With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

COLORADO SPRINGS—The wealthy donors who finance the conservative Koch network have many reasons to celebrate five months into Donald Trump’s presidency. Justice Neil Gorsuch sits on the Supreme Court, and a slew of other pro-business judges have been nominated. Major regulations enacted under Barack Obama have been rescinded. Environmental rules have been scaled back. A bill signed into law Friday, which makes it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, offers a blueprint for scaling back civil service protections. The administration has proposed massive spending cuts.

But with Trump’s self-inflicted wounds and persistent GOP infighting in the capital, the financiers assembled at the Broadmoor resort on Cheyenne Mountain are also being forced to reckon with the possibility that golden opportunities to overhaul the tax code and repeal Obamacare are being squandered. Some also quietly fear that voter backlash to the president in 2018 could derail their long-term plans to remake the federal government.

“We believe we have a window of about 12 months to get as much done as possible before the midterms become all consuming,” Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, told the 400 donors attending the network’s summer seminar.

When the group last convened in January, one week after Trump took office, the attendees and the operatives who work for the groups that they fund still expected to see a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Now they’re encouraging Republican senators to make the draft bill under consideration go further in that direction.

“Perhaps we were naïve in thinking a full repeal vote would happen,” Phillips said Sunday. “This has been humbling for us. … We’re determined to make (the Senate bill) better. … The road ahead of us on health care is uncertain. … We learned from health care that we cannot take anything for granted.”

-- The network, led by billionaire Kansas industrialist Charles Koch, steadfastly refused to back Trump during the 2016 campaign, even as most recalcitrant Republicans fell in line. Now both sides seem eager to put the last election behind them. The Kochs want a seat at the table and pledge to work with the administration to advance their shared goals. Trump’s team, which includes many people who used to work for the Kochs, wants their help.

Vice President Pence, who has long been an ally of the network, met with Koch here on Friday evening for 45 minutes. They were joined by Marc Short, who directed political efforts for the Koch network until last year and is now the White House’s legislative liaison.

-- Trump himself has rarely been mentioned by name, either positively or negatively, during the three-day conclave, which continues through tonight. Some of his biggest Republican critics in the Senate during last year’s campaign participated in events here over the weekend, including Ben Sasse (Neb.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah). But none publicly criticized the president, at least in sessions that reporters were allowed access to. (Reflecting the network’s power, John Cornyn – the No. 2 Senate Republican – also attended.)

During a cocktail reception on Saturday night, Lee and the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo were feted for their work to confirm Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia. Koch-funded groups, led by Concerned Veterans for America, invested heavily in that effort.

-- The weekend’s sessions focused a little less on areas in which the network disagrees with Trump than in the past, including trade, immigration, criminal justice and entitlements. There was additional emphasis on areas where they can make common cause, from tax policy to school choice.

-- Koch stressed to his allies that he’s not backing off any of his core principles. Quoting Martin Luther, he said: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” He has long had an affinity for abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s line, which he repeated: “I will unite with anyone to do good and no one to do harm." And he likes to cite Calvin Coolidge making the case that persistence is more important than talent, genius or education.

He is also accustomed to this balancing act. The Koch network has a history of challenging Republicans that dates backs to its founding during the George W. Bush administration. Koch initially convened a small group of like-minded conservatives and libertarians alarmed about Republican policies such as steel tariffs and No Child Left Behind, which expanded the federal role in education.

“When I look at where we are, at the size and effectiveness of this network, I’m blown away,” Koch said Saturday, reminiscing about the first seminar in 2003. “We are more optimistic now about what we can accomplish than we’ve ever been. … I think we’re really going to start doing some good.”

Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Institute and a co-chair of the weekend seminar, said that the network has simply chosen to be pragmatic. “To be clear, we’re not looking for perfect public policy because we know that there’s no such thing,” he explained during a Sunday afternoon panel. “What we are looking for is policy that moves our country in the right direction. … That happens one step at a time. When lawmakers stray … we’ll do everything we can do to get them back on track. … When we disagree with House Republicans or with this president, believe me when I tell you that we do it with the best interests of this country in mind.”

“One of the things that makes our network unique is that we want to work with these guys on these issues,” Sean Lansing, chief operating officer of Americans for Prosperity, added in an interview. “We want to be helpful. I think there’s a lot of groups in our sphere who just use the stick. They don’t always engage with the carrot. We want to engage with the carrot. … We want to see these policies pass because that’s what we’re here for. We’re not an appendage of the Republican Party. It’s not about ‘R’ or ’D’ for us. It’s about getting things we care about signed into law.”

-- The network reiterated previously announced plans to spend $300 million to $400 million on policy and political campaigns during the 2018 cycle — up from $250 million during the 2016 elections. Officials said the final number will probably be in the high end of that range.

Emily Seidel, who directs political strategy for Freedom Partners, which is part of the network, delivered a presentation Sunday afternoon about how tough the midterms might be for Republicans. “We’re facing a reinvigorated progressive left,” she warned.

While there are 10 Democratic senators up for reelection next year in states Trump carried, Seidel said: “None of these will be an easy lift.” She noted that Democrats need to flip 24 House seats, and Republicans must defend 23 seats in districts Hillary Clinton won. The GOP also needs to defend 27 of the 38 governorships that are up in this cycle. “In midterms since 1982, the president’s party has lost an average of four seats in the Senate and 20 in the House,” she said. “If that happened next year, Chuck Schumer would be the majority leader and Nancy Pelosi would be four votes away from being Speaker. … These governors’ races could very well determine control of the U.S. House for the decade following the Census in 2020.”

Seidel stressed the need for the network to spend early. “Early engagement with paid media is how we set the narrative,” she explained. She cited the successful effort in Ohio last year to negatively define Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s challenger, Ted Strickland, before he could raise enough money to go up with his own television commercials. Once the airwaves become saturated, she explained, the network’s grassroots programs will then drive voter engagement.

-- Donors are split on Trump: To be a member of the seminar network, someone must agree to contribute at least $100,000-per-year to Koch-backed causes. These benefactors – who consider themselves “investors” – remain divided over Trump. Some support him strongly; others couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him last November. But the network’s more conciliatory tone keeps everyone under the same tent, and there was consensus among attendees who agreed to be interviewed during a reception last night that they should work with the White House whenever beneficial.

Bob Fettig, who runs a metal fabrication business in Lake Geneva, Wis., believes the country is finally moving in the right direction and expressed more faith in Trump than Republican leaders in Congress to do the right thing. “A lot has been accomplished,” he explained. “The system was designed to make it difficult to enact legislation, so in a way the system is working. … I think he’s doing great from the standpoint that he’s shaking up the system.”

Fettig, a longtime booster of Scott Walker, said it doesn’t matter whether he agrees with Trump 100 percent of the time: “The fact he’s following through on the things he said he was going to do … tells you he has some convictions, and he’s acting on them. … I’m confident that Trump will continue to push forward, but will Congress get its stuff together? He’s not a politician. It’s the politicians who continue to be politicians.”

Chris Rufer, who processes tomatoes in the Central Valley of California, voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in November. He lamented that the migrant workers his agriculture industry depends on are fearful of being deported by Trump. Rufer also exports his product to more than 40 countries, and he said that one of his customers in South America didn’t buy from him this year because he was afraid Trump would put in place tariffs. The contract went to a Chilean company instead. Rufer said Trump is clearly not a deep thinker and has shown that he cannot become more presidential. Asked if he might support a primary challenger in 2020, the businessman smirked: “It’d be kind of fun, wouldn’t it?”

-- More than anything else, the network wants a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code completed while Republicans have unified control of government. Folks are very encouraged by the blueprint that the Trump administration released this spring, with lower corporate rates and flatter individual rates.

The network’s primary focus on the tax front in recent months, though, has been getting Paul Ryan to drop his support for a new border adjustment tax on imports to pay for cuts elsewhere. Operatives feel like they’ve basically won this fight politically, but they’re still pushing the Speaker to officially take the idea off the table.

Three conservative congressmen, along with Steve Forbes, hammered on the issue during a press conference on the sidelines of the Koch meeting last night. “Having talked to him personally, the president is not for it,” said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) “If there is one thing that this president is focused on in a very myopic way, it is getting tax reform done.”

“I think the Phillies have a better chance of winning the World Series than a border adjustment tax being enacted into law,” added Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). “The longer it remains a part of the framework, the more the chances of successfully completing tax reform decline.”

Americans for Prosperity plans to mobilize its grassroots activists across all 36 states where it operates this summer to agitate for a tax code overhaul. The group wants to work inside the tent to help craft a deal but also stresses that it’s very much willing to play the outside game if necessary. “Our hope is that we don’t have to hold their feet to the fire because this is a priority for them, just like it is us for us,” said Lansing, AFP’s chief operating officer. “We’ll be there to support them in their efforts on tax reform because we also think this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but if they don’t make good on these promises I can’t imagine a scenario where voters come back in two years and say, ‘Great job, we want to put you back in office.’ Nor should they.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Jared Kushner’s company finalized a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank just before Election Day. Michael Kranish reports: “One month before Election Day, Jared Kushner’s real estate company finalized a $285 million loan as part of a refinancing package for its property near Times Square in Manhattan.  The loan came at a critical moment. Kushner was playing a key role in [Trump’s campaign]. The lender, Deutsche Bank, was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. Now, Kushner’s association with Deutsche Bank is among a number of financial matters that could come under focus as his business activities are reviewed by special counsel [Robert Mueller] …  The October deal illustrates the extent to which Kushner was balancing roles as a top adviser to Trump and a real estate company executive. Deutsche Bank loans to Trump and his family members have [also] come under scrutiny … [and the bank] supplied funds to him when other banks balked at the risk. As of last year, Trump’s companies had about $364 million in outstanding debts to the bank.

“The corporate loan and Kushner’s personal guarantee are not mentioned on his financial disclosure form, filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The Post sent the language cited by Kushner’s lawyer to [former acting OGE director Don Fox]. After reviewing the wording, he said in an interview that he would have advised Kushner to disclose the [$285 million] loan because of its size and possible implications.” Even if OGE “advised there was no requirement to disclose,” he said, “I would have nonetheless recommended Jared over report in this instance given the magnitude of the contingency and the public interest in liabilities — actual and potential — to Deutsche Bank.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Sen. Bernie Sanders insisted that the FBI investigation into whether his wife committed fraud would clear her. The couple announced last week that they had retained counsel for the investigation, which focuses on whether Jane Sanders committed bank fraud in 2010 to acquire a new campus for the now-defunct Burlington College. (David Weigel)
  2. Several Ohio government websites, including that of Gov. John Kasich (R), were hacked on Sunday and defaced with pro-ISIS, anti-Trump messaging. Messages on the hacked sites — which were shut down as government officials worked to reestablish control — contained short statements proclaiming love for the Islamic State and threatening to “hold Trump” accountable “for every drop of blood flowing in Muslim countries.” The hacking was allegedly done by an entity calling itself “System Dz,” which has taken credit for breaches of local government websites for more than two years, and is currently being probed by the FBI. (Devlin Barrett)
  3. Japanese air bag maker Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the United States. The move comes as the company is overwhelmed by lawsuits and costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators, which are linked to at least 16 deaths, 180 injuries, and have sparked the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. (AP)
  4. Florida is racing to protect its coral reef from climate change. The reef’s continued depletion could seriously threaten the local economies along the coast. (Chris Mooney)

  5. The attorney for an off-duty policeman in St. Louis who was shot last week by a fellow officer is claiming his client was viewed as a threat “because he was black”  an incendiary claim that has prompted division in the community as authorities continue to investigate the so-called “friendly fire” incident. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  6. Israeli’s government on Sunday reneged on a plan to allow mixed-gender religious services at the Western Wall, angering many American Jews who have said they feel abandoned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. (Ruth Eglash and William Booth)
  7. Thousands of people in Venezuela have been arrested in recent months in a string of anti-government protests — and as the number of detainees continues to climb, so have reports of human rights violations and horrific abuse inside prison walls. At least 15 survivors recalled being forced to eat pasta mixed with human excrement — and one woman was so dismayed at the prison conditions that she tried to hurl herself out of a window of a courthouse during her preliminary hearing. (Rachelle Krygier and Joshua Partlow)
  8. Police in Des Moines arrested a 22-year-old girl suspected of setting a small fire at a local mosque last week. Authorities said she was seen on security footage pouring lighter fluid on the carpet before setting the blaze and fleeing. (Des Moines Register)
  9. A teenage girl who fell 25 feet from a Six Flags ride in Upstate New York managed to avoid serious injury or worse this weekend, after a crowd below saw her dangling from the attraction and quickly gathered below to catch her. (Amy B Wang)
  10. An Orange County, Calif., man is preparing to file a lawsuit against the coroner’s office after officials told him his son was dead — using what later turned out to be only an old driver’s license photo to identify the body. The family grieved their loss for nearly an entire month and spent tens of thousands of dollars on a funeral before realizing the city had misidentified the victim. (Avi Selk)

HEALTH-CARE LATEST:

-- As Mitch McConnell races to hold a health-care vote before the July 4 recess, Senate Republicans sounded increasingly anxious about the odds of the bill’s passage yesterday. Ashley Parker, David Weigel and Robert Costa report: “The mounting dissatisfaction leaves Senate Republican leaders and the White House in a difficult position. In the coming days, moves to narrow the scope of the overhaul could appeal to moderates but anger conservatives, who believe the legislation does not go far enough to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. A key moment will arrive early this week when the Congressional Budget Office releases an analysis of the bill that estimates how many people could lose coverage under the Republican plan, as well as what impact it might have on insurance premiums and how much money it could save the government.”

To illustrate the herculean task McConnell faces, here are three quotes from Senate Republicans yesterday:

  • Sen. Susan Collins: “I’m going to look at the whole bill before making a decision … It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week.
  • Sen. Rand Paul: “I’ve been telling leadership for months now I’ll vote for a repeal. And it doesn’t have to be a 100 percent repeal. So, for example, I’m for 100 percent repeal, that’s what I want. But if you give me 90 percent repeal, I’d probably vote for it. I might vote for 80 percent repeal.”
  • Sen. John Cornyn: “It’s not going to get any easier … And, yes, I think August is the drop deadline, about August 1.”

-- In a New York Times op-ed out today, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, one of the conservative holdouts, lays out his wish list for improving the legislation: “Our priority should be to bring relief, and better, less expensive care, to millions of working men and women. Unfortunately, the Senate Republican alternative, unveiled last week, doesn’t appear to come close to addressing their plight,” he writes. “Like Obamacare, it relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play … The primary goals of any health care reform should be to restrain (if not lower) costs while improving quality, access and innovation … Once again, a simple solution is obvious. Loosen up regulations and mandates, so that Americans can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford.”

-- Likely trying to downplay the upcoming CBO score, HHS Secretary Tom Price questioned the agency’s ability to accurately predict health-care outcomes. Price said yesterday during an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: “The CBO does a great job on budget; they do a relatively poor job of what the coverage consequences of a healthcare plan are. Their ability—anybody’s ability — to predict what human behavior is going to be without looking at the entire construct, is difficult. I would suggest to you that the numbers the CBO had before with the ACA, and the numbers they have now, are not accurate.”

-- The moderates voicing concern or outright opposition to the bill, including Collins, could pose as much if not more of a barrier to passage than the hard-right conservatives who are not currently at “yes.” Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein report: “[The proposed Medicaid rollback] and the bill’s bold redistribution of wealth — the billions of dollars taken from coverage for the poor would help fund tax cuts for the wealthy — is creating substantial anxiety for several Republican moderates whose states have especially benefited from the expansion of Medicaid that the Affordable Care Act has allowed since 2014 … Their concerns that the legislation would harm the nation’s most vulnerable and cause many Americans to become uninsured have thrust into stark relief the ideological fault lines within the GOP … Both Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) said that they would evaluate it with an eye toward its effect on low-income residents.” (For a visualization of which populations’ health-care costs would be most affected by the Senate bill, here is a graphic from Kim Soffen.)

-- After announcing that he would not back the bill, Republican Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) faced a deluge of ads from groups that span the political spectrum. David Weigel reports: “America First Policies, one of several groups set up to back the president since his election, announced Friday that it would launch digital and TV ads asking Heller to change his stance. But America First Policies was late to the game. One month ago, AARP began running ads asking Heller to vote no if the Republicans’ health-care bill got to the Senate … Two more ads were even more apocalyptic. One, from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, portrayed parents selling off their belongings to pay for a child in a hospital bed. The progressive Community Catalyst Action Fund ran another spot in which a mother scrambles to grab an inhaler for a child undergoing an asthma attack. ‘Senator Heller, when this happens, she isn’t thinking about the health care bill in Congress,’ says a narrator.”

-- As Republican senators pushed back on the Medicaid rollback, Kellyanne Conway denied that the proposed changes constituted “cuts” to the decades-old program. She said on ABC’s “This Week”: “These are not cuts to Medicaid … This slows the rate for the future and it allows governors more flexibility for the future with Medicaid dollars … If you are currently in Medicaid, if you became [a recipient] ... through the Obamacare expansion, you are grandfathered in. We’re talking about in the future … We don’t see them as cuts, it’s slowing the rate of growth in the future and getting Medicaid back to where it was.

-- Even though Trump set himself apart from other Republicans in 2016 by promising not to cut Medicaid, any health-care bill he signs is likely to be regarded as a victory. John Wagner, Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson report: “It is increasingly clear that President Trump is almost certain to fall well short of fulfilling those [campaign] promises. Trump and congressional Republicans will likely hail any bill that reaches the president’s desk as the fulfillment of a long-standing pledge to ‘repeal and replace’ the ACA … But if the House and Senate agree on legislation along the lines of what is now being debated, millions — including some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — are projected to lose coverage, receive fewer benefits or see their premiums rise … Interviews with Trump supporters who attended his campaign rally in Cedar Rapids suggest that many of them are dissatisfied with their health care — and many suspect Trump won’t fully deliver on his promises. But so far, they don’t seem inclined to blame him.”

-- Much to liberals’ indignation, McConnell’s strategy of hiding the bill for weeks may be proving effective. Politico’s Elana Schor reports: “For weeks now, liberal activists and Democratic senators have struggled to capture the public’s focus in their campaign to halt ... momentum to repeal Obamacare. Now that the GOP bill is public, its expected coverage losses are likely to make it as deeply unpopular as the House’s plan — yet the left is facing a perilously narrow window to pick off wavering Republican senators and sink the bill before this week’s vote. That messaging crisis is not for lack of trying. But progressives have been stymied by Republicans’ strategy of keeping the bill behind closed doors as well as a crowded media landscape … Even if they break through the clutter this week by flooding the GOP with public anger, they may be too late to save Obamacare.

-- The opposition leaves McConnell only a few days to fine-tune the bill’s specifics in a way that secures 50 votes. Paul Kane reports: “It sets up a final frenzy of negotiation, as McConnell has determined he will finish with the legislation one way or another by the end of this month. If he’s not careful, the GOP leader could end up being lambasted by conservatives and liberals alike for cutting narrow deals to try to buy off votes from individual senators in a similar manner used for passing the Affordable Care Act … Republicans are acknowledging that they expect to know by Tuesday — Wednesday at the latest — whether they have the votes to pass the plan … All of this makes the coming week’s initial vote — a simple parliamentary motion to begin debate — the critical test of support that will signal whether the legislation rises or falls.

-- As the president “is working the phones” to help McConnell get to 50, his complaint that the House’s health-care bill was “mean,” which he confirmed yesterday, has not helped his cause. Trump said during a “Fox and Friends” interview of Barack Obama’s scathing criticism of the Senate bill: “He used my term: ‘mean.’ That was my term, because I want to see — and I speak from the heart — that’s what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart.”

House Republicans, many of whom stuck their necks out to get the bill passed, were still stewing over Trump’s “mean” comment, and yesterday’s confirmation will not help matters. Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports: “Members are still talking about it — irate that he'd lobby them aggressively, then celebrate the bill in the Rose Garden one day and malign it as ‘mean’ the next. His flip-flop … will damage his ability to negotiate on major items like tax reform.

-- Despite the rocky road ahead, Trump remained optimistic yesterday that Republicans would get the job done — and that concessions would be made to ensure it. He said during his “Fox and Friends” interview: “We've a very good plan … We have a few people that are I think, I could say modestly, they're not standing on the rooftops and screaming. They want to get some points. I think they'll get some points … I don't think they're that far off. Famous last words, right? But I think they're going to get there.”

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The president is eager to meet with Vladimir Putin, even as some of his advisers warn him against it. The AP’s Vivian Salama reports: “The idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time — and interact only with great caution … Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal ‘pull-aside’ on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold ‘strategic stability talks,’ which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions. The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.”

-- “As the United States grapples with the implications of Kremlin interference in American politics, European countries are deploying a variety of bold tactics and tools to expose Russian attempts to sway voters and weaken European unity,” Dana Priest and Michael Birnbaum report. “Across the continent, counterintelligence officials, legislators, researchers and journalists have devoted years — in some cases, decades — to the development of ways to counter Russian disinformation, hacking and trolling. And they are putting them to use as never before. Sweden has launched a nationwide school program to teach students to identify Russian propaganda. In Germany, all political parties have agreed not to employ automated bots in their social media campaigns because such hard-to-detect cyber tools are frequently used by Russia to circulate bogus news accounts. France and Britain have successfully pressured Facebook to disable tens of thousands of automated fake accounts used to sway voters close to election time … Four dozen officials and researchers interviewed recently sounded uniformly more confident about the results of their efforts … than officials grappling with it in the U.S., which one European cyber-official described as ‘like watching ‘House of Cards.’”

-- The Kremlin has recalled Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak – bringing back to Moscow the longtime diplomat whose meetings with various Trump officials are currently being investigated by the FBI. Buzzfeed’s John Hudson reports: “Though Kislyak’s departure has long been expected, Moscow would not confirm his departure date. The US-Russia Business Council, however, is hosting a going away party for the ambassador on July 11 at the St. Regis Hotel. As Kislyak’s associations came under intensifying scrutiny in recent weeks, an array of politicians in both parties tripped over themselves in trying to deny any past contacts with Kislyak … [and] at one point, the intrigue spread beyond the Trump camp — in late April, [Nancy Pelosi] claimed she’d never met Kislyak shortly before photos surfaced of her meeting with him alongside other lawmakers in 2010. Kislyak was reportedly under consideration to lead a new UN counterterrorism office based in New York. However, that position has since been offered to veteran Russian diplomat Vladimir Voronkov, a UN official announced last week.”

-- The White House on Sunday blamed the Obama administration for failing to tackle Russian collusion in last year’s presidential race, pushing a new strategy to blame Trump's predecessor for an issue currently dogging his own administration. Ashley Parker reports: “Appearing on ABC's ‘This Week’ on Sunday, [Kellyanne Conway] struck a combative tone, saying: ‘It's the Obama administration that was responsible for doing absolutely nothing … with the knowledge that Russia was hacking into our election. They did absolutely nothing. They're responsible for this.’ Then, referring to a [Post story] that chronicled in detail the intense debate within the Obama White House on how to handle the mounting threat posed by Russia … she said: ‘I have a hacking question for the Obama administration: Why did you, quote, choke  … Why did you do nothing? Why didn't you inform candidate Trump?’” Conway's comments echoed a tweet sent by Trump on Friday calling on the media to shift their focus on his predecessor. On Sunday, Conway said she thinks the previous administration “has a lot of questions to answer given this Russian obsession by everyone.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer rejected Conway's remarks in a Sunday interview, noting that Obama is “no longer in charge” and calling on Trump to support a bill imposing additional sanctions on Russia and Iran. “Now, [Trump] seems to be opposing that,” Schumer said. "The American people are scratching their heads. Knowing his relationship with Putin, they’re saying why the heck is he opposing strengthening sanctions?” The White House is currently lobbying against the bill, which passed 98-2 in a Senate vote last week.

“[Conway] also said that the president's commission on electoral integrity, which [Pence] is chairing, is part of the administration's effort to respond to the Russia threat and that the White House is taking other steps, as well. Pence's electoral integrity commission, Conway added, has 10 members and plans to issue a report addressing ‘everything from voter fraud here domestically to possible hacking by foreign governments.”

-- The latest tweets provided further evidence that Trump’s transition from candidate to president has not altered his stance on Russia’s election hacking, as some had wished.  The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports: “Government officials, members of Congress from both parties and even some Trump supporters had hoped that, with the campaign behind him, Mr. Trump would finally speak declaratively about the email hacking and recognize the threat Russian cyberattacks present, without asterisks, wisecracks, caveats or obfuscation. That hope has dissipated. The latest presidential tweets were proof to dismayed members of Mr. Trump’s party that he still refuses to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

-- The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee also took his own swipe at Obama’s handling of the situation. Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said on CNN yesterday: "The Obama administration should have done a lot more when it became clear that not only was Russia intervening, but it was being directed at the highest levels of the Kremlin."

DEMS, LOOKING TO 2018, STRUGGLE TO UNITE:

-- “The largest number of Democratic congressional candidates in decades are putting into play dozens of House districts across the country, raising the possibility of a bitterly contested midterm election cycle next year as the party and its activists try to take advantage of [Trump’s] unpopularity to win a majority in the House,” Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel report. “Yet these candidates and their supporters are also waging a battle among themselves about what the Democratic Party should stand for. The battle over the path forward is raging across the country in dozens of races. Several districts that had seen only token candidates, or no candidates at all, in the past are suddenly packed with mostly first-time Democratic contenders with a broad variety of backgrounds and qualifications. Among them: veteran Jason Crow in Colorado, stem-cell researcher Hans Keirstead in California … and former sneaker company executive Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania.

“Democrats as well as independent observers believe that [taking the majority] is attainable, [but] what they don’t agree on is how to do it[:] by exciting the base with a liberal economic message and fiery candidates in the model of Sen. Bernie Sanders, or by keeping the party’s doors open to moderates and independents with centrist contenders, ideally with business or military experience.”

-- Meanwhile, the party's ongoing messaging struggle continues, Dan Balz writes: “Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party. The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg … sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites …”

“[But] that kind of message probably will spark more internal debate, particularly among Democrats from swing districts or swing states. It points to one of the biggest challenges Democrats face as they move beyond being the anti-Trump party. That is the question of whether they are prepared to make a robust and appealing case on behalf of government in the face of continuing skepticism among many of the voters they are trying to win over. Trump might not succeed in draining the swamp, but he has tapped into sentiments about Washington that Democrats ignore at their peril …”

-- Molly Ball of The Atlantic argues that, if Democrats are serious about taking back the House in 2018, they have to field better candidates than Jon Ossoff. She writes: “While Ossoff did come impressively close, Democrats are going to have to improve on his showing nationally if they hope to take the House next year … Ossoff performed only a point better than Clinton did [in 2016], while Handel overperformed Trump by 4 points … Clinton did unusually well in Georgia’s Sixth, which is home to a disproportionate number of the sort of voters Trump struggled with: affluent, college-educated white professionals. These kinds of districts, where otherwise Republican-leaning voters were turned off by Trump, are precisely the ones Democrats will be targeting in 2018.

-- This year’s Virginia gubernatorial race will be read by many as a bellwether for 2018, and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has already struggled to thread the needle between supporting Trump and avoiding the president’s political baggage. Yahoo News’ Jon Ward reports: “The Republican nominee wants to talk about state issues, not President Trump, not Russia and certainly not what’s on Twitter. But Democrats hope to make the race, one of the few significant elections this fall, a referendum on Trump. The latest sign is that former President Obama has already decided to campaign for the Democratic nominee … And Gillespie can’t easily distance himself from the Republican president. He barely won the Republican primary, almost losing to another Republican candidate who imitated Trump’s style and approach to issues … Gillespie’s starkest departure from the Trump brand of politics was his expression of agreement that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and his acknowledgment that he did not respond positively to the slogan at first.”

TRUMP'S FOREIGN POLICY:

-- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the latest foreign leader to visit the Trump White House this week. David Nakamura and Annie Gowen report: “The White House said the two leaders will seek to advance ‘common priorities’ for the U.S.-India partnership, a list that includes fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Officials on both sides have tried to set low expectations for the meeting, casting it as a way for the two men — who have previously spoken by phone — to get to know each other.”

-- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday urged Qatar and the Gulf states to negotiate an end to their rift, criticizing some of the demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies as “very difficult” to meet. Carol Morello reports: “The statement by Tillerson was his first response to a sweeping list of 13 demands leaked to the [AP] on Friday. The ultimatum gave Qatar 10 days to shut down the Arabic news network Al Jazeera, halt all contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, reduce cooperation with Iran and oust Turkish troops from Qatar. In addition, it would be required to undergo monthly checks to ensure it is complying. The showdown between Qatar and the Arab nations allied against it began two weeks ago. The anti-Qatar countries claimed Qatar’s royal family has been funding terrorism, but their list of demands suggests they are pressuring Qatar as a way of trying to isolate Iran and suppress media in the region that have been critical of governments throughout the Middle East. The standoff has been awkward for the United States …”

  • “While some of the elements will be very difficult for Qatar to meet, there are significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution,” said Tillerson in his statement, which urged the parties to sit down and have a conversation about what he called the “requests.”

-- The Qatar issue illustrates how Tillerson has struggled to carve out an authoritative role for himself in the Trump administration. The New York TImes' David E. Sanger, Gardiner Harris and Mark Landler report: “Some in the White House say that the discord in the Qatar dispute is part of a broader struggle over who is in charge of Middle East policy — Mr. Tillerson or Jared Kushner … — and that the secretary of state has a tin ear about the political realities of the Trump administration … Foreign governments do not know whether to believe Mr. Tillerson’s reassuring words or Mr. Trump’s incendiary statements. But there is also evidence of more substantive disagreements between Mr. Tillerson and the small cadre of White House officials who have taken a strong interest in setting Middle East policy, starting with Mr. Kushner … His rough beginning has led to a quiet effort by senior Republican officials from past administrations … to reach out with advice.”

-- “As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, [Trump allies] are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government,” Politico’s Michael Crowley reports: “Supporters of dislodging Iran’s iron-fisted clerical leadership say it’s the only way to halt Tehran’s dangerous behavior, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its sponsorship of terrorism. Critics say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. But influential Iran hawks want to change that under Trump. ‘The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,’ said Sen. Tom Cotton, who speaks regularly with White House officials about foreign policy. [And] Rex Tillerson appeared to endorse subverting the Iranian regime [recently], when Rep. Ted Poe asked the diplomat whether the Trump administration supports ‘a philosophy of regime change’ in Iran … On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed ‘a brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law,’ and a group of prominent Iranian reformists wrote a public letter condemning Tillerson’s ‘interventionist’ stance …”

-- Trump’s golf course on the outskirts of Aberdeen may well host the 2019 Scottish Open, The Guardian reports: “The event’s sponsors, Aberdeen Asset Management, are keen that the tournament returns to the north east of the country; Trump International Golf Links is currently the favoured venue … An announcement is not expected in the near future with the European Tour publicly adamant no decision has been made – but Trump’s course, opened in 2012, is understood to be in pole position having initially been put forward for next year … Any such move would, however, be highly controversial … Golf’s authorities have wrestled with how to align Trump’s series of controversial comments with the concept of an inclusive sport. A World Golf Championship was removed from Trump’s Doral venue on the outskirts of Miami after incoming sponsors became concerned regarding the all-consuming narrative of the president surrounding the event. It is now played in Mexico City.”

 WILL ANTHONY KENNEDY RETIRE?:

-- Rumors that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the deciding vote on the court for decades, might retire began anew over the weekend. AP’s Mark Sherman reports: “To be sure, Kennedy has given no public sign that he will retire this year and give President Donald Trump his second high court pick in the first months of his administration. Kennedy’s departure would allow conservatives to take firm control of the court. But Kennedy turns 81 next month and has been on the court for nearly 30 years. Several of his former law clerks have said they think he is contemplating stepping down in the next year or so.”

-- Kellyanne Conway added fuel to the fire yesterday when she said in response to a question about a possible Kennedy retirement: “I will never reveal a conversation between a sitting justice and the president or the White House, but we're paying very close attention to these last bit of decisions.”

-- If Kennedy were to retire, his departure would cause a “seismic shift” on the bench and potentially affect constitutional law for decades. CNN’s Ariane de Vogue reports: “Like no other justice in recent history, Kennedy has cast the vital swing vote in cases that grab the countries' attention … To the delight of abortion rights supporters, Kennedy voted to reaffirm the core holding of Roe v. Wade in 1992. ‘As the court's most important Justice — at the center of the institution's ideological balance -- Justice Kennedy's ability to bridge the divide between left and right on critical issues such as the right to access abortion cannot be overstated,’ said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. ‘Replacing Justice Kennedy with a Trump nominee would almost certainly sound the death knell for Roe, just as candidate Trump promised during the 2016 campaign.’”

-- Kennedy held a reunion with former clerks over the weekend, an event that was pushed up by a year and fueled further speculation, but he didn’t make any announcement about his future. Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports: “Justices often announce their retirement near the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Monday is the final day of this term, and the justices are expected to announce several high-profile decisions, including action on Trump's travel ban. Kennedy could still announce his retirement that day.

-- A post on the widely read blog Above the Law, generating buzz in legal circles overnight, said rumors of Kennedy’s retirement are greatly exaggerated. David Lat, the blog’s founder and a former federal prosecutor, writes of the rumors: “Based on reports I’ve received from former [Kennedy] clerks who attended his law clerk reunion dinner last night, it is highly unlikely that Justice Kennedy will announce his retirement tomorrow … I reached out to several AMK clerks who were in attendance, and those who got back to me all opined that they don’t think he will announce his retirement tomorrow. Here’s why … First, Justice Kennedy generally made forward-looking rather than valedictory comments … Second, Justice Kennedy made a joke about all the retirement buzz. At the end of his remarks, he said something along these lines: ‘There has been a lot of speculation about… a certain announcement from me tonight. And that announcement is: the bar will remain open after the end of the formal program!’”

THE FOURTH ESTATE:

-- The reportedly outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer has caught flack for increasingly holding White House briefings off-camera, but he said over the weekend that the move was strategic to emphasize the president’s own appearances. Avi Selk reports: “The White House press secretary said no-camera press briefings were especially good because they didn't distract people on days when President Trump was making a speech … But a few seconds later, Spicer said: ‘I think cameras are fine, and there's an opportunity to have that.’ There should be a mix, he elaborated: Cameras some days and no cameras on other days, for instance when Trump is speaking.”

-- After CNN was forced to retract a Russia-related article late Friday, the network is enforcing strict new guidelines on publishing any story related to the ongoing investigations. Buzzfeed News’ Jon Passantino reports: “[An internal] email went out at 11:21 a.m. on Saturday from Rich Barbieri, the CNNMoney executive editor, saying ‘No one should publish any content involving Russia without coming to me and Jason [Farkas],’ a CNN vice president. ‘This applied to social, video, editorial, and MoneyStream. No exceptions,’ the email added. ‘I will lay out a workflow Monday.’ The new restrictions also apply to other areas of the network — not just CNNMoney, which wasn't involved with the article that was deleted and retracted.”

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

-- “Catch and release: As the border quiets, safe passage into the U.S. is still granted to some families,” by Jessica Contrera: “He slides his backpack beneath his seat, beside the GPS monitor that had just been locked onto his ankle… He and his [3-year-old] daughter had been arrested near the Rio Grande. But instead of being deported or kept in detention, they found themselves here, on a Greyhound bus, with documents from ICE that say they are … ‘aliens’ [and] released with a monitor, an assigned court date and permission to continue into the United States. If [Miguel] had crossed the Rio Grande six months earlier … this bus would have been packed with other families who had been detained and released by ICE as well. Now, they are practically alone. Along the border, the impacts of Trump’s immigration policies are visible everywhere: At the river, the number of people crossing into the United States has plummeted. At the detention facilities, fewer people are being detained. And at the McAllen bus station — a place where ICE has released more than 30,000 families since 2014, sometimes hundreds a day — the number of people coming in each day is sometimes down to just an overwhelmed man and his only child …”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president waded into the health-care debate and the latest revelations about Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 election on Twitter:

He also revisited his rivalry with Hillary Clinton:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) implored his Twitter followers to contact their members of Congress about the bill:

Opposition to Mitch McConnell’s health-care bill got a little personal:

The president of the liberal Center for American Progress called for a protest:

Jimmy Kimmel clarified the meaning of the "Kimmel Test" for Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.):

Andrea Mitchell offered a history lesson on the White House’s Ramadan celebrations:

From an Israeli news outlet:

The White House press team fielded more criticism:

From the graphics director for the New York Times’ opinion page:

Sergey Kislyak is leaving Washington:

The Canadian prime minister attended a Pride event:

Hillary Clinton also celebrated Pride weekend:

The president spent another weekend at one of his golf courses, prompting critcism:

A young conservative is formed:

And she receives immediate pushback:

Members of the administration, including the president himself, attended the wedding of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin:

The vice president even officiated the ceremony:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Atlantic, “How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland,” by Dave Daley: “New documents show how when given the opportunity, the Democratic Party was as ruthless as their GOP counterparts in trying to redistrict their rivals out of existence.”

-- New York Times, “For Grieving Parents, Trump Is ‘Speaking for the Dead’ on Immigration,” by Vivian Yee: “The families could reel off all the times they had called the media and written to Washington, but after all that trying, they had never heard anyone who mattered say anything like it: Most Mexican immigrants, [Trump] declared in his first campaign speech, were ‘rapists’ who were ‘bringing drugs, bringing crime’ across the border. Sabine Durden, the mother of [one] victim, recalls dropping to her knees and sobbing when she first heard Mr. Trump warn of the dangers of illegal immigration. Then his campaign called. ‘It was almost an out-of-body experience after being so deeply hurt and nobody listening and nobody wanting to talk to you about this,’ she said. ‘It’s almost like I put on a little Superwoman cape because I knew I was fighting a worthwhile fight.’ Hailed for bravery, accused of racism, scorned as puppets, these are some of Mr. Trump’s most potent surrogates, the people whose private anguish has formed the emotional cornerstone of his crusade against illegal immigration …”

-- Politico Magazine, “I Found Trump’s Diary—Hiding in Plain Sight,” by Michael Kruse: “Trump’s Twitter timeline is the realest real-time expression of what he thinks, and how he thinks. From his brain to his phone to the world, the ‘unfiltered’ stream of 140-character blurts makes up the written record with which Trump is most identified. ‘I think Twitter,’ one White House official [said], ‘is his diary’ … Many modern presidents have kept a diary of some sort—that no member of the public sees until long after the author has left the Oval Office … People who know [Trump] well say it’s all but impossible to imagine him sitting down with a pen and paper in a quiet moment. ‘Absolutely zero chance,’ one of them said. In the presumed absence, then, of a more traditional version of the form, Trump’s collected tweets comprise the closest thing to a diary this presidency will produce.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

 “Gay pride marchers with Jewish flags told to leave Chicago parade,” from Newsweek: “Jewish people celebrating LGBT Pride in Chicago were told not to display Star of David flags because other people found them ‘offensive.’ The [flag] was banned from the city’s annual Dyke March celebrations, and several people carrying the flag were removed form the march because their presence ‘made people feel unsafe’ ... The Dyke March is described by organisers as being a ‘more inclusive, more social justice-oriented’ march than the city's main Pride parade. The organizers of the march [said] the event was a pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist one and that the flags made people feel unsafe. However, the decision to prevent people from displaying their Jewish Pride flags did not go down well with some marchers.” "This is not what this is community is supposed to be about," said one marcher. “With all the people that so hate the LGBTQ community, for it to tear itself apart in self-hatred makes no sense at all.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Woman charged after tearing Confederate flag off truck, hitting man,” from ABC News 4: “A woman is facing charges after police say she tore a Confederate flag ‘tag’ off a truck and then backed into the truck's owner. According to a release from Charleston police, [the woman], Ann Lee Walters is charged with vandalism and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. They said Walters stopped her car at Murray Boulevard and East Battery around 11 a.m. Saturday. They said she removed a ‘Confederate tag’ off the front of the victim’s pick-up by tearing it off. They said she then backed into the truck's owner as he was trying to get her license plate number. The victim, who suffered a minor knee injury and was seen by EMS, told police Walters hit him by accident. Police found Walters at her home using the plate number the victim gave them.”

 

DAYBOOK:

The president will have a lunch meeting with the vice president and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley before welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House. Trump and Modi will give joint statements and dine together with their spouses before the prime minister departs Washington.

After Vice President Pence’s lunch meeting, he and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma will hold a “listening session with victims of Obamacare.” He will later join Trump for his events with Modi. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Kellyanne Conway on Democrats negotiating with Republicans on health-care: “We've got a lot of questions and we have no Democrats coming to the table. All four of those losers in the special elections, the Democrats, they all ran pretty much to keep Obamacare where it is and they lost.

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- The District will enjoy beautiful weather today, with low humidity and high temperatures around 80 degrees, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts

-- The Nationals lost to the Cincinnati Reds 6-2, Chelsea Janes reports.

-- A Saturday fire at a Northwest apartment complex left one dead. Ellie Silverman and Faiz Siddiqui report: “D.C. Fire Chief Gregory M. Dean said the body of an unidentified man was discovered early Sunday in the top-floor apartment believed to be where the blaze originated … Meanwhile, fire investigators probed the cause of the fire, which displaced about 200 residents from the 55-unit brick complex in the 1300 block of Peabody Street. Residents jumped from windows of the Rolling Terrace apartment complex, some crawling on their hands and knees to avoid smoke, as the fire blazed through the four-floor building.”

-- Nearly 850 employees of the Prince George’s County school district were placed on administrative leave at some point during the 2016-2017 school year. Donna St. George reports: “That total has soared more than 1,000 percent since 2014-15, the year before Prince George’s was roiled by child abuse scandals and began to step up its emphasis on reporting misconduct. As investigations are conducted, many employees are off the job for weeks or months — an issue that has sparked increasing debate.”

-- White nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at an alt-right rally at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday. Justin Wm. Moyer and Michael Laris report: “The gathering, dubbed the ‘Rally for Free Speech,’ was held as another group of conservatives Spencer criticized as ‘losers and freaks’ held a competing event in front of the White House, seeking to distance themselves from Spencer’s racial rhetoric. Spencer had referred to them as ‘alt-lite.’”

-- Grace United Methodist in Manassas unveiled a refurbished slave cabin on their property this month, Jonathan Hunley reports.

-- 722 couples renewed their vows Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mary Hui reports that the couples had a combined 32,024 years of marriage under their belts. 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

John Oliver discussed the controversy around vaccines on “Last Week Tonight”:

The Post’s Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller explain how the Obama administration struggled to respond to Russian hacking efforts during last year’s election:

Seth Meyers interviewed Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana:

Last week, a constituent told West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (a key swing vote on health-care) that her daughter would have died without the Affordable Care Act:

At a rally in opposition to the Senate health-care bill, Bernie Sanders called the potential legislation a "moral outrage":

The Supreme Court will issue a key ruling on religious rights today:

Black Lives Matter protesters halted a Pride parade in Minnesota:

A giant sequoia tree in Idaho was relocated over the weekend: