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How Republicans could (barely) hang on to the House

Politico -

Just about every poll predicts it won’t happen: Suburban voters are too fed up with Donald Trump, and Democrats too awash in cash, for Nancy Pelosi’s party not to seize the House on Nov. 6.

And yet House Republicans — and privately, even a few Democrats — say the GOP could still hang on, if only by a few seats. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has given GOP voters a badly-needed enthusiasm boost, they argue, and several races seen as unwinnable just weeks ago are suddenly back within reach for Republicans.

Democrats, meanwhile, have retreated from several battlegrounds once considered prime targets. They’ve also deserted a Democratic-controlled open seat in Minnesota, creating a new, rare pick-up opportunity for Republicans in a cycle where they’ve consistently been on defense.

“The environment has significantly improved over the past few weeks,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund. “For the first time in months, we have the wind at our backs instead of in our face. Now it is incumbent upon Republicans to keep that up.”

There’s also the still-fresh memory of Election Night two years ago. Even Trump, by some accounts, expected to lose, and all the political experts who predicted a Hillary Clinton romp were left red-faced.

“Let’s not forget the same geniuses that predicted a huge romp by that woman who lost in 2016 are the same people predicting a huge win by the Democrats this time,” Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News last week. “So we have to be a little bit cautious.”

Nevertheless, it’s indisputable Republicans are in a serious jam: Democrats have infinitely more paths to win the chamber than Republicans do of holding it. Even Republicans admit that Democrats have already closed out about 15 races, well over halfway to the 23 seats they need to win the majority. Democrats are competing in more than 75 districts currently represented by Republicans, giving them ample room to secure the final dozen seats needed to take the majority.

At the same time, Republicans say there’s no question that their lot has improved the past few weeks. Their internal polls show the president’s approval ratings have increased by an average of 5 points in a handful of swing districts, giving Republicans who were underwater a fighting chance.

GOP fortunes have improved in a grab-bag of districts, from Trump strongholds where the Kavanaugh battle has energized conservatives, to racially diverse districts where incumbents with strong connections to voters appear to be staving off challengers.

After pulling money out of Republican Rep. Rod Blum’s Iowa district, figuring they had his seat won, Democrats recently started spending there again to blunt an unexpected surge by the incumbent. GOP internal polling has Blum up 4 points, and Republicans are pouring in another $1 million to help Blum, who’d previously been viewed as a lost cause.

Republicans are also feeling increasingly hopeful about holding onto retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s open Florida seat, long considered a tossup. Their internal polls show Republican Maria Elvira Salazar tied or slightly ahead of Democrat Donna Shalala, who served in Bill Clinton’s cabinet.

At the same time, Democrats have pulled money out of several districts that should be competitive, indicating that Republicans have solidified their leads in the closing days of the campaign. In the past two days, Democrats have retreated from an open seat in Minnesota where Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan is retiring and GOP recruit Pete Stauber is ahead in internal GOP polling.

Democrats are also taking money from the race to unseat GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, whom Republicans say has a healthy lead. That came just days after Democrats pulled out of Hispanic-populated districts represented by Rep. David Valadao in central California and Rep. Will Hurd along the Texas border. And they’ve withdrawn $800,000 in planned ads from Rep. Vern Buchanan's Florida district, where the Democratic challenger, David Shapiro, trails the incumbent.

Democrats should have had "these seats put away by now, and they don’t,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in an interview. “I feel like they’ve hit a ceiling and held there — and we’re coming back.”

Of course, everything would have to break their way for Republicans to eke out a victory. For one, several party officials said it’s critical that President Donald Trump not antagonize more suburban women in the run-up to the election with comments like the “horseface” insult he hurled at Stormy Daniels this week.

They also said they need to prolong the momentum of the Kavanaugh confirmation for a few more weeks — or, better, build upon it.

The party is laying the groundwork to try. Congressional Leadership Fund is planning to run a series of new Kavanaugh ads in swing districts. Trump and senior Republicans like McCarthy have also increased their focus on issues that excite the base, such as immigration and the border wall. The president is expected to start talking about work requirements for food stamp recipients, a popular idea with the right.

Independent analysts have recently downgraded the number of seats Democrats are expected to flip. As of two weeks ago, Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman predicted Democrats could pick up 30 to 40 seats; now he puts the range at 25 to 35. Wasserman estimated that Republicans have a 30 percent chance of keeping the majority.

But while Wasserman noted the new enthusiasm boost on the right, which are limiting Democrats’ potential gains in Trump country, there’s still a question about whether its enough, he said.

“Republicans would have to win about two-thirds of these tossups [races] to hold the House,” he said. “That’s pretty hard to do.”

Republicans argue that they’ve put some of those seats away already. They feel good about Texas, where Democrats were targeting Reps. Pete Sessions, John Culberson and Hurd. They say California isn’t lost, pointing to what they call the improved prospects of GOP candidate Young Kim and Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.), both running in battleground districts.

At the same time, incumbents in traditional GOP strongholds have solidified their leads after scares from the left, Republicans say. They point to internal Republican polling showing leads for Reps. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Mike Bost and Rodney Davis of Illinois, John Katko of New York and Brian Mast of Florida.

Democrats, however, are making inroads in several districts too, forcing Republicans to cut off some incumbents. In addition to writing off Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), some Republicans now think Minnesota Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis are finished.

Republicans admit that Pennsylvania is going to be a “bloodbath,” as one GOP campaign source called it. And Reps. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who are both closely aligned with GOP leadership, are in trouble, they say.

Indeed, while Democrats' target list has contracted in some places in recent weeks, it has expanded in others. The DCCC began airing its first TV ads against Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Mast this week, while a pair of independent polls showed a close race brewing in retiring Rep. Dennis Ross' (R-Fla.) seat outside Tampa, which has been reliable Republican territory in recent years.

Democrats also argue that the recent GOP enthusiasm boost has been overstated, pointing to Democratic candidates they say are outperforming Reps. Mike Kelly (Pa.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.).

“Given the way the district lines are drawn and the massive Republican outside money advantage," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law, "we intentionally built the largest battlefield in a decade to create multiple paths to the majority and spread Republicans thin, including in deep-red districts."

Trump’s professed ignorance on Khashoggi belies world-class intelligence team

Politico -

Since journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared earlier this month, President Donald Trump has acted like his own world-class spies and hackers don’t exist.

The U.S. intelligence community is reportedly increasingly convinced that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is culpable in Khashoggi’s killing. Publicly, though, Trump has evinced no knowledge of the state of any investigation into the incident.

For some intelligence veterans and foreign policy specialists, it’s a pattern that has become all too familiar — and troubling. Trump started his presidency by publicly quibbling with an intelligence report that strongly concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a massive hacking campaign on the 2016 presidential election. More recently, he dissembled when pressed about reports that his own intelligence agencies believe North Korea is still working on its nuclear program: “Well, nobody really knows,” he said Sunday on “60 Minutes.” “I mean, people are saying that. I've actually said that.”

Such proclamations of ignorance on major intelligence-related issues are not unusual for Trump, despite the fact that senior officials insist he is attentive and engaged during his daily intelligence briefing. For many who work in espionage and national security, it’s yet another signal that after nearly two years in office, the commander in chief is still unwilling or unable to trust his own intelligence apparatus.

“It has a chilling effect on the relationship between senior intelligence officials and the administration,” said Shawn Turner, a former spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence and White House deputy press secretary during the Obama administration.

In the case of Khashoggi, the resistance to gleaned details “sends a very clear message” to those within the clandestine community that their work “is not being valued and it’s not being considered as the authoritative account of what happened,” he told POLITICO.

Trump late Thursday finally vaguely addressed the intelligence about Khashoggi in a brief New York Times interview, saying that “unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead.”

He added: “That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side.”

But Trump’s extended omission of any reference to America’s attempt to investigate what occurred inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2, is at odds with others in his party.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker noted early on that his public comments about Khashoggi were based on intelligence reports he had reviewed. The Tennessee Republican, a frequent Trump critic, said last week that the Turkish government’s assessment that Khashoggi was assassinated was relatively reliable.

Conversely, Trump, days later, railed in an interview about how people were jumping to conclusions about the Saudis role in Khashoggi’s apparent death, saying the U.S. still didn’t know what happened.

“Here we go again with, you know, 'you’re guilty until proven innocent,’” the president told the Associated Press.

“We have to find out what happened first,” Trump added, citing ongoing investigations by both the Saudis and the Turks.

Since then, Turkish intelligence officials have privately said they have video and audio recordings that help prove a group of Saudis close to the crown prince, commonly known as MBS, helped dismember and behead Khashoggi in retaliation for his public criticism of the royal family. Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post, was living in self-exile in Virginia and went to the consulate in Istanbul to obtain marriage-related documents.

Trump has said he does not know if such gruesome tapes exist.

“We have asked for it if it exists,” the president said this week. “Probably does, possibly does.”

On Wednesday, Corker blasted the White House for restricting the flow of intelligence information on Khashoggi to Capitol Hill. The senator said an intelligence briefing scheduled for Tuesday had been cancelled amid what he called “a clampdown on any further intelligence updates to senators.”

“It can’t go on that long, they need to come out and share their views of what happened and share with us,” added Corker, who led a bipartisan group of 22 senators requesting the Trump administration launch a bipartisan sanctions inquiry into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Democrats and several intelligence veterans said Trump’s actions reflect a disturbing long-standing habit: ignoring intelligence reports that are politically inconvenient. While all presidents have made concessions to stay in Saudi Arabia’s good favor, Trump has gone to great lengths to curry favor with the Saudis in order to win billions in arms sales, enlist the country’s help in fighting terrorists in the Middle East and stabilize the energy market as the U.S. tries to cut off Iran’s oil exports.

“While we don’t yet have all the facts, it certainly fits President Trump’s pattern of seizing on what he would like to be true, as opposed to the facts as assessed by our intelligence community,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO in a statement. “We can disagree on how to best respond to this atrocity, but no good policy can come from denying reality.”

What’s especially baffling to some is that leaders within the clandestine community insist this reality is not being kept from Trump.

"He's deeply engaged," then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in January when asked to describe the president’s daily intelligence briefings. "We'll have a rambunctious back-and-forth."

Sue Gordon, the intelligence community’s second-ranking leader, told POLITICO in August that the “best indication” Trump is listening to the intelligence community is that he meets with officials “regularly.”

“We are in the meetings, we are in the conversations,” she said. “Probably this president has more consistently met with the intelligence community in person than the previous one.”

But Turner, the ex-intelligence community spokesperson, said Trump officials are passively receiving the briefings, based on conversations he’s had with those who still work in the government.

“What they’re finding is that they’re presenting information, often times that information is taken and there are no questions asked, there’s no feedback,” he said. “It’s simply a one-way street with regard to the information going in but never seeing any result.”

The result is growing frustration that Trump’s public rhetoric suggests he is ignoring the behind-the-scenes information he receives, according to Turner, who declined to offer specific examples. Trump has also drew the intelligence community’s ire when he pulled the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.

Nate Jones, a counterterrorism chief on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, called it a “misalignment of missions.”

“On the one hand, you have an objective intelligence community following the facts where they lead and … providing the unvarnished truth to the policy makers,” including the president, said Jones, who co-founded Culpeper Partners consulting firm after leaving the government. “On the other hand, we have a fact-challenged administration that is finding these facts inconvenient when it comes to their political fortunes and their geopolitical goals.”

In the end, Jones predicted, the Khashoggi situation could drive a bigger wedge between the White House and the intelligence community, especially as other countries leak intelligence findings that belie Trump’s pleas of ignorance.

“The truth is coming out,” Jones warned, “whether they like it or not.”

Can The Oil Threat Spare Saudi Arabia from America’s Wrath?

Politico -

At an oil executive gathering in India earlier this week, Saudi Energy minister Khalid Al-Falih reminded the world that Saudi Arabia acts as the “central bank of the oil market” to help keep supply and demand in balance. His statement might have seemed innocuous enough, had it not come amid escalating rhetoric in the ongoing controversy surrounding the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In what was clearly a swipe at President Donald Trump, who has been complaining of late about oil prices, the minister added, “We expect and demand that Saudi Arabia’s efforts be acknowledged. These supply disruptions need a shock absorber. The shock absorber has been to a large part Saudi Arabia.” He noted that oil prices could easily have reached over $100 a barrel, but for Saudi efforts.

As an oil analyst, I don’t doubt that the minister is correct in this assessment of Saudi Arabia’s influence on prices. Trump also appears to agree, since he has been tweeting at Riyadh to do something more about high oil prices for weeks. Issuing a not-at-all veiled threat to leave the Saudis to fend for themselves, the president even went so far as to say King Salman wouldn’t last two weeks without U.S. military support.

At another moment, Saudi Arabia’s reactions might have seemed just innocuous rejoinders in a war of words. But in the context of a tightening world oil market, they belie a serious, extortionate threat to use their important position in oil to retaliate against any policy (for example, a U.S. congressional exercise of the Magnisky Act) that might be considered to dissuade Riyadh from future extra-territorial pursuit of journalists or dissidents. That makes the stakes very high—regardless of the improving prospects for diplomatic de-escalation—not only for the immediate welfare of the global economy, but also for the kingdom’s future role as the trusted keeper of stability in global oil markets.

Saudi Arabia has often acted to calm oil markets ahead of troubled times. Notably, the kingdom even increased its oil exports in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to reassure a concerned global economy that there would be no geopolitical implications for oil. The Saudis took similar action around the time the United States invaded Iraq. But in the runup to the U.S. decision to tear up the Iranian nuclear deal and reimpose oil sanctions on Iran, Saudi Arabia initially discussed a deal with Russia to cut output so as to boost oil prices to $80 or higher. That precipitated a tweet storm from President Trump against the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its most important member, Saudi Arabia, in particular. One can only assume the White House was appalled by the Saudi ingratitude that it was showing on Iran. By contrast, Saudi Arabia had increased production when President Barack Obama was preparing to add sanctions against Iran back in 2012.

Already, U.S. sanctions against Iranian oil exports have removed 1 million barrels to 1.5 million barrels a day in sales to Europe, Japan and South Korea this fall, pushing oil prices up. Saudi Arabia, after much jawboning from the United States and even from India, increased its exports, replacing those barrels. Still, crude oil prices continued to lurch above $80 a barrel recently as analysts started crowing about how Saudi Arabia was now producing near its maximum, leaving little cushion should a new geopolitical supply disruption emerge.

For barrel-counters, oil demand has averaged about 100.7 million barrels per day this fall, while recent global supply is running roughly equal, at 100.6 million. Oil stocks typically are replenished this time of year, ahead of winter. But given the current tight balance between supply and demand, analysts are expecting that the usual pre-winter seasonal buildup of an oil-inventory cushion might not happen this year. For example, respected forecasters Cornerstone Macro project oil inventories will decline by 500,000 barrels between September and year end. New problems in any of a host of places, such as Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela or southern Iraq, could deepen the shortfall.

This tightening market situation is the backdrop to Saudi Arabia’s intemperate reference to the oil weapon. Officially, the government was vague, saying it would respond with “greater action” to any economic sanctions threat against it and reminded of its vital role in the global economy. But it presumably authorized a more strident, explicit op-ed on the government-controlled news service Al-Arabiya that warned of retaliation if any U.S. sanctions were imposed on Saudi Arabia.

“We will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” well-known Saudi media figure Turki Aldarkhil wrote. “If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.”

Talk like that makes one wonder: Given the current tight oil market, can Saudi Arabia hold the world hostage, as it did during the 1973 oil embargo?

Although the immediate crisis could possibly decompress with accountability within Saudi intelligence leadership, my sense of market conditions is that Saudi Arabia could absolutely wreak some havoc, but not for long. Removing oil from the current market could increase prices, perhaps precipitously—at least in the short run. Depending on how much oil was removed from the market and how the Trump administration responded regarding enforcement of Iranian oil sanctions, oil prices might briefly jump up sharply.

But western countries would almost certainly release strategic stocks (the G-7 unified statement on freedom of the press is salient) and, eventually, an easing of Texas pipeline bottlenecks by early 2019 would allow the flow of more U.S. tight oil to the global market. Higher prices would cause oil demand to fall, especially in the developing world. In other words, retaliating in the oil market could be a brief, Pyrrhic victory for Saudi Arabia, unless it were done in tandem with other important oil producers. For example, Moscow could inject itself into the situation by suggesting it could collaborate with Riyadh on any oil-supply cuts and try to elicit a pound of flesh from the U.S. or even China.

Several pundits have explained why unsheathing the oil weapon would not be in Saudi Arabia’s self-interest, and current oil prices, which have risen only modestly in recent days, reflect that belief.

Still, the threat itself matters. Its political damage has already been done. It’s hard to remain a central banker who inspires confidence after you have threatened to bankrupt your depositors. The kingdom needs to go to incredible lengths to retract this reckless impression before it sets into a permanent stain, or it may find that its customers will take concrete actions to remove the risk. Some countries were already looking closely at how to accelerate electric cars, alternative energy programs and other oil-saving measures in light of climate change. Now many more countries will have impetus to do so quickly.

Which is not to say the peril of an oil crisis is over. Nations and their leaders are not always out to make the sensible point. In today’s dangerous world, the exercise of raw power has been rewarded in multiple ways that cannot be quantified in light of national budgets or trade balances.

Interior Dept. probe faults Zinke for travels with wife

Politico -

The Interior Department’s inspector general faulted Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife, Lola, for their handling of thousands of dollars’ worth of taxpayer-funded travel, in the latest critical report on the practices of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

A new report says Zinke sought to designate his wife an agency volunteer in order to obtain free travel for her, that he often brought her in federal vehicles in violation of agency policy and that he neglected to get permission from ethics officials when he took campaign donors on a boat trip.

Fox Business Network withdraws from Saudi conference

Politico -

Fox Business Network on Thursday said it was withdrawing its sponsorship of a conference hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, making it the last international media organization to drop out following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

“FOX Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia,” the network said in a statement, adding that it would continue to seek an interview with the crown prince.

Khashoggi's disappearance and alleged murder have tainted the crown prince's painstakingly manicured image as a reformer in the insular kingdom. The crown prince paraded the globe advocating foreign investment and modernization in Saudi Arabia, garnering praise from world and corporate leaders.

Following reports that the prince ordered Khashoggi's assassination after he entered a Saudi consulate in Instanbul earlier this month, several media organizations dropped out of the Future Investment Initiative, dubbed "Davos in the Desert." The prince has denied any connection to Khashoggi's disappearance, according to President Donald Trump.

Other media organizations, including Bloomberg and The New York Times, withdrew from the conference shortly after Khashoggi's disappearance captured international attention. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also announced Thursday he would not attend.

U.S. merges consulate in Jerusalem with embassy, in a blow to Palestinians

Politico -

The Trump administration is merging the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem into the new U.S. Embassy there, a move critics say is the latest U.S. slap at the Palestinians and one that could further undermine hopes for a two-state solution.

The U.S. Consulate General effectively functioned as a direct point of contact for the Palestinians, whose leadership did not want to go through the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Much of its work is expected to be handled by a Palestinian Affairs Unit.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in announcing the change Thursday, said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, would guide the merger. A former Trump administration official had told POLITICO that Friedman was pushing for unifying the two missions.

Pompeo implied that the move was a cost-saving measure and insisted it had no bearing on U.S. policy.

“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations,” he said. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.”

But former officials and analysts disagreed with that assessment.

Dan Shapiro, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, argued that the decision downgrades diplomatic relations with the Palestinians.

“It is not consistent with the goal of achieving a two-state solution, and that is how it will be understood by both sides,” he said in a statement. “It is very unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will engage the U.S. government through the embassy to Israel.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said in a statement that the Trump administration was working with the Israeli government to create “Greater Israel.”

He noted that President Donald Trump had made other moves that appear to undermine the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, not doing enough to stop Israeli settlement construction in land claimed by Palestinians, and cutting funding for Palestinian refugees.

“The U.S. administration has fully endorsed the Israeli narrative, including on Jerusalem, refugees and settlements,” Erekat said.

Others saw it as a welcome break from long-standing U.S. policy.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, wrote on Twitter that the announcement “ends the last vestige of American support for the city’s division.”

“Israel is deeply grateful,” he added.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also tweeted support, saying the move “treats Israel like every other country, and corrects an historic anomaly.”

Pompeo stressed in his statement that the U.S. was not taking any position on the issue of final borders of two potential future states, including who controls what in Jerusalem.

“The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties,” he said.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

Tensions between Kelly and Bolton erupt in shouting match outside Oval Office

Politico -

Long-simmering tension between White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton boiled over on Thursday, three administration officials confirmed, in a heated shouting match outside the Oval Office over a recent surge in southern border crossings.

Trump has been fuming in public and private over the mounting border crisis, worrying about the potential political fallout just weeks before the midterms, according to White House aides. The president threatened on Thursday to order the military to shut down the Southern border if Latin American countries don’t take new steps to slow the flow of migrants.

Bolton and Kelly sparred over how to respond to the migrant surge, with Bolton favoring Trump’s aggressive approach and Kelly urging caution. The fight reached a fever pitch when Bolton criticized Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, arguing that Nielsen, who earlier served as Kelly’s deputy at the White House, hasn’t done enough to manage the rapid increase in migrants, two of the administration officials said. That comment infuriated Kelly, a retired Marine general who remains a close ally of Nielsen’s.

The fight was so intense that it startled aides working in a West Wing long inured to internal chaos. One of the administration officials who described the incident wondered aloud whether Kelly or Nielsen might step down in the coming days, reigniting ever-present speculation in Washington about the future of the chief of staff.

Kelly has said publicly that he plans to stay at the White House through the 2020 election, but few people close to Trump expect him to make it that long. Still, the White House maintained that Kelly has no plans to resign.

Nielsen, for her part, has weathered frequent criticism from Trump, who drafted a resignation letter and nearly quit after the president berated her during a Cabinet meeting in May over what he called weak border enforcement.

The recent migrant surge has infuriated the president and the issue has been a dominant topic of debate in the West Wing in recent days. Trump is deeply conscious of the political implications of the issue, and he has sought to blame Democrats for not doing enough to improve border security.

“The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!”

Two White House aides sought to downplay the clash between the two aides, insisting it has been overblown in early media coverage. One former White House official noted Kelly’s penchant for cursing. “Any heated exchange with Kelly is expletive-laden,” the former official said. “That’s a Monday.”

On Thursday evening, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement: “While we are passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration, we are not angry at one another ... However, we are furious at the failure of Congressional Democrats to help us address this growing crisis.”

Bolton and Kelly have never had a particularly close relationship. Kelly advised Trump against hiring Bolton as national security adviser, according to a senior administration official.

And even before Trump tapped Bolton for the top national security job, Kelly limited the access Bolton had enjoyed to the Oval Office as an outside presidential adviser.

What Turkey Hopes to Gain from Khashoggi’s Murder

Politico -

From the moment news emerged that the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, news reports have been fueled by increasingly grisly reports attributed to unnamed Turkish officials and Turkish media about how Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime, met his death.

By now, U.S. intelligence agencies are reportedly convinced that the Saudi strongman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often called MBS, is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. But it is Turkey’s government, through its officials and its loyal press, that has maintained an ominous, steady drip of information, each leak suggesting that ever-more-gruesome evidence of the murder—and of Saudi involvement—could pop up at any moment. Given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured the loyalty of the security services (by firing or imprisoning anyone suspected of disloyalty) and of the media (by shutting down independent outlets and imprisoning critical journalists), it seems likely that he is personally overseeing Turkey’s response to Khashoggi’s murder. But what’s he after?

For Erdogan, Kashoggi’s assassination—a tragedy and an outrage by any measure—represents a perfectly timed opportunity. Turkey is facing a looming economic disaster at a time when relations are in crisis with the United States, Saudi Arabia and most other potential sources of help. In addition to contemplating a debt tsunami, Erdogan has also seen his aspirations to turn Turkey into a major regional powerhouse eroded by a series of developments in the Middle East.

Khashoggi’s killing in Istanbul unexpectedly created a chance to turn around that misfortune, or to at least lessen its sting. Erdogan, a clever, ruthless operator, is not about to let it slip through his fingers. With his security services in possession of evidence that appears to link Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the crime, Erdogan is perfectly placed to extract concessions from the Saudis. And given that the Trump administration has built a foreign policy strategy that hinges on cooperation with MBS, and that Trump’s behavior suggests he is invested in protecting the kingdom, Erdogan’s leverage over the Saudis extends into leverage over the United States.

Every drip of information, every report that Turkish police have a recording of the killing; that Khashoggi was tortured before he was killed; that 15 Saudis arrived and left on the day of the disappearance—every bit of news is a message to Riyadh and Washington. It says, We can cause very serious problems for you, or we can help.

Erdogan has to tread carefully. In Trump and MBS he is dealing with two powerful and vindictive leaders. That’s why the information is not coming directly from Erdogan. That’s why he has made conciliatory moves, publicly offering to hold a joint Turkish-Saudi investigation. In a curious coincidence, in the midst of the Khashoggi crisis, a Turkish court ordered the release of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor whose captivity in Turkey was one of the greatest irritants between Ankara and Washington. The release opens the way to more changes in the U.S.-Turkey relationship. Trump insists the two cases are unrelated, but the timing suggests otherwise.

So what does Erdogan hope to gain from all this? The potential benefits are immense.

The most immediate matter is Turkey’s economy. The lira has lost 40 percent of its value, inflation has soared to a 15-year high, and massive debt repayments are coming due in short order. In exchange for softening the tone of his criticism and going along with a diplomatic resolution to the Khashoggi crisis, Saudi Arabia might feel inclined to boost its investments in Turkey and perhaps help refinance the debt. The U.S. might help, as well.

Qatar, with whom Erdogan sided in its refit with Riyadh, has agreed to help. But its $15 billion offer amounts to less than 10 percent of the debt coming due.

By championing justice for Khashoggi, Erdogan can burnish his tarnished image. The man who crushed all dissent at home can claim to fight for the rule of law; a country that leads the world in jailing journalists appear to spearhead the quest for justice in the killing of a journalist.

It doesn’t hurt that, like Erdogan, Khashoggi was a supporter of political Islam. Erdogan now very subtly reinforces his position in support of Islamist politics, but he can also lessen the cost he has incurred for his advocacy on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the Saudis’ implacable antipathy toward the group.

When this is all over, Erdogan, by helping MBS find a way out of the crisis, could improve his frayed ties with Saudi Arabia.

What about Washington? Ties with the U.S. are also tattered by a series of Erdogan decisions and bilateral disagreements, including the imprisonment of U.S. citizens and of Turkish employees at the U.S. Consulate; the thuggish behavior of Erdogan’s bodyguards in Washington; and the continuing demands by Turkey that the U.S. extradite a Turkish cleric whom Erdogan blames for launching a failed coup against him. Now there’s an opportunity to turn the page, improve relations and perhaps persuade the U.S. to behave differently, depending on just how much the Trump administration wants Erdogan’s help on the Khashoggi matter.

One of the key strategic differences between Ankara and Washington is their view of the Syria war. Among other areas of disagreement, Turkey wants the U.S. to cut off support for Syrian Kurds. Turkey also wants the Kurds to leave the strategically important Syrian town of Manbij.

It was fascinating, then, that when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled from Riyadh to Ankara this week to discuss the Khashoggi case, Syria came up in the conversation. After Pompeo’s short meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, along with Erdogan’s national intelligence chief and a top presidential adviser, Covusoglu told reporters, “We conveyed to the U.S. the importance of applying the Manbij road map.” The Turks seemed happy with what they heard. “Although it was a brief meeting,” Cavusoglu said, “it was useful and efficient.”

In the end, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. will find a way to salvage the relationship. Turkey knows it. Erdogan knows that is a key objective in Washington’s response. Because of that, he knows he is holding valuable cards. In the midst of this gruesome moment of high-stakes global intrigue and maneuvering, Turkey is positioned to emerge as one of the big winners from what remains, unquestionably, a great tragedy and an appalling misdeed.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Disaster

Politico -

Elizabeth Warren has been roundly mocked by the right, often with crude racial clichés—like Tucker Carlson’s distasteful quip Monday night that “Fauxcahontas is on the warpath”—for releasing a DNA test that shows she has a Native American ancestor. Maybe this is what she wanted, to demonstrate that her critics are racially insensitive boors. She wrote on Twitter that she released the test results to demonstrate that she “won’t sit quietly for @realDonaldTrump’s racism.”

But if that was her aim, the DNA test was a mistake. Warren’s public declaration of her Native American ancestor is insensitive, too. It does more to muddy popular understandings of Native American identity than it does to clarify it. It perpetuates the United States’ dark history of racism and assaults on Native American sovereignty. And it displays a level of indifference toward the Cherokee Nation that is profoundly troubling.

It’s true, as Warren noted on Twitter, that “DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship.” But then what does the test prove? Mostly, that Republicans and Democrats alike seem determined to ignore Native American voices and to dismiss their political concerns.

Warren says she is respecting the right of tribes to determine who is Native American, but the very act of releasing a DNA test conflates Native American identity with an individual’s racial classification (even as she protests that she’s doing nothing of the sort). This is ahistorical and politically dangerous—a genuine threat to Native American sovereignty.

In recent months, the Trump administration has made it clear that it views Native Americans as individual members of a “race,” not members of sovereign nations. For example, when it targeted Native American work-related exemptions for Medicaid, the administration signaled that it views indigenous people that way. Such logic echoes the racial thinking of the what is known as the “allotment era.”

In the 1880s and ’90s, the federal government passed a series of laws designed to dissolve tribal nations and allot their lands to individuals who could provide evidence of Indian “blood quantum.” Federal blood quantum rules required individuals to prove they had a specific amount of Native American ancestry to qualify for land allotments. The rules were made deliberately complex in an effort to dispossess Native Americans of their lands.

The Dawes and Curtis Acts in 1887 and 1898 sparked an era of land fraud that saw white and black Americans bribe corrupt federal officials, claim a distant Indian ancestor, and gain title to what had once been communally held Indian lands. The land theft perpetrated by these so-called “$5 Indians” severely undercut Native American landholdings. The racist folly of federal “blood quantum” regulations, combined with efforts of individual states, such as Virginia, to reclassify Native people as “Negro,” made this theft possible.

In the 1950s, renewed efforts were made to undermine tribal sovereignty and use the racialized language of blood to assert that “full-blooded” Indians had dramatically decreased in number while individuals with mixed “racial” backgrounds increased. This latter group, federal officials held, needed to assimilate into “white” society. For federal officials, policies that “terminated” tribal sovereignty and stamped out the last of the “pure blooded Indians” were deemed to be of vital national importance. After all, Hollywood movies taught Americans that the “real Indians” lived in tipis and resided on communally held lands, something that looked and sounded suspiciously like communism.

Now, similarly racialized definitions of Native American identity have returned. The very real danger for Native Americans is a legal argument, which Warren’s DNA test buttresses, that undermines tribal sovereignty. In recent years, court cases involving Native American child adoption and voter disenfranchisement have appeared in the courts. During oral argument for 2013’s Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts asked if “one drop” of Native American blood gave indigenous people “all these extraordinary rights” not available to non-Natives. As the three branches of government did during the allotment era, Native American identity is once again being reduced to a federal official’s limited understanding of race and tribal sovereignty.

Evidence of this shift also emerged in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold a North Dakota voter ID law—a law that effectively disenfranchises thousands of Native American voters. For tens of thousands of Native Americans living on reservations, an ID that lists only a post office box as a home address is commonplace. In other words, the cornerstone of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling relies on American courts looking past the sovereignty of Native American nations and seeing the members of a reservation community as just a bunch of individuals who are members of a racial minority group.

Warren’s touting of her DNA results will help foster this misinformation about how Native American communities define identity and citizenship. Sovereign nations, whether the United States or the Cherokee Nation, are responsible for determining citizenship. And the key to tribal citizenship is a connection to the community, something Warren and millions of Americans who claim a great-great-great Cherokee grandmother don’t have.

In an official statement responding to Warren’s DNA test, the Cherokee Nation made clear the importance of community to its collective identity as a tribal nation. DNA is only a small part of determining tribal citizenship, and by no means the most important factor. Community has long helped Native people define kinship. Tribalism, a term appropriated by non-Native Americans to refer to the deep political schisms pervading contemporary politics, is regarded as a positive force that binds communities together. Tribalism gives meaning to both Native American sovereignty and to the diplomatic friendships that tribal nations forge with other nations.

For members of the Cherokee Nation and other Native American communities, tribalism is a source of empowerment, a way of nurturing communities, and a framework for managing their colonial relationship with the federal government. Genetics is a small part of tribal identities. By releasing her DNA test, Warren has perpetuated the myth that Native American identity is an individual matter determined by genetic ancestry, rather than the sovereign right of indigenous nations to determine who belongs.

Trump says he believes Khashoggi is dead

Politico -

It “certainly looks” like missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, President Donald Trump said as he was preparing to board Air Force One on Thursday.

“It’s very sad. Certainly looks that way,” Trump said.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Instanbul more than two weeks ago. Turkish intelligence has reported that he was tortured, murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.

Khashoggi was known for his intimate knowledge of the Saudi elite and wrote critically about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi government has shifted stories from aggressively asserting Khashoggi left the consulate alive to floating the idea that he may have died during an interrogation gone wrong.

Trump’s administration had faced growing criticism for not appearing sufficiently confrontational with the Saudi government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took flak for amiably shaking the crown prince’s hand and exchanging pleasantries during his visit to Riyadh this week.

Trump has been slow to make any consequential statements, repeating that he needs more information before assigning blame. His Thursday comments before he boarded Air Force One pushed his stance to acknowledging Khashoggi is likely dead.

Pompeo met with Trump after returning from Saudi Arabia to share what he had discussed with the crown prince. When asked whether the secretary of state had any new information, Trump said on Thursday afternoon that “we’re waiting for some investigations,” adding that three investigations related to the incident are ongoing. Trump and Pompeo have advocated a Saudi-led investigation, which critics say creates a conflict of interest.

In terms of possible consequences if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged death, Trump has rejected the idea of canceling lucrative arms deals. Still, whoever is responsible will face harsh punitive measures, Trump said, rushing to answer questions and board his plane.

“Well, it will have to be very severe,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff, but we’ll see what happens. OK? Thank you. See you on the plane.”

Interior accuses Ben Carson of sending 'false information' about watchdog

Politico -

The Interior Department on Thursday disavowed any attempt to name a political appointee to head the office investigating Secretary Ryan Zinke, despite a claim by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson that the move was underway.

The Interior statement disputes an email Friday in which Carson had said Suzanne Tufts, a HUD official and Republican operative with no ethics review experience on her resume, was heading to Interior to become its acting inspector general. That would have placed her in charge of several investigations into Zinke's travels, political activities and relations with industry groups.

“HUD sent out an email that had false information in it,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email. “Ms. Tufts is not employed by the Department and no decision was ever made to move her to Interior."

Swift said the White House had referred Tufts to the Interior Department as a potential candidate for a position in the inspector general’s office, but "[at] the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior."

Swift's statement did not explain how seriously Interior had considered Tufts for the position, whether Zinke had been prepared to overlook her lack of ethics experience, and whether the department's decision not to hire her was influenced by the outcry from congressional Democrats and government watchdog groups.

Democratic lawmakers said they still want an explanation about what Carson and Zinke were up to.

“This administration can’t stop embarrassing itself or keep its story straight for five minutes,” said Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

“If the Interior Department’s explanation is that Secretary Carson doesn’t know what his own staff are doing, they should explain whether Ms. Tufts is needed at HUD or not," Grijalva added. "What is her job there? If they’re trying to shift blame for their latest scandal and backtrack while there’s still time, they should just say so. Either way, nobody is buying this explanation and we’re not going to stop pressing for answers.”

Spokespeople for the White House and HUD did not immediately reply to questions. Swift’s statement is the first detailed information on Tufts the administration has offered since Carson’s email became public this week following reports in POLITICO and other outlets.

House Democrats and good-governance groups said Tufts had neither the independence nor experience to carry through on the open ethics investigations into Zinke, including a probe of his possible links with Halliburton Chairman Dave Lesar in a Montana land deal involving Zinke’s wife. The IG’s office is also investigating allegations that he abused official Interior travel policy and that he bowed to political pressure in blocking American Indian tribes from opening a casino.

IG directors must be nominated by the president and then confirmed by the Senate, according to the Inspector General Act of 1978. The Interior IG office has not had a permanent leader since its former director stepped down in 2009.

Mary Kendall, the current Interior deputy inspector general, continues to work at the office, Swift said.

The IG director is supposed to be a nonpartisan position and nominees typically come from the ranks of career staff.

Zinke interviewed at least three people for the job in May 2017, according to his official calendars. E&E News first reported the interviews.

Trump moves Texas rally for Cruz, citing ‘huge and unprecedented’ response

Politico -

President Donald Trump has moved his Texas rally for Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection campaign to a larger venue because of what a top aide called “huge and unprecedented” ticket sales.

“Response for tickets to #MAGA rally #Houston Mon 10/22 has been HUGE and unprecedented!” Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “This will be an epic rally, so we’re moving to @ToyotaCenter. Want to make sure everyone coming knows the venue changed!”

The president has fumed over reports about the relatively small crowd size for his inauguration, and since then has taken issue with media reports accusing him of inflating crowd sizes.

Trump tweeted in late August that he would headline a “major rally” for Cruz, who faces Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, by picking “the biggest stadium in Texas” he could find. “As you know, Ted has my complete and total Endorsement,” he wrote. “His opponent is a disaster for Texas — weak on Second Amendment, Crime, Borders, Military, and Vets!”

The Trump campaign originally chose Houston’s NRG Arena, which can hold 8,000, and then abruptly changed locations on Thursday to the Toyota Center, which can hold 19,000, according to its website.

The largest stadium in Texas, and the fourth-largest nationally, is Kyle Field at Texas A&M University, which can hold 102,995.

Corker rails against White House's intel 'clampdown' on Khashoggi

Politico -

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker warned the Trump administration on Thursday that its information “clampdown” on the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi can’t go on.

The Tennessee Republican said in an interview he sought to view recent U.S. intelligence on Monday and Tuesday regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder in Turkey this month but was told by U.S. officials that he could not do so. Corker suggested that the administration’s current opaque position on who may have killed Khashoggi and whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is responsible may be untenable.

“This is going to come to a head in a very short amount of time. This isn’t getting better over time. It seems to me over the next week or so people are going to know more about what happened,” Corker said. “There has been a clampdown on any further intelligence updates to senators … it can’t go on that long, they need to come out and share their views of what happened and share with us.”

Corker, like many senators, said he believes that bin Salman is likely responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, though he concedes he isn't yet certain. But even absent a smoking gun, some Republicans have been direct about bin Salmon’s involvement.

“This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it? I feel used and abused,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Fox News this week. Bin Salman "can never be a world leader on the world stage."

The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing to receive intelligence updates on Khashoggi, an aide said. But Corker said he has only been able to view intelligence that’s a week old or more. On Tuesday he asked to view intelligence in a secure compartment in the Capitol and received an “apologetic” call from an official who informed him that no more information would be given to members of Congress.

Corker said he is “disappointed” about the blackout, but he understands why the intelligence pipeline to Congress has stopped. The Trump administration, he said, is trying to regroup in the face of bipartisan outrage toward Saudi Arabia’s possible role in the death of a journalist.

The United States is often aligned with Saudi Arabia on fighting terrorism in the Middle East, and sells billions in weapons to the Saudis. Some senators have sought to block those sales, and they indicated in recent interviews that they will try once again after the midterm election.

The president and his administration say that Congress is jumping to conclusions too quickly, and Trump has compared bin Salman’s treatment to that of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia this week to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance and briefed the president on it Thursday.

“They assured me they will complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and will do so in a timely fashion. And that his report itself will be transparent,” Pompeo said. “I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that.”

But if there is evidence that clears the Saudi Arabian leader, members of Congress want to see it soon.

“Everything that we’ve seen thus far is pointed at MBS,” Corker said. “We may well find out if MBS was not involved, though I would be shocked … I don’t think the administration can allow this to squirrel around too much longer without taking a definitive position.”

Elana Schor contributed to this report.

Democrats question whether controversial Interior watchdog pick was vetted

Politico -

Democratic lawmakers are asking the association of government watchdogs whether it has vetted a controversial candidate who is slated to become the Interior Department’s inspector general and take over the ongoing probes into Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The letter from Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee to the head of the inspectors general group questions whether Suzanne Tufts, a GOP political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is qualified to oversee the agency's internal watchdog. Critics have alleged Tufts has no background in ethical investigations, and they worry her appointment could be an effort to undermine the probes on Zinke that the current IG has open.

“It is not clear that the new acting IG is sufficiently qualified or politically independent to take the helm of the Office of Inspector General," states the letter House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) sent to the council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an association that normally recommends IG candidates.

“The mere threat of replacing an IG when the head of the agency it overseas is under heavy scrutiny will send a signal to current and future IGs through the federal government that releasing unfavorable findings may threaten their job,” the letter continues. The lawmakers ask whether the association had looked at Tufts' qualifications prior to her being suggested for the office.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced Tufts' move to Interior to be acting IG in an October 12 email to staff. Since then, spokespeople at HUD, Interior and the White House have not answered questions about when she would start, why she was making the move and how that affect Mary Kendall, the deputy director at Interior‘s IG office who has helmed the agency since its last permanent director stepped down in 2009.

Kendall was still employed at the IG’s office and had received no word of a change in leadership, a spokeswoman for that office said.

Spokespeople for Interior and HUD did not immediately reply to calls for comment.

No Evidence Ginsburg Vowed to Resign Over Kavanaugh

FactCheck -

Q: Did Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg say she would “resign” if Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court?

A: No. There is no evidence to support that claim made in a viral meme.


Speaking at a New York City event in August, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that she would like to stay on the bench until 2023.

“I’m now 85,” she said. “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years.”

Yet a claim being floated on social media alleges Ginsburg “said she would resign if [Brett] Kavanuagh was confirmed.” We could find no evidence Ginsburg ever made that comment, which has been shared as a popular meme on Facebook.

Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July, weeks before Ginsburg said she envisioned staying in her current role for years to come.

And, last month, amid the deeply contentious battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Ginsburg lamented the Senate proceedings as a “highly partisan show.”

“The way it was, was right. The way it is, is wrong,” she said, comparing the current process to her experience in 1993, when she was confirmed in a 96-3 vote. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was.”

If Ginsburg, who was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton, were to step down, her vacancy would present Trump with an opportunity to nominate another justice to the highest court — further deepening the conservative majority achieved through Kavanaugh’s addition.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


Berman, Dan. “Ginsburg suggests she has at least five more years on the Supreme Court.” CNN. 21 Aug 2018.

Interview of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. George Washington University. Facebook. 12 Sep 2018.

The post No Evidence Ginsburg Vowed to Resign Over Kavanaugh appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-Science

Real Clear Politics -

Jeanne Mancini, RealClearPolitics
This year, March for Life leadership wanted to draw attention to the fact that science and technology continue to reveal the humanity and life of an unborn person even in its very earliest stages. That’s why the 2019 March for Life theme is “Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-Science.”


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