Fox News Halftime Report -- Trump weighs new punishments for his team

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Fox News Halftime Report

July 24, 2017

By Chris Stirewalt


On the roster: Trump weighs new punishments for his team - Kushner says he has 'nothing to hide' on Russia - Trump to revive pitch for ObamaCare cuts bill - Dems unveil 'better deal' message - A bag for a bag
 
TRUMP WEIGHS NEW PUNISHMENTS FOR HIS TEAM  
For more than a generation, most West Virginians only knew two U.S. senators: Jennings Randolph and, of course, Robert Byrd

Given the centrality of government to West Virginia's economy and daily life, doing business in the Mountain State meant winning the favor of those men. Aside from making sure that your campaign contributions were maxed out and up to date, it also meant paying courtesy calls on the senators in Washington to seek their beneficence. 

People say it was easy with Randolph, because, especially for an afternoon meeting, his eminence would promptly fall asleep, leaving a dutiful staffer to take notes on what was being sought.

Byrd, however, was more challenging. 

He would end up becoming the longest-serving senator in American history. They used to say that in West Virginia that coal was king, but you could make a pretty good case for Robert Carlyle Byrd of Raleigh County. He took pride in being a multi-billion-dollar industry, using his leadership roles to skim the cream off of every budget deal for the state he loved and the buildings, highways, hospitals, radio telescopes, dams and parking garages – more than 50 taxpayer projects in all – that still bear his name. 

Every successful plea to Byrd began the same way: An enumeration of all of the ways in which the supplicant admired, nay, revered the senator. Lobbyists heading for a meeting with Byrd were told to lay it on thicker than the milkshakes at the King Tut Drive-In. 

You could say it was all ego, the naming things for himself, the trained obsequiousness of his petitioners, etc. But it served a very practical political purpose. He did not want anyone to forget where their bread was buttered. Byrd liked to say that there were four things West Virginia has always had four friends: "God Almighty, Sears and Roebuck, Carter's Little Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd." 

There may not be much call for Carter's pills these days, but that's still some pretty impressive company in which Byrd sought to place himself. Even God would have to allow that Byrd left his mark on, ahem, Almost Heaven. 

So suffice all that to say that big egos are nothing new to Washington and that toadying to such folks is hardly a new idea in the capital. It just so happens that President Trump expects it in even larger gusts than even the most puffed-up politician. 

There was something of a remarkable moment during new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci's gallop across the Sunday shows.

"If I said some things about him when I was working for another candidate, Mr. Trump, Mr. President, I apologize for that," Scaramucci said on CNN, speaking directly to the president watching at home. "Can we move on off of that?" 

It was a notable stumble in what was an otherwise tour-de-force performance by the former hedge-fund whiz. Groveling directly to camera is not a good look, no matter what. 

And this is where Trump's affinity for obsequiousness harms him. Unlike the ring kissing a conventional politician like Byrd would demand, people seem to believe that what Trump wants is self-abasement. 

The president is currently focused on publicly humiliating his attorney general, whom Trump somehow blames for the Russia scandal that has engulfed the administration, and semi-privately embarrassing his chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

Trump presumably hopes that both men will quit rather than endure anymore of this mistreatment. The full Spicer package of a warm-sendoff and the promise of private-sector riches await either of them just for the cost of bowing out graciously. A similar fate may also be ahead for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Maybe Steve Bannontoo.

What many expected from the former host of the "Celebrity Apprentice" was a lot of "You're fired!" But that's not the culture of this administration at all. Instead, the ensemble cast remains intact but individuals wax and wane based on their performance, yes, but also the degree to which Trump is satisfied by their demonstrations of personal loyalty. 

Presidents always play favorites and a title is no guarantee to access or influence inside an administration, but leaders of all kinds have to be wary of creating dysfunction around themselves. 

How good of a job can Spicer really do when he knew that Trump was watching his every move? How could Priebus possibly succeed in the position that is supposed to be that of a trusted gatekeeper when the president constantly dangles him over the pit? How can Sessions bring his will to bear on the Justice Department when lawyers there can reasonably assume that he is a marked man. 

This all gets even more complicated when seen through the prism of the Russia mess. 

Not only is the president on edge over what he says is a "witch hunt" and willing to abuse even a loyal supporter like Sessions, but staffers have lots of reason to be suspicious of each other. 

How comfortable do you think Bannon felt today watching video of Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner making his way for a closed-door conversation with the Senate Intelligence Committee? From reading Kushner's public statement on his remarks, it's clear that he is not taking any of the blame for the now infamous meeting with Kremlin-connected peddlers of dirt on Hillary Clinton

And if Kushner is not to blame – he even shares the anecdote of having his assistant fake call him as a pretext to leave early – then who is on the hook? That leaves the other two Americans in the room: Bannon and Donald Trump Jr. 

As tensions rise and Trump's anxiety level increases, these problems will worsen.
 
Scaramucci is quite right when he says that he wants to "de-escalate" the tensions between the White House and the press corps. But the de-escalation that's really needed is between the president and his own people.  
 
A good place to start is by allowing the people who provide their service and loyalty to preserve more of their own dignity. 

THE RULEBOOK: AUTHORITY RULES 
"To reason from the past to the future, we shall have good ground to apprehend, that the sword would sometimes be appealed to as the arbiter of their differences." – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 7

TIME OUT: WORTH SAVING 
New Yorker: "To spend time in a cobbler's shop is to take a trip back in time. You can feel this in the wood-paneled wallpaper, in the aged flotsam strewn and piled about, and most of all in the notion that things of quality are meant to be fixed, repeatedly, even, rather than discarded and replaced. Cobblers replace buckles, stitch handbags, repair luggage, punch belt holes, sell umbrellas that last. Wherever you are in the world, at the cobbler you'll find the clever, climate-appropriate artifacts of the local culture: roped espadrilles in Spain and Greece; in Stockholm, felt insoles that are the key to warm feet in the Northern European winter. At the cobbler, as in a hoarder's dream, it doesn't pay to throw anything away. … And, amid the ordered chaos, there are the shoeshine chairs, the throne that any person, no matter how ordinary, can briefly mount (in public!) and imagine herself regal."
 
Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -18 points
Change from one week ago: -0.2 points

KUSHNER SAYS HE HAS 'NOTHING TO HIDE' ON RUSSIA

NYT: "President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, emerged Monday from a private, two-hour-long meeting with congressional investigators and said his meetings last year with Russians were not part of Moscow's campaign to disrupt the presidential election. 'All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign,' Mr. Kushner said on the White House grounds. 'I did not collude with Russians, nor do I know of anyone in the campaign who did.' He said President Trump won the election because he had a better message and ran a smarter campaign than Hillary Clinton, not because he had help from Russia. 'Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him,' Mr. Kushner said in brief remarks. He took no questions from reporters."

Points finger at Trump Jr. - WaPo: "Also note the exceptional care that went into Kushner's characterization of the meeting. He claims he arrived just late enough to miss the incriminating part of the meeting. Trump Jr. admitted in his second statement that the Russian lawyer brought up the campaign (after an initial statement claiming the meeting was just about Russian adoptions) … Kushner's statement does not deny outright either that the meeting did address the campaign or that any documents had been offered to the Trump camp, which the email chain appears to confirm. All it does is insulate Kushner from those facts."

Trump Jr. adds more high-powered legal help - Axios: "Donald Trump Jr., who appeared short of experienced advisers with his email release and multiple statements about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, is getting help from Washington stalwart Fred Fielding ahead of this week's Capitol Hill appearance. Fielding was White House counsel to Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and deputy counsel in the Nixon White House."

Also adds former Grassley aid to team - Reuters: "The president's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has added a lawyer with congressional experience to his legal team, the lawyer told Reuters on Sunday. Trump Jr. has hired Karina Lynch of the law firm Williams and Jensen, Lynch confirmed in an email to Reuters. … Lynch's biography on her law firm website describes her as having experience on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. She was also investigative counsel to Senator Charles Grassley, according to her law firm biography."

Spox Sanders says Trump will sign Russia sanctions - Reuters: "The White House said on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump was open to signing legislation toughening sanctions on Russia after Senate and House leaders reached agreement on a bill late last week. Congressional Democrats said on Saturday they had agreed with Republicans on a deal allowing new sanctions targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea in a bill that would limit any potential effort by Trump to try to lift sanctions against Moscow. 'We support where the legislation is now…' White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC's 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos' program."

TRUMP TO REVIVE PITCH FOR OBAMACARE CUTS BILL 
Reuters: "A seven-year Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare faces a major test this week in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers will decide whether to move forward and vote on a bill whose details and prospects are uncertain. The Senate will decide as early as Tuesday whether to begin debating a healthcare bill. But it remained unclear which version of the bill the senators would ultimately vote as lawmakers prepared to hear from U.S. President Donald Trump later on Monday. Trump last week initially suggested he was fine with letting former President Barack Obama's signature law collapse before later urging Republican senators to hash out a deal. The Republican president is scheduled to make a statement on healthcare at 3:15 p.m. following a meeting with people the White House said were harmed by the Affordable Care Act. 'Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on Repeal & Replace after years of talking & campaigning on it,' Trump tweeted on Monday."

Watch: Trump hits the road as GOP senators work on health care - President Donald Trump is embarking on campaign-style events in key states to rally his supporters. Here's why Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt thinks Trump is making a smart move. WATCH HERE

Former GOP senator warns against voting for mystery legislation - Former Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., warns his former colleagues about the potential pitfalls in this week's vote. USA Today: "A vote in these circumstances will rightly provoke anger and distrust unlikely to abate. Take it from me: A no vote on the Motion to Proceed this week is the only one that will be defensible in the years to come. I have had my arm twisted by the best of them — presidents and Senate leaders and party whips alike. I know how uncomfortable it can be. Usually, they were able to attempt a convincing argument about what is good about the bill for the country or my state. But I never would have voted for something so far reaching without knowing the answer to all the questions above. Never in all my years did I experience the level of bullying we see today. It doesn't look good in Minnesota, and I suspect it doesn't look any better in your state."

GOP FUNK DEEPENS
Politico: "The Republican Party is more powerful than it's been in more than a decade — and yet it has never seemed so weak. Continuing chaos in the White House has been punctuated by the failure to deliver on the GOP's seven-year pledge to overhaul Obamacare, and has many asking whether the party can capitalize on the sweeping victories it has achieved at the federal, state, and local levels. Ahead of this week's crucial Senate vote on health care, White House aides are already considering how to distance President Donald Trump from Congress and how to go after the Republicans who vote no — an idea the president seems fond of, according to people who have spoken to him. Several people said he plans to keep up the fight, no matter how this week's vote goes."

Byron York: Small ball scores runs too - WashEx: "A two-part solution could be on the horizon. The first part: Instead of hoping for the big legislative win, given the divisions among Republicans on Capitol Hill, Trump might be wise to lower his aim, to play what is often derisively referred to as 'small ball.'  Why keep straining for the home run … when they could attempt smaller initiatives and accomplish more? … Which leads to part two of the Trump solution: forget about trying to prod dysfunctional Hill Republicans into action and concentrate on exercising the executive authority of the presidency. Trump's 100-day report card relied heavily on executive action." 

DEMS UNVEIL 'BETTER DEAL' MESSAGE  
The Hill: "Democrats in both chambers will gather in rural Virginia on Monday to unveil a new national messaging campaign aimed at easing the economic strain on working-class Americans –– and propelling their party back to power in order to check an unpopular president in Donald Trump. Behind Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democrats are hoping their latest messaging pitch will prove an effective contrast to the Republicans' policy agenda and pull voters to their side in next year's midterm elections. … In its first phase, released Monday morning, the Democrats' campaign focuses on three broad areas: creating new jobs; lowering prescription drug costs; and restraining the power of corporations. Notably absent from the agenda are the social issues –– things like reproductive rights, immigration reform and gun control –– that have, at times, defined the party."

Ouch! - WaPo: "'When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don't blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,' Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. 'So what did we do wrong? People didn't know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.'"

Juan Williams on Dems focusing on message - The Hill: "This debate about the right message and the right audience for congressional Democrats going into 2018 extends to uncertainty about the right candidates to run for president in 2020. Who would be on the perfect ticket for Democrats to keep Trump from a second term in the White House? … Even with a forward-looking political agenda on Capitol Hill, emerging stars among the governors and Trump's never-ending troubles, the Democrats are still playing second fiddle to the daily Trump eruptions in the press."

Bernie keeping door open to 2020 - The Hill: "Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who battled Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary and created a revolutionary movement among millennials, is having discussions about running for president again. 'Yes, is the answer,' said one Sanders associate who helped with the senator's previous bid, in response to a question about whether the Independent senator from Vermont had begun to think about another run. 'He thinks he's earned the right to run again, and he believes if he would have been the [Democratic] candidate he would have won against Trump.' The source also suggested that Sanders is making his plans with other candidates in mind."

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump's DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana - The Hill

Obama administration was ready to deploy armed agents in case Russian hackers disrupted vote -WashEx

FBI seized smashed hard drives from Wasserman Schultz IT aide's home Daily Caller

Pergramatic! Fox News colleague Chad Pergram is followed by more members of Congress than any other journalist Rational 360

AUDIBLE: RED OCTOBER 
"They're definitely members of what we call the 'Oct. 8th coalition.'" – Kellyanne Conway said in an interview, praising Rep. Mark Meadows R-N.C., and his wife Debbie for their loyalty to the president even after the Access Hollywood tape was leaked on October 7th.  

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"There is one extremely important observer in the current uproar between President Trump and [Robert] Mueller. That is Justice Anthony Kennedy who has been rumored to be considering retirement. Certainly Kennedy will be watching to see how much respect Trump shows for the legal process when that process might be an inconvenience, or worse. Justice Kennedy will wonder if President Trump should be entrusted with another Supreme Court pick. Second, Justice Kennedy will wonder whether a new Justice named by President Trump would be able to participate in litigation before the court arising from the Mueller investigation. He might think that a potentially deadlocked Supreme Court would be bad for the country. Finally, any Trump nominee for Supreme Court will have a much tougher confirmation process than Justice [Neil] Gorsuch. The Democrats will mount a filibuster contending that no Trump nominee should be considered until the Special Counsel report is issued. That could take a very long time--remember Lawrence Walsh. It should not be assumed that the GOP Senators would be able to summon 50 votes. They did for Gorsuch but past performance is no guide to future returns." – Jim Haynes, Towson, Md.

[Ed. note: Great point, Mr. Haynes! Kennedy continuing to serve may be the "dog that did not bark" in this whole matter.]

"With one notable mistake, I have voted Republican in every presidential election in the last 49 years. In the 2016 election I held my nose and voted Republican because, in my opinion, Clinton was not trustworthy nor honest. I did feel that Trump was a disproportionally arrogant personality but more trustworthy. I am beginning to doubt my read of Trump. Do you think that any of the power brokers in the Republican Party will (soon) begin to abandon Trump and his flame thrower mind set? Is there a real possibility that he will fire Mueller?" – James DouglasWetumpka, Ala.

[Ed. note: I'd say the possibility is quite real, just given what the president himself has said. How it happened, though, would have a lot to do with how it was received. Trump is currently intent on disrupting the larger Justice Department, starting with the attorney general. If the president can wage a war of attrition against Jeff Sessions and his underlings and, over the course of months, create the impression that the agency is in chaos and not able to execute its duties, ousting Mueller would be easier. If Trump were to fire Mueller or, more accurately stated, seek to have Mueller fired right now, it would create an uproar in Congress and across the Republican Party. But maybe Trump just hopes that he can wear down the prosecutor over time.]

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

A BAG FOR A BAG
WCSH: "If you visit the city of Gardiner [Maine] you may notice a little less debris along the streets and sidewalks. That's because dozens of people spent a sunny Saturday collecting trash all over town. The incentive? Free marijuana. 'Bring us back the full trash bag, and we give them a gift of cannabis,' said Dennis Meehan, owner of Summit Medical Marijuana in Gardiner. He and his family are using their brand new business to clean up the community. … How it works: grab a trash bag, fill it with trash from around town, return it to the store, and get your bag of marijuana free of charge. … Gardiner was one of the towns considering a moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana before the statewide moratorium was approved. 'Gifting' marijuana is currently legal. Meehan made sure his customers were 21 years old before giving them their prize."

 


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