In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In the wake of the White House’s breezy dismissal of House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) requests for information on why they let Staff Secretary Rob Porter keep working in spite of knowing about his alleged domestic abuse, House Democrats are demanding that he issue subpoenas and get to the bottom of the issue.

The White House sent a letter to Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking Democrat, refusing to answer Gowdy’s requests for more information. That polite brush-off was first reported by TPM Thursday night. The big question now is whether Gowdy decides to force the issue and hold the White House accountable, or decide to give President Trump and his team a pass as he’d done on a number of past issues.

Cummings points out that Gowdy has been less than tenacious in his earlier oversight of the White House. Even when he’s worked with Cummings to request information on issues including staffers’ use of private email (the same thing Gowdy hammered Hillary Clinton for) and administration officials’ use of private jets, he did nothing when the White House refused to comply.

“Unfortunately, by repeatedly backing down, the committee has now enabled and emboldened the White House to openly defy congressional oversight. In my opinion, the Trump White House — more than any other in recent memory — needs more congressional oversight, not less,” Cummings writes Gowdy in the open letter. “The response last night from the White House is an affront to our responsibilities under the Constitution, and it degrades the integrity of our Committee. It is now clear that the White House will not respond to this Committee unless it is compelled to do so. For these reasons, I ask that you issue a subpoena to obtain the documents requested on February 14 and 15.”

Cummings also points out that while Gowdy initially demanded information from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn on why Porter was allowed to keep working and who in the White House knew what and when after the FBI said White House officials had misled the public by claiming they’d just found out about his alleged misconduct, the chairman has yet to schedule interviews with either man to discuss the issue.

The ball’s in Gowdy’s court on whether he’ll pursue this issue as doggedly as he went after Clinton, or once again drop it. Gowdy’s staff didn’t respond to a request for response to the initial letter from the White House, or follow-ups about Cummings’ requests.

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Democrats are on the verge of a major upset victory deep in Trump country, according to a new bipartisan poll shared first with TPM.

Democrat Conor Lamb leads Republican Rick Saccone by 48 percent to 44 percent in a survey conducted by RABA Research, a bipartisan firm. That would mark a huge upset in a conservative district that stretches from Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016. It would give Democrats their first House special election victory of the Trump era on Tuesday night.

That marks the largest lead for Lamb seen in any public polling so far — but it’s not far from what other public and private polls have found in recent days and weeks on the race, most of which have found a margin-of-error race with Lamb having the momentum. Two other public polls of the race found each candidate with a three-point lead, and Republicans are privately sounding more than a little gloomy about Saccone’s chances on Tuesday.

Trump plans to campaign there on Saturday to try to goose GOP base turnout for Saccone, who has mightily struggled with fundraising and getting his name out there as GOP outside groups have had to pick up the slack with millions of dollars worth of TV ads. But according to the survey, the president is currently unpopular with the district’s most likely voters, with 48 percent of those saying they definitely or probably plan to vote in the race disapproving of his job performance to just 44 percent who approve. Similarly, the poll suggests a lopsided edge for Democratic enthusiasm: Though the district is fairly solidly Republican, 41 percent of those surveyed said they were Democratic and 40 percent identified as Republican.

That could be a sign that the survey’s sample is a touch too Democratic, and that its likely voter screen might be a bit too tight. But it could also be capturing the very real signs of a Democratic wave — a huge disparity in voter enthusiasm from one party to the other.

The poll of 707 interviews was conducted via an automated phone survey and an internet supplement for those who only have cell phones from March 6-8. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The full memo is below.

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The White House is refusing to comply with a request from House Oversight Committee’s Republican chairman for information on how top staffer Rob Porter was allowed to work with an interim security clearance in spite of accusations of domestic abuse.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short sent a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) politely neglecting to cooperate with their demands for information on how and why Porter was allowed to continue to work as White House staff secretary, a senior position, for months after the FBI had informed senior White House staff of allegations of spousal abuse. The letter was obtained by TPM Thursday evening, shortly after the committee received it.

“Consistent with your letters’ requests, we would be pleased to update you and others on the progress of the working group at the appropriate time,” Short writes to Gowdy at the end of the letter after detailing what the White House is doing differently now on security clearance procedures, a courteous way of ignoring Gowdy’s specific requests on what the White House’s procedures were at the time and who knew what when about Porter.

The letter, included below, comes in response to a Feb. 14 letter from Gowdy demanding information on when exactly the White House was informed by the FBI about the “potential derogatory or disqualifying information” found in Porter’s background check. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders falsely claimed that the White House didn’t know of the domestic abuse allegations against Porter until just days before he was fired in February, but FBI Director Christopher Wray testified shortly afterward that the White House had been informed of the allegations multiple times last year. Officials from President Trump and Kelly on down had defended him as allegations from two ex-wives against Porter went public.

Gowdy had demanded in that letter to know when exactly the White House was informed of Porter’s problematic background, which opened him up to potential blackmail. Gowdy also asked who knew of it at what time, and why Porter was allowed to keep his interim security clearance and view highly classified information in spite of the problem. Gowdy also asked for specifics on the White House’s since-overhauled security clearance procedures and whether those procedures had been followed with Porter.

Instead of responding to those requests, Short reiterated what the White House has already publicly said about the new procedures, while ignoring Gowdy’s questions. Gowdy gave the White House two weeks to respond. The non-response comes more than a week after his deadline.

In the wake of the Porter scandal the White House revised its procedures, stripping temporary security clearances from some of the more than 100 White House staff who’d been given them, including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and firing or reassigning some staff because of those changes.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told TPM that “the letter speaks for itself” and encouraged TPM to read Kelly’s public memo outlining the new procedures, declining to explain why the White House had decided against answering Gowdy’s questions and had instead referred Gowdy to the same already-public document.

Gowdy’s letter was the most aggressive he’s been towards the White House since Trump’s inauguration.

It’s unclear how he’ll react. If he so chooses, he could subpoena the information. Gowdy’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about what his next steps would be or what he thought of the White House’s response.

When he sent the original letter in mid-February, Gowdy took the White House to task for its handling of the situation.

“I would want to know from [White House Counsel] Don McGahn and General Kelly and anyone else: What did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it and then what actions, if any, did you take? The chronology is not favorable from the White House,” he told CNN at the time.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” he asked, after saying he was “troubled by almost every aspect” of how the White House had responded.

The original letter Gowdy sent White House Chief of Staff John Kelly:

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Since coming into power last year, the Trump administration has worked to undermine and chip away at the Affordable Care Act, repealing some key provisions and encouraging states to push the envelope on cutting back their Medicaid expansions under Obamacare. But in a letter to Idaho on Thursday, CMS Administrator Seema Verma drew a red line, saying the state cannot move forward with its plan to defy the remaining provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

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Congressional Republicans’ hopes that President Trump would back down from his threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports were dashed Thursday when the President signed an executive order implementing the tariffs and suggested more global trade upheaval in the months to come.

“I’ll have a right to go up or down depending on the country,” he said. “We’re going to be very flexible. We’re going to see who is treating us fairly.”

In response, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sail Thursday that he will soon draft a bill to block the tariffs from taking effect, calling Trump’s move “a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth – protectionism and uncertainty.”

“Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” he said in a statement. “Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed Marie Newman in her bid to unseat Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)  Thursday morning, making him the latest big-name liberal to oppose the conservative Lipinski’s reelection.

“Marie Newman has made it clear that she will be a champion for working families in Illinois, which is why I am proud to support her campaign,” Sanders said in a statement released by Newman’s campaign, touting her support for universal Medicare, a $15 minimum wage, legal abortion, gay rights and undocumented immigrant rights. “I am proud to stand with Marie and look forward to continuing to fight alongside her on these and other critical issues once she’s elected to Congress.”

Sanders joins Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in backing Newman, who is giving Lipinski his toughest challenge of his 14-year career and looks like she has a good shot at defeating him in their March 20 primary.

She’s also had huge help from an array of national liberal groups irate at Lipinski for bucking Democrats on key issues from Obamacare to immigration to abortion to gay rights in his decade-plus in Congress, even though he represents a safely Democratic district. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, the SEIU, the Human Rights Campaign and are all supporting Newman in the race.

Sanders won Lipinski’s district, which stretches from Chicago’s South Side into its southwestern suburbs, by 8 points in the 2016 Democratic primary. Lipinksi actually endorsed him afterwards and backed him at the Democratic National Convention, but their voting records have little in common except for a shared opposition to big trade deals.

A poll released by NARAL earlier this week found Lipinski clinging to a two-point lead over Newman in a race where he’d started out with a huge advantage.

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Joseph Hunt, the current chief of staff for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is up for confirmation to be Assistant Attorney General running the Civil Division. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats grilled Hunt on his role in a number of scandals from the past year, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation.

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President Trump’s seeming declaration of a protectionist trade war, which already has ally nations threatening retaliation, has Republicans on Capitol Hill in a sweat.

But while some are agitating for the passage of a bill that would curtail the White House’s power on trade, others say the caucus lacks the political will to openly defy the President. Instead, most GOP lawmakers are urging their pro-free trade allies in the administration to coax Trump back from the ledge, and are crossing their fingers that the famously flexible President changes his mind so no action on their part is necessary.

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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Tuesday found that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act during two separate television interviews about the Alabama special election last year.

In two cable news interviews late last year, Conway either advocated for Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones to lose or for Republican Roy Moore to win, even though the Hatch Act prohibits federal officials from engaging in political activity, the OSC found.

During a Nov. 20 appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Conway charged that voting for Jones is “a vote against tax cuts.” Asked if people should vote for Moore, Conway followed up by saying, “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

Then on Dec. 6, Conway again offered reasons not to vote for Jones in a CNN interview, describing him as a “liberal Democrat” and warning that he would against tax cuts, border security, and the Second Amendment.

The OSC found that Conway used her official title as counselor to the president — which was noted in the chyron for both interviews — to engage in political activity in both interviews, which violates the Hatch Act.

The finding from the OSC notes that during the “Fox and Friends” interview, Conway brought up Jones on her own when asked about tax reform.

“Ms. Conway’s introduction of Doug Jones into the interview was unprompted, unresponsive to the question asked by the Fox & Friends host, and surprising given that she knew the four identified interview topics did not include Doug Jones, Roy Moore, or the Alabama special election. Her intentional partisan jabs against Doug Jones were made in her official capacity and meant to persuade voters” on the race, per the OSC.

OSC noted that Conway should have been well aware of the Hatch Act’s limitations and listed several trainings and memos Conway received on the matter before the interviews took place. White House Counsel Don McGahn also approached Conway on Nov. 20 after the “Fox and Friends” interview about Hatch Act concerns raised by the interview and gave her additional guidance. McGahn sent another warning to several White House employees on Dec. 4 reminding them about the Hatch Act, according to the OSC.

OSC referred Conway’s violations to President Donald Trump, and it is up to him whether Conway should be disciplined.

Conway’s comments during the Alabama special election were not the first time she got into hot water for her comments in a television interview. In February 2017, the Office of Government Ethics called on the White House to look into whether Conway’s comments promoting Ivanka Trump’s fashion line on Fox News violated ethics rules.

The White House on Tuesday dismissed the finding from OSC and claimed that Conway did not actually violate the Hatch Act.

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