It’s time for Episode 30 of the 2016 Nerdcast, POLITICO’s podcast on the race for the White House. Tune in each week to geek out with us as we dive deep into the political landscape, the latest numbers that matter, plus backstage dope on how politics really works.
We’re the people who spend Friday nights poring over poll numbers or the latest Federal Election Commission reports — so if you want to understand how the modern politics game is played, this is the podcast for you.
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POLITICO’s Kristin Roberts, Charlie Mahtesian, Scott Bland, Ken Vogel, Eli Stokols and Hadas Gold discuss what the pollsters got wrong and how the media should course correct.
Ivanka Trump says it is “inappropriate” to speculate that she will effectively serve as first lady in her father’s administration and occupy an office in the East Wing.
“I think it’s an inappropriate observation,” Trump told the ABC News program “20/20” for a segment set to air Thursday night. “There’s one first lady and she’ll do remarkable things.”
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President-elect Donald Trump’s wife, the former model Melania, was a reluctant campaigner, and she plans to stay in New York City for several months after the inauguration before moving to Washington so that their young son, Barron, can complete the schoolyear there.
But Ivanka, Trump’s oldest daughter, was a regular surrogate for the campaign and has advised him on policy issues including parental leave and the environment. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, is also an incoming senior adviser to the president-elect, and the couple is moving to Washington with their three children.
All that has prompted widespread speculation that Ivanka may fulfill some of the first lady’s traditional duties in Melania’s place.
She pushed back on that in her interview with ABC, though. She also discussed her transition from leader at the Trump Organization to Washington, describing it as “emotional.”
“It’s emotional that I’m stepping away from my business, and my father will be president, and hopefully I can be there to support him and to support those causes I’ve cared about my whole professional career,” she said.
ABC also spoke with Trump’s two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, for the segment. Both sons are taking over managerial control of their father’s business empire, an arrangement that has not satisfied ethics experts, who say it does not eliminate Trump’s many financial conflicts of interest.
Eric, though, suggested that his father will be too busy to get involved with the business as president.
“My father has the biggest responsibility of any person, arguably, on the planet, and that’s to run the United States of America,” Eric Trump said. “His focus is going to be running this country.”
“I don’t agree with his style, but he’s shaking it up.”
“I’m not sure what the answer is going to be.”
That’s how the several of nation’s governors described their feelings, hopes and expectations about the Trump administration. And after listening to them on Friday, it’s clear they still have a lot of questions — and few answers — when it comes to a new White House that has talked more in broad strokes than wonky specifics when it comes to policy.
Even some Republicans didn’t seem able to fully endorse the new administration.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said at POLITICO’s State Solutions Conference. Herbert said he was pleased with President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.
“You have to surround yourself with good people,” he said. “I see him doing that, and I think he can have a successful presidency.”
Of the 11 governors interviewed at the conference, only one — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who led a pro-Trump super PAC during the campaign — was unabashedly excited about President Trump.
“We believe we have a partner in the White House,” Scott said at the conference.
But it was Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson who may have best encapsulated the governors’ view of the entertainer-turned-President.
“I don’t agree with his style, but he’s shaking it up,” he said.
A record 46 of the nation’s 50 governors were in D.C. for the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association, along with sideline meetings for the Democratic Governors’ Association and the Republican Governors’ Association. The state executives ate lunch with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, and were scheduled to visit the White House for dinner with President Donald Trump on Sunday night, followed by meetings with White House staff and members of Congress on Monday.
The governors were unanimous in their opposition to Trump’s desire to crack down on foreign trade, fretful about his plans to replace Obamacare, pleased with his plans for an increase in federal infrastructure spending, and sharply divided on his push for immigration enforcement.
The governors, who mostly came out of the establishment wings of both political parties, unanimously broke with the White House on trade policy. No governor was ready for Trump to start slapping tariffs on imports and potentially starting a trade war.
“Trade is one of the truly essential ingredients of progress,” Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
“[Trump] doesn’t fit neatly into my conservative principles over time, one of those being trade issues,” Hutchinson said later.
New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, asked if he was worried about Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA — Canada is a key trading partner for the Granite State — wasn’t sure of what the Trump administration’s next steps were.
“We’re watching it, but I’m not sure what the answer is going to be,” Sununu said.
On healthcare, Republicans were ready to repeal Obamacare and implement block-granting for Medicaid, but were also worried about the process and confusion if the law is repealed without a replacement.
Herbert, for instance, warned about passing a fix without some Democratic support, making Republicans wholly responsible for the health care system, premium hikes and consumer confusion.
“I’d rather do it right than quick,” he said.
Arkansas’ Hutchinson sounded a similar note: “I support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but you have to know where you’re going after that.”
Democrats, on the other hand, repeatedly warned of the danger of repealing Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion and expressed doubt Republicans would succeed. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, summed up the danger for his former party.
“Almost daily, I hear from people who are alive today because of Medicaid expansion,” he said.
Some issues saw more of a partisan division. Trump’s plans to rapidly ramp up the deportation of undocumented immigrants, including those who had committed only minor crimes, alarmed Democrats but won plaudits from Republicans.
“I can’t imagine that the administration is going to go out and have massive collections, massive deportations [of undocumented immigrants,]” Hickenlooper said. “But we’ll have to see.”
Hutchinson, on the other hand, said he read the White House orders on immigration and didn’t fully understand the fuss.
“All he’s saying is that he’s going to enforce the law,” he said.
A firm co-founded by Donald Trump’s initial campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, quietly agreed to lobby for the oil company Citgo as the company, which is owned by the leftist government of Venezuela, was becoming increasingly embroiled in tensions involving the United States, Venezuela and Russia.
Officials with Lewandowski’s firm, Avenue Strategies, confirmed that last month it formalized a $25,000-a-month lobbying contract with Citgo.
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The officials initially told POLITICO that the firm had filed legally required paperwork revealing the contract to the U.S. government on Feb. 20. But Lewandowski’s co-founder in the firm, fellow Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett, subsequently clarified that it “was just an origination date,” and the firm was working to file the paperwork Wednesday.
As of Wednesday evening, that paperwork was not posted on the website of the Senate Office of Public Records, which processes and automatically posts such filings almost instantaneously.
Bennett said Avenue has yet to begin lobbying for Citgo and that “it’s not entirely clear” on what issues it will lobby. He stressed, though, that he will be the only firm employee who registers to lobby on the contract, and that Lewandowski “doesn’t really have a role” in it.
Sources familiar with the contract say that Avenue Strategies was brought on by Citgo to help provide access to the Trump administration amid calls for the U.S. to seize the company’s assets as a way to expand the impact of sanctions against Venezuela.
But the revelation of Avenue’s previously unreported contract with Citgo comes at an awkward moment for the company, Lewandowski and the Trump White House.
Trump ran on a promise to “drain the swamp” of special interest influence in Washington, and the increasing attention on the lobbying firm co-founded soon after the election by Lewandowski, who remains a close Trump confidant, threatens to undermine the president’s efforts to make the case he’s fulfilling that promise.
On Wednesday, the government-ethics watchdog group Public Citizen sent a letter to the Department of Justice and congressional lobbying oversight offices requesting investigations into whether Lewandowski was violating lobbying laws by not registering as a lobbyist, based on a POLITICO report about a newer company created by Avenue Strategies that appeared to be offering prospective clients meetings with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Bennett called the letter a baseless and partisan “witch hunt.”
But Bennett also acknowledged that Avenue Strategies on Wednesday dissolved the newer company, which was called Washington East West Political Strategies.
The company had distributed pitch materials to prospective Eastern European clients promising to arrange meetings with Trump, Pence and senior members of their administration, POLITICO revealed last week. Bennett said he and Lewandowski never saw the document, which he said was produced by Avenue’s partners in the company, an Azerbaijani oil executive and an American political consultant who works extensively in Russia.
The document “was a violation of our understanding with them,” Bennett said. “We don’t need the headache.”
Lewandowski issued a statement saying he had “no affiliation or involvement” and “never entered into any agreement with this firm.”
Bennett clarified that “Avenue Strategies owned the equity — and that is me and Corey — but he didn’t have any role.” Bennett didn’t respond when asked whether Avenue had dissolved other firms it had created with other partners to prospect in the Middle East, Canada and Central America.
Concerns about Lewandowski’s adherence to lobbying rules and boasts of access also have taken hold inside the White House, said two people who have discussed Lewandowski’s lobbying with administration officials.
And Citgo, the U.S. refining arm of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, is under increasing scrutiny as the Trump administration takes a tougher line against the cash-strapped government of Venezuela, which has been accused of human rights abuses and drug trafficking.
Complicating matters further, there are rising concerns that the Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft could be on the verge of taking control of Citgo. That’s because Venezuela’s national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, took out a loan from Rosneft in December, offering as collateral 49.9 percent of Citgo’s shares. International energy market analysts have predicted that the economic crisis in Venezuela could lead PDVSA to default on its debt, which would put Rosneft on the cusp of controlling three of the largest and most sophisticated refineries in the U.S., plus three major pipelines and dozens of fuel terminals.
The involvement of Russia is fraught for Trump’s administration. The president’s team is under scrutiny from law enforcement and congressional investigators examining Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, including by stealing and disseminating emails from allies of Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
A bipartisan group of senators wrote a letter last month to Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, linking the election hacking and Russia’s alleged violations of arms control agreements with Rosneft’s position in Citgo.
The senators wrote that they are “extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers, and expose critical U.S. infrastructure to national security threats.” They urged Mnuchin — in his capacity as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has to sign off on acquisitions of U.S. assets by foreign companies — to prepare for the prospect that PDVSA might soon default.
“In the event Rosneft were to acquire Citgo, we would expect a thorough, conflict-free and expedient review,” the senators’ wrote in their letter to Mnuchin.
Bennett had previously vowed that Avenue would not lobby for an entity that was averse to U.S. foreign policy interests — specifically singling out Russia and China — and he said that if Rosneft took control of Citgo, “we would resign immediately. Don’t want that hassle.”
When asked whether Venezuela was averse to U.S. foreign policy interests, Bennett said “I don’t work for Venezuela. I work for a Houston-based company that has three plants in America and produces 19 percent of America’s gasoline. It’s an American company, Americans work there.”
Citgo spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did the White House or Treasury.
Citgo attracted attention last month, when it was revealed in a Federal Election Commission filing that the company donated $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, despite not having donated to recent presidential inaugurations.
The company has long employed established Washington lobbying firms and lobbyists, including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Cornerstone Government Affairs.
Bennett explained that Avenue’s deal with Citgo was a subcontract with a company called VantageKnight that was started by a veteran lobbyist named Manuel Ortiz, who previously represented Citgo while working at Brownstein.
Ortiz has deep ties on the Democratic side of the aisle, but no obvious connections to Trump’s administration. He did not respond to requests for comment, but sources say he also brought in Avenue Strategies to lobby for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which signed Avenue to a $125,000 contract covering the four months from March through June.
VantageKnight was paid $270,000 during the first three months of the year to lobby for Citgo, according to filings with congressional oversight offices.
The filings indicate that Ortiz lobbied Congress and the Trump administration on the “potential impact of U.S. energy and foreign policy restrictions” on Citgo’s “operations and valuation of assets,” as well as “sanctions related issues.”
Hillary Clinton is officially back in the political game.
Clinton sent a blast email to supporters Monday afternoon asking people to sign up for her next venture, Onward Together.
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“From the Women’s March to airports across the country where communities are welcoming immigrants and refugees to town hall meetings in every community, Americans are speaking out like never before,” Clinton emailed. “I believe more fiercely than ever that citizen engagement at every level is central to a strong and vibrant democracy.”
Clinton describes the group as “an organization dedicated to advancing the progressive vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election. Onward Together will work to build a brighter future for generations to come by supporting groups that encourage people to organize and run for office.”
Specifically, Clinton mentioned Swing Left, Emerge America, Color of Change, Indivisible and Run for Something as the five groups Onward Together will initially support. “In some cases, we’ll provide direct funding to these organizations. For others, we’ll help amplify their work and do what we can to help them continue to grow their audiences and expand their reach,” she emailed.
“This year hasn’t been what I envisioned, but I know what I’m still fighting for: a kinder, big-hearted, inclusive America. Onward!” Clinton tweeted Monday.
The president will appear at a dinner benefiting his campaign and the Republican National Committee.
President Donald Trump continues to prepare for his next election — in 2020.
Trump is slated to headline a Washington, D.C., fundraising dinner on June 28 that will benefit Trump Victory, a joint fundraising agreement between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. Funds raised at the event will be split between the two accounts.
It will be the first fundraising event Trump has held for Trump Victory since his inauguration — and it represents the latest step Trump has taken to prepare for reelection. After winning in November, Trump decided to keep his campaign office in Trump Tower open. The office is overseen by Michael Glassner, one of his top 2016 campaign aides.
Also listed on the invitation for the June 28 event are RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the RNC’s national finance chairman, Steve Wynn. Each person attending the dinner is being asked to donate $35,000.
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.”
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.”
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.
According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that tested voters’ views of 19 potential Democratic presidential candidates — a list that includes eight senators, five governors, one congressman, a big-city mayor and a failed Senate candidate — most of the prospects are unknown among at least half the electorate.
Since the next presidential election won’t start in earnest for at least 18 months, that leaves a limited time for no-name candidates to build name recognition and familiarity among voters.
“All bets are off when it comes to the composition of the 2020 Democratic primary,” said Morning Consult Co-founder and Chief Research Officer Kyle Dropp. “This early polling indicates that many of the names being floated in Washington still have a lot of work to do in terms of building national profiles.”
A handful of heavyweight party elders, however, would enter a campaign as known quantities: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). At least three-quarters of voters surveyed said they had an opinion on Biden and Warren.
All will be septuagenarians come November 2020, including Sanders, who wasn’t included in the name-ID battery but could decide to mount a second bid for the Democratic nomination. The poll also didn’t test Martin O’Malley — another 2016 also-ran who told CBS News this week he “certainly feel[s] compelled to continue to look at” running again — but the former Maryland governor failed to gain any traction or broad name-ID during his presidential campaign.
The next tier of potential Democratic candidates are younger but little-known. Among the senators who have been mentioned as potential candidates, only Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — the former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer — has name identification that exceeds 70 percent. More than a third of voters, 35 percent, said they have never heard of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — a former governor and national party chairman who was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee last year.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) may be a social-media sensation, but 46 percent of voters said they have never heard of him. And four other senators — Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) —have majorities saying they have never heard of them.
Among the governors, only New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has significant name-ID; just 30 percent of voters said they have never heard of him. But that number is 50 percent or greater for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
The figures are similar for a number of other potential candidates tested in the survey: Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger and Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz.
It’s notable that these candidates are not any better known among Democratic respondents; for all but Gillibrand and Booker, each candidate was as unknown among Democrats as among the overall pool of voters.
The poll was conducted June 8-12, surveying 1,990 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
There’s some evidence these candidates could be even less known than the data indicate, Dropp said.
“More than half of respondents say they’ve never heard of many of these potential candidates,” he said. “And, since some respondents may hesitate to admit they don’t know the prospective candidates, overall awareness of the Democratic field may be even lower.”
There’s still time for these Democrats to increase their name-identification — and they can look to two recent examples as potential models. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was unknown to nearly six-in-10 Americans when Gallup asked about him in June 2013, less than six months into Cruz’s Senate career.
But after Cruz helped engineer a government shutdown that autumn, his name-ID jumped 20 points — though most of it added to his unfavorable rating, as Democrats and Republicans alike knocked Cruz as an opportunist who undermined the Congress for his own political gain.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also sought the White House just four years into his Senate career, but Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention laid a foundation with the party’s voters that most of the senators and governors in the poll won’t have.
That leaves most of the second-tier Democrats jockeying for attention. Harris has generated headlines with her questioning of Trump administration officials from her perch on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Franken’s examination of Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the then-Alabama senator’s confirmation hearing won him acclaim on the left and may have helped lead to Sessions’ eventual recusal from the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Klobuchar, Franken’s Minnesota colleague, is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a co-sponsor of a measure to create an independent commission to probe Russia’s actions.
Governors are equally invested in the resistance to Trump. Inslee and Cuomo quickly joined with California Gov. Jerry Brown to form a sub-national alliance after Trump announced the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change; McAuliffe brought his commonwealth in days later.
But they still have work to do to become top-tier candidates in 2019. For now, the better-known prospective candidates are circumspect about whether they’ll mount a bid to unseat Trump.
Warren says she is focused on winning reelection to the Senate next year. Sanders’ wife said last weekend that the Vermonter hasn’t made up his mind about 2020. And Biden, who declined to run last cycle after his son’s death, also refuses to rule it out.
“I am an enormous respecter of fate,” Biden said this week on an interview with a public-radio station in Philadelphia. “I don’t have any plans to do it, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it.”
Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.