President Donald Trump’s poor poll numbers have dozens of Democrats reportedly considering challenging him in 2020. But voters haven’t heard of the vast majority of them.
The Republican National Committee raised $10.8 million in May, upping its 2017 fundraising total to $61.9 million, the committee said on Friday.
One White House official says his tweet appearing to confirm obstruction probe came out of nowhere.
President Donald Trump has smarted all week over the stories about the special counsel probe zeroing in on him and his close associates, according to a White House official, spending hours in the White House obsessing over the coverage.
And Trump’s bombshell tweet on Friday morning — appearing to confirm that he’s now under investigation for obstruction of justice and attacking his deputy attorney general — is part of a broader decision by the president to “go on the attack,” the official said.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted on Friday, apparently referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to overtake the sprawling Russia probe.
That he would confirm he is under investigation came out of nowhere, this official said. “I don’t think we have been formally told he’s under investigation,” the official said. “He was commenting on Twitter on all the stories that are out there.”
Trump has been told repeatedly not to post such missives on Twitter but has decided he is in for a political fight, according to one outside adviser briefed on the strategy. Advisers have told him to use his Twitter to boost his political message or attack Democrats instead of talking about the legal case. But Trump doesn’t trust others to share his message, this person said, because they don’t want to share it the way he does.
Trump on Friday morning boasted about the power of his Twitter feed. “The Fake News Media hates when I use what has turned out to be my very powerful Social Media — over 100 million people! I can go around them,” he wrote.
One White House official said Trump doesn’t think the tweets will have any legal ramifications against him. “I know of only one person in the White House who thinks the tweets are a great idea,” the official said. “He sits in the Oval Office.”
A barrage of damaging stories emerged this week, including a Washington Post report that said Mueller’s probe has expanded to also explore whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the Russia probe, and allegedly pressuring intelligence officials to interfere in the probe. Another Post report on Thursday night alleged that Mueller is also looking at the business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.
Trump has lashed out on Twitter repeatedly, calling the reports of obstruction of justice “phony” and railing against what he called “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”
A White House spokesman referred a request for comment on Friday’s tweets to the president’s legal team. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney handling Russia probe matters, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The tweets also are seen by some in the president’s circle as the beginning of a case against the officials investigating him. White House officials had no case ready for the dismissal of Comey and received heavy criticism for the conflicting explanations about his departure.
Trump’s surrogates have launched a broad campaign to discredit Mueller, claiming conflicts of interest and that he has been bringing on prosecutors who have supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and an ally of Trump, even floated the idea earlier this week that Trump was prepared to oust Mueller.
Rosenstein and Mueller are, for now, unlikely to be fired immediately. But Trump apparently wants to keep the option open. One adviser said the comments trashing Mueller and Rosenstein from Trump and others “should not be viewed as just a pure coincidence.”
“President Trump has started the clock on the Rosenstein firing watch,” said Evan Siegfried, a GOP strategist. “This is feeding the private discussions in the GOP about the president’s state of mind.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has assured an Alaska constituent that she’s committed to preserving Planned Parenthood funding as part of a health care bill — the strongest line she’s drawn yet over one of the most controversial elements of the Obamacare repeal effort.
“I am committed to ensuring that important provisions of the ACA, such as covering those with pre-existing conditions, continued support for Medicaid expansion, coverage for dependents and no lifetime limits, and funding for Planned Parenthood remain intact,” Murkowski wrote in the constituent letter obtained by POLITICO.
Murkowski is one of the most important swing votes in the health care debate, making her position on Planned Parenthood potentially pivotal to the shape of the final bill. Most Republicans, as well as anti-abortion groups, want the organization defunded as part of the health bill.
In the past, Murkowski has said publicly that she doesn’t think Planned Parenthood defunding should be part of the repeal effort. But she hasn’t said that she would automatically vote against a bill that included it.
When asked about the letter this week, Murkowski repeated that she wouldn’t make a promise on a bill she hasn’t seen. Instead, she said she is a “strong proponent [of Planned Parenthood] and I will fight to keep the funding in. I can’t make promises or representations on bills that I don’t know the contents of. I guess I’d have to see. But I have been solid on Planned Parenthood. It’s all about access.”
Murkowski told POLITICO that she supports funding the organization “because what that does is it provides greater access for more women, more men and in my state, anything that you do to reduce access is a bad thing.”
Murkowski has emerged as one of the greatest skeptics of the Obamacare repeal bill, publicly chastising the effort as too secretive and warning against the defunding provision. Senate Republican leaders need 50 of the group’s 52 members to support the legislation to get it through the Senate.
Murkowski’s voting record on Planned Parenthood funding has shifted over time. She has repeatedly pleased and angered the anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights groups in Washington and Alaska.
Earlier this year, she joined Democrats, as well as fellow Republican moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, to oppose an effort to make it easier for states to defund the program.
In 2015, shortly after sting videos were released alleging that the organization sells body parts, she voted in support of a procedural measure to allow defunding of Planned Parenthood. She later said she cast the vote only to offer an amendment that would have required a Justice Department investigation before the group was actually defunded.
She also supported the 2015 Republican Obamacare repeal bill, which defunded Planned Parenthood. Murkowski and Collins supported an unsuccessful amendment to allow funding. But Republicans knew the measure would be vetoed by former President Barack Obama.
The Pentagon is pushing back against reports that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has decided to dispatch 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, insisting no decision has been made pending consultations with other government agencies and allies.
“Secretary Mattis has made no decisions on a troop increase for Afghanistan,” the Defense Department said in a statement Friday. “As he said throughout the week in testimony, the revised Afghanistan strategy will be presented to the president for his approval in the coming weeks.”
President Donald Trump has delegated more authority to the Pentagon to make decisions on troop levels and strategy — a departure from President Barack Obama, who was widely criticized for micro-managing deployment decisions.
“The president has delegated force management authority for Afghanistan to the secretary,” the Pentagon statement continued. “The secretary will continue to follow the president’s guidance on our overall strategy. Any decisions about troop numbers will be made only after consultation with the interagency, the Afghan government, NATO allies and coalition partners.”
The Republican National Committee raised $10.8 million in May, upping its 2017 fundraising total to $61.9 million, the committee said on Friday.
The RNC said it was its best fundraising haul in May of a post-presidential year. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel credited the “network of loyal grass-roots donors across the country and bold leadership from President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans,” she said in a statement.
“We are incredibly grateful to the unprecedented number of donations that continue to pour in from across America,” said RNC Finance Chairman Steve Wynn. “Breaking yet another fundraising record would not be possible without the unwavering commitment from Republican supporters, who know the president and Republican leadership are dedicated to improving and strengthening our country.”
In May, the RNC spent $10.5 million, finishing with $41.8 million in cash on hand and no debt.
The Democratic National Committee hasn’t released its totals for May. In April, the DNC brought in $4.7 million and spent $6.4 million. The committee finished April with $8.8 million in the bank.
Last week, the DNC announced its new finance director, Emily Mellencamp Smith, a veteran Democratic fundraiser who recently worked with New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2016. The DNC said in a statement that it would be building out its finance operation to include 30 staffers and a “new multi-channel grassroots fundraising effort.”
The DOJ said Friday that it will switch sides in a Supreme Court case, dropping its previous support for workers to throw its weight behind management.
The case, NLRB v. Murphy Oil, addresses whether an employment contract that requires the employee to waive his or her right to bring a class-action lawsuit against the employer violates the National Labor Relations Act.
Last year, the Obama DOJ weighed in on the side of the National Labor Relations Board, which had ruled that such arbitration agreements violated federal labor law. Now DOJ will weigh in on the side of Murphy Oil, which argued that they do not.
In its new amicus brief , the DOJ argues that “nothing in the NLRA’s legislative history indicates that Congress intended to bar enforcement of arbitration agreements like those at issue here.” The DOJ acknowledged that it previously supported the NLRB’s position, but that “after the change in administration, the office reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion.”
It is rare for the DOJ to switch positions in a Supreme Court case.
The case comes at a time when mandatory arbitration agreements are attracting media attention because of last year’s sexual harassment allegations against Fox News. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, sued Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, instead of Fox News, to avoid a mandatory arbitration clause in her contract. In that instance, though, the mandatory arbitration clause concerned individual claims against the company, not class actions.
Candidate Donald Trump made rising drug costs a signature issue during his campaign and beefed up his criticisms after the election, saying in January that the drug industry was “getting away with murder.”
The comments unnerved drug executives, but six months later, the industry is no longer in a state of panic.
The administration is not proposing, as Trump did on the campaign trail, that the government negotiate drug prices or allow the importation of cheaper drugs from abroad. At a meeting Friday, top Trump administration officials reportedly made little progress on even on more modest goals that are said to be an executive order on drug prices, which the White House is pushing to release.
The meeting which was led by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and included top leadership of U.S. health agencies, trade officials and senior Trump advisors like Gary Cohn and Reed Cordish, ended with little agreement.
A White House spokesperson said only that the meeting is “part of the ongoing discussions to reduce the burden of the high cost of drug prescriptions and unleash a wave of innovation to develop cures and treatments for patients.”
The bickering among top officials comes amid already low expectations that the White House is willing to take steps that might anger the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.
With Trump still pushing for a quick populist win, some anticipate the administration could take a smaller step next week, such as announcing the FDA will speed generic drug approvals — a move that would spur competition among these cheaper copycats of branded medicines. FDA-centric policies are the one area where there has been more consensus, sources close to the process said.
The administration is not discussing taking “broad action to curb drug pricing,” analyst Terry Haines who follows Washington politics for investment bank EverCore ISI said Friday.
“If anything, the limited scope of the discussions should be good news for the pharmaceutical and bio industries and investors because nothing like sweeping action to curb drug prices is under discussion and the industry probably will not view the subjects of the Trump discussions … negatively. “
There are even some signs the administration proposals under discussion may help — rather than harm the drug industry.
“Our industry sources indicate that pharma expects it has successfully shifted the dialogue from the high price of innovation to transparency and other parts of the supply chain,” Wells Fargo analyst David Maris wrote in a note to investors Thursday evening. “As such, several drug company executives have expressed the belief that Trump’s drug price approach will not include drug re-importation and Medicare negotiation of drug prices.”
The industry’s growing confidence comes in part from the presence of key allies in the White House: Joe Grogan, OMB’s director of health programs, is working on the executive order, according to multiple sources inside and outside of the government. Grogan spent the last five years as the head of federal affairs for Gilead Sciences — the drug company that helped ignite the drug pricing debate in 2013, when it set the price of a new hepatitis C treatment at more than $80,000.
Grogan does not have a White House ethics waiver, meaning that under a policy implemented in January, he is supposed to recuse himself from issues he lobbied on in recent years.
He’s not the only administration official who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Trump on drug pricing.
HHS Secretary Tom Price was part of the congressional effort to kill the Obama administration’s last-ditch attempt to tackle drug pricing last year through a Medicare pilot that would have paid doctors less for some high cost drugs — such as some cancer treatments — administered in physician’s offices.
The White House may decide to do a “check-the-box” type of exercise, said several sources close to the discussion, for instance, issuing an order that calls for FDA, Medicare and Medicaid and other federal programs to work on drug pricing measures. That would demonstrate Trump’s commitment to the issue while more nuanced policies are crafted.
If the order goes into more specifics, most expect it will include a directive for the government to allow agreements between insurers and manufacturers that tie payment for a drug to how well it works.
It’s an idea long promoted by the drug industry itself.
Other ideas floated in an OMB list drafted earlier this spring and seen by POLITICO include policies that read like gifts to the drug industry.
One would allow the drug industry to sell products at lower prices to the U.S. territories without having to offer these discounts to Medicaid programs in all 50 states, which is the current requirement.
Others would curtail the Obama administration’s expansion of programs requiring drug companies to provide steep discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve a disproportionate share of low income patients. One suggests pulling a rule that would force certain drugs to be priced at only a penny to such clinics, for example.
Also on the list of ideas are a proposal that would give companies more flexibility to amend drug patents, which could make it harder – not easier — for cheaper generics to be sold.
The pharma trade policies the administration is looking at are also expected to be relatively industry-friendly, including taking steps to reward U.S. manufacturing or making a stronger effort to go after countries that violate intellectual property protections on drug pricing.
Even if the Trump team wanted to mount an all-out assault on drug makers, there are limits to what they could accomplish without congressional support. That’s particularly true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid — and there few signs Republicans in Congress want to take any major action against the industry.
But Democrats say that Trump has not only failed to deliver on a key campaign vow, he has caved to industry.
“Another broken Trump promise seems to be in the making, with Medicare negotiation abandoned in favor of Big Pharma’s wish list,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who co-chairs the Democrats’ Prescription Drug Task Force, told POLITICO. “In January, two weeks after declaring that drug makers were ‘getting away with murder,’ Trump was cozying up to pharmaceutical executives at the White House.”
President Donald Trump is on the attack — against his own Department of Justice.
Starting with morning tweets that acknowledged he was the subject of an FBI investigation, Trump struck a defiant tone today. He lashed out at the FBI and his own Justice Department for what he termed a “witch hunt” in a series of tweets that seemed to come out of nowhere. They came hours after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put out an odd, vague statement about not trusting anonymous sources last night.
But the tension behind the tweets had been building: Trump has “smarted all week” over various stories POLITICO’s Josh Dawsey reports. It was a quintessentially defiant move from Trump.
He’s been told by basically all of his advisers to avoid taking to Twitter to talk about the investigation, to avoid talking about the Russia probe altogether. And yet:
“Trump has been told repeatedly not to post such missives on Twitter but has decided he is in for a political fight, according to one outside adviser briefed on the strategy. Advisers have told him to use his Twitter to boost his political message or attack Democrats instead of talking about the legal case. But Trump doesn’t trust others to share his message, this person said, because they don’t want to share it the way he does.”
The target of Trump’s ire, Rosenstein, likely won’t be affected by Trump’s efforts, his friends say, POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein reports. “Trump’s tweet Friday struck many of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s friends and colleagues as a bid to get him to drop oversight of the special prosecutor investigation into Trump and his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials, but Rosenstein’s allies insist he won’t buckle under such pressure.”
Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:
BRAND NEW: Should Rod Rosenstein be fired — or recuse himself — the Russia investigation would fall to a Rachel Brand, a Bush administration veteran who Democrats opposed because they said her legal rulings always sided with big business.
CAST(RO) OUT: President Trump rolled back Obama administration entreaties to Cuba, adding more oversight for Americans who want to visit Cuba and banning Americans from any activities that profit the Cuban military — which controls the majority of the tourism industry.
GATES’ BARBEQUE: Rick Gates, a Paul Manafort protege, has become embroiled in the Russia investigation after seeming to survive his ouster from the Trump campaign. Now he faces scrutiny from federal investigators. (The New York Times)
DOBROE UTRO!: The Trump transition team has been asked to preserve all of its communications related to Russia because of “several pending investigations into potential attempts by Russia interests to influence the 2016 election. Officials were told to keep all documents related to the Russian Federation, Ukraine and a number of campaign advisers and official.
COMEY LATER: BuzzFeed News reports that the FBI turned down a freedom of information request for James Comey’s memos — because they are the subject of an active investigation.
LAWYER’S LAWYER: Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen has hired his own personal attorney as the Russia probe heats up.
There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. It’s Friday, at last.