Happy Friday to my very stable geniuses. We made it. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and I will see you on Tuesday. P.S.: Congrats to all of the all-star classes graduating from college this week, especially this record-breaking crew at West Point.
Breaking: British Prime Minister Theresa May announced she will resign as head of the Conservative Party on June 7, paving the way for that party to pick a new leader who will replace her as PM. The moves comes after May tried unsuccessfully three times to pass her Brexit plan. And North Korea says nuclear negotiations with Washington "will never resume unless Washington changes its position."
Outside the Beltway
Impeachment fever is peaking — and that's the way President Trump's allies and his 2020 reelection campaign want it.
Trump turned a White House event on aid to farmers into a therapy session after “crazy Nancy” Pelosi suggested that White House aides and the Trump family should “stage an intervention for the good of the country” and she “ardently” prayed for the president after an extraordinary series of exchanges between Trump and the House speaker.
- “I’m an extremely stable genius, okay?” Trump told reporters, disputing Pelosi's characterization of his “temper tantrum” during a Wednesday meeting with Pelosi and other Democrats.
The bizarre theatrics and caustic language underscore the political nature of the battle raging between a president unwilling to submit to oversight by House Democrats: The continued talk of impeachment fracturing Pelosi's caucus is welcomed by a White House that sees the charged topic as an election-year boost for the president.
“In 2018, [Democrats] ran on health care and won the majority and what have they done with it?," a senior Trump campaign official told Power Up. “They’ve talked about [Bob] Mueller and now they’re on to impeachment.”
The message to voters?: “And all they’ve ever wanted to do is overturn the legitimate results of that election. Pelosi can’t control her caucus — that’s clear. They spend half of the day talking about how divided the country is and then spend the second half of the day dividing the country. It’s the most divisive thing they could find — impeaching the president,” the campaign official added.
We'll continue to hear this refrain from Trump: “You can go down the investigation track,” Trump said during an impromptu Rose Garden news conference, “or the track of ‘Let’s get things done for the American people.’” He later tweeted: “The Democrats have become known as THE DO NOTHING PARTY!”
Pelosi seems to understand that Trump apparently wants an impeachment inquiry: “He wants to be impeached, so he can be exonerated by the Senate,” Pelosi told top Democrats in a private meeting Thursday, per the reporting of my colleagues Rachael Bade, John Wagner and Anne Gearan. “His actions are villainous to the Constitution of the United States.”
- Trump's campaign team also believes the political consequences of impeaching the president will have a ripple effect on vulnerable House Democrats who helped win back control of the House in 2018 and are facing tough reelection battles in 2020. (More on that below).
So far, Pelosi has kept a lid on her fellow Democrats agitating for an impeachment inquiry. But the pressure continued, with members of the House Judiciary Committee making the rounds on cable news.
- Nadler: “Well, I’m constantly evolving in my thinking on this, and frankly, I’ve been going back and forth too,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night. “Yeah, I urged the speaker to speed things up and to consider an impeachment inquiry. Part of the rationale for that, which was that, if you’re in court seeking to enforce subpoenas, you have better odds in court if you can say this is part of your impeachment inquiry rather than just part of your general oversight, that rationale is much weaker now than it was on Monday since those two court decisions came down in our favor.”
- Nadler also told Maddow that “special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has expressed interest in giving private testimony to Congress about his two-year investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.”
- “We think it's important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report,” Nadler said. “He envisions himself correctly as a man of great rectitude and apolitical and he doesn't want to participate in anything that he might regard as a political spectacle,” Nadler said, speculating about Mueller not wanting to testify in public.
When the “extremely stable genius” starts acting more presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues. https://t.co/tfWVkj9CLT— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 23, 2019
"WE'RE NOT PREPARED FOR HOW BAD STUFF'S GONNA GET," Politico's Michael Kruse tweeted of our colleague Drew Harwell's piece on Thursday.
- "Distorted videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), altered to make her sound as if she’s drunkenly slurring her words, are spreading rapidly across social media, highlighting how political disinformation that clouds public understanding can now grow at the speed of the Web," my colleague Drew Harwell writes.
- Trump tweeted out a "selectively edited supercut, taken from Fox News, focused on moments where she briefly paused or stumbled — that he claimed showed her stammering" from her Thursday press briefing where she discussed Trump's "tempter tantrum."
On The Hill
VULNERABLE FRESHMEN STAY MOSTLY SILENT ON IMPEACHMENT: As we noted above, Washington is awash in impeachment talk.
But the 43 Democrats who flipped Republican districts in the 2018 elections to give their party a majority haven't made up their minds on the subject.
A Power Up survey of these key freshmen Democrats reveals they are so far following Pelosi's lead in believing the House can investigate alleged misbehavior by Trump without opening a formal impeachment inquiry.
- Remember: Thirty-one of them represent districts that Trump carried in 2016 and where he will be back on the ballot in 2020.
- Key: Republicans, depending on a special election in North Carolina, will need to net 18 or 19 seats to retake the House majority. The Cook Political Report currently has 16 freshmen Democrats in the “toss-up” category.
BY THE NUMBERS. Here’s what we found:
YES: Three Democrats who captured red seats explicitly support launching an impeachment inquiry: Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Harley Rouda (Calif.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (Pa.)
- None of three represent a district Trump won in 2016. Although Hillary Clinton carried Malinowski’s district by just 1.1 percentage points and Rouda’s by 1.6.
Rep. Harley Rouda: "I think we start impeachment proceedings. We're left with no other choice. This is a simple right and wrong issue. This is how we raise our kids. You do what's right." pic.twitter.com/jIbWIllfu2— The Hill (@thehill) May 22, 2019
HARD NO: Five seat-flippers told us they were opposed to opening an impeachment inquiry, or have been very critical of such a possibility in media reports.
- Some like Rep. Cindy Axne (Iowa), through her spokeswoman, responded with a simple “no” when asked if the congresswoman supported the opening of such a formal probe.
- Axne represents one of the 31 Trump-won districts, which the president won by almost 4 percentage points in 2016, and former Rep. Dave Young, who she beat, has already announced he is seeking a rematch in 2020.
- Others, like Rep. Max Rose (N.Y.), have left little to the imagination: “Right now we’re in this incredibly childish game of impeachment chicken, and everyone has to start acting like adults,” Rose told Politico, adding if Democrats look toward impeachment, “then they should warm to the idea of going back to the minority.” Rose’s Staten Island-based district went for Trump by 9.8 percentage points in 2016.
LEAN NO: Thirteen seat-flippers seem to be leaving the door open to a formal probe, despite their past skepticism of it.
- Rep. Ben McAdams (Utah) told the Salt Lake Tribune last month he believed Trump's behavior to be both “corrupt” and “dishonest,” but he wasn't there yet on impeachment. “I am not ready to conclude that we’ve reached that high bar,” he told the paper's editorial board. “There are questions that are yet to be asked and answered. But, for me, impeachment is not what I am looking at.” McAdams represents a district that includes a sliver of Salt Lake City and its surrounding suburbs after ousting Rep. Mia Love (R). Clinton won the seat by almost 7 points in 2016.
THE TRUE UNDECIDEDS: Eleven lawmakers told us or previously made statements that leave their real opinions on the subject hard to suss out. Though, even speaking about the subject is a sea change for some of them.
- Take a look at this statement released by Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.): “I believe the current disputes between the committees and the White House will be resolved in court, and we will get the truth,” Lamb says.
- Trump carried Lamb's district by almost 3 points in 2016.
ALL OPTIONS ARE ON THE TABLE: Four Democrats told us or have used a phrase that seems to suggest they are open to moving down the impeachment path.
- Rep. Jason Crow (Colo.): “In stonewalling Congress, the President is making his own case for a stronger response,” Crow told the Colorado Independent this week. "We must consider all options to ensure Congress is responding to this assault on our rule of law and restoring power to the American people.”
- Clinton carried Crow's district by nearly 9 points.
THE NO OPINIONS: Seven lawmakers didn’t respond to multiple inquiries from us or haven't made public comments on the topic that we can find over the past month.
HOW SENIOR DEMOCRATS ARE HANDLING IT: Our colleague Paul Kane took a dive earlier this week into the stances of Democratic lawmakers who literally stood behind President Clinton after the House impeached him in December 1998. Not surprisingly, more than two decades later many of them are now in top leadership positions. And, they're toeing the same line as Pelosi and urging caution.
- "They all remember the split impeachment verdict against Clinton — the House approved two articles, but the Senate did not convict — and also the political backlash against Republicans, who voted just weeks before the 1998 midterms to start a formal impeachment inquiry,” PK writes. "Democrats went on to pick up five House seats, breaking historical tradition that suggested Clinton’s party should have lost big in his second midterm.”
SPY GAMES: Breaking last night, Trump gave his favorite attorney general, Bill Barr, "full and complete" authority to declassify intelligence related to the Russia investigation, according to my colleagues Devlin Barrett, Carol D. Leonnig, Robert Costa and Colby Itkowitz. The move is aimed at getting to the bottom of what Trump has publicly dubbed a "hoax" and "political witchhunt" and both Barr and Trump have said included "spying" on the Trump campaign.
- The key quote: "The president’s move gives Barr broad powers to unveil carefully guarded intelligence secrets about the Russia investigation, which the attorney general requested to allow him to quickly carry out his review, according to the memo," report my colleagues.
- Why? “'This is candidly part of the president wanting to make sure the American people have the entire story of what went on and what will be construed by most people as improper activity within the FBI. It’s also the very first step in rectifying and repairing the damage done by certain people at the FBI,' said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of the president’s biggest defenders on Capitol Hill."
At the White House
WHEN HE WASN'T TUSSLING WITH PELOSI . . .: "[Trump], flanked by more than a dozen U.S. farmers at the White House, on Thursday announced a $16 billion farm aid package to offset losses from the U.S. trade war with China,” our colleagues Laura Reiley, Colby Itkowitz and Annie Gowen report.
This is the second time Trump has announce a bailout for farmers resulting from trade disputes after $12 billion last July.
- How it will work: “The latest relief package will be paid to farmers in three installments, with the first payment in July or August. Further payments would take place in November and January 2020, assuming the tariffs are still in place at that time, Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey told reporters on the call,” Laura, Colby and Annie write.
- What's different this time: “The relief plan aims to avoid problems that arose in the first aid package, when soybeans received what many believed was a disproportionate amount of the money, while corn received only a penny a bushel. Other producers were shut out entirely from relief payments.”
- Concerns about timing: “Many farmers are still deciding what to plant this spring and could be swayed toward crops that receive higher payouts from the aid package, such as soybeans. That would add to already record supplies and further depress prices that have been falling for five years,” Politico's Catherine Boudreau reports.
The takeaway: Washington was transfixed by Trump and Pelosi on Thursday, but once again the president departed from conservative orthodoxy by championing a bailout sparked by his decision to use tariffs as a weapon to try to level the playing field.
- Last year, some Republican senators were incensed by such a move, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) compared it to “golden crutches” aimed at making it 1929 again" and then Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) questioned why “there isn't an outright revolt in Congress right now.” But Corker retired and Sasse is running for reelection, plus other Republican senators view the decision to go after China as worthwhile even if it means an economic gut punch for farmers and other industries in the interim.
- Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) might have summed it up best just a few weeks ago: “I mean, think about what we’re doing. We’re inviting this retaliation that denies our farmers — the most productive farmers on the planet — the opportunity to sell their products overseas. And then we say, 'But don’t worry we’ll have taxpayers send you some checks and make it okay. That is a very bad approach. I didn’t support it in the last round and I don’t support it in a subsequent round.”
SWAMP ALERT: Read Nick Miroff and Josh’s Dawsey’s story about how Trump pressured the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials.”
- “In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials,” per Nick and Josh.
- “Semonite was summoned to the White House again Thursday, after the president’s aides told Pentagon officials — including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff — that the president wanted to discuss the border barrier. According to an administration official with knowledge of the Oval Office meeting, Trump immediately brought up Fisher, a company that sued the U.S. government last month after the Army Corps did not accept its bid to install barriers along the southern border, a contract potentially worth billions of dollars.”
FRIENDS WITHOUT BENEFITS?: Trump departs for Japan today for a four-day state visit where he will be bestowed with the honor of becoming the first foreign leader to meet with Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito.
- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has maintained a close relationship with the president, is rolling out the red carpet for Trump “amid a trade war with China, the collapse of nuclear talks with North Korea and rumbling trade tensions with Japan — and ahead of a Group of 20 meeting in Osaka in June, when Abe will play host to Trump and other world leaders,” per my colleagues Simon Denyer and David Nakamura.
But don’t let the close relationship fool you: Trump is not happy “with Japan’s $68-billion trade surplus with the United States, much of it from auto exports, and wants a two-way deal to tackle it,” per Reuters’s Linda Sieg and Tim Kelly.
- Trade tensions: “Last Friday, Trump declared some imported vehicles and parts posed a national security threat but delayed a decision on imposing tariffs for as long as six months, allowing more time for trade talks with Japan and the European Union. Japan says it opposes limits on its exports, a violation of world trade rules.”
But “[t]rade will not be the focus of [Trump's] upcoming trip to Japan, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters Wednesday, in effect dropping a previously floated goal of clinching a quick trade deal by end of May,” per Nikkei Asian Review's Alex Fang.
- “I don't think that the purpose of this trip is to focus on trade,” the official said. “It's really to be state guests of their majesties. And that's really the heart of the visit. It's a celebration of their new roles and this new era that's been kicked off — the Reiwa era — and a chance to celebrate the alliance.” The official said, however, that “there will be some substantive things to announce.”