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Trump-Warren split-screen offers sneak peek at 2020 campaign

RENO, Nev. — In the space of just a few hours, Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump provided a glimpse of what the 2020 presidential campaign might look like in a battleground state.

It won’t be pretty.

Here, in front of a raucous crowd Saturday at the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts unloaded on a president she said stands for “hatefulness, ugliness and cruelty.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto followed, calling Trump “ignorant,” his immigration policies “disgusting.”

At the southern end of the state, not long after touching down in Las Vegas for a speech to the state GOP convention, the president spoke directly to the party base — and only to them.

“I got elected largely because we are strong on the border,” Trump reminded the crowd.

Then he proceeded to deride Warren, as he frequently has, as “Pocahontas,” offered a new nickname for Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen — “Wacky Jacky” — and tossed a veiled insult at Republican Sen. John McCain, who’s suffering from brain cancer.

It’s a long way from 2020, but Saturday’s split-screen sketched out not only the tone of the next presidential election, but also one of the pivotal issues — the president’s immigration policy and its effect on Latino voter turnout.

Trump largely avoided the controversy surrounding his separation of children and their parents at the border, dismissing any electoral advantage for Democrats amid fallout from his administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

But Democrats here in Reno saw the border controversy as rocket fuel for their efforts to register and turn out Latino voters in the hopes of ousting Republican Sen. Dean Heller in 2018 — and putting the state out of reach for Trump in 2020.

In recent months, Democrats and left-leaning groups have earmarked millions of dollars toward those initiatives in Nevada, seeking to replicate an effort that helped lift Democrats to sweeping victories here in 2016, while relentlessly yoking the state’s Republicans to Trump.

“Up until a week ago, we thought that Dreamers and pushing back on Republican attacks on sanctuary [policies] would be the primary immigration debate,” said Jeff Parcher of the Washington-based Center for Community Change Action, part of an affiliation of groups planning to spend $3 million turning out low-propensity voters here. “But obviously now, the issue on the border has overtaken everything in people’s minds.”

Last week, the consortium began testing online ads pinned to Trump’s now-abandoned policy of separating migrant families at the border. In one spot, a girl is pictured clutching an adult’s leg beside the admonishment, “Trump & the GOP agenda are tearing families apart.”

Democrats were preparing Sunday to add a plank to the state party’s platform formally opposing the separation of parents and children at the border.

Cortez Masto, the first Latina senator, said Trump is “going down a dangerous path.”

“This type of anti-immigrant attack is not only going to have a positive impact for Latinos in general,” she said. “I think it’s just every minority population that he is attacking.”

Speaking in a ballroom beside a bowling alley at a resort and casino here, Warren and Rosen, a Las Vegas-area congresswoman, told delegates they will visit the U.S.-Mexico border in coming days, with Rosen saying, “This granddaughter of immigrants is going to see firsthand what’s happening to these innocent children, and what we can do to help them.”

Rosen’s remarks came days after she went up with a Spanish-language ad on Telemundo to run throughout the World Cup, promising to fight “Trump’s dirty game of separating mothers from their children.”

Steve Sisolak, the Democratic nominee for governor, released a video accusing his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, of “giving Trump a free pass” while “children are crying for their parents.”

For many Democrats, the furor over Trump’s border separation policy recalls a 2016 election in which images of Latinos registering to vote at taco trucks in northeast Las Vegas and lining up to vote outside a Las Vegas grocery store presaged a rare victory for the party in the presidential election year. Nevada Democrats in 2016 not only delivered the state to Hillary Clinton, but also sent Cortez Masto to the Senate and recaptured the state legislature.

Yet despite the growing significance of the state’s Latino voting bloc — Latinos now account for nearly 30 percent of Nevada’s population — Latinos traditionally vote at lower rates than white voters, performing especially poorly in midterm elections. In a disastrous election for Nevada Democrats in 2014, low turnout in Latino-heavy portions of Las Vegas’ Clark County helped Republicans sweep Nevada’s statewide elections and take both houses of the legislature.

In an effort to avoid a repeat, a group of left-leaning organizations, including the super PAC Planned Parenthood Votes, Service Employees International Union and Center for Community Change Action, announced plans in April to spend $30 million on efforts to reach low-propensity voters in key states, including $3 million in Nevada.

The state Democratic Party is holding bilingual phone banks and offering voter registration trainings in Spanish, while the state’s powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is making plans for a campaign similar to 2016, when 300 workers took a two-month leave of absence ahead of the election, knocking on 350,000 doors.

Meanwhile, Voto Latino is aiming to register 1 million voters by 2020 in Nevada and other Latino-rich states. And billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer’s NextGen America has designated $2 million to register and turn out young voters in Nevada, with much of its organizing around immigration. On Saturday, the group was planning to co-host a protest tied to immigrant family separations outside Trump’s appearance in Las Vegas.

“It gives us a really good opening,” said Bob Fulkerson, state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund, a progressive group that runs registration and turnout operations in the state.

“It has never been this easy to raise money. I mean, people are freakin’ pissed off, and they want to know what they can do,” he said. “I’ve been a paid organizer in Nevada since 1984, and this kind of intensity, this kind of fire … this is what we dream of.”

Fulkerson, who is organizing a protest of an appearance by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a school safety conference in Reno on Monday, said that before the uproar over Trump’s border separations, a Facebook page devoted to the protest had received about 4,000 views. As of late last week, he said, there were 27,000.

When Sessions arrives in Reno, he said, “We’re going to block the entrances. … We’re going to block the streets.”

Local Republicans have sought to defuse the effects of Trump’s border controversy by refocusing attention on the state’s booming economy. Following a recession felt more deeply in Nevada than most other states, the unemployment rate here now stands at less than 5 percent.

“I think it is the issue, and I think it’s one of the reasons why people continue to give the president a pass on other issues,” said Greg Ferraro, a Republican consultant and adviser to the state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval. “The economy is the ballast, and I think that people are willing to give the president a lot of latitude so long as the economy continues to grow at a robust pace.”

But Trump’s hard line on immigration continues to force Republicans to move carefully in Nevada, fearful of alienating the state’s Latino voters.

Heller, who is widely considered the most vulnerable Republican senator seeking reelection this year, publicly opposed the child separation policy, though he is not keeping distance from the president. Trump was scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Heller in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Mike Madrid, a California-based Republican consultant who specializes in Latino politics, compared the resonance of the border separations with the furor surrounding Trump’s response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

“This is not your traditional Trumpism here,” he said. “When you start to see the Republican leadership come out, and the Republican elected officials start quaking in their boots, you know it’s significant. And the only other time I’ve seen this is Charlottesville. … He’s really putting the Republican Party in a bad spot heading into the midterms.”

Andres Ramirez, a Nevada-based Democratic strategist and former vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus, said Trump has done more for Latino turnout in Nevada that Democrats could ever have hoped to accomplish on their own.

“There’s not much that I think the Democrats could have done that would have mobilized and invigorated Latinos more than what the Trump administration has been doing this week,” said Ramirez, a former aide to Sen. Harry Reid. “Now that these immigrants are reinvigorated, it provides Democrats an opportunity to hone their message and make sure that [Latinos] are voting in these elections.”

The border controversy, Ramirez said, “helped jump-start the Latino community.” Now, he said, they are “on the attack mode.”

At the Democratic state convention, Warren, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, seized on that impulse, urging Democrats to “fight back” with her against Trump.

“He has called immigrants animals. He has complained about people coming here from ‘shithole’ countries,” she said. “And now Trump wants to create new family detention camps to lock up more people, triggering a whole new crisis.”

The crowd roared when Warren said, “I’m heading to McAllen, Texas, tomorrow, and I will take the message straight from Nevada: We will fight for the soul of our nation.”

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Don Jr. storms the midterms

Republican Senate candidates in need of the Donald Trump sheen in their reelection bids are seeking out the one person who shares the president’s bloodline and initials: Donald Trump Jr.

Absent a visit from the president himself, a fundraiser or event with Trump Jr. is fast becoming red-state Republican hopefuls’ favorite way to boast Trump’s support. So while his sister Ivanka worked to pull strings in the White House, Trump Jr. logged half a dozen rallies and fundraisers this spring and is planning to add more to the books, according to a source close to him.

This past Friday, Trump Jr. headlined a fundraiser in Montana that raised more than $130,000 for Matt Rosendale, the state auditor challenging Sen. Jon Tester, before giving the keynote address at the state GOP’s annual dinner.

The president’s 40-year-old son, who remains a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, is using the trips to establish a political identity independent of his father’s. It’s fueling speculation that he’s eyeing elected office himself someday, though allies say he‘s happy serving as a liaison to his father’s base during the run-up to 2020 and building out a noncandidate role in Republican politics.

“I think he’s becoming an independent force,” Patrick Morrisey, the West Virginia attorney general who is challenging Sen. Joe Manchin, said in an interview. Trump Jr. campaigned with Morrisey in early June and will host a fundraiser for him in New York City next month.

“This is a strong speaker, a wonderful human being [and] as people come to know him, they’re going to say, ‘This guy is pretty impressive in his own right,’” Morrisey said.

Morrisey was so excited to have Trump Jr. rally voters in his state that he encouraged the entire Trump family to move to West Virginia, or “at a minimum” buy vacation homes in the state. “Sir, you are welcome to come back. You can stay here from now until the election if you like,” Morrisey said.

Trump Jr. is likely to continue the pace. He also spoke by phone last week with Mike Braun, the Republican nominee challenging Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, according to the source close to Trump Jr., and plans to hold events in the state in the coming weeks. He’ll also be in Florida to campaign for gubernatorial hopeful Ron DeSantis, whom the president just endorsed on Twitter, and for Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s most high-profile defenders in the House.

Trump Jr. plans to focus on fundraising this summer, but he plans to do more public campaign events through the fall, the source close to him said. He is paying closest attention to Senate races in Montana, West Virginia, Indiana and MIssouri, all top Republican targets that Trump won handily in 2016.

The money events are sometimes lavish. Long Island businessman Stephen Louro said he expects to draw 500 people to his Long Island home for an August bash for Rep. Lee Zeldin featuring Trump Jr. A Beatles cover band will entertain guests, and celebrities including former New York Giants football players Ottis “O.J.“ Anderson and Stephen Baker will attend, Louro said. Tickets will sell for between $300 for a single person to $5,000 for a sponsorship.

For Trump Jr., who spends the bulk of his time running the Trump business, politics is still a side job. But his usefulness as part of his father’s political machine has been apparent since the 2016 election. Trump Jr. broke onto the national stage with his combative tweets and bonded with rural voters over their shared passion for hunting.

“I’m the son of a billionaire from New York City and I have much more of a Montana platform than the senator, the senior senator from this state,” Trump Jr. said in Montana on Friday, according to The Associated Press, referring to Tester.

A spokesman for Tester’s campaign shot back without criticizing Trump Jr., saying the Democratic senator has had 16 pieces of legislation signed into law by the president and dismissing Rosendale as “an East Coast developer.”

As the elder Trump slowly moves toward his reelection campaign, Trump Jr.’s maintenance with his base serves to help his father organize for his 2020 reelection bid, a former senior Trump campaign aide said.

“The grass roots is the foundation of the Trump base, and Don Jr. is an asset with the grass roots,” said the aide.

Trump Jr. was also active in some key special elections for the party. In Pennsylvania, he attended two events with Republican Rick Saccone, who ultimately lost the Trump-friendly district to Democrat Conor Lamb. Last year, he did a handful of events for now-Rep. Greg Gianforte in Montana for a special election that Gianforte won narrowly.

“The intensity and energy that he was able to deliver was [critical] to really creating the enthusiasm in that race,” said Jason Thielman, chief of staff to Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

Democrats are skeptical that the president’s eldest son will hold enough sway with voters to move the needle even in states the president won by overwhelming margins. One Montana Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said Trump Jr. didn’t make “any noticeable difference” in that special election.

National Democrats feel similarly.

“Trump is Trump,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Everybody else is not Trump. That includes Trump Jr.”

Democrats also argue there are downsides to having Trump Jr. on the trail. In Pennsylvania, Trump Jr’s visit to a local ice cream shop was interrupted by questions about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. In West Virginia, he was asked about Russia again, with Morrisey at his side. Asked why his story about the meeting had changed, Trump Jr. responded, “It doesn’t at all. You can go look at the details in the transcripts.”

Trump Jr. has already shown his value as a fundraising draw.

He was a guest at a 400-person event in November for Kansas gubernatorial hopeful Kris Kobach and at a tony April gathering in New York for congressional candidate Greg Pence.

The event for Pence, hosted by Blackstone executive Wayne Berman and investor Tommy Hicks Jr., raised $100,000, according to the sources close to Trump Jr.

In May, Trump Jr. appeared at a $500 per person fundraiser for Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Todd Lamb, with whom he had bonded years earlier over their mutual hunting hobby. Attendees included former Devon Energy Chairman Larry Nichols and oil executive Harold Hamm, one of Trump’s most enthusiastic megadonors, according to The Daily Oklahoman.

“I’m a big outdoorsman,” Trump Jr. said at the event, the newspaper reported at the time. “Especially where I’m from it’s sort of demonized, so I spent a lot of time down in this neck of the woods.”

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Reversal of fortune: Obamacare rate hikes pose headache for Republicans

Obamacare premiums are once again poised to spike by double digits in 2019, causing heartburn for politicians as voters will head to the polls within days of learning about the looming hit to their pocketbooks.

But unlike recent campaign cycles, when Republicans capitalized on Obamacare sticker shock to help propel them to control of Congress and the White House, they’re now likely to be the ones feeling the wrath of voters.

That’s because Republicans are now in total control of the federal government and therefore on the hook for the health care system’s chronic shortcomings. Polling data has consistently suggested that more voters will blame Republicans for future problems with Obamacare. In addition, the GOP’s repeated failures to repeal Obamacare after eight years of campaign promises will make it difficult to galvanize the base on health care.

Democrats and their allies have been hammering President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for “sabotaging” the health care markets and driving up premiums. Protect Our Care has been running digital ads in 13 states featuring news coverage of big rate hikes and concluding with a sound bite from Trump: “Let Obamacare implode.”

They hope that message will stick with voters come November.

“The political implications go only as far as people understand that they are a direct consequence of the administration’s actions,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), a medical doctor who sits on a key committee that oversees health care. “If they realize that, then they will be very, very upset with them.”

In particular, Democrats blame Republicans for eliminating the mandate penalty for failing to obtain health insurance, which was designed to be a cudgel to compel people who might otherwise go uninsured to buy coverage. They also point to the Trump administration’s efforts to make it easier to buy skinnier, cheaper plans that don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements and patient protections as an exacerbating factor.

“Once they fractured the mandate, that changed the insurance pool,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee. “Insurance is based upon shared risk, meaning fewer people contributing, the premiums escalate.”

Republicans scoff at the notion that they’re to blame for Obamacare’s failings. They point out that big rate hikes were a chronic condition of the exchange markets long before they took full control of the government.

“The Affordable Care Act has been a total failure,” said Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), a pharmacist who serves on one of the key House committees dealing with health care. “It’s been a train wreck since Day One. What we’re trying to do is to fix it.”

Republicans further argue that Democrats sabotaged a bipartisan effort to pass legislation designed to stabilize the markets and reduce rate hikes. They contend that Democratic concerns over abortion language that ultimately derailed the deal were a smokescreen.

“They are the reason why we didn’t pass the legislation that would have solved the issue,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has been closely involved in efforts to come up with a Republican plan to replace the ACA. “I can only guess that it’s politics.”

Democrats counter that the GOP added the abortion restrictions knowing that would be the deal-breaker.

Insurance experts generally agree that the rate hikes will be more severe because of actions taken by the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration.

“If it hadn’t been for the individual mandate being repealed, and the threat of short-term and other loosely regulated plans proliferating, I think we would have seen single-digit premiums increases,” said Cynthia Cox, an insurance expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Insurers are performing much better on the exchange markets than they had in the early years.”

However, that strong financial performance of the markets is also complicating Democratic talking points about sabotage. In many states, competition is increasing as insurers see opportunities to move into markets with little competition. Most notably, Oscar Health — the tech-friendly startup that’s lost hundreds of millions in the Obamacare markets — is entering or expanding its footprint in six states.

That’s a stark contrast from last summer, when dozens of counties across the country were at risk of having no competing insurers due to market exits.

But double-digit premium increases are still likely in many states, as evidenced by the rate filings that have been trickling out in recent weeks. Premiums for the most popular Obamacare plans are going up by 15 percent on average — about $100 per month — according to an analysis of rate filings in 10 states by Avalere Health. While rates won’t be finalized until the fall, it’s already clear that there will be wide discrepancies across the country that could affect the political salience of the issue.

Insurers in Maryland want to raise rates on the most popular plans by an eye-popping 53 percent, while New York insurers are seeking average premium increases of 24 percent. By contrast, insurers in Pennsylvania want to raise premiums by only 5 percent on average. All four insurers selling Obamacare plans in Minnesota want to decrease premiums.

One big factor affecting the severity of the rate hikes is how insurers account for the removal of the individual mandate. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will increase premiums by 10 percent, mainly because fewer healthy people will opt to enroll, but Republicans have scoffed at that as an unrealistic assessment of the mandate’s significance.

“It’s really kind of a crapshoot for the actuaries to say, well, it is or it isn’t going to have an effect,” said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, which has 70,000 Obamacare customers. “We will make a decision with our gut.”

Highmark Health, which sells Obamacare plans in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware, plans to raise premiums by 5 percent next year to account for the repeal of the mandate. The insurer made money on its Obamacare customers last year after piling up big losses on that book of business in prior years.

“The rates are catching up to the risks,” said David Holmberg, Highmark Health’s CEO. “Every time you change the rules you disrupt that.”

The other major wild card is the Trump administration’s efforts to increase the availability of cheaper plans that don’t meet the ACA’s coverage requirements. On Tuesday, the Labor Department finalized rules making it easier for small businesses and self-employed workers to band together to purchase association health plans. Still in the pipeline are regulations that will expand the availability of short-term plans.

What it all comes down to for insurers is trying to gauge how many people will drop coverage entirely or seek options outside of the Obamacare markets due to the changes, said Jim Whisler, who leads Deloitte Consulting’s health actuarial practice.

“That’s the real wild card,” Whisler said. “It really dramatically increases the range of reasonable assumptions.”

Republicans are unimpressed by assertions that insurers will be forced to raise rates because of changes they’ve made to Obamacare.

“Insurers are going to cite anything as factors to increase their premiums,” said Carter. “I can assure you that this is a direct result of the Affordable Care Act.”

Democrats note that Republicans are hoping to at least partially insulate themselves from health care attacks by passing a barrage of bills designed to address the opioid crisis. But Ruiz points out that many individuals who enter rehab to treat opioid addiction are enrolled in Medicaid, which Republicans sought to dramatically scale back as part of their Obamacare repeal efforts.

“You realize that this is a small step forward, but 10 steps back if they get their way,” Ruiz said.

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Trump: 'We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country'

President Donald Trump on Sunday continued escalating his rhetoric about migrants, tweeting, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country.”

The president wrote on Twitter: “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” presumably confusing “bring” with “send” in that instance. “Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

Trump and allies have increasingly used dehumanizing terms to describe immigration, including language like “infest.” At times, his harsh words have been reserved for MS-13 gang members, but in other instances he is not specific as to what he is talking about and conflates migrants coming across the border with the brutal gang.

“Immigration must be based on merit — we need people who will help to Make America Great Again!” he said in his next tweet.

The president and his administration have been under intense criticism since the new “zero tolerance” immigration policy led to the separation of families apprehended after crossing the border illegally. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that he said would end the practice, but former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Sunday that order will likely be overturned by the courts.

As he did last week, Trump complained about the role of judges and the court system in the U.S. immigration process. Since illegal immigration is a federal crime — a misdemeanor for a first instance of illegal border crossing and a felony for someone who has been deported who illegally enters the United States again — the process is handled at the federal level by immigration judges.

The U.S. has an expedited removal process that allows for relatively fast deportation proceedings for people who enter the country illegally, but only if they are citizens of Canada or Mexico. Trump wants to change that.

But the president seemed to call Sunday for denying due process to people apprehended after crossing the border illegally, and he did not seem to draw a distinction for people who arrive at ports of entry seeking asylum, as are many of those now coming from violence-plagued Central American nations. America is party to treaties that govern the treatment of asylum seekers and non-asylum seekers.

An American Civil Liberties Union official blasted Trump’s statement, saying the president was suggesting an “illegal and unconstitutional” policy change.

“Any official who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws should disavow it unequivocally,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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Silence on Russian election meddling frustrates lawmakers

Robert Mueller and the nation’s top intelligence official say Russia is trying to interfere in the midterm elections — but Republican and Democratic lawmakers say the Trump administration is keeping them in the dark about whether the U.S. is ready.

A half-dozen senior House and Senate lawmakers who spoke to POLITICO say they’re hearing only an alarming silence from the administration about what Moscow’s trolls and hackers are up to, less than five months before an election that could undo the Republican lock on Congress and derail President Donald Trump’s agenda.

They’re also getting conflicting messages: Mueller and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have both asserted that Russian efforts to undermine the American political system are underway, without offering any public evidence or specifics. Meanwhile, officials from the Department of Homeland Security say they haven’t detected any specific Russian attacks on U.S. voting machines or databases this year.

“We’re getting so many mixed signals, depending on what the agency is,” said Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is planning to convene a summit next month with intelligence officials. “It compels us to bring everybody together in the same room and try to figure out whether or not there’s some stovepipe issues.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed even more frustration.

“What we would normally see in a normal administration is the principals meeting to discuss what are they doing individually, what are they doing jointly, or what they are communicating amongst themselves, what’s the whole of government plan to protect the midterms,” Schiff told POLITICO. “I just don’t see any evidence that’s happening.”

Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern that DHS and the intelligence community haven’t learned from their missteps in 2016, when they failed to share information about evidence of Russian operations with other federal officials, the private sector or state election agencies. Afterward, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an extensive influence operation to undermine the election, with the eventual aim of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.

The lawmakers also questioning whether the agencies are equipped or being active enough in trying to prevent a repeat this year.

DHS is “doing a lot” on election security, Burr said, but “from a standpoint of Russian meddling, the jury is out whether we’re detecting Russian activities and, if so, to what degree and what they’re targeted towards.”

In the House, Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have petitioned for a detailed, classified briefing on the threats posed by Moscow.

However, that request has “gotten some pushback” from the intelligence community, Schiff said. He said officials had argued that Coats, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Chris Wray, had already given an all-hands briefing to House members last month.

“That isn’t sufficient,” Schiff said.

The government has made election security a new priority ahead of the midterms and the 2020 presidential elections. That includes DHS’ efforts to work more closely with states on safeguarding voting systems and monitoring for attempts to tamper with election infrastructure, such as voter registration databases and connected IT systems.

The federal Election Assistance Commission has set aside $380 million to help states make security improvements at the polls, and many states are investing their own money in election system upgrades.

Authorities have said that Russia-linked hackers scanned at least 21 states’ election computer systems before the 2016 election, although they don’t believe the intruders altered any actual votes. That’s in addition to what Mueller’s office and the U.S. intelligence community have called a massive disinformation campaign that Russia wages on social media to sow divisions surrounding the election — as well as the hacking and theft of documents from Clinton’s campaign and various Democratic Party organizations.

Agency chiefs across the U.S. national security apparatus have publicly testified that they fully expect Russia to make another attempt on the country’s election systems. But specific details have been scarce.

At a recent meeting in France co-hosted by the Washington think tank the Atlantic Council, Coats was dire in his warnings about Moscow’s intentions but vague on specifics. “It is 2018, and we continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections,” he said.

An ODNI spokesman declined to comment further on Coats’ remarks.

Days later, Mueller said in court filings related to the 2016 Russian influence investigation that “uncharged individuals and entities” are attempting to sway the country’s politics and elections. In the motion to block those charged in that case from getting access to evidence, Mueller’s team wrote that “public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States.”

Mueller’s investigators also have evidence that efforts are ongoing “to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment,” the court documents said.

But DHS officials — who play the federal lead role in securing the country’s critical infrastructure, including elections — say they haven’t detected any meddling.

The department has not seen any evidence of “specific Russian targeting of election systems,” Matt Masterson, a senior cybersecurity adviser in DHS’ Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, told The Washington Post earlier this month.

Masterson told reporters last week that he was “talking very specifically about the targeting of election systems,” while intelligence heads like Coats are referring to high-level influence operations.

DHS’ narrow focus only further compounds congressional worries that agencies aren’t on the same page, particularly if Moscow launches another multifaceted effort as it did in 2016.

“It’s confusing to have two agencies have diametrically different opinions,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Intelligence Committee.

He added that he hasn’t been “impressed by DHS’ attention to this issue,” noting it took the agency until the end of 2017 to notify the 21 states that Russian hackers had scanned their election systems during the presidential campaign. The issue popped up again this past week when former President Barack Obama’s cyber chief, Michael Daniel, told senators it was “highly likely” all 50 states had been scrutinized.

“I don’t think they’ve adequately responded to this threat,” King said.

The lack of concrete examples has left lawmakers to their own imaginations, with some zeroing in on reports about Russian trolls on Twitter. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that despite efforts by Twitter to crack down on troll accounts, many remain active, tweeting on subjects like Roseanne Barr and Donald Trump Jr.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told the Senate Intelligence Committee this past week that “we’re already seeing some of the moves on the Russian side.”

“There’s obviously the electoral target,” she said. “But over the course of 2017 and 2018, they’ve had great success turbocharging their efforts to divide the U.S. on race, on issues of gun control, on any of the seams that stretch us. … I think they will accelerate that,” she said.

Still, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said the communication from the Trump administration may have the unintended consequence of exaggerating the threat.

“Part of the problem in terms of anybody speaking for the administration on the whole election interference issue is, it has been blown so out of proportion,” he said, casting doubt on the idea that anyone could truly affect election outcomes. “This is not the greatest threat to our democracy in history as we hear people on the other side. It’s a threat. It’s one that we need to take seriously.”

As lawmakers press for more information, state election officials told the Senate Rules Committee they are doing what they can to upgrade their systems against any potential digital attacks. But they worry the $380 million doled out earlier this year isn’t enough.

“I would respectfully request those in Congress consider some ongoing way to provide resources,” said Steve Simon, Minnesota’s secretary of state.

Tim Starks contributed reporting to this report.

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Chinese leaders ‘absolutely confused’ by Trump’s demands on trade

Donald Trump has called on China to capitulate to U.S. demands on trade. The problem is nobody knows exactly what Trump actually wants — including the Chinese.

One week, he condemns threats to American national security interests and the next, agrees to lift a ban on doing business with Chinese telecom giant ZTE. He rails about the U.S. trade deficit with China, then dismisses Beijing’s offer — negotiated by his own officials — to boost its purchases of U.S. goods by billions of dollars.

Beyond the feints and jabs, he’s raised so many different issues that it’s hard to know what his priorities might really be.

The strategy is straight out of “The Art of the Deal”: “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.” But some doubt that approach translates to negotiating with a global superpower. By all accounts, it has left the Chinese increasingly mystified about what Trump really wants at a pivotal moment when the world’s two largest economies are teetering on the edge of sustained trade warfare.

“They’re absolutely confused,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the Chinese.

Without clear demands, he argued, Beijing is unlikely to offer much. “The concession has to get them something. And they don’t know what they’re going to get because the U.S. doesn’t have a strategy.”

Chinese officials, for their part, are increasingly blunt about their frustration.

“We appeal our American interlocutors to be credible and consistent,” Li Kexin, minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in a speech Tuesday at the Institute for China-America Studies. “When you agree, you mean it.”

And on Friday, Gao Feng, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, criticized the U.S. as “capricious.”

Trump’s aggressive approach is a reversal from more than a decade of U.S. policy toward China, which involved negotiating on a suite of business issues every year to make incremental progress. Any gains were secured largely by convincing Beijing that a more open economy was ultimately in its best interests — a tactic that worked very slowly and only to a point.

The president’s willingness to antagonize China more directly has largely been embraced by the U.S. companies and workers desperate for quicker and more substantial results. But veterans of international negotiations are skeptical that negotiations will succeed unless they’re more clearly focused.

“Yes, they have a plan. No, I don’t think it will work,” said Bill Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The plan is always push harder, demand everything and offer nothing.”

The underlying structure of China’s economy is the cause of many of U.S. companies’ most intractable complaints, something that won’t change in a matter of weeks or even months.

Beijing makes U.S. companies jump through more hoops than domestic companies. It conducts cyber espionage and steals U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property, like patents. And the Chinese government subsidizes its companies on a grand scale, guaranteeing that they can sell goods below a market-set price.

All of these policies have been identified by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as the impetus for new tariffs set to be imposed on $50 billion in Chinese goods. But across the ideological spectrum, China watchers are worried the president’s laser-like focus on the trade deficit may lead him to lose focus on seeking structural changes to the Chinese nonmarket system.

“This is a multiyear process that involves a lot of pain,” Scissors said. “If you don’t want to face the pain and take the time, then don’t do it.”

Chinese officials have similarly cautioned that this negotiation may take years.

“Let’s talk about it, no matter on trade deficit or structural issues,” Li said.

Adding to the confusion, senior administration officials have said they don’t know exactly what Trump will decide to say or do on trade at any given moment. That uncertainty has led advisers to compete for his attention in a bid to sway him, which leads to varied tactics and mixed messaging.

Officials like National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow have indicated the goal is to knock down barriers to U.S. exports, such as tariffs. But under the rules of the World Trade Organization, China is bound to give the United States the same tariff treatment as every other WTO member, making negotiations on the reduction of duties difficult.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. tariffs, aimed at extracting concessions from the Chinese, were designed largely as a response to intellectual property theft, with a nod to China’s policy of propping up companies in particular sectors.

China responded to the announcement of those tariffs by scheduling duties on U.S. goods that mirror the size and timing of the administration’s action. On Tuesday, Trump responded by threatening to slap tariffs on as much as $450 billion in Chinese goods. The administration is also planning next week to place new investment restrictions on the Asian nation.

“Increasingly, I’ve been asked by fairly high-level folks [in China] to just explain what is going on,” said Taiya Smith, who worked under former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to develop formalized trade talks between Washington and Beijing, then called the Strategic Economic Dialogue.

In a press call on Tuesday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro criticized Beijing’s offers thus far. “If they thought that they could buy us off with a few extra products sold and allow them to continue to steal our intellectual property and crown jewels, that was a miscalculation,” he said. “We hope going forward, there is no more miscalculation.”

So what concessions might be enough? The clearest document outlining U.S. demands looked more like asks in negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement than a targeted deal aimed at heading off punitive tariffs.

The administration in May said it wanted China to commit to reducing the trade deficit by $200 billion by 2020. It also asked China to stop subsidizing high-tech sectors like robotics and alternative energy vehicles identified in its China’s strategic economic plan, cut tariffs on “all products in non-critical sectors” to levels at or below U.S. duties and assure that it would not challenge U.S. actions taken in intellectual property disputes.

Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s chief negotiator, said at the time that it wasn’t his goal to “change the Chinese system,” despite his long list of criticisms of that system.

“If they want to do it, that’s fine, but I have to be in a position where the United States can deal with it, where the United States isn’t a victim of it,” he said.

A source familiar with the negotiations said Lighthizer and Navarro both seem to be of the view that China is not going to change, and so they’re taking action to protect the U.S. market. It’s possible, the source added, that a lot of the new trade restrictions will simply remain in place.

Trump himself has railed repeatedly against the massive trade deficit between the U.S. and China, which stood at $566 billion in 2017. He’s also nodded to China’s practice of forcing companies to hand over valuable technology and data.

“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S.,” Trump tweeted in April. “Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!”

But he muddied the waters last month by offering to strike a deal to save embattled Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which policy experts argue could’ve been used as an example to Chinese companies that break the law.

The Commerce Department in April imposed a seven-year ban on American companies doing business with ZTE, alleging the company had conducted illegal sales to North Korea and Iran. The ban threatened to shutter the company.

But then Trump tweeted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were working on a way to get ZTE “back into business, fast,” adding, “Too many jobs in China lost.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) criticized the move as inconsistent with Trump’s effort to get tough on China. “While we simply cannot let China’s unfair trade practices go unchecked, this President’s erratic approach to resolving this issue gives me pause,” he said in a statement.

The Senate has since moved to block Commerce’s deal with ZTE.

Beyond uncertainty about the administration’s goals, U.S. business groups also aren’t pleased with the approach taken by the administration — imposing a lot of new tariffs — in a bid to spur change.

“One way we’ve been putting it lately is: right question, wrong answer,” said Josh Kallmer, senior vice president of global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council.

“We’ve actually been really supportive of the administration for undertaking the investigation and raising this to a level of seriousness that past administrations have not,” added Kallmer, a former career official at the USTR with experience in negotiating with China.

But “the path they’ve gone on, we’ve found it to be pretty counterproductive and bordering on irresponsible,” he added, saying tariffs are merely going to hurt American standards of living by raising prices.

He argued instead that the U.S. should be focused specifically on intellectual property theft, and it should recruit the help of U.S. allies like Canada, Europe and Japan, rather than further antagonizing those countries.

“There’s no question that the attorneys and key policy officials at USTR are seeing the big picture,” Kallmer said. “But then when it gets to be time for political-level officials to make a judgment about what to do, I think they are being selective and incomplete. They’re really taking their eye off the ball.”

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Chinese leaders ‘absolutely confused’ by Trump’s demands on trade

Donald Trump has called on China to capitulate to U.S. demands on trade. The problem is nobody knows exactly what Trump actually wants — including the Chinese.

One week, he condemns threats to American national security interests and the next, agrees to lift a ban on doing business with Chinese telecom giant ZTE. He rails about the U.S. trade deficit with China, then dismisses Beijing’s offer — negotiated by his own officials — to boost its purchases of U.S. goods by billions of dollars.

Beyond the feints and jabs, he’s raised so many different issues that it’s hard to know what his priorities might really be.

The strategy is straight out of “The Art of the Deal”: “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.” But some doubt that approach translates to negotiating with a global superpower. By all accounts, it has left the Chinese increasingly mystified about what Trump really wants at a pivotal moment when the world’s two largest economies are teetering on the edge of sustained trade warfare.

“They’re absolutely confused,” Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said of the Chinese.

Without clear demands, he argued, Beijing is unlikely to offer much. “The concession has to get them something. And they don’t know what they’re going to get because the U.S. doesn’t have a strategy.”

Chinese officials, for their part, are increasingly blunt about their frustration.

“We appeal our American interlocutors to be credible and consistent,” Li Kexin, minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in a speech Tuesday at the Institute for China-America Studies. “When you agree, you mean it.”

And on Friday, Gao Feng, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, criticized the U.S. as “capricious.”

Trump’s aggressive approach is a reversal from more than a decade of U.S. policy toward China, which involved negotiating on a suite of business issues every year to make incremental progress. Any gains were secured largely by convincing Beijing that a more open economy was ultimately in its best interests — a tactic that worked very slowly and only to a point.

The president’s willingness to antagonize China more directly has largely been embraced by the U.S. companies and workers desperate for quicker and more substantial results. But veterans of international negotiations are skeptical that negotiations will succeed unless they’re more clearly focused.

“Yes, they have a plan. No, I don’t think it will work,” said Bill Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The plan is always push harder, demand everything and offer nothing.”

The underlying structure of China’s economy is the cause of many of U.S. companies’ most intractable complaints, something that won’t change in a matter of weeks or even months.

Beijing makes U.S. companies jump through more hoops than domestic companies. It conducts cyber espionage and steals U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property, like patents. And the Chinese government subsidizes its companies on a grand scale, guaranteeing that they can sell goods below a market-set price.

All of these policies have been identified by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as the impetus for new tariffs set to be imposed on $50 billion in Chinese goods. But across the ideological spectrum, China watchers are worried the president’s laser-like focus on the trade deficit may lead him to lose focus on seeking structural changes to the Chinese nonmarket system.

“This is a multiyear process that involves a lot of pain,” Scissors said. “If you don’t want to face the pain and take the time, then don’t do it.”

Chinese officials have similarly cautioned that this negotiation may take years.

“Let’s talk about it, no matter on trade deficit or structural issues,” Li said.

Adding to the confusion, senior administration officials have said they don’t know exactly what Trump will decide to say or do on trade at any given moment. That uncertainty has led advisers to compete for his attention in a bid to sway him, which leads to varied tactics and mixed messaging.

Officials like National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow have indicated the goal is to knock down barriers to U.S. exports, such as tariffs. But under the rules of the World Trade Organization, China is bound to give the United States the same tariff treatment as every other WTO member, making negotiations on the reduction of duties difficult.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. tariffs, aimed at extracting concessions from the Chinese, were designed largely as a response to intellectual property theft, with a nod to China’s policy of propping up companies in particular sectors.

China responded to the announcement of those tariffs by scheduling duties on U.S. goods that mirror the size and timing of the administration’s action. On Tuesday, Trump responded by threatening to slap tariffs on as much as $450 billion in Chinese goods. The administration is also planning next week to place new investment restrictions on the Asian nation.

“Increasingly, I’ve been asked by fairly high-level folks [in China] to just explain what is going on,” said Taiya Smith, who worked under former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to develop formalized trade talks between Washington and Beijing, then called the Strategic Economic Dialogue.

In a press call on Tuesday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro criticized Beijing’s offers thus far. “If they thought that they could buy us off with a few extra products sold and allow them to continue to steal our intellectual property and crown jewels, that was a miscalculation,” he said. “We hope going forward, there is no more miscalculation.”

So what concessions might be enough? The clearest document outlining U.S. demands looked more like asks in negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement than a targeted deal aimed at heading off punitive tariffs.

The administration in May said it wanted China to commit to reducing the trade deficit by $200 billion by 2020. It also asked China to stop subsidizing high-tech sectors like robotics and alternative energy vehicles identified in its China’s strategic economic plan, cut tariffs on “all products in non-critical sectors” to levels at or below U.S. duties and assure that it would not challenge U.S. actions taken in intellectual property disputes.

Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s chief negotiator, said at the time that it wasn’t his goal to “change the Chinese system,” despite his long list of criticisms of that system.

“If they want to do it, that’s fine, but I have to be in a position where the United States can deal with it, where the United States isn’t a victim of it,” he said.

A source familiar with the negotiations said Lighthizer and Navarro both seem to be of the view that China is not going to change, and so they’re taking action to protect the U.S. market. It’s possible, the source added, that a lot of the new trade restrictions will simply remain in place.

Trump himself has railed repeatedly against the massive trade deficit between the U.S. and China, which stood at $566 billion in 2017. He’s also nodded to China’s practice of forcing companies to hand over valuable technology and data.

“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S.,” Trump tweeted in April. “Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!”

But he muddied the waters last month by offering to strike a deal to save embattled Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which policy experts argue could’ve been used as an example to Chinese companies that break the law.

The Commerce Department in April imposed a seven-year ban on American companies doing business with ZTE, alleging the company had conducted illegal sales to North Korea and Iran. The ban threatened to shutter the company.

But then Trump tweeted that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping were working on a way to get ZTE “back into business, fast,” adding, “Too many jobs in China lost.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) criticized the move as inconsistent with Trump’s effort to get tough on China. “While we simply cannot let China’s unfair trade practices go unchecked, this President’s erratic approach to resolving this issue gives me pause,” he said in a statement.

The Senate has since moved to block Commerce’s deal with ZTE.

Beyond uncertainty about the administration’s goals, U.S. business groups also aren’t pleased with the approach taken by the administration — imposing a lot of new tariffs — in a bid to spur change.

“One way we’ve been putting it lately is: right question, wrong answer,” said Josh Kallmer, senior vice president of global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council.

“We’ve actually been really supportive of the administration for undertaking the investigation and raising this to a level of seriousness that past administrations have not,” added Kallmer, a former career official at the USTR with experience in negotiating with China.

But “the path they’ve gone on, we’ve found it to be pretty counterproductive and bordering on irresponsible,” he added, saying tariffs are merely going to hurt American standards of living by raising prices.

He argued instead that the U.S. should be focused specifically on intellectual property theft, and it should recruit the help of U.S. allies like Canada, Europe and Japan, rather than further antagonizing those countries.

“There’s no question that the attorneys and key policy officials at USTR are seeing the big picture,” Kallmer said. “But then when it gets to be time for political-level officials to make a judgment about what to do, I think they are being selective and incomplete. They’re really taking their eye off the ball.”

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Hasty immigration order gives way to West Wing tensions

Facing an unprecedented outpouring of public outrage this week over the separation of migrant families at the border, President Donald Trump did what he usually does when he wants a quick fix: Asked for an executive order.

Trump frequently demands executive orders to carry out policies he wants to implement as a way of circumventing the long process of working with Congress to pass legislation, according to a former administration official – a move he picked up from former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who in the opening months of the Trump presidency, used the directives to carry out his “shock and awe” strategy.

On Wednesday morning, the president asked for a document that would — at least temporarily — reunite parents and children separated by his administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy. That afternoon, over the objections of several of his senior advisers and lawyers, he signed an order that had been dashed together in a matter of hours.

Typically, executive orders are the product of weeks of collaborative work: A draft is circulated within the White House and across the relevant agencies and officials offer comments and feedback before a final version is produced for the president to sign.

The order Trump signed this week, hastily written amid an escalating crisis and rushed to his desk before he left town for a political rally, was the opposite. While it stanched the flow of negative media coverage, beginning the process of reuniting children and parents, the vaguely worded immigration order created a new set of problems for the administration.

At agencies from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, which has been asked to help house illegal immigrants and their children, officials say they remain uncertain how to carry out an order they aren’t sure is legal in the first place.

Those concerns boiled over on Thursday afternoon in a contentious Principals Committee meeting chaired by White House chief of staff John Kelly. Inside the White House Situation Room, senior administration officials grappled with basic questions raised by the directive. Where should immigrant families be housed as parents await criminal prosecution? Can you keep families together, when the parents are technically in custody, and the children are not? Should the administration create new facilities to accommodate them? Would the courts intervene to prevent them from acting at all? It was an exercise in policymaking on the fly.

“It was policy based on a PR-messaging impulse,” said one person briefed on the meeting.

Administration officials usually succeed in preventing the implementation of executive orders, according to one former administration official — sometimes simply by telling Trump, truthfully, that they wouldn’t hold up in court.

Though Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn objected the president’s decision to sign Wednesday’s executive order, they did not vocally oppose him, a symptom, one administration official said, of the president’s most senior advisers recognizing the futility in trying to stand in his way.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The administration is trying to chart a middle ground between the family separations, which were the result of the Trump administration’s decision to make crossing the border a criminal rather than a civil offense, and simply releasing illegal immigrants who arrive with children into the U.S. Under a 1997 federal settlement, the government cannot hold children with their parents longer than 20 days – not enough time for adults to get a court hearing given extensive backlogs.

One White House official argued earlier this week that if a judge would scrap the federal settlement, it would allow migrant parents to remain with their children in detention longer and thus solve the issue.

Inside the White House, the executive order was viewed as a serious blow to senior presidential adviser Stephen Miller, including by Miller himself. The White House’s most vocal immigration hawk has told allies that it will be impossible for the administration to maintain its so-called “zero tolerance” policy while keeping parents and children together, and that a return to the “catch and release” policy of previous administrations, where undocumented immigrants are freed inside the U.S. and told to show up for court hearings, is the most likely outcome.

Another former administration official said the mess over separations would also imperil Miller’s other policy moves on immigration, including several draft executive orders and proposed agency rules that he had hoped to roll out before the mid-term to appeal to the president’s conservative base.

Miller’s detractors, meanwhile, blame the current state of affairs on a policy process that he has managed unilaterally. They describe an unspoken truce between Miller – who had originally hoped to control the entire White House policy shop, exerting his influence on trade and other issues as he did during Trump’s 2016 campaign – and some of the president’s other policy advisers, such as former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn.

The deal meant that other White House officials cut Miller out of their signature issues, and in exchange they tacitly allowed him run immigration policy on his own aided by a network of like-minded immigration hawks working in various agencies. That deal worked out for them when there was little movement, from the White House, on immigration issues apart from Miller’s attempts to institute a travel ban. But now his unilateral control over the issue, according to former White House officials, is seen as partially responsible for the biggest domestic crisis of Trump’s presidency to date.

And the blame game has already begun following the executive order roll-out. Agency officials have criticized a White House that largely keeps them out of the loop on its immigration moves under Miller’s control, while West Wing aides have blamed the agencies for the creating a mess by sticking with the zero-tolerance policy.

Agencies are beginning to take steps toward reuniting parents and children already separated.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday created an “unaccompanied children reunification task force,” a first step toward reunifying thousands of migrant children in the agency’s custody with their families, according to an internal document obtained by POLITICO.

The task force was established by the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — the arm of the agency that responds to public health disasters, and an indication that the challenge of reunifying thousands of families is likely beyond the capabilities of the refugee office.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services has directed the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response assist the ACF Office of Refugee Resettlement with Unaccompanied Children Reunification,” the order reads. The agency’s Emergency Management Group, which operates out of the HHS secretary’s operations center, also was activated.

HHS did not immediately respond to request for comment.

As the administration scrambles to implement Trump’s directive, a legal showdown over the new family-detention policy appears to be at least a few days away.

The central fight over Trump’s new policy seems likely to take place in federal court in Los Angeles, where Justice Department lawyers filed an emergency request Thursday to alter a decades-old consent decree so that immigrant children can be detained along with their parents. Federal government lawyers said the settlement in the long-running case, as interpreted by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee and confirmed by an appeals court panel, currently bars authorities from holding children for more than 20 days in most cases.

Dan Diamond and Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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The palace intrigue and backstories on Trump’s week dealing with the border

WHAT A WEEK … THE TICK TOCKS …

— ELIANA JOHNSON, ANNIE KARNI and NANCY COOK: “Trump’s quick fix on family separations unleashes internal tensions”: “Facing an unprecedented outpouring of public outrage this week over the separation of migrant families at the border, President Donald Trump did what he usually does when he wants a quick fix: Asked for an executive order.

“Trump frequently demands executive orders to carry out policies he wants to implement as a way of circumventing the long process of working with Congress to pass legislation, according to a former administration official – a move he picked up from former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who in the opening months of the Trump presidency, used the directives to carry out his ‘shock and awe’ strategy. …

“The order Trump signed this week, hastily written amid an escalating crisis and rushed to his desk before he left town for a political rally, was the opposite. While it stanched the flow of negative media coverage, beginning the process of reuniting children and parents, the vaguely worded immigration order created a new set of problems for the administration.

“At agencies from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, which has been asked to help house illegal immigrants and their children, officials say they remain uncertain how to carry out an order they aren’t sure is legal in the first place.” https://politi.co/2tnJUWx

— WAPO’S DEVLIN BARRETT, JOSH DAWSEY and NICK MIROFF: “Arguments, confusion, second-guessing: Inside Trump’s reversal on separating migrant families”: “By Wednesday morning, the president had become convinced that he needed a way to calm the criticism, according to people familiar with the discussions, and he felt confident that Republicans in Congress would push through immigration legislation ending the family separation practice — so he might as well get ahead of it. A vote on the measure was eventually postponed until next week, but it does not appear to have enough votes to pass.

“In private conversations with aides, Trump said he wanted to sign a full immigration bill as part of an executive order, which one administration official described as ‘a pretty insane idea.’ The president was told by government lawyers that he could not change immigration law by fiat, said a person familiar with the discussions.

“Trump then demanded that an executive order be written that would end child detentions in cages, and said he wanted it on his desk for signing by that afternoon, according to people involved in the discussions.

“Given hours to produce a complex legal document, government lawyers crafted one that met the moment’s political demands but only added to confusion within the agencies tasked with implementing it. The order has quieted much, but not all, of the public anger over the family separation issue. On Friday outside the Justice Department, about 100 protesters gathered in the rain chanting ‘Keep Families Together!’” https://wapo.st/2tAOobM

— NYT’S MIKE SHEAR, RON NIXON and KATIE BENNER: “In Tense Meeting, Trump Officials Debate How to Process Migrant Families”: “Tense arguments broke out at the White House over the past two days as top government officials clashed over how to carry out President Trump’s executive order on keeping together immigrant families at the Mexican border, according to four people familiar with the meetings.

“The disputes started Thursday night. They continued Friday as Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, returned to the White House to question how his agency was supposed to detain parents and children together when the law requires that children not be held indefinitely in jail.” https://nyti.ms/2tnH189

L.A. TIMES: “Camp Pendleton is slated to house up to 47,000 migrants in temporary detention, according to report,” by Jeff McDonald and Kate Morrissey: https://lat.ms/2tsRjms

CHARLESTON POST AND COURIER: “Katie Arrington seriously injured in two-car fatal accident Friday night,” by Schuyler Kropf: “Katie Arrington, who two weeks ago won the Republican 1st Congressional District nomination over Mark Sanford, was in a fatal car accident late Friday and taken to Medical University Hospital.

“Reports are that she was seriously injured. Arrington was in a car heading south on U.S. Highway 17 toward Hilton Head Island when the vehicle she was in was struck by another car driving northbound but in the wrong lane. The driver in the other car was killed.” http://bit.ly/2yH1vO2

Good Saturday morning. THE PRESIDENT is going to Las Vegas today for the Nevada Republican Party convention, where he’ll speak. He returns around 9 p.m.

SPOTTED: The Ford family — Mike Ford, former President and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford’s son, and great-grandchildren — visited the Capitol on Friday. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) escorted them on the floor, where they spoke to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Cheney took them to Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, which once belonged to Ford.

THE BIG PICTURE – NYT’s PETER BAKER, “President Trump, Deal Maker? Not So Fast”: “As he threw in the towel on immigration legislation on Friday, saying that Republicans should give up even trying until after the fall midterm elections, Mr. Trump once again fell short of his promise to make ‘beautiful’ deals that no other president could make. His 17 months in office have in fact been an exercise in futility for the art-of-the-deal president. No deal on immigration. No deal on health care. No deal on gun control. No deal on spending cuts. No deal on Nafta. No deal on China trade. No deal on steel and aluminum imports.

“No deal on Middle East peace. No deal on the Qatar blockade. No deal on Syria. No deal on Russia. No deal on Iran. No deal on climate change. No deal on Pacific trade. Even routine deals sometimes elude Mr. Trump, or he chooses to blow them up. After a Group of 7 summit meeting this month with the world’s leading economic powers, Mr. Trump, expressing pique at Canada’s prime minister, refused to sign the carefully negotiated communiqué that his own team had agreed to. It was the sort of boilerplate agreement that every previous president had made over four decades.” https://nyti.ms/2tlwoTe

WHAT’S ON PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MIND — (@realDonaldTrump) at 7:15 a.m.: “Steel is coming back fast! U.S. Steel is adding great capacity also. So are others.” (Retweeting a Fox Business story) …

… at 7:33 a.m.: “.@FoxNews Poll numbers plummet on the Democrat inspired and paid for Russian Witch Hunt. With all of the bias, lying and hate by the investigators, people want the investigators investigated. Much more will come out. A total scam and excuse for the Dems losing the Election!” …

… at 7:36 a.m.: “The Russian Witch Hunt is Rigged!”

TARIFF REPORT … NYT’S ANA SWANSON and TIFFANY HSU: “Companies Get First Tariff Waivers, but Many More Are Left in Limbo”: “The Trump administration granted seven companies the first set of exclusions from its metal tariffs this week and rejected requests from 11 other companies, as the Commerce Department began slowly responding to the 20,000 applications that companies have filed for individual products.

“The Commerce Department announced Wednesday that it had granted exclusions from the 25 percent steel tariffs to seven companies that requested an exemption for 42 products sourced from Japan, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and China. The companies included the razor maker Schick Manufacturing and Nachi America, which makes cutting tools, bearings and hydraulics.

“But the department denied 56 products, from companies that included Seneca Foods, a fruit and vegetable producer; Bekaert, a maker of steel wire; and Mills Products, a metal fabricator. Some businesses, such as Primrose Alloys, a metals trading company, and Wright & McGill, a maker of fishing gear, were denied several applications.

“Some applications, like those of Seneca and Mills Products, were rejected because they were deemed incomplete, according to decision memos posted online. But several companies whose applications were denied faced objections from American steel makers.” https://nyti.ms/2Kaj3ab

THE WAY GOVERNMENT WORKS — “Trump administration plans to use Coast Guard money to pay for border enforcement,” by WaPo’s Dan Lamothe: “The Trump administration, facing a growing immigration enforcement mission on the southern U.S. border, is considering a plan to shift money from the U.S. Coast Guard to other parts of the Department of Homeland Security, according to U.S. officials and an internal Coast Guard message obtained by The Washington Post. Most of the funding would go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also is part of Homeland Security. The department has the authority to move money around between its components and may also shift other funding to pay for ICE operations.

“The Coast Guard message stated that $77 million could be shifted and that several courses of action have been presented to Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant.” https://wapo.st/2MfweUE

SCOOP — DAN DIAMOND: “HHS creates task force to reunify migrant families”: “HHS on Friday created an “unaccompanied children reunification task force,” a first step toward reunifying thousands of migrant children in the agency’s custody with their families, according to an internal document obtained by POLITICO.

“The task force was established by the assistant secretary for preparedness and response — the arm of the agency that responds to public health disasters, and an indication that the challenge of reunifying thousands of families is likely beyond the capabilities of the refugee office.” https://politi.co/2lv17ZO

— DAN also talked with ANDY SLAVITT, who was tapped in 2013 to fix the broken HealthCare.gov website, at Aspen Ideas Festival’s Spotlight Health. “I wouldn’t sleep until these kids were unified with their parents. And my colleagues wouldn’t sleep,” Slavitt said, adding that HHS Secretary Alex Azar has many “tools and mechanisms” that haven’t been tried — like calling in favors from private-sector experts.” Listen to the full convo https://bit.ly/2yA2q2O

2020 WATCH — JOANNE KENEN, also filing from Aspen, talked 2020 politics with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. She was joined by Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News and Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times for the “What the Health” podcast. Listen to the full convo https://bit.ly/2Ki9tik

— HICKENLOOPER: “My wife and I have been talking about it for a couple of months, and talking to old friends whose opinion we respect and trust … We’re going to try and sort through it this summer. We’re very focused (on Colorado) – 202 days left in this term and we want to finish strong and health care is a big part of what we’re pushing.”

— BULLOCK: “He said he’s got two and a half years left in his term and is ‘certainly focused principally on being governor.’”

THE DOUGH … THE CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP FUND just dropped another $203,667 aimed at boosting Troy Balderson, a Republican running in a special election for the seat of former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio). … THE U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE dropped $350,000 on media aimed at boosting Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.).

PAGING THE NRCC!!! … NYT’S NICK CORASANITI in Somers Point, New Jersey: “Candidate for Congress Stands by His Words: Diversity Is ‘Evil’” https://nyti.ms/2Mi1pyxThis is a seat Republicans currently hold

— WAPO’S DAVE WEIGEL in NEW YORK: “Should a felon serve in the House? That’s the question for Staten Island Republicans”: “[Dan] Donovan, who was Staten Island’s longtime district attorney before he went to Congress, argues that [Michael] Grimm is telling a sympathetic story to distract from the truth. After his Saturday rally, Donovan chided reporters for giving Grimm so much attention — ‘I’m sure he’s a great story’ — and unloaded on his challenger for comparing his trials to Trump’s.

“‘There’s nothing similar about them at all,’ he said. ‘The president never committed tax fraud. The president never went to federal prison. [Grimm] said he was prosecuted by a rogue Justice Department in the Obama administration? He’d be prosecuted by Donald Trump’s Justice Department if he did that now.’” https://wapo.st/2KiRZW0

THE INVESTIGATIONS …

— “Mueller signals outside prosecutors may eventually take over Russian trolls case,” by WaPo’s Devlin Barrett: “A handful of new federal prosecutors have joined one of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s cases — an indication that he is preparing to hand off at least one prosecution to others when his office completes its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. … People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation.

“The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens. The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.” https://wapo.st/2KdRZ6t

— JOSH GERSTEIN: “Mueller seeks September sentencing for Papadopoulos”: “Special counsel Robert Mueller is asking that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, be sentenced in September on the false-statement felony charge he pleaded guilty to last fall. In a court filing on Friday evening, Mueller’s prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case asked U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss to set Papadopoulos’ sentencing for Sept. 7, or a date in October if the judge is unavailable.” https://politi.co/2ltLeCM

— “House panel subpoenas FBI agent Peter Strzok for deposition,” by Rebecca Morin: “The House Judiciary Committee on Friday subpoenaed Peter Strzok to appear for a deposition, even though the embattled FBI agent said last week that he would appear voluntarily. … Strzok is expected to testify next Wednesday.” https://politi.co/2lv17ZO

PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW — Join Anna and Jake for a sit-down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday, June 27 at Ajax (1011 4th St. NW). Doors open at 7:50 a.m. RSVP https://bit.ly/2MjxB4x

— WE’RE ALSO HEADED TO FLORIDA … Join us, along with Playbook Florida author Marc Caputo, for a Playbook Elections event Friday at the InterContinental Miami. It’s part of the POLITICO-AARP “Deciders” series. We’ll talk with Nelson Diaz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, David Richardson and Donna Shalala about their candidacies. Doors open at 8 a.m. RSVP https://bit.ly/2K0E3AN

L.A. TIMES TRACY WILKINSON: “White House team visits Mideast to advance its still-secret Israeli-Palestinian peace plan”: “Details of the plan that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, and Jason Greenblatt, the special envoy for the Mideast, are shopping around have not been publicly disclosed except for broad outlines. It is likely to focus on what are called interim issues, such as security and the economy, and not on ‘aspirational’ issues like Palestinian statehood.” https://lat.ms/2MkvPzZ

HMM — “Commerce secretary suggested citizenship question to Justice Dept., according to memo, contradicting his congressional testimony,” by WaPo’s Tara Bahrampour: “In a new twist in the battle over adding a controversial citizenship question to the 2020 Census, Secretary Wilbur Ross filed an unexpected memo Thursday revealing that he was already considering adding the question when he began his job in February 2017, after hearing from other senior administration officials on the subject.

“The statement contradicts his earlier testimony to Congress saying he explored adding the question in response to a December 2017 request by the Department of Justice.” https://wapo.st/2KhCOfM

— “After Nevada GOP push, Treasury changed lucrative policy benefiting one county,” by WaPo’s Damian Paletta: “The effort was led by Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval (R), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who separately spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and pushed for Storey County to win designation as an ‘Opportunity Zone,’ which was established in the law to help distressed areas attract money. Working behind the scenes to help the effort was a Storey County brothel owner and real estate investor, Lance Gilman, who … is also a major GOP donor. … The successful campaign to win this lucrative designation … shows how the new tax law, meant to simplify the tax code when it passed in December, is creating opportunities for gamesmanship.” https://wapo.st/2MeTemu

WILD — “Jogger who accidentally crossed U.S. border from B.C. detained for 2 weeks,” by CBC’s Jon Hernandez: “A visitor from France says she was jogging along the beach south of White Rock, B.C., when she crossed the U.S. border without realizing it. So began a two-week nightmare that landed her in a prison jumpsuit. Cedella Roman, 19, didn’t know it at the time, but as she ran southeast along the beach on the evening of May 21, she crossed a municipal boundary — and, shortly after, an international border. As the tide started to come in, she veered up and onto a dirt path before stopping to take a photo of the picturesque setting. She turned around to head back — and that’s when she was apprehended by two U.S. Border Patrol officers.

“‘An officer stopped me and started telling me I had crossed the border illegally,’ she told CBC News. ‘I told him I had not done it on purpose, and that I didn’t understand what was happening.’ … She said the officers detained her for crossing illegally into Blaine, Wash., and transferred her more than 200 kilometres south to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Centre, run by the Department of Homeland Security.” http://bit.ly/2tm04j1

MEDIAWATCH — “Fox News Was Concerned Chinese Agents Would Bug Sean Hannity’s Phone,” by BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg: “As stories have emerged — like one May report from Politico — that Trump finds properly securing his own communications ‘too inconvenient,’ some at Fox have become fearful about their own exposure to hackers when talking with the president, according to people familiar with the matter. That concern came to a head as Fox News prepared to cover the high-profile US summit with North Korea last week. Some at the network worried that Chinese agents might seek to bug Hannity’s phone while he was in Singapore to sweep up his communications with Trump, so the host used a burner phone, according to a person familiar with the matter.” https://bzfd.it/2tq2DAE

CLICKER — The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker – 12 keepers https://politi.co/2KfQowT

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman:

— “The Trouble With Johnny Depp,” by Stephen Rodrick in Rolling Stone: “One of the most famous actors in the world is now smoking dope with a writer and his lawyer while his cook makes dinner and his bodyguards watch television. There is no one around him who isn’t getting paid.” https://rol.st/2IhWsTZ

— “The End of Civil Rights,” by Vann R. Newkirk in The Atlantic: “Across immigration, policing, criminal justice, and voting rights, the attorney general is pushing an agenda that could erase many of the legal gains of modern America’s defining movement.” https://theatln.tc/2MT6Oxc (h/t Longform.org)

— “A New Revolution in Mexico,” by The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson: “Sick of corruption and of Trump, voters embrace the maverick leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.” http://bit.ly/2K0w6eJ

— “Masters of Love,” by Emily Esfahani Smith in The Atlantic in June 2014: “Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.” http://bit.ly/2JGatQU

— “It Can Happen Here,” by Cass Sunstein in the N.Y. Review of Books, reviewing “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45,” by Milton Mayer and “Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century,” by Konrad H. Jarausch – per ALDaily.com’s description: “How did Germans see Nazism? Not as we see it. Habituation, confusion, distraction, self-interest, fear, rationalization, and a sense of personal powerlessness made terrible things possible”. http://bit.ly/2MRgFDC

— “How the Case for Voter Fraud Was Tested — and Utterly Failed,” by ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman: “From a new Supreme Court ruling to a census question about citizenship, the campaign against illegal registration is thriving. But when the top proponent [Kris Kobach] was challenged in a Kansas courtroom to prove that such fraud is rampant, the claims went up in smoke.” http://bit.ly/2KeZ0qY (h/t Longform.org)

— “Inside the Crypto World’s Biggest Scandal,” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus on the cover of July’s Wired: “Arthur and Kathleen Breitman thought they held the secret to building a new decentralized utopia. On the way, they plunged into a new kind of hell. A crypto-tragedy in three acts.” http://bit.ly/2IgAbWE

— “The Reputation-Laundering Firm That Ruined Its Own Reputation,” by Ed Caesar in the New Yorker: “A P.R. company [Bell Pottinger] that worked with dictators and oligarchs deliberately inflamed racial tensions in South Africa—and destroyed itself in the process.” http://bit.ly/2K1SaWF

— “Living alone and liking it,” by Ashley Fetters in Curbed: “More women in the U.S. live alone than ever before, but our conversation about solo-living women has a long history.” http://bit.ly/2KfMpDT (h/t Longreads.com)

— “The Price of Admission,” by Slate’s Aaron Mak: “Asians shouldn’t have to hide their heritage when applying to college. I did—and I’ll always regret it.” https://slate.me/2KgGqii

— “In Staten Island, a remote wilderness is threatened by encroaching development,” by Nathan Kensinger in Curbed: “Touring the urban wilds of the Sharrotts Shoreline on Staten Island’s southern end.” http://bit.ly/2tkKvrR (h/t Longreads.com)

— “The Death of a Once Great City” — Harper’s July issue – per Longreads.com’s description: “Kevin Baker connects the dots between empty penthouses and empty storefronts in New York City, tracing how the rich have transformed what once was a significant cultural entity into ‘the world’s largest gated community.’” http://bit.ly/2Ka5wvH

SPOTTED: Rahm Emanuel yesterday on United flight 765 from LaGuardia to O’Hare

SPOTTED at a George W. Bush Commerce Department alumni reunion at Rare: Pierce Scranton, Tom Michael, Avery Boggs, Dan Nelson, Stephen Replogle, JV Schwan, Elizabeth Dial Pinkerton, Ann Marie Hauser, Colleen Litkenhaus, Bo Ollison, Tatiana Posada, Jay Nelson, David Levey and Pat Thorne.

BIRTHDAYS: Steven Cheung, former special assistant to the president and WH director of rapid response (hat tips: Andy Hemming and Jim Bognet) … Kaelan Dorr, EP of “Bottom Line with Boris” at Sinclair Broadcast Group and a Trump WH alum (h/t Boris Epshteyn) … Paul Tewes … Sylvia Burwell, former HHS secretary and president of American University … Adam Lerner … Amber Moon, comms. director for Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) … Politico Europe’s Kate Day, Etienne Bauvir, and Ali Walker … J.P. Fielder … Josh Lauder … Jeremy Katz, president and COO of D1 Capital Partners and a Trump WH alum (h/t Tevi Troy) … Robert D. Kaplan, CNAS senior fellow and senior adviser at Eurasia Group, is 66 … Pelosi alum Judy Lemons … Ryan Woodbury … Politico’s Ryan Kohl … former Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) is 65 … former Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) is 49 … former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) is 61 … Atanu Chakravarty, research director for Fred Hubbell for Iowa (h/t Sam Roecker) … Dean Myers … Tyler Anderson … Jeff Carter …

… Louisa Tavlas Atkinson, director of comms at the Niskanen Center … Suzanne Clark, senior EVP of the U.S. Chamber … Bradley Engle … Rick Reynolds … Chris Spanos, co-founder and CEO of Urgent.ly (h/t Jon Haber) … Steven Stombres, partner at Harbinger Strategies … Emma Whitestone, director of operations and digital communications at Jonathan Lewis for Congress (h/t dad Randy) … Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari is 4-0 … real estate developer Jerry Speyer is 78 … Patrick Morris … Brian Pomper … Caitlin Dorman … Mark Leder … Bronagh Finnegan … Walter Sabbath … Andrew Roos … Tom Frechette … Tina Karalekas … Natasha Chambers … Robin Strongin … Greg Hale is 43 … Julie McInerney (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

THE SHOWS, by @MattMackowiak, filing from Washington, D.C.

NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) … Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Panel: Erick Erickson, Stephen Hayes, Kasie Hunt and Heather McGhee

— ABC’s “This Week”: Guests to be announced. Panel: Jonathan Karl, Cecilia Vega, Matthew Dowd, former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Donna Brazile

— CBS’s “Face the Nation”: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) … Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) … Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) … Anthony Salvanto … Ed O’Keefe. Panel: Leslie Sanchez, Shannon Pettypiece and Paula Reid

— CNN’s “State of the Union”: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) … Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Panel: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Carlos Gutierrez, David Urban and Neera Tanden

— “Fox News Sunday”: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … Jeh Johnson … Panel: Rich Lowry, Andrew McCarthy, former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Juan Williams. “Power Player of the Week” segment with Federalist Society president Leonard Leo

— Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures”: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) … Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). Panel: Ed Rollins and Mary Kissel

— Fox News’ “MediaBuzz”: Anthony Scaramucci … Mollie Hemingway … Gillian Turner … Richard Fowler … Sara Fischer

— CNN’s “Inside Politics” with John King: Panel: Jonathan Martin, Manu Raju, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Margaret Talev

CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”: Zeid Raad Al Hussein. Panel: Linda Chavez, Nicholas Kristof and Reihan Salam … Neil deGrasse Tyson

— CNN’s “Reliable Sources”: Panel: Nicole Carroll, Norman Pearlstine and Sarah Ellison … George Takei … Glenn Beck … Tony Schwartz

Univision’s “Al Punto”: Aunt of 6-year-old whose cries were published by ProPublica Alison Valencia Madrid Ligia … Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) … National Autonomous University of Mexico’s John Ackerman … former U.S. Ambassadors to Mexico Roberta Jacobson and Tony Garza … Félix de Bedout

— C-SPAN: “The Communicators”: FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, questioned by Telecommunications Reports’ Paul Kirby … “Newsmakers”: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), questioned by The Hill’s Bob Cusack and Politico’s Elana Schor … “Q&A”: The University of Pennsylvania’s Amy Wax

— MSNBC’s “Kasie DC”: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) … Anthony Scaramucci … Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) … Emily Jane Fox… Shawna Thomas … Jon Ward … Anita Kumar … Kevin McLaughlin … Andrew Nietor

— Washington Times’ “Mack on Politics” weekly politics podcast with Matt Mackowiak: Dallas Morning News border correspondent Alfredo Corchado.

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Opioid bills could net millions for companies

The House is touting passage of dozens of bills that could help combat the national opioid crisis — but a small handful of companies that have spent millions lobbying Congress could reap a windfall if any of the bills become law.

In a two-week legislative blitz, the House cleared several narrowly tailored measures that would spur sales for companies that have ramped up their influence game in Washington, according to a review of the more than five dozen bills up for votes.

Those poised to benefit include:

• Alkermes, which spent $1 million lobbying in part to support a bill to fund full-service centers where people can detox, receive medical care and start treatment — a setup that could boost the fortunes of its best-selling product, anti-addiction treatment Vivitrol, which has been held back by the need for patients to fully detox before taking the drug.

• Indivior, an Alkermes rival that spent $180,000 largely in support of a bill that eases restrictions on certain controlled substances used in injectable anti-opioid treatments — a change that would make it easier for doctors to buy Indivior’s once-a-month injectable Sublocade.

• Pennsylvania drugmaker Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which spent $100,000 lobbying and backed the same bill because it is developing a competing injectable.

• A group of drugmakers that produce non-opioid pain relief medications, including California-based Heron Therapeutics, which spent hundreds of thousands to lobby for legislative changes to create an additional Medicare payment for non-opioid pain drugs.

The measures come as part of a House package that anti-addiction advocates and even some lawmakers say will make only incremental progress toward fighting a public health crisis that’s killing an estimated 115 Americans per day.

“This is a very energetic effort to pretend we’re doing something significant,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who supported the package but stressed the need to devote greater resources to the opioid fight. “By and large it’s better to do than not, but it falls way short of what is required.”

Yet as the epidemic morphs into a major campaign issue — and Congress runs out of time to pass other legislative packages — interest in the opioid effort has ballooned. Congress used February’s budget deal to authorize spending $6 billion over two years to address the crisis, prompting more than 300 companies and interest groups to flood Capitol Hill to lobby on opioids during the first three months of 2018, according to disclosure forms.

“When you hear they’re investing $3 billion in this in 2018 and $3 billion in 2019, everyone’s ears are going to perk up,” said Andrew Kessler, the founder of behavioral health consulting firm Slingshot Solutions. “For years, we got the scraps. And now we’re the big time.”

Alkermes, a big potential winner, has already attracted attention for its aggressive marketing tactics and Washington lobbying presence. Former HHS Secretary Tom Price toured the company’s Wilmington, Ohio, plant last year to tout Vivitrol — stirring controversy by belittling rival medication-assisted treatments that are more widely-used.

Alkermes spent $1 million lobbying Congress from January through March, focusing on a bipartisan bill from Reps. Brett Guthrie and Gene Green that directs millions of dollars to create full-service centers where people can detox, receive medical care and start treatment under the same roof. The proposal, passed last week in the first wave of House opioid votes, attempts to address the difficulty many patients face finding comprehensive treatment, the lawmakers said.

It also neatly addresses a chief problem holding back Alkermes’ best-selling product: While Vivitrol is one of just three FDA-approved drugs treating opioid addiction, it’s the only one that requires patients to fully detox before taking it.

That’s a major roadblock for doctors who are often unsure whether a patient has been in withdrawal for at least a week, and for patients desperate for immediate treatment, crimping Vivitrol’s market potential just as providers increasingly embrace medication-assisted treatment.

“The issue with Vivitrol is the fact that 25 percent of patients fail the detox component and therefore relapse, and is also one of the reasons why patients prefer Suboxone or Sublocade,” said Biren Amin, a pharmaceutical analyst for Jefferies LLC, referring to competing treatments. “Vivitrol growth [is] clearly impacted.”

By contrast, doctors in the recovery centers proposed by Guthrie and Green could closely monitor and manage patients’ progress, and then start treatment as soon as they’re fully detoxed.

The bill was one of only two opioid bills that Alkermes targeted in its lobbying, according to disclosure documents. Of the four main lobbyists for the company on the issue, one previously served as Guthrie’s deputy chief of staff. Another was Green’s former legislative director.

Both Guthrie and Green rejected any suggestion the bill was written to benefit Alkermes, pointing to its support from anti-addiction groups. The bill doesn’t mandate the recovery centers use one medication over another.

“We met with all the stakeholders,” Guthrie said. “We just think most people need access to all the [treatment] options.”

In a statement, Alkermes highlighted the legislation’s broad support, adding that it “is not about a particular form of treatment, but rather focuses on … comprehensive care.” The company said it has always supported using all FDA-approved medications for opioid dependence.

Though Alkermes ranked among the biggest-spending companies on opioid issues, it’s far from the only firm spending large sums to capture Congress’ attention.

“Whoever’s stuff is slick gets put to the top of the pile,” one longtime behavioral health lobbyist said of the corporate muscle that’s descended on Capitol Hill.

Indivior backed a bill from Rep. Ryan Costello that would ease restrictions on certain controlled substances used in injectable anti-opioid treatments — an arcane but important change that would effectively make it easier for doctors to buy Indivior’s once-a-month injectable Sublocade. Some view injectable treatments as preferable because they’re less likely to be diverted or misused.

The legislative tweak — which has already passed the Senate — is the only specific House opioid bill that Indivior listed in disclosures showing $180,000 spent on lobbying in the year’s first three months.

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a competing injectable anti-opioid treatment, spent $100,000 over that same period and also listed the Costello bill as the only provision in the House package it focused on.

Indivior did not respond to specific questions about its lobbying effort, saying in a statement that “government policies impacting these treatments must adapt toensure patients have access to all evidence-based treatment options.”

Braeburn said the bill simply codifies prior understandings, and that it supports policies that open up access to all treatments for opioid use disorder.

A spokeperson for Costello said he supports medical innovation and expanding access to a variety of anti-opioid treatments, and noted the bill passed unanimously out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The legislation wasn’t initially rolled into the House’s main opioid package, but could still be added or passed separately.

Other bills proposed in the House are more direct in the way they would help specific companies.

A small group of post-surgery pain drug makers, including Heron Therapeutics, stand to benefit from Rep. Scott Peters’ legislation creating an additional Medicare payment for certain non-opioid pain drugs.

Heron, which is developing a treatment that would qualify for the payment, spent $40,000 lobbying on rate-setting issues for post-surgical non-opioid drugs from January to March.

The company is headquartered in Peters’ district, and said in an email that it has discussed opioid and addiction policies with the California lawmaker. But it emphasized that none of its currently approved drugs would benefit from the proposal, and that drugs made by other companies could also qualify.

A spokesperson for Peters said he met with Heron employees and toured the company’s headquarters as part of his interest in promoting post-surgery opioid alternatives, but he also met with other groups and developed the bill’s language in coordination with federal health officials and other lawmakers.

A bipartisan effort led by Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), meanwhile, reverses deep cuts to reimbursements for select interventional pain management techniques.

That qualifies as a victory for the main trade group representing doctors who use non-opioid methods — including epidurals and other injections — to manage pain. In a celebratory blog post, the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians said it turned to Congress to restore its pay levels after unsuccessfully lobbying federal health officials.

“The agency said heck no, we can’t touch it — it needs a legislative fix to be more specific in the intent of Congress,” Shimkus said about when he stepped in. He added that the higher pay rate is needed because those more invasive pain management techniques are often more expensive than prescribing opioids.

A spokesperson for Krishnamoorthi said the lawmaker’s interest stemmed from his support for non-opioid alternatives, and that he never personally met with ASIPP about the legislation. ASIPP’s PAC has donated the maximum $10,000 allowed for this election cycle to both support for the bill.

Behavioral health and anti-addiction advocates have largely shrugged off those narrow provisions, saying they’re a byproduct of a fast-moving, piecemeal effort to address a public health crisis.

Yet they also acknowledge it means crucial funds will be limited to select groups instead of the broader population.

That only heightens the importance of Congress continuing to pursue new proposals for curbing drug abuse, Slingshot Solutions‘ Kessler said.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” he added. “However, there’s a lot to be very, very cautious of as well. And the reason is because as much attention as Congress is paying and as much money as they’re dedicating to it, we’re still not anywhere close to where we need to be.”

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