Playbook: Four unfolding events that show the crazy times we’re in

 In Politics


REASON 1: THE SPEAKER IS WAGING A VERY PUBLIC WAR WITH THE PRESIDENT IT LOOKS LIKE HE’LL LOSE: SPEAKER PAUL RYAN has privately and publicly drawn a line against PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S chest-thumping demand that the U.S. slap a double-digit tariff on imported metals. It’s clear that Ryan and Trump are talking, it’s less clear that Trump will listen and Republicans are worried the tariffs will blunt the positive impacts of the tax bill.

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— WHAT IT MEANS: If the president ignores Ryan and Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady — the two men who delivered his tax victory — that would be a stinging rebuke of his own party. TRUMP is truly on an island here — although he’s been on this island for three decades. That being said, REPUBLICANS say they will feel victorious if Trump makes any tweaks to the tariffs.

— THE TREAT-HIM-LIKE-A-KID STRATEGY: HOW REPUBLICANS WILL TRY TO REVERSE TRUMP’S DECISION IF THEY DON’T LIKE IT: Senior Republicans are resigned to the fact that they can’t stop Trump from placing these tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. But if he follows through on his threat, senior Republicans will give him time to cool down, and then approach the president with data to show him that he’s wrong, and explain that the tariffs need to be refined. The GOP feels like he’s dug in, at the moment, and not terribly receptive to any outside views. Ryan hinted as much in a closed party meeting Tuesday morning in the Capitol.

REASON TWO: REPUBLICANS HAVE SPENT MORE THAN $9 MILLION ON A HOUSE DISTRICT THAT WILL DISAPPEAR IN EIGHT MONTHS: THE NRCC just dropped another $619,664 into Pennsylvania 18 to boost Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate who many in the party think is a complete dud.

— THE NRCC has spent $3.5 MILLION, CLF — the House GOP super PAC — has spent $3.1 MILLION, and the RNC and America First Policies have spent $1 MILLION each. CONOR LAMB, the Democratic candidate, has spent $3 million and Democratic outside groups have spent basically squat.

— THIS DISTRICT WILL BE GONE IN NOVEMBER! But Republicans are so afraid of the narrative that Trump’s gutter-scraping ratings took down a GOP seat that they are spending like drunken sailors.

THE ALARM BELLS ARE RINGING: Republicans involved in this race are not confident they will win, despite the millions they’re spending.

REASON 3: THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN SUED BY A PORN STAR WHO SAYS SHE WAS HIS PARAMOUR, AND HIS LAWYER IS STILL TRYING TO SILENCE HER: WaPo’s Beth Reinhard, Frances Stead Sellers and Emma Brown: “Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she was paid to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, sued the president Tuesday, asking the court to declare that her nondisclosure agreement before the 2016 election is void because Trump did not sign it.”

— PAGING THE FEC: “The lawsuit suggests that Trump was aware of the agreement and that the money was intended to influence the election’s outcome. That intimation bolsters two complaints filed with the Federal Election Commission that say the payment violated election law because it was not reported as an in-kind campaign donation.”

— BLOOMBERG: “‘Put simply, considerable steps have been taken by [Trump lawyer Michael] Cohen in the last week to silence Ms. Clifford through the use of an improper and procedurally defective arbitration proceeding hidden from public view,’ according to the complaint. ‘The extent of Mr. Trump’s involvement is these efforts is presently unknown, but it strains credibility to conclude that Mr. Cohen is acting on his own accord without the express approval and knowledge of his client Mr. Trump.’”

REASON 4: PEOPLE ARE LEAVING THE WHITE HOUSE IN DROVES: NYT’S KATE KELLY and MAGGIE HABERMAN in an A1 story about Gary Cohn’s departure: “More than one in three top White House officials left by the end of Mr. Trump’s first year and fewer than half of the 12 positions closest to the president are still occupied by the same people as when he came into office, according to a Brookings Institution study. Mr. Cohn’s departure will bring the turnover number to 43 percent, according to updated figures compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.”

2020 UPDATE: STEVEN SHEPARD: “Poll: Trump trails generic Democrat by 8 points”: “President Donald Trump’s new campaign manager has his work cut out for him.

“A week after naming Brad Parscale to run his reelection effort, Trump is 8 points behind a generic Democratic candidate, 44 percent to 36 percent, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. Nearly one in five voters, 19 percent, are undecided.”


— THE FALLOUT: “‘It means disaster’: White House aides fear more policy chaos after Cohn departure,” by Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook: “For many longtime Republican policy wonks and senior aides on Capitol Hill, Gary Cohn served as a touchstone. He was seen as the rare Trump administration official who did a good job of navigating substantive policy questions as well as the sometimes opaque decision-making process in President Donald Trump’s White House.

“But he joins a long list of policy experts who have departed in recent weeks — a brain drain that leaves the president with fewer people around him who know how to get policy made, and how to stop Trump from moving ahead with unworkable ideas.

“Some worry the White House could return to the uncontrolled days immediately following Trump’s inauguration, when many West Wing jobs were still unfilled and former strategist Steve Bannon was writing executive orders with policy adviser Stephen Miller, including the disastrous travel ban that was ultimately knocked down by multiple courts.”

— BACK STORY: “How Trump’s trade war finally broke Gary Cohn: The White House’s top economic adviser was Trump’s most important link to investors and much of corporate America, until Trump sided with tariffs,” by Morning Money’s Ben White: “Wall Street is losing its main man in the White House. Gary Cohn, the hard-charging former Goldman Sachs president who eased market fears about President Donald Trump’s erratic presidency, said Tuesday he would leave in the coming weeks after losing a bruising internal battle over trade.

“Cohn, a New York Democrat and avowed free-trader, tried desperately to persuade Trump not to impose sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum, arguing they would kick off a global trade war that could damage the U.S. economy.

“Trump so far has ignored Cohn’s advice, siding with nationalist advisers who strongly favor the tariffs. A meeting planned for Thursday at the White House with executives from companies that could be hurt by tariffs has now been canceled. Cohn, known in his decades on Wall Street as a pugnacious trader, is not leaving the fight right away.

“He plans to stay on for at least a couple of weeks and continue to battle Trump and the White House nationalists to more carefully tailor the tariffs to avoid antagonizing allies and inviting retribution.” Listen to Ben’s POLITICO Money podcast as he answers listener questions on trade and steel tariffs

— WHO MIGHT REPLACE HIM … FROM BEN WHITE’S MORNING MONEY: “Larry Kudlow … remains on the short-list for NEC. … Other candidates often mentioned include top trade adviser Peter Navarro (not good for Wall Street), OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (less worrisome) and former hamburger CEO Andrew Puzder, who withdrew as Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee over spousal abuse allegations, among other things.

“The NEC is one of the most functional organizations in the West Wing and no matter who takes over, some staffers are likely to leave. Puzder or Navarro could hasten the exodus sources tell MM. Some names to keep your eyes on include Shahira Knight (tax policy), Ashley Marquis (chief of staff) and Andrew Olmem (financial policy).”

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THE BIG PICTURE … ABOUT LAST NIGHT’S TEXAS PRIMARY — STEVEN SHEPARD and ELENA SCHNEIDER — “National Democrats’ strategy comes up short in Texas”: “The first primary of the 2018 midterm elections has already scrambled the political landscape, after a Democratic candidate spurned by the national party qualified for a primary runoff in one of the districts central to Democrats’ efforts to win back control of the House next year.

“Laura Moser, an activist and journalist, finished second in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in a Houston-area congressional district held by Republicans — despite opposition from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which called Moser a ‘Washington insider’ who would lose in the general election. Moser lived in Washington but moved to the Houston-area district to run. She had written in 2014 that she would ‘sooner have her teeth pulled’ than relocate to Texas, where she grew up.”

— OTHER DATA POINTS: REP. BETO O’ROURKE, the Democrat running for the Senate, won with 61.8%, which the Texas Tribune says was “surprisingly low given his aggressive campaigning and fundraising. Both of his lesser-known primary rivals won in multiple counties.”

… TEXAS TRIBUNE: “Before Election Day, a snapshot of the 10 counties in Texas with the highest number of registered voters showed motivated Democrats casting ballots early. But totals in the primaries for U.S. Senate told a different story: More than 1.5 million people voted in the Republican primary, with close to 100 percent reporting, compared to about 1 million Democrats, also with a near 100 percent reporting.”

POLITICO TALKS TO THE NEW RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR — NAHAL TOOSI: “Anatoly Antonov says he has been disappointed to find a cold reception on Capitol Hill, where he’s had a hard time obtaining meetings. Some lawmakers’ offices have even asked him not to publicize the sessions. …

“‘The Congress, overwhelmed by Russophobia, is led by politically biased emotions, rather than a clear-thinking mind,’ the Kremlin envoy told a POLITICO reporter, who interviewed him in a combination of written and face-to-face chats. ‘We are bluntly told they fear criticism.’ …

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