Politics

Lawmakers Watch Eclipse From Back Home

By Alex Gangitano
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President Donald Trump is expected to announce Monday night he is sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, breaking with his years-long disdain for the nearly 16-year-old conflict there.

As a candidate, Trump rarely talked about the Afghanistan war and stability operation other than to disparage it. He used it as an example of why his nationalistic approach would be better than any of his Republican or Democratic foes, arguing the Bush and Obama administrations had wasted billions of dollars there for little strategic gain.

To the now-president, that U.S. treasury should have been spent at home to rebuild the nation’s aging roads, airports, bridges, and ports. But as commander in chief, things change. The generals weigh in, as do senior cabinet-level national security officials and career Defense Department experts.

Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.

And Defense Secretary James Mattis a day later said Trump’s decision had been made, after a “rigorous” review.

The Trump administration’s Afghanistan review lasted for the first seven months of his term as his national security team searched for options that might please a skeptical president.

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Trump’s top national security aides are backing adding between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and allowing them to embed with Afghan forces closer to combat.

Sending that many American troops to add to the 8,400 already there would amount to a major policy flip-flop for Trump, who as far back as 2012 was calling for the Obama administration to end the U.S. operation.

In August of that year, for instance, he questioned why Washington was spending millions to train “Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back?”

Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!

In November 2013, Trump tweeted a stance that would later form the basis of his standard campaign-trail line about the Afghanistan conflict.

Then, he wrote that America has “wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.”

We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!

If Trump opts to keep some American forces there, it will please hawkish Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a senior Armed Services Committee member, in June told Fox News Radio that the new strategy is one he is “very excited about.”

“I’ve never been more proud of President Trump and his team than I am right now, he said then.

Graham said the strategy will require U.S. forces to have more active engagement with the enemy in Afghanistan. He contrasted that to the troop levels and restrictions imposed under President Barack Obama.

But expect many Democrats to express doubts that 3,000 to 5,000 additional American forces spread over the vast country won’t make much of a difference.

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Ben Cardin of Maryland, for instance, on Sunday said he has yet to hear about any Trump strategy and opposed sending additional forces.

“I don’t believe putting more American soldiers in Afghanistan is the answer,” he said, criticizing Trump for failing to first articulate a strategy for the operation there.

“I don't know if I’m in agreement with the president because I haven’t heard what the president’s plan is in Afghanistan. I haven’t seen an articulated strategy,” Cardin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We've invested a great deal in Afghanistan,” Cardin said. “Our objective needs to be that we have a regime in Afghanistan that can maintain some semblance of security so that we don't see growing terrorist organizations again within Afghanistan. That’s our objective.”

— Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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A new poll shows a majority in three Rust Belt states that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House disapprove of the job he’s doing.

The Marist/NBC News poll released Monday found 55 percent of residents in Michigan disapprove of Trump’s job performance while 36 percent said they approve. In Pennsylvania, 52 percent say they disapprove while 33 percent approve. And in Wisconsin, Trump’s disapproval rate was at 56 while approval was 33.

In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to carry Michigan and Wisconsin since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and the first Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984 to win Wisconsin.

Many in Trump’s base still support him, though, with 84 percent of those who backed him in Michigan approving of his job performance, 81 percent in Pennsylvania, and 77 percent in Wisconsin.

But while Trump outperforms among white people without a college education — some of his most ardent supporters — the plurality of these voters in the three states disapprove of his job performance.

All three states have Democratic senators who are up for re-election next year.

In Wisconsin, 38 percent of those polled have a positive opinion of Sen. Tammy Baldwin and 33 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has the same percentage of people who have a favorable view of her.

But musician singer Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, is also considering a challenge against Stabenow and the same number of Michiganders have a favorable opinion of the rap-rocker.

Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania enjoys similar numbers with 37 percent of people having a favorable opinion of him and 26 percent with a negative opinion of him.

The poll also shows that Rep. Lou Barletta, who is planning to challenge Casey, is little-known throughout the state, with 74 percent of those polled saying they never heard of Barletta or are unsure how to rate him.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared without hesitation Monday that Congress will raise the debt limit come September.

“There is zero chance — no chance — we won’t raise the debt ceiling. No chance. America is not going to default, and we’ll get the job done in conjunction with the secretary of the Treasury,” the Kentucky Republican said, appearing alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

McConnell was in Louisville at a business event with Mnuchin. While the primary focus of the visit was the effort to rewrite the nation’s tax code, the two men made the debt limit a key issue.

“We’re going to get the debt ceiling passed,” Mnuchin said. “I think that everybody understands this is not a Republican issue, this is not a Democrat issue. We need to be able to pay our debts.

“This is about having a clean debt ceiling so that we can maintain the best credit, the reserve currency, and be focused on what we should be focusing on — so many other really important issues for the economy,” Mnuchin said.

McConnell and Mnuchin were making clear that questions about the full faith and credit of the United States would hamper any other legislative efforts, including work on overhauling tax law.

On the tax code, McConnell suggested that House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, would have “the same starting point” in terms of a chairman’s mark for the committee process.

Responding to a question about the future of the treatment of carried interest as part of a tax code overhaul, said that almost everything in the current law needs to be on the table to lower rates.

“I think there are only two things that the American people think are actually in the Constitution: The charitable deduction and the home mortgage interest deduction,” McConnell said.

“So, if you’re worried about those two, you can breathe easy,” McConnell said. “For all the rest of you, there’s no point in doing tax reform unless we look at all of these preferences, and carried interest would be among them.”

McConnell also said that a revenue-neutral bill was where he thought “we’re likely to end up.” He said discussions were ongoing.

Changing the tax code in ways that actually lowers revenues could run into procedural problems on the Senate floor under budget reconciliation, unless the tax cuts are temporary.

“Permanent is a lot better than temporary and temporary is a lot better than nothing,” Mnuchin said.

As for the legislative priority ahead of August recess, McConnell again described the failure to pass a bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care overhaul as a setback. He said he looked forward to seeing what Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would be able to produce on a bipartisan basis to stabilize insurance markets.

“Obviously we had a setback on the effort to make dramatic changes to Obamacare,” McConnell said. “The way forward now is somewhat murky,”

McConnell seemed somewhat dubious of the intentions of Senate Democrats as the bipartisan health care hearings and talks kick off when the Senate returns after Labor Day.

“They’re really interested in sending money to insurance companies, but not very interested in reforms,” McConnell said of the Democrats.

McConnell had introduced Mnuchin to the Louisville audience by talking about the Treasury secretary’s movie production efforts. Mnuchin helped bankroll many Hollywood hits before joining the administration.

McConnell and Mnuchin were set to visit the U.S. government’s gold reserve at Fort Knox later in the day.

“I assume the gold is still there,” Mnuchin said. “It would really be quite a movie and we were to walk in and there were no gold.”

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Heard on the Hill

Hoeven’s Father and Stepmother Die Two Days Apart

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Stefanik Marries IJR Marketer Manda

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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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David Hawkings’ Whiteboard: What Would Impeachment Look Like?

By David Hawkings, D.A. Banks, Thomas McKinless
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Murphy Walks Across Connecticut to Packed Town Halls

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Politics

Denham Gets 24-Year-Old Challenger

By Eric Garcia
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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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An analysis of political contributions of the four CEOs who resigned from President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council after his Charlottesville remarks show they are deep-pocketed donors who have contributed to both parties.

Notably, none of them donated to the president’s 2016 campaign, as many major business donors were wary of then-candidate Trump.

For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!

Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck and the first executive to step down from the council on Monday, was the target of Trump’s wrath on Twitter early Monday. Trump said Frazier, who is African-American, would have “more time to lower ripoff drug prices.”

That came before Trump gave a speech Monday afternoon denouncing neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as the cause of racial violence in Charlottesville. Trump made the remarks after his initial comments on Saturday were panned because they did not call out the white supremacists.

Trump continued his assault on Frazier’s company later Monday, saying Merck “is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S.”

Frazier has given $5,000 to Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana — $2,300 for the general election and $2,700 in the primary race.

But Frazier has also donated to Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Sen. Pat Toomey, who represents Pennsylvania, where Frazier lives. In 2012, he also gave $2,500 to New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance, who represents Kenilworth, where Merck is based.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who also resigned Monday, told CNBC earlier in the year that he saw Trump as “a real asset for the country.”

The head of a company based in Baltimore, much of Plank’s contributions were to Maryland politicians.

He gave $2,700 to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley's failed presidential bid, and $2,500 to Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represent parts of Baltimore.

During the 2016 cycle, Plank gave to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Republican presidential primary campaigns of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who announced Tuesday that he, too, was resigning from the council, has donated exclusively to Democrats during his time at Alliance.

In 2016, he gave $500 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign against Trump.

Paul donated to former Sen. John Edwards’ presidential primary campaign in 2007, and both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. He’s also given to Rust Belt Democrats like Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Gary Peters of Michigan.

Intel Corporation CEO Brian Krzanich also announced Tuesday his departure from the council.

On the federal level, Krzanich’s contributions have been exclusively to Intel’s PAC. In 2016, the PAC gave $269,853 to House Democratic candidates and incumbents, and $271,999 to Republicans. Among the top recipients were Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, whose district includes Folsom, where Intel employs a quarter of the workforce, according to nonpartisan watchdog Open Secrets.

Bera received $10,000 from the Intel PAC last year as he faced a tough re-election fight. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon also received $10,000.

Other recipients of $10,000 were Rep. Darrell Issa, whose previous career as an electronics manufacturing company executive made him one of the wealthiest members of Congress; Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee; Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who serves on the science committee’s research and technology subcommittee; Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former Rep. Michael Michael M. Honda, who represented Silicon Valley.

On the Senate side, top recipients from Intel were former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who lost her race to Sen. Maggie Hassan; Sen. John McCain; Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee; Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who became Senate Minority Leader after Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s retirement this year; Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii; and Sen. Ron Wyden, a critic of domestic surveillance.

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

By Alex Gangitano, Bian Elkhatib, Thomas McKinless
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Gonzales

Mapping Out 2018 in the Senate

By Nathan L. Gonzales
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