Could a Blue Wave Miss Nevada?

By Bridget Bowman

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., captured 50 percent to Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott’s 45 percent of likely voters surveyed in a new poll — a wider lead for Nelson than in prior studies showed. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

The poll was conducted for CNN by SSRS and surveyed likely voters from October 16 to 20. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. 

Likely voters in Florida ranked health care and the economy as their top priorities as they weigh the Senate candidates, CNN reported. Just 11 percent of likely voters told interviewers they might change their mind before Election Day.

The poll also indicated that in the gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum holds a double-digit advantage over Republican opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis, a 52-42 spread. CNN released the poll hours before the candidates faced off in their first debate, which the network broadcast to a national audience. The DeSantis campaign picked apart CNN’s methodology, alleging it oversampled Democrats, and said the poll “is not worth the paper it is written on,” the Miami Herald reported.

The survey could be an outlier or reflect a surge of enthusiasm among Democrats, CNN said.

Pollsters interviewed about about 1,000 people, via both landlines and cellphones. 

12 Ratings Changes for House, Senate and Gubernatorial Races: 4 Toward GOP, 8 Toward Democrats

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Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner answered questions about the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the CNN Citizen panel in New York on Monday, Kushner emphasized that the president is continuing to put American interests first.

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The campaign arm of House Republicans is investing more than a million dollars in Georgia’s 6th District, which was home to the most expensive House election in history last year. 

The National Republican Campaign Committee has made a $1.4 million TV buy on Atlanta broadcast, set to begin this week. It’s the first outside spending from one of the party committees in a race that has thus far looked safer for Republicans than it did in 2017 during its high-profile special election. 

GOP Rep. Karen Handel, who won last year’s election, is facing a challenge from gun control activist Lucy McBath, who has outraised her and is benefitting from millions of dollars in outside support on the airwaves from Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. The group has spent more than $2.3 million in the general election.

McBath had been the national spokeswoman for advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety but is currently on an unpaid leave of absence. Her son was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida in 2012 by a man who complained his music was too loud.

Handel raised $541,000 during the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, finishing with $979,000 in the bank. McBath raised $962,000 during the same period, ending with $706,000. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican

Democrats targeted the 6th District last year since it only narrowly voted for President Donald Trump. Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee, had a massive fundraising advantage, but Handel benefited from spending from outside Republican groups and defeated him in a runoff by 4 points. 

Watch: 12 Ratings Changes for House, Senate and Gubernatorial Races — 4 Toward GOP, 8 Toward Democrats


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The confessions of The Man in the Green Hat — who supplied booze to the House and Senate for a decade during Prohibition — made front-page news just weeks before the 1930 midterm elections. And the Democrats ended up making huge gains in the House that November. Deputy editor Jason Dick shares the remarkable story of George Cassiday, bootlegger to Congress and one of the original October surprises.

(Featuring illustrations from District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC)

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LAS VEGAS — The start of early voting in Nevada always brings out the stars, and 2018 was no exception.

President Donald Trump concluded a western swing Saturday morning with a rally in the remote city of Elko just after former Vice President Joe Biden fired up Democrats here in Las Vegas in the crucial Senate race.

Trump and vulnerable GOP Sen. Dean Heller urged the GOP faithful in rural Nevada to get out and vote early.

“You know, a big portion of your state does do early voting, which is surprising. Very unusual,” the president said. “But you’re a very unusual state.”

Nevada is not the only state where significant numbers of voters cast their ballots ahead of Election Day.

Heller argued that high turnout among early voters outside Clark County — which accounts for almost three-quarters of the state’s population and includes Las Vegas — could send a message to the Democrats and the campaign of his challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Heller and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the GOP nominee for governor, were invited to join Trump onstage separately, and the two men had nothing but praise for the president.

“Mr. President, you know a little something about gold. In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold,” said Heller, noting the gold mining production in nearby Eureka County.

Meanwhile, more than 300 miles to the south in Las Vegas, Biden said Democratic control of Congress wasn’t just about moving forward on the party’s priorities.

“My name is Joe Biden and I work for Harry Reid,” the former vice president said, opening his remarks by invoking the name of the former Senate majority leader and de facto party boss of Nevada Democrats.

Lamenting that Republicans were, in his view, “putting their party over their country,” the potential 2020 presidential contender said a Congress run by Democrats could change that. 

“When we win back the House and the Senate … you’re going to see somewhere between 15 and 20 Republicans in the House starting to vote their conscience when they know it can matter,” Biden told supporters gathered here outside the Culinary Workers Union on the first day of early voting. “And you’re going to see between three and six Republicans in the Senate begin to vote the right way.”

“They don’t want to be the only guy out there on that deciding vote. And if they know the consensus of the body is to do the right thing, they will join,” the former vice president said. 

Trump joked about the differing crowd sizes between the Nevada State Democratic Party event with Biden and his Elko rally, but in some respects the two men had different intentions. Biden was in town to fire up members of the powerful Culinary union, which has proved to be the engine of the Democratic ground game.

In contrast to the diverse group of workers behind the Las Vegas tourism business, when Trump asked his Elko rally crowd about Hispanic turnout there, the response was less than tepid.

“Eh, not the most, not the most. I’d give it 5 percent,” he said. “That’s OK.”

Back in Las Vegas, Biden predictably voiced support for Rosen, who faced off against Heller in their first and only debate of the campaign the previous night. Polls have shown a tight race. 

The Silver State is the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the Senate this cycle, with Heller the only Republican facing a competitive race in a state  Trump lost in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the contest a Toss-up

Biden said the lack of consensus in Congress had caused power to flow to the presidency.

“The House and Senate become irrelevant, which they basically have,” he said. “And that’s when you see this incredible abuse of power.”  

Biden, who also represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, issued a sharp rebuke of Trump, accusing him of sullying the country’s reputation around the world. He blasted Trump’s foreign policy and accused him of purposely dividing the country. 

And he told supporters this was the most consequential election in recent memory. 

“We’re in a battle for the soul of America, folks,” the former vice president said as the morning sun beat down on the crowd.

Watch: House GOP Candidates Are Shying Away From Trump As Midterm Nears

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Scenes From Early Voting in Nevada

By Bill Clark


Trump Pushes New Tax Cuts Before Election Day

By Niels Lesniewski

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has agreed to sit for a transcribed interview with leaders of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees Oct. 24, the panels’ chairmen announced Thursday evening.

The announcement comes just hours after House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, an Oversight subcommittee chairman, called on Rosenstein to resign, citing his unwillingness to cooperate with the panels’ investigation.

“Even more importantly, based on further information we’ve learned over the last week, it’s also clear Mr. Rosenstein has shown a lack of candor in the way he characterized his involvement in a number of events to Congressional investigators,” the North Carolina Republican said in a statement. “Repeatedly, he has declined opportunities to come before Congress and tell the truth.”

Several Judiciary and Oversight members thought Rosenstein was going to appear before the panels Oct. 11, but the date was never officially agreed to as Rosenstein allegedly did not want to sit for a transcribed interview before the full committees but offered to do a briefing instead

Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy announced later Wednesday that Rosenstein will sit for a transcribed interview that they will conduct with Judiciary ranking members Jerold Nadler and Oversight ranking member Elijah E. Cummings.

The only other person will who be present for the interview besides Rosenstein and the four committee leaders will be a court reporter. 

That means Meadows, Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan and other hard-line conservatives who have been vocal participants in the investigations will not be able to question Rosenstein. 

The interview will be conducted under oath. The transcript of the proceeding will be released to the public after a review by the intelligence community to scrub any classified information.

Much of the interview is expected to focus on a New York Times report that alleged Rosenstein wanted to secretly record President Donald Trump and had talked about trying to force him out by invoking the 25th Amendment.

ICYMI: How and Why Many Key Officials Have Exited the Trump Administration

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The legislative proposals under development by the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform could enjoy a life of their own after the special panel’s work is done later this year.

Members of the 16-member bicameral committee are hoping to agree on a package of proposed changes to improve the budget process by a Nov. 30 deadline, allowing their recommendations to be submitted to Congress for action.

But whatever recommendations may or may not emerge, the proposals developed by the select committee are likely to play a role in further congressional deliberations.

Rep. Steve Womack, co-chairman of the Joint Committee, said the panel’s goal is to reach consensus on changes in the budget process that can be sent to the floor for votes in both chambers. But the Arkansas Republican also envisions that some of the proposals not adopted by the committee or accepted by their fellow lawmakers could be attached to legislation or considered as standalone bills in a future Congress.

For example, there seems to be an agreement emerging to move the annual process of trying to adopt a budget resolution to a biennial one, or every two years. But on other matters, such as moving the start date of the fiscal year to give appropriators more time to complete full-year spending bills, or changing the process for lifting or suspending the statutory borrowing cap, panel members don’t expect to reach consensus.

“There may be things on the menu that we’re going to offer in our package that the Congress may say, ‘Well, we’re not real sure about that one, and we’ll put that on hold a minute, maybe that’s something we could come back to in a subsequent Congress or maybe a subsequent joint select committee,’” said Womack, who also chairs the House Budget Committee. “For example, we may not be able to resolve how you deal with the debt ceiling in whatever our proposal is. But that’s something that we’ve talked about and that we could offer. And whether it gets accepted or not, it could be something that could be considered down the road.”

The Joint Committee is co-chaired by New York Democrat Nita M. Lowey, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, and comprises eight senators and eight House members with equal weight on both sides of the aisle.

Also Watch: House GOP Candidates Are Shying Away From Trump As Midterm Nears

Members of both parties in the House and Senate believe the budget and appropriations process can benefit from changes. At the same time, there is disagreement over how much the inability to pass spending bills on time is due to a broken budget process and how much is due simply to political differences.

The House and Senate Budget committees have been working on proposals to change the budget process for several years. Last year, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming reached consensus with Democrats and Republicans on the panel to implement several modest changes including releasing the budget resolution text to committee members ahead of markups and setting deadlines for filing amendments.

The Joint Committee is unusual, however, in that it has provided a forum for an equal number of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate to write and discuss process changes aimed at winning support in both chambers.

In a similar way, Republican and Democratic lawmakers worked together to develop dozens of proposals to reduce the deficit beginning in 2010 with a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform led by Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former Clinton administration chief of staff, and former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson.

That was followed by more informal talks in 2011 held by a group of lawmakers led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The effort continued with the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — which became known as the “supercommittee” — co-chaired by Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling as part of the 2011 deficit reduction law.

The fiscal commission and supercommittee did not gain enough support from their members to issue formal recommendations to Congress. Nevertheless, lawmakers would go on to adopt many of the proposals crafted by all three groups for use as offsets to higher discretionary spending in the subsequent two-year budget deals in 2013 and 2015. Some of the proposals also were used to reduce the deficit.

Take the 2013 cap-raising deal negotiated by Wisconsin’s Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget chairman at the time, and and Murray, who was Senate Budget chairman. Several of the major offsets were drawn from the previous groups’ work, such as an increase in aviation and customs user fees, requiring federal workers to pay more toward their retirement and raising the premiums that companies pay for federal pension insurance.

“When I worked on Simpson-Bowles, when I worked on the supercommittee, neither resulted in legislation, but both of those committees plus the Biden-Cantor group developed tons and tons of policies that were then used as offsets and were used in bipartisan negotiations and partisan negotiations for years to come,” Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said. “I think it’s going to be the same thing with this whether they succeed or fail.” Goldwein served as associate director of the fiscal commission and senior budget analyst to the supercommittee.

Goldwein said budget process change proposals could end up being attached to another suspension of the debt limit required after the debt ceiling is reinstated next March, or to another agreement to raise the discretionary spending caps next year. “I could see them sticking around and being the type of thing that you attach as your demand for agreeing to a budget deal or as your demand for agreeing to a debt ceiling increase,” he said.

Womack hasn’t pinpointed a date when he wants the select committee to file its recommendations. But he said he plans to talk with committee members after the midterms and meet with them shortly after Congress returns Nov. 13.

“Our committee has talked at length about the need that once we are finished in November and report out, that there will probably and more than likely be a need for a future joint select committee or this particular committee to take its knowledge and expertise and its experience and continue to work on changes that could improve the process,” he said. “I do think the process will continue for sure.”

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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An Interior Department watchdog found that Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal policy when he let his family members travel with him in government vehicles, although he had reimbursed the department.

A copy of the department’s inspector general report was sent to Congress and was provided to Roll Call by a congressional aide on Thursday.

The inspector general’s office reached its findings after investigating allegations that Zinke had made numerous trips, including in private and military jets, at taxpayer expense.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the department, complained that “Republicans have known about Secretary Zinke’s scandals for 18 months and done nothing.”

Zinke had also asked Interior Department employees about whether his wife could join the department as a volunteer, according to the IG.

“He denied that his intention in making this request was so that his wife could travel with him in an official capacity, which would have eliminated the requirement to reimburse the Government for her travel,” the report said. “Ultimately, the employees advised him that making her a volunteer could be perceived negatively, and she did not become one.”

Zinke also cost taxpayers $25,000 when he took an unarmed security detail with him during a vacation to Turkey and Greece, the IG said in its report.

The report comes as the Interior Department is dealing with public backlash over news reports that Zinke had attempted to hire Suzanne Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to serve as Interior’s acting inspector general. The Interior Department has since denied any such move and blamed it on an incorrect email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the IG report earlier Thursday.

The IG’s investigation also found that Zinke in March 2017 directed his security detail to drive someone who was not a government employee to the airport after a dinner, against agency rules.

“Secretary Zinke acknowledged that he told his detail to take the non-Government employee to Reagan National Airport,” the report said. “He said he had asked this as a matter of convenience, but he was later told not to make such requests and he has not done so since.”

The agency cleared Zinke of allegations that a department employee had resigned over requests that she walk his dog. The employee told the investigators she walked Zinke’s dog voluntarily and had instead resigned because she did not receive a position she wanted.

“The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email. “Concerning the internal travel policy, that has been updated to reflect the reality of the long standing situation.”

Democrats and environmental groups have for months been frustrated over the refusal by the Republican majority to hold oversight hearings to examine the spending and travel habits of Trump administration officials, including Zinke and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned amid a long list of spending and management scandals.

The latest report on Zinke is likely to cause them to amplify calls for oversight and for his resignation, although the White House has not given any indication that it would fire Zinke.

“Being exposed for abusing his power to rip-off the taxpayer while benefiting himself provides all the proof that should be needed to fire Ryan Zinke,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a news release. “It’s time Donald Trump fires Ryan Zinke, not give him a chance to engage in a Washington cover-up.”

Watch: Trump Heads West to Campaign — And a Lot of Senators Do, Too

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We’re all over Capitol Hill and its surrounding haunts looking for good stories. Some of the best are ones we come across while reporting the big stories.

There is life beyond legislating, and this is the place for those stories. We look for them, but we don’t find them all. We want to know what you see, too.

Send tips, clips and all your hot goss to (202) 922-6697 on Signal or HOH@rollcall.com. Tweet at us at @HeardontheHill, or send them directly to Alex Gangitano, our Heard on the Hill reporter, at AlexGangitano@rollcall.com. Here’s the word on the Hill for today:

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At a listening session with inmates recovering from substance abuse this week, Rep. Dave Brat pivoted the conversation to his own re-election race.

“You think you’re having a hard time — I’ve got $5 million worth of negative ads coming at me,” the Virginia Republican said. “How do you think I’m feeling? Nothing’s easy. For anybody.”

“You think I’m a congressman, ‘Oh, life’s easy, this guy’s off having steaks every day.’” he went on. “Baloney. I’ve got a daughter, she’s got to deal with that crap on TV every day.”

“So it’s tough,” Brat continued. “No one out there’s got some easy life. Right?”

The gaffe comes as Republicans across the country look to cast their action on opioid addiction as a key legislative achievement before the midterms. Brat’s opponent, Democrat Abigail Spanberger, called his remarks “an affront to every person in recovery and the Virginians who die daily due to their addiction.”

Spanberger also pointed to Brat’s vote for the American Health Care Act, which would have hampered states’ ability to respond to public health crises like the opioid epidemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Brat’s star rose after his surprise upset of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, but he faces a tough re-election challenge this cycle: Inside with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

The inmates Brat stressed how poverty and a punitive criminal justice system are obstacles to recovery, according to a report by WCVE, a public radio station in Virginia. One woman shared that she’s entered into 90-day inpatient substance abuse treatment programs without knowing where she’ll live after those 90 days are over.

It's worth noting Brat later acknowledged the inmate was up against steeper problems. Here's a longer cut for more context. pic.twitter.com/80hTiZWAua

But Brat appeared to emphasize personal responsibility in his response, according to an audio recording, encouraging inmates to “find a substitute for drugs, be it exercise, or academics, or reading books, going to the Bible, you gotta find something.”

Brat acknowledged that facing attack ads in pursuit of public office is not as difficult as coping with substance abuse: “You got it harder, I’m not dismissing that,” he’s heard saying later.

Still, critics say Brat’s comments show he doesn’t understand how serious the opioid crisis is. A record 1,227 people died from opioid overdoses in Virginia last year, the fifth straight year of record fatalities, according to a Virginia Department of Health report.

Kim Myers, an employee of the prison’s recovery program, said she felt “attacked” by Brat’s comments.

“How could you compare yourself to someone who’s going to get out and not be able to get a job, and not be able to get housing, and has to pay all these fines and restitutions for being in jail?” she told the radio station.

But not everybody at the listening session felt that way.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard, who introduced the prison recovery program, posted on Facebook that he regrets the low-key visit became political fodder.

“A sitting Congressman, who was trying to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with addiction by learning more about it directly from those dealing with the disease, is now being portrayed in such a negative and distorted way,” Leonard said. “The real losers here will be the people struggling with addiction inside our jail and across this Nation, now who become an afterthought and a forgotten part of the story.”

Brat has dealt with the fallout from the gaffe by touting President Donald Trump’s recent endorsement — he referred to the congressman as “strong on crime” — and and by invoking scripture.

“As a Christian, we love the least of these — we visit those in prison,” he said in a statement. 

Watch: Brat Echoes GOP's Nancy Pelosi Attack Line in Virginia Debate

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Messing With Texas, Midterm Edition

By Jason Dick

Will appealing to Whataburger partisans get out the vote? What about a new Willie Nelson song? These are but some of the questions that will be answered by the Texas Senate race between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke

That’s because some of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons, like country-music legend Nelson and filmmaker Richard Linklater, have come out strong for O’Rourke and are putting their artistic talent where their mouths are. Will it make a difference, though? Leah Askarinam from Inside Elections and McClatchy’s Alex Roarty, who grew up in Houston, discuss the race, whether famous Texans will help O’Rourke and what sort of downstream effect the race has on competitive House races we might see on the latest Political Theater Podcast. 

Show Notes: 


Subscribe on iTunesListen on StitcherListen on RADiO PUBLiCListen on Spotify


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At least six House Republicans combined to spend more than $325,000 in campaign funds in the most recent quarter alone on legal or crisis management fees related to brewing scandals that have wended their way into the court of public opinion — and, in some cases, real courtrooms.

New York Rep. Chris Collins, whom federal authorities indicted on Aug. 8 on 10 counts related to insider trading and securities fraud, shelled out $30,980.25 from his campaign account to the D.C.-based law firm BakerHostetler just three days later.

He made additional payments of $7,242.08 and $1,925 to the firm on Sept. 8, bringing his total legal bill to $40,147.33 for the third filing quarter that ended Sept. 30, according to his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission.  

Collins raised just $33,000 in the roughly two months that his campaign committee was actively fundraising last quarter. That means he spent $7,000 more on legal fees than he collected in total donations during the three-month period. 

In southern California, Rep. Duncan Hunter, who, along with his wife, is also under federal indictment for misusing more than $250,000 of campaign money on personal items and trips, spent $36,225.21 on legal representation and consulting in the third quarter, per his FEC report.

He had previously distributed more than $600,000 to at least eight different law firms this cycle.

Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona spent a whopping $184,655.05 from July through September on legal fees — more than any other House candidate last quarter — a review of the FEC’s disbursement database yielded.

Reps. Mia Love of Utah and Scott Taylor of Virginia are each swimming in their own simmering campaign-related scandals. Combined, they spent more than $28,000 on legal fees and consulting in the third quarter, according to Love and Taylor’s FEC reports.

And Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — who’s bidding to lead House Republicans next year and is not in any legal trouble, per se — dished out $38,000 to an Alexandria, Virginia, public relations shop to vehemently deny and head off public accusations that he knew a wrestling team doctor at Ohio State University was molesting players the congressman coached in the 1980s, Cleveland.com reported.

Collins, Hunter, Taylor and Love have each seen their leads in polls tighten against their Democratic opponents, though Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales still favors each of them for re-election

Collins’ race against Democrat Nate McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, in New York’s 27th District is rated Leans Republican. A recent Spectrum News/Siena College poll found the incumbent ahead by 3 points — he won re-election two years ago by 34 points. 

Love also finds herself in a Leans Republican race against Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th District. A recent Salt Lake Tribune poll showed the race tied. 

Hunter’s race against former Obama administration official Ammar Campa-Najjar is rated Likely Republican in spite of the five-term incumbent’s looming court battle. Recent polls have put Hunter’s read at anywhere from 2 to 15 points. 

And Taylor’s bid for a second term against Democratic Navy veteran Elaine Luria is rated Tilts Republican. Recent polls have shown his lead in the single digits — he won by 23 points two years ago. 

Jordan and Schweikert are running in safe Republican districts in Ohio and Arizona, respectively.

From the Archives: Working Out with Rep. Scott Taylor, Former Navy SEAL

The legal parameters for using campaign money on legal expenses are not as dicey as they may seem. Candidates cannot use campaign cash for personal legal expenditures — basically, legal questions unrelated to their status as a candidate.

“If you get a DUI, for example, you can’t use campaign funds to pay for your attorneys,” said Brendan Fischer, a senior director at the Campaign Legal Center.

But the FEC has allowed candidates to use campaign money “to cover public relations aspects” arising from personal legal issues, Fischer said.

That caveat would seem to most benefit Collins, who was indicted for sharing insider trading tips with multiple family members regarding an Australian biotech company in which he had a majority stake.

Collins cannot use campaign cash for his legal defense strategy. But the FEC does allow him to dip into his campaign funds to pay his lawyers for, say, strategic advice on how he can spin his indictment and dismiss his legal woes to voters on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, Love’s campaign came under fire after it was forced to redesignate roughly $370,000 in donations raised for the primary and made between the GOP nominating convention in April and the June primary, even though Love knew she was unlikely to have a primary challenger.

The Utah Republican was free to use campaign money to pay her legal consulting fees for that episode because it directly related to her compliance with campaign finance laws.

In Hunter’s case, his use of campaign funds for attorney fees is likely legal and permitted because it should pass the FEC’s so-called irrespective test. The test defines personal use as any use of funds from a candidate’s campaign account to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense that would exist even if the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as an official in federal office did not exist.

In this case, that would mean Hunter could use campaign funds to defend himself against the allegations of misusing campaign funds precisely because he has a campaign at all. Reread that again if you need to.

Schweikert is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for alleged illegal payments to his former chief of staff, Oliver Schwab.

He, too, is covered by the FEC’s irrespective test to spend however much he pleases from his campaign on legal fees arising from that investigation.

It’s worth noting that it is common for campaigns — especially for senators and high-profile fundraisers like House leaders — to consult law firms regularly and incur thousands of dollars in legal expenses each quarter, even if they’re not staring down any legal barrels.

Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, for instance, have not faced any pressing campaign finance or personal scandals.

But both collectively paid Democratic law firm Perkins Coie thousands of dollars in the third quarter for legal consulting, according to their FEC filings.

And the Speaker Paul D. Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund paid out nearly $70,000 in legal fees to two law firms, Jones Day and Clark Hill, in the third quarter. CLF has not faced any serious scrutiny about its fundraising efforts this cycle.

“Some candidates are more aggressive and want to find ways to push the legal envelope,” Fischer said, indicating that some campaigns with savvy legal advisers work closely — but within the legal boundaries — with super PACs and dark money groups.

But that kind of fundraising is a cost-benefit analysis each candidate must make.

“All of that can rack up legal fees,” Fischer said.

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Democrats are spinning comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently made on overhauling entitlements to craft a political message that electing Republicans will lead to cuts in safety net programs. 

“Senator McConnell gave the game up in his comment yesterday,” Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on a press call Wednesday. “It was very clear from what he said that a vote for Republican candidates in this election is a vote to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s what he said.”

Except that is not what McConnell said in his interview with Bloomberg News. The Kentucky Republican actually said it would be difficult to overhaul those programs with only Republicans in charge. 

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” McConnell said.

It’s no secret that Republicans would like to reduce entitlement spending. Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have been part of GOP budgets for years. 

Van Hollen would know this. He was the ranking member of the House Budget Committee when Speaker Paul D. Ryan chaired the panel and put out budget blueprints outlining Republicans’ plans to slash safety net programs.

But like McConnell pointed out, it’s difficult for Republicans to achieve that policy aspiration on their own.

When these points were raised on the call, Van Hollen defended his assertion that, if elected, Republicans will try to push through entitlement cuts. 

“It’s absolutely fair to say the Republican plan is to come back and cut things like Medicare and Medicaid,” he said, pointing out that’s part of their budget plans.

“They could execute this through their budget reconciliation process;  they just didn’t execute this part of it,” Van Hollen added. “And now that they’ve run up the debt, which they said they were not going to do but which they have, what he’s signaling here is they’re going to come back and finish the job. that’s certainly the way I interpret his comments.”

McConnell, however, seemed to be acknowledging that Republicans won’t have the votes to pass entitlement changes through the reconciliation process, which allows for a simple majority vote in the Senate instead of the usual 60-vote threshold. That’s how Republicans passed their tax overhaul in December 2017.

Senate Republicans have failed to use the reconciliation process to pass entitlement changes, though.

Earlier in 2017, House Republicans passed a health care bill that would have cut parts of Medicare but the Senate didn’t have the votes to take it up. When they sought instead to move a “skinny repeal” of major pieces of the 2010 health care law, it failed by a single vote. 

McConnell has acknowledged since the health care failure that it would be impossible to pass entitlement changes through reconciliation with Republicans’ current thin majority. 

Van Hollen seems to be suggesting the majority leader’s calculus may change if Republicans pick up more Senate seats in the midterm elections next month. 

“Whether or not people put this in ads, and they well may do that, I can assure you all of our candidates will be zeroing in on this issue,” he said.

The Democrats are largely on defense in the Senate this cycle, trying to hold onto 10 seats in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016.

Van Hollen was joined on the press call by fellow Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, his successor as House Budget ranking member, and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. 

They attacked McConnell not only for wanting to cut entitlements but for blaming the rising deficit, which the White House announced Monday was $779 billion for fiscal 2018, on that issue and ignoring the Republicans’ contributions with their $1 trillion tax overhaul. 

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said in the Bloomberg News interview. “It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

McConnell “is completely ignoring the fact that it’s his tax scam and it passed with zero Republican votes,” Bustos said. 

Mitch McConnell is behaving something like a thief,” she added. “And even though he’s in the middle of a heist and there are millions of eye witnesses and his finger prints are all over the crime scene, he’s still trying to convince everybody, especially the very taxpayers that he’s stealing from, that he and his accomplices didn’t do this.”

Democrats acknowledge that if they’re put in control of Congress they don’t plan to cut entitlements to reduce the deficit. They have a different plan, which involves raising taxes and reducing health care costs.

“There are at least three elements to it,” Yarmuth said. “One would be to roll back some of the tax cuts that were passed by the Republicans, those particularly dealing with the wealthiest Americans and to some extent the corporate rates.”

The second part, he said, involves cutting some of the roughly $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures, deductions and credits that reduce the amount of revenue government receives from taxpayers.

Third, Yarmuth said, Democrats want to invest more money in the IRS, which Republicans have targeted for cuts, so the agency can do more to collect taxes that are owed but not paid. 

Bustos and Cardin noted that Democrats also plan to lower prescription drug costs, which will lower costs for the government in addition to consumers. 

“These aren’t just election year promises,” Bustos said. “We’ve spelled this out … really more than a year ago.”

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Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper likened Taylor Swift’s surprise endorsement to “manna from heaven” and deemed it “one of the great honors” of his life in an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday.

“I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives,” the pop star wrote to her 112 million Instagram followers on Oct. 7, two days before the voter registration deadline in Tennessee. “Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values.”

Cooper told the AP his phone lit up with messages the night of Swift’s message, and that his daughter “was as excited as she’s ever been in her whole life, including her own wedding.”

Cooper faces re-election for his 5th District seat in a race rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

A narrower margin separates the candidates in the Tennessee Senate race. Swift’s chosen candidate, Phil Bredesen, trails Marsha Blackburn in a race Inside Elections Nathan L. Gonzales rates Leans Republican.

Swift wrote in her Oct. 7 message that Blackburn’s “voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies her,” citing in particular her vote against against the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides grants to social service agencies supporting women who suffer domestic abuse and sexual assault. 

Blackburn said she had a “good record” on certain women’s issues in a subsequent appearance on Fox News. 

In a more recent Instagram post, Swift encourages early voting, and links to a early voting schedule in her bio.  recurse

Swift has rarely spoken publicly about political issues in the past, even as she became an unwitting idol of white supremacists. 

Watch: Tuesday’s Texas Senate Debate in 4 Minutes

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The Environmental Protection Agency released a plan for eliminating regulations next year that would likely dwarf its current rule-cutting pace.

The agency expects to finalize approximately 30 deregulatory actions and fewer than 10 regulatory actions in fiscal 2019, according to the Trump administration’s Unified Agenda, released Tuesday.

Such administrative speed would roughly triple the EPA’s pace from the prior year. In fiscal 2018, the agency finalized 10 deregulatory actions and three regulatory actions, resulting in an estimated $1.2 billion in cost savings, according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

While the administration has argued that paring back regulations will reduce costs, many of the rollbacks have been soundly criticized by environmental groups for weakening public health protections and exacerbating climate change.

Under an April 2017 Office of Management and Budget directive, an action is considered “deregulatory” if its generates compliance savings for regulated industries, while “regulatory” actions generate compliance costs for the industries.

A potential “deregulatory” action heralded by OIRA is a proposed rule that the EPA and the Transportation Department issued in August that would freeze fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards finalized under the Obama administration at 2020 levels through 2026, instead of enacting more stringent requirements. It would also revoke a waiver that allows California, along with 12 other states and the District of Columbia, to set tougher standards than federal levels.

In its review, the OIRA called the proposed rollback a “substantial” cost-cutter, citing administration estimates that it may save automakers $120 billion to $340 billion.

Also in the agenda, the administration projected that the EPA will finalize in March 2019 a proposal that would withdraw the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to draft plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-powered electricity sources and other generation sources.

[Failures of Congress Keep Nuclear Waste Scattered Across the US]

Another possible rule to be finalized in 2019 is a revision of an Obama administration rule defining “Waters of the United States,” which, in an effort to clarify water protections, modified how the federal government determines which waterways are in its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The rule has been a point of consternation from congressional Republicans who consider it a government overreach. It has also become an issue in ongoing funding arguments. A GOP policy rider that would allow the EPA to withdraw the rule without statutory reviews has been a sticking point in recent Interior-Environment funding discussions due to opposition by Democrats.

Yet action on rescinding and replacing the WOTUS rule has been slower than anticipated. Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a Senate panel in May that he expected a proposed withdrawal in the “third quarter” of 2018 and a replacement by year’s end.

Currently, the administration plans to replace the rule in two steps: a final replacement rule would be issued by March 2019, and a rule with its own definition of “Waters of the United States” would come by the following September.

In a move likely to assuage concerns among corn-state lawmakers about whether the U.S. will meet its statutory renewable fuel obligations, the agency said in the agenda that it will finalize by May 2019 a proposal to allow gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, to be sold year-round. Sales of the 15 percent blend are currently banned in the summer months because of an EPA finding that it increases smog.

Trump on Climate Change: ‘Something’s Happening,’ But It Could Reverse

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