GOP leaders made a huge wager — and they’re losing

Michael Gerson, reporting for the Washington Post:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised Obamacare repeal, funding for the wall and tax reform, all by the end of August. For the GOP, it is now September, both literally and metaphorically.

In the spring of their hopes, Republican leaders placed a bet — which seemed reasonable at the time — that they could contain President Trump and pass legislation despite him. This required looking away from the uglier aspects of Trump’s appeal — his Twitter transgressions, his appallingly frenzied rallies, his rule by ridicule. All this was worth swallowing because Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would pass their conservative agenda.

The wager was large and lost. The attempt to revive a health-care alternative in the Senate seems halfhearted and doomed by the same ideological dynamics that killed the legislation the first time. Republican enthusiasm for the Mexican border wall is limited by the fact that it is among the most wasteful, impractical and useless ideas ever spouted by an American president. And ambitious tax reform has been tabled in favor of a few tax cuts that are likely to reaffirm public impressions that the “P” in GOP stands for “plutocracy.”

In the process, Republican leaders have been made to look hapless and pathetic, not least because Trump has taken to taunting them. A president incapable of legislative leadership mocks the ineffectiveness of Republican legislators, publicly humiliates them on the debt-limit deal, then revels in the (very temporary) friendship of “Chuck and Nancy” — Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi.

Those Republicans who believe that Trump is being cynical, disloyal or politically calculating continue to misunderstand the man. The president has no discernible political philosophy or strong policy views to betray. His leadership consists mainly of instincts, reflexes and prejudices, which often have nothing to do with self-interest. He has a genius for fame, which usually involves attention-attracting unpredictability and transgressiveness. Trump reads events moment by moment, making him a cork on the waves of cable coverage. Any choice he makes is correct by definition, because he has made it. And any person — on his staff or on Capitol Hill — who does not precisely mimic his political gyrations is disloyal and should be punished.

Most public officials have never worked with anyone like this before. Among other things, it means that any vocal conviction politician — any leader, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who regularly heeds the whisper of duty and conscience — will be Trump’s enemy. With a little patience.

What have Republican leaders who bet the other way — on accommodation — lost in the process?

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of policy. During legislative debates on issues such as health care, Trump has been erratic, unfocused, impatient and frighteningly ignorant. His White House policy staff — some of whom are responsible and talented — try to work with Capitol Hill, but always under the threat that their efforts will be destroyed by a tweet. Congressional Republicans see the White House as a basket case, don’t think that any administration official speaks authoritatively for the president and increasingly fear entering the midterm elections entirely naked of accomplishment.

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of politics. The president takes it as an accomplishment to secure the support of about 35 percent of the public. This leaves Republicans in the worst of political worlds, where the intensity of Trump’s base is increased by words and policies that alienate the majority — making Trump a powerful force within the party and a scary, galvanizing figure beyond it. The damage is broad, profound and generational. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll recorded 26 percent approval for the president among those aged 18 to 34.

The wager has been a moral disaster. News accounts following Trump’s betrayal of Republican leaders on the debt limit reported them to be “livid.” What does it tell us about Republican politicians that they were livid about a three-month debt-limit extension but not so much about misogyny, nativism and flirtation with racism? Or maybe they were, but they still thought the wager might work. Such lack of wisdom and proportion is an indictment as well.

All Republican efforts — at least in the traditional wing of the party — must now be bent toward one, difficult end: establishing a GOP identity apart from Trump. And that will require Republican leaders to cease being complicit in their own humiliation and irrelevance.

Steve Bannon’s damning admission about Trump firing James Comey

Aaron Blake, writing for the Washington Post:

2. WATCH: Bannon says firing of Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. Also, he refuses to answer if Kushner was for it. pic.twitter.com/d0zcZgowd1

— Yashar Ali (@yashar) September 11, 2017

There are few people who have believed in President Trump as firmly and unapologetically as Stephen K. Bannon, his former top White House adviser and top campaign strategist. And Bannon swore in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that he would stand by Trump and fight, from the outside, against those he thinks are steering the president in a bad direction.

But even Bannon thinks Trump got something very important wrong. Very wrong. Quite possibly wronger than any president in decades.

In his interview with Charlie Rose, Bannon strongly suggested that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history. And that’s not even reading too much into Bannon’s comments. He wasn’t baited into it, either; he clearly signed off on that characterization.

Here’s the exchange:

ROSE: Someone told me you described the firing of James Comey — you’re a student of history — as the biggest mistake in political history.

BANNON: That’s probably too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.

ROSE: The firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history?

BANNON: If you’re saying that’s associated with me, then I’ll leave it at that.

Wow.

Bannon has been willing to differ with Trump when Trump ran afoul of his nationalist ideals, to some degree. But there has been basically nobody more willing to sign off on Trump’s most controversial tendencies. In the same interview, Bannon defended both Trump’s response to recent violence in Charlottesville — which drew widespread GOP condemnation — and his hot-mic moment in that “Access Hollywood” tape talking about grabbing women by their … well, you remember.

Bannon sees the best in Trump, and when Trump tilts in the wrong direction, Bannon often views it as someone else’s fault — someone with undue influence on the president of the United States.

But even he sees the disaster that has emanated from the decision to fire the man who had been in charge of the Russia investigation. Even he recognizes the magnitude of the unforced error that was.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, then we would not have a special counsel, yes,” Bannon said, moments before the comments above. “We would not have the [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation in the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going.”

To give you a sense of the mistakes Bannon apparently believes this surpassed in modern political history — and please understand that whatever you think of Bannon, as Rose noted, Bannon has studied history — he’s suggesting that it was bigger than the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, the Affordable Care Act, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” Hillary Clinton‘s “basket of deplorables,” Iran-contra, Richard Nixon’sSaturday Night Massacre,” etc.

Bannon admitted that saying it was the biggest political mistake ever would be “too bombastic” even for him. But he clearly doesn’t think it’s so outlandish to suggest that it was bigger than lots of things in recent decades. And as a top Trump ally — and someone privy to the inner workings of the White House for its first seven months — that’s an astounding admission.

It also suggests that he knows this may not end well.

President Trump is now holding the Republican Party hostage

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump waged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year. Now he’s holding the entire party hostage.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Trump inexplicably cut a deal on a short-term debt-ceiling increase with Democratic leaders, despite House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders having denounced the idea. Then he took off for an event in North Dakota, where he effectively stuck their nose in it: “We walked out of there — Mitch [McConnell] and Paul and everybody, Kevin [McCarthy] — and we walked out and everybody was happy,” Trump insisted. Then, to top it all off, he invited Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — a top GOP target in 2018 — on stage and praised her as a “good woman.”

This is all hugely counterproductive for the Republican Party and has to have GOP leaders privately fuming. And it comes on the heels of Trump directly attacking Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and tangling with the two most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

It’s no secret that Trump has never really had the interests of the Republican Party at heart. His party affiliation has always been subject to change, and he has never played ball with the GOP powers that be. He has instead forced them to bend to his will in the name of keeping the peace and not inflaming his passionate base of support. Those GOP leaders have also wagered that, whatever headaches came with embracing Trump, they would at least have a Republican president to enact conservative policies.

But it’s beginning to get ridiculous for GOP leaders. That bargain they struck with Trump was always a tenuous and uneasy one, and he’s now openly violating it. What’s more, he’s repeatedly and publicly undermining GOP efforts to grow their Senate majority — you know, the one he insists isn’t big enough so he needs to nuke the filibuster — in multiple 2018 races.

More here.

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Have we reached a point of no return?

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

It has become axiomatic that when President Trump says or does something over the top or below the belt, beware the unseen.

His cunning use of distraction turns red herrings green with envy.

The template works like this: Trump says something outrageous that drives Washington’s Bubble Belt wild. The media leaps to outrage while bookers haul in “experts” to intone the obvious in exchange for makeup and a limo.

Next, the same talking heads, commentators and columnists lament the time wasted on such trivia as, say, first lady Melania Trump’s wearing stiletto heels to visit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Critics and the media itself lament that Important Issues are being ignored while attention is turned on, oh, whether Ivanka and Jared are being snubbed by the D.C. in-crowd, such as it is. The point is taken, but one should note that nothing is ever being ignored by everyone. Or, rather, everything of import is being monitored and commented upon by someone.

But then, broadcast and cable producers know — and Trump knows deeply — that most Americans don’t really care that much about what they insist they care about. A few headlines will get most through the morning. Twitter and Facebook keep the curious plied with updates, and by day’s end, who really wants to plunge into tax reform?

It is true, nonetheless, that when Trump needs time to fidget with something that actually matters, he tosses a dead fish into the Dasani tank and waits for the media herdlings to begin their march toward the trough.

Temporarily spared the spotlight, Trump fluffs the thatched nest atop his head and invites his brain to hatch some very bad ideas. Thus, we seem to be on the brink of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. Remember when we used to worry about Trump having his finger on the nuclear launch button? Square that. When the other antagonist is North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the nightmare can’t be dismissed as the twisted hankie of the persistently worried.

Never have two less qualified “leaders” been so endowed with such devastating power without the requisite impulse control upon which living civilizations depend. Not to mention that these two nuke hecklers are unmercifully coifed to resemble cartoon characters so that we, the soberly sane, are left to ponder our face-melting demise as a clown showdown between two renegade circus performers. The horror movie “It,” featuring a diabolical clown and opening this week, couldn’t pay for better timing.

Meanwhile, one seeks cooler comfort in the memory of the Cuban missile crisis between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy. At least these men were capable of finding an alternative to worst-case scenarios. There seems to be no such inclination on North Korea’s part or, frankly, on Trump’s. Unless our reality star-in-chief holds his sagacity in reserve for special occasions such as this, there’s little reason to assume or hope he’ll diplomatically temper his counterpart’s apparent need to demonstrate his manhood.

In July, Trump was typically eloquent in describing his approach to thwarting disaster:

“We’ll handle North Korea. We’ll be able to handle North Korea. It will be handled. We handle everything.”

Whew, that.

As further insult to reason, this isn’t even a conflict over something at least historically rational, such as the now nearly charming contest between communism and Americanism. No battle of wits, the U.S.-North Korea stare-down is more accurately a battle of nitwits who seem to think threatening nuclear holocaust and mutual destruction is a contest to see who has bigger hands.

No one would suggest that Trump is responsible for all the nail biting these past few months or that Kim’s missile and nuclear tests aren’t deadly serious. But Trump surely has exacerbated matters with his “fire and fury” rhetoric. The goading language of ultimatum, more than a bluffing tactic, is an inflammatory agent such that the possible moves inexorably toward the inevitable. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the president’s toughest-talking Cabinet member, recently said: “We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.”

Perhaps Kim might argue the same. Meanwhile, a can-kicking strategy (i.e., containment and diplomacy) seems a not-irrational substitute for mutual annihilation. Have we reached a point of no return? Will the president of the United States fire Kim, or will he invent some new distraction (staffers: Watch your backs) while he becomes a stealth, wartime leader?

Stay tuned. But first: What will Melania wear to the presidential bunker?

How the pardon power could end Trump’s presidency

Philip Allen Lacovara, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff and civil rights abuser Joe Arpaio raises the question of whether the president may act with impunity to pardon individuals caught up in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. Based on my experience studying the pardon power during the Watergate investigation, I believe the answer is no.

Almost certainly, a presidential decision to preemptively pardon any of those caught up in Mueller’s investigation, whether former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn or Donald Trump Jr., would be effective and would spare those pardoned from prosecution, at least on the federal level.

So Trump may be tempted to use this mechanism to extricate himself from what he calls derisively “the Russia thing.”

But issuing pardons to his own friends, associates and relatives could be a perilous path for Trump, creating additional exposure on two levels, criminal and political — both flowing from an important proposition that is often overlooked in the debate over presidential power. Our legal system provides mechanisms for probing the intent and motives behind the exercise of power. The president may have the power to grant effective pardons in the Russia investigation, but both Congress and the federal prosecutor are entitled to determine whether the exercise of that power violates constitutional and statutory norms.

The most obvious constraint is the authority of the House of Representatives to determine whether an effort to squelch an investigation into criminal misconduct by people close to the president constitutes an impeachable offense. The core concept behind “high crimes and misdemeanors” is abuse of political power in violation of the best interests of the nation. Thus, it would not be necessary for the House to conclude that the decision to issue pardons constituted a conventional “crime.” All that would be required would be to find that the motive for pardons was to protect the president’s personal interests and political future by cutting off the investigation into the misdeeds of those around him.

While impeachment remains an unlikely political prospect at the moment, so it was during Watergate — until the “Saturday Night Massacre” dramatically changed the political landscape. A decision by Trump to pardon his close friends and associates for any complicity in colluding with a hostile foreign power could easily trigger a similar firestorm, with comparable political consequences.

But Trump should not ignore the potential criminal pitfalls of exercising his pardon power in this context. As with any other presidential power, the power to pardon is constrained by the ordinary requirements of federal law applicable to all public officials. For example, if representatives of a pardon-seeker arrived in the Oval Office with a bundle of cash that the president accepted in return for a pardon, there is little doubt that the president would be guilty of the crime of bribery.

More apt than bribery in the current context is the array of federal statutes that make it a crime to “obstruct justice.” Those statutes turn on the motive behind a person’s action, even if the person otherwise has the power to take the action. For example, under Section 1503 of the federal criminal code, any person who “corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” commits a felony. If Trump were to pardon any of the figures in the current Russia investigation, his action would certainly impede or obstruct the due administration of justice, as the courts have broadly construed that standard.

It would not be difficult to imagine Mueller making the case that the motive behind such interference was “corrupt.” As the Founding Fathers made plain, the purpose behind the pardon power is to extend mercy to those who have offended and have demonstrated remorse. Using the pardon power to protect the president’s own interests against embarrassment or exposure is not legitimate. Rather, a crassly self-interested exercise of presidential power to impede the due administration of justice is the very antithesis of the president’s most solemn oath — “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

And that is why Trump should take care — to make sure that wielding his pardon power, however tempting, does not blow up in his face. An attempt to use pardons to defend his presidency may end up imperiling it instead.

Even in visiting hurricane-ravaged Texas, Trump keeps the focus on himself

Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

As rescuers continued their exhausting and heartbreaking work in southeastern Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the rain continued to fall and a reservoir near Houston spilled over, President Trump grabbed a microphone to address hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside a firehouse near Corpus Christi and were chanting: “USA! USA! USA!”

‘Thank you, everybody,” the president said, sporting one of the white “USA” caps that are being sold on his campaign website for $40. “I just want to say: We love you. You are special. . . . What a crowd. What a turnout.”

Yet again, Trump managed to turn attention on himself. His responses to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey have been more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans whose lives have been dramatically altered by the floodwaters.

He has talked favorably about the higher television ratings that come with hurricane coverage, predicted that he will soon be congratulating himself and used 16 exclamation points in 22 often breathless tweets about the storm. But as of late Tuesday afternoon, the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations.

“It is a difficult balancing act for presidents,” said Matt Latimer, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “You want to project confidence that things will get better, but at the same time you want to display empathy for people who have lost everything. . . . The president has a knack for the first one, but so far he hasn’t displayed a lot of skill at displaying empathy. And that’s a problem.”

Since Harvey slammed into the Texas coast Friday night, the president has made his awe of the powerful storm clear and used almost admiring terms to describe it — as if he were describing a sporting match or an action movie instead of a natural disaster.

“125 MPH winds!” the president tweeted Friday as the hurricane made landfall.

“Record setting rainfall,” he noted the next day, along with telling his FEMA director, “The world is watching!”

“Wow — Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!” he tweeted on Sunday, following tweets promoting a book written by a conservative sheriff and announcing a Wednesday trip to Missouri, a state that “I won by a lot in ’16.”

At a news conference Monday, Trump continued to gush over the storm. “I’ve heard the words, ‘epic.’ I’ve heard ‘historic.’ That’s what it is,” he said, adding that the hurricane will make Texas stronger and the rebuilding effort “will be something very special.”

By focusing on the historic epicness of the hurricane, Trump has repeatedly turned attention to his role in confronting the disaster — a message reinforced by comments and tweets praising members of his administration.

At least the president is being authentic, argued Barton Swaim, a former speechwriter for then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) who is now the opinion editor at the Weekly Standard. And no matter what the president says, those opposed to Trump will interpret it in “the worst possible way,” Swaim said.

“I’ve always thought that these kinds of deals are a no-win situation for politicians,” he said. “There’s no good response. If you insert yourself, you look opportunistic. . . . If you don’t, you look aloof and disconnected.”

The mighty storm didn’t cut short the president’s weekend at Camp David in Maryland — or derail his plans to announce that he was pardoning Joe Arpaio, a former county sheriff in Arizona who was convicted this summer of ignoring a court order to stop racially profiling. Later, Trump said he wasn’t trying to bury the news on a Friday night but instead “assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally” because of coverage of the storm.

While Trump’s top aides gathered with Vice President Pence at the White House over the weekend, Trump videoconferenced in. On Saturday, he wore a white campaign hat. On Sunday, he opted for a red version. As of Tuesday evening, both hats — which feature “USA” on the front, “45” on a side and “Trump” in the back — were being sold on Trump’s campaign website, prompting ethics watchdogs to accuse the president of trying to profit off the crisis.

Trump sported one of the same hats again Tuesday as he ventured to Texas for a visit that some critics argue should have been delayed until the rain had stopped and the flooding had gone down. He was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, who wore towering black stilettos and a green bomber jacket as she departed Washington but changed into bright-white sneakers and a black cap labeled “FLOTUS” before stepping off the plane in Texas. An aide carried two Louis Vuitton suitcases aboard for the day trip.

“Leaving now for Texas!” the president tweeted.

On the ground in Corpus Christi, Trump and his entourage traveled to a firehouse for a brief meeting with local and national officials, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and the state’s two senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. He praised everyone for working together so well and referred to his FEMA director, Brock Long, as “a man who’s really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.”

“It’s a real team, and we want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years and 10 years from now as this is the way to do it,” Trump said. “This was of epic proportions. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. And I just want to say that working with the governor and his entire team has been an honor for us.”

He then thanked the governor and added: “And we won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to congratulate. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”

The president’s comments, which lasted mere minutes, angered many of those who served in President Barack Obama’s administration and could not imagine their former boss ever acting like this.

“It’s not a time for crowing about crowds,” said Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former deputy chief of staff of operations for Obama. “This weather event isn’t even over yet. They have no idea the damage that’s been incurred and how many people will need a place to live when this is over. It’s catastrophic, not epic.”

Before Trump traveled to Austin for another briefing, he addressed supporters gathered outside, climbing a ladder positioned between two emergency vehicles and behind a black SUV. With his wife at his side, he sounded as if he were addressing a political rally instead of a state struggling to start to recover — but it was a tone that matched the screaming crowd. Some there carried pro-Trump signs and flags.

“I will tell you, this is historic — it’s epic, what happened,” Trump told them. “But you know what? It happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”

Before he departed, he picked up a Texas flag and waved it slowly in the air.

Trump distances himself from GOP lawmakers to avoid blame if agenda stalls

Via The Washington Post:

President Trump is strategically separating himself from Republicans in Congress, an extraordinary move to deflect blame if the GOP agenda continues to flounder.

Trump deepened the fissures in the party on Thursday when he accused the top two leaders on Capitol Hill of mismanaging a looming showdown over the nation’s borrowing authority. Republican lawmakers and aides responded to the president’s hostility with broadsides and warnings of their own.

Frustrated by months of relative inaction at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and emboldened by his urge to disrupt the status quo, Trump is testing whether his own political following will prove more potent and loyal than that of his party and its leaders in both houses of Congress.

The growing divide comes at an inopportune moment for Washington, however. In addition to having to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscal crisis, Republicans face September deadlines to pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown, as well as pressure to fulfill a key Trump campaign promise to rewrite the nation’s tax laws.

Behind the scenes, some Republican staff members described a more functional relationship between aides and lawmakers on Capitol Hill and White House officials. But in public, Trump is waging war against lawmakers. With a pair of morning tweets, he said he asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to include a debt-ceiling increase in a recent veterans bill.

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval,” he wrote. “They . . . didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy — now a mess!”

In a later tweet, the president slammed McConnell for not being able to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. “That should NEVER have happened!” he wrote.

Trump is railing against Republicans because he thinks it will help him politically down the road, for instance during a 2020 reelection bid, said one outside adviser to the White House.

If Republicans lose the House in the 2018 midterm elections, as several White House advisers have warned the president, Trump can say, “See, I told you these guys wouldn’t get anything done. I’ve been saying this for months. They’re not following my agenda,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

Roger Stone, an ally of and former political adviser to Trump, put it this way: “The Trump brand and the Republican brand are two different things. What happened the last time the establishment tried to face him down? They got crushed.”

If Republicans lose the House, however, Trump could face greater peril than a difficult 2020 election: a Democratic majority eager to pursue impeachment and with subpoena power to conduct investigations.

For many GOP lawmakers, the justification for not fully breaking from Trump has been the promise of trying to salvage key parts of the party’s agenda. But now, they are increasingly resigning themselves to the reality that they will be largely on their own. One Senate GOP aide likened it to “being handed the keys to the car.”

As a result, they have grown increasingly hostile toward the president.

“It doesn’t help at this point, with a September coming up that is very consequential, to be throwing rocks at one another,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). He added: “You don’t, I think, do a lot of good by torching your teammates, particularly by name, individually.”

Said the Senate GOP aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid: “The sense you get is ‘We’re going to have to figure this out.’ We’re just going to assume we’re not going to get any help from the White House.”

Some White House aides have shown little sympathy toward GOP lawmakers who have made harsh remarks about Trump. Asked Thursday to respond to recent comments by Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) doubting the president’s competence and stability to lead, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I think that’s a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn’t dignify a response from this podium.”

The relationship between Trump and McConnell, meanwhile, has become increasingly acerbic in recent weeks, in private and public. But as details have surfaced in news reports, McConnell has tried to project unity even as some Republicans have said tensions are still raw.

Much more here.

As Trump ranted and rambled in Phoenix, his crowd slowly thinned

Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that “our lives are too short to let our differences divide us.” Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of “How Great Thou Art.” Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of “those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate.” And Vice President Pence declared that “President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people.” Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”

Then Trump took the stage.

He didn’t attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the thousands of protesters waiting outside.

Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech — which would drag on for 75 minutes — marveling at his crowd size, claiming that “there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” predicting that the media would not broadcast shots of his “rather incredible” crowd and reminiscing about how he was “center stage, almost from day one, in the debates.”

“We love those debates — but we went to center stage, and we never left, right?” the president said, reliving his glory days. “All of us. We did it together.”

Over the next 72 minutes, the president launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for a wall along the southern border, announced that he will “probably” get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state’s two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as “thugs” and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

Three times, the crowd burst into chants of “USA! USA! USA!” And once, at the mention of Trump’s former rival Hillary Clinton, they chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” Several parents put their young children on their shoulders so they could get a good look at the president.

But as the night dragged on, many in the crowd lost interest in what the president was saying.

Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors. After waiting for hours in 107-degree heat to get into the rally hall — where their water bottles were confiscated by security — people were tired and dehydrated and the president just wasn’t keeping their attention. Although Trump has long been the master of reading the mood of a room and quickly adjusting his message to satisfy as many of his fans as possible, his rage seemed to cloud his senses.

Early in his speech, when Trump still had the attention of his followers, he recited his definition of what it means to be a Trump supporter.

Much more here.

McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, reporting for the New York Times:

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this article. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back-and-forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

. . .

In a show of solidarity, albeit one planned well before Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Flake, Mr. McConnell will host a $1,000-per-person dinner on Friday in Kentucky for the Arizona senator, as well as for Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who is also facing a Trump-inspired primary race next year, and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Mr. Flake is expected to attend the event.

Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a Republican who is close to Mr. McConnell, said frustration with Mr. Trump was boiling over in the chamber. Mr. Gregg blamed the president for undermining congressional leaders, and said the House and Senate would have to govern on their own if Mr. Trump “can’t participate constructively.”

“Failure to do things like keeping the government open and passing a tax bill is the functional equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded,” Mr. Gregg said.

Others in the party divide blame between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. Al Hoffman, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been supportive of Mr. McConnell, said Mr. McConnell was culpable because he has failed to deliver legislative victories. “Ultimately, it’s been Mitch’s responsibility, and I don’t think he’s done much,” Mr. Hoffman said.

But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

An all-out clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell would play out between men whose strengths and weaknesses are very different. Mr. Trump is a political amateur, still unschooled in the ways of Washington, but he maintains a viselike grip on the affections of the Republican base. Mr. McConnell is a soft-spoken career politician, with virtuoso mastery of political fund-raising and tactics, but he had no mass following to speak of.

Mr. McConnell, while baffled at Mr. Trump’s penchant for internecine attacks, is a ruthless pragmatist and has given no overt indication that he plans to seek more drastic conflict. Despite his private battles with Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has sent reassuring signals with his public conduct: On Monday, he appeared in Louisville, Ky., with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, for a discussion of tax policy.

Much, much more here.

Trump’s Embrace of Racially Charged Past Puts Republicans in Crisis

Via The New York Times:

President Trump’s embrace of the country’s racially charged past has thrown the Republican Party into crisis, dividing his core supporters who have urged him on from the political leaders who fear that he is leading them down a perilous and shortsighted path.

The divisions played out in the starkly different responses across the party after Mr. Trump insisted that left-wing counterprotesters were as culpable as neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the bloodshed in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Much of the right was ecstatic as they watched their president fume against the “violent” left and declare that “very fine people” were being besmirched for their involvement in the demonstration.

Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, said in an interview that if Democrats want to fight over Confederate monuments and attack Mr. Trump as a bigot, that was a fight the president would win.

“President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end’ — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions,” he said.

“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” Mr. Bannon added. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”

Much of the party’s political class, however, was in shock. Former Presidents George and George W. Bush issued a rare joint rebuke of Mr. Trump’s stance, saying hate should be rejected “in all forms.”

And among younger Republicans there was a sense that the damage would be profound and enduring.

“The last year and especially the last few days have basically erased 15 years of efforts by Republicans to diversify the party,” said David Holt, a 38-year-old Oklahoma state senator running for mayor of Oklahoma City. “If I tried to sell young people in general but specifically minority groups on the Republican Party today, I’d expect them to laugh me out of the room. How can you not be concerned when the country’s demographics are shifting away from where the Republican Party seems to be shifting now?”

The political blow that Mr. Trump has sustained is deep and worsening. Barely one-third of Americans now say they approve of the job he is doing, according to two polls released this week — a fresh low for a president who was already among the most unpopular in modern times.

With midterm elections looming next year, Republican leaders find themselves in precarious territory, unwilling to abandon Mr. Trump for fear of losing his supporters even as the president’s position slips with the broader electorate.

“The political price we may pay almost should be catastrophic,” said Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican strategist. “A hanging in the morning will clarify the mind.”

But Mr. Trump’s tenacious base sees in the Charlottesville fallout something to cheer: a field general leading the latest charge in the battle to take their country back. Much as Mr. Trump promised he would restore America to its lost greatness during his presidential campaign — a vow that, to many, clanged with sentimentality for a whiter, less tolerant nation — he is using symbols of the Confederacy to tell conservatives that he will not allow liberals to blot out their history and heritage.

“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

After listening to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, she said it was as if he had channeled her and her friends — all gun-loving defenders of free speech, she said, who had no interest in standing with Nazis or white supremacists: “It’s almost like he talked to one of our people.”

Conservatives like Ms. Piercy, who have grown only more emboldened after Charlottesville, believe that the political and media elite hold them and Mr. Trump to a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe. They largely accept Mr. Trump’s contention that these same forces are using Charlottesville as an excuse to undermine his presidency, and by extension, their vote.

But Republicans who are looking at the country’s rapidly changing demographics — growing younger, less white and more urban — say Mr. Trump’s Republican Party is not the party of the future.

Much more here.

What did you expect from Trump?

Jennifer Rubin, reporting for the Washington Post:

As we have noted, President Trump’s initial response to events is always the truest expression of his outlook. The scripts that follow are post-facto damage control by his staff and never stick. In the case of Trump’s remarks on the horrific events in Charlottesville — his third go-around — he not only undid his aides’ handiwork but also confessed the words he read on Monday didn’t represent his true views.

The Post reported: “First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.” When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them — neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens — didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. (“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible,” he said. “And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”) But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.

But he did somehow intuit that not all the people marching with neo-Nazis and white supremacists were bad guys. “I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. … But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know — they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.” Really, which of the Confederate- and Nazi-flag bearers were innocent, peaceful and just good people?

And to top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned.

Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) re-upped their condemnation, but mere words fall on deaf ears. Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.

How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. (Fox News’s Kat Timpf declared, “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. . . . It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.’”

We  should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, to borrow a phrase. Third, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have no excuses and get no free passes. They are as responsible as anyone by continuing to enable the president. Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.

Trump puts a fine point on it: He sides with the alt-right in Charlottesville

Philip Bump, reporting for the Washington Post:

It was inevitable that President Trump’s brief news conference on Tuesday concerning national infrastructure would, instead, be redirected to a discussion of the violent protest in Charlottesville this past weekend and his delayed criticism of the racist and pro-Nazi groups that were central to it.

It did not seem inevitable, though, that Trump’s responses to questions about those protests would cement as correct the general interpretation of his first comments on the matter: He’s sympathetic to the goals of the men who marched Saturday night carrying Confederate and Nazi flags — and even to the “peaceful” torchlight protest on Friday in which marchers chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans.

After those protests spiraled into violence on Saturday and after a counterdemonstrator was killed by a car allegedly driven by a white supremacist from Ohio, Trump offered a wan response to what had happened.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”

The latter part of that statement is an attempt to distance himself from any blame for the recent increase in visible white nationalist activity. The former? An apparent attempt to equate those vocally defending Nazism and the goals of the Confederacy in Charlottesville with those who showed up in opposition. His critique was not just about the violence that day, but about “hatred” and “bigotry,” which, he suggested, was not just the province of the Nazis and racists.

On Monday, he read another statement, in which he finally and directly condemned the neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

“We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he said. “We must discover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

It was clearly an attempt to stitch up some of the damage done by his initial response. But in the infrastructure news conference on Tuesday, he ripped the stitches open and salted the wound.

First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.

“I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened,” he said about the timing of his comments on Saturday. “Before I make a statement, I need the facts, so I don’t want to rush into a statement.” In other words, he didn’t know enough at that point to pin blame for the violence (or hatred or bigotry) on the Klan and the Nazis alone.

“I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement,” he said.

 That’s nonsense. Trump rushes to comment on nearly everything on Twitter, if he wants to. He regularly makes statements about terrorist attacks that appear to be linked to Islamist extremism shortly after they conclude — or even before they have ended. He has also tweeted about and commented on attacks that he suspects may have been terrorist incidents before all the facts are known, like when he said that an attack in the Philippines attributed by authorities there to a robbery attempt was an example of terrorism.
* * *
Right after he tried to argue that the Saturday statement had accused both sides of being at fault solely because he didn’t at the time know enough to pin the blame on the Klan and the Nazis, he then explicitly defended the aims of the original protest — and suggested that the counterprotesters were equally at fault!

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said. “And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

That’s a contested claim.

Later, Trump repeated the same argument.

“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible,” he said. “And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”

This glosses over the question that his first statement raised, though, which was how he felt about the far-right and racist groups that spurred the demonstration in the first place. Those who engaged in violence on Saturday were certainly culpable, but the looming question was whether Trump felt that Nazis and people protestingthose Nazis were otherwise equivalent. Such equivalence would suggest that racism and an embrace of Adolf Hitler have a place in America’s political conversation.

Trump gave every indication that he thought that equivalence existed.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.”

More here.

Trump Defends Initial Remarks on Charlottesville; Again Blames ‘Both Sides’

Via The New York Times:

President Trump reverted Tuesday to blaming both sides for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., and at one point questioned whether the movement to pull down Confederate statues would lead to the desecration of memorials to George Washington.

Abandoning his precisely chosen and carefully delivered condemnations of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis from a day earlier, the president furiously stuck by his initial reaction to the unrest in Charlottesville. He drew the very moral equivalency for which a bipartisan chorus, and his own advisers, had already criticized him.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” the president said in a combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

Mr. Trump defended those gathered in a Charlottesville park to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups,” he said. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

He criticized “alt-left” groups that he claimed were “very, very violent” when they sought to confront the white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups that had gathered in Charlottesville.

“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Mr. Trump said. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

It was a remarkable rejection of the criticism he confronted after waiting two days before naming the right-wing groups in the bloodshed that ended with the death of a young woman after a car crashed into a crowd of protesters.

Mr. Trump accused people he called the alt-left of “swinging clubs” as they “came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right.” He said some of the right-wing members of the crowd in the Virginia park were “bad.” But he added that the other side came “charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

Aides had urged him for days to take the high ground, persuading him on Monday to read a brief statement condemning the neo-Nazi groupsfrom the Diplomatic Room in the White House. But over the past day, back in his private New York residence for the first time since becoming president, Mr. Trump was alone, without his wife and young son, and consuming hours of television, with many on cable news telling him he had not done enough.

* * *

His largely unprovoked presidential rant on Tuesday instantly sparked an even more intense critique, especially from Republicans.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan called white supremacy “repulsive” and said “there can be no moral ambiguity.” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, tweeted: “Blaming ‘both sides’ for #Charlottesville?! No.” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said white nationalists in Charlottesville were “100% to blame” and wagged his finger at the president for suggesting otherwise.

“The #WhiteSupremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win,” Mr. Rubio said on Twitter moments after Mr. Trump’s remarks. “We can not allow this old evil to be resurrected.”

Senator Todd Young of Indiana, a freshman Republican, wrote: “This is simple: we must condemn and marginalize white supremacist groups, not encourage and embolden them.”

Even members of Mr. Trump’s own military appeared to take quick offense to their commander’s words. Hours after the president spoke, the Marine Corps commandant, General Robert B. Neller, wrote in a tweet that there is “no place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.”

Mr. Trump delivered his remarks in the lobby of Trump Tower, where officials had spent much of the day trying to erase certain telltale signatures of the brand that would be caught on TV — most significantly, a blue curtain was placed over the Ivanka Trump display in the lobby.

If Mr. Trump was aware of the reaction that would ensue after his clearly improvised remarks, he appeared immune to the consequences of those words, which electrified the lobby of his signature office building. It was there in 2015 that he launched his presidential campaign with a furious assault on illegal immigrants and a declaration that Mexicans were “rapists” bringing crime into the United States.

Instead, the president seemed determined to convince any doubters that he did not misspeak in his first reaction to the events in Virginia on Saturday.

Mr. Trump said his initial statement was shaped by a lack of information about the events in Charlottesville, even though television statements had been broadcasting images of the violence throughout the morning.

Much more here.

Trump is out of control, and has been so for quite some time and no longer should he be given any benefit of the doubt.

Trump campaign emails show aide’s repeated efforts to set up Russia meetings

Via The Washington Post:

Three days after Donald Trump named his campaign foreign policy team in March 2016, the youngest of the new advisers sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.”

The adviser, George Papadopoulos, offered to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump,” telling them his Russian contacts welcomed the opportunity, according to internal campaign emails read to The Washington Post.

The proposal sent a ripple of concern through campaign headquarters in Trump Tower. Campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis wrote that he thought NATO allies should be consulted before any plans were made. Another Trump adviser, retired Navy Rear Adm. Charles Kubic, cited legal concerns, including a possible violation of U.S. sanctions against Russia and of the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from unauthorized negotiation with foreign governments.

But Papadopoulos, a campaign volunteer with scant foreign policy experience, persisted. Between March and September, the self-described energy consultant sent at least a half-dozen requests for Trump, as he turned from primary candidate to party nominee, or for members of his team to meet with Russian officials. Among those to express concern about the effort was then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who rejected in May 2016 a proposal from Papadopoulos for Trump to do so.

The exchanges are among more than 20,000 pages of documents the Trump campaign turned over to congressional committees this month after review by White House and defense lawyers. The selection of Papadopoulos’s emails were read to The Post by a person with access to them. Two other people with access to the emails confirmed the general tone of the exchanges and some specific passages within them.

Papadopoulos emerges from the sample of emails as a new and puzzling figure in the examination of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials and their proxies during the 2016 election, now the subject of a special-counsel investigation.

Less than a decade out of college, Papadopoulos appeared to hold little sway within the campaign, and it is unclear whether he was acting as an intermediary for the Russian government, although he told campaign officials he was.

While the emails illustrate his eagerness to strengthen the campaign’s connections to the Russian government, Papadopoulos does not spell out in them why it would be in Trump’s interest to do so. His entreaties appear to have generated more concern than excitement within the campaign, which at the time was looking to seal the Republican nomination and take on a heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the general election.

But the internal resistance to Papadopoulos’s requests is at odds with other overtures Trump allies were making toward Russia at the time, mostly at a more senior level of the campaign.

Three months after Papadopoulos raised the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a delegation led by a Russian lawyer offering to provide damaging information on Clinton.

Manafort attended that Trump Tower session in June 2016, a meeting now under scrutiny in the special counsel’s collusion inquiry. But the new emails reveal that Manafort had rejected a request from Papadopoulos just the previous month to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.

In July 2016 and again two months later, Jeff Sessions, then a senator and senior foreign policy adviser to Trump, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

And also in July, a few weeks after Papadopoulos asked his superiors whether other campaign advisers or aides could accept some of the Russians’ invitations, Carter Page, another foreign policy adviser, spoke at a Russian university in Moscow. Page said he made the trip independently of the campaign.

Much more here.

‘We should call evil by its name’: Republicans are standing up to Trump more directly than ever on Charlottesville

Amber Phillips, reporting for the Washington Post:

When President Trump issued his travel ban a few days into his presidency, at least eight Senate Republicans opposed it. When he fired his FBI director in May, more than a dozen Senate Republicans openly questioned it. When Trump prodded senators to vote for an Obamacare repeal bill, three of them didn’t. When Trump urged Republicans to try again or risk being labeled failures, they ignored him. When Trump started attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week, a handful of them went out of their way to publicly back McConnell.

And with Charlottesville on its knees this weekend as protests led by white supremacists turned deadly, Senate Republicans had their most overt conflict with the president yet.

A number of Senate Republicans criticized nothing less than the way Trump chose to be president Saturday. They publicly and directly condemned his words and action. More specifically, they criticized his lack of words and actions to clearly and forcefully denounce the white supremacy roiling Charlottesville’s streets and seizing the nation’s attention.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

There’s no nuance in those statements, no need to read between the lines. These Republicans think the president did a bad job being president in the midst of a violent, fraught crisis. Their criticism carries extra heft when you consider that these lawmakers mostly weren’t prodded by reporters, microphones thrust in their faces, to say any of this. Congress is on break, so wherever in the world these lawmakers were, they made the proactive decision Saturday to go on Twitter — or call up their staff to write a statement — and criticize the president.

This moment has echoes of the release of the crude “Access Hollywood” tape in the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign. These senators would probably rather not get into it with the leader of their party, but they feel as if he has done something so egregious that they have no choice but to speak out.

Making their criticism of Trump even more notable: Just a few days ago came a tangible warning of the consequences that criticizing Trump can bring. After Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote a book declaring that his party is in denial about Trump, a pro-Trump donor wrote one of the senator’s primary challengers a $300,000 check.

Not everyone who spoke out Saturday has as much on the line as Flake. Most aren’t even up for reelection in 2018. (Though Gardner is the chairman of Senate Republicans’ reelection committee.)

And liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up that this means Republicans are suddenly on the impeachment path. But the past few months, and especially this weekend, make clear that Republicans in Congress are increasingly comfortable confronting their president in more direct ways.