Playbook: What to make of tomorrow’s race in Pennsylvania

 In Politics

Good Monday morning. TOMORROW is the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Rick Saccone, a Republican with whom D.C. insiders are underwhelmed, faces Conor Lamb, a Democrat who is running as a conservative. Spending in the race is out of control: $12.5 million has been shelled out, mostly by Republicans. If Republicans win, they’re going to say it’s proof that they can keep the House even with their president’s approval rating in the 30s. If Democrats win, they’ll say they can take back the House, tax reform isn’t as big of a positive as Republicans think and Nancy Pelosi isn’t as big of a drag as conventional wisdom holds. Elena Schneider and Alex Isenstadt break down the details of the GOP push here

PRO-TIP: This race is fascinating, because a Democrat is running basically even with a Republican in a district that Trump won by 20 points. It matters, because everything in politics matters. But Republicans are not going to be able to dump $8 million into every competitive seat. (Actually, they won’t be able to dump $8 million into most seats.) And most Democratic candidates are going to have primaries, so they won’t be able to move to the middle, like Lamb has been able to. That all said, if Republicans are struggling to hold onto a seat they held for 15 years — and a seat the president won by double digits — it will be an interesting election season.

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— FOR GOOD MEASURE: The Congressional Leadership Fund and the RNC are both still spending in this race! CLF dropped $51,425 on “mobile communications” and the RNC put in $26,031 on “phone services.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS … YES, here we are again, GOVERNMENT FUNDING runs out in less than two weeks, and there’s more drama developing behind the scenes. THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Will Republicans in Congress keep funding for the so-called Gateway Tunnel, a new tunnel between New York and New Jersey? President Donald Trump has threatened to veto any funding bill that includes money for the project, but House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is retiring, and it’s one of his top priorities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also wants it built, and Republicans will need Democratic votes.

— ALSO REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-N.C.), the House Freedom Caucus leader who is close to President Trump, tweeted over the weekend that the funding bill should cut off money for so-called sanctuary cities. This is a nonstarter for Democrats and could be a serious issue if the Freedom Caucus digs in on it.

— THIS FUNDING BILL is the last must-pass bill of the year, so lawmakers are going to try to attach all sorts of stuff to it. Republicans are eyeing the bill as a vehicle to get school safety legislation through. There’s talk of renewing the FAA’s charter as part of the bill. Issues like pesticide regulation and reauthorizing intelligence programs have come up in talks. Keep an eye open because this bill will likely get loaded up.

FROM 30,000 FEET — BURGESS EVERETT and ELANA SCHOR: “The ‘attention-deficit-disorder’ Congress”: “Even in peak form, Congress struggles to focus on any one issue for more than a few days. But its short attention span has taken on new meaning in the era of Donald Trump. ‘We kind of have attention deficit disorder,’ as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) put it.

“Every time it seems the president has zeroed in on an issue, and appears determined to see it through — guns and immigration are just the two latest examples — he moves on to something else. And Congress, which isn’t designed to respond swiftly to national events and the wishes of the White House even in the least distracted of circumstances, simply can’t keep up. The constant whiplash of priorities is getting on lawmakers’ nerves.

“‘It’s unbelievable to me,’ said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). ‘The attention span just seems to be … it’s a real problem.’ The hyperactive mindset of the Oval Office has had the effect, whether by design or not, of quickly diverting attention from topics big or small. After a bout of attention on gun control in the wake of the Florida school massacre last month, Congress has seemingly moved on already. Before that, it was the plight of Dreamers facing deportation. In the end, nothing gets done on the issue of the day.”


— DEPT. OF THE PRESIDENT WASTING HIS TIME … TRUMP BACK TO ARMING TEACHERS: “Trump administration to aid states in firearms training for teachers, school staff,” by Michael Stratford: “The White House on Sunday night announced backing for a new Justice Department program that would aid states that seek to train teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms, as part of a package of steps to curb school violence.

“In addition, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will chair a new government commission exploring steps to prevent school violence, following the Parkland, Fla., shooting last month that left 17 dead, the Trump administration said. …

“DeVos said the commission would include teachers. A senior administration official on the call said that it was expected the work would be completed within a year. The official said existing Justice Department funds would be used to assist states and local law enforcement groups that want to bolster their armed school personnel programs.”

— IT’S WORTH NOTING: Most Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said they oppose an effort to arm teachers.

MORE DEVOS: IF YOU WATCH ONE THING – LESLEY STAHL ON “60 MINUTES”: “Betsy DeVos on guns, school choice and why people don’t like her: The secretary of education has been one of the most criticized members of President Trump’s Cabinet, but DeVos says she’s ‘more misunderstood than anything.’”

****** A message from Business Roundtable: Trade drives American prosperity. International trade is essential to a prosperous American economy. Now is the time to modernize agreements and expand free and fair trade – not restrict opportunities for American businesses to compete and create jobs. See what CEOs are saying about the importance of international trade at ******

BUZZFEED’S CHRIS GEIDNER: “Trump Lawyers Are Considering A Challenge To Stop ‘60 Minutes’ From Airing A Stormy Daniels Interview”: “Lawyers associated with President Donald Trump are considering legal action to stop ‘60 Minutes’ from airing an interview with Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director who goes by Stormy Daniels, BuzzFeed News has learned.

“‘We understand from well-placed sources they are preparing to file for a legal injunction to prevent it from airing,’ a person informed of the preparations told BuzzFeed News on Saturday evening. It was not immediately clear what legal argument the lawyers would be making to support the considered litigation, and Trump and his legal team often have threatened litigation without following through on those threats in the past.

“Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney who previously was a longtime lawyer for the Trump Organization, directed questions about the possibility of litigation to Larry Rosen, who Cohen told BuzzFeed News is ‘my attorney handling this matter.’ Rosen — a partner in the firm LaRocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha — acknowledged his role in the matter generally but did not comment directly on the possibility of seeking an injunction.

“BuzzFeed News has learned that CBS plans to air the ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Clifford next Sunday, March 18.”

HMM — “Trump targets European car-makers with big plants in states he won,” by Matt Nussbaum: “President Donald Trump, expressing his ire over trade imbalances this weekend, made a peculiar choice: He focused his criticism on two European brands, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, that have significant investments in two of the nation’s most Trump-friendly states.

“‘Open up the barriers and get rid of your tariffs,’ Trump said of the European Union’s trade policies in a wide-ranging and rollicking address in Pennsylvania Saturday. ‘And if you don’t do that, we’re going to tax Mercedes-Benz, we’re going to tax BMW.’

Trump made no mention of the German brands’ significance to two states that formed part of the bedrock of his support in 2016. BMW has an assembly plant employing more than 9,000 people in Spartanburg, South Carolina; about a third of the BMWs sold in the U.S. in 2017 were produced in the country, the company said. A Mercedes-Benz factory employs 3,500 people near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, according to data from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.”

IVANKA WATCH — “‘Where is Ivanka?’ First daughter seeks control in dual role as White House aide,” by WaPo’s Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker: “[I]in recent months, the strain between her and [General John] Kelly has deepened, White House officials said. Kelly — who Ivanka and her husband, also a senior adviser, initially pushed for chief of staff — has grown frustrated with what he views as the duo’s desire to have it both ways: behaving as West Wing officials in one moment, family members the next. He has griped to colleagues about what he views as her ‘freelancing’ on ‘pet projects’ as opposed to the administration’s stated top priorities. Ivanka argues that every issue she has championed is also a policy her father campaigned on and pushed in office. …

“Ivanka’s last name creates an aura of invincibility around her within the White House. In private, some aides criticize and share unflattering details about her — and, more acutely, Kushner — but are loath to do so publicly and risk the president’s wrath.”

JARED MIDEAST PEACE UPDATE – “The Mideast Peace Plan Is Nearly Finished. Is It Dead on Arrival?” by NYT’s Mark Landler (print headline: “The Mideast Plan is Nearly Ready. Will Either Side Read It?”): “The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, three senior officials said on Sunday, and President Trump is likely to present it soon, despite risking swift rejection by the Palestinians and having already taken on another of the world’s thorniest disputes, with North Korea. While the exact timing of the plan’s release is still not set, these officials said, the most immediate challenge for the White House is how to roll it out so that it is not proclaimed dead on arrival.

“The Palestinians remain furious over the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and they have refused White House entreaties to come back to the table. … [T]he quickening pace of activity inside the White House suggests that, regardless of the political headwinds, Mr. Trump will soon unveil a detailed blueprint that one of his senior aides said was intended to help Israelis and Palestinians get around traps and bottlenecks to an agreement. The aide likened it to Waze, the navigation software, developed by Israelis, that helps drivers bypass traffic jams.”

2018 WATCH – “Why Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren Are Eyeing Ohio in 2018,” by NYT’s Alex Burns: “As [Sherrod] Brown seeks a third term in 2018, it is his brand of indignant populism setting the tone for Democrats in Ohio, where the governorship and several congressional seats are also up for grabs. Long a crucial swing state, Ohio may now be the most vital proving ground for a progressive economic message in Trump country. Democrats there have adopted a rallying cry that echoes both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and traditional union-hall populism, assailing Wall Street banks and multinational corporations for exploiting workers and accusing Washington of colluding in their perfidy.”

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