only Republican senator running for reelection next year in a state Hillary Clinton won, who voted “yes”:
McCain really screwed Heller.
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) July 28, 2017
Breitbart seemed to simply ignore the news:
Mike Huckabee gave the drastic suggestion of ending direct election of senators:
Time to repeal 17th Amendment. Founders had it right-Senators chosen by state legislatures. Will work for their states and respect 10th amid
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) July 28, 2017
And a note from one of NPR’s Capitol Hill reporters:
Tax reform is going to be so easy.
— Susan Davis (@DaviSusan) July 28, 2017
The Senate was prepared for a long night as the health-care debate stretched into the morning hours:
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) July 27, 2017
The vote-a-rama we had on the Treaty of Paris was quite the hootenanny. https://t.co/pU4bMXxf2s
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 27, 2017
But cable news was all about The Mooch as the health-care vote loomed:
Actual banner on CNN with actual direct quote from WH Comms director. pic.twitter.com/pjHOhiL4IA
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) July 27, 2017
PolitiFact chose to stay out of the matter:
WIll @PolitiFact give us a ruling on the WH Communications Director’s statement about WH adviser Steve Bannon?
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 27, 2017
So if he thought he wasn’t on record, then he was on background/off record. Talking about internal WH feuds. Which would be … leaking?
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) July 28, 2017
From the former U.S. ambassador to Israel:
Insane. Out of control. Madness.
Can’t wait to get back to the calm and sanity of the Middle East.
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) July 27, 2017
A Senate Democrat derided the media fascination with Scaramucci:
Hey cable news: there’s actually REAL BREAKING NEWS affecting millions of Americans happening right now. Stop covering Scaramucci for a sec.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 28, 2017
A writer for Vox compared the non-stop news cycle to a television series:
The writing has gotten really sloppy this season with key characters making decisions that make no sense at all.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 27, 2017
Why would you introduce the (absurd) Mooch character in the middle of the nonsensical health care plot line?
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 27, 2017
That said, I still think Chekhov’s Gun applies and the mysterious tax returns will play a key role in the climax.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) July 27, 2017
A Bloomberg White House reporter treated Anthony Scaramucci to a (likely unwanted) throwback Thursday photo:
— Justin Sink (@justinsink) July 27, 2017
Current and former Republican lawmakers reunited:
— Mark Meredith (@markpmeredith) July 26, 2017
And attention, CNN headline writers:
Well, that doesn’t seem like a proportional response. pic.twitter.com/PMQvxqquLe
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) July 25, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
— The New York Times, “Freed From ISIS, Yazidi Women Return in ‘Severe Shock,’” by Rukmini Callimachi: “Since the operation to take back Mosul began last year, approximately 180 women, girls and children from the Yazidi ethnic minority who were captured in 2014 by the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been liberated, according to Iraq’s Bureau for the Rescue of Abductees. Women rescued in the first two years after ISIS overran their ancestral homeland came home with infections, broken limbs and suicidal thoughts. But now, after three years of captivity, women like Souhayla and two others seen last week by reporters, are far more damaged, displaying extraordinary signs of psychological injury. ‘Very tired,’ ‘unconscious’ and ‘in severe shock and psychological upset’ were the descriptions used by Dr. Nagham Nawzat Hasan, a Yazidi gynecologist who has treated over 1,000 of the rape victims.”
— GQ, “Inside Trump International Hotel, the Mecca of Trump-ism,” by Irina Aleksander: “Trump drops in regularly with Ivanka and Jared Kushner. So do his cabinet members, including Mike Pence, Rex Tillerson, and Jeff Sessions. Steve Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, lives in the hotel. During the inauguration, suites were renting for as much as $18,000 a night, and the hotel filled up with diplomats and Trump’s business partners from places like Dubai and Malaysia. That same weekend, according to one forthcoming waiter, Fox News host Sean Hannity ran up a $42,000 tab in the restaurant, which included the cost of flying in an eight-pound 70-year-old lobster from Maine. (Fox News denied the story on Hannity’s behalf.) Katrina Pierson, Trump’s former campaign spokeswoman, told me she is at the hotel two or three nights a week. ‘I think people forget that only 4 percent of D.C. voted for Trump,’ she said. ‘So this is a place where all of our friends go because…well, our team is here now.’”
— McClatchy, “Inside the Trumps’ Instagram obsession,” by Katie Glueck: “If President Donald Trump’s favorite form of social media is Twitter, the outlet of choice for many of his relatives, campaign boosters and even a Cabinet member is Instagram[.] … Republican operatives watching these social feeds closely say the Instagram accounts offer a glamorous glimpse into the president’s inner circle and his ritzy enclaves, providing routine reminders of the days when ‘Trump’ was more closely associated with celebrity than the White House.”
— The Intercept reports that Bannon has pushed for essential tech platforms such as Facebook and Google to be regulated as utilities. Ryan Grim reports: “Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad. Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission moved forward on a plan to regulate internet service providers as utilities … [but] the Trump administration is pushing to reverse that move, which complicates Bannon’s message.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Democrats say they’re ready for a culture war as Trump bans transgender people from military service,” from CNN: “This week, Democrats unveiled an agenda for the midterms that carefully avoided any mention of the issues that had led to accusations they’d been playing ‘identity politics’ in recent elections. Their message, party leaders said, would be all economics, all the time. But President Donald Trump is — and has always been — a culture warrior. … This time, though, top Democrats say they don’t fear that a political debate over transgender rights will damage them in the Rust Belt. And some Democratic senators running for re-election in red states were sharply critical of Trump’s move.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Laid off by ESPN, Britt McHenry is having ‘an awakening’ as a vocal conservative,” from Dan Steinberg: “[A]fter McHenry lost her job during ESPN’s sizable layoffs this spring, she was back on the market, and unsure whether a public political activation would be a wise career move. … [S]he has tweeted about Made in America week and Black Lives Matter. She’s retweeted Glenn Beck and Fox News. She’s argued that President Trump is ‘everyone’s president,’ and criticized the media’s coverage of the Russian interference probes. … The former reporter and anchor at WJLA, Washington’s ABC affiliate, has been somewhat of a polarizing figure since going viral for berating and insulting a Northern Virginia towing company employee during a disagreement caught on tape more than two years ago.”
Trump has a morning meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. He will then travel to Ronkonkoma, New York, for a speech where he is expected to announce a crackdown on the MS-13 gang.
Pence only has one event today, a swearing-in ceremony for his new chief of staff Nick Ayers.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Anthony Scaramucci called in to CNN’s “New Day” yesterday morning to offer freewheeling thoughts on the current White House dynamic, including: “When I said [Reince Priebus and I] were brothers from the podium, that’s because we’re rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel; other brothers can fight with each other and get along.” (In the Bible, of course, Cain kills his brother Abel.)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— D.C. may see some rain later in the day today, and it’ll continue into the weekend. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds thicken and lower this morning, followed by rain chances increasing into early afternoon. There may be a shower around earlier, but that’s when any showers could turn into a steadier rain. … It’s still decently warm with midday high temperatures around 80 to perhaps some mid-80s south of town. Muggy too.”
— The Nationals destroyed the Brewers 15-2, thanks to a team record-breaking eight homers. Their record now stands at 61-39, their best standing at the 100-game mark since the team came to Washington. (Chelsea Janes)
— “Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) will not run for Congress or governor in 2018 and is weighing a run for the White House,” Bill Turque and Ovetta Wiggins report. “The former health care financier is one of the first Democrats to openly discuss a presidential run since the election in November of Republican Donald Trump. … The announcement, which had [been] rumored in Maryland political circles for weeks, follows more than a year of speculation about Delaney’s future. … A centrist with a record of working across the aisle, Delaney would likely present himself in any future political race as a moderate, business-minded alternative to his more left-leaning competitors.”
— Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie is trying to fire up the conservative base by rolling out policies aimed at “eradicating” gangs and banning sanctuary cities. Fenit Nirappil reports: “By highlighting gangs and crimes committed by immigrants living in Virginia illegally, Gillespie embraced an issue championed by Corey Stewart, who nearly beat him for the GOP nomination last month with a Trump-like agenda that took a hard line on immigration. Gillespie’s rollout coincided with a Trump administration push this week to call attention to MS-13, a violent street gang that originated in El Salvador and has taken root in some immigrant communities in the United States.”
— Democrat Danica Roem, who is running for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates and could become the state’s first transgender lawmaker, received a $50,000 campaign donation after Trump announced his ban on transgender troops. (Fenit Nirappil)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Stephen Colbert appreciated Anthony Scaramucci’s “front-stabbing” nature:
Late-night comedians tore apart Trump’s ban on transgender troops:
Protesters at the Capitol celebrated upon learning that the skinny repeal failed to pass:
Here’s the moment the crowd outside the Capitol learned Republicans didn’t have the votes. pic.twitter.com/vawKkdygoY
— Emma Roller (@emmaroller) July 28, 2017
Before the skinny repeal vote, Sen. Mazie Hirono, who was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer, pleaded with her Republican colleagues to show compassion:
Amid the tension of the vote, a reporter accidentally dropped her notebook on Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.):
Trump awarded the Medal of Valor to the first responders from last month’s shooting in Alexandria:
Egyptian sheikhs are offering religious advice to Cairo commuters:
“Baby boxes,” which originated in Finland as a means of lowering rates of sleep-related infant deaths, are now catching on in the U.S.:
Nine animals were rescued from Aleppo’s zoo:
And a Miami firefighter rescued a dog who was struggling in water:
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