Washington Brief: GOP Retains Control of House Seat in Kansas Special Election

By Eli Yokley

Washington Brief

  • In a tougher-than-expected race on Tuesday, voters in Kansas’ 4th District elected Ron Estes (R) to replace former Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, who left Congress to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Kansas contest – likely impacted by its governor’s unpopularity – was the first big test for down-ballot candidates in the Trump era. (Morning Consult)
  • President Donald Trump is set to lift his federal hiring freeze, but with a catch: Agencies will be required to submit plans to reorganize and make themselves more efficient – some by cutting jobs. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she is considering running for governor in 2018. She made a gubernatorial run in 1994, when she lost to independent Angus King, who’s now a U.S. senator. (Portland Press Herald)
  • As the White House continues to criticize Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, more Americans trust Trump than congressional Republicans or the international community to end the conflict in Syria. (Morning Consult)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Gen. Goldfein speaks at Heritage Foundation event on military readiness 11 a.m.
Brookings Institution event on technology, accountability and international law 10 a.m.
Rep. Buck speaks at Heritage Foundation “Drain the Swamp” event 12 p.m.
No events scheduled



Newly Energized Liberals Pour Record Effort Into Local Races
Janet Hook, The Wall Street Journal

For years, Rachel Paule didn’t have much to do with politics. That changed abruptly after Election Day.

Daily Mail apologises to Melania Trump, and pays damages
Katie Martin and John Murray Brown, FInancial Times

US First Lady Melania Trump has accepted an apology and damages from UK tabloid the Daily Mail, which last year “republished allegations that she provided services beyond simply modeling” in the 1990s. In a statement, the paper said it retracted the story, apologised for any distress, and agreed to pay unspecified damages and costs.

Former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Registers for New Run at Presidency
Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch, The Wall Street Journal

Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered to run for the presidency again on Wednesday, in a surprise move that could upset the balance in polls set for next month. Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner, said in September that he wouldn’t run for the presidency after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised him not to. He earlier served as president between 2005 and 2013, a turbulent time for Iran’s relations with the world.

Bill O’Reilly Is Going on Vacation. Will His Show Return?
Gabriel Sherman, New York Magazine 

Embattled Fox News host Bill O’Reilly announced tonight that he is taking a vacation. O’Reilly’s decision to go off the air in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal and advertiser boycott arguably has the appearance of a suspension, but O’Reilly worked to dispel that notion.


Trump to Lift Hiring Freeze
Louise Radnofsky and Rebecca Ballhaus, The Wall Street Journal

The administration plans to lift the federal hiring freeze that has been in place for the past three months but will continue its push to restructure and downsize the federal government, seen as a central piece of President Donald Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” “The government reorg is probably the biggest story nobody is talking about,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

White House Accuses Russia of Cover-up in Syria Chemical Attack
Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times 

The White House on Tuesday accused the Russian government of engaging in a cover-up of the chemical weapons attack last week by Syrian forces that prompted American airstrikes, saying that United States intelligence and numerous contemporaneous reports confirmed that the Syrians used sarin gas on their own people. In a declassified four-page report that details United States intelligence on the chemical weapons attack, the White House asserted that the Syrian and Russian governments have sought to confuse the world community about the assault through disinformation and “false narratives.”

White House Spokesman Argues Assad’s Chemical Weapons Atrocities Were Worse Than Hitler’s
Carol E. Lee, The Wall Street Journal 

The White House’s top spokesman on Tuesday argued that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has committed atrocities worse than Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, saying even the man whose genocidal regime instigated a world war and killed millions of people didn’t use chemical weapons. “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

Xi and Trump Discuss Rising Tensions With North Korea
Jane Perlez, The New York Times

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and President Trump spoke by phone on Wednesday about the escalating tensions with North Korea as a prominent Chinese state-run newspaper warned the North that it faced a cutoff of vital oil supplies if it dared test a nuclear weapon. The phone call, reported by China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, came hours after Mr. Trump cautioned Beijing in a Twitter message and a television interview that it needed to help Washington rein in North Korea, a Chinese ally.

FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page
Ellen Nakashima et al., The Washington Post

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said. The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

Trump won’t definitively say he still backs Bannon
Michael Goodwin, The New York Post

Washington’s rumor mill is working overtime on the fate of aide Steve Bannon, who is said to be at the center of the rampant White House in-fighting. When I asked the President Tuesday afternoon if he still has confidence in Bannon, who took over the campaign in mid-August, I did not get a definitive yes.


Dems to unveil populist agenda showing Sanders’ sway
Heather Caygle and Elana Schor, Politico 

Democrats are beginning to craft an economic message for 2018 that goes beyond the tempting, single-minded strategy of demonizing Donald Trump. Licking their wounds after an embarrassing showing in November, Democrats vowed to charge into next year’s midterms with a proactive sales pitch to voters.

Dark money group backs super PAC pushing Mandel Senate bid
Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press 

A super PAC created to support Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s latest bid for U.S. Senate is getting the bulk of its money from an advocacy group not required to disclose its donors, an Associated Press review has found. The anonymity allowed by the arrangement signals Ohio will see another expensive and nasty faceoff as Mandel seeks to unseat Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown next year.


Estes Wins in Kansas as GOP Exhales
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

After putting a scare into national Republicans, Kansas state Treasurer Ron Estes squeaked by with a victory in Tuesday night’s special election to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump’s CIA director. Estes was beating Democratic lawyer James Thompson, 52 percent to 46 percent, with 88 percent of the vote in when The Associated Press called the race.

Pennsylvania congressman to be named drug czar by Trump
Jacqueline Alemany, CBS News 

Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino is expected to step down from his seat to take on a new role in the Trump administration. Multiple sources tell CBS News that Marino will head up the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), assuming the informal title of drug czar.

Army veteran announces run for Comstock’s congressional seat
Jenna Portnoy, The Washington Post

Democrat Daniel Helmer, an Army veteran and Rhodes scholar emboldened by the election of President Trump, on Tuesday announced his campaign to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). Helmer said he has raised $120,000 — an amount he hopes will set him apart from a crowded field of candidates shaping up ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Denver attorney Jason Crow to challenge Mike Coffman in 2018
Brian Eason, The Denver Post 

It’s been five months since the most recent election, and the Democratic campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the next one already has begun. In an exclusive interview with The Denver Post, attorney Jason Crow on Monday announced plans to run for Congress in 2018 against Coffman, the fifth-term Republican who repeatedly has cruised to comfortable victories in Colorado’s 6th District despite its Democrat-friendly demographics.

Trump Meddling Leaves Ryan’s Clout in Doubt After Health Fiasco
Anna Edgerton, Bloomberg News 

Paul Ryan was the public face of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare until two weeks ago. Then he went nearly silent.


Sen. Collins says she may run for Maine governor in 2018
Scott Thistle, Portland Press Herald

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday she was seriously contemplating a run for Maine governor in 2018, her most definitive statement yet on a topic that has long been the subject of political speculation. The Republican senior senator has mostly demurred on the subject when questioned by reporters seeking to identify prospective candidates to succeed Gov. Paul LePage in the Blaine House.

Did a Republican running for Va. governor really dress up like a Confederate gent?
Laura Vozzella, The Washington Post

For a minute there, it looked like Corey Stewart’s bid for Virginia governor had morphed him from Confederate flag-waver to fully costumed Confederate reenactor. He turned up at the Old South Ball in Danville during the weekend, sporting a bow tie and dark bolero jacket bedecked with lots of shiny buttons.

Many Big Donors to de Blasio Have Yet to Chip In for Second Run
William Neuman, The New York Times 

The big donors who helped sweep Mayor Bill de Blasio into office have largely been staying away from his re-election campaign. Of the 892 people who gave Mr. de Blasio the maximum donation during his 2013 campaign for mayor, just 142, or 16 percent, have made a contribution of any size to his re-election campaign, according to an analysis of campaign finance records.


Lobbyists resetting Trump expectations
Megan R. WIlson, The Hill

Lobbyists began the year with high expectations for a Republican-controlled government, but many are recalibrating after a rocky start for President Trump’s agenda. Most Republican lobbyists who spoke to The Hill said Republicans still have plenty of time to rack up big legislative wins, even if the road ahead is a tough one.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Is Russia Testing Trump?
Michael J. Morell and Evelyn Farkas, The New York Times 

This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is making his first diplomatic visit to Russia, where he’s likely to press Moscow on its handling of Syria, which he has called “incompetent.” But Mr. Tillerson should recognize that Russia’s involvement in Syria is only one example of the increasingly active, and disruptive, role that President Vladimir Putin has been playing on the world stage since Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Trump’s Putin Pushback
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

The theory, popular with the media, that President Trump is a political prisoner of Vladimir Putin is looking less credible by the day. The latest evidence arrived Tuesday as White House officials accused Russia of trying to cover up Bashar Assad’s chemical-weapons assault in Syria, and Mr. Trump formally invited Montenegro to join NATO.

WikiLeaks has the same mission as The Post and the Times  
Julian Assange, The Washington Post

On his last night in office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a powerful farewell speech to the nation — words so important that he’d spent a year and a half preparing them. “Ike” famously warned the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Sessions Is Wrong to Take Science Out of Forensic Science
Erin E. Murphy, The New York Times

Prosecutors applauded the April 10 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice was disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science and returning forensic science to law enforcement control. In the same statement, Mr. Sessions suspended the department’s review of closed cases for inaccurate or unsupported statements by forensic analysts, which regularly occur in fields as diverse as firearm and handwriting identification, and hair, fiber, shoe, bite mark and tire tread matching, and even fingerprinting analysis.

Research Reports and Polling

Americans Trust Trump the Most to End Syrian Conflict
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult

Americans trust President Donald Trump more than the international community or Republicans in Congress to take the necessary steps to end the ongoing civil war in Syria. According to a new Morning Consult/POLITICO survey, 57 percent of Americans are confident that Trump can end the conflict.

New Republican Governors Off to a Strong Start
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

From Vermont to Missouri and New Hampshire, voters are happier with their new Republican governors than they were with the Democrats who used to lead their states, according to the new Morning Consult Governor Approval Rankings. The trend in favor of Republicans was strongest in Vermont, where Phil Scott, the state’s former lieutenant governor, became only the second Republican to serve as his state’s chief executive since 1991.