Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Flake’

Grassley Says He Won’t Delay Kavanaugh Hearing As Moderate Republicans Fall In Line

September 19, 2018

Democrats’ Hail Mary play to stymie the confirmation of Trump SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh is beginning to fizzle out. As angry Dems demanded that a Monday hearing on the allegations against Kavanaugh be delayed until the FBI has a chance to investigate, turncoat Republicans (on whom the Dems had been depending for votes) instead withdrew their support and fell in line after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley declared that he would not honor Democrats’ request. Grassley revealed his intention to stand firm late Tuesday after lawyers for Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey, who is claiming that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her 35 years ago when the two were 17-year-old high school students, said their client wouldn’t be wiling to appear at Monday’s hearing. 

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According to the HillGrassley said Tuesday that there was “no reason” to delay the hearing now that Republicans have invited both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser, to testify publicly. However, while Ford’s attorneys have insisted that their client has taken a polygraph test and “deserves to be heard”, Ford has bizarrely insisted that the FBI should have an opportunity to investigate her claims before she appears before the committee in order to spare her the “trauma” of confronting her alleged assailant.

Ford’s lawyers conveyed her request in the form of a letter sent to the committee, a copy of which was obtained by CNN.

But Grassley said he would refuse this request as several Republicans who had appeared to be on the cusp of defecting after saying that the confirmation hearing, initially scheduled for Thursday, should be delayed said they wouldn’t support further delays should Ford prove unwilling to testify.

Here’s the Hill:

“Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), who was one of the first Republicans to call for the Judiciary Committee to hit pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Sunday.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told reporters earlier Tuesday that Ford’s lack of response to the committee about testifying was “puzzling.”

And GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, who had threatened to vote against Kavanaugh if Ford wasn’t given the chance to be heard, told CNN that he expected the committee to move on if she doesn’t appear.

“I think we’ll have to move to the markup,” he told CNN. “I hope she does (appear). I think she needs to be heard.”

Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegations and insisted he didn’t attend the party where the physical assault allegedly took place. Patrick Smyth, a fellow former Georgetown Prep student whom Ford alleges was also in attendance during the party issued a statement via his lawyer standing up for Kavanaugh. And in a separate letter to Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, not only does Smyth repudiate Ford’s allegations, but he adds that he doesn’t remember this party even taking place.

Aaron Blake


Smyth’s statement is being cast as a denial. It’s more nuanced than that.

“I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct…”

Of course, Feinstein – who admitted last night that she couldn’t say for certain that Ford’s story is entirely truthful – sat on Ford’s allegations for three months before referring them to the FBI and sharing them with other lawmakers (who purportedly “leaked” it to the press). President Trump on Tuesday said that he “feels sorry” for Kavanaugh, adding that he doesn’t want to “play into [Democrats] hands”, presumably by giving them more time to drag out the confirmation process.

“They should have done this a long time ago, three months ago, not now. But they did it now. So I don’t want to play into their hands,” Trump said.

Without the support of their Republican allies, Democrats will lack the votes on the committee to hold up the nomination past Monday. Though bizarrely, Kavanaugh himself hasn’t said yet whether he would or wouldn’t testify, which begs the question: If neither Kavanaugh nor Ford appear at the hearing, what exactly will lawmakers discuss?


Feinstein on Kavanaugh accusations: I don’t know if ‘everything is truthful’

September 19, 2018

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she can’t be sure of the veracity of everything alleged by the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, though she later emphasized that she finds the witness “credible.”

Feinstein told reporters on Capitol Hill that Ford had been “profoundly impacted” by her experience, according to National Review, but added that she “can’t say” if the allegations are “truthful.”

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“[Ford] is a woman that has been, I think, profoundly impacted,” she said, according to National Review.

“I’m the lead Democrat, so this is all up to the Republican side,” Feinstein added in the video recorded by Fox News. “I can’t say everything is truthful, I don’t know, she continues.”

Feinstein’s office declined to comment to The Hill, pointing instead to her earlier remarks on Twitter. The senator expanded her remarks in later comments to CNN, calling Ford “credible,” and calling for an investigation.

Her remarks came just minutes after the California Democrat tweeted that she found Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California, to be “sincere” and “believable” in her correspondence with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Feinstein is the ranking member.

“During every step of this process, I’ve found every single piece of information from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford eminently credible, sincere and believable,” she wrote on Twitter.

“She knew this would have a huge effect on her life and she was incredibly brave to come forward,” Feinstein added Tuesday afternoon.

Ford made headlines over the weekend by coming forward in a Washington Post interview and accusing Kavanaugh, then a high school student, of holding her down and groping her at a party while trying to remove her clothes and muffle her screams for help with his hand.

The allegations threw a major roadblock in the way of his Supreme Court nomination, previously thought to be on track following the conclusion of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations, and the White House has shown no sign of halting his nomination despite calls from some Republicans including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for Ford’s allegations to be heard.


Republicans under pressure over Trump’s nomination for top court

September 17, 2018

Woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault identifies herself ahead of scheduled vote
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Brett Kavanaugh denied the allegations of an attack last week © AP

By Sam Fleming in Washington 

Republicans came under pressure to delay the process of confirming President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court after a woman who had accused him of sexual assault identified herself publicly in a newspaper interview.

Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told the Washington Post that Brett Kavanaugh had attacked her when they were teenagers. Ms Ford, now a research psychologist in California, said he had pinned her to a bed at a party when she was 15 and covered her mouth.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the Post quoted Ms Ford as saying. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Mr Kavanaugh categorically denied the allegations of an attack last week after a New Yorker article published details of the alleged incident without including the name of the accuser.

Following weeks of hearings the Judiciary Committee has been preparing for a vote on Thursday to advance the nomination of Mr Kavanaugh. He had appeared to be on a smooth path to entering the Supreme Court in October until the allegations surfaced.

The judge has been chosen by Mr Trump to fill a vacancy on the country’s highest court created by the departure of Anthony Kennedy.

It is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee

On Sunday night Jeff Flake, a Republican senator and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told US media outlets that he was uncomfortable proceeding with the confirmation without hearing more details about the allegations.

Earlier Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, called on Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to allow time for an inquiry into the allegations.

“Sen Grassley must postpone vote until, at a very minimum, these serious & credible allegations are thoroughly investigated,” Mr Schumer said on social media.

A spokesman for Mr Grassley said that following the revelations of Ms Ford’s identity, the chairman was working to set up a follow-up call with Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote.

However, Mr Flake told the Post that Mr Kavanaugh’s accuser must be heard and that a vote should not be held until the committee had a chance to hear more from Ms Ford.

Lindsey Graham, another Republican senator and Judiciary Committee member, said that he would gladly listen to what Ms Ford had to say if she wished to provide evidence to the committee. If so, this should happen immediately so that the process can continue as scheduled, he added.

The White House has defended Mr Trump’s nominee, and on Thursday it said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had repeatedly vetted him for highly sensitive roles throughout his 25 years of public service.

Republicans have attacked Democrats over their handling of the allegations, accusing them of sitting on the information until late in the proceedings and attempting to stall the process.

An account of the alleged attack was previously detailed in a letter sent to two Democratic lawmakers earlier this year. Last week one of the recipients, Dianne Feinstein of California, said in a statement that she had received “information from an individual” concerning Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

“That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honoured that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities,” said Ms Feinstein, the highest ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

The FBI said in a statement on Thursday: “Upon receipt of the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process.” An FBI official said the bureau had not launched a criminal investigation of Mr Kavanaugh.

Ms Feinstein said in a statement on Sunday that she supported Ms Ford’s decision to share her story. “Now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee,” she said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday evening.


Ariz. GOP Senate hopeful: McCain, Flake ‘contributed’ in Iowa woman’s death

August 22, 2018

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Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward on Tuesday said Arizona Sens. John McCain (R) and Jeff Flake (R), as well as her primary opponent Rep. Martha McSally (R), helped “contribute” to the death of an Iowa woman who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant.

Ward called McSally an “amnesty advocate” and said that Arizona needs “true leadership in the Senate.”

“The lack of leadership & courage by open border senators like (Arizona Republicans Flake and McCain) amnesty advocate Martha McSally contribute to these senseless deaths,” Ward tweeted on Tuesday, linking to an article about the murdered woman, Mollie Tibbetts. “We need true leadership in the Senate to #BuildTheWall & secure our borders!”

A spokeswoman for McSally said she would not “dignify” Ward’s comment with a response, The Arizona Republic reported.

National reports have closely followed the search for Tibbetts, who disappeared in July.

Her body was discovered on Tuesday, and police have arrested suspect Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Rivera is an undocumented immigrant and Mexican national, fueling talking points for border security advocates.

McCain and Flake have both long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, even collaborating with Democrats in the 2013 “Gang of Eight,” a group of lawmakers dedicated to passing legislation on the issue.

McCain has been undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer at his home in Arizona.

Ward has frequently targeted McSally on the issue of immigration and has positioned herself as a fervent supporter of President Trump and his policies.

An August poll showed McSally with an 8-point lead over Ward heading into the Aug. 28 primary.

This week, Ward hit the road for a “Road to Victory” bus tour alongside Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).


Senate Democratic incumbents expect easier road to re-election in midterms

July 21, 2018

In 2012, Sen. Sherrod Brown faced more than $24 million in ads from conservative groups opposing his first reelection.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown

Six years later, the Democrat has been forgotten as outside groups have almost entirely abandoned the Ohio airwaves, vastly improving his chances to win a third term in November.

Brown’s comfortable position comes as something of a surprise given President Trump won Ohio by more than 8 percentage points in 2016.

But a new study, by a Republican strategist, suggests it should not be a surprise at all. Bruce Mehlman, a former Bush administration official, surveyed the past 10 midterm elections — covering 333 Senate races dating to 1978 — and discovered Brown’s standing is actually the norm for a midterm election. And it is all because of Trump.

“The single most important factor is whether your party occupies the White House. If you are out of power and an incumbent, you just rarely lose,” said Mehlman, now a partner at a bipartisan lobbying firm.

Consider other Senate Democrats in similar states. Brown is one of five running in a state Trump won by single digits. Four other members of the Democratic caucus are seeking reelection from states Trump narrowly lost.

Of those nine contests, Florida is the only toss-up, according to independent handicappers.

Republicans are trailing in the other races, at this point, reducing the amount of defense Democrats will have to play this fall.

For certain, it is still a difficult climate for Democrats. They are defending five seats in states where Trump won by a minimum of 19 percentage points two years ago and remains relatively popular now. In Florida, which Trump won by just 1 percentage point, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is in a dogfight against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

And Republicans are only defending two seats, in Nevada and Arizona, where Clinton was competitive in 2016. They potentially face tough contests in Tennessee and Texas.

All this followed a historical set of races two years ago, in which all 36 states holding Senate races went in the same partisan direction as that state’s presidential ballot.

This created the potential for Democrats to suffer big losses in 2018, putting Republicans near the elusive figure of 60 seats and a filibuster-proof majority.

Democratic senators such as Brown, Robert J. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) might have seemed ripe for at least very strong challenges when Trump was sworn in January 2017, coming from states that voted twice for Barack Obama and then gave Trump the margin to win the presidency.

Instead, Democrats are currently in control of those races and appear to have minimized their potential losses to a seat or two, with the outside chance of running the table to win the majority.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said these senators will support Trump in some areas — Brown’s trade policy aligns with the president’s in some respects — but they are openly campaigning on how they will “be an independent senator” for their state.

“That means being a check on Trump when necessary,” Van Hollen said.

History suggests Trump’s triumph provided the key boost to their chances of victory in November, and Mehlman’s analysis reveals how the longest of long shots, a Democratic wave big enough to claim the majority, might not be unfathomable.

Since the 1978 midterm elections, 23 incumbent senators have run for reelection from a state a president from the other party had won two years earlier by single-digit margins.

The Senate incumbent from the opposition party has won all 23 contests.

That is the sort of historical reassurance that helps Nelson, Brown, Casey, Baldwin and Stabenow, who hope to extend that streak to 28 for 28 in November.

Trump’s sustained unpopularity in these states has freed up these incumbents to be more forceful in their challenges to the president. Casey, for example, announced his opposition to any Supreme Court nominee of Trump’s several hours before the president announced Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as his pick. Stabenow waited a couple days but rejected Kavanaugh without even the courtesy meeting with the nominee.

But what about those five Democrats from big-time states supporting Trump? History is much kinder than anyone would have expected, according to Mehlman.

Since 1978, 43 senators have run in midterm elections in which a president of the other party won their state by more than 10 percentage points just two years earlier.

And 39 of those senators have won, almost 91 percent of them.

Think Sen. Susan Collins (R), who coasted in 2014 despite Obama’s easy victories in Maine. Or then-Sen. Kent Conrad’s easy reelection in 2006 two years after George W. Bush carried North Dakota by more than 25 percentage points.

This year’s Senate races will put that math to the test perhaps like never before, with Sen. Joe Manchin III, for example, running as a Democrat in a state where Hillary Clinton received just 26 percent of the vote two years ago.

And yet, according to Politico, the top GOP super PAC canceled a $750,000 ad buy set to run over the last half of July in West Virginia, a sign that maybe Manchin is in a stronger than expected position.

Republicans face a mixed bag in terms of states in which they are playing defense. Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) is the only GOP incumbent running in a state that went for Clinton, by a slim margin, and incumbents running in those circumstances have won less than 70 percent of the time.

In Arizona, where Trump won by single digits and Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is retiring, history is not kind. The party holding that open seat, in a state its president narrowly won, has prevailed just 30 percent of the time.

It is almost as if Senate races have tilted into two different geographical maps. In presidential years, incumbents need to line up with whoever their state favors for the White House.

In midterms, not so much.

Lawmakers to President Trump: End Putin Summit Mystery

July 21, 2018

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use his one-on-one meeting with President Trump in Helsinki to drive a wedge between NATO allies by claiming secret side deals with the United States.

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Congressional Republicans are urging the White House to get ahead of the Kremlin by defining what was and wasn’t agreed to. What was said between the two leaders, they admit, remains a disconcerting mystery.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says he has “no idea” what Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov meant when he said Wednesday that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.”

Corker expressed concern about talk that the White House and Kremlin are “setting up a second meeting so they can begin implementation” of these mystery agreements.

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Bob Corker

Other Republicans pointed to the lack of transparency as problematic.

“I don’t know what happened privately, nobody does,” said Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), adding that Trump needs to publicize whatever efforts he made to push back against Putin in their private meeting.

“It’s not enough just to raise it privately because everyone is watching, including our allies, including the people of Russia, including our intelligence agencies,” he said of any grievances Trump may have aired with Putin.

Members of Congress worry that Russia will use the Helsinki summit to undermine U.S. relations with NATO allies, especially with former Eastern Bloc and Soviet states that Putin views as within his country’s traditional sphere of influence.

Antonov said this week that Trump and Putin reached verbal agreements on two charged issues: Syria and arms control.

“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and frequent Trump critic. “The Russians will use this.”

“There’s so little trust of this president, our president, among our allies,” he added.

U.S. security officials recognize that undermining NATO is one of Putin’s top foreign policy goals.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford warned Congress last year that Russia “every day is undermining the credibility of our alliance commitment to NATO and our ability to respond to NATO.”

Republican lawmakers worry that Trump may be unwittingly advancing that strategy by criticizing allies sharply at a NATO summit in Brussels and then embracing Putin in Helsinki.

Flake noted that in a recent trip to Latvia he and his colleagues witnessed a concerted Russian propaganda campaign to convince Baltic states that “NATO is weak” and “America is an unreliable ally.”

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank said that while Russia’s remarks about the outcome of an international summit wouldn’t normally be viewed as credible, Trump’s unorthodox style creates an atmosphere of uncertainty.

“In normal circumstances I would say that statements by Russia about their inferences about particular meetings are not especially credible or important or right or destabilizing,” she said. “The problem is because our president is himself so loosey-goosey about his leadership, about these meetings, about fundamentally everything that we can begin to worry.”

But agreements entered into solely by the president don’t carry a lot of weight, she said, pointing to former President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that largely circumvented congressional approval.

“If the president has verbal discussions with anybody and no one else is there, no one can reasonably be expected to act on them,” she said.

Even so, congressional Republicans aren’t taking any chances about how the optics of the situation may affect bedrock international security arrangements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the unusual step of telling European Union allies Tuesday that Republicans in Congress value NATO and view Russia as a hostile adversary.

“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell told reporters. “We understand the Russian threat.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) warned on the Senate floor Thursday that the president and senior U.S. officials should be careful not to undermine Western alliances.

“Words matter. And what Americans say can bolster or shake confidence in the United States,” Moran said, adding that a recent trip to Moscow, Norway and Finland left him “unconvinced that that Russia is prepared to change its behavior.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, said concern that fallout from the summit could weaken U.S.-NATO relations “is warranted.”

But he said “it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.”

NATO alliances don’t depend on the president alone, he noted.

“If, for example, Trump promised somehow to abandon an ally, first of all he really couldn’t if a treaty binds us to them, and second of all, the ally would presumably raise this issue with us the minute the Russians whispered some threat in their ear,” O’Hanlon said. “At that point, Trump would have the chance to deny or correct or repudiate whatever the Russians were saying.”

Nevertheless, longtime U.S. allies have been unsettled by Trump’s foreign policy stances, even before he met with Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in May that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement “damages trust in the international order,” and that Europe could no longer rely on the United States to provide for its security.

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands,” she said.

Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said “we shouldn’t be just guessing on the statements of the Russian ambassador” about what was agreed to at the summit.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has demanded the U.S. government translator who attended the private Trump-Putin meeting be made available to testify before Congress.

He and other Democrats also want the White House to turn over contemporaneous notes from the summit.


In a letter to Trump this week, Democrats asked what “suggestions” Putin made to the president, whether the two leaders agreed to any changes in international security agreements and whether they made any commitments about the future presence of U.S. military forces in Syria, among other questions.

They also asked if the president discussed sanctions relief for Russia, NATO military exercises in the fall, U.S. security assistance to Ukraine or made any other commitments to Putin.

Republicans say they hope to learn details about what Trump discussed and may have agreed to when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifiesbefore the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

If questions remain after his appearance, Corker said he would consider asking for notes or testimony from the American translator who was present at the meeting with Putin.

But he cautioned it would be a last resort.

“It feels a little out of bounds,” Corker said. “I’m open to listening. I’d rather address it after the Pompeo hearing on Wednesday and see how transparent that ends up being.”

“I’m not going to say no, no, no,” he added. “If there’s no transparency, maybe we’ll revisit it.”

So far, Flake is the only Senate Republican to back Schumer’s call for the White House to turn over notes from the summit.

“I would hope that those notes — all interpreters take notes — would be turned over,” he said Thursday. “We need to know.

Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit

July 20, 2018

Senate Republicans are attempting to dissuade President Trump from holding another summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin anytime soon.

Many GOP senators regard Trump’s meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki earlier this week as a political disaster. Congressional Republicans have since come under intense pressure to renounce the president’s embrace of Putin on the world stage, particularly his apparent acceptance of Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

When asked about the possibility of a second summit, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) hung his head and quipped, “maybe in a year or two.”

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The body language of other GOP senators was equally telling.

“I don’t have anything to say about that today,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), another member of the GOP leadership, lowering his eyes and shaking his head.

The White House confirmed Thursday that Trump has asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to Washington for another rounds of talks in the fall.

“In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted. “President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”

Republican senators made clear that they think rushing into another Helsinki is not a good idea.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) called for a timeout on summits.

“At this point I think we need to clarify where we are,” Capito said, noting there’s still confusion about Trump’s comments and what he agreed to when he met with Putin one-on-one in the Finnish capital.

“It’s a little cloudy, so if he’s asking my advice I would say let’s let the dust settle here,” she added. “Let’s work on some of the issues they talked about.”

Republicans broadly expressed disappointment with the outcome of the Helsinki summit, where Trump gave equal weight to Putin’s election meddling denials and the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

A new poll found similar dismay among constituents.

Only 32 percent of respondents approved of the way Trump handled the summit, according to a CBS News poll released Thursday. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they felt less confident about Trump standing up for U.S. interests after watching him on stage next to Putin.

“That was not a good moment for our country,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), repeating what has become something of a mantra for him this week.


Washington, DC, USA; Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Ten., listens during Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Trump tried multiple times to walk back his statements from the joint press conference with Putin, somberly declaring his acceptance of “our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

But Trump veered off script during his initial walk-back, saying the election interference “could be other people.”

“A lot of people out there,” he said, undercutting U.S. intelligence findings that Russia was the culprit.

Trump drew rebukes from Republican lawmakers later in the week when he said Russia doesn’t pose a threat to the United States, contradicting his own director of national intelligence.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said any claim that Russia doesn’t pose a threat is “just not true.”

“It’s the assessment of everyone I’ve spoken to in the field,” Rubio said.

The White House later said Trump’s threat-related remarks were misunderstood.

There are lingering concerns among GOP lawmakers over what Trump agreed to during the one-on-one meeting with Putin, when translators were the only other people in the room.

Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said Wednesday that Trump and Putin reached “important verbal agreements” during the summit, remarks that caught U.S. officials off guard.

Antonov said the leaders reached agreements on issues related to Syria and arms control.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Trump’s policies, on Thursday backed a demand by Democrats that the White House turn over the contemporaneous notes of the interpreter who translated the private meeting with Putin.

“We’ve got to find out what the Russian ambassador was referring to yesterday when he said that important agreements were reached,” Flake said. “We don’t know. We have no idea. We’ve got to find that out.”

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Jeff Flake

Flake and other congressional Republicans worry that Russia may be trying to claim secret deals to undermine NATO alliances.

Republican senators say Trump needs to be better prepared going into the next summit and deal with Putin more directly about U.S. grievances over Russian policies and actions.

“It’s a good thing to be meeting and to talk, but we’ve got to be sure the message is consistent, strong,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “And unless you’re straightforward with what the problems are, you’re never going to develop a better relationship.”

Senate Republicans hope to get more information about the possibility of a second-round summit with Putin when Secretary of State Mike Pompeotestifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

“I can assure you that next Wednesday, that when Secretary Pompeo comes in, there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Corker said.

When asked about the possibility of another summit in a few months, Corker responded, “Ask me after Wednesday.”


John Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report

July 18, 2018

White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly gave GOP lawmakers the green light to rebuke President Trump‘s controversial remarks from his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three sources told Vanity Fair on the condition of anonymity that Kelly was furious after Trump stood with Putin during their summit in Helsinki and sided with his denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Kelly photographed on the White House grounds, June 28, 2018.

Trump sparked major backlash among U.S. lawmakers and the intelligence community by siding with Putin’s denial instead of the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did intervene in an effort to help Trump win.

Trump also blamed special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation for keeping the U.S. and Russia “separate.”

Kelly told Trump that his remarks might worsen the situation with Mueller, according to Vanity Fair, which reported that the chief of staff then called Republicans on Capitol Hill and told them they could publicly speak out against Trump’s comments.

It’s unclear who anonymously spoke to Vanity Fair for its report, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

GOP lawmakers have largely criticized Trump’s performance in Helsinki — even those who do not typically split with the president.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Trump’s statements “shameful” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they were a “sign of weakness.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said it was wrong to draw a moral equivalence between Russia and the U.S., and insisted the intelligence community is correct in its assessment of Russian interference.

Kelly has stood by the president through other bouts of intense public criticism, but sources told Vanity Fair this was different. They attributed Trump’s quick rollback partially to Kelly’s response.

Trump on Tuesday tried to walk back his remarks, claiming he misspoke when he said he didn’t see “any reason that it would be” Russia that interfered.

“I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’ ” Trump said. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ ”

Trump also said Tuesday that he believes Russia interfered in the presidential election, but again muddied the waters by repeating a claim he has made previously that other parties could have also interfered.

Former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller noted to Vanity Fair that a 24-hour turnaround is abnormal for Trump.

“Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things, like ‘shithole countries,’ ” Miller said.

See also:



Vanity Fair

As he flew home from Helsinki on Air Force One following his disastrous press conference with Vladimir PutinDonald Trump reacted with surprise at the horror and outrage that was being expressed by much of the American political world. By the time he landed, the surprise had turned to anger. “He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican close to the White House told me. The mood among West Wing advisers was downright funereal. “This was the nightmare scenario,” another Republican in frequent contact with the administration said.

Trump had weathered epic crises of his own making before, from the Access Hollywood tape to Charlottesville to “shithole countries.” Each time he survived withering criticism by doubling down and counterattacking. But as he woke up Tuesday morning, Trump had to recognize that his embrace of Putin on the world stage was a crisis of a different magnitude, and he personally stepped in to try to manage the fallout.

While National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to a source, thought Trump’s remarks were ill-advised, he believed that walking them back would only add fuel to the outrage pyre and make the president look weak. But Chief of Staff John Kelly was irate. According to a source, he told Trump it would make things worse for him with Robert Mueller. He also exerted pressure to try to get the president to walk back his remarks. According to three sources familiar with the situation, Kelly called around to Republicans on Capitol Hill and gave them the go-ahead to speak out against Trump. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan held televised press conferences to assert that Russia did meddle in the election.

Trump was boxed in. With seemingly only Rand Paul, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson in his corner, Trump decided to backtrack. Appearing before reporters this afternoon, Trump blamed his comments on a grammatical mistake. “I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” he said, reading from a statement. “The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’”

To those who know Trump best, the 24-hour reversal is a sign that he’s unnerved by the intensity of the backlash he provoked. “The president sent a very clear message [that] his worldview is in sync with his base and members of his party,” former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told me. “Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things like s-hole countries.”

US Treasury chief moves to calm lawmakers’ trade jitters

July 12, 2018


© GETTY/AFP | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was grilled by the House Financial Services Committee by members complaining about the impact of a trade war on US industries and consumers

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday worked to ease lawmakers’ worries about President Donald Trump’s expanding trade offensive.

Mnuchin’s appearance before a key Congressional committee came a day after the US Senate overwhelmingly voted to adopt a symbolic rebuke of the White House, endorsing legal limits on the president’s trade powers.

The Senate vote was nonbinding, but underscored the daylight separating Trump and members of his own Republican party, who have so far shrunk from actively blocking his trade policies.

With scores of billions of dollars in US imports and exports now subject to punitive import duties, higher industrial and consumer prices are beginning to feed into inflation, alarming business leaders.

Economists have repeatedly warned that the growing trade war will depress investment and economic growth.

The International Monetary Fund also has warned against the rising tide of protectionism and the potential to damage the global recovery. The IMF is due to release updated global growth projections on Monday.

But Mnuchin defended Trump’s policies before the House Financial Services Committee, while lawmakers repeatedly pleaded for US products, workers and industries vulnerable to tariffs, including Georgia pecans, Kentucky bourbon, Michigan and South Carolina autos, Missouri soy growers and nail manufacturers.

The committee chairman, outgoing Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, said the tariffs jeopardized US energy independence by raising prices for oilfield equipment. He denounced Trump’s threats to use national security as a justification for even more tariffs on the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual auto imports.

“The 11-year-old Honda Accord I drove to work today simply does not threaten national security, nor does any other imported vehicle,” Hensarling said, urging the White House to focus on China rather than confronting traditional allies like Canada and Europe.

– Asking Harley to stay –

But Mnuchin said in annual testimony on the state of the international financial system that the president’s policies were likely to succeed for all concerned.

“I think that the end game is we’re focused on having free and fair trade for American companies,” Mnuchin said. “I’m cautiously optimistic but I think we’re going to end up in a good place.”

He also said he was paying close attention to vulnerable sectors such as soy beans.

“We have not yet seen any negative impact although… we are monitoring the impact on uncertainty in investment.”

Mnuchin said Trump had urged famed Wisconsin motorcycle maker Harley Davidson not to offshore additional production in response to retaliatory European tariffs.

But he suggested the company had seized on Trump’s tariff policies last month to deflect negative scrutiny from its off-shoring plans.

The company announced last month plans to shift some production overseas due to the 31 percent European tariffs on motorcycles imposed in retaliation for Trump’s steep duties on aluminum and steel.

“My sense is that Harley Davidson had previously planned on moving some of this manufacturing,” he said.

– Iranian oil –

Mnuchin also said Washington continued to urge US allies to cut oil imports from Iran.

Over the objections of allies, Trump in May pulled the United States from a joint deal on Iran’s nuclear program, reinstating US sanctions and effectively barring many multinational firms from doing business in that country.

New US sanctions on Iranian oil exports are set to take effect in November although US officials have floated the possibility of offering some waivers.

“I think we expect that the Iranian oil shipments will decrease significantly,” he said.



Trump trade policies draw bipartisan fire in Congress

July 12, 2018
Republicans and Democrats unite to accuse the president of endangering economic growth
Image may contain: 2 people

Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, denied that Trump trade policies have hurt the US economy © Getty

By Sam Fleming and Courtney Weaver in Washington 

The Trump administration came under fire from both parties on Capitol Hill on Thursday as legislators expressed intensifying concern about the economic damage that could result from a trade war with America’s key partners.

In an unusual display of bipartisan harmony, senior Republicans and Democrats hammered administration officials over the risks to the US economy as Donald Trump pursues trade actions both against China and close US allies including Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused the president of having no strategy on trade and of abusing his authority as he declared: “I have not heard a single senator come back with any earthly idea — any earthly idea — cannot articulate a sentence as to why we are doing this.”

In the House financial services committee, Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman, told Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, that the “economic miracle” the president had fostered may well be lost if the country gets mired in a “full-fledged global trade war with no end in sight.”

Folks are confused. They are anxious and they have a concern. And you just heard it from us on a bipartisan basis

Maxine Waters, the Democratic ranking member of the committee, said the reaction of business — including Harley-Davidson’s decision to move some production overseas to avoid tariffs — promised pain ahead for US workers and consumers.

“The Trump administration appears to be flying by seat of pants with no plan for how to address the possibility of a recession, the higher prices consumers will pay, and the resulting losses of millions of American jobs,” she said.

At a separate event, Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker, joined the chorus of criticism. “We risk having American products locked out of new markets, jobs moved overseas, and a decline in American influence. As our generals will tell you, these agreements are just as important for our national security as they are for our economy,” he told the Economic Club of Washington.

The anxiety comes after the announcement that the administration is beginning the process of imposing tariffs on a further $200bn of imports from China, on top of previous rounds of levies. Business surveys have indicated rising angst among executives and minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest rate-setting meeting reported that some firms have put investments on hold or reduced them.

Mr Mnuchin told members of the House financial services committee that his department had not seen any negative economic impact from the policies but that it was “very much monitoring the impact on the economy of all these different issues.”

Addressing trade tensions, he said there is a planned meeting with the EU later this month and insisted the government was “very focused” on responding to retaliatory measures being imposed on US products by foreign governments. He said the administration was open to renewing talks with China if Beijing showed it wished to make “structural changes”. Talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement were a top priority now the Mexican election was out of the way, he added.

Manisha Singh, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, faced a similarly hostile grilling from Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The toughest line of questioning came from Mr Corker who warned at the start of the hearing that Ms Singh was about to be “cannon fodder”.

“I believe the president is abusing his authorities. I believe it is a massive abuse of his authorities,” Mr Corker said. When Ms Singh attempted to defend the administration, laying out the five pillars of the administration’s plan on trade, Mr Corker shot back: “That enlightened us in no way.”

Mr Corker and Jeff Flake — another Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — have been two of the most outspoken critics of Mr Trump’s trade policies. Both men have announced they are retiring at the end of this term, allowing them more flexibility to go after the president and his policies.

Despite the uproar on Capitol Hill, it is not clear what Congress will do to influence trade policy. On Wednesday, the Senate backed a measure authored by Mr Flake and Mr Corker designed to give Congress a greater say on trade policies. The provision is largely symbolic, although its sweeping passage by a vote of 88-11 underscored the extent of concerns about trade policy on Capitol Hill.

Mr Corker has authored a bill that would roll back Mr Trump’s unilateral trade authority and subject the tariffs that Mr Trump has introduced on national security grounds to congressional approval. So far, Republican leadership has refused to bring Mr Corker’s bill to a vote.

During the Senate hearing, Ms Singh faced criticism from alarmed senators who laid out the impact Mr Trump’s trade gambit was having on their states.

“Folks are confused. They are anxious and they have a concern. And you just heard it from us on a bipartisan basis,” said Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. The closest US allies were “puzzled” and “offended”, he added.

“You are going to put companies in New Mexico out of business with these tariffs,” warned Tom Udall, a Democratic senator from New Mexico.