Confronted with the rare and awkward choice of siding with either a president of their party or a Cabinet member who’s a former colleague, Senate Republicans are sounding of single mind:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, until five months ago a senior GOP senator from Alabama, has done nothing to merit the upbraiding he’s been taking from President Donald Trump.

Being a former member of one of the most exclusive clubs in American politics, it seems, has privileges — including insulation from a wave of piling on when your job seems in jeopardy.

Conversations on Thursday with nine senators from across the Republican ideological spectrum, representing one-sixth of the party caucus, produced not a single critical word about their former colleague — let alone anyone willing to agree the president is justified in being angry that Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“He’s a totally honorable man, a public servant who is trying to do the right thing,” Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a former attorney general of the state, said in a typical comment. “I respected the recusal decision when he made it and I still respect it now,” he added.

Asked if the president was being too harsh on Sessions, GOP conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota offered: “Well, what ‘I’ think is that the attorney general is doing a good job.”

The longest-tenured current GOP senator, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, said that while the recusal decision Sessions made in March was a close call, he’s done “a fine job” since and Trump’s unabated fury after so many months was out of all proportion.

“The president could have, and should have, been a bit more judicious, to use a word appropriate in this case,” Hatch said, adding: “Although, of course, that’s not really his way.”

The de facto votes of confidence on the Hill came as Sessions declared he would remain at the helm of the Justice Department “as long as that is appropriate,” despite Trump’s declaration the day before that he would not have nominated Sessions to that post had he known that he would recuse himself.

Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said during a sprawling interview with The New York Times. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Asked Thursday at a news conference, arranged to announce arrests in an online narcotics sales case, whether he was considering resigning in the face of Trump’s criticisms, Sessions said, “The work we are doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue,” adding, “I’m totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a former attorney general of Texas, described Sessions as “doing just fine” and urged Trump to work to put their relationship back together. “They’re both adults and they can work it out.”

The president’s unabated fury is all the more perplexing to senators because of Sessions’ distinction as the first senator to endorse him, in February 2016 — a time when many GOP senators and House members were still openly repudiating the candidate who had won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and become the clear front-runner for the party’s nomination.

From that point through the convention, the fall campaign, the transition and the opening weeks of the administration, Sessions’ status seemed to be steadily elevated from best-friend-in-Congress to one of the few non-family members of Trumps’ innermost circle

But that changed with the recusal, which came after revelations that, in his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador while advising the Trump campaign. His decision set in motion the series of decisions resulting in former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.

One reason the senators sounded so unified in support of Sessions is that his dismissal or forced resignation would make life for every Republican in Congress much more difficult.

That’s because the nomination and confirmation of a replacement would be, more than anything, a referendum on Mueller’s inquiry, which is already reportedly looking into possibly improper interconnected behavior by members of the president’s family and his 2016 campaign operatives.

Special counsels report to the attorney general, who can veto such an official’s decisions, but are not supposed to provide close supervision. Given the Sessions recusal, Mueller is now reporting to Justice’s No. 2 official, Rod Rosenstein.

Were Sessions to be in need of replacement at the top, however, Mueller would get a new overseer only when Trump nominated someone who had secured Senate confirmation, meaning GOP senators would inevitably be pressed to take a clear position in support or skepticism of Mueller’s work.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Sean Spicer’s Highlight Reel

By Andrew Breiner

Capitol Ink | Pardon Party

By Robert Matson

McCain Absence Felt Well Beyond Health Care

By Niels Lesniewski

Former Arizona Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick announced Thursday she will challenge Rep. Martha McSally in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Kirkpatrick represented Arizona’s 1st District from 2009 to 2011 and again from 2013 until January after losing in her bid against Sen. John McCain.

“We need a leader in Congress who can be a check on Donald Trump,” Kirkpatrick said in her announcement. “My current representative Martha McSally has not only supported him, but she was one of the ringleaders behind repealing the Affordable Care Act.”

Kirkpatrick’s announcement also pointed to a recently released recording of McSally speaking at the Arizona Bankers Association about President Donald Trump’s effect on her re-election bid, and claimed that McSally said “I’m like his twin sister.”

However, the recording, obtained by Tucson Weekly shows McSally saying “There’s just an element out there that’s just, like, so against the president. Like they just can’t see straight. And all of a sudden on January 20, I’m like his twin sister to them. And I’m, like, responsible for everything he does, and tweets and says.”

Kirkpatrick had previously launched an exploratory committee to tour the district after she moved to Tucson.

She’ll face a crowded Democratic primary. Matt Heinz, who lost to McSally last year by 14 points, is running again. Small business owner Billy Kovacs has announced his run, and physician Bruce Wheeler is also a candidate in the race.

Even though McSally won re-election handily in 2016, her district was one of 23 districts that broke for Hillary Clinton, according to an analysis by liberal website the Daily Kos.

The National Republican Congressional Committee listed McSally as part of its Patriot Program for members who could potentially be vulnerable.

Roll Call/Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Lean Republican.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

By Shawn Zeller

House Floor Will be Busy Next Week

By Roll Call Staff

Durbin and Graham Are Still DREAMing

By Niels Lesniewski

Former Rep. Ralph Regula, a moderate Republican from Ohio known for his deal-cutting acumen, avuncular manner and skills as an appropriator, died July 19. He was 92.

Born in Beach City, Ohio on Dec. 3, 1924, Regula was first elected to Congress in 1972 after stints in the Ohio state House and Senate. Between then and his retirement after the 2008 elections, he embodied a middle-of-the-road Midwestern approach to politics that valued working across the aisle and taking care of the folks back home.

He secured a particularly good position to do so in 1975, when he snagged a seat on the Appropriations Committee. Regula was like many Republicans of his generation, utterly unfamiliar with anything but minority status until 1994’s election secured a GOP majority in the House and Senate.

The intervening years in the wilderness taught him the value of getting along with his Democratic colleagues. And the availability of earmarks to members of Congress, especially skilled appropriators, kept the funds flowing back to his home state.

The Canton-area congressman “channeled reams of federal money to Northeast Ohio during a 36-year congressional career,” and that “as obstruction and theatrics took over Congress, Regula maintained a low-key style and distaste for political gamesmanship,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer said.

Regula’s bipartisan outreach was at times tested when he became a cardinal, or subcommittee chairman, of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee. That panel finds itself in the middle of many contentious spending debates over topics such as abortion and education. But he never suffered from a lack of respect among colleagues.

When Regula announced his retirement during the 2008 election cycle, CQ said his absence, and that of other retiring moderates, did not augur well for an institution starting to show an increasing amount of partisan strain.

“The retirement of several Republicans known for bipartisan cooperation on spending bills will likely make the House Appropriations Committee even more of a battleground next year,” CQ wrote in January of 2008, noting the retirements that year of Regula, fellow Ohioan David L. Hobson, Ray LaHood of Illinois, and James T. Walsh of New York threatened the committee’s reputation for comity.

Since then, the battles over appropriations and the debates over spending priorities in Congress have only intensified.

In a 2010 op-ed piece for the Plain Dealer, Regula was unapologetic in his approach to governing, writing: “I have seen passions run high; I’ve heard differences of opinions, regional and political; I’ve heard the heat of debate — but in the end, I’ve heard compromise. Respect for the opinions of others — not simply an appeal to one’s rights — brings about compromise. Listening to the points of view of others, finding common ground to cooperate and making friends on the ‘other side of the aisle’ helps to achieve ultimate success.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

There’s a casting call next week for Capitol Hill staffers for a new reality show about working in Congress.

The posting on Brad Traverse Jobs reads:

Description: The Executive Producer behind Catfish, 30 Days, 9 By Design & Architecture School is casting a new reality show and looking for congressional staffers and D.C. influencers. Democrats and Republicans are welcome as long as applicants have a strong point of view and aren't afraid to express it. There will be filming of a short reel on July 24-26 so applicants must be in the D.C. area and somewhat available on those dates.

With a short-reel filming scheduled to start Monday, the casting is being finalized over the next two days.

Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., wore the same dress to work Wednesday by accident and it was reportedly a big hit on the floor. Both Republicans and Democrats were joking that the two women were double trouble.

@RepDebDingell and I not only wore the same dress coincidentally, but we are both fighting the GOP budget today.

The fifth annual Washington Kastles Tennis Classic that features Republicans and Democrats playing a series of doubles matches to raise money for D.C. schools and food banks, is less than a week away.

Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., has been added to the roster, and will play alongside Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Dave Brat, R-Va., Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., and Kevin Yoder, R-Kan. Former Sen. John B. Breaux, D-La., is also expected to play.

The revised media participant list now includes Brett Baier of Fox News, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Albert Tillman of Bloomberg, Peter Alexander of NBC News and Bob Cusack of The Hill.

The event takes place Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University. Here’s how to purchase tickets.

The Wyoming State Society is hosting the 41st annual COWPIE (short for Committee of Wyoming People in the East) at 8 p.m. on Saturday. It’s ‘a night of country dancing and western revelry,’ held during the opening weekend of the Cheyenne Frontier Days festival in Wyoming. The COWPIE celebration takes place at Eastern Market’s North Hall (225 Seventh St. NE). Tickets are available here.

The trendy Shaw-area Asian-meets-French fusion restaurant, Kyirisan, added a daily toast, and bottomless mimosas and bloody marys to its summer brunch menu. The bottomless drinks will last until Labor Day and the daily toast will change weekly.

Sneak peek at a toast dish: a wild salmon rillette with local quick pickle cucumber, poached egg, and fennel pollen on toast.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., 65.

Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., 77.

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., 70.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., 72.


Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., 52.

Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., 69.

Have any tips, announcements or Hill happenings? Send them to

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Four Members Sued Over Rainbow Flags

By Eric Garcia

Labrador Takes Wife Off Campaign Payroll

By Griffin Connolly

By David Hawkings

House GOP Disgruntled Over Path on Spending Bill

By Lindsey McPherson

The congressional baseball coaches aren’t done talking about the positive outcomes of this year’s game: bipartisanship and support for the Capitol Police.

Reps. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, the respective Republican and Democratic coaches, introduced a bill Wednesday that would expand the Capitol Police Memorial Fund to allow donations to go to officers injured in the line of duty.

The original 1998 law creating the fund was established to raise money for the families of two Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty that year.

“It became pretty obvious to us after the shooting that the new money that was coming in was coming in as a result of the incident and the people that were shot,” Doyle said.

Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, both on House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail, were wounded while protecting the Republican players after a shooter opened fire at their baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 14.

[Shooting Victims Come from All Walks of Hill Life]

“We just have an existing fund that received private donations and in this case, we have some fairly large donations we want to put into the fund that could be used for the two officers that were injured protecting us at the baseball practice,” Barton said.

This year’s game brought in nearly $1.7 million and sold almost 25,000 tickets. After the shooting, tickets were selling at a rate of 500 per hour.

The game’s proceeds benefited the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literary Center, and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, a last-minute addition by the coaches.

[Capitol Police Officer Paints to Heal]

Support from colleagues has been overwhelming. By the time it was introduced Wednesday, the bill had more than 105 co-sponsors.

“There wasn’t a single person who didn’t instantly say, ‘I want to be on that bill,’” Doyle said. “My biggest fear was that I was going to not reach somebody and they weren’t going to be on the bill.”

Barton joked, “If I had known it was a competition between Doyle and myself for the number of co-sponsors, I guarantee I would have had one more than he had.”

[Democrats Down Republicans, Both Down the Rhetoric]

“We want to do this pretty quickly,” the Texas Republican added.

They are hopeful that the bill will reach the Senate by early next week. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Republican baseball team, talked to Barton about introducing it in his chamber and the coaches are also reaching out to other team members, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut.

“This may be one of those that moves real expeditiously, as it should,” Barton said. “We have two officers that were seriously injured and there are some expenses that they should be reimbursed for.”

He also mentioned a Capitol Police officer who was injured in a car crash on Monday.

“I said if there could be a silver lining from the whole incident, it’s been how both sides have come together to support one another and then to also support these people that were the real heroes that put their lives on the line,” Doyle said.

Bailey and Griner have been notified about the bill. Both have been released from the hospital. Bailey threw out the first pitch at the Congressional Baseball Game, while Griner did the same at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game last month.

“Good news travels quickly,” Barton said. “[This bill can] show America that it is possible to still get things done in Congress.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000
Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: Whipping Votes for Tilly

By Alex Gangitano

The inability of Senate Republicans to agree on a measure to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law is another blow to Donald Trump’s still-young but embattled presidency.

The president took to Twitter shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled the measure after the third and fourth GOP senators announced their opposition — two more than he could spare. Trump’s message in a late-night tweet and then one on Tuesday morning was forward-looking.

The House appeared prepared to quickly take up the Senate leadership bill for a vote that likely would have propelled it to Trump’s desk. But Trump’s inability to help McConnell and Co. find 50 Republican votes comes as the White House is dealing with declining approval ratings, including in key swing counties that helped him upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as a seemingly ever-escalating scandal involving the Russian government and some of his top campaign aides, including Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

[Was President at Trump Tower When Son Met Russian Lawyer?]

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!

The president started Tuesday by tweeting for all to “stay tuned” on health care, returning to what long has appeared his gut instincts about how to ditch Obama’s law and replace it with a Trump-GOP plan: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan.”

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!

Since the Senate took up its health overhaul effort in May, Trump has been — publicly, at least — a less visible presence than he was during the House effort. Aides explained that Trump was using a softer touch and tone because he has realized the Senate is a different animal than the House, where there were more potential deals to cut and Republican cats to herd.

The president’s own words and tweets during the Senate’s process to fashion a bill — which often seemed to contradict those of his communications, policy and legislative affairs shops — appeared to reveal a chief executive eager to leave some space between himself and whatever McConnell and his top deputies could piece together.

If they could craft a measure capable to garner 50 votes — with Vice President Mike Pence casting the decisive 51st — Trump and his top aides made clear he would sign it. After all, the businessman-turned-president who promised voters so much “winning” they would plead with him “we can’t take it anymore, we can't win anymore like this,” is in need of a major early-term legislative victory.

With only a very small majority, the Republicans in the House & Senate need more victories next year since Dems totally obstruct, no votes!

Yet, Trump never seemed that thrilled with the House bill, which he reportedly called “mean,” just the victorious vote. The same appeared true of the Senate bill, as his out-of-place comment during a July 27 meeting with most GOP senators at the White House showed.

“This will be great if we get it done,” he said that day. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like — and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”

Still, however, the president did have at least partial ownership of the Senate bill. Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson last week “I will be very angry” if GOP senators failed to strike a deal on the Senate measure. “Mitch has to pull it off.”

And Democrats reacted quickly to try and tie Trump to the Senate failure.

“Instead of listening to the people they represent, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and congressional Republicans ignored their constituents and met behind closed doors to craft legislation that would have devastated working families,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement released late Monday night.

“Make no mistake,” Perez said, “this bill’s defeat is a victory for human decency and for the millions of families who rely on the Affordable Care Act.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Heard on the Hill

Take Five: Jimmy Gomez

Freshman Rep. Jimmy Gomez, 42, a California Democrat, talks about the time between his being elected and being sworn in, returning as a former Hill staffer, and his welcome to Washington compared to Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte’s.

Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?

A: The House floor has been the most interesting for me because I come from a state legislature where everybody has a desk, there’s a specific hour that you vote. I feel like it’s part legislative body, part bizarre. … People are just trying to sell you on something on the floor — sign this, vote this way — and it’s kind of a little hustle and bustle with a little high school mixed in because everybody has their seating areas.

It’s different because you have one side of the aisle and you have the other. In California, we got away from that almost 15 years ago.

[Take Five: Trey Hollingsworth]

Q: What was your first day as a congressman like?

A: It was so much at one time. Most people have time to interview, get staff in order. I had to get staff in order and start voting almost immediately. It was nonstop, just the protocols and the culture that you have to learn.

Also, I just didn’t think how welcoming people were going to be. The members have been lending me interns and sending me food. The response of both sides of the aisle when I got sworn in was very positive.

I didn’t expect that because the gentleman from Montana that was sworn in made some comments and he got booed by his own colleagues, or somebody booed him. I think just how open and welcoming people have been. Very positive.

[Take Five: Brian Fitzpatrick]

Q: Have you been able to meet the massive California delegation?

A: I’ve known a lot of them because I worked in politics in California for a while in some form or fashion. Now I’m getting to know people that were, for lack of a better term, sort of legends in politics. Nancy Pelosi has been in office way before I graduated from high school. Now, all of a sudden, I’m serving in the same capacity they are. Not exactly the same, but we’re both members of Congress and that makes it a little bit special. Lucille Roybal-Allard has been elected for decades and this seat that I’m in is actually her dad’s. So, it kind of gives me a perspective that I’m here because other people came before me.

The Republicans, I never knew. Kevin McCarthy and I joke around that he gave me a lot of attention for a couple of weeks (over the delay in his swearing-in), but I’ve always heard that he’s a pretty good-natured guy. I met Ed Royce a couple weeks ago at a dinner. He seemed really nice.

[Take Five: Roger Marshall]

Q: In the time between when you were elected and sworn in, how did you fill it?

A: I came the week after I got elected just to have some interviews with leadership and start looking for staff. When I walked in, that was kind of the first strange part. I worked here for [former Rep.] Hilda Solis. I remembered saying that I wasn’t going to come back to D.C. until I was a member of Congress. This time, coming back, it felt strange because I knew I had to do this job, but I was trying to transition from my Assembly job. It was just two worlds tugging at me.

The member pin — the first day I was here, I was just walking around. Nobody even noticed me. Then I put this on and all of a sudden, the eyes started trailing me. I tried to get away without wearing it, or at least leaving my jacket, and it’s too late, people know who I am now.

[Take Five: John Rutherford]

Q: You’re interested in media literacy being taught in high school. How did this come about?

A: A lot of the fake news conversation came right after the 2016 election, but it’s something that had been discussed before Donald Trump ever ran for president. There was a study from Stanford University that our young people couldn’t really tell what was real and what was fake. I thought the best way to come up with it was somehow teaching, oftentimes, young people to spot how you tell what is fake, what is real.

Last book read: “I was reading a Harry Potter book in Spanish. I’m trying to work on my Spanish.”

Last movie seen: “Wonder Woman.”

Favorite song of all time: “I like musicals. In ‘La La Land,’ there’s this one, ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream).’ I feel like the fools who dream and who take risks are the ones who change the world.”

Role model: “I don’t have one.”

Closest to in Congress: “Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a friend of mine from before.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Critics From All Sides Hammer McConnell

By Kyle Stewart

As the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state won by Hillary Clinton last fall, Dean Heller had a tough task ahead of him next year.

And that was even before he started enduring attacks from within his own party.

In 2011, Heller, then a third-term congressman, was appointed to the Senate seat by Gov. Brian Sandoval after GOP Sen. John Ensign’s retirement amid an ethics investigation.

The following year, he won a full term under reasonably adverse conditions, considering President Barack Obama won the Silver State 52 percent to 46 percent over Mitt Romney. Heller defeated Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, 46 percent to 45 percent.

Not only did Heller fail to get a majority of the vote, but his opponent (Berkley) was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. This cycle, the senator may not be as fortunate.

The most recent election results in Nevada are not encouraging for Republicans. Last cycle, GOP Rep. Joe Heck was regarded as a top-tier candidate but he lost to former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, 47 percent to 45 percent, in the race for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s seat. Clinton carried the state’s six electoral votes with a 48 percent to 46 percent victory over Donald Trump.

Some Republicans believe Heck fell short because he publicly backed away from Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, angering enough Trump supporters to prevent the congressman from winning.

According to the exit polls, Heck won GOP voters, 86 percent to 8 percent. In comparison, Heller won Republicans, 90 percent to 5 percent, in his narrow 2012 victory. While both look like resounding victories, in close races, every percentage point matters. Winning Republicans by 85 points or by 78 points can be the difference between a statewide victory or a loss in a state as competitive as Nevada.

Heller is in danger of losing some votes from Trump supporters after opposing the draft Senate health care legislation crafted in response to the House bill. America First Policies, a pro-Trump outside group, went as far to air (and then pull) an attack ad against Heller for not going far enough to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

It was a brazen move for the White House-aligned group to single out the Republicans’ most vulnerable senator for their attacks.

Heller has enough to worry about, outside of problems within his own party. He faces a credible, if unproven, Democratic challenger in 3rd District Rep. Jacky Rosen. She was first elected last year to Heck’s open seat, which Trump narrowly carried. But she did it against perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, who might have been the only Republican capable of losing that race.

As a Republican senator with a potentially depressed base against a credible Democrat in a Democratic-leaning state, Heller is in for a rough ride this cycle. We’re changing the Inside Elections rating for the Nevada Senate race from Leans Republican to Toss-Up.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

President Donald Trump is losing the Republican Congress.

The June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, among others, underscores what was obvious to anyone paying close attention to the election before ballots were cast: Russia wanted Trump to win, and Trump wanted Moscow’s help.

Until that meeting was revealed, though, there was a little wiggle room for Trump’s reluctant defenders to dismiss evidence of collusion as circumstantial. Now, the furthest some are willing to go is to say that the president’s son hasn’t committed the most egregious offense against the nation.

“I’ve heard the word ‘treason,’” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CNN on Friday. “This isn’t treason.”

What a standard!

From what reporters have unearthed — and from what Trump Jr. has acknowledged publicly — it’s reasonable to raise the question of whether there was an exchange on the table. Russia’s allies offered information and, according to Trump Jr.’s own account, wanted to talk about adoption — a topic inextricably tied to U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Step back: No one, regardless of political party, should be comfortable with the idea that a campaign would even entertain the idea of accepting help from a foreign adversary attempting to influence American policy.

That doesn’t mean Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or other Republican leaders will disavow the president or initiate impeachment proceedings anytime soon. But the benefit of the doubt — the willingness of serious GOP lawmakers to provide cover for the president amid the Russia story — is gone.

The question now is what the various players — the White House, Congress, special counsel Robert Mueller and American voters — ought to do about Trump’s ties to Russia. We are in the midst of a national crisis that puts Watergate in perspective as a botched break-in. Instead, it’s like we’re living through a mashup of Hollywood’s best (or worst) 1960s-era government-off-the-rails films: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Seven Days in May” and “Dr. Strangelove,” to name a few. Let’s hope we don’t stumble into “Fail Safe,” in which American bombers are mistakenly dispatched to nuke Moscow.

At least back then, we knew that Russia was an enemy.

If Trump were acting rationally, he would have spent the last six months distancing himself from Russia rather than sucking up to President Vladimir Putin. He would understand that, given the collusion between his camp and a foreign power, he should do everything in his power to prove that he’s in neither the thrall nor the pocket of Moscow’s power elite.

He would promote harsher sanctions against Russia rather than blocking them. He would denounce Putin as a despot and a thug rather than praising him as a tough guy. Surely, his administration wouldn’t toy with the idea of creating a joint cybersecurity task force with a country that infiltrated American systems and used the information to try to throw a presidential election. And he certainly wouldn’t be praising his son for seeking ways to collaborate with an American adversary.

Instead, Trump is behaving as a man who believes he has more to lose by alienating Putin than by subordinating American interests to Russian interests. Is that because he simply admires Putin and Russia or because he is actually indebted to them? Does it matter? Unless Trump changes his behavior — and he’s shown zero indication so far that he will — Congress will have to intervene to stop him.

Democrats in Congress would be wise to focus on their economic and social-policy platforms and let the media, federal investigators and the committees of jurisdiction dig into Trump’s Russia connections without the partisan flavor that has characterized so much of the discussion so far.

Republicans on the Hill would similarly do well to keep moving in the direction they seem to be headed: A serious probe of whether Trump or members of his inner circle committed any crimes, high crimes or misdemeanors, coupled with only the faintest of protestations against allegations that he acted improperly.

From a legal perspective, the key to all of this is Mueller’s investigation. On that matter, time is on Trump’s side. He would be wise to begin distancing himself from anyone who met with Russians on his behalf instead of heaping approval on them. At the appropriate time, he may decide to issue a binder full of pardons. Until then, it makes sense to keep those folks at a safer distance.

But on a political level, Trump’s fate rests with the voters. If they abandon him en masse, Republicans in Congress will move on him. If the vast majority of the GOP base sticks with him, their representatives in Congress will simply damn him and his team with faint praise — like “this isn’t treason” — for the next 16 months.

Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is a co-author of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 16 years.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

12,000

Who Can Afford McCain’s Surgery?

By Ryan Kelly

Hurd Defends District Lines in Court

By Kyle Stewart

Podcast: No Budget, No Problem

By Jane Norman
Heard on the Hill

Capitol Police Officer Paints to Heal

By Alex Gangitano

Mapping Out 2018 in the Senate

By Nathan L. Gonzales












 Click Here