Fox News Halftime Report -- Trump’s agenda rides on Comey replacement

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Fox News Halftime Report

May 15, 2017
By Chris Stirewalt

 

On the roster: Trump's agenda rides on Comey replacement - Shakeup or nah? - House weighs deep cuts to offset Trump spending - Audible: but other than that, everything's cool - Bears, they're just like us

TRUMP'S AGENDA RIDES ON COMEY REPLACEMENT
President Trump leaves this week for his first-ever overseas trip, and he and Washington could probably both use the break. 

You know if Jerusalem sounds like a lower-pressure option, things have gotten pretty tense back at the ranch… 

Trump's firing last week of FBI Director James Comey will serve as quite an inflection point for the city the president leaves behind as Democrats are more dug in than ever and Republicans are running for cover. 

Those things were true before, but now, for as long as it takes to find a new FBI boss and get him or her approved, everything else is B matter. Trump has promised fast action on the pick and was back in transition mode over the weekend interviewing candidates. 

That's a smart thing to do, given what's at stake. 

Top contenders include: Alice Fisher, former head of the Justice Department's criminal division; Michael Garcia, New York state appellate judge; U.S. Judge Henry Hudson, of the Eastern District of Virginia; Fran Townsend, a former Bush Homeland Security adviser; and Mike Rogers, former House Intelligence Committee chairman.

And, for those with a sense of cosmic irony, federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland

We understand that everything in Washington these days is unprecedentedhistoric, massive, face-meltingly insane, etc. But take our word for it when we tell you that the quality of the choice and the smoothness of the designee's confirmation is of enormous importance to the rest of the president's agenda and his party's chances next year. 

You already get why it is important for Trump to choose soundly and wisely as it relates to the FBI in general and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in particular. If Trump offers up some weak sauce, it would deepen doubts harbored by Republicans about his seriousness vis-à-vis a full, fair and thorough probe. 

Trump needs whoever is the Neil Gorsuch of FBI directors: universally acclaimed by Republicans and at least begrudgingly acknowledged as qualified and impartial by Democrats.  

But nothing happens in a vacuum, especially when Congress is in session. 

Until their last talking point is robbed from them, Democrats will stay fixed on Comey, the FBI and Russia. And certainly as long as the position remains vacant they will be able to blockade new appointments and new business in every way they are able. 

But, the real issue here is Republicans. Initial public reaction to the Comey firing was quite poor. Given that the agenda that stands on the other side of picking Comey's replacement is itself, at least for now, unpopular, that matters. 

As House members start straggling back to Washington tonight and tomorrow, they're likely to return even less enthusiastic about sudden forward progress on their agenda than when they left.  Many members had rough visits back to their districts, made rougher by the fact that Hurricane Comey made land while they were back home. 

Even supporters of the president acknowledge the way in which Trump cashiered the top federal investigator was a distraction and burned valuable time. But more importantly than the time burned, was the creditability lost. 

It seems likely the president will have a pick in place by the time he departs for his great-cities-of-the-Abrahamic-world tour. Assuming the pick is a good one and the time on the road helps cool and gel the boiling, disunited White House team, it is conceivable that by the time Trump returns home he will be back where he was before Comey -- and maybe even a little bit better. 

But whether that happens remains an open question. 

This is an administration badly in need of discipline and professionalism. But there are mixed messages right now about whether Trump will respond to this latest conflagration with a bucket brigade or gasoline.

THE RULEBOOK: SAME IDEA, BETTER EXECUTION 
"The more intimate the nature of such a union may be, the greater interest have the members in the political institutions of each other; and the greater right to insist that the forms of government under which the compact was entered into should be SUBSTANTIALLY maintained." – James MadisonFederalist No. 43 

TIME OUT: DOGGED DEBATE
We know animals communicate, but do they have languages? On that question hinges a great deal. NYT Magazine talked to Con Slobodchikoff, one who says yes, based on his decades studying prairie dogs: "That would be an audacious claim to make about even the most overtly intelligent species … let alone some kind of dirt hamster with a brain that barely weighs more than a grape. … Perhaps because it is so ostensibly entwined with thought, with consciousness and our sense of self, language is the last bastion encircling human exceptionalism. To concede that we share language with other species is to finally and fully admit that we are different from other animals only in degrees not in kind. In many people's minds, language is the 'cardinal distinction between man and animal, a sheerly dividing line as abrupt and immovable as a cliff,' as Tom Wolfe argues in his book 'The Kingdom of Speech,' published last year."

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SHAKEUP OR NAH?
Axios: "… President Trump is considering a 'huge reboot' that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell [Mike Allen]. ... 'He's frustrated, and angry at everyone,' said one of the confidants. The conversations intensified this week as the aftermath of the Comey firing pushed the White House from chaos into crisis. Trump's friends are telling him that many of his top aides don't know how to work with him, and point out that his approval ratings aren't rising, but the leaks are. … If Trump follows through, his innermost White House circle would shrink from a loop to a straight line of mid-30s family members with scant governing experience: [Jared Kushner] and [Ivanka Trump]. So while the fighting and leaking might ease, the problems may not because it's the president, not the staff, calling the shots."

With no gatekeeper, Trump's door is open to bunk - Politico: "While the information stream to past commanders-in-chief has been tightly monitored, Trump prefers an open Oval Office with a free flow of ideas and inputs from both official and unofficial channels. And he often does not differentiate between the two. Aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing. The consequences can be tremendous, according to a half-dozen White House officials and others with direct interactions with the president. A news story tucked into Trump's hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president's entire agenda."

HOUSE WEIGHS DEEP CUTS TO OFFSET TRUMP SPENDING
Politico: "President Donald Trump's refusal to overhaul Social Security and Medicare — and his pricey wish-list for infrastructure, a border wall and tax cuts — is sending House budget writers scouring for pennies in politically sensitive places: safety-net programs for the most vulnerable. Under enormous internal pressure to quickly balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate, multiple sources told POLITICO. The proposal, which would be part of the House Budget Committee's fiscal 2018 budget, won't specify which programs would get the ax; instead it will instruct committees to figure out what to cut to reach the savings. But among the programs most likely on the chopping block, the sources say, are food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits."
 
SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -13.4 points
Change from one week ago: -5.2 points

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump country stands to lose the most if ObamaCare subsidies shut down WaPo

DNC faces labor lawsuit for improper pay Free Beacon 

Trump to nominate wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as ambassador to the Vatican NYT

NY attorney general investigating Manafort's real estate deals - The Hill

And there you have it: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, offers articles of impeachment against Trump-Houston Chronicle

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., expected to announce primary challenge against Sen. Luther Strange Politico

AUDIBLE: BUT OTHER THAN THAT, EVERYTHING'S COOL 
"I don't know. But I do know that we are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust..." – Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on CBS News when asked why President Trump fired James Comey.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"As I recall--Recording devices in the Oval Office go back to FDR. I recall talk of removing them but I don't recall that happening. I do know that some wire recorders were removed, but there were devices in use, namely Rose Mary Wood's (transcribing responsibility) tape recorders. Why should the President, in the White House, an elected federal official on federal land be particularly concerned as to what DC says about consent to record?" – Robert BarrenEverett, Wash. 

[Ed. note: It was Franklin Roosevelt, indeed! He started recording conversations during his run for a third term when he grew frustrated with, ahem, fake news. The practice continued through the Watergate scandal to which you refer. And that's why Trump could be in trouble if he really has been taping conversations. He's certainly allowed to do it. But if such tapes exist, they will either eventually make their way into congressional or legal evidence and that could be most embarrassing for the president. It would also mean than he would never receive candid advice from his advisers who would know that their secret conversations would only stay secret for a time.

"Trump just seems Trump to me.  He is what he was in the campaign. Not my cup of tea, or first choice for that matter, but not likely a conspirator to bring the downfall of America either. All the constant over-anxious hubbub is just tiring. Is it too much to ask that we not feel like he has to be a hero or a villain? How about a little calm understanding that he clearly is trying his best to get some good things done.  It remains to be seen if, with this over-bloated government, that can even be done." –Jill ReevesNorth Platte, Neb.

[Ed. note: Jon Gabriel, among others, has observed that if Americans are freaking out so much about who the president is, the presidency itself might be the problem. The development of the executive into some demi-god granted in the imaginations of Americans every hope and fear may be the real issue here. Democrats looked at Republican alarmism about Obama and marveled at the intensity. The reverse, at even greater degree, is happening now. In part, this is a symptom of the overblown perceptions and expectations of the presidency.]

"All that aside the reason I am emailing is that for months I have been reading the daily digest and wondering at what point you would arrive at the 'ah f**k that' moment. Apologies for the colorful language, I am Irish after all. Well I think [Friday's] edition has revealed the moment. Not sure how the Republican Party can dig itself out of this one. More importantly I can't see how the American people can dig themselves out of the hole they are in. I actually do get why Trump got elected. Presidential elections in the US are the most boring political contest in the world and were in dire need of a shake-up. It is really a pity that the shake-up wasn't in the form of Mr. Sanders." – Peter Trevaskis, Dublin, Ireland 

[Ed. note: I don't know that I would go placing any bets against the American people, just yet, Mr. Trevaskis! I think Americans are getting another crash course on civics and, certainly, the results are not always pretty. But I believe that the institutions and, most important, the idea of America when combined with the still-boundless energy and creativity of this people are more than equal to the moment.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

BEARS, THEY'RE JUST LIKE US
UPI: "A Virginia resident captured video of the effective method they devised to ward off a trash-stealing black bear -- a creepy laughing clown doll. The video shows a bear approach a trash can outside the filmer's Salem home earlier this month and investigate the bin. The trash can, which has a large clown doll strapped to it, appears to entice the bruin, which attempts to tip the container over to go to the delicious garbage inside. The movement of the trash can causes its clown passenger's mechanism to trigger, making it laugh loudly, flail its limbs and light up from the eyes. The bear, sufficiently creeped out, stops its attempt and flees the scene."



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