Washington Brief: McConnell Is Least Popular Senator, Poll Finds

Washington Brief

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is America’s most popular senator, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held his spot as the least popular, according to a survey of more than 85,000 voters. (Morning Consult) Among governors, New Jersey’s Chris Christie (R) is the least popular, while Republicans in traditionally blue states – Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland – are the most popular. (Morning Consult)
  • Voters in Kansas’ 4th District head to the polls today in a special election to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo (R), who’s now director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The contest is unexpectedly close and has drawn the attention of President Donald Trump. (Roll Call)
  • Robert Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama following a sex scandal that made him the subject of criminal investigations and nearly led to his impeachment. (AL.com)
  • Trump’s voice has been largely absent from the debate over Syria since he ordered a missile strike there last week. U.S. military officials reportedly concluded that Russia knew in advance about Syria’s chemical weapons attack that prompted American military action. (The New York Times)
  • Turf wars and micromanaging as far up as the Oval Office have left hundreds of key administration jobs unfilled: The White House has nominated just 46 of the 553 appointments that require Senate confirmation. (Politico)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Center for American Progress event on teacher readiness 10 a.m.
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



Official: Russia knew in advance of Syrian chemical attack
Robert Burns, The Associated Press 

A senior U.S. official says the United States has concluded that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week. The official says a Russian-operated drone flew over a hospital in Syria as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment.

A major Democratic group just released its list of new rising stars
Maxwell Tani, Business Insider 

Emily’s List, the Democratic political action group that recruits and supports pro-choice female candidates, is rolling out its list of this year’s rising-star legislators and officials that it hopes will one day lead the Democratic Party. In an announcement on Monday, the group announced the nominees for its 2017 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award, which notes exemplary local service and civility.

GOP owns health care dilemma now, and voter skepticism
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Emily Swanson, The Associated Press 

Move over, “Obamacare.” The health care debate has shifted to ideas from President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers in Congress, and most people don’t like what they see.

The Conservative Pipeline to The Supreme Court
Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker 

With the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo has reared a generation of originalist élites. The selection of Neil Gorsuch is just his latest achievement.


On Trump’s Syria Strategy, One Voice Is Missing: Trump’s
Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris, The New York Times 

In the days since President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians, his administration has spoken with multiple voices as it seeks to explain its evolving policy. But one voice has not been heard from: that of Mr. Trump himself.

Why the Trump administration has so many vacancies
Nancy Cook et al., Politico 

Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda. The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Frayed U.S.-Mexico Ties Mend as Trump Refrains From Attacks
David Luhnow and Jacob Schlesinger, The Wall Street Journal 

Earlier this year, U.S.-Mexican relations hit their worst crisis in decades when Presidents Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto quarreled over who would pay for a proposed border wall, prompting the Mexican president to call off a planned trip to Washington. But then a funny thing happened: Mr. Trump, at the urging of senior aides, stopped attacking Mexico on Twitter and in public statements, opening up space to officials from both countries to markedly improve ties since then, U.S. and Mexican officials say.

Trump boasts about getting Gorsuch confirmed in first 100 days
Madeline Conway, Politico

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court on Monday, marking the biggest accomplishment of President Donald Trump’s early presidency and filling a seat that has been vacant since Antonin Scalia’s death more than a year ago. Gorsuch, 49, previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and graduated with an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, a law degree from Harvard, and did additional studies at Oxford.

Secret Service Sued Over Trump Residence Visitor Logs
Bob Van Voris, Bloomberg News

A group led by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get access to Secret Service logs of visits to the White House and President Donald Trump’s other occasional residences, the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and Trump Tower in New York City. CREW said the Secret Service, which maintains the logs, has refused to turn them over in response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Trump Tops Obama, Bush and Clinton in Golfing and Private Getaways So Far
Karen Yourish and K.K. Rebecca Lai, The New York Times 

After years of criticizing former President Barack Obama for playing golf and going on private getaways, President Trump has already done more of both in his first 81 days than Mr. Obama, as well as former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Mr. Trump played golf again this past weekend, on Saturday and Sunday.


McConnell warns low Trump approval ratings imperil GOP majority
David M. Drucker, The Washington Examiner 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is warning his party that President Trump’s low approval ratings could erase the GOP’s structural political advantages heading into 2018. The Republicans are defending fewer Senate seats in the midterm, in generally friendlier territory, than the Democrats.

Orrin Hatch says he plans to run for another term
Jeremy Harris, KUTV 

Utah’s senior Senator told 2News reporter Rod Decker that he plans to seek re-election in 2018. Hatch, 83, told 2News reporter Rod Decker that unless his health, or the health of his wife decline, he will seek an eighth term.

Republican Lawmakers Worry Enacting Trump’s Agenda Will Prove Impossible Without Filibuster Reform
Haley Byrd, Independent Journal Review 

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to end filibusters for Supreme Court nominees last week, Republican lawmakers — struggling to work together to enact President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda — are showing eagerness for McConnell to go a step further. “Regardless of your partisanship in the House, you hate the Senate,” an exhausted Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told reporters last week after another round of unfruitful health care negotiations.

Democrats Contemplate How To Forfeit Their Power Upon Regaining The Senate
Sam Stein, The Huffington Post 

After watching Senate Republicans lower the threshold for confirming a Supreme Court justice in order to vote Neil Gorsuch onto the court, Senate Democrats are openly talking about making it harder for themselves to do the same, if and when they regain power. Over the past few days, a number of Democratic lawmakers have said they’d be open to bringing back the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

The Senate may be developing an electoral college issue
Philip Bump, The Washington Post 

Theoretically, a bill or nomination could pass out of the Senate with the support of senators representing only 16.2 percent of the population. If the two senators from the 25 smallest states agreed to support a bill — and Vice President Pence concurred — the senators from the other 25 states and the 270 million people they represent are out of luck.

Donors Push Missouri’s Attorney General to Run for Senate
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

A contingent of Missouri Republicans penned a letter Monday urging Josh Hawley, the state’s young, newly elected attorney general, to join the race for his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill next year. In a letter signed by former Sen. Jack Danforth, mega-donor David Humphreys and former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, seven Republican heavyweights said Hawley would be “the strongest candidate for Missouri’s Senate seat.”


Trump Steps Into Closer-Than-Expected Kansas Special Election
Simone Pathé, Roll Call

It’s not often that a sitting Republican president, vice president, a former presidential candidate and senator and the speaker of the House make an effort days before a special election to hold what’s supposed to be a safe GOP seat. “Today, the eyes of the whole country are on Kansas,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said at a Monday rally for state Treasurer Ron Estes, the GOP nominee in the 4th District.

Cohen says Kushner Will Determine Trump’s Kush Policy
Eric Garcia, Roll Call 

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen says it is likely that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law will determine the president’s policy on marijuana. “It comes down to WWJD — What would Jared do?” the Tennessee Democrat told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis.


Robert Bentley’s years of scandal end in 6 historic days for Alabama
Mike Carson, AL.com

A scandal that hounded Robert Bentley for more than a year with little resolution finally brought him down today, abruptly ending his time as Alabama’s 53rd governor just past the halfway mark of his second term. Shortly after 5 p.m. today, the governor entered the Old House Chamber in the state Capitol, site of his seven annual State of the State addresses, and announced what cabinet members, staffers and reporters waiting there already knew – that his time as governor was done.

U.S. judge finds Texas voter ID law was intended to discriminate
Ian Simpson, Reuters 

A Texas law that requires voters to show identification before casting ballots was enacted with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, a U.S. federal judge ruled on Monday. The decision by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos came after an appeals court last year said the 2011 law had an outsized impact on minority voters.

Roy Cooper’s first 100 days: Promises, lawsuits and budget proposals
Will Doran, The News and Observer

In a bit more than three months in office, he has run into a court setback in his effort to expand Medicaid, tried to fend off attempts by the General Assembly to reduce his power, and faced criticism from both the left and the right over a compromise to repeal and replace House Bill 2. “The beginning wasn’t particularly auspicious,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University.


Drugmakers Help Turn Patients With Rare Diseases Into D.C. Lobbyists
Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News 

Wearing a blue T-shirt and worn jeans, Marc Yale stood near the welcome pole at the annual Rare Disease Legislative Advocates conference handing out money. Envelopes in his left hand held $750 checks to help patients with a rare disease cover the cost of a whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

On Syria, an Administration in Disagreement With Itself
The Editorial Board, The New York Times 

A weekend of official explanations for President Trump’s airstrikes on a Syrian air base has only deepened the confusion over his intentions, next steps and the legal basis for his unilateral use of force in the middle of that complicated, intractable civil war. The administration will have to do better than this.

In the future, John Roberts could be the Supreme Court’s swing vote
Richard L. Hasen, The Los Angeles Times

Even before the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch as a justice of the Supreme Court, and before it “nuked” the filibuster for nominees, the Trump administration and conservatives were already plotting to fill the next vacancy. Indeed, they have made overtures to swing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to get him to feel comfortable with retirement.

Obama’s Debt Interest Bomb
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal 

President Obama left his successor many time bombs—think chemical weapons in Syria and the collapsing Affordable Care Act. But a burning fuse that gets less attention showed its first signs of the explosion to come in Friday’s Congressional Budget Office budget review for March: Rising net interest payments on the national debt.

Research Reports and Polling

Mitch McConnell — Still America’s Least Popular Senator
Morning Consult

Of the 100 members of the Senate, there is only one who is underwater in the eyes of his constituents, according to the new Morning Consult Senator Approval Rankings, and it happens to be chamber’s most powerful member, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. More than 85,000 registered voters across America evaluated the job performance of their senators from from January 2017 through March 2017 to determine the latest rankings.

Chris Christie Is Now America’s Most Unpopular Governor
Morning Consult

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a tough 2016, and this year isn’t starting off any better for him: He’s now the most unpopular governor in the country, according to the new Morning Consult Governor Approval rankings. More than 85,000 registered voters across America evaluated the job performance of their governors from from January 2017 through March 2017 to determine the latest rankings.

Some Scandal-Plagued Governors Boost Their Image Among the Public
Tara Jeffries, Morning Consult 

Three Republican governors hobbled by recent scandals have managed to boost their approval ratings in the past few months, according to the new Morning Consult Governor Approval Rankings. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), facing impeachment, resigned on Monday after pleading guilty to two campaign finance violations discovered amid the fallout of a sex scandal which began in March 2016.

Where Trump’s Possible 2020 Challengers Stand With Voters at Home
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already taking hits by outside groups over ethics issues in Albany, but among a list of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, he is the most popular in his home state. More than six in 10 New Yorkers (62 percent) approve of his job performance — 6 percent more than the 56 percent who approve of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another possible contender.

Most Freshman Senators Are Less Popular Than Their Predecessors
Jon Reid, Morning Consult

Four of the seven freshman senators in the 115th Congress are less popular than the incumbent they replaced, according to the new Morning Consult Senate Approval Rankings. Two newly elected Republican senators — John Kennedy of Louisiana and Todd Young of Indiana — have higher approval ratings than their predecessors.