In it, but not of it. TPM DC

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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With the deadline to pass an omnibus budget bill to fund the federal government just a few weeks away, Congress is considering a rescue package for Obamacare’s troubled individual market, including funding for stabilization measures aimed at bringing down rising insurance premiums.

Lawmakers pushing the effort—begun back in the summer and fall of 2017—are hoping to counteract the damage to the individual market caused by a string of Trump administration moves, from terminating cost-sharing reduction payments for  insurance companies to defunding open enrollment outreach to encouraging the proliferation of cheap, skimpy, off-market health plans.

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President Donald Trump’s off-script comments on gun control at Wednesday’s wild, televised meeting have Republicans in a sweat, but they’re making Democrats cautiously optimistic. In the wake of Trump signaling support for an array of gun control measures and promising to stand up to the National Rifle Association, Democrats and some Republicans are rushing to introduce a slew of bills and nail down his support before the famously mercurial president changes his mind.

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A new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds the highest ever public approval rating for the Affordable Care Act since the organization began asking the question in 2010. According to the survey, 54 percent of the public view the embattled law favorably, while 42 percent hold an unfavorable view. The major shift in public approval for the ACA since Trump took office and set about chipping away at the law has mostly been driven by independents, 55 percent of whom currently approve of Obamacare.

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Hope Hicks’ resignation as White House communications director has been brewing for a while as the longtime aide to President Donald Trump grew tired and stressed by her prominent role in the administration, according to several reports out Wednesday.

The announcement that Hicks would leave the White House in the coming weeks directly followed her testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that she sometimes tells “white lies” for the President, but multiple reports indicate that those comments were not the sole impetus for her resignation.

Both CBS News and CNN reported that Trump was angry with Hicks for acknowledging the white lies and that he made that known to his communications director, though the White House denied the CNN report that Trump berated Hicks over her testimony.

However, previous scandals and general White House turmoil led Hicks to her decision to resign before that testimony.

Hicks was swept up in the White House scandal surrounding Rob Porter, the former aide who remained in the administration despite trouble with his security clearance due to accusations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives. Hicks was reportedly dating Porter when the allegations became public, prompting scrutiny over her role in the White House’s initial effort to back Porter. Hicks felt pressure from the attention she garnered during the scandal, according to New York magazine and CBS News.

A friend of Hicks told Politico that Hicks was prompted to leave due to the stress of the job, the Russia investigation and the Porter scandal.

“This was a case of, ‘I’m done. Physically. Emotionally. Just drained,’” the friend told Politico. “Three years in that kind of environment is a lifetime.”

Though it seems the Porter scandal played a role in Hicks’ departure, she was discussing plans to leave before then, according to NBC News.

If she had stayed on, Hicks would have continued without one of her closest allies in the White House, Josh Raffel, who will leave his role as deputy communications director soon as well. Raffel’s departure, as well as the apparent diminished roles of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may have contributed to Hicks’ decision as well.

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In a freewheeling, televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday, President Trump endorsed several gun control policies, including raising the minimum age for assault weapons purchases, strengthening background checks, and confiscating firearms from people who may be mentally ill or dangerous.

“I like taking the guns early,” he said, making the Republican lawmakers in the room visibly uncomfortable. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

When they returned to Capitol Hill from the meeting, Republican senators expressed outrage and anxiety about that remark.

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Firebrand Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) officially launched his uphill campaign against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) on Wednesday, blasting the senator as a fake conservative as he unveiled his second Senate bid.

The controversial lawmaker nearly defeated Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago in a Tea Party-fueled primary, and still maintains the was stolen from him — “It was four years ago but we still remember Mississippi, don’t we?” he said almost immediately after taking the stage on Wednesday.

Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office because of his declining health. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor.

But Wicker is no Cochran – and 2018 isn’t 2014. The senator is much sharper than his aging colleague, has a huge campaign war chest, is fresh off helming the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle, and doesn’t have as many policy openings for McDaniel to attack him on as Cochran did.

And unlike in 2014, when McDaniel could claim mostly unified support from the hard right, Wicker has an endorsement from President Trump — and can easily point to McDaniel’s multiple criticisms of Trump as “thin skinned” and not a “constitutional conservative” during the 2016 primary.

McDaniel peppered his speech with right-wing grievance politics, warning that Washington elites “look down on us, and they mock us,” excoriating Wicker for calling for Mississippi to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag, and accusing him of voting to fund Planned Parenthood (he’s long voted against federal funding for the organization).

And he nodded to Trump’s endorsement, pointing out the president also recently backed Mitt Romney and one of Jeb Bush’s sons while arguing that he needed more conservatives so he wouldn’t have to cut as many deals.

“Thank god for President Trump, he’s made Roger Wicker a conservative for about three weeks,” he joked.

But while Trump’s endorsement may not be enough alone to boost Wicker to a win — it certainly wasn’t for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — McDaniel’s earlier criticisms of the president could do him much as they did in Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who also lost that Alabama primary.

“Well, it’s all downhill from there,” McDaniel joked as he took the stage in Ellisville, Mississippi on Wednesday to roars from his die-hard supporters.

It just might be.


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Once again, following yet another mass shooting, members of Congress are meeting with survivors and introducing a flurry of bills aimed at combating gun violence. But while some lawmakers insist that it’s a “new day” on Capitol Hill, citing the activism of the Stoneman Douglass High School students that has galvanized the country, others predict that this push will end like those after gun massacres in Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and the Pulse nightclub—with inaction.

Even as Delta Airlines and a host of other major corporations distance themselves from the NRA, and Dick’s Sporting Goods moves to end sales of assault rifles in their stores nationwide, some lawmakers are hesitant to take action and others cannot agree on a path forward.

Complicating Congress’ already entrenched resistance to gun control legislation is a mercurial President, who one days calls for standing up to the NRA and the next walks back his support for gun control bills, and a familiar struggle between Democrats and Republicans about how to begin the debate. Meanwhile, several Republican lawmakers remain staunchly opposed to even the most modest policy changes.

Asked if he saw any appetite among his colleagues for passing a gun-related bill in the coming weeks, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told TPM flatly, “No, I don’t.”

Some supporters of gun control were equally pessimistic. Asked if he’s seeing any change in his colleagues’ resistance to passing new restrictions, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sighed and responded: “Not yet.”

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Democrat Conor Lamb has raised an impressive $3.2 million since the beginning of 2018 in his upstart bid to win a heavily Republican House seat outside of Pittsburgh, he announced Tuesday.

That’s the type of fundraising haul House Democratic candidates could only dream about in past years, and explains how he’s been able to keep close in his bid to win a seat left vacant when scandal-plagued Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) resigned last year.

The haul isn’t much compared to the whopping $23.6 million John Ossoff raised in his failed bid for Georgia’s Sixth District, the most ever raised by a House candidate by a wide margin, or the $22 million Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) brought in during his eight-month campaign to defeat former Judge Roy Moore. But it’s more than enough to keep him in the game even as GOP outside groups deluge the district with ads and national Democrats mostly steer clear of public help for his bid.

Lamb has been almost even with Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) in most recent public and private polls shared with TPM, and has a real shot at pulling off Democrats’ first big House special election upset of the Trump era in two weeks.

While the biggest problem for Republicans is how revved up the Democratic base is right now, Republicans also privately admit that Democrats simply have the better candidate. Lamb has an impressive personal biography, and Saccone has badly struggled to raise enough money for the campaign. President Trump’s own numbers aren’t that bad in a district he carried by 20 points — which is why Saccone has been bear-hugging the president in the race. But a loss in this race would be a blow to Republicans, and a sign that their somewhat revived hopes of avoiding a 2018 campaign bloodbath based on some marginally better poll numbers since the new year may not be so well-founded.

While Republican outside groups have spent millions to tear down Lamb, because candidates get TV advertising at much lower cost the candidates’ own fundraising matters greatly. As the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter points out, even though Lamb and his allies have been badly outspent by Saccone and his allies, Lamb’s own ads have been on the air a lot more than Saccone’s — and he’s been able to hang in there in total fundraising.

Both candidates are expected to get a big boost in the coming days from outside support. Trump is looking to reschedule a campaign rally for Saccone before the election that he canceled in the wake of the recent Florida school shooting, while former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be in town for Lamb next week.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday issued a bipartisan request to White House Counsel Don McGahn and FBI Director Chris Wray for more information on how the Trump administration is handling the process for requesting security clearances.

The letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) comes after reports that some 100 White House staffers, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were working on interim clearances as of November 2017.

“If true, this raises significant concerns that ineligible individuals, who hold positions of public trust, may have access to sensitive or classified information,” the letter reads.

The senators request information, by March 13, on the total number of those working on interim clearances, what sensitive or classified information they have access to, and the exact circumstances surrounding the clearance for fired White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, among other topics.

The Porter debacle prompted renewed scrutiny of the current White House’s processes. Porter was permitted to operate under an interim clearance while the FBI probed well-documented allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. White House officials including McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly were reportedly both aware of the allegations against Porter, and that they were holding up his full clearance.

The situation raised concerns that Porter could have had access to classified information without a full security clearance, potentially endangering national security.

Kelly has since proposed denying or revoking top clearances for any aide whose background check has been pending since last June or earlier. President Trump said it was up to Kelly to decide if Kushner, who fits that description, would have his interim clearance waived or revoked.

The House Oversight Committee is separately conducting an investigation into how Porter managed to keep working under a clearance despite the abuse allegations.

Read the Judiciary Committee’s full letter below:

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