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On the roster: Trump blunder raises chances of shutdown – Trump preserves Iran deal – GOP may have to cede N.D. Senate race – Trump talks treason – Ooops
TRUMP BLUNDER RAISES CHANCES OF SHUTDOWN
Do you really care if the president used a dirty word to say that he thought that Africa was a continental outhouse? If so, you either spend your outrage too cheaply or have only recently emerged from a cryogenic deep freeze.
That a guy who referred to one of his primary opponents as a vulgar term for part of the female anatomy and imitated the tics of a disabled reporter would disparage the nations of the developing world in a private meeting can hardly be a shock.
This is a person who’s lawyer today is in a dispute with the Wall Street Journal over the alleged payment of hush money to a pornographic performer on his client’s behalf. So please spare us your astonishment at him having said uncouth things about poor countries.
A good rule of thumb for gauging the fallout from this demi debacle is that anyone who is focused on the naughty words is either being disingenuous or is probably too foolish to pay attention to, anyway.
Now, it is certainly a matter of substance whether or not you agree or disagree with Trump’s underlying sentiment that the United States should choose against immigrants from poor or chaotic nations. That has been an ongoing policy debate for years, much more so since 2016.
Wherever you come down on that policy debate, though, this fact is unavoidable: In expressing his view crassly, President Trump made life much worse for himself and his party at a crucial moment.
The central character in this drama is not Trump but Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Durbin, the soul of the Democratic establishment, has been tasked with finding some way to provide at least nine Democratic votes in the Senate on a deal to avoid a government shutdown a week from today.
Republicans want a spending deal for the remaining eight or so months of the federal fiscal year. They also need a lift in the debt ceiling, a patch for ObamaCare subsidies and an extension for Medicaid for poor kids.
Democrats want more spending on some of their own priorities but, most of all, permanent legal status for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as minors.
Trump is set to end protected status for the so-called DREAMers in about six weeks, instructing Congress to craft a permanent solution. It falls to Durbin as the number two Democrat in the Senate to help craft a deal that will keep Republican immigration hardliners from bolting en masse but also get those crucial nine Democrats.
Durbin was invited to the White House on Thursday to tell the president about a tentative deal he had struck with Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. What Durbin got, though, was a snoot full from not only Trump but also the most ardent immigration foes in the Senate GOP, Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue.
Whether it was a good idea to box Durbin’s ears that way is immaterial now. By using disparaging language in front of a liberal of deeply held conviction like Durbin would have left the Illinois Senator more than embarrassed. Graham says he stuck up for poor nations and, by extension, Durbin in the face of Trump’s denigrations, but the damage was done.
Trump made it worse by trying to contradict Durbin, who then felt obliged to come out and stick up for himself.
The net effect of all of this is that the president substantially increased the likelihood of a government shutdown and made much more arduous what should be the ordinary work of Congress on unrelated topics.
Trump privately humiliated his key negotiating partner and now is publicly calling Durbin a liar. Even if the Illinoisan can put aside his own dignity for the sake of larger issues, he now will find Democrats far less willing to be party to a deal to avert the coming fiscal cliffs.
Remember, Trump needs more than just the red-state Democrats on this one. He’s got to have core Democratic Senate votes, the kind that would have been hard for Durbin to cajole in the first place.
You could hear the weariness in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s voice when he was asked about Trump’s remarks today at an event back home in Wisconsin.
“The first thing that came to my mind was: Very unfortunate, very unhelpful. But you know what I thought of right away? I thought of my own family,” Ryan said. “My family, like a whole lot of people, came from Ireland on what they called the coffin ships then. Came here and worked the railroads. The Irish were really looked down upon back in those days. I hear all these stories from my relatives about ‘Irish need not apply.’”
Remember, it was just Tuesday when this note was talking about the possibilities for the president to build on the success of GOP tax cuts and potentially midwife a historic overhaul to U.S. immigration policy.
That feels like a hundred years ago now.
THE RULEBOOK: YOURS IS NO DISGRACE
“My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast. My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.” – Alexander Hamilton, who was born on this day, 261 years ago, Federalist No. 1
TIME OUT: MARTIAN NAVY
Wired: “Locked away beneath the surface of Mars are vast quantities of water ice. But the properties of that ice—how pure it is, how deep it goes, what shape it takes—remain a mystery… Future visitors to Mars… will need to understand the planet’s subsurface ice reserves if they want to mine it for drinking, growing crops, or converting into hydrogen for fuel. … In this week’s issue of Science, researchers led by USGS planetary geologist Colin Dundas present detailed observations of eight Martian regions where erosion has uncovered large, steep cross-sections of underlying ice. … The deposits begin at depths as shallow as one meter and extend upwards of 100 meters into the planet. The researchers don’t estimate the quantity of ice present, but they do note that the amount of ice near the surface is likely more extensive than the few locations where it’s exposed. And what’s more, the ice looks pretty damn pure.”
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Trump net job-approval rating: -23.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 3 points
[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]
TRUMP PRESERVES IRAN DEAL
Fox News: “The Trump administration on Friday announced it will extend waivers for Iran nuclear sanctions, keeping alive the landmark Obama-era deal for at least another few months—but White House officials vowed this is the ‘last waiver’ the president will issue. In addition to the waivers, the Treasury Department rolled out more targeted sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses. Further, officials said the Trump administration will warn Iran that it will pull out of the nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama in 2015 if fixes are not addressed by spring. White House officials said Friday that if the president can deny Iran a path to nuclear weapons ‘forever,’ not just for 10 years, [President Trump] would be ‘open to remaining in such a modified deal.’ … Trump’s decision has been expected since earlier this week. The sanctions that Trump has to waive deal with Iran’s central bank and were suspended under the nuclear deal.”
Trump botches excuse for canceled London visit – USA Today: “President Trump said he canceled a planned trip to London because he doesn’t want to cut the ribbon at the new U.S. embassy there that he described as a ‘bad deal.’ Trump’s on-again, off-again visit to the United Kingdom had been in the planning stages but hadn’t been officially announced. The latest cancellation is sure to increase tensions with a vital ally that has broken with Trump recently over his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some neighborhoods in London declared themselves off-limits to the president. Trump confirmed his decision on Twitter late Thursday night after British newspapers reported that fears of mass protests had scuttled the trip. A poll from last year found that about 4% of Britain’s population — roughly 2.5 million people — would protest a state visit by Trump.”
Matt Labash: ‘The Book That Ate Washington’ – The Weekly Standard: “But what comes through loud and clear in [Michael Wolff’s] telling is that no matter how bad you thought it was in Trump’s White House, it was actually much worse. From the end of what [Steve Bannon] called, with characteristic gentility, Trump’s ‘broke-dick campaign,’ through the transition, and all the way through Bannon’s ouster last August, Team Trump didn’t resemble a team so much as a collection of competing brand managers fighting in a loser-leaves-town cage match. For an administration that pretends to hate the ‘fake news’ media, members leaked so much and so often that some even hired dedicated press staffs and leaked about each other leaking. Each faction … was trying to capture Trump’s ever-diminishing attention. None of them was as interesting to the president as watching his own cable-news coverage, DVRing talking-head slights to replay and obsess over while he ate cheeseburgers in bed…”
Trump still has no nominees for 245 key jobs – WaPo: “Over the first year, a fixation on the chaos and churn inside the West Wing has often overshadowed the less-sexy decay and neglect at the departmental level. There are a striking number of big jobs that have not been filled. The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, have been working together to track the status of 626 top jobs in the executive branch. This includes assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other leadership positions that experts believe are critical for the federal government to function effectively. These represent about half of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation.”
Who’s the boss? Legal fight continues over financial regulation agency – LAT: “The leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau remains under a cloud of uncertainty despite another Trump administration victory in the legal battle over who should be the agency’s acting director. A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request for a preliminary injunction to remove President Trump’s appointee for the temporary job, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. But Leandra English, the deputy director who has said she is the rightful acting director, is expected to appeal the decision. Such a move would extend for weeks the unease among banks and consumer advocates about the direction of the independent watchdog agency created in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.”
GOP MAY HAVE TO CEDE N.D. SENATE RACE
Politico: “Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) has decided against challenging North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp this November, rejecting pleas from President Donald Trump and leaving the GOP without a top-tier candidate against Heitkamp — a first-term Democratic senator seeking reelection in a state Trump won by 36 points in 2016. Cramer made the announcement Thursday… saying he needed to spend time with his 10-year-old son. ‘We’ve decided that the best thing for our family and for me and I think, frankly, for North Dakota is for me to seek reelection to the House of Representatives,’ he said. ‘And while it’s still a robust campaign … it’s far less intense…’ Even without Cramer in the race, Republicans are still expected to maintain their narrow Senate majority. Democrats need to flip two seats without losing North Dakota — or any of the other nine seats they hold in states Trump carried in 2016.”
Once a bright spot, Senate hopes dim for GOP – NYT: “‘This is shaping up to be a tough cycle for Republicans across the board,’ said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report who specializes in Senate races. ‘It only makes sense that recruiting is going to be difficult. For someone like [Kevin] Cramer, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give up a safe seat for a difficult race in a lousy environment.’ That assessment is an abrupt reversal of how most analysts saw the midterm landscape shaping up a year ago. Democrats are defending 24 seats, including those in states Mr. Trump won, compared with eight for Republicans. But the president’s chaotic first term has led to the lowest approval ratings for any first-term president at this time in his tenure in the history of polling, and he is now seen as a drag for many candidates.”
Amy Walter: ‘(Don’t) Miss Independents’ – Cook Political Report: “First, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Independent doesn’t mean ‘moderate.’ A person who identifies as independent may be a conservative who sees the GOP as insufficiently conservative. Or, he or she can be a liberal who thinks that the Democrats are too closely tied to the traditional establishment. These voters are also not consuming politics in the heavy doses that self-described partisans do. They aren’t tracking Twitter’s every ping. They are glancing up at the news instead of mainlining it on cable TV every night. They engage later in the election cycle than do traditional partisans. Second, winning over independent voters doesn’t guarantee electoral success. For example, in 2016, despite losing the national popular vote, Donald Trump carried independent voters by 4 points (46 to 42 percent).”
White House sets focus on upcoming Pennsylvania special election – Politico: “The White House is scrambling to avoid another special election disaster, this time in a Pennsylvania congressional district in the heart of Trump country. After a humiliating loss in the Alabama Senate race last month, the administration is drawing up ambitious plans that will kick off next Thursday when Trump travels to the conservative district to appear with Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Vice President Mike Pence and an assortment of Cabinet officials are also expected to make trips; Pence may go twice ahead of the March 13 special election, two administration officials said. The White House has taken an especially keen interest in the race: Members of Trump’s political affairs office met with Saccone this week.”
McSally officially announces Senate campaign – AP: “Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally called on the national GOP to ‘grow a pair of ovaries’ as she launched her Senate bid Friday, joining the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake by embracing President Donald Trump and his outsider playbook in one of the nation’s premier contests. The 51-year-old retired Air Force combat pilot cast herself as a tough-talking outsider as she vowed to work closely with the Republican president to combat illegal immigration. ‘There should be no sanctuary for anyone breaking our laws and harming our people,’ said McSally, wearing a military flight suit as she faced dozens of supporters in a Tucson airport hangar. ‘You better believe I will keep working with President Trump.’”
Messer accused of rigging Senate straw poll – Indy Star: “U.S. Senate candidate Luke Messer is paying for college students to attend a state Republican party straw poll event on Saturday — a move his opponents are criticizing as vote rigging. But Messer’s campaign and the state’s Republican party chairman are defending the tactic. Emails and social media exchanges obtained by IndyStar show that Messer campaign staffers offered to cover registration and hotel costs for college students to attend the Indiana Republican Party’s Congress of Counties conference. The event takes place Friday and Saturday and will include a straw poll featuring all six GOP candidates running in Indiana’s contentious U.S. Senate primary. The state party describes the straw poll as ‘the first grassroots barometer to measure early support in this high-profile, statewide race that has national implications.’”
Talk about a tough neighborhood! – Chicago Tribune: “A candidate running for Illinois attorney general was robbed at gunpoint while he was taking promotional photos for his campaign Thursday afternoon in the Northwest Side ward where he’s also the Democratic committeeman, according to his campaign manager and authorities. Aaron Goldstein, 42, and several members of his campaign team were in the middle of taking publicity shots when the robbery happened, according to Goldstein’s campaign manager.”
TRUMP TALKS TREASON
Fox News: “President Donald Trump said in an interview Thursday that the FBI agent who was removed from the Russian-interference probe and once referred to the president as a ‘loathsome human being’ committed an act of ‘treason.’ Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the text message from Agent Peter Strzok, where he mentioned an ‘insurance policy’ if Trump was elected, was tantamount to treason. Strzok was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe in July. The agent had been deeply involved in the Clinton email inquiry and was in the room when she was interviewed by the FBI. He later helped investigate whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. … Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, told the paper that it was ‘beyond reckless’ for the president to accuse a man who ‘devoted his entire adult life to defending this country, of treason.’”
[Read for yourself – The transcript of the WSJ interview with the president available here.]
Senators getting irritated with lack of info on Russia probe – Roll Call: “Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voiced frustration Thursday that they weren’t being kept in the loop on the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana summed up his access to information from the panel investigation this way: ‘I’ve seen nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.’ Kennedy brought up the issue at the end of an otherwise sedate committee meeting, asking Chairman Charles E. Grassley for a status report on the ‘various and sundry investigations we have ongoing so we can be brought up to speed.’ Texan John Cornyn, the majority whip, added to that sentiment and said it was important all members get a chance to be informed of what the committee is doing.”
Trump to receive his first medical physical as president today – NPR
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This Sunday, Chris Wallace sits down with Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen and California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.
#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.
AUDIBLE: CASSH HIM OUSSIDE
“Listen, [if] this guy got in my space, you want to get in my space, I’ve always said, Chris, you punch me, I’m gonna punch you back twice as hard. And it wouldn’t be hard to do it.” – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said about the president during an interview with on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Is there anything positive? I guess as compared to some norm.” – Herb Haas, Sun City, Ariz.
[Ed. note: As a person who has devoted his professional life to American politics, Mr. Haas, take it from me when I tell you that it is not the most important thing in the world. Rightly understood, politics and government are necessary annoyances in organizing a civil society. One of the reasons things seem so bad these days – and that politics itself has turned into such an open sewer – is that what is supposed to be a tool for the achievement of other aims has been made into an end unto itself. There is so much positive happening in this country and in this world at this moment, and very little of it has to do with who is winning and who is losing at politics. We want you and all of our readers to be equipped to understand what is happening now and what is likely to happen next in politics so that you are free to focus on the things in your life that are more important than the scurrying of politicians. Heck, we don’t even make it through an entire note without taking a break to talk about interesting developments in science, culture and history. Yes, it is true that failures in politics have the potential for serious consequences for real life – as the saying goes, that government is like fire, a powerful servant but a fearful master. That’s why we pay so much attention to the process. But that’s not the same as saying that it is more important than the daily joys and sorrows of our lives. Quite the opposite.]
“Sheesh! You made me look up micturate. Thanks?” – Michael Grabowski, Mission Viejo, Calif.
[Ed. note: It’s kind of funny, Mr. Grabowski, that we were at such pains to avoid using a coarser term for the bodily elimination of fluid waste just hours before the entire media world would become a carnival of scatology (which would also be a great name for an alternative band). I do believe there are times when straight forward reporting and discussion requires using unpleasant words, but only if it’s necessary to be understood. The journalists who so obviously delight in having the excuse to repeat ad nauseam President Trump’s vulgar language are obviously doing so in service of a rapidly diminishing shock value.]
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Popular Mechanics: “India’s first ballistic missile submarine was out of commission for ten months after someone neglected to properly close a hatch. The nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant was flooded with saltwater, necessitating nearly a year’s worth of repairs. The submarine is designed to function as a floating arsenal of nuclear weapons, guaranteeing a retaliatory strike in case of surprise attack. The incident was first reported by The Hindu. According to an Indian Navy source, a hatch was left open on the rear left side of the ship, allowing seawater to rush into the propulsion area while the Arihant was in harbor. Arihant was out of action for ten months as water was pumped out and pipes were cut out and replaced. Indian authorities likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship’s 83 megawatt nuclear reactor. Failing pipes could not only endanger the ship’s crew but the entire submarine… and her nuclear weapons.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.