Trump’s nominee turned over biographical information, previously delivered speeches, published writings, interviews, past court filings and other related documents.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh formally returned a 110-page questionnaire along with more than 2,000 pages of accompanying material to the Senate Judiciary Committee late Friday, bringing himself one step closer to a scheduled confirmation hearing.
Kavanaugh stated in his responses to the committee that, before President Donald Trump tapped him for the high court, no member of the administration or others involved in the vetting processed had asked about “any currently pending or specific case, legal issue, or question in a manner that could reasonably be interpreted as seeking any express or implied assurances concerning your position on such case, issue, or question.”
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The 53-year-old nominee spent five years in former President George W. Bush’s White House before serving 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In addition to the basic biographical information he submitted, Kavanaugh delivered to senators more than 1,000 pages in previously delivered speeches alone, as well as hundreds more pages of published writings, interviews, past court filings, and other related documents.
Kavanaugh wrote in his questionnaire that White House counsel Don McGahn first discussed a potential nomination with him late on June 27, the same day that Justice Anthony Kennedy officially announced a retirement from the Supreme Court. On July 8, the day before Trump named Kavanaugh, the nominee wrote that he spoke with the president in the morning and met that evening with the president and First Lady Melania Trump.
“During that meeting, the President offered me the nomination, and I accepted,” Kavanaugh wrote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) lauded Kavanaugh in a statement for comprehensively completing “the broadest and most comprehensive questionnaire ever sent by this Committee,” vowing to preside over a “fair, thorough and efficient vetting process.”
Senate Republicans hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed and seated on the court by the time its term begins in early October, but Democrats are pushing for more full disclosure of his communications before joining the federal bench that could delay a final vote. Majority Leader has met that insistence from Democrats by indicating that he’s prepared to wait until mid- or late October for Kavanaugh’s final confirmation, potentially ratcheting up the pressure on vulnerable red-state Democratic senators up for reelection.
Republicans have agreed to water down legislation designed to punish Chinese telecom company ZTE, delivering a victory to President Donald Trump, according to a person close to negotiations in Congress.
Lawmakers reconciling House and Senate versions of a must-pass defense bill chose to go with the House approach of excluding ZTE from U.S. government contracts but leaving it free to do business with private companies in the United States. The Senate-passed version of the defense bill would have restored a full U.S. ban on ZTE that the Trump administration imposed but then lifted.
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“By stripping the Senate’s tough ZTE sanctions provision from the defense bill, President Trump — and the Congressional Republicans who acted at his behest — have once again made President Xi and the Chinese Government the big winners and the American worker and our national security the big losers,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Friday.
The ZTE saga began in April, when the Commerce Department issued a seven-year ban on U.S. companies working with the Chinese telecom company due to what it called the company’s illegal sales to North Korea and Iran.
But after Trump tweeted in May that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were working on a way to get ZTE “back into business, fast,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced an alternative set of penalties that would allow the company to keep operating in the U.S. market. The deal requires ZTE to pay a $1 billion fine, replace its management and embed a U.S.-approved team to ensure compliance.
The Trump administration’s push to accommodate ZTE — which U.S. officials for years have warned could provide China with a vehicle for cyber-espionage and intellectual property theft — sparked heavy resistance from members of both parties. Republicans like Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marco Rubio of Florida joined with Democrats like Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in warning about ZTE’s threat to national security.
They supported the Senate’s ZTE provision, passed by a vote of 85-10 in June, which would require the president to certify that Chinese telecoms had not violated U.S. law for a full year and cooperated with U.S. investigators before granting relief from civil penalties.
Rubio on Friday called the decision to drop the Senate’s approach a “cave” and suggested it was a part of a trade-off between lawmakers and Trump administration officials on language to broaden the powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
“So chances that a #China controlled [telecom] will not just stay in business, but do so here inside the U.S. sadly just went up,” he tweeted.
But Republican leaders like Majority Whip John Cornyn appeared eager to avoid a showdown with Trump over the issue. And Trump supporters like David Perdue (R-Ga.) argued against congressional intervention, saying they did not want to tie the president’s hands amid his broader trade negotiations with China.
Final language on the defense bill has yet to be unveiled, but lawmakers say they hope to wrap up overall negotiations on the measure by the end of July.
The uncertainty surrounding U.S. policy on ZTE has caused the company’s stock price to gyrate in recent months. The Chinese telecom is the the fourth-largest vendor of mobile phones in the U.S. and buys many of its component parts from U.S. chipmakers.
The Commerce Department this month officially lifted the ban on ZTE after the company put $400 million in an escrow account that the U.S. would draw from if any further violations occur.
Mitch McConnell has a warning for Democrats demanding copious documents on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh: Be careful what you wish for.
The Senate majority leader privately told senior Republicans on Wednesday that if Democrats keep pushing for access to upwards of a million pages in records from President Donald Trump’s high court pick, he’s prepared to let Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote slip until just before November’s midterm elections, according to multiple sources.
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Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be “deflated” if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election.
Democrats have no intention of backing down in their call for maximum transparency about Kavanaugh’s record, but the GOP is betting that they’ll start to sweat the Supreme Court timeline as the summer wears on.
“To me, it’s in their best interest to have that vote done for a lot of their red-state senators who are facing their voters,” GOP Conference Chairman John Thune said.
The South Dakotan listed two reasons for Democrats to dread a delay: “One is, you’re stuck here, you can’t get home. And two, the vote is going to be of significant consequence in a lot of those races. I don’t know how it’s to their benefit to drag it out.”
McConnell and his party prefer to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1, so the conservative appellate judge can be seated on the nation’s highest court when its annual term begins on the first Monday of that month.
But with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his caucus clamoring for the full set of documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House, McConnell is making clear that he’s prepared to call Democrats’ bluff — believing their request is a politically-motivated effort to delay the nomination until after they have a shot at the majority.
The Senate typically recesses for much if not all of October during election years, giving members battling for reelection a chance to campaign back in their home states. Should McConnell meet Democratic document demands by staying in session longer before confirming Kavanaugh, a half-dozen of the minority’s senators battling for survival in Trump-won states could lose out on valuable time to make their case to voters.
“We’re witnessing historic obstructionism here,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said of Democratic resistance to Trump’s judicial picks and decrying “unreasonable requests for information by people who have already said publicly they’ve made a decision” on Kavanaugh.
Perdue, one of several conservatives who successfully urged McConnell to cancel part of the Senate’s long-running August recess, added that delaying the Supreme Court vote into October is “one option he has. He’s done it before.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Democrats on his committee, led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are currently locked in tough negotiations over how broad a swath of documents the panel can get from Kavanaugh’s five years in the Bush administration. During his tenure, Trump’s Supreme Court pick was involved in multiple contentious issues, from the harsh interrogations of detainees to the confirmation of other high-profile nominees to the federal bench.
Grassley warned on Thursday that “you’d better ask me in two weeks” about when Kavanaugh’s hearings could even get scheduled, given the intensity of the talks on releasing records.
“I would love to have him on the court the first day of the new term,” Grassley said. “But I can’t even guarantee that at this point, because of the fact that we have a constitutional responsibility to do a thorough and fair hearing.”
Democrats insist that they’re holding Kavanaugh to the same standard that governed the release of an estimated 170,000 documents on Justice Elena Kagan’s record before her Supreme Court confirmation. But Republicans protest that Schumer is slowing down Kavanaugh to an extent that they never imposed on Kagan, with the New York Democrat refusing to even meet with Trump’s pick before a document deal is reached.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a Judiciary panel member, said that his party is seeking relevant documents and not crafting a fishing expedition designed to drag out Kavanaugh’s final confirmation. Yet he also indicated that Democrats would make their requests regardless of the GOP’s preferred Oct. 1 confirmation deadline.
“I can’t tell you whether a million or [1.2 million pages] will mean it’s Oct. 1 or Oct. 2” that Kavanaugh gets a vote, Durbin said. “Nobody knows that. All we can do is ask that.”
Democrats say they have new confidence in their push for more Kavanaugh disclosures after the stunning Thursday withdrawal of appellate court nominee Ryan Bounds over his racially incendiary writings during his college years.
Bounds faced universal Democratic opposition and rare GOP dissent in the narrowly divided Senate. With Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) absent, the Republicans’ 51-49 majority has effectively shrunk to 50-49, bringing Democrats tantalizingly close to sinking Kavanaugh if they can stick together.
Even some of Democrats’ most vulnerable red-state residents met McConnell’s warning about a Supreme Court vote closer to the election with little worry.
“It doesn’t bother me either way, whatever they do,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said. “The vote’s going to be taken, sooner or later.”
Asked about being kept from campaigning against GOP challenger Patrick Morrisey in his home state, Manchin replied, “I think they want to go as bad as we want to go on the trail, so we’ll see what happens.”
Even Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who’s challenging endangered Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) this fall, cast doubt on the merits of forcing her to squirm over Kavanaugh’s confirmation well into October. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that she’s going to vote for him,” Cramer said.
The possibility that Kavanaugh’s final confirmation might slip into October first came up during a closed-door lunch for GOP senators on Tuesday; McConnell raised the prospect again Wednesday during a meeting with GOP committee chairman, sources said.
The Kentucky Republican and the Trump White House continue to press ahead with Oct. 1 as their goal for confirmation, and Kavanaugh is seen as likely to prevail given his GOP establishment credentials and the political pressure on red-state Democrats who voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.
Still, for outside liberal activists aiding the Democrats’ bid to defeat Kavanaugh, the prospect of a confirmation delay until the edge of the midterm vote seemed to have far more upside than downside.
Former Schumer aide Brian Fallon, who now helms the group Demand Justice to fight Trump’s judicial nominees, argued that McConnell would take “a loss” if Kavanaugh isn’t on the nation’s highest court by the time its term starts.
“McConnell knows better than anyone that the longer this nomination drags out, the more time it gives for pressure to mount on the pro-choice moderates in his caucus,” Fallon said.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a senior member of the Judiciary panel, insisted Thursday that McConnell wouldn’t “allow unreasonable delay” and that Oct. 1 remains the party’s cutoff for confirming Kavanaugh.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are stepping up a push for action on their bipartisan proposal to hit Russia with automatic new sanctions if it interferes in future U.S. elections.
Rubio and Van Hollen have asked bipartisan leaders of the Banking and Foreign Relations committees, which share jurisdiction over sanctions legislation, to hold a hearing on and mark up their plan to impose new penalties on Moscow within 10 days after the director of national intelligence determines that further electoral meddling has occurred.
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Introduced in January, the Rubio-Van Hollen bill picked up eight new cosponsors on Thursday, evenly divided between both parties. The bill’s momentum has grown steadily since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)mentioned it on Tuesday as one option on the table for the Senate to respond to President Donald Trump’s warm posture toward Vladimir Putin’s government, although some senators have raised concerns that its broad reach may hit U.S. allies.
McConnell on Thursdayasked the Banking and Foreign Relations panels to hold new hearings into the implementation of last year’s bipartisan Russia sanctions bill and to suggest possible further steps that lawmakers can take to counter Russian malfeasance ahead of November’s midterm elections. In the meantime, Trump announced later on Thursday that he wouldextend an invitation for Putin to visit Washington this fall.
“The Senate has the opportunity to highlight to the American public the real threats that foreign interference in our future elections pose, and to act to deter future foreign interference and defend our country,” Rubio and Van Hollen wrote to the Banking and Foreign Relations panels leaders’ in a letter sent Thursday, a copy of which was shared with POLITICO.
“We are just 110 days away from our elections in November. The time to come together and act is now.”
Conservatives should “fight back” against the alt-right and white nationalists, and do a better job reclaiming classic terms to stamp out identity politics, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Thursday.
“We have to go back and fight for our ground and re-win these ideas and marginalize these guys the best we can to the corners,” Ryan said. “Do everything you can to defeat it.”
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Ryan made the comments in conversation with National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg. The two conservatives spoke at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan had harsh words for the alt-right, an umbrella term for extreme right-wing individuals who reject mainstream conservatism and often embrace racism and white supremacy.
“That is not conservatism. That is racism. That is nationalism. That is not what we believe in. That is not the founding vision, that is not the founders’ creed,” Ryan said.
The alt-right grabbed headlines last year when a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the death of one woman.
Ryan said 21st century technology, which allows individuals to make money off pushing divisive messaging, makes the task of pushing out the alt-right particularly difficult. He said the faction “hijacked” conservative terms like “western civilization” and distorted the conservative message.
“It is identity politics. It’s antithetical to what we believe and it’s a hijacking of our terms,” Ryan said. “How do we get the core back? How do we get back classic liberalism properly understood in the 21st century?”
Ryan recently came under fire for not taking a harder line against Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has a history of inflammatory anti-immigrant remarks.
After King retweeted a Nazi sympathizer last month, a Ryan spokesperson ultimately said, “The Speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate.” King later boasted that the spokesperson didn’t even mention him by name.
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday postponed a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the IRS over a campaign finance-connected protest by Democrats.
Not enough lawmakers showed up to vote on tax lawyer Chuck Rettig’s nomination to be IRS commissioner. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he would convene the panel to vote off the Senate floor later Thursday.
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The committee’s Democrats joined hands in objecting to an administration decision to end donor disclosure requirements for most nonprofits – which includes a wide variety of political groups – and called for access to Trump’s tax returns.
The new donor policy has severe campaign finance implications, according to ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). He said he would remain opposed to the nominee unless Rettig commits to restoring a longstanding rule on tax-exempt organizations to report their big-money contributors’ names and addresses.
“The Trump administration has taken a qualified nominee and dumped him right in the middle of a dark-money political firestorm of their own creation,” Wyden said.
He said he would request a meeting with Rettig to quiz the nominee over reversing the reporting requirement.
But it’s not clear how far Wyden and the other Democrats are willing to carry their opposition. They can formally hold his nomination from getting a Senate floor vote that would follow the committee vote, but they haven’t made that threat.
Wyden demanded to see Trump’s tax returns, which the president has withheld despite decades of precedent. Wyden also called for a hearing on the new disclosure policy, which he said was changed without advance notice to him.
Hatch called the reporting requirement change “commendable.”
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday defeated an attempt by panel Democrats to subpoena the interpreter who worked for President Donald Trump during his summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is an extraordinary remedy, I realize, but then it’s extraordinary for the president of the United States to ask all of his senior staff essentials to leave the room and have a conversation with an adversary,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who called for the vote to compel the interpreter to testify behind closed doors. “And then in a public conversation disavow his own intelligence agencies and in many respects disavow his own country.”
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Trump has come under increasing scrutiny from Democrats as well as his fellow Republicans for appearing to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on Russian meddling allegations, even as the president has attempted to walk back his comments in recent days.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) have also called for the translator’s testimony.
Schiff noted Democrats had requested a business meeting for next week but that the request had been declined, arguing “this may be our last opportunity before we go into an extended recess” to make such an effort.
Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) initially declined to recognize Schiff’s motion before recessing the panel for about 20 minutes. When it reconvened, the committee voted along party lines, 11-6, to table Schiff’s attempt to bring the interpreter before the committee.
For the past 20 months, four-term Republican Rep. Martha Roby has had to grovel to President Donald Trump to regain her political standing and beat back a primary challenge in her staunchly conservative Alabama district.
Her crime? Standing up for women.
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“I cannot look my children in the eye … and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women,” the mother of two said in the fall of 2016.
Needless to say, her constituents — many of them Trump-loving Southern men — didn’t like that much. Roby quickly changed her tune after Trump won the presidency, unfailingly praising him and his policies as she went on to survive a primary runoff Tuesday that almost ended her career.
Roby’s plight highlights the unique challenge Republican women face campaigning for office with Trump in the White House. While their female Democratic counterparts have benefited politically from going against the president on women’s issues, GOP women don’t have the same luxury.
“There are ways of disagreeing without being disagreeable … of doing it without making it personal,” said Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, one of the most outspoken women in the House GOP Conference, who frequently votes with the president. “A lot of it is in the approach.”
Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who called Republican women an “endangered species,” was blunter: “The base is with Donald Trump, and he can do no wrong. … He’s going to be hanging on you like an albatross around your neck. Ugh! It is a real knot for female candidates.”
Interviews with more than a half-dozen female GOP lawmakers and candidates revealed what Ros-Lehtinen called the “difficult situation” many of them face: Like male GOP lawmakers who go against Trump, Republican women who blast the president risk alienating a base they need for reelection, as Roby did. Failing to speak up, however, risks turning off independent-minded women who are skeptical of the president, a key voting bloc.
That dual-reality has forced Republican women to think creatively about how to reach female voters. In one of her first campaign ads in a toss-up California district, Rep. Mimi Walters touted her work helping battered and raped women as well as those trapped in the sex trade.Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the only Republican woman in congressional leadership, has plastered her competitive Washington district with 14 billboards featuring the faces of women who are supporting her for reelection.
At the same time, voters won’t catch either attacking Trump.
The balancing acts come amid a record-breaking year for women seeking public office. More than 123 Republican women have filed to run for Congress, three times as many as in the previous cycle, according to Wagner, a deputy National Republican Congressional Committee chair.
Still, the energy surrounding female candidates is predominantly on the left side of the political spectrum. Some Republican women say they’ve struggled to ride the wave of empowerment that their Democratic counterparts have.
Some conservatives said the women’s movement has discriminated against conservative-minded female candidates. McMorris Rodgers said female business owners in her district have lost clients because they’ve endorsed her.In response, she created a new group in her district for politically like-minded women.
“For many that are on the left, if you don’t agree with them 100 percent, then you’re ‘anti-women,’” she said in an interview. “Because I’m a Republican, that it’s almost like I’m dismissed or [my work for women] doesn’t count.”
But it’s not just Democrats, or Trump, who make it challenging for Republican woman. While Democrats tend to favor female candidates over men, all things being equal, some Republican women say their gender is held against them by a sliver of voters in their party.
“For the men, it is a challenge for a lot of them,” said Rep. Kristi Noem, who’s running for governor of South Dakota, a state she referred to as “a good ol’ boys club.” “For some reason, they were willing to vote to send a woman to Congress for years, but to put a woman in the governor’s office, it’s very different.”
She added: “I didn’t anticipate that being an issue. And we think, in our primary, we lost several points because of that.”
That might be why some Republican women from very conservative districts or states rarely emphasize their gender. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn — whose allies worry she could lose her bid for Senate because some male Republicans would rather vote for her Democratic challenger, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, because he’s a man — asks people to call her “congressman,” not “congresswoman.”
Similarly, Blackburn’s home-state colleague, Rep. Diane Black (R), went by “chairman” when she became the first head of the House Budget Committee.
“I’ve never run as a female candidate,” said Black, who is running for governor this fall. “I think, for me, I have always felt that it was best to just run as a good candidate… to let my credential speak instead of anything about my gender.”
Black would be the first female Republican governor of her state if elected, but that’s not something she’s touting. “I don’t even go around talking about it because I don’t want anybody to think that is the main purpose that I’m running or that I think that is going to help me win.”
Republican women in competitive seats have a slightly different approach. McMorris Rodgers often talks about her experience getting married while serving in Congress — then becoming the mother of three, including a disabled child. Her personal story, she said, helps voters relate “to me more as a person and also as a representative.”
Despite their different districts and styles, Black and McMorris Rodgers agreed on this: At times they’ve felt left out or unable to identify with the women’s movement pulsing through the nation.
McMorris Rodgers recounted sending a video to organizers of a women’s march in Spokane, Washington, who decided not to show it. Black said she was “affronted” seeing girls age 10 or 11, she guessed, holding signs with curse words and condoms and tampons taped on them when she attended the women’s march in Washington with her daughters last year.
“That is not what I believe we should be teaching our young girls, to tell them that’s what makes them strong,” she said.
Beyond feeling left out of the women’s movement at times, Republican women are often forced to answer for Trump — a reality they find unfair. When confronted with questions about something Trump has said or a policy he’s implemented that is especially unpopular among women, they try to pivot.
“I say, ‘I’m focused on results,’” Walters said when asked in May how she responds to questions about Trump’s tone toward women. “That’s the most important to me, the results.”
Walters said she sees an “opportunity,” where some would see a problem, “to really connect with this group of women where the president is not as well liked.”
“We can be the face of the party to say, ‘Hey, these are policies that we’re implementing with our president, and we support him and … and we’re just like you.’”
When Black is pressed by voters about Trump’s attitude toward women, she said she points to her own experience. As Budget Committee chief, she often met with the president to talk about tax reform and spending and “never did I feel talked down to or disrespected in any way.”
“In fact, the president would often say: ‘Diane, what do you think?’” she recalled. “So when people start to talk [about Trump and women], I say: ‘Well, let me just tell you about my experience.’”
Wagner, likewise, makes the case to women that Trump is good for them by focusing on policy. Mothers want economic and national security, she said, and Trump has contributed to both with tax cuts and negotiations with North Korea.
Women can disagree with Trump, just as men can, Wagner said. They just “have to be clear with both the administration and your constituents where you have strong areas of agreement with the president.”
Questions about what its like to be a women in the age of Trump appear to strike a nerve with some female Republicans. POLITICO reached out to well over half of the female members in the House. But most of them, including Roby, declined to be interviewed or ignored emails.
Approached in the hallways of the Capitol, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who chairs the NRCC’s recruitment,said she’d be willing to arrange an interview on the topic. But her spokesman, Tom Flanagin, subsequently turned down multiple requests over the past few months, first citing scheduling conflicts before eventually acknowledged they’d prefer to “pass.”
Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, one the most vulnerable GOP House incumbents, seemed annoyed by the topic.
“I never get interviewed about all the bills I pass,” she complained. “I can tell you that.”
Republican House members are plainly eager to expand their ranks — several spoke of the shock they felt the first time they walked into the male-dominated House Republican Conference room.
Currently, about 10 percent of the GOP Conference is female, while almost a third of the Democratic Caucus is made up of women. Ros-Lehtinen said Republicans have got some work to do to boost those numbers.
“Things have changed, but for Republican women, sadly the number has more or less stayed at a dismally low level,” she said.
Senate Democrats are frustrated that the administration has still not scheduled a classified briefing on Trump’s nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un.
Even as Senate Democrats remain furious with President Donald Trump’s Russia strategy, their frustration is only growing when it comes to the other global hotspot in his sights: North Korea.
The Trump administration has yet to hold a private briefing for all senators about the president’s June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite weeks of efforts to get something scheduled, according to a source briefed on the talks.
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And while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to testify next week in the Foreign Relations Committee about Trump’s Russia and North Korea meetings, Democrats are exasperated by the administration’s unwillingness to set a date for the classified briefing planned for all senators.
“We’ve been asking Secretary Pompeo to come and explain the Trump Administration’s strategy on North Korea for a long time, and they have failed to provide the necessary briefings or hearings to either the full Senate or the Foreign Relations Committee,” the panel’s top Democrat, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, said through a spokesman.
Republicans point to Pompeo’s committee appearance as a forum for Democrats to get answers. But that testimony would come six weeks after Trump sat down with Kim, and Democrats want more than a single hearing to dig into what was — or wasn’t — accomplished at the meeting. North Korea followed up the extraordinary summit by blasting the administration’s pitch for denuclearization.
Given that next week’s Pompeo hearing “is also intended to address a whole range of critical issues beyond North Korea — including Russia and Iran,” Menendez added, it is “not a substitute” for classified briefings to let senators know more about what happened during the much-touted Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it keeps slipping,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), another foreign relations panel member, said of the planned all-senators briefing on North Korea. “And it makes me wonder if that’s because there is nothing to report, because there is no substantive follow-up.”
One senior Senate Democratic aide described the elusive status of an all-senators briefing as “troubling.”
“What concessions did the president offer? What steps is Kim willing to take? Did they actually make any real progress or was this a glorified photo op?” the aide said. “It’s starting to feel like they are scared of pulling back the curtain.”
Democrats aren’t alone in wanting the Senate to weigh in on any final denuclearization deal the president may ultimately ink with North Korea.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said hours after Trump met with Kim that he would want any agreement “to come to Congress in some form.” The Senate GOP’s campaigns chief, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, has written legislation with Menendez that would require the submission of any deal to Congress and regular briefings from the administration.
But the Democratic clamor for a closed-door briefing on North Korea isn’t getting echoed too loudly by the GOP.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested that Democrats “start with the secretary” testifying next week in the foreign relations panel “and see what else they reasonably would want.”
Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that while “we had hoped to have a classified briefing first,” next week’s public hearing with Pompeo will have to suffice for the moment while the private North Korea huddle for all senators remains up in the air.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that although she has access to some classified material pertaining to North Korea through her seat on the intelligence committee, “I think it still would be useful to have the briefing.”
The Trump administration held closed-door briefings for large groups of lawmakers that touched on North Korea in April and August of last year, during Rex Tillerson’s tenure atop the State Department. One hurdle in scheduling such a briefing about the Trump-Kim meeting appears to be the intense travel schedule Pompeo has embarked on since his confirmation this April.
State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Wednesday that Pompeo would use next week’s hearing to inform senators about recent trips to Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and the recent NATO summit in Brussels — in addition to the status of North Korea.
Nauert acknowledged that senators would also have questions about Trump’s polarizing Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but suggested that next week’s hearing would meet the briefing request that Pompeo and lawmakers had been “going back and forth” on. “This is, in fact, that meeting,” she said.
A White House spokesman referred questions on whether the briefing would be scheduled to the State Department.
Democrats are sure to fume at any assumption that next week’s hearing checks the box for briefing Congress on North Korea talks. Given the limited time for senators in both parties on only one committee to question Pompeo about a panoply of Trump foreign policy forays, they’re eager for more clarity.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a foreign relations panel member, said he is “angry” at the administration’s failure to more fully explain its approach to ongoing North Korea talks, which Trump previously described as more about “attitude” than “advance planning.”
“There’s no plan, there’s no set goals, there’s no timeline, there’s no verification,” Booker said in an interview.
Another Foreign Relations Democrat, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, stressed the “real value” of a continued conversation in a classified setting beyond next week’s hearing.
“It would be valuable to have all 100 senators get answers on Singapore, and what happened in Helsinki, and what the heck he’s thinking with his tariff policy that’s driving us apart from our allies,” Coons said. “These are all connected.”
House Democrats have finalized their campaign slogan heading into the last months before the midterm election: “For the People.”
The new motto, which Democratic leaders unveiled in a private meeting with members Wednesday morning, is meant to put a finer point on the broad economic-based messaging Democrats have been pushing with mixed success since last summer. That initial message — a “Better Deal” — has largely failed to break through with voters and has been openly mocked by some Democratic lawmakers.
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House Democrats plan to begin working “For the People” into their statements and press conferences, with a focus on three key areas: addressing health care and prescription drug costs; increasing wages through infrastructure and public works projects; and highlighting Republican corruption in Washington.
“We have 110 days from right now until Election Day and we will be spending the month of August in our home districts and we wanted to make sure we are singing from the same song sheet on the three top issues,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), co-chair of House Democrats’ messaging arm, said in an interview.
Bustos and her co-chairmen, Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), met with the various House Democratic caucuses multiple times in recent months to solicit input on how Democrats should package their campaign themes in the final weeks before the midterms.
Democrats have struggled to chart a course since the 2016 election, with centrists and liberals fighting for the party’s identity and leadership frequently frustrated in their attempts to cut through the daily noise generated by President Donald Trump.
“I don’t think any of us are claiming this is poetic or this is the end-all-be-all of messaging,” Bustos said. “It’s just a way, in a quick way, to put together the answer to what we stand for.”
Bustos emphasized the simplicity of the message and said focusing on a trio of specific policy areas that Trump has failed to deliver on would allow Democrats to present a clear contrast with the president while also offering voters forward-looking ideas — something they believe they failed to do in 2016.
“Those are three promises that this president made to the American people that he has not kept. Sometimes you have to clearly and simply point out how we’re different,” Bustos said. “With discipline and not being distracted by the outrage of the day, that’s how people can start hearing us.”
Democrats openly blame themselves for failing to reach the working-class voters who helped put Trump in the White House and have promised to do better than just “run against Trump” in this year’s election.
But privately Democrats say it’s unlikely either party’s message will sway the outcome of the election.
Democrats are in their best position in nearly a decade to regain control of the House largely because of an energized anti-Trump base seeking a check on the president. Midterms also historically favor the party not in control of the White House.
Still, Democratic sources who attended Wednesday’s meeting said the presentation went over well with members in the room — a contrast to the eye rolling by some lawmakers after last year’s messaging reveal.
And unlike the splashy rollout that accompanied “Better Deal,” which Democratic leaders from both chambers unveiled in a battleground House district in rural Virginia last July, their latest shift will be more low key. They aren’t expected to hold a press conference or make an official announcement on it.
The pivot to “For the People” could also help House Democrats put some daylight between them and the GOP. House Republicans have been running on their own “better”-based campaign slogans in the last two election cycles — “A Better Way” in 2016 and the GOP’s recently unveiled 2018 slogan, “Better Off Now.”
“We basically put it all on paper to say here are our top issues — they’re simple, they’re easy to understand,” Bustos said. “That’s how you break through this tweet machine coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”