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Six-week ‘tapes’ saga comes to a very un-Trumpian end

President Donald Trump prides himself on being a master of suspense, conspiracy theory, counter-attack and self-promotion.

But when it came time to end the six-week long mystery about whether or not he recorded “tapes” of his conversations with former FBI director James Comey in the Oval Office — the day before a House Intelligence Committee deadline to produce any such tapes — the president deflated the balloon in a very non-Trumpian way.

There was no drawn-out press conference in the lobby of the Trump Hotel, for instance, like the one he staged during his presidential campaign to announce he was finally dropping his false, five-year-long conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama’s birthplace.

Neither was there any stoking the coals of news to come, keeping the guessing game going, as he has done with other much-anticipated White House announcements. “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he tweeted on May 31, three full days before his Rose Garden statement.

And there was no blurting out news in the heat of the moment at a rally – like he did when he made the surprise announcement in the middle of a campaign-style rally in Cincinnati last December that he was choosing James Mattis for defense secretary. Trump kept his mouth closed about the status of the alleged “tapes” even though he had the opportunity Wednesday night to break his news in front of a roaring crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Instead, he put the “tapes” saga to bed in a pair of carefully worded Tweets that were uncharacteristically reviewed by White House officials before being blasted out to his 32.7 million Twitter followers.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,” the president tweeted. “But I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Trump, according to people familiar with his thinking, often enjoys the theater of the mini-scandals he sets off with his Twitter feed, and throughout his career has enjoyed keeping everyone around him off balance. He sees the fog of confusion he creates as a winning negotiating tactic, according to some of his longtime associates. And his aides have compared his “tapes” tweet to the keep-them-guessing strategy he favors when it comes to foreign policy.

Even among his top White House aides, many were kept in the dark about the status of potential tapes of the conversations Trump had with Comey before deciding to fire him in May, sources said.

But many Republicans close to the Trump White House see the original May 12 tweet – “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” the president wrote online – as a self-inflicted and potentially fatal wound.

The tweets prompted Comey to reveal the existence of memos he wrote detailing his conversations with the president. Those memos ultimately lead to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the expanding investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russian officials — and into whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey was an effort to derail the Russia probe.

“You could chalk up most of his problems of late to that stupid, flippant tweet,” said one Republican operative with close ties to the White House, admitting that it gave Comey cover to release the detailed memos he kept of his conversations with the president.

“I’ve seen the tweet about tapes,” Comey said while testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Because of the deadline to explain the alleged “tapes” imposed by the House committee, Trump’s habit of punting into the indefinite future—as he did with a promised news conference about his wife Melania Trump’s immigration history during the campaign that never materialized—wasn’t an option.

On Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders would not say whether the tweets had been reviewed or written by Trump’s attorneys. But allies who remain close to the president said it was the only explanation for the tweets that made any sense to them.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen a lawyer have any impact on him,” said one Republican operative who speaks regularly to top White House officials. “So much for always fighting back and never apologizing – this came about as close to an apology as you could get. It was a very non-Trumpian way to handle it.”

Added Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to Trump: “Perhaps Mr. Kasowitz, [Trump’s personal lawyer] wants to get this off the table because he’s got bigger fish to fry. I think they’re just trying to clear the deck.”

Some of Trump’s fiercest defenders, however, disagreed that Thursday’s concession was a rare moment of Trump backing down. Instead, they tried to spin the succeeding chain of events as a win. “It’s very Trumpian,” said Stone. “He defused this. We’re not going to be arguing about this — we’re going to be arguing about whether Trump leaned on Comey to fix the case for [former National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn, and he did not.”

Others tried to turn the tables on Comey, whom Trump has characterized as a “leaker” for disclosing the existence of his memos to the New York Times.

“Lordy, now Comey’s ‘memos’ are useless,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide and Trump loyalist. “Are you going to bring a perjury charge against a sitting President based on the word of a fire bureaucrat against the Commander-in-Chief’s? Comey can now take his memos and walk his dog with them.”

In this version of events, Trump’s tweet wasn’t a mistake that resulted in the naming of a special prosecutor who may now be investigating the president. Rather, it was a clever maneuver that forced the behavior of government officials – in this case Comey, a longtime law enforcement official appointed to the FBI role by Obama – into the open.

“It helped expose Comey as a leaker,” said another Republican operative close to the White House. “Trump is using guerrilla tactics to fight the deep state.”

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Italy Gives Teens Money to Spend on Culture

According to an article recently published on NPR Radio, residents turning 18 in Italy are getting a special birthday present from the Italian government. In exchange for downloading an app and registering, the government is giving each teen 500-euros which equals about $563. Each teen must then spend the money on cultural events that they choose. In all, the government will spend t €290 million on the program which is only occurring until December 2016.

The teen unemployment rate in Italy is about 40 percent. The government fears that teens may become disenfranchised with finding a job and will turn to joining radical Islam. While Islam has not become a major problem in Italy, like it has in France, the government wants to encourage youth to understand the rich culture that lies within their country’s borders. The government is also concerned because many ISIS propaganda films show locations within the country.

Teens are not told how they have to spend the money. In fact, the prime minister has said that kids watching a Lady Gaga concert may become angry enough to take a stand against radical Islam. He is not sure what it will take, but he hopes that this move by the government is a step in the right direction.

The Italian government, however, has had trouble getting the word out about this program. Therefore, many teachers have taken to telling their students about it in school. Some of these teachers are then having students report back to the class on what they did with the money.

The teachers and government hopes that when teenagers attend these events, buy books or are exposed to culture in other ways, that they will want to help protect the freedom of culture in Italy. The country wants to be known as a place where culture is protected not destroyed. The government, however, has no plan to measure the results of the program.

Next year, it is the teacher’s turn. Each teacher will be given the same amount to spend at a cultural event or to buy cultural materials. Some of the teachers are already buzzing about what they will do with the money.

 

 

Grassley embraces oversight role in Trump-Russia probe

In 1984, a junior Republican senator named Chuck Grassley infuriated his party elders by slapping a contempt of Congress citation on Ronald Reagan’s attorney general after he declined to turn over documents.

More than three decades later, Grassley’s reputation as a zealous investigator who can rankle administrations of both parties could be a quiet yet potent threat to President Donald Trump, whose associates are under scrutiny in the unfurling investigations over whether they colluded with Moscow in the presidential campaign.

Now at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is swinging his powerful gavel into the Russia probes by his decision to investigate the circumstances behind the firing of former FBI director James Comey — a pursuit that promises to be uncomfortable, at best, for the Trump administration.

In an interview with POLITICO Wednesday in his Capitol office, Grassley was the most definitive yet that his committee’s probe will examine issues of obstruction of justice.

“I don’t want to say for sure. But I don’t know how you can avoid it,” Grassley said regarding questions of obstruction of justice in his investigation. “Because the FBI was investigating it before there was a special counsel.”

The Iowa senator, who took charge of the Judiciary panel two years ago, has been hammering out the parameters of an investigation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on probing Comey’s dismissal, as well as potential political interference at the Justice Department under the Obama administration.

Grassley and Feinstein, along with two other key senators in the Russia probe, met with special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday.

But other Republicans have stressed that adding another layer to the stack of congressional probes is duplicative, One, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) — who is juggling both the Intelligence Committee probe and Judiciary’s efforts — has warned that the multiple investigations were a “train wreck waiting to happen.”

But that hasn’t deterred Grassley, who seems to get more riled up over the government’s refusal to respond to his inquiries than with any other issue.

“It fits in with the way we do oversight,” Grassley said of his decision last week to investigate Comey’s firing, more than a month after the surprise dismissal. He’s undaunted by the thought of provoking Trump: “I can’t look at whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat. My constitutional responsibility of oversight stays the same.”

Ever since his 1980s standoff with the Reagan administration — when Grassley, acting as head of an obscure Judiciary subcommittee on administrative practice and procedure — cited Attorney General William French Smith for contempt for failing to provide records Grassley subpoenaed on waste by military contractors, the Iowa Republican has made oversight his trademark project.

Grassley’s reputation for fierce independence came under assault by Democrats last year when he played a starring role in the GOP’s decision to ignore the nomination of Merrick Garland — a risky political calculation for Republicans that ended ultimately paid off with the confirmation of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But now Democrats are praising Grassley’s efforts to probe the Trump administration — he wryly notes that he doesn’t “get the same degree of cooperation [from Democrats] as when we have a Republican president” — even as some powerful GOP senators still find it unnecessary.

“I think he’s been pushed into it,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Though Hatch said “of course” it was appropriate for Judiciary to investigate, he added: “There’s no obstruction. That’s the problem.”

Other Republican senators were more supportive.

“You don’t want to plow old ground that other committees have done, but you got to assert jurisdiction,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another Judiciary Committee member. “I’m glad he is.”

Grassley and Feinstein have a number of issues they have to navigate in framing their joint investigation. One key question is whether they will subpoena Comey to testify before the Judiciary Committee, which Grassley said “there is a real interest” to do. The two are still negotiating over when to haul in Attorney General Jeff Sessions for its usual DOJ oversight hearing. And while the committee may look into matters of obstruction of justice, the panel itself cannot prosecute crimes.

But the two senators at least agree on the general scope of their investigation — a process that by all accounts, has proceeded smoothly so far without the partisan hiccups that have tarnished other congressional Russia probes.

“He’s a very direct, very honest man,” Feinstein said of Grassley. “So for me, that makes it very easy. He says what he thinks and I appreciate that.”

Other Democrats, particularly those who have been aggressive in trying to pursue investigations against Trump, are more cautious in their praise.

“I think the fact that the chairman is willing to have that process and at least have a conversation about what the Judiciary Committee might look at is a good step,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said. “What that produces, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Grassley and Feinstein, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Whitehouse, met with Mueller on Wednesday amid some concerns that the Judiciary investigation and Mueller’s probe may step on each other’s toes. Cornyn said he recommended the meeting.

“There’s the Intelligence Committee, there’s the Judiciary Committee and there’s the special counsel,” Cornyn said in an interview this week. “I would think that we would all want to take special care not to get in the way to trip up the special counsel.” (For his part, the chairman of the intelligence panel — Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina — said he had no issue with Grassley’s probe: “It shouldn’t affect me because obstruction of justice is not in our lane.”)

Republican skittishness about Grassley’s efforts on Russia has been stoked by the fact that during the five months since Trump’s inauguration, the Judiciary chairman has already clashed with the administration on several fronts where he contends officials are stonewalling Hill oversight.

In March, he held up the confirmation of now-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein until Comey gave Judiciary Committee members a briefing on the status of the Russia probe.

Earlier this month, Grassley unleashed fury over a DOJ opinion contending that agencies can ignore information requests from lawmakers unless they are committee chairs.

“It’s just wrong. It violates the Constitution,” Grassley said Wednesday.

And just last week, Grassley held up a vote on the confirmation of former Sessions aide Stephen Boyd to be DOJ’s legislative liaison. The chairman said he had 16 oversight letters that the department never answered and Boyd’s nomination will be on ice until the responses are received. Grassley even invited other senators to pile on, indicating that Boyd won’t be going anywhere until all those requests — many dating to the Obama era — are resolved.

An exasperated Grassley noted that nominees promise to be responsive to Congress, but rarely are. “They always say, ‘Yes,’ and they end up being liars,” he complained during the interview.

“Over the years, he has been unpredictable,” noted University of Baltimore Law School Dean Ronald Weich, a DOJ congressional liaison under Obama. “Senior members of the Senate have a lot of running room in general. He’s an 80-year-old guy who was just re-elected, he’s got the chairmanship. He should not need to kowtow to either the Senate leaders or to the White House.”

Another factor contributing to the unpredictable nature of a Grassley foray into the Comey firing and related aspects of the Russia flap: Grassley’s long-acrimonious relationship with the FBI.

He has clashed with a series of FBI directors, often pillorying agency management for its treatment of whistleblowers in its ranks. Grassley aides have complained for years that they are often stonewalled by the FBI, receiving no responses to their letters and phone calls even though the Judiciary Committee has primary oversight over the law enforcement agency.

Grassley may be pleasing some Democrats at the moment, but based on his track record, he’s not going to go easy on Comey, or for that matter Mueller — another former FBI chief. The chairman downplayed those tensions Wednesday, saying he has “a great deal of respect for the FBI.”

Grassley also signaled that his panel’s probe will likely have to take a back seat, if Mueller asks them to avoid particular areas. “Probably, legally, [he] has a pretty heavy hand,” the chairman said. “I think we have to respect the assignment he’s been given.”

While Democrats are happy with Grassley’s plans to dig into the Comey firing, they’re less thrilled with Grassley’s plan to look at potential issues of political interference at the Obama-era DOJ. Comey testified earlier this month that the conduct of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch prompted him to convene last summer’s extraordinary news conference where he announced that he was not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.

“My preference would be to focus on Comey’s firing and obstruction of justice by the Trump administration,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. Asked why not Lynch, he added: “Well, it’s in the rearview mirror at this point.”

Some Democrats remain skeptical that Grassley will do anything of consequence that angers GOP leaders. They note that he marched in lock-step with the party as it blocked Garland.

However, Gorsuch’s very confirmation has given Grassley significant political capital — particularly among dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. Many of those people don’t have a particular affinity for Trump to start with, so they may be less aggrieved by the Iowa senator tangling with the White House.

“Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court,” the Judiciary chairman said matter-of-factly Wednesday. “Doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s a fact of life.”

Grassley said no Republican senators have approached him directly to urge him to back down from probing the Comey firing, although he’s seen press reports of some dissension in the ranks. One reason Senate veterans don’t seem to be doing much to try to fend off Grassley’s foray into the Russia morass could be that he doesn’t tend to back down in an oversight battle.

Even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might prefer Grassley direct his energies elsewhere, trying to get the Judiciary chairman to back off is futile, a former Grassley aide said.

“Certainly, McConnell is smart enough to understand that it would be counterproductive to give Grassley grief about something,” said Dean Zerbe, a former Grassley investigator now with Houston law firm Zerbe Miller Fingeret. “They’re just kicking over an anthill or kicking a wasp nest down.”

While some senators revel in floor debate, coalition-building or the finer points of legislation, issues of oversight tend to be the ones that provoke flashes of passion or even angry outbursts from the normally mild-mannered Iowa native.

Just days before Comey was fired last month, he appeared before the Judiciary Committee. Late in the hearing, Grassley began shouting at Comey over what the chairman said was a pattern of the FBI giving him less information than it makes public under the Freedom of Information Act.

“If I, Chuck Grassley as a private citizen, file a Freedom of Information Act [request] and you give me more information than you’ll give to Senator Chuck Grassley, how do you justify that?” Grassley exclaimed.

“Yeah, it’s a good question,” Comey replied.

“What do you mean it’s a good question? How do you justify that?” Grassley shot back angrily.

“I can’t as I sit here,” Comey added meekly.

The exchange prompted Grassley to let out a cry of Midwestern exasperation: “Egads!”

Grassley worked himself into a similar lather Wednesday when POLITICO asked him about the three-decade-old fight over military contracting that led to the contempt citation for the attorney general. The 83-year-old quickly leaned forward in his chair, raised his voice and launched into a rant about the failure of congressional oversight and the executive branch’s tendency to circle the wagons.

“I don’t think at that time that the Armed Services Committee was doing anything other than just letting the Defense Department do whatever they wanted to do,” Grassley exclaimed. “Back in those days, we had the Justice Department fronting for the Defense Department.”

While it’s hard to see the Trump White House being friendly to another probe into something the president has declared needs no further investigation, Grassley says he’s tried to argue to Trump that keeping a close eye on the federal bureaucracy is consistent with his campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.”

“Every time I get the chance to talk to Trump, I said, you know, I think most people think draining the swamp means getting rid of too many federal employees and starting over again. … As far as I’m concerned it’s got nothing to do with — you can spend less money, you can reorganize government… but it’s the culture of Washington,” Grassley said. “The president has to change the culture of these bureaucracies. That’s what draining the swamp is — from my point of view.”

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Why California Republicans love Karen Handel

IRVINE, Calif. — Nowhere, with the exception of the White House, was the news of Republican Karen Handel’s special election victory more welcome than in Orange County, California.

With four local GOP-held congressional districts considered in play in 2018, it’s arguably the epicenter of the Democratic Party’s effort to win a House majority. But Republicans are glad to point out how similar the local political landscape looks to Georgia’s affluent, suburban 6th District.

Tuesday’s outcome laid bare the difficulty Democrats face even in a suburban California county where Donald Trump isn’t especially popular — Orange County voted for Hillary Clinton last year, backing a Democrat for the first time since 1936. Republicans still outnumber Democrats in each of the contested suburban districts, and some local political winds appear to be blowing in the GOP’s favor.

“The Democrats think they’re going to pop something here,” said Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party. “We’re not going to let them.”

Orange County for decades stood as a bastion of conservatism, a densely populated swath of suburbia that local Republicans proudly called “America’s most Republican county.” At a GOP dinner in Irvine over the weekend, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt told Orange County Republicans, “You guys are an oasis of liberty in an occupied state.”

Demographic changes, including the party’s failure to adapt to the county’s growing number of Latino voters — a far more significant factor than in Georgia — have weakened Republicans’ grip.

The GOP now represents about 38 percent of the Orange County electorate, down from 42 percent five years ago, and Democrats have been closing the gap.

Yet Republican voter registration still outpaces Democratic registration in each of the four congressional districts. And with the exception of the presidential election, Republicans largely fared well in Orange County last year. Only Rep. Darrell Issa, whose district straddles Orange and San Diego counties, came close to being unseated. The others — GOP Reps. Mimi Walters, Ed Royce and Dana Rohrabacher — won by much wider margins.

“You’re talking about voters who went to the ballot box, voted for these members of Congress … in the year that Hillary was actually on the ballot,” said Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and former state Republican Party executive director who cast his ballot for Walters but wrote in famed broadcaster Vin Scully for president last year. “So why would these people, two years later, not vote for the incumbent they voted for [in 2016]?”

He added, “The people’s objections to Trump aren’t political, they’re personal … Mimi Walters hasn’t been insulting to women. Mimi Walters isn’t a jerk.”

Mark Petracca, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, said that based on registration statistics alone, “I actually don’t think the Democrats running for Congress have as good a chance as everybody thinks they do … They’re closer than they were 20 years ago. But they’re still not there yet.”

Nevertheless, Democrats following the 2016 election were buoyed by Clinton’s historic victory here, just as they saw a similar opportunity in the Republican-oriented Georgia 6th District where she only narrowly lost to Trump. And after Democrat Jon Ossoff fell to Handel on Tuesday, they sought solace in the closeness of his defeat.

“We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was possible you could fight, we could fight,” Ossoff said in his concession speech. “This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for. But this is the beginning of something much bigger than us.”

Preparing for the midterm elections in California, Democrats have improved their standing in Orange County with a stronger field of candidates than in previous election cycles. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee moved its Western regional political office from Washington, D.C., to Irvine, and liberal activists began airing advertisements criticizing Republican incumbents for their vote to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher is opening a super PAC designed to help win seven competitive congressional seats, including the four in Orange County.

Local Republicans and the National Republican Congressional Committee are bracing for a Democratic onslaught. The local GOP plans to expand an online voter-registration program it tested in Walters’ district last cycle and will open headquarters in each congressional district, spending $1.6 million, Whitaker said.

“I carried Orange County by 17,000 votes, but because of places like the University of California in San Diego, I needed every one of those,” Issa told Orange County Republicans at the weekend dinner. “If not for Orange County, I might be standing here, but it wouldn’t be as a congressman.”

While California Republicans cheered the Georgia result on Tuesday, they also appear poised to weaponize a state-level issue in the 2018 campaign. Following the passage of an unpopular gas tax increase, GOP strategists are discussing placing a referendum on the November 2018 ballot in part to increase GOP turnout in the congressional races. Republicans also orchestrated a recall campaign against an Orange County state senator who supported the measure. The effort went forward with such fervor that Democratic lawmakers last week took the extraordinary step of changing state election rules, passing legislation that is likely to delay the recall.

There is precedent for Democratic concerns about Republicans’ ability to capitalize on tax issues, most prominently in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Though the gas tax is a state matter — not a federal one — Republicans are calculating that it could boost turnout and focus public debate more broadly on taxes.

“I think the building of legislative races and congressional races in that area is going to be around this tax issue,” said Tom Ross, political director for New Majority California, an influential group of Republican donors in Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego. “I think that plays well everywhere.”

Democratic strategist Maclen Zilber, who is advising one of Rohrabacher’s challengers, Harley Rouda, was skeptical of the GOP’s ability to leverage the gas tax issue to influence congressional contests, or even to increase turnout.

“I think the kind of people who are angry about the gas tax are the type of people who are going to turn out in ‘18 regardless of whether there’s a gas tax on the ballot,” he said.

Zilber added that in congressional races, voters will focus on “any number of things people are talking about in Trump-land, from the AHCA to the travel ban.”

Yet that wasn’t the case in Georgia — and it is not clear in California — that tying a Republican to Trump will be enough to unseat him or her.

Speaking to GOP donors over the weekend, neither Rohrabacher nor Issa sought to distance themselves from the president. Issa touted his role in the House’s passage of an Obamacare repeal bill. And in a nod to leaked audio of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying, supposedly in jest, that he suspected Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying then-candidate Trump and Rohrabacher, Rohrabacher said he will serve Moscow mules at a fundraiser McCarthy is attending in July on his behalf.

Tom Tucker, a founder of New Majority, said of Republican donors surveying the upcoming congressional contests, “Obviously, they’re concerned. But nobody’s pushing the panic button.”

The Orange County races, he said, will be “contested, no question. But it’s not too easy to dislodge an incumbent, and the four that we have I think are in pretty good stead.”

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GOP turnout confounds pollsters in Georgia election

Jon Ossoff was on a trajectory to defeat Karen Handel narrowly, poised to deliver a humiliating blow to the White House in a race billed as a referendum of Donald Trump’s early months in office. Then the Republican voters in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District unexpectedly showed up in droves.

Pollsters say sky-high turnout drove Handel, the GOP nominee, to a nearly 4-point victory on Tuesday, despite most pre-election surveys showing Ossoff with a small-but-shrinking lead.

Mathematically, a 4-point loss for a Democratic House candidate in a district that has traditionally elected Republicans by wide margins is an encouraging result for Democrats. But in the end, the Georgia contest represented yet another election in which the Democratic candidate either led or was tied in public polls — and was overtaken by the Republican when all the votes were counted.

Unlike in some other races, however, it wasn’t because Democratic voters didn’t show up. More than 259,000 votes have been tallied as of Wednesday afternoon, considerably more than the 193,000 votes in the first round of voting in April.

In fact, turnout was much higher than for other off-year special elections in recent history. Typically, between 100,000 and 225,000 voters turn out for special elections like the one held on Tuesday in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where both parties compete.

John Anzalone, Ossoff’s pollster, said the Democrat’s campaign succeeded in turning out its voters — but they were swamped by Republicans who came out in numbers that ended up dwarfing previous high-profile special elections, like those in which former Reps. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) and Travis Childers (D-Miss.) were successful in the past decade.

“This has much more to do with a historic turnout — 260,000 people, 40,000 more than a midterm — in a special election, which is normally a very restrictive universe,” said Anzalone, who added that the more than two months between the initial vote on April 18 and Tuesday’s runoff gave Republicans time to organize. “At the end of the day with 260,000 people voting, we just ran out of Democrats and independents.”

The turnout surge surprised the only public pollster to predict Handel as the winner: the Atlanta-based Trafalgar Group, which released a poll the day before the election showing the Republican 2 points ahead. Trafalgar’s Robert Cahaly said Wednesday that their turnout prediction was “in the 230 [thousand] range” and that the surge of additional voters boosted Handel.

“When turnout starts going up that high, and people start coming out of the woodwork to vote,” Cahaly said, “it moves back to the [natural] alignment of the district.”

Cahaly added that, in his view, Handel and Republican outside groups also drove turnout by nationalizing the race. In addition, pollsters in both parties suggested Handel gained additional momentum following the shootings in Virginia last week at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice.

“It’s not that people were like, ‘Oh, this terrible tragedy happened to Republicans. We’re going to rally around Republicans,’” Cahaly said. “[But] it kind of galvanized these folks. And we watched her percentages of Republicans go from the high 70s to over 85 over the weekend. Republicans were definitely consolidating behind her.”

Regardless of the cause, it’s undeniably discouraging for Democrats to come up short in a race into which they invested tens of millions of dollars — and in which they thought they had at least a 50-50 chance to win. That’s even as the party finished much closer than expected in another special congressional election Tuesday night, in South Carolina.

But Georgia ultimately represents another in a series of contests in which Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The election cycles between 2013 and 2017 are littered with surprise examples of Democratic underperformance.

The party isn’t ignoring the issue: The Democratic Governors Association earlier this month rolled out a statistical model to its pollsters to account for late-deciding or defecting voters that could swing against the party’s candidates at the end.

Democrats say they hope Trump’s low approval ratings mean voters will swing toward, not against, their candidates in the closing days of elections to come. But that doesn’t seem to have happened in Georgia — even though Trump lagged behind other Republicans there in last year’s presidential election.

Cahaly, the Atlanta-based pollster who works for GOP clients, said he thinks that, in many places, Republicans are less likely to want to share their vote choice with pollsters than are Democrats. That has impacted how he’s interpreted his data.

“I’ve had numerous clients where I’ve said, ‘You’re dead even, so you’re up by 3,’” Cahaly recalled Wednesday. “And they said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘You’re up by 3.’”

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Health bill could show limits of Trump's Senate sway

President Donald Trump is starting to whip votes for the Senate health bill, but he could find his influence there is more limited than in the House of Representatives, where he cajoled, cursed and wooed members to vote for his top campaign promise.

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were set to brief White House staffers Wednesday evening on the details of the bill they’ve been writing in secret, before it is expected to be made public Thursday. The president is expected to endorse their plan to repeal Obamacare. But even with Trump’s help, the bill faces a perilous path in the Senate.

Trump called Sen. Rand Paul Tuesday to see if he could be convinced to back the bill. Paul said he gave Trump no guarantees he’d vote for the bill, which he described as too much like Obamacare.

“We might have to play golf again,” Paul told POLITICO as he recounted their conversation.

“If it doesn’t work for Alaska, it doesn’t make any difference who’s calling me,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), preemptively dismissing any attempt by Trump to twist her arm; she said he hasn’t reached out yet. Murkowski and Paul are two of the senators who are most skeptical of the health legislation, though they have different complaints.

The Trump White House has been conspicuously hands-off in the drafting of the Senate bill. In previous administrations, the president likely would have laid out guiding principles for legislation during the campaign and lawmakers would follow his lead in drafting it. That has not happened in the Senate. “They just don’t participate in the policy,” a chief of staff to one Senate Republican said of the White House.

Legislative affairs director Marc Short and his team have recently spent weekends and nights huddling with McConnell’s staff and senators, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma also has met with senators, two White House officials said.

But three senior administration officials said they had not seen the details of the bill as recently as Tuesday afternoon. Asked Wednesday aboard Air Force One if Trump had seen details, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said that “the appropriate individuals have seen the bill,” according to a pool report.

The White House is offering “technical advice” from officials such as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Vice President Mike Pence, said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is helping draft the bill. Outside groups that got involved in the House’s legislative effort earlier this year also have largely stayed away from the Senate process, knowing McConnell is in charge.

“The White House is leaving it to Mitch, and I think that’s smart,” said former Majority Leader Trent Lott, who recently met with several senators. “He’s a wily old rascal and knows how to work his conference.”

White House and Capitol Hill officials are privately concerned that Trump’s lack of policy expertise could throw off fluid dynamics — and potentially hurt in negotiations with some senators, one Capitol Hill and one White House official close to the talks said. Members of the House Freedom Caucus complained in March that Trump was not engaged in policy details they cared about in an earlier version of health care legislation.

Having the president discuss a bill in depth with a senator doesn’t “use his talents well, and it’s not going to help us,” one White House official said. Some Republicans who were not vocal Trump backers, such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Mike Lee, might not be swayed by a call from the president.

Two White House officials also said they didn’t think McConnell — who has tightly controlled the process, hand-selecting a group of lawmakers to help write the bill — would let them have much control “even if we wanted it.”

“There were more leakers and many more drama queens on the House side during that whole debate. He runs a very tight ship,” one of the White House officials said of McConnell.

Trump, one outside ally said, has criticized the House bill and senators at different points — “telling people what they want to hear about it.” He has asked few questions about the specific language in the bill, one administration official said, but has asked repeatedly about vote totals.

He has focused more of his attention on the ongoing Russia investigation, said the outside ally, who has spoken to Trump.

Senate leaders will begin whipping votes after the text is released on Thursday, and Trump’s involvement is expected to increase after that. The White House has looked at Trump’s poll numbers in certain states, wondering how much pressure he could exert in the final days on particular senators.

Officials have expressed rising optimism in recent days that the bill will pass. “Businessmen don’t do one task at a time. As president he’s proven that he’s prolific, that he can meet with tech giants and open apprenticeships at the same time. And still work on completing repeal and a replace as a top priority,” said Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor.

But a handful of Republicans still seem skeptical about the legislation, and White House officials have begun envisioning scenarios in which McConnell loses two Republican votes and the Senate is tied, requiring Pence to cast the 51st vote in favor of the bill.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) raised doubts that McConnell and his team were responding to Trump’s complaint in a meeting last week that the House bill was too harsh.

“The president has argued for a more generous bill,” she said in an interview. “We’ll have to see what comes out tomorrow, but I’m wondering if those who are drafting the bill are listening to what the president said about the need for the bill to be more generous.”

Paul, too, could be a tough sell. If Trump can secure his vote, it would be a big win, because the Kentuckian’s colleagues in the Senate are skeptical he will get on board.

Sunday is supposed to be 85 degrees and sunny in Washington — a perfect day for golf.

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McConnell tries to split the difference on protections for sickest Americans

Senate Republican leaders racing to finalize their health care bill want to preserve Obamacare’s central protections for people with pre-existing conditions to avoid the firestorm that nearly derailed the House’s repeal effort a few months ago.

But Senate Leader Mitch McConnell can’t afford a conservative rebellion as he attempts to ram through an Obamacare repeal bill before the July 4th recess.

So while the emerging Senate plan attempts to win over moderate Republicans by keeping the health law’s bar on discriminating against the sickest Americans, it would also give states flexibility to alter their health markets in ways that could weaken coverage for millions with pre-existing conditions.

The something-for-everyone Senate plan embodies the tug-of-war shaping a GOP repeal effort that needs to win the support of 50 of the conference’s 52 senators. Senate Republicans are grappling with sharp differences of opinion over how far to roll back Obamacare’s regulations, a debate that’s pitted the party’s more moderate members against the conservative trio of Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

President Donald Trump has urged Republican senators to craft a bill with more “heart” than the House-passed Obamacare repeal legislation, and much of the work to this point has focused on softening some of the House’s harshest provisions.

Yet for all the focus on winning over moderates and broadening the repeal bill’s appeal, Senate Republicans are painfully aware that the objections of the conference’s small but stubborn right flank could leave them short of the needed 50 votes, abruptly sinking the GOP’s entire repeal effort.

“The people who have reservations are making their points,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) considered likely to support the bill. “I’m nervous, but I’m still hopeful.”

That dilemma threatens to make the next week a repeat of the drama that played out on the other side of the Capitol. House Republicans were forced to abandon a repeal vote in March after the conservative Freedom Caucus revolted against a bill they felt didn’t go far enough in gutting Obamacare regulations. It took another month before revised legislation that critics say would make health care unaffordable for many older and sicker people squeaked through the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who set an end-of-month deadline for a vote, faces a tougher challenge: Republicans need support from at least two of the Cruz-Lee-Paul faction to pass the bill. And so far, they show few signs of budging on demands that, if granted, risk alienating even more of the conference’s moderate wing.

Cruz, Lee and Paul have pushed for a “true” repeal of Obamacare, including potentially eliminating standards for what insurers can charge and how much their plans have to cover, and whether they can discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. They argue that those regulations are prompting insurers to hike premiums and raise deductibles, creating health plans that people are forced to purchase but can’t afford to use.

Paul has also railed against proposals boosting the tax credits included in the House-passed bill and designed to help older Americans purchase coverage, deriding them as a new entitlement.

“If our bill comes in with greater subsidies than Obamacare, I think it’s going to be harder for conservatives to support,” he said. “That, to me, is really a nonstarter.”

But that view is not shared by Republican moderates. After watching their House colleagues get skewered for letting states waive pre-existing condition protections, several GOP senators pledged to make sure their version shields sick people.

McConnell’s approach so far appears aimed at splitting the difference in hopes of assembling a coalition that spans the ideological spectrum.

The Senate bill is likely to give states the ability to opt out of major parts of Obamacare in favor of developing their own rules, including eliminating the requirement that all insurers cover a prescribed set of health benefits. States could also redefine what constitutes a quality health plan. Those are both nods to GOP conservatives who believe loosening insurer standards would promote competition and give people more customized — and cheaper — insurance options.

But the legislation is expected to bar proposals that would allow insurers to adjust premiums based on health status. That would keep Obamacare’s strongest pre-existing condition protection in place, and meet a key requirement for senators weighing whether the bill cares for the nation’s sickest.

“Bottom line is that we are going to make sure that we maintain protections for pre-existing conditions, because we think it’s obviously the most important thing to do,” said Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Still, that represents a narrow path to 50 votes — and one that’s not guaranteed to work. Under the Senate GOP’s proposal, states waiving Obamacare’s essential health benefits could free insurers to charge dramatically more for plans that cover complex and expensive medical needs. Without strict limits, that threatens to amount to a backdoor penalty on sicker Americans – undermining Republican claims to protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

“I want states to have more flexibility, but I think coverage for mental illness and substance abuse for example, and maternity care are essential,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said as she headed to a GOP lunch to discuss the bill, clutching a sheet listing Obamacare’s 10 required health benefits. “So, we’re going to have to see.”

Even if McConnell can convince enough skeptical centrists to back the bill, he’ll still need to hope that the conference’s conservatives decide partial repeal is better than no repeal at all.

Paul, who has advocated for a comprehensive rollback of Obamacare’s regulations, is already viewed as a near-guaranteed “no” on any Senate bill that fall short of that high bar.

Sen. Mike Lee, considered perhaps the Senate’s most conservative member, has warned of “grave concerns” with the Senate’s direction.

And despite repeated assertions that “failure is not an option,” Cruz’ optimism has sounded more guarded in recent days.

“We’re making progress,” he said, a week out from a potential Senate vote. “But we’ve got a lot of work to go.”

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Greg Secker of “Learn to Trade”

How did Greg Secker, English business man and financial trading expert, get involved in teaching? Greg Secker explained this in a recent interview. He said that he wanted people to have a tool which helped them out at the beginning of their trading career. He started creating classes and webinars that people could use as such a tool. He said, “I wanted people to have this tool, especially to be able to trade in foreign transactions, so they can have the opportunity to improve their lives at a relatively low risk”.

Greg Secker knows how valuable it is to be able to improve life through a successful trading career he was able to quit his corporate job and begin trading from home by the age of 27, and did very well for himself. People noticed how well he was doing, and he felt that it was only natural for him to share. He says, “I noticed a lot of people struggled to begin trading with ease”.

Greg Stecker knew that what he had gone through in order to begin his trading career could be transferred to others. He wanted them to have a smooth ramp up to success, rather than a road that took them to high and low points, like his own journey did. There were difficult times.

Stecker said that on the days when he wanted to give up, he focused on learning from his mistakes. This is where much of the material for “Learn to Trade“, his program which teaches others to trade, came from. He knew that once he made the mistake and learned from it, others did not have to make the same mistake.

Stecker believes that the path to a successful trading career can be stress-free, if done correctly. He says, “Making money does not have to be difficult in trading. People just need to know how to invest and when”. This is exactly what he teaches in his programs.

Greg Stecker founded “Knowledge to Action” in order to share his knowledge. In addition, he also started several other financial trading related companies including FX Capital, SmartCharts Software, the Greg Stecker Foundation, and Capital Index.

 

Early returns close in Georgia special election

Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are running close to each other as the first votes are counted Tuesday night in Georgia’s special House election, a race that drew nationwide focus as a referendum on President Donald Trump.

Ossoff had 50.7 percent of the vote to 49.3 percent for Handel as the district’s counties tallied early votes about an hour after the polls closed.

The special election mushroomed into a nationally watched barometer of Trump’s first five months in office, with anti-Trump Democratic donors from around the country sending a record $23 million-plus to Ossoff’s campaign and Handel trying to keep longtime Republicans behind the party in Georgia’s 6th District, a one-time Republican stronghold that Trump carried by less than two points in 2016. The candidates and outside groups spent over $50 million combined during six months of campaigning.

Two voting locations remained open an extra half-hour because of delays earlier in the day, which also saw torrential downpour in part of the district.

Handel and Republicans have tied Ossoff to national Democrats and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, looking to paint him as too liberal for the district’s voters — and prevent a win that could further galvanize the Democratic base.

“They surely don’t want Nancy Pelosi’s guy coming in to try to buy this seat,” Handel said Tuesday on Fox News.

Republican outside groups have spent millions of dollars pushing that message as a counter to Ossoff’s campaign. Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, set a record for the most money spent by one outside group in a House race.

Ossoff has campaigned as a moderate cost-cutter and has held small leads in most public surveys of the special election. But polls have been closer in the final week of the race, and Handel was optimistic she would win the seat, which Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price held for years for the GOP before resigning to join Trump’s Cabinet. Republicans currently have a 24-seat edge in the House of Representatives.

“We held our own in early voting, neck and neck, and Republicans in Georgia … they are Election Day voters and they are coming out in force,” Handel said on Fox.

Meanwhile, Ossoff rallied his large corps of volunteers, urging them to get supporters to the polls.

“This is where the rubber meets road,” Ossoff said. “This race is so close — and y’all have worked so hard — that means we can’t leave any door un-knocked and any voter untouched.”

Though Ossoff launched his campaign with the slogan “make Trump furious,” he has not mentioned the president as often in the runoff campaign, sticking instead to local business development and cutting waste in Washington. Handel has embraced the White House on many policy positions and accepted support and fundraising help from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the runoff, but she was largely quiet on the president in the primary.

Georgia’s 6th District is the most heavily educated GOP-held district in the House, and Trump is not nearly as popular there as past Republican presidential nominees. Ossoff has tried to win over some of those voters with his moderate-themed campaign.

Turnout is expected to climb dramatically since over 192,000 people voted in the April all-party primary, when Ossoff and Handel finished first and second to advance to the June 20 runoff, with Ossoff finishing just shy of a majority that would have won him the seat. Over 140,000 people cast early ballots for the runoff.

Both parties spent the last two months urging voters who did not cast ballots in April to participate in June, and interest in the campaign has been unusually intense among district voters. Ninety-two percent of voters in a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll said they were watching the race “closely,” and more than half of voters said they thought the special election was more important than past elections.

The intense Georgia race has completely overshadowed another House special election taking place Tuesday night in South Carolina. Republican Ralph Norman is favored to take over the state’s GOP-leaning 5th District, which was left vacant when Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney left Congress to join the Trump administration.

Norman, a former state legislator who has pledged to join the House Freedom Caucus if elected, is running against Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs tax expert.

Elena Schneider contributed to this report.

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Decoding the Georgia special election

Places to watch as Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel try to piece together a win today.

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