In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) took aim at journalists during a Tuesday visit to Capitol Hill. After refusing to say if he stood by earlier comments that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress, Moore offered reporters a lesson in his view of religious liberty.

“Reporters don’t understand religious liberty, where it comes from. It comes from God, not from the Constitution,” Moore declared as he entered an elevator in a Senate office building.

Those remarks came after he repeatedly told reporters he wouldn’t talk to them about his earlier op-ed that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim.

“I’ll address that later. I didn’t say he couldn’t. You go read my World Net Daily article — it says ‘should,’ not ‘could,'” Moore said. “Read my article and you’ll find out what I believe.”

Moore was in the Capitol after joining the weekly GOP Senate luncheon. Republican leadership, after trying to defeat Moore in his primary, are now rallying to his cause — even if they say they disagree with some of his views.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) took issue with his party’s embrace of Moore, slamming them for hypocrisy for complaining about Democrats voting against a religious Catholic judge while embracing a man who doesn’t believe in religious liberty.

“When a judge expressed his personal belief that a practicing Muslim shouldn’t be a member of Congress because of his religious faith, it was wrong. That this same judge is now my party’s nominee for the Senate from Alabama should concern us all. Religious tests have no place in the U.S. Congress,” he said.

Moore said he’s “not commenting” when asked if he still believed homosexual conduct should be illegal — and declined to address earlier comments that the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage was worse than the Dred Scott decision that codified slavery.

Moore wrote in the World Net Daily article that “Islamic law is simply incompatible with our law.”

“Can a true believer in the Islamic doctrine found in the Quran swear allegiance to our Constitution? Those who profess a sincere belief in Allah say ‘no!'” he said.

Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice forced from office, is currently the front-runner for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.

He has a long history of controversial comments and actions on race and religion, as TPM has previously documented.

Before Moore’s comments, he had a meeting with a few aides in a Senate coffeeshop. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who Moore recently defeated in a bloody primary, happened to pop in for coffee — and breezed by Moore’s table without saying hi to his old foe.

Strange told TPM he hadn’t seen Moore as he exited — but didn’t go back in to say hi.

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The bipartisan cosponsors of two bills to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from meddling by President Trump told reporters Monday night that they have received zero indication that the Senate’s GOP leaders will allow a vote on the legislation. And most rank-and-file Republicans, including one cosponsor of the legislation, said they saw no need to pass it.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t eager to address the bombshell news on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and President Trump’s campaign — or steps to ensure the investigation is protected from possible meddling from the White House.

McConnell didn’t make a single remark addressing the news — or bipartisan legislation to keep Trump from firing Mueller — throughout the day on Monday, avoiding the topic during his daily Senate floor speech and ducking out early from a press conference on judicial nominees in order to avoid reporters’ questions.

Two bipartisan bills are being pushed to make sure Trump doesn’t meddle with the Russia investigation — one from Sens. Tom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and another from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Both, and an accompanying House bill, would attempt to block Trump from firing Mueller. McConnell has so far refused to say if he’d bring either bill to the floor.

A McConnell spokesman told TPM via email that he didn’t have “any information for you beyond what has been publicly reported” on the matter.

McConnell wasn’t the only Republican eager to avoid questions — none of the more than half-dozen GOP senators who gathered to accuse Democrats of anti-Catholic bias for opposing a Notre Dame professor’s judicial nomination wanted to talk on-camera about the huge news.

That included Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who nearly knocked over an American flag in his haste to flee the ongoing press conference through a back-door exit.

And Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) repeatedly ducked questions about the Russia probe and what the Senate should do to protect it.

“That’s why I said this topic,” Cornyn said with a smile as he ducked the first in a series of reporters’ questions on the matter.

“We’ll have plenty of time for that… in an individual one-on-one basis” he said later — then ended the press conference without addressing the question on-camera.

Cornyn told TPM as he walked out that “I’ve seen no evidence that the legislation is necessary at this point” when asked about the two bills.

 

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When news broke Monday morning that at least three former Trump campaign associates have been criminally charged as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation, President Trump sounded off angrily on Twitter, leaving many nervous that Trump may attempt to fire Mueller or somehow meddle in the investigation going forward.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign, released a statement Monday morning calling on the Senate to act swiftly to protect the federal investigations from the President’s interference.

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Despite President Trump’s repeated declarations that “Obamacare is finished … dead … gone,” the first full open enrollment period of the Trump era begins on Wednesday, and the administration has taken some surprisingly strong steps to make it a success.

“It’s been completely bipolar,” health care analyst Charles Gaba told TPM. “They’re helping, they’re hurting, they’re helping, they’re hurting.” 

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Special counsel Robert Mueller, backed by a federal grand jury, has filed the first charges in his investigation into the Trump campaign and administration’s dealings with Russia, according to a report Friday night by CNN later confirmed by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. At least one individual could be taken into custody as early as Monday. Both the names of the person or person and the charges filed against them remain for now under a judge’s seal.

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Alarmed by President Trump and the shrinking faction of Republicans willing and able to stand up to him, Mitt Romney is seriously considering one more run for public office.

Sources close to Romney tell TPM that he’s leaning toward a run if Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) decides to retire, a move that sources close to Hatch say is more likely than not. And they say that while Romney was initially not keen on running for the Senate, the retirements of Trump-critical Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) and John McCain’s (R-AZ) ongoing health problems have left a void he thinks desperately needs to be filled.

“There’s a demand for people like him in the Senate. We’re losing people like Jeff Flake, who’s a conservative but an independent voice, we’re losing Bob Corker. Now more than ever we need statesmen and people with integrity in public office, and Mitt Romney fits that description,” former Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told TPM, after emphasizing he hasn’t talked to Romney about the race.

Flake’s decision to retire this week means the GOP senator most fiercely critical of Trump won’t be around for much longer. But the other Arizona senator’s status is likely weighing more on Romney’s mind.

McCain is the only Republican left in Washington who can truly stand up to Trump in an effective way at this point. He has the gravitas and celebrity of a former presidential nominee that gives him a huge platform, and he was just reelected and doesn’t need to worry about the GOP base. McCain can’t be dismissed as too moderate like Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), or as a conservative gadfly like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ben Sasse (R-NE).

McCain’s bleak cancer prognosis has left his political future uncertain. That paired with the loss of Flake and Corker, as TPM noted earlier this week, means barely anyone in the GOP worth noting could be left to buck the White House after 2018. That would change if the 70-year-old Romney, who led the anti-Trump GOP resistance throughout the 2016 campaign, steps out of retirement to run for Senate.

“If Mitt Romney runs for Senate in Utah, then we might see the beginnings of a counter-insurgency, but until then it does look like a mopping up operation,” National Review writer and Trump critic David French said on MSNBC Friday evening.

Romney took it upon himself to lead the anti-Trump charge throughout the GOP primary, with many of his deputies following him to battle Trumpism. After giving a nationally televised speech where he called Trump a “fraud,” Romney led the last-gasp efforts to stop him in the primary, campaigning from Utah to Ohio to try to deprive Trump of the nomination, slamming him even after he’d sown it up, and refusing to endorse him in the general election.

“Through the calculated statements of its leader, Trumpism has become associated with racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity and, most recently, threats and violence. I am repulsed by each and every one of these,” he wrote in a March Facebook post.

“I don’t think you could have a bigger cultural clash, and Romney would give that point of view a very powerful and eloquent voice in Washington,” Alex Castellanos, a former Romney adviser who first fought Trump’s nomination then helped him in the general election, told TPM. “Donald Trump has unified the Republican Party, he’s purged it of the non-Trump Republicans. McCain may unfortunately leave because of his health, Corker and Flake are on their way out. There’s a vacuum of powerful establishment Republican voices.”

Hatch, who is 83, is publicly rejecting the idea that he’s decided not to run for reelection. But sources close to Hatch’s office tell TPM that he’s leaning that way — and wants Romney to step up if and when he decides to retire after tax reform efforts conclude.

“Hatch has told Romney ‘I want you to replace me if I don’t run again,'” a source close to Hatch’s office told TPM on Friday.

Romney would be a formidable candidate in Utah, where he has an immense reservoir of goodwill and where the Mormon Church holds sway, especially in GOP politics. But he’d likely face a primary challenge from a more conservative foe, likely with the backing of former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Mitt doesn’t have a clear shot. Utah politics are so convoluted right now. Obviously if he jumps in that’d clear the deck of a couple of mid-tier candidates in deference to the Thirteenth Apostle. But Mike Lee was on that third tier eight years ago and emerged out of nowhere,” a Utah GOP strategist, who declined to discuss the race on record until Hatch makes a formal decision, told TPM.

Sources who know Romney also say public service truly animates him — that’s why even after all his harsh criticism of Trump he was willing to be Trump’s secretary of state.

“To you or me, you’re sitting on a few hundred million dollars and 30-some grandkids … Why would you waste all that being in the Senate? But Romney, to his credit, he views his role as someone like John McCain. If John McCain, the conscience of the Senate, isn’t around much longer who fills that role? I think Romney thinks he can fill that role,” said the Utah Republican.

It’s far from certain that Mr. Romney will go to Washington. But if he does, that could shake up a city where anti-Trump Republicans are an endangered species. And it would put Romney directly back into the spotlight after years in the wilderness.

“I do think that Mitt’s career and political journey are unfinished,” said Castellanos.

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Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is leaning towards retirement, two sources tell TPM, and has told former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that he wants him to run if he does decide to step down.

Those comments come after five sources told The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, the best-sourced reporter on Mormon politicians, that Hatch is telling allies he’s planning to retire at the end of his term next year.

Two sources close to Hatch’s office tell TPM that he’s leaning towards retirement, though he hasn’t made a final decision, and that he’s told Mitt Romney that he wants him to step up for the seat if he does decide to retire.

“It is true, Hatch has told Romney ‘I want you to replace me if I don’t run again’ but the timing is crucial,” said one source, who said Hatch doesn’t want to be sidelined in the ongoing tax reform push or hurt the efforts. “If I were to buy futures I’d probably be buying futures on someone besides Hatch being senator.”

Another source concurred, saying Hatch hasn’t made a final decision and is waiting to make any announcement until the tax reform effort is done one way or the other.

“He’s just gone back and forth and my guess is he’s going to retire,” another source close to Hatch’s office told TPM. “Some people on his staff have said that [he’s retiring] but a couple have said he’s going to run again. He’s trying to keep himself in the mix for now but he’s almost 84.”

That would be a sea change in Utah politics as well as in the Senate, where Hatch has served since the 1980s.

But recent polls have shown most Utahns want Hatch to retire — and even his allies concede he’s likely to face a tough primary challenger that won’t be as easy to dispatch as the one he defeated six years ago.

That could open the door to a Trump ally in a state where even most Republicans don’t like the president.

“A really strong primary challenger could beat him and he’s got to know that,” TPM’s source said.

If Romney runs, he’d likely be the strong favorite in a state where the Mormon church still holds immense sway over state politics. Romney has been fiercely critical of Trump, and could fill a void that’s being left by the retirement of fellow Trump critic (and Mormon) Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) as well as Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

Hatch’s office pushed back on both TPM’s and The Atlantic’s reports.

“He has not made a final decision yet.  If you have seen Sen. Hatch, he always stands straight and tall.  He isn’t ‘leaning’ one way or the other,” Hatch spokesman Dave Hansen told TPM in an email.

“Nothing has changed since The Atlantic published a carbon copy of this same story in April, likely with the same anonymous sources who were no more informed on the Senator’s thinking than they seem to be now,” he told The Atlantic. “Senator Hatch is focused on leading the Senate’s efforts to pass historic tax reform, confirming strong judges to courts around the country, and continuing to fight through the gridlock to deliver results for Utah. He has not made a final decision about whether or not to seek reelection, but plans to by the end of the year.”

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. EST.

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday that the Trump administration has issued guidance for the implementation of new sanctions on Russia after the administration missed a deadline for moving forward with the sanctions by several weeks.

“The Senate and House spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly passing this piece of legislation and sent a strong signal to Iran, Russia and North Korea that our country will stand firm and united in the face of destabilizing behavior,” Corker said in a statement. “The guidance provided today by the State Department is a good first step in responsibly implementing a very complex piece of legislation, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson’s attention to this important issue. Congress will expect thorough and timely consultation until full implementation is complete.”

The guidance was issued after Corker spoke to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan about the delay in implementing the sanctions, according to the Daily Beast.

Congress passed a bill to enact new sanctions on Russia in July, and President Donald Trump reluctantly signed it into law. The legislation set an Oct. 1 deadline for the administration to name which entities would be hit with the new sanctions. However, Corker told reporters earlier this week that the administration had let nearly a month go by since the deadline without naming the entities, noting that he was not sure whether the delay was intentional.

“We’re going to check into it,” he said, according to Vox. “I don’t have any way of evaluating whether it’s purposeful or not purposeful.”

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, confirmed in a Thursday statement that the administration had issued the guidance.

“The administration’s announcement is a step in the right direction toward holding Russia accountable for its attack on our election. By issuing guidance for the implementation of the sanctions legislation, the administration is slowly but surely carrying out the law that Congress passed overwhelmingly this summer,” the senators said in a statement. “We will conduct focused oversight on this issue and stand ready if appropriate and necessary to apply relevant provisions of the sanctions law related to congressional review.”

McCain and Cardin also urged the State Department to assign the proper staff to implementation of the sanctions. Foreign Policy reported Thursday evening that the State Department has closed its office dedicated to sanctions. David Tessler, the deputy director of the Policy Planning Office, will now oversee sanctions policy, Foreign policy reported, citing congressional staff and former diplomats.

“We also encourage the State Department to dedicate robust staffing and resources to the implementation effort, especially in light of reports that the sanctions office has been closed, a number of its staff have resigned, and the mandate for sanctions implementation has been shifted to the Policy Planning staff, which has not traditionally played an operational role,” the senators wrote in their statement. “Providing dedicated staffing and resources within the State Department will demonstrate the administration’s commitment to carrying out this vitally important law.”

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