The Daily 202: Even sweeping the suburbs would not be enough for Democrats to win the House majority – Washington Post
With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: To win the House majority in the midterms, Democrats will need to make big gains with suburban voters, defend incumbents in rural districts where President Trump remains popular, topple a handful of Republicans in the Sun Belt and probably win a handful of seats that still aren’t on anyone’s radar.
The opposition party needs to win 24 seats to take control of the House in 2018. Understandably, operatives and handicappers have focused on the 23 districts that Republicans hold, which voted for Hillary Clinton last year. But some of the incumbents are very popular, with brands that are distinct from Trump’s, and they are unlikely to lose no matter how bad the headwinds become.
In other words, it’s inconceivable that Democrats run the table in those 23 districts. Even if they did, they’d still be one short. And Democrats must defend 12 seats in districts that Trump carried in 2016.
Third Way did a deep dive to try to understand what the 2018 playing field will look like. The center-left think tank focused on 65 “Majority Makers,” the battlegrounds where a majority would most likely be won. Using 48 Census data points, two experts from the moderate group looked at variables such as how many people moved into a district over the past year, what percentage of residents have access to broadband Internet and how many houses are vacant.
They divided the swing districts into four categories: Thriving Suburban Communities, Left Behind Areas, Diverse/Fast-Growing Regions, and Non-Conformist Districts. Their report, shared first with The Daily 202, includes a rich data set (in a downloadable Excel file) so you can play around with the metrics for yourself.
The numbers underscore how different even the 23 GOP-held Clinton districts are demographically. Many are suburban and overwhelmingly white. Others are rural and heavily Latino. Within the broad categories, there are stark differences on income, educational attainment and employment rates. More than half of adults in New Jersey’s 7th District, for example, graduated from college. Only 17 percent in California’s 10th District did.
“The most important takeaway is that there is no one kind of voter or district that can deliver the House for Democrats in 2018,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way. “There’s been a lot of focus on suburban districts. There’s no doubt that those are important, but there are not enough of them to win the House.”
Hatalsky, who co-authored the report with Ryan Pougiales, emphasized that Democrats still would not win the House even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.
“You can’t get to a House majority without winning over Trump voters,” she said. “There are some people who definitely want to believe that they can because they still don’t know how to deal with Trump voters and are intimidated by the idea of appealing to them.”
Third Way’s new study is an interesting contribution to the debate that’s now raging among elite Democrats about what the party’s theory of the case should be going into 2018. It may seem early to some, but this is prime candidate recruitment season. Decisions that will be made in the coming weeks about who the Democratic establishment coalesces behind could make the difference 16 months from now between whether Nancy Pelosi retires, stays on as House minority leader or becomes speaker again.
National Democrats have lurched to the left in recent years. Clinton felt she needed to become more liberal during the 2016 primaries to fend off an unexpectedly robust challenge from Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont, and reactivate the unenthusiastic coalition that powered Barack Obama’s two victories. Even Bill Clinton found himself on the defensive over his third-way roots.
Hardcore progressives have been the loudest voices in the debate over the party’s future since November. The tea-party-like “resistance” movement that has erupted in response to Trump has put growing pressure on elected Democrats to call for a new era of big government by embracing proposals like single-payer health care, a $15 national minimum wage and tuition-free college.
There is palpable concern among moderate Democrats that the party will squander precious pick-up opportunities in the midterms, and even allow Trump to get reelected in 2020, by nominating unelectable liberals. One episode that gives credence to their fears: When House Democrats went to their February retreat in Baltimore, several progressive groups protested that a Third Way executive was even invited to speak about how the party could find its way out of the wilderness.
Third Way believes Democrats must embrace ideological diversity to take back legislative seats that were lost during the Obama era at the federal and state level. “There are a lot of different kinds of candidates and policies we’re going to have to welcome into the coalition to win,” Hatalsky said. “There’s no single kind of candidate that would resonate in all these places. The idea of purification – that we just need one kind of person who is going to bring us the majority – is not borne out by how different these places look. … The upshot from our perspective is that we need an all-of-the-above strategy. We need to take a wider look at the kinds of candidates you need and the sort of agenda to address.”
When I spoke by phone yesterday afternoon with Hatalsky, she was between interviews with voters in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. It’s part of a national tour that she has embarked on to better understand the dynamics in GOP-held Clinton districts and Democratic-held Trump districts. Little Havana is in the heart of a Florida district that has been represented by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen since 1989. Clinton won there by more than 20 points.
“Both in thriving suburban communities and fast growing diverse regions, these folks are mostly not in poverty,” Hatalsky said. “They’re in the growing middle class. They see their fortunes rising. They have different perspectives about how the economy impacts their life. They’re not looking for more safety nets. They’re looking for more opportunities.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— A cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s finances has been charged with multiple sexual offenses by Australian police, in one of the most significant indictments against a top-ranking leader of the Catholic Church. From Julie Zauzmer: “Cardinal George Pell faces multiple charges of ‘historical sexual assault offenses’” the Australian criminal justice system’s term for offenses committed in the past, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced at a news conference on Thursday morning in Australia. Victoria police notified Pell’s legal representative that he has been charged and must appear in court on July 18. … In the Vatican, Pell’s job as secretariat of the economy is so crucial that it has been described as the second-most-powerful role in Rome, after only the pope. But for years, he has faced accusations of improper behavior connected with clergy sexual abuse in Australia.”
— “The Trump administration has set new criteria for visa applicants from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees that require a ‘close’ family or business tie to the United States,” AP’s Matthew Lee reports. “Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department Wednesday said that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible. The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations that are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S. … As far as business or professional links are concerned, the State Department said a legitimate relationship must be ‘formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading’ the ban.”
GET SMART FAST:
- DHS officials announced enhanced security measures for all U.S.-bound international flights, declining to embrace a proposal to ban laptops and other electronic devices, at least temporarily, on the condition that airlines and airports comply with new rules. Authorities did to offer specifics about the changes, citing security concerns, but said they could include “enhanced screening” of electronic devices and increased security protocols in certain areas of the airport. (Lori Aratani)
- A special agent for the FBI’s elite hostage rescue team was indicted and accused of trying to cover up the firing of gunshots during a standoff last year with a member of the armed group occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge. While the indictment does not accuse the agent of shooting the occupier, it serves as a public black eye for the FBI group, which has been described by the bureau as “unparalleled” in its law enforcement capabilities. (Leah Sottile and Mark Berman)
- The Mormon Church said it will begin offering paid maternity and parental leave to its full-time employees and will relax its dress code to allow women to wear pants. The shift is a surprising and significant move from the institution, known for its highly traditional views on family and gender. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
- UPS notified more than 70,000 of its nonunion employees this week that it plans to freeze their pensions, joining a growing group of other large employers that have begun moving away from the defined benefit plans. (Jonnelle Marte)
- An Ohio city council member frustrated by the ballooning opioid epidemic in his town has proposed a cost-saving but deeply controversial plan — simply denying services to repeat overdosers. Under his proposal, addicts would be treated with a “three-strikes” policy — each accompanied by a community service mandate or other punishment — and on the third strike, those who phoned 911 for an ambulance would be told “no.” (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
- Outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) will join Fox News as a contributor. The longtime Oversight Committee chairman will begin his work at the network on July 1, one day after he is slated to resign from Congress. (Politico)
- In an interesting and politically symbolic break from tradition, far-left members of the French parliament have decided to stop wearing ties. The sartorial scandal comes as members of the small coalition seek to brand themselves as members of the working-class — though critics have slammed the movement as insulting. (Adam Taylor)
- Mohammed bin Nayef, who was recently deposed as crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has been confined to his palace. He is also barred from leaving the kingdom. (The New York Times)
- A 19-year-old “vlogger” was arrested after she accidentally shot and killed her boyfriend during a failed YouTube stunt. The woman, who is pregnant, told police that her boyfriend had wanted to film her shooting a book as he was holding it — erroneously believing that the book would stop the bullet. (BuzzFeed News)
- Scientists are baffled by the giant clusters of “sea pickles” that have recently started washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest, sometimes by the thousands and in sizes up to two feet long. The gelatinous, bumpy-looking creatures have infuriated fishermen, who say they’ve clogged nets and thwarted profits — but scientists studying the phenomenon say warmer ocean temperatures could be to blame. (Lindsey Bever)
- A wrestler who goes by the name “Progressive Liberal” has become the most hated character in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain Wrestling program. He has taunted crowds by insulting the president and suggesting that Bernie Sanders would make a good secretary of state. (Travis M. Andrews)
- An ethics commissioner is under fire in Connecticut after he mistook a local woman for the sex worker he had ordered online. The woman and her boyfriend, who was nearby, both apparently feared that the commissioner would assault her in a dispute over money, so they each used pepper spray against him. (Connecticut Post)
- Travelers in China were less than thrilled to find out the five-hour delay on their airplane was caused not by inclement weather or a routine scheduling issue — but rather, an 80-year-old woman who was tossing coins at the plane for good luck. A handful got stuck in the engine, inspectors said, and though the woman’s tossed change only amounted to 25 U.S. cents, the total cost of delay and engine inspection it caused could total more than $140,000. (Amy B Wang)
— After the Senate’s original bill failed to even reach the debating stage, Mitch McConnell now hopes to send the CBO a new version by Friday. Sean Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell report: “The effort reflects the tight timeline McConnell faces in his attempt to hold a vote in July — and the pressure he is under to change the bill to garner enough support to pass it. … Some [Republican] members questioned McConnell’s handling of the issue — an unusual public rebuke of a leader who managed to preserve his party’s control of the upper chamber despite a stiff challenge from Democrats in last year’s elections … McConnell spent most of the afternoon in closed-door talks with GOP moderates who appear open to negotiation … McConnell is trying to move quickly to produce a new CBO score by the time lawmakers return to Washington in mid-July. That would give the Senate about two weeks to fulfill the majority leader’s goal of voting before the August recess.”
— Sean, Juliet, Kelsey and Bob Costa also have a great ticktock on how the Senate bill failed to reach the floor — at least for this week: “Nearly everyone [at the huddle with Trump] Tuesday had a different take on the meeting, reflecting the Republican divide amid the struggle to fulfill a signature party promise. White House officials and Trump loyalists saw a president diving in to patch up strife and save legislation that had been curbed in the Senate. Some seasoned senators, however, saw a president unable to grasp policy details or the obstacles ahead.” A comment from the president during the meeting also alarmed some senators: “‘This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like,’ Trump told the room … To a number of [senators present], Trump’s remark had the same ring as his comment a week earlier about the House’s health bill being ‘mean.’ His enthusiasm, to them, was debatable.”
— The Senate majority leader’s failure to rally his caucus enough to pass the original version of the bill has called into question his image as a legislative wizard. Paul Kane writes: “If they can’t [repeal Obamacare], it will be a humbling defeat for a Senate leader who thrives on his ability to play the behind-the-scenes game. It illustrates how, 10 years after taking over as Republican leader, McConnell still struggles to corral his caucus and how this has left something missing in his legacy: a sweeping rewrite of big policy along the lines of revamping the health-care system. … Certainly, McConnell’s recent history is filled with important accomplishments. But time and again they involved crunching numbers and splitting the differences with Democrats on the other side of the table … Health care is bigger than just a few billion dollars here or there, and McConnell is struggling to find that sweet spot.”
— As McConnell attempts to craft a new version of the bill, some moderate Republicans are suggesting he reconsider a certain tax cut for wealthy Americans. Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur and Steven T. Dennis report: “Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Rounds of South Dakota both criticized the draft bill released by McConnell for repealing a surtax on net investment income imposed under Obamacare … A third Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, expressed discomfort with the idea of cutting taxes on the rich while transferring burdens on the poor. Scaling back the tax cuts could provide a path to winning over key moderate senators who have recoiled at the soaring premiums and deductibles for millions of low-income people as scored by the CBO … Meanwhile, conservatives have pushed to wipe out all of the taxes.”
— The tight timeline has led at least one Republican senator, David Perdue of Georgia, to publicly call for the August recess to be canceled in an op-ed for The Daily Signal.
— Although the president has not been very hands-on in crafting the bill, he promised a “big surprise” yesterday. “‘Health care is working along very well … We’re going to have a big surprise,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We have a great health-care package.” Trump offered no details, only reiterating, “We’re going to have a great, great surprise.” (Abby Phillip)
— New polling shows that the bill is deeply unpopular. Jessica Taylor reports on an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll: “Just 17 percent of those surveyed say they approve of the Senate’s health care plan, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Fifty-five percent say they disapprove, while about a quarter said they hadn’t heard enough about the proposal to have an opinion on it … While Democratic opposition to the bill, as expected, is high, GOP support for the Senate GOP’s plan is very soft. Twenty-one percent of Republicans oppose the bill and just 35 percent support it. Sixty-eight percent of independents also oppose the proposed legislation.”
— The bill’s unpopularity has put Republican gubernatorial candidates in a tough spot. John Wagner and Fenit Nirappil report: “In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie is getting peppered with questions on the campaign trail about President Trump’s efforts on health care, and he has declined to take a clear position. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is up for reelection next year, says health-care plans being advanced by the Republican Congress ‘do not work’ for his state, but he is still getting badgered by Democrats to speak out more forcefully against Trump. And in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is taking flak for saying he still needs time to study the GOP bills.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— White House advisers have struggled to convince the president that Russia remains a threat to the United States, CNN’s Sara Murray and Dana Bash report: “One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief … Some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering … The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia … The President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention.”
— The new Russia and Iran sanctions still haven’t passed through Congress. Senate Democrats refused to approve technical changes to the bill, prompting Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to call them “Russia’s best friend.” Karoun Demirjian reports: “Senate Democrats do not trust that House Republican leaders will put the measure on the floor in its current form … Many of them suspect House leaders are using the procedural complaint as a delaying tactic or an excuse to alter the bill in deference to President Trump, whose administration opposes the measure … The measure is controversial for the White House because of a provision giving Congress the right to review any attempts the president makes to change the Russia sanctions before he can go ahead … It’s in that section of the bill that the House’s technical complaint arose — and although members of both parties say they have found an acceptable fix, some Democrats are still suspicious.”
— The Senate Armed Services Committee called for new measures to counter adversarial Russian actions abroad, including the establishment of new offensive ground-based missile program, a prohibition on the Defense Department using a Russian company’s computer software, and a requirement that the Pentagon report to lawmakers about Russian hybrid warfare. Dan Lamothe reports: “The committee’s version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, approved Wednesday night, also included $500 million to provide Ukraine with security assistance — including lethal weapons — against Russian-backed separatists. And it extends existing prohibitions on the Pentagon cooperating directly with the Russia military. … Additionally, the committee approved $4.6 billion for the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which seeks to bolster security along Europe’s eastern flank. Some $100 million of that will support a joint program in which the Pentagon is helping Baltic nations to ‘improve their resilience against and build their capacity to deter Russian aggression.’”
— “A provision in a Senate spending bill that is likely to become law would bar the Defense Department from doing business with Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cyber-security company whose employees were interviewed at their homes this week by FBI agents,” NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter report: “In recent months, U.S. intelligence officials have expressed concerns that the company is a security risk, without specifying the basis of those concerns. Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio … asked the chiefs of the NSA, [CIA], FBI and three other intelligence agencies during a hearing whether they would be comfortable using Kaspersky products. Each said no. FBI agents on Tuesday paid visits to at least a dozen employees of Kaspersky … Its billionaire owner, Eugene Kaspersky, has close ties to some Russian intelligence figures … Kaspersky Lab [also] paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn $11,250 in 2015 for cyber-security consulting.”
— The Senate Intelligence Committee reached an agreement to receive memos written by James Comey detailing his interactions with Trump. Politico’s Austin Wright reports: “It had been an open question whether Congress would get access to the memos, which several committees in both the House and Senate have demanded to see. Comey, who testified before Burr’s panel earlier this month, kept detailed memos about his meetings with Trump, including one in which he says Trump expressed a desire for the FBI to drop its investigation into [Flynn].” “I’ve got a commitment,” Burr said when asked whether his panel would get access to the documents. Asked who gave him that commitment, the senator responded: “I’m not going to tell you.” He said he is “fairly certain of the timeline” for getting the memos and suggested it would be soon. “It does us no good later,” he quipped.
— The AP’s Eric Tucker and Chad Day profile Abbe Lowell, the high-profile Washington lawyer hired to represent Jared Kushner in the ongoing Russia probe: “Kushner has turned to one of the best-known trial lawyers in the nation’s capital and perhaps the country. His pick of Lowell suggests he’s bracing for lengthy government probes and wants in his corner someone with decades worth of experience confronting thorny and contentious congressional and Justice Department investigations. It also gives him a lawyer more seasoned in navigating Washington scandals than the members of Trump’s own legal team … Known for zealous public advocacy of his clients[,] … Lowell is also regarded among peers for aggressive cross-examination and strategic thinking. [And] he has said he adapts to the circumstances of every case he takes in how he handles the press and the public. ‘Sometimes you tune it out. Sometimes you channel it,’ he told Washington Lawyer.”
THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:
— Despite some Republican defections, the House narrowly passed a medical malpractice bill yesterday by a vote of 218 to 210. Kimberly Kindy reports: “The biggest point of contention was over a provision that places a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages awards to victims, which includes for pain and suffering. Nineteen Republicans voted against the bill, many of them citing this as a key reason, saying it would trample on states’ rights because it would take away their ability to establish their own laws on the matter … The caps would apply broadly to all manner of medical malpractice, including errors in surgery, side effects from unsafe drugs, abuse and neglect in nursing homes, and sexual assault by doctors. The issue will probably decrease the odds of the Senate taking up the measure, opponents and proponents of the measure said. The Senate has routinely declined to vote on previous tort measures passed by the House.”
— A decades-long congressional conflict could be nearing its resolution. Lawmakers are reaching a consensus on a bill to make the reports of the taxpayer-funded Congressional Research Service public. Mike DeBonis reports: “A draft report set to be adopted by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday includes language ordering the CRS ‘to make available to the public, all non-confidential reports’ … This is the farthest CRS transparency efforts have advanced after a long push to make the agency’s reports more directly accessible to the public … Under current CRS policy, agency products are released only under limited circumstances, such as when a report is given to a federal agency after the agency provided data for analysis.”
THE MOST “THIS TOWN” STORY YOU’LL READ TODAY:
— The Boston Globe A1, “Seth Moulton seemed to be in Nancy Pelosi’s fan club. And then he wasn’t,” by Annie Linskey: “Over last Labor Day weekend, when Democrats were under the mistaken belief they would win the White House and Senate, Representative Seth Moulton sat down to pen a note that departed from his renegade brand. Three pages of gushing words to Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, thanking her. For everything. … After a devastating November election for Democrats … Moulton became a loud voice opposing Pelosi’s leadership, joining 62 other House insurgents who voted to replace her in November. Last week (after Georgia), Moulton again joined a band of House members demanding that Pelosi, 77, step aside. Loyalties in Washington are fluid, but even by the Capitol’s standards, Moulton’s change in posture is striking.” (Read the letter here.)
THE PRESIDENT’S DOMESTIC AGENDA:
— “Trump on Wednesday highlighted what he called the dangers posed by illegal immigrants ahead of important House votes on two bills aimed at cracking down on those who commit crimes and cities that refuse to help deport them,” Mike DeBonis and David Nakamura report. “Appearing with families that were victimized by immigrants, Trump called on lawmakers to ‘honor grieving American families’ by sending the ‘lifesaving measures’ to his desk quickly. The House action marks the first major legislative test of tougher immigration laws under Trump … But several House conservatives — already frustrated that Trump has not acted more quickly to undo Obama’s executive immigration actions — lamented that it took so long into Trump’s presidency to get any immigration bills onto the House floor.”
— A report from The Post that 1,000 immigrant military recruits would have their enlistment contracts canceled, leaving them vulnerable to deportation, has three Democratic lawmakers leaning on Trump and the Pentagon. Alex Horton, who broke the story, reports: “Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) will propose an amendment to constrain the Pentagon from eliminating those contracts in an appropriations committee markup Thursday … ‘For the Defense Department to even consider terminating these contracts is a betrayal of people who want to serve the United States,’ McCollum [said] … Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) demanded personal assurances from Trump to step into the fray and block any potential forced removals … ‘I’m sad to see that with President Trump as commander in chief, even our military can’t be trusted to keep its promises,’ Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran wounded in combat, [said].”
— The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, was asked yesterday whether he agreed with the president’s campaign insinuation that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes. He suggested that they weren’t. Philip Bump reports: “Homan was describing a number of crimes that had been committed by immigrants in the United States and advocated for building a wall on the border with Mexico. ‘Aren’t you concerned, though, about exacerbating fears about undocumented immigrants?’ CNN’s Jim Acosta asked. ‘You’re making it sound as if undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than people who are just native-born Americans. What is your sense of the numbers on this? Are undocumented people more likely or less likely to commit crimes?’ Acosta asked. ‘Did I say aliens commit more crimes than U.S. citizens? I didn’t say that,’ Homan replied.”
— Southern Company announced that it would discontinue work on Mississippi power plant intended to showcase the possibilities of carbon capture and “clean coal.” Steven Mufson reports: “The Kemper plant, which has cost $7.5 billion so far, has been supplying customers with electricity by running on natural gas for three years, but its once-promising carbon capture and coal gasification technology has been $4 billion over budget and three years behind schedule. The plant was once held up as an example of promising technologies that could help fight climate change … Instead, Kemper has imposed financial burdens on tax payers and local households.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
— Defense Secretary Jim Mattis claimed Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad backed down from plans for another possible chemical attack, speaking two days after the White House warned the regime would pay a “heavy price” for unleashing such an assault on its people. “They didn’t do it,” Mattis said. Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports: “Speaking to reporters aboard a flight to Brussels, the retired four star general gave few details to support the assertion that the Syrian military stepped back from [its] plans … Mattis’s remarks come a day after the Pentagon said it had seen ‘active preparations for chemical weapons use’ at Shayrat Airfield, the same place struck by more than 50 cruise missiles earlier this year. Mattis did not say if the Pentagon had seen activity elsewhere, but indicated that Assad’s chemical weapons program remains firmly intact despite his earlier pledges to dismantle it.” His remarks come just one week after a U.S. aircraft shot down a Syrian government jet that had bombed U.S.-backed fighters in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. Despite the recent spate of incidents, however, Mattis maintained Washington is completely focused on fighting Islamic State militants and reiterated that the U.S. refuses “to get drawn into the Syrian civil war.”
— And despite Trump’s frequent criticism of Obama’s plan to defeat ISIS, the one his administration is pushing currently looks “very much” like his predecessor’s approach. Karen DeYoung reports: “The Pentagon is putting the final touches on a promised new counter-Islamic State strategy for Syria and Iraq, and it looks very much like the one the Obama administration pursued … The core of the strategy is to deny territory to the militants and ultimately defeat them, and to stay out of Syria’s civil war … [but] the two fights in that country have come into increasingly close proximity in recent months, and there have been clashes. Military officials from [Jim Mattis] on down have emphasized in recent days that they are not looking for a fight with the regime or the Iranians. That has put them at odds with White House officials who have expressed concern about Iranian expansion.”
— Trump has accepted an invitation from French President Emmanuel Macron to visit his country on July 14th for Bastille Day, where he will also attend an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. (Jenna Johnson)
— The announcement that the president would travel to Paris angered some in the United Kingdom, where Trump has yet to make his promised state visit. Adam Taylor reports: “Despite months of discussion, no trip has yet materialized. Some reports in the British press even suggested that the trip was canceled for now, though the White House later denied this … Some Brits expressed their frustration that Trump appeared likely to visit their neighbors across the channel first as their visit stalled … Generally, such sentiment appears strongest among right-wing and pro-Brexit Brits, but even some outsiders suggested the France trip could be a loss for Britain.”
— Tensions abound elsewhere in Europe, as well: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was abruptly cut off while remotely giving remarks to an economic conference in Germany this week. Philip Bump reports: “Ross was allotted 10 minutes to speak. After he spoke for more than 20, the conference organizers cut his feed mid-sentence. The audience ‘laughed and clapped’ in response … Merkel then rose and, during her remarks, disagreed with one of Ross’s points.”
— H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s strained relations with America’s European allies as “tough love” — insisting during a conference in Washington that the administration is actually making the NATO alliance “stronger.” Greg Jaffe reports: “His remarks drew a wry reply from his host and interviewer. ‘I can tell you they are not feeling very loved,’ [the host quipped]. … [McMaster pointed] to the more than $1 billion that the United States has spent in recent months to bolster NATO forces on the fringes of Europe … ‘I would just say, ‘Look at our actions,’’’ McMaster said.”
FOGGY BOTTOM WATCH:
— Who is really running Trump’s foreign policy? Mark Perry’s new piece in the American Conservative suggests that it’s not Rex Tillerson: “After the blockade of Qatar was announced, Tillerson and Mattis were scrambling to undo the damage caused by Saudi action … Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to ease their anti-Qatar blockade. The problem for Tillerson was that his statement was contradicted by [Trump] who, during a Rose Garden appearance on the same day, castigated Qatar, saying the emirate ‘has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level’ … A close associate of the secretary of state says that Tillerson was not only ‘blindsided by the Trump statement,’ but ‘absolutely enraged.’ Tillerson’s aides … were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement was Yousef Al Otaiba [a friend of Kushner and the UAE Ambassador]. ‘Rex is just exhausted,’ [the associate said]. ‘He can’t get any of his appointments approved and is running around the world cleaning up after a president whose primary foreign policy adviser is a 36-year-old amateur.’”
— The bubbling frustration appears to have spilled over last Friday, when Tillerson apparently shouted down a White House staffer. Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Eliana Johnson and Alex Isenstadt report: “The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment. Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to ‘have any role in staffing’ and ‘expressed frustration that anybody would know better’ than he about who should work in his department — particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires.”
— Trump is slated to nominate a former Bush-era Justice Department official known for helping architect the Patriot Act as his top State Department lawyer. BuzzFeed News’ Zoe Tillman and John Hudson report: “If confirmed, Jennifer Newstead … would be in charge of a raft of thorny legal issues involving the most sensitive foreign policy and security challenges facing the U.S. The State Department legal adviser plays a key role in justifying the use of military force abroad, applying the laws of war to cyber intrusions, determining what represents a foreign military coup, and interpreting a maze of international treaties and obligations. Newstead … was credited with helping to draft the Patriot Act and pitch it to members of Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act granted broad new surveillance and detention powers to law enforcement agencies, and was amended In 2015 after years of criticism from civil liberties groups that it violated Americans’ privacy.”
THE FOURTH ESTATE:
— Sarah Huckabee Sanders again led yesterday’s White House press briefing in Sean Spicer’s absence, and TV cameras and live audio broadcasts were banned for the seventh of the past nine briefings. (The Fix has an annotated version of the off-camera briefing.)
— On Tuesday, Sanders encouraged members of the press and Americans in general to watch a video shot by James O’Keefe purporting to show a CNN producer criticizing the network’s Russia coverage as a ratings ploy. But O’Keefe, who has been criticized for his journalistic methods in the past, left out a few key details in the video. Paul Farhi writes: “For example, it never mentions that [John] Bonifield is a producer of health and medical stories, raising questions about how relevant his views are, and how informed he is, about CNN’s political coverage … Instead, the video identifies him a ‘supervising producer,’ suggesting a senior decision-making role. O’Keefe, who appears on the video as a kind of master of ceremonies, furthers this impression by saying the footage describes ‘the real motivation behind our dominant media organizations.’ But CNN said Bonifield speaks only for himself.”
— Fox News has devoted a lot of airtime to discussing O’Keefe’s video, even at the expense of discussing this week’s major health-care news. David Weigel reports: “The network’s prime-time shows, ratings kings of cable news, ignored the health-care story. Fox’s 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. shows began with stories about [the O’Keefe video] … ‘The Five,’ Fox’s 9 p.m. show, began with the ‘bombshell’ news that President Barack Obama had said — in October 2016 — that it would be ‘impossible’ to rig the election. Nine minutes were spent on the Senate bill before a segue way into the CNN story. The lack of ‘Obamacare repeal’ coverage, unthinkable just six months ago, reflected a general decline of conservative interest in what had united Republicans for seven years.”
— Trump appears to be shifting more media responsibilities away from Spicer and toward his personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. Callum Borchers writes: “In the hours after the Supreme Court allowed partial implementation of Trump’s travel ban on Monday … Spicer did not have much to say about the decision … Before Spicer briefed reporters … Sekulow appeared on live television to do exactly what the White House spokesman would not — deliver the president’s understanding of the power vested in him by the Supreme Court. … It matters a great deal whether information comes from the White House press secretary, who owes a duty to voters, or from an attorney working for Trump, who does not. In recent weeks, Sekulow has become increasingly visible, while Spicer has receded into the background.”
— Speaking of Sekulow, he could be facing investigations from two state attorneys general over revelations that he funneled millions of dollars from his charity to himself and his family. The Guardian’s Jon Swaine reports: “Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, and Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, said on Wednesday they would be examining the operations of Jay Sekulow’s group Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case). Stein said in a statement: ‘The reports I’ve read are troubling. My office is looking into this matter.’ Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in an email: ‘We’re reviewing their filings.’”