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At the White House

FOLLOW THE LEADER — OR NOT:  Republican leaders and candidates in tough races to be decided in next Tuesday's midterm elections were divided, evasive and otherwise just plain off message yesterday after President Trump spontaneously introduced the notion of ending birthright citizenship. 

This really isn't the way Republicans running with — or in some cases, away — from Trump want to be spending the closing days of a campaign on which control of Congress hinges. 

  •  “I don't doubt Trump actually wants to do it,” a GOP Hill staffer texted us. “It's a helpful base energizer ... but I think it's just also kind of out of the blue." 
  • My colleague Matt Viser writes Trump is "making the fundamental question of American identity the centerpiece of his closing argument in the midterm elections."
  • He adds: "Trump’s sharpened tone creates potential complications for some Republican candidates, particularly those in centrist suburban House districts where many GOP voters have grown uneasy about the president, as Trump embarks on a final week of nearly nonstop rallies where immigration is likely to be a frequent topic."

Background: Trump disrupted the news cycle — and the campaign — with a statement to Axios that he is considering revoking birthright citizenship by executive order, a dramatic proposal that reignited a debate among legal scholars and lawmakers over the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It was a move that surprised even White House officials who now hope that the issue “just goes away,” according to The Post's John Wagner, Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez

Sidebar: The majority of legal scholars say the president cannot end birthright citizenship unilaterally. They contend the constitution is pretty clear on the matter: children born on U.S. soil to noncitizens have the right to become citizens, although there's an active debate about whether the same rights extend to children born to those here illegally. If lawmakers want to change the rules, they would have to pass a constitutional amendment (good luck with that, Congress). Additionally, Trump was inaccurate when he said the U.S. was “the only country in the world” with birthright citizenship. Actually, the U.S. is among 30 countries where it exists, according to a fact check by the AP. 

Down ballot: Power Up reached out to prominent Republicans and GOP candidates to see whether they back Trump on the issue. Their reactions ran the gamut: 

  • Hard no: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told WVLK radio that Trump “cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order . . . I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.” Ryan added that House Republicans and Trump are in total agreement on stopping illegal immigration. 
  • Lindsey Graham-nesty no more: Graham called for an end to birthright citizenship and tweeted he planned on introducing legislation “along the same lines as the proposed executive order.” He has been outspoken on the issue for quite some time now. 
  • Swing state candidate on edge: “I understand the President's frustration on immigration and border security because I am frustrated, too,”  Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), in a tough reelection race, said in a statement that didn't mention birthright citizenship.
  • Hedge: Rick Scott's campaign spokesman sent us a statement saying the Florida governor and Senate candidate "would need to fully review" Trump's proposal. "I have not seen the details of what the president is suggesting," he added. We're not certain Trump has either.
  • Committed: Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Leah Vukmir said that she supports “birthright citizenship for individuals that are legally in this country” and applauded Trump's “courageous leadership” on immigration. 
  • It's Newt [Gingrich]: “I do not believe the 14th Amendment requires a constitutional amendment . . . but I think that this is late in the campaign . . . this is too big of an issue for the president to jump and actually do anything so I think he's just expressing his opinion. But I would hope he'd ask Congress to hold hearings before he decided what path to take,” he told reporters.
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) concurs: “I will closely review President Trump’s executive order. As a general matter, this is an issue that Congress should take the lead to carefully consider and debate,” he said.
  • No comment: Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) didn't release a statement on the issue. But here's a video of him fielding a question about it at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast in 2010 (we miss you, Dave Cook!), In it, McConnell said he was not “aware of anyone who has come out in favor of altering the 14th Amendment" but he wasn't opposed to investigating "the unseemly business" surrounding it. 

Some perspective: The debate over birthright citizenship is not new. Former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced 1993 legislation to curb birthright citizenship. In 2010, Graham said he was “considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would change existing law.” And just last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) reintroduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 to limit birthright citizenship “to a child born in the U.S. to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen.” Trump himself has mentioned the issue repeatedly — here's a link from 2015. 

  • Bonkers: Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies that supports limiting immigration, told us that if Trump succeeded at anything, it was at making “all of the left groups go bonkers” for “assaulting the constitution.” 
  • SCOTUS bound: “Whatever you think about the policy, it will force a Supreme Court ruling for first time ever on this issue,” Krikorian added.  
  • A midterm strategy?: William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told my Post colleagues Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker that “This is the most focused and concerted effort to use all of the powers of the presidency to shape a midterm election that I have ever seen.”

Advice from a Dem to Dems: Stay focused and stick to health care:

 

 

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In the Media

CONSPIRACY NOW COMMONPLACE: Once confined to the darkest corners of the Internet, conspiracy theories have crept into the mainstream, often amplified by Fox News and the Twitter accounts of Trump's allies and sometimes the president himself. One such theory, that liberal billionaire donor George Soros is funding the migrant caravan slowly moving north from Central America, laid bare the path from Internet fever swamp to cable news fodder. And, as The Post’s Joel Achenbach wrote, “It’s not true, but it has apparently fueled homicidal rage in recent days.”

  • The stakes: Two men responsible for acts of domestic terrorism last week were fixated on Soros and the caravan. One mailed Soros a bomb. The other shot and killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. 
  • Here’s how it starts: “The Soros/caravan theory dates to late March, when an earlier wave of migrants was heading north … The rumors circulated on closed Facebook groups and various right-wing websites, as well as on left-wing sites seeking to debunk them. They cropped up again in recent weeks when a new caravan started receiving attention among conservatives,” Joel wrote.
  • ‘Willing conduits’: Soon enough, the rumors jump from closed Facebook groups and sites like Gab to people The Post’s Aaron Blake called “willing conduits,” figures with mainstream cache. Aaron tracked the Soros story from Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Donald Trump Jr. Then, finally, the president joined in, reposting the video Gaetz first shared, which, the congressman said, came from a Honduran lawmaker, who may have his own political motivation for spreading the rumor:

From the president's son:

Read more of The Post’s reporting on conspiracy theories:

Outside the Beltway

'THE PROPHETIC MEMO': The memo to a would-be presidential candidate offered an urgent assessment of the political landscape: Americans were tired of Washington D.C. They wanted change from a president ensnared in scandal and a country caught in a war that wouldn't end. Voters were eager for new leadership: an outsider.

The year was 1972 — but the memo was just as timely then as it would be today.  Written by Jimmy Carter's future chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, the document served as the playbook for Carter's insurgent presidential bid four years later. Today, as  the political world is a week away from turning its attention to 2020, Power Up talked to Gerald Rafshoon, a key Carter aide, who helped Jordan craft that “prophetic memo.” We asked Rafshoon about Carter's strategy and how, more than 45 years later, Democrats might need another outsider to beat Trump, a himself political neophyte, in 2020.

  • A true outsider: “It couldn’t have happened unless it was authentic,” Rafshoon said of promoting Carter. “I did not come up with an image. He was a southerner, he was a naval officer, he was not from Washington … The fact that he was not from Washington made a big difference.”
  • 'Make up your mind now': Rafshoon said time is ticking for those mulling a 2020 bid. “If you want to be president, make up your mind now and start preparing,” he said, adding that two of Carter's biggest advantages were time and availability since he wasn't running for reelection as Georgia governor.
  • Senators-in-waiting: Rafshoon said sitting senators with presidential ambitions “should quit and say 'I’m running.'”
  • Then and now: Richard Nixon's presidency, especially after Watergate, had Americans longing for someone they could trust. “After Trump, people are going to want honesty,” Rafshoon argued. "The atmosphere was ripe for Carter then and it's ripe for somebody like Carter now."
  • So, who will it be? Rafshoon didn't hesitate: “Carter’s only 94 … he’s still eligible, you know?”

The People

TRUMP VISITS SQUIRREL HILL AMID CONTROVERSY: President Trump and first lady Melania Trump, along with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday, shortly after the first funerals commenced for the 11 victims of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. The Post's Moriah Balingit, Ari Selk and Mark Berman were on the ground there and wrote that over 1,300 people signed up for a mass peaceful demonstration during Trump's visit saying that he was "unwelcome in our city and in our country." 

  • Do not disturb: Leaders from both parties declined invitations to join Trump for the visit. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way home the president “wanted to show his respect on behalf of the entire country, and to represent the country in this moment and be there to show our support.”
  • Protesters explained their opposition to the presidential visit: “He’s done nothing but stoke the type of fear and hatred that led to this,” said Ben Case, 34. “And he’s coming here for a photo op and to check it off his list. But we know he’s not part of the solution.”
  • Tone it down: During an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers called on politicians to tone down hate-filled rhetoric."When you speak words of hate, when you speak ill of the other candidate, any words of hate, Americans listen to you. They get their instructions from you,” Myers said. "When you speak words of hate, you say to them, 'This is okay, you can do it as well.'"

Want to leave your own condolences or note of sympathy for the 11 people killed at Tree of Life synagogue? You can do so right here, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's website. They've provided extraordinary coverage of their community during this difficult time. 

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