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Friday, July 21, 2017
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Friday, July 21, 2017 11:03 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. A constitutional clash brews

Here are your Friday power lunch talking points: As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion investigation begins to peel back the onion on the Trump business empire, we are now witnessing the beginnings of what could be an epic constitutional crisis. President Trump’s attorneys are scouring members of the Mueller task force, with Kellyanne Conway noting on Fox News this morning that some had donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign and alleged other “conflicts of interest.” Trump is asking his legal team about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself. The fact that he is even asking raises the prospect that he really has something to hide. Otherwise, why ask? This is the first modern president who didn’t release his tax returns. We know that Mueller is now probing “money laundering” of campaign manager Paul Manafort.

And there is that rambling New York Times interview when Trump was asked whether Mueller probing his finances could result in his firing. He responded, “I think that’s a violation. I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” Trump’s assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself sets up this scenario: Trump fires Sessions and appoints an AG who will do his bidding (though a confirmation hearing could get dicey). The new AG fires Mueller. Then Trump issues pardons to Donald Jr., Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn and anyone else caught up in the web. It harkens back to his Republican National Convention speech where he declared, “I alone can fix it.” The danger for President Trump is with his Gallup approval sitting at 36% this morning, there would be a political revolt on Capitol Hill and in the streets, and a potential legal standoff in the courts. I keep hearing President Reagan’s voice, one we long for today: “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”

2. Sessions vows to stay on

This is what President Trump told the New York Times about Attorney General Sessions: "How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?" Trump asked rhetorically. "If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'" Sessions, who reportedly offered to resign in May, said Thursday, “I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate." There have been other POTUS/AG feuds. President Lyndon Johnson loathed AG Robert F. Kennedy. President Nixon fired Elliot Richardson in the Watergate Saturday Night Massacre and there was dramatic political fallout. The other takeaway here is this: Sessions was Trump’s earliest and most ardent supporter in Congress back in 2016. Their fallout is indicative that loyalty is a one-way street with this president.

3. Emerging legislative races

We’re all waiting to see if Indiana Democrats can recruit and press the GOP and their two General Assembly super majorities. Jeffersonville attorney Anna Murray announced Thursday she will challenge State Sen. Ron Grooms in SD46. Her pitch: "We need a diverse workforce," she said. "I want people to want to come to Indiana. We need to learn to accept people for what they are." She criticized Grooms for opposing a minimum-wage increase. This is a potential pickup for Democrats. In 2014, Grooms defeated Charles Freiberger 16,950 to 13,168 in a rematch and this seat will be on the HPI Horse Race watch list.
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    KOKOMO – Single payer health care is on its way, as inevitable as the rising sun. Through the cumulative effects of Democratic scheming, Republican incompetence and the ignorance of the American people, we stand on the brink of the final dismemberment of the greatest health care system in the world. Soon we will enter a world of rationed medical care, medical treatment by committee and true equality of health care, where the only equality of care will be that no one will receive quality care. Call me a pessimist, but I have seen this train wreck coming for several years, at least since 1993. Since that time, health care has become an effective wedge issue for both political parties. Much as the issue of abortion has been used for political purposes since Roe v. Wade, access to universal affordable health care has become the football of choice for the game of divide and conquer played by Republicans and Democrats alike. Although the issue of socialized medicine dates back many decades, its latest incarnation began in earnest with the creation of the Clinton Health Care Task Force, in 1993. After campaigning for the need for universal health care during the 1992 presidential election, newly elected President Bill Clinton acted quickly in January, 1993, to appoint his wife Hillary to chair a task force to design a plan for universal care. Conservatives, Libertarians and the health care industry banded together to launch an all-out attack on Clinton’s plan. 
    SOUTH BEND –  For Democrats to win control of the House next year – possible, though not yet probable – they must upset some Republicans entrenched in “safe” seats, such as Rep. Jackie Walorski in Indiana’s 2nd District. Walorski is targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But so are many other Republican incumbents, most of them in districts in which they appear to be more vulnerable than Walorski. She is regarded as “safe” in most national evaluations. And why not? She won a third term in 2016 by nearly 62,000 votes, carrying nine of the 10 counties in the district and just barely losing in St. Joseph County, supposed bastion of Democratic strength. Walorski, however, is a target because of other past elections. She lost in her first race for Congress in 2010 to Joe Donnelly, who then was the incumbent congressman, and won in a squeaker for a first term in 2012 in a race with Brendan Mullen. Polls showed high negative perceptions of her back then.
    MERRILLVILLE – It’s becoming clear that President Donald Trump doesn’t like former President Barack Obama. It’s not a political thing. It’s personal. And it’s driving Trump – and to a lesser extent, Vice President Mike Pence – up a wall. And, yes, the springboard is the Affordable Care Act, which is better known as Obamacare. I think it’s a jealousy thing. Obama twice won the popular vote while Trump didn’t in his one try. Trump started the birther movement, contending Obama wasn’t born in the United States. And Trump never let go of the issue. And Trump was offended when Obama said he wasn’t mentally fit to be president. And virtually anytime something goes wrong, Trump blames it on Obama. What really eats at Trump is Obamacare. The repeal and replace of Obamacare was at the heart of Trump’s campaign. I’m not terribly sure why, given what people are saying today. Last November, just before being elected, Trump said, “My poll numbers are going through the roof. Part (of the reason) is Obamacare.”
    BLOOMINGTON – A lot of people want what I do from the media and feel they’re not getting it: More facts and fewer opinions; more investigative reporters and fewer pundits; more substance and less fluff; more policy exploration and less politics.  I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to journalism, I’m a traditionalist. Old-fashioned, even. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that even while confidence in the media drops to new lows and Time magazine feels moved to wonder “Is Truth Dead?” on its cover, huge numbers of Americans have come to believe the media is not as authoritative as it once was. Straightforward, responsible journalism is an indispensable public asset, a cornerstone of democratic life. This is threatened by the trends reshaping the media landscape. With less consensus around information and data, the cohesiveness of our society is diminished.
    INDIANAPOLIS  – Pristina Plowmouth objected to last week’s column in this space. That contribution to social and economic awareness focused on the growing phenomenon of people living alone. “Disheartening,” she said, calling from her estate in Hamilton County. “People living alone are the tragic residue of society’s dissolution. It is the inevitable consequence of delayed marriage, divorce, inappropriate abortion, excessive consumption from bloated incomes, an unfortunate, yet foreseeable outcome, of misguided female emancipation, disregard of traditional generational integration, and blind obsession with personal gratification above familial obligation.” “Thank you,” was all I could reply. “You’ll delight in this week’s offering about unmarried couples living together.” “Where did you obtain such scandalous statistics?” she huffed. “Please, abstain from asking me to give credence to dirty data.” “Don’t you want to know how many such households are in Hamilton County?” I asked and answered before she could reply. “There were over 4,600 unmarried-partner households with opposite sex couples in your county in 2015 according to the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. That’s just 4.1 percent of all households in the county.
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  • Horse Race: Money, rancor spill into GOP Senate race
    INDIANAPOLIS – The second quarter FEC totals are in and there is parity between U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, though the latter took away the perception that the former’s uber finance team would provide a decisive advantage with a $1 million quarter, compared to $574,000 for Messer. Rokita ended the halfway point with $2.35 million cash on hand, compared to $2.02 million for Messer. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly reported raising $1.3 million in the second quarter of 2017 and has nearly $3.7 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The Republican money wars took a back seat to the increasing rancor between the former Wabash College classmates. This played out in conspicuous fashion when Messer released a statement assailing Rokita. “For months, Todd Rokita has spread lies and half-truths about my family, claiming we are not Hoosiers and attacking my wife’s legal career,” Messer said. “He started by planting misleading news stories and whispering distortions in back rooms. This past weekend, he lifted the veil and directly attacked my wife and family in a television interview.”
  • Atomic: GOP health fisasco; Holcomb rates high; Senate warfare

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. The gang that couldn’t shoot straight: Your Tuesday power lunch talking points: The Trump White House has become the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, residing in an alternative universe. President Trump dined with senators last night pushing the Senate GOP repeal and replace. “He basically said, ‘If we don’t do this, we’re in trouble,’” Politico quoted one attendee. “‘That we have the Senate, House and White House and we have to do it or we’re going to look terrible.’” Two senators who weren’t there, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, were simultaneously writing press releases becoming the third and fourth Republicans to bail. Trump had no idea the statements were coming, according to White House and congressional sources. His top aides were taken aback. Ahhh, yes, the exploding cigar that continues to dog Vice President Mike Pence, who on Saturday took his “let me be clear” stance that is often followed by fallacy: “We're on the verge of a historic accomplishment here in our nation’s capital. Because in the coming days, President Trump, working with the Congress that you helped elect, is going to keep our promise to the American people, and we are going to repeal and replace Obamacare.” Pence said this morning, "Last night we learned Senate doesn't have consensus. President Trump and I fully support just the repeal of Obamacare. Then we can start with a clean slate. The Senate should vote to repeal now and replace later. Inaction is not an option. Stay tuned. We will return."

  • Atomic: Pence & the govs; Young undecided; Trump poll tank
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. Holcomb analysis under wraps as Young remains undecided: Here are your beginning of the week power lunch talking points: Gov. Eric Holcomb skipped the National Governors Association confab in Providence, and thus, missed the White House arm-twisting from Vice President Pence, HHS Sec. Tom Price and CMS Commissioner Seema Verma. The three had a tortured two days with the governors, with CNN’s Eric Bradner calling the Saturday session with Price “tense” while the White House trio made a “frantic” bid to save the Senate GOP bill. Ohio Gov. John Kasich sparred with Pence, saying the veep was lying about Medicaid waiting lines. And there was this barb from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who introduced Pence by saying, “He showed true backbone himself in Indiana when he expanded Medicaid for his citizens.”

  • Atomic: The Steve Martin defense; war warnings; tariffs & quotas
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. The West Wing Steve Martin defense strategy: Your Friday power lunch talking points: Remember that Steve Martin IRS skit on Saturday Night Live way back when? Why didn’t you pay your taxes? Martin: “I forgot.” That seems to be the modus operandi of the Trump clan that has settled for a spell in the White House. We learn from NBC News today that a Russian-American lobbyist described as a “former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence” sat in on the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort. Appearing on Fox News Hannity earlier this week, Trump Jr., promised “transparency,” adding, “This is everything,” but he forgot to mention this shadowy lobbyist. Kushner filled out his foreign contact disclosure form, a secretary hit the “send” button prematurely, and he promised to make further disclosures. Except he forgot to follow up.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions forgot about his Russian contacts. If I’m involved in an American presidential campaign, and I’m approached by the Kremlin, I’m not going to forget that. When you sit down with Russian officials, and I’ve had that experience, you just don’t forget. It underscores my analysis that the Trump campaign and White House is amateurish, corrupt and gullible.
  • Sen. Donnelly posts $1.47 million for 2Q


    NASHVILLE, IND. - U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has posted a second quarter FEC report showing he has raised $1.47 million and has $3.7 million cash on hand. “Joe’s thankful for all the men and women who have stood with him on the way to another record-breaking quarter, and he’ll keep fighting to make sure that their brand of Hoosier common sense is represented in Washington,” said campaign manager Peter Hanscom. “By keeping the fiscally conservative mindset that has served him so well in the Senate, his cash on hand balance continues to surpass the rest of the Senate field, and he’ll keep working to make sure he has the resources he needs to defend his record.”

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  • Lavrov suggests more Trump and Putin meetings at G20
    “They might have met even much more than just three times. Maybe they went to the toilet together. When you are bought by your parents to a kindergarten do you mix with the people who are waiting in the same room to start going to a classroom?” - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to NBC’s Keir Simmons, who asked whether Presidents Trump and Putin met more than three times. Last week it was reported Trump and Putin met for an hour in a third, previously undisclosed meeting with only a Russian translator present. Watch the interview below in the HPI Video Feed.
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  • Indiana's June jobless rate at 3%
    Indiana’s unemployment rate stands at 3.0% for June and remains lower than the national rate of 4.4 percent. This is a jobless rate that is about as low as it can get. Indiana's total labor force continues to stand at more than 3.33 million, and the state’s 64.4 percent labor force participation rate remains above the national rate of 62.8 percent. "We are pleased to see Indiana's unemployment rate go lower this past month and stay at its lowest levels since the mid-1990s. We believe this is an indication of the state's ongoing strong economy," said Indiana Workforce Development Commissioner Steven J. Braun. "We at the Department of Workforce Development remain focused on assisting Hoosiers who are unemployed or underemployed. I encourage them to visit their local WorkOne Career Centers and utilize the free resources and job assistance programs available to them." So there is little doubt that Indiana truly is a state that works. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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Trump taxes

Should Donald Trump release recent tax returns, like every major party nominee has done over the past 40 years?


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