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Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other Republicans are downplaying their shocking loss in a deep-red Pennsylvania House district while insisting they continue to see their tax overhaul as a major winning message next fall. But their closing ads in the race — and others — suggest they’re a lot more likely to revert to culture war issues to try to save the House and win other tough races this fall.
Ryan urged his colleagues to keep selling tax reform on the campaign trail in a closed-door meeting Wednesday after their disastrous apparent loss in a heavily Republican Pennsylvania House district (there will likely be a recount), while waving off the race’s result as a fight between “two conservatives” that wouldn’t be replicated elsewhere and ignoring Democrat Conor Lamb’s attacks on the tax plan.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, spent millions on ads blasting Lamb for opposing the tax plan early on in the race. But the group and the National Republican Congressional Committee moved on from those ads in the race’s final weeks as Lamb gained steam, pivoting to attacks on hot-button social issues like immigration and sanctuary cities, like this one:
That follows a pattern displayed in nearly every other election over the past year: When Republicans actually bet big on closing campaign ads they keep reverting to the culture wars to try to rev up their listless base.
Republicans followed a similar playbook in the special election to fill Montana’s sole House seat last year, hammering the Democratic candidate for wanting to “grab your guns” while touting the National Rifle Association’s support for now-Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT). While they did that, Gianforte refused to say where he was on Obamacare repeal – and even attacked a reporter who dared push him on the issue.
While few GOP groups were on the air for Roy Moore at the end, the pro-Trump super-PAC running ads on his behalf hammered now-Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) for his pro-choice views.
That strategy has held true even in more suburban territory, most notably in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last year. Ed Gillespie, once a paragon of big-tent conservatism and advocate of immigration reform, pivoted from early ads talking about tax cuts to brutal spots focused on MS-13 and sanctuary cities.
Republicans took a slightly different approach in the tony Atlanta suburbs to get now-Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) across the finish line, attacking Democrat Jon Ossoff as a tax-and-spend liberal who was weak on the military. But one of their key attacks in that race, as in all other House races including Pennsylvania’s, has been tying him to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), where the emphasis has been much more about the coded “San Francisco liberal” than any particular policy gripe. Attacks on Pelosi remain a staple of any House GOP ad campaign, strategists are happy to acknowledge– and even some early Senate ads have featured Pelosi.
They tried that red-meat strategy even in the gubernatorial race in Democratic-leaning New Jersey:
The strategy has shown mixed results. But it’s likely to pop up in force especially in Senate contests, many of which are in more culturally conservative populist states like Missouri and West Virginia. It’s unclear how effective it will be in saving House members in swing and suburban territory, however, where Republicans might be forced to look to other strategies.
Pennsylvania was the first major election since the tax plan passed, giving Republicans a chance to push hard on an issue that had been a mere abstraction in the past. They argue that while the law remains unpopular overall, it’s improved its standing since it first passed late last year.
The CLF says its own polling found 50 percent of voters in the Pennsylvania district supported the law as of the beginning of March, after their ads ran, with just 35 percent opposing it. But they didn’t provide any data showing that it was a major motivator in the race – and the 15-point edge they say they have on that race isn’t as large as the 20-point margin Trump managed in the district in 2016, and nowhere near the huge disapproval rating for Pelosi the group found in the district. National polling suggests the law has become more popular, but is still underwater.
“The most important thing for the midterms is does the middle class think we cut their taxes? We’ve made progress selling the tax plan based on the progress I’ve seen since December but there’s still more work yet to be done,” CLF head Corry Bliss told TPM.
The GOP’s promise to run on the law sounds rather familiar to Democrats’ guarantee they’d run on Obamacare in 2010, which was polling at similar levels then to the tax law now, before largely abandoning it in a number of races ahead of their electoral shellacking.
Bliss promised: “You’re going to be seeing tax ads all across the country this fall.”
He may be telling the truth – Republicans need to tout their sole major legislative achievement and hope it pays some dividends. But Pennsylvania’s results prove that it’s far from a fix-it for the GOP’s political problems, and their actual ad spending suggests nervous strategists are likely to fall back more on Trump-like culture war attacks as they try to boost their base in a brutal electoral environment.
Controversial Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is abandoning a primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and instead launching a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), he announced Wednesday evening, giving him an easier path to the U.S. Senate.
“By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats’ chances of winning the open seat,” McDaniel said in a statement. “If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him.”
That switch comes after months of internal debate from McDaniel, who delayed filing for the Wicker race for as long as he could as he waited on Cochran, before eventually jumping in a few weeks ago. Cochran announced shortly afterwards that he’d retire, creating a much easier opening for McDaniel, who lost a close and nasty primary to Cochran in 2014.
Cochran will resign on April 1, and Mississippi Gov. Phi Bryant (R) has said he’ll start considering a replacement after that. McDaniel’s allies have pushed to have him named to the seat, something Bryant is loath to do.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump have both encouraged Bryant to appoint himself, but sources say he’s not thrilled with the idea. Whoever Bryant does pick is likely to have their hands full with McDaniel, who has a rabid Tea Party following in the state – though McDaniel’s criticisms of Trump during the 2016 GOP primary give opponents fodder to attack him.
This story was originally posted at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday and has since been updated.
Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory as he clung to a slim lead over Republican Rick Saccone in the race for an open House seat in heavily conservative southwestern Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, as the election’s results sent a chill down the spines of Republicans bracing for the 2018 midterms.
Lamb led Saccone by just 579 votes out of more than 220,000 cast with all precincts reporting shortly before midnight EST. The Associated Press has yet to call the race, as absentee ballots in some portions of the district have yet to be counted, and Saccone suggested he might be ready for a recount challenge.
After a series of close calls in GOP-leaning districts last year, Democrats may have flipped their first House district of the Trump era.
The essentially tied race comes in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016 and President Barack Obama lost by double-digit margins in both of his elections.
“It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it,” Lamb told his supporters around 1 a.m. EST.
That victory lap may be premature, but the huge shift in the district toward Democrats is the much bigger news than who wins the seat, especially after a series of huge gains in other special elections over the last year-plus.
While GOP strategists sought to spin the close race away, some admitted that Tuesday night’s results were alarming no matter which candidate prevailed.
“Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP,” former Republican National Committee Communications Director Doug Heye tweeted. “Look for more retirements to come.”
Regardless of who ultimately wins, this is not a good result for the GOP. Look for more retirements to come.
Republicans have long argued that Saccone was a flop of a candidate, and they’re right, but that only partly explains of the election’s photo finish. Saccone struggled mightily with fundraising, had a highly antagonistic relationship with unions – a real problem in the labor-heavy district – and proved to be far less charismatic than Lamb, a fresh-faced former Marine. But Saccone was no Roy Moore, and in a normal political environment even a lackluster candidate should have been able to win with little problem.
Tuesday night’s result is the latest sign of a building Democratic wave, and suggests it may not be limited solely to suburban areas. While Pennsylvania’s 18th district contains a good chunk of better-educated Pittsburgh suburbs, much of it covers blue-collar and more exurban territory, it’s overwhelmingly white, and though it’s ancestrally Democratic, Republicans have won there for decades. The rural and poorer portions of the district did not shift as dramatically toward Lamb as the more educated areas, but he showed marked improvement compared to Hillary Clinton’s performance in the district in 2016.
If Democrats can keep fighting to a draw in districts like this, they can win in plenty of places where Republicans were all but guaranteed victories in past years, as there are 119 GOP-held House seats that are more Democratic than this one.
Lamb was a strong candidate with an impressive resume who helped himself by breaking with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But Democrats won’t need the same type of lopsided edge in candidate quality to win in easier districts this fall, as evidenced by the more than three dozen state legislative seats they’ve flipped in the last year-plus, their upset win in Alabama’s Senate race, surprisingly strong margins of victory in gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey last year and an overall shift in most elections’ margins towards the party in House elections they’ve lost in red districts.
The Democratic Congressional Committee took a premature victory lap, congratulating Lamb on his “incredible victory” shortly before midnight.
“These results should terrify Republicans,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) said in the statement.
But Saccone wasn’t ready to concede, telling supporters around the same time that “We’re going to fight all the way into the end.”
“This race is too close to call and we’re ready to ensure that every legal vote is counted. Once they are, we’re confident Rick Saccone will be the newest Republican member of Congress,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Matt Gorman.
Republicans did all they could to stave off a loss in the district. President Trump visited twice, campaigning for Saccone as recently as Saturday, and a bevy of administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence and adviser Kellyanne Conway swung by to help him as well. The NRCC, the Congressional Leadership Fund super-PAC and other GOP groups combined to spend more than $10 million on the race. But their efforts appear to have fallen just short.
Compounding Republicans’ concerns: The CLF spent millions on TV ads to try to make Lamb pay for his opposition to the GOP tax overhaul, testing a line of attack they’d been planning to make a major part of their 2018 argument. Those ads didn’t seem to move the needle much, as the group moved onto more culture war-focused attacks in the race’s final two weeks as they looked to dent Lamb’s tough-on-crime reputation.
National Democrats largely worked to keep their help below the radar, with the exception of a visit from former Vice President Joe Biden.
The huge effort from both parties comes even though this district won’t exist after this year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a new congressional map for the November election, and Lamb is expected to run against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) in a new district that leans a bit Republican but not nearly as heavily as the one Lamb just won, while Saccone may run in a new more conservative district that overlaps with much of the current one. The deadline for filing for the 2018 fall elections is just a week away in Pennsylvania, so both candidates may have to file for the next race before they know for sure who will be heading to Congress for the next nine months.
Polls have officially closed in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested House election, a race that’s drawn more than $10 million in Republican spending and two visits from President Trump in the hopes of staving off an embarrassing defeat.
Democrat Conor Lamb, a former Marine and prosecutor, has run a strong race against Republican Rick Saccone. Expect a close result, as recent public and private polling have found a tight contest, but strategists in both parties both privately expect Lamb to win.
That would be a stunning result. Trump carried the blue-collar district, which stretches from suburban Pittsburgh to the West Virginia border, by a 20-point margin in 2016, and President Obama lost it twice by double digits.
A Lamb victory would give Democrats their first House special election pickup of the Trump era, and be the latest warning sign of a building Democratic wave for the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats have picked up more than three dozen statehouse seats across the country, pulled off a shocking upset against the deeply flawed Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race, and ran up the margins in gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia late last year.
Trump’s approval rating is at about even in the district – a warning sign in and of itself given his big win there less than two years ago. While the district does contain some of the type of suburban territory that’s trended hard against the president, it also has broad swaths of deep-red, more populist rural area, a sign that Democrats are bouncing back in all types of districts. And while Saccone ran a lackluster campaign, it shouldn’t matter in such deep red territory.
A close Saccone win would be a temporary relief for Republicans and provide them with their latest House special election win, but still a warning sign of what may be to come since this race shouldn’t have been competitive in the first place. But if Lamb wins, as is widely expected, Republicans’ alarm over the upcoming midterms will only escalate.
Democrat Conor Lamb has a 6-point lead over Republican Rick Saccone on the eve of a key House special election, according to a new survey from Monmouth University.
Lamb has a 51 percent to 45 percent edge over Saccone in the poll from the reputable pollster. That’s his largest lead in any public survey since the race’s start – though it’s not far off from other recent polling released in the race ahead of Tuesday’s election, both public and private.
Republicans are bracing for a possible loss in the heavily populist-conservative district near Pittsburgh, which President Trump won by 20 points last election and where he stumped for Saccone on Saturday. A loss there would further GOP alarm about its 2018 prospects, especially after Republican groups spent more than $10 million trying to drag Saccone over the finish line.
The poll also found that Trump’s new steel tariffs aren’t doing much to help in the steel-heavy district, possibly partly because Lamb also supports them: Just 3 percent of likely voters said they moved to Saccone in recent days because of the tariffs. It’s the latest sign that major Republican arguments for the election are struggling to gain a toehold even in conservative districts.
House Democrats are hopeful they can pull of their first major special election upset on Tuesday, steal a heavily Republican blue-collar seat and deepen the GOP’s sense of dread over the upcoming midterm elections.
Democrats and Republicans involved in the race agree on a few things. State Rep. Rick Saccone (R) has run a lackluster campaign. Democrat Conor Lamb has proven to be a stellar candidate. Liberals’ fury at President Trump is so strong that even in a blue-collar district he won by 20 points his support for Saccone is a two-edged sword. And the race couldn’t be tighter, a warning sign for the GOP no matter who wins given the deeply populist-conservative nature of Pittsburgh’s suburbs and exurbs.
“Conor Lamb has made it very close, and that’s rather remarkable when you consider the district,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM. “Conor’s been a great candidate and candidates matter, but this does indicate that we can be competitive in states and districts that maybe a year ago or 18 months ago we’d never considered.”
Republicans privately agree, even as they look to pin the blame mostly on Saccone and downplay what it would mean to lose a deep red, culturally conservative district after a brutal loss in an Alabama Senate race late last year, a beat-down in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, dozens of losses of state legislative seats and a number of close calls in House special elections.
“We’re very concerned about this race,” one national Republican involved in the campaign told TPM. “The enthusiasm’s certainly there for Democrats. We’ve seen that in pretty much every race. That said, this is more an issue of a mediocre candidate, and mediocre is a kind way to describe him, versus a very good candidate.”
Public and private polls from both parties have found a margin-of-error race with the wind behind Lamb, who was down a few points in multiple surveys late last month. As Democrats’ hopes build, Republicans have been increasingly vocal about their frustrations with Saccone, a deeply flawed candidate who has paled in comparison to Lamb both in retail political skill and fundraising ability.
While the telegenic young Lamb has impressed even Republicans with his disciplined campaign, and calculated splits with the national Democratic Party, Republicans have blasted Saccone for weak fundraising, an inability to tell his own story as a veteran, his deep hostility to unions in a union-heavy district, and past mistakes like telling a mother whose kid had died of opioid abuse that addiction was a “family responsibility” and it’s not taxpayers’ responsibility to help, a brutal remark in a district where opioids are a serious problem.
Lamb’s huge fundraising numbers have allowed him to spend more than $3 million on TV ads touting his impressive biography as a former Marine and prosecutor, tout his Second Amendment support (even as he backs universal background checks) and promise to support new Democratic leadership and not House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), diffusing millions of dollars of GOP attacks tying him to her. Saccone hasn’t reached $1 million in TV, leaving it to outside groups to define him, and while national Republicans realized early on Saccone would be a problem and have spent roughly $10 million to tear down Lamb and boost Saccone they admit not much has worked in the race.
In a sign of growing concern, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP’s main House super-PAC, have pivoted away from their early attacks tying Lamb to Pelosi and blasting him for opposing the Republican tax overhaul, key elements of their 2018 battle plan. Their closing spots have been culture war attacks on sanctuary cities and accusing him of being soft on crime based on misleading attacks on his record as a prosecutor, though Pelosi remains an element of their attacks.
“With all the millions the’ve spent, they’re not anywhere near where they thought they’d be. They’re just dumping in more money because they don’t know what else to do,” United Steelworkers Political Director Tim Waters, whose union backs Lamb, told TPM.
Waters was in Alabama for now-Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) shocking win late last year, and said he’d rarely seen Democratic enthusiasm that strong for a down-ticket race — until Lamb came along.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) refused to weigh in on whose fault it is that the race is so close.
“I’m focused on winning, I’m not going to talk about blame,” he told reporters last week. “I’m not going to do any Wednesday morning quarterbacking until Wednesday.”
The White House also recognizes the threat of losing a seat Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) won with ease for years until an embarrassing sex scandal forced him from office.
Trump stumped alongside Saccone on Saturday, blasting “Lamb the sham” and pushing for support of Saccone because “the world is watching.” But he barely mentioned the candidate he was ostensibly there to back, instead spending most of his speech attacking his own possible 2020 opponents and the media, discussing North Korea and unveiling his 2020 slogan (“Keep America great”) and touting his new steel tariffs, a policy that plays well in the district and both Lamb and Saccone support. The White House has also dispatched Vice President Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump Jr. to stump in the district.
While Lamb has intentionally kept the national party at arm’s length, he welcomed Vice President Joe Biden into the district last week, who compared Lamb’s call to serve to his own late son’s, Beau.
All this effort comes as the candidates battle for a district that almost certainly won’t exist after this year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the map, and Lamb is likely to run next fall against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) in a much less conservative district than the gerrymandered one he’s currently trying to win.
“It’s just amazing that both people are running for a [district] that’s going to last for a few months and then they’ve got to run again and not even against each other,” Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) told TPM.
And while other national Republicans want to blame Saccone for most of the mess, they concede that the perfect storm has hit — and may blow over other candidates even in seemingly safe seats if they’re not prepared next fall.
“It’s no secret 2018 is going to be a challenging year and quality candidates and quality campaigns matter,” said Congressional Leadership Fund spokeswoman Courtney Alexander.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is none too pleased that the White House brushed off his requests for information on who knew what when in regards to the allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter by two of his ex-wives.
White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short blew off Gowdy’s pointed questions as well as the deadline he’d given for answers, responding in a letter received by the committee yesterday and first reported by TPM by repeating what the White House had said more than three weeks ago.
Gowdy’s staff fired back at White House officials for ignoring the chairman’s questions on why Porter was allowed to continue to work and to keep his access to highly classified information long after they knew of the allegations of spousal abuse, and why they falsely claimed they didn’t know until shortly before he was fired in February and what procedures for allowing temporary security clearances had been in the White House at the time.
“The Committee is in receipt of Mr. Short’s letter to the Committee dated March 8, 2018, including the memo made public on February 16, 2018. The Chairman finds the White House’s response inadequate, and we have communicated to the White House that we expect full compliance,” Oversight Committee spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez emailed to TPM Friday evening. “We are in the process of scheduling a meeting between Chairman Gowdy and the White House to discuss next steps.”
The response suggests Gowdy is not ready to give up on this endeavor after letting the White House skate on some other major areas of concern. But it falls far short of Democrats’ demands that he subpoena the information the White House is refusing to provide, as well as call in White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn to explain what they knew and when. It’s unclear whether Gowdy would be willing to do so if the White House continues to stonewall him.
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.
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 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: