White House: Steve Bannon Is Out

President Donald Trump has decided to part ways with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The former Breitbart executive infused his campaign and presidency with nationalist rhetoric and policies.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Bannon is just the latest senior Trump White House official or Cabinet member to leave the administration.

He follows the departures or firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI Director James B. Comey, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, and Anthony Scaramucci, at the time the incoming communications director.

Bannon has been a controversial figure since he first appeared at Trump’s side, but the president has been under increased pressure to dismiss him in the wake of last weekend’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during protests organized by white supremacist groups.

Bannon raised eyebrows — and the ire of Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans — with elated comments Tuesday evening to an American Prospect reporter after the president earlier that day appeared to give cover to white supremacist groups for the second time since Saturday afternoon.

“The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” Bannon told the publication. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

The conservative media mogul and unapologetic nationalist leader-turned-White House chief strategist clearly was welcoming the ongoing debate over race spawned by the deadly Charlottesville protests.

Though Trump on Tuesday told reporters he had not spoken to “Mr. Bannon” about Charlottesville, many senior Democratic members partially blamed Bannon for Trump’s embrace of the far-right supremacist groups — and the president’s apparent attempts to change the conversation to one about whether to take down Confederate statutes across the country.

“President Trump and Steve Bannon are trying to divert attention away from the President’s refusal to unequivocally and full-throatedly denounce white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other forms of bigotry,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “While it is critical that we work towards the goal of Senator Cory Booker’s legislation [to remove statutes in the Capitol], we must continue to denounce and resist President Trump for his reprehensible actions.”

The first signs Trump was mulling the move came during that same impromptu and combative Tuesday press conference during which he stopped short of giving Bannon a full endorsement.

“Mr. Bannon came on late,” he said. “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.” He refused to rule out firing his chief strategist. (The president also contended Bannon is “not a racist.”)

But some critics have suggested otherwise, pointing to Breitbart headlines and articles — and Bannon’s own statements — promoting some far-right and white supremacist views.

Bannon had riled even some congressional Republicans.

“The only time I ever interacted with Steve Bannon, he was yelling at me, so I’m not going to shed a tear,” Virginia GOP Rep. Tom Garrett said Friday during a radio interview.

Garrett is a member of the House Freedom Caucus who represents Charlottesville. He was informed of Bannon’s firing during a live interview on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

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Heard on the Hill

Murphy Walks Across Connecticut to Packed Town Halls

By Alex Gangitano

A majority of Americans in a new poll say President Donald Trump’s response to the violence that broke out a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was “not strong enough.”

Fifty-two percent of respondents in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said Trump’s response should have been stronger, while 27 percent said it was strong enough.

Twenty-one percent were uncertain in their thoughts on the matter.

Of the 1,125 Americans surveyed for the poll, 80 percent were interviewed following Trump’s comments Tuesday that “both sides” shared blame for the Saturday violence at the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally.

The protest by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue quickly turned violent as a man drove his car into the crowd, killing one woman.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said there should be an investigation into whether the car incident was an act of domestic terrorism.

“President Trump’s reluctance to label the fatal crash in Charlottesville as domestic terrorism is out of step with not only two-thirds of Americans, overall, but with people regardless of their race or political party,” said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “The president’s sentiments clearly do not line up with the American people.”

When it comes to race, 77 percent of African-Americans, 55 percent of Latinos, and 46 percent of white respondents said Trump’s response was inadequate.

“By nearly two to one, Americans think that President Trump dropped the ball in his handling of this crisis,” Miringoff said. “Not surprisingly, African Americans and Latinos do not feel the president has their back, but, of note, many white Americans are not in the president’s corner either.”

Trump’s response to the Charlottesville incident has morphed since Saturday. After originally calling out violence on “many sides” Saturday, he made additional remarks Monday condemning the white nationalist groups specifically.

“Racism is evil,” Trump said in remarks to reporters in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

But on Tuesday, Trump again blamed “both sides,” saying he had refrained from naming the white supremacist groups until he had all the “facts.” He also said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday by Marist, in collaboration with NPR and PBS NewsHour. United States adults 18 years of age and older were contacted on landline or mobile numbers by live interviewers. The margin of error was 2.9 percentage points.

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Greg Pence starred in a recent candidate announcement video, but it wasn’t for his own campaign — at least not yet.

The older brother of Vice President Mike Pence is the finance chairman of Indiana Rep. Luke Messer’s Senate campaign, and on the day Messer tweeted he was getting in the race, Greg Pence was the one who addressed the camera.

The eldest of the six Pence siblings has political ambitions of his own. He’s widely expected to run for Messer’s seat, in Indiana’s now-open 6th District, though he won’t yet talk publicly about those intentions.

If he were to enter that primary, he’d start with an advantage, given his last name. It’s the same congressional seat his younger brother held for 12 years before being elected governor.

At 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, Greg and Denise Pence hosted their family in a room at the Hilton Midtown in Manhattan. Mike Pence had just been elected the 48th vice president of the United States.

Hours earlier, before going to watch election returns with Donald Trump, the vice presidential candidate was, again, with his older brother and sister-in-law, who had hosted a rally back in Indiana for the GOP presidential ticket at their antique mall the week before the election.

Greg Pence has been a frequent presence at his brother’s side, through congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, and then the presidential campaign last year. On the trail in Indiana, Greg, who has the same white hair, would sometimes be mistaken for Mike.

“I am the brother of the vice president of the United States,” Greg said at Messer’s annual family barbecue on Saturday, where the congressman officially launched his Senate bid. “And no, I do not look like him, he looks like me. I’m the oldest.”

When Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, a Hoosier political commentator and writer, spotted a white-haired man at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis years ago, he thought it was Mike Pence. But it couldn’t be. He was drinking a beer.

That was the first time he meet Greg, whom he described as more relaxed than his brother, mostly because he’s not in the spotlight — not yet, anyway.

Greg doesn’t have any electoral experience himself. Friends and observers couldn’t recall any specific policy expertise or campaign advice he gave his brother. His counsel was best described as the kind of candid advice only a brother could give, and he has always been the most active volunteer in the family for his more famous sibling.

Denise was an early Trump supporter and a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Their son, John, is the deputy executive director of Trump’s re-election campaign.

Hoosier politicos have been surprised by just how active Greg has been in Messer’s campaign. Finance chairman is usually just a “name on a letterhead,” as one Republican in the district put it. But not for Greg, who’s been going to Lincoln Day Dinners and played a public role in the rollout of Messer’s Senate bid.

No one doubts his dedication to helping Messer; but high visibility also serves a potential congressional candidate well.

Greg is about three years older than the vice president. His friends describe him as a dedicated family man with a sharp sense of humor, who can make fun of his younger brother like no one else can.

After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees at Loyola University Chicago in the early 1980s, he served four years in the Marine Corps, earning the rank of first lieutenant.

He worked for Marathon Oil and Unocal Corporation, then became vice president of Kiel Brothers Oil Company, the family’s gas station and convenience store business.

The company operated about 200 KB Oil gas stations and Tobacco Road convenience stores in Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky. In 2004, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Greg resigned. By 2006, the company owed more than $100 million to creditors, which included $9 million to local and state governments, according to The (Muncie) Star Press.

Pence had a brief, and controversial, tenure in government. In 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed him deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Management — the very same agency that cited Kiel Brothers for environmental violations in the past. Pence was slated to earn $91,000 a year in that job, The Indianapolis Star reported at the time, but he only lasted two and a half months.

He stepped down from his position in March 2005, saying he was no longer needed. “I am the spare groom at the wedding,” Greg said, according to the Star.

Greg and Denise are best known in the business world today for their ownership of the Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh, a 72,000-square foot space that they purchased in 2006. More recently, they purchased the smaller Bloomington Antique Mall.

The Trump administration remains popular in Pence’s backyard.

“There’s just no real frustration that you read about. That’s not on the ground in the 6th District,” one Republican familiar with the district said.

Greg is from Columbus, a city of 47,000 people in the central part of the district, which covers eastern and southeastern Indiana.

Jonathan Lamb, a Muncie businessman, announced his candidacy for the seat earlier this month. He’s expected to be able to self-fund about $100,000 but doesn’t have a substantial network in the district. State Sen. Mike Crider has said he’s running and Henry County Council President Nate LaMar may do so, but neither is expected to be able to raise much money. The same goes for longtime state Sen. Jean Leising, who was the losing GOP nominee in the old 9th District three times in the 1990s.

Greg’s last name will open doors, Indiana Republicans agree. And because of his work for his brother and with Messer, he’s already well-connected in the district. But Greg has enough credentials on his own merits to make a compelling GOP candidate, Hoosier Republicans say. Party leaders are excited about his business experience and military service.

“If you’re looking for people to go run for office, I’d put him at the top of the list,” said Bob Grand, a big Indiana Republican fundraiser and member of Messer’s finance team.

“He’s not a guy who’s going to coast on his brother’s name,” added another Republican familiar with the district.

When he’s been asked about his own intentions to run, though, Greg pivots to the Messer campaign. An informal adviser said Friday that Greg intends to travel the district on a listening tour with constituents before he makes a final decision.

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Denham Gets 24-Year-Old Challenger

By Eric Garcia

Matt McLaughlin hasn’t always been a fan of political ads. For a long time he thought most campaign videos were “horrible.”

But it was his distaste with the status quo that led the 31-year-old filmmaker to translate his storytelling techniques from consumer brand commercials to political campaigns.

Teaming up with Bill Hyers, a campaign strategist, McLaughlin said the duo have “set out to do something different, do something new, and make better ads.”

Instead of relying on polling to create “extremely message-heavy” ads, McLaughlin and Hyers prefer to let their subjects talk freely about what matters to them.

“They communicate with people instead of speaking at people,” McLaughlin said of his videos. “Honest stories work.”

While the team has created content for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, it was their video for Democrat Randy Bryce that caught the public’s attention, with more than half a million views on YouTube alone so far.

The video brought national recognition to the unknown steelworker in his quest to unseat House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Bryce, who came to be known as the “Iron ’Stache” on Twitter for his definitive facial hair, raised more than $430,000 in 12 days after the video’s release.

Now, McLaughlin and Hyers are back with another video that has the same potential.

An introduction video the two produced for Boyd Melson, a Democratic candidate in New York’s 11th District, racked up 100,000 views in under an hour, according to the campaign. The video is similar to McLaughlin’s previous work with emotional music and dramatic shots.

New Yorkers need a true fighter to KO the opioid epidemic. That's why I'm running for Congress in NY-11. #InBoydsCorner pic.twitter.com/9A4Ghl97n7

But for McLaughlin, having an “amazing human character” was the most important factor, something he said he found in Melson.

McLaughlin said the former professional boxer and West Point graduate has a story people can connect with.

“He really embodies someone who fights for other people,” McLaughlin said.

And finding inspiring characters is what McLaughlin and Hyers have set out to do.

The duo started a political media company called WIN, with a focus on creating “video-centric campaigns that engage audiences, drive action and create change.”

Their goal is to turn standard political advertising on its head and take a “drastically different approach,” McLaughlin said.

“We’re not making ads,” he said. “We’re making short films. We are making pieces that are honest.”

McLaughlin said the success of the videos can be credited partly to the current political environment, in which people are “looking for new solutions.”

“Traditional political media strategy is not working,” he said.

While Hyers had a background in politics, McLaughlin came to the field with experience in consumer brand strategy and commercial production.

It is the duo’s knack for storytelling that makes them stand out, McLaughlin said, adding that he and Hyers are “constantly honing in on how to tell a story.”

Part of that comes through the production process. Instead of going into filming with a script, McLaughlin and Hyers have long conversations with their subjects. From these filmed talks, the duo shapes a narrative for their videos.

“The whole point is that they are honest,” McLaughlin said.

As for his own future in political campaigns, McLaughlin said he and Hyers have been swamped with interest from potential candidates since the Bryce ad went viral.

But McLaughlin said making videos is only half the battle — the candidates he works for still need donations and for people to come out to vote.

Most of all, McLaughlin said he wants to change the direction of political advertisements in the Democratic Party.

“We hope that the party as a whole pays attention to some of the things we are doing,” he said.

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GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold said Wednesday that he would run for re-election in 2018, even though his southern Texas district might need to be redrawn.

A federal panel ruled Tuesday that the boundaries for Farenthold’s 27th District and the 35th District, represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The court ruled that the districts were drawn primarily on the basis of race. The Republican-controlled state government signaled it would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

“I believe the court errored in its decision and I trust the Supreme Court will get it right,” Farenthold said in a statement. “No matter what the Supreme Court decides, I plan to run for re-election.”

Doggett said Tuesday night that he also planned to run for re-election. He said the court’s decision showed that “[w]hat Republicans did was not just wrong, it was unconstitutional.”

The court concluded that Hispanic voters were placed into an Anglo-majority 27th District, and those Hispanic voters “were intentionally deprived of their right to elect candidates of their choice.”

In the 35th District, the court affirmed an earlier decision that voters were moved into the district “to intentionally destroy an existing [neighboring] district with significant minority population (both African American and Hispanic) that consistently elected a Democrat.”

Redrawing the lines to accommodate the court’s concerns could affect their partisan leaning and shift the lines in nearby districts. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales currently rates the 27th as Solid Republican and the 35th as Solid Democrat.

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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: Volunteers for Tiniest Opioid Victims

By Alex Gangitano

Carper Flies Drone, Rides a Quadski at August Recess Lab Visit

By Alex Gangitano, Bian Elkhatib, Thomas McKinless

Merkley’s Mild Town Hall in a Red County

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Zack Barth was never supposed to be dodging bullets in the outfield.

His job was to feed fly balls back to the infield for Republican lawmakers during an early-morning baseball practice ahead of the annual Congressional Baseball Game against the Democrats.

That all changed when a man in a red shirt wielding an SKS semi-automatic rifle opened fire that June 14 morning in Alexandria, Virginia, wounding five people, including Zack and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

News of the shooting dominated headlines for days and then, as it always does, faded. Zack’s story is a footnote to one of the most high-profile political assassination attempts in years, and now he’s back to a life of relative anonymity.

In the Capitol Hill office of his boss, Texas Republican Rep. Roger Williams, a month and half since the incident, Zack sank into a black leather chair as he talked about what happened. The vibe in the office was casual — staffers wore blue jeans and flip-flops and the lively chatter of interns wafted into the foyer area.

Zack, who graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015, was in his element here on a damp, early-August afternoon. A blue-and-white-striped polo shirt hung loosely from his shoulders, and the bottom flowed freely below his belt line.

As he rolled up the left cuff of his khakis to reveal his gunshot wound, the 24-year-old legislative correspondent’s tone was matter-of-fact.

“I’m very blessed that it happened the way that it happened,” Zack said, fingering a pair of skin-color bandages an inch apart on the outside of his left calf.

He was running toward the first-base dugout after the first shots rang out. A 7.62 mm bullet fired by the shooter, James Hodgkinson, punched through his leg. It missed all major arteries and bones — a flesh wound.

“I was able to get up and run. … That probably saved my life,” he said.

When he reached the dugout, someone used Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks’s belt as a makeshift tourniquet to slow the bleeding from his leg.

After Capitol police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner fatally shot Hodgkinson, Zack was finally able to retrieve his phones from on top of the dugout.

He called and texted his colleagues in Williams’ office to let them know he and Williams, the Republican baseball team’s coach, were OK.

OK was a relative term: Williams had a sprained ankle from careening into the dugout at full speed. Zack had a hole in his leg.

Then Zack called his dad, Tim Barth. He explained what had happened. He was OK, but he’d have to go to the emergency room. And he didn’t know for how long.

As they talked, the gravity of what just happened began to hit Zack, and his dad could tell.

“Zack, do you think I need to come up?” Tim asked.

“Yeah,” he responded. “I think that’d be a good idea.”

By the time his dad arrived at Reagan National Airport later that afternoon, Zack was already out of the emergency room and back at his apartment. So Williams’ office sent a car to pick Tim up from the airport and take him there.

When Tim arrived at the apartment, the two embraced.

“It was pretty emotional,” Zack said. “We’re very similar people, and emotions don’t always get the best of us. But in that situation, it was an emotional time for both of us.”

Nearly two months after the shooting, Zack said he’s doing fine psychologically. He didn’t sleep much that first night — even with his dad in the apartment — and his nerves still quiver if there’s a loud noise.

“I’m probably not the biggest fan of fireworks right now,” he said. “But if that’s [my biggest] concern, then it hasn’t totally wrecked me. … I don’t walk around thinking there’s going to be danger at every turn.”

Zack said he feels especially safe when he’s at work because of the Capitol Police.

“They’re doing a great job of protecting us,” he said. “They create a safe environment here.”

Zack said counseling has helped him cope. Therapists have told him his response to the shooting is quite normal.

And he believes there’s got to be a reason why this happened to him.

“I’m a pretty religious guy,” said Zack, who regularly attends Grace Presbyterian Church in downtown D.C. “Realizing just again that God has a plan and that these things don’t happen by accident, it energizes me a lot in my faith and it energizes me to work harder knowing that he has something great planned for me.”

He doesn’t know what that plan is but he thinks he is on the right track.

“I’m going to continue to remain passionate about what I do, continue to remain passionate about advancing conservative ideals,” he said.

He’s still a baseball fan — despite where he was shot. The Houston native is an Astros lifer.

In March, he and his dad had flown to Palm Beach, Florida, to catch the Astros’ spring training and relax.

Two days after the shooting, at Williams’s insistence, Zack flew home to Houston for a week. Again, the Astros helped him unwind. Zack and his family went to two games at Minute Maid Park.

Zack learned of his shooter’s life and background the same way that most of America did — from news reports that slowly trickled out in the days after the shooting. He read that Hodgkinson had asked if the players on the field were Republicans before he opened fire.

Hodgkinson’s motives don’t matter to him; the only thing that matters is what he did. It’s black and white, good versus bad, the way Zack sees it.

“He’s this evil force that affected me personally,” he said of Hodgkinson. “I don’t even think about him or his motives or anything like that. I just don’t think about it.”

Instead, Zack said the shooting has made him focus more on the things that matter most to him: his faith, his family, and his work as a conservative politico.

To harp on Hodgkinson or let any lingering anxiety from the shooting simmer would be a distraction, he said. And he doesn’t want that.

“I’m not living in fear,” Zack said. “And I think that if I was to be living in fear, then that’s kind of letting that guy win, you know?”

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Mapping Out 2018 in the Senate

By Nathan L. Gonzales