FOX News Halftime Report
July 31, 2017
By Chris Stirewalt 

On the roster: Trump learns a lesson from The Mooch – Trump threatens to use his pen to slash coverage – All is well! Trump insists ‘no chaos’ at White House – Putin pushes back on sanctions before Trump signs – Everything must go!

One of the main questions of the still-young Trump presidency has been whether it would be Donald Trump who adjusted to Washington, or Washington that adjusted to Trump.

We may have gotten something of an answer on that today with the ouster of the mercurial Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, just 10-days after he kicked in the door at the White House. 

After a big dose of “let Trump be Trump”-ism with the investiture of Scaramucci and his continued presence after an ignominious interview, we suddenly see Trump tacking away from the storm and toward the calmer waters of convention. 

We know that these propositions are never really either/or. All successful presidencies change the way politics work in the nation’s capital, but every chief executive who succeeds learns the ways of the swamp.

When Bill Clinton came to town in 1993, he was hopeless. He and his Arkansas-dominated team stumbled and bumbled their way through the first year. 

Only when Clinton wised up to the ways of Washington – as embodied in the elevation of Democratic insider Leon Panetta to White House chief of staff – did his administration start to succeed.

But, of course, Clinton changed Washington too. His “triangulation” approach of stealing his opponents’ most popular ideas, even while maintaining a partisanship red in tooth and claw, changed the way the city did business. He also revolutionized the “rapid response” communications approach, the tyranny of which we all live under to this day.

Trump’s elevation of a military version of an old Washington hand in John Kelly to chief of staff may mark the beginning of a shift. Prior to the past week, all Washington seemed to have done to Trump is to have made him more irritable and maybe even a little paranoid.

And because Trump has been so slow to learn, he hasn’t done much in the way of changing Washington, which was, after all, his central campaign promise. 

On that point, consider the response from the Department of Defense to Trump’s tweets last week that seemed to declare not just that the military would kick out transgender service members.

The response, more or less, was to ignore what Trump said. The White House has long wrestled with whether or not the President’s social media feeds reflect official positions of the administration. The Pentagon has reached its own conclusion on the subject: They don’t.

Similarly, as Trump threatened to use executive authority to cut off health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans and maybe even members of Congress themselves, the response from members of Congress and even the secretary of Health and Human Services was pretty much a collective shrug.

And it’s not just Twitter, either. 

Trump sent a harsh threat to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, via Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke apparently told Murkowski and her home-state colleague Sen. Dan Sullivanthat if Murkowski opposed the enfeebled health insurance legislation in the Senate, the President would bring a regulatory crackdown on the 49th state, endangering energy sector jobs. 

She voted against it anyway, and so far, no word of any pipeline closures from the North Slope. 

We have heard for months about how Trump and his team were prepared to mount brutal primary challenges to vulnerable members who opposed the President’s agenda. But the only time that seemingly materialized was a brief effort to rough up Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a gambit quickly abandoned. 

In a conventional political atmosphere, one would attribute the increasing dismissiveness with which Washington is treating Trump as a reflection of the president’s saggy poll numbers. But Trump’s approval ratings have never been exactly taut.

In Trump’s case, it seems to be that more and more people are taking him neither seriously nor literally. 

With the exception of firing James Comey, which has proved to be a colossal error in execution that will haunt this administration perhaps to its closing day, Trump hasn’t been nearly as shocking as many assumed he would be. He is loud, yes. He is impolitic, yes. But he is not, so far at least, some massive agent of change or disruption. 

What Washington seems to be doing in response to Trump, increasingly, is just muting @realDonaldTrump and then waiting to see what actual policies descend from his administration. 

Bringing Kelly into the West Wing might be the start of Trump getting serious about learning enough about Washington to change the way it works. Certainly allowing Kelly to dump the brash financier Scaramucci is a substantial down payment on the idea that the president is learning. 

And it comes none too soon for him and his agenda. Everyone in town knows that if Trump remains unchanged, he will never change Washington and instead, Republicans, Democrats and the broad bureaucracy will increasingly tune him out.

“To depend upon a government that must itself depend upon thirteen other governments for the means of fulfilling its contracts, when once its situation is clearly understood, would require a degree of credulity not often to be met with in the pecuniary transactions of mankind, and little reconcilable with the usual sharp-sightedness of avarice.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 30

Garden & Gun: “On August 21, 1955 on a farm outside the otherwise unassuming town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a family purportedly encountered about fifteen ‘little green men’ that had just emerged from a UFO. The story quickly became legend, even inspiring early concepts for Steven Spielberg’s classic film E.T. Sixty-two years later to the day, Hopkinsville will once again be at the center of a major celestial event. On Monday, August 21, during what has been dubbed the Great American Solar Eclipse, Hopkinsville will be the point of greatest eclipse, where the moon’s axis passes closest to earth when the eclipse reaches totality at 1:24 p.m. CT. … For the occasion, the community has nicknamed itself ‘Eclipseville’ and is hosting… weekend events like a downtown music festival, a celebration at the birthplace of Jefferson Davis, and the opportunity to scuba dive in a rock quarry during the two minutes and forty seconds of total darkness…”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -17 points
Change from one week ago: unchanged

Washington Times: “Dozens of U.S. counties might not have any plans to choose from on Obamacare’s insurance exchanges next year while consumers with options face double-digit rate increases in many places — putting Congress to choose among bipartisan fixes to the program, doubling down on repeal or following President Donald Trump’s advice to ‘let it implode.’ The stunning collapse of Republican efforts to scrap President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul left its linchpin exchanges intact but limping toward an uncertain future, the result of problems with the 2010 law itself and the White House’s wavering commitment to the law’s core mechanisms. For now, the Trump administration is on the warpath, hinting again Sunday that it might pull back on enforcing Obamacare’s linchpin: the individual mandate that people buy health insurance or pay a fine.”

Price: Trump won’t let ObamaCare ‘implode’ – ABC News: “Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price would not concede that President Trump intends to let ‘Obamacare implode,’ despite Trump’s promise to do just that. ‘The president’s passion about this is that he understands that this system may be working for Washington. It may be working for insurance companies. But it’s not working for patients. And that’s where his passion is,’ Price told ABC News’ ‘This Week’ co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday.” 

Republicans reject Trump’s strategy – WashEx: “Republicans in Congress are rejecting President Trump’s call to let Obamacare ‘implode’ after the Senate failed to advance legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Senate Republicans said hours their failed vote that they should continue to work on health care reform, although they disagreed on a way forward and had no immediate plans to act. House Republicans, having passed legislation to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act in the spring said flatly that Trump’s off-again, on-again recommendation that he might deliberately let the law crash to put pressure on Congress to respond is unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated by their voters. 

Can tax cuts avoid fate of health law repeal? – WashTimes: “After their health care bill collapsed in spectacular fashion last week, Republican congressional leaders insist they won’t make the same mistakes with tax reform, the other big-ticket promise they made to voters, and to which they will turn next. But there are enough similarities between the two issues that lawmakers are worried. Republicans go into the debate with only vague principles, have struggled to pique Democrats’ interest and have received conflicting signals from the White House about priorities. Still searching for their first major legislative win under President Trump, Republican leaders said they have to surmount those problems and deliver reform.”

Dems see path to single payer through new GOP tactics – WaPo: “For many younger Democrats and activists, the Republicans’ near miss on repeal demonstrated boldness from which a future left-wing majority could learn. … Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a freshman who favors universal Medicare coverage, said that Republicans have rewritten the playbook. ‘When we do have a Democratic president, and when we do have a Democratic majority, I’d support getting this through with 51 votes in the Senate,’ said Khanna of a universal coverage, single-payer plan.”

Can the system even be saved? – NYT: “The politics are exceedingly tricky in a divided and dysfunctional Washington, but economists, insurers, doctors and health policy experts across the political spectrum agree that immediately addressing three or four basic shortcomings in the existing system would go a long way toward making the law more effective and financially stable.”

Mountain State duo Manchin, Capito could be keys to compromise – WV Metro News: “Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito are in a unique position to help rekindle a modicum of bipartisanship on healthcare.  Both are moderates. They come from a state where the person for whom the Affordable Care Act is named is wildly unpopular, but a state where over 170,000 now have insurance because of expanded Medicaid.”

AP: “Hoping to turn the page on a tumultuous opening chapter to his presidency, President Donald Trump insisted on Monday there is “no chaos” in his White House as he swore in retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as chief of staff. In an Oval Office ceremony, Trump predicted Kelly, who previously served as Homeland Security chief, would do a ‘spectacular job.’ And the president chose to highlight an improving stock market and strong jobs outlook rather than talk about how things need to change under Kelly. Trump on Friday ousted Reince Priebus as chief of staff and turned to Kelly, whom he hopes will bring military discipline to an administration weighed down by a stalled legislative agenda, infighting among West Wing aides and a stack of investigations.”

Behind Trump’s humiliation of Priebus – The Atlantic: “Calling from the golf course on Sunday afternoon, Reince Priebus sounded both defiant and relieved. ‘Winning is what we were supposed to do, and we won. That’s the job of the Republican Party. It’s in the best shape it’s been in since 1928.’ The former White House chief of staff and Republican National Committee chairman said he was proud of his stewardship of the GOP, which culminated in the election of a Republican president, Republican Congress, and Republican gains up and down the ballot. But the White House is mired in chaos, and all that Republican power has yet to result in a single major policy achievement. Priebus’s critics view him as the man who sold his party out to Donald Trump. Was it really worth it, I asked?”

As GOP voices fade, will Trump daughter and son-in-law gain clout? – Politico: “If Ivanka Trumpand Jared Kushner, socially liberal former Democratic donors, remain influential voices with Trump on personnel decisions, they have so far had little effect on his policies. Last week they were blindsided by the president’s tweet saying he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military, according to several White House aides, a major coup for conservatives who had been quietly lobbying the administration on the issue for months. White House officials said the first daughter was surprised by her father’s posts; in the past, Trump has been a supporter of gay rights. Ivanka Trump, according to these officials, learned of the decision when she saw her father’s tweet on her phone.”

Fox News: “Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that 755 U.S. diplomats will be expelled from Russia by Sept. 1, according to an interview on Russian television. The expulsions had been announced Friday in response to a new law passed in Congress that expanded sanctions, but Sunday’s statement was the first time a large number of Americans were confirmed as involved. It was ‘a regrettable and uncalled for act,’ a State Department official told The Associated Press. … Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it is ordering the U.S. Embassy to reduce the number of embassy and consular employees in the country to 455. ‘I decided it is time for us to show: We do not intend to leave U.S. actions unanswered,’ said Putin, according to Interfax News Agency.”

Pence takes hard line on Putin in Baltic visit – ABC News: “U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Monday strongly pledged America’s commitment to protecting NATO allies against attacks, including the Baltic states, which have anxiously watched a growing Russian military presence in the region. ‘Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense — an attack on one of us is an attack on us all,’ Pence told reporters after meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Mutual defense is a vital issue for the three small former Soviet states that border Russia, which were all occupied for nearly five decades by Soviet troops before regaining their independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Pelosi: ‘Unimportant’ to win midterm elections – The Hill

Kraushaar: Dems’ own polling shows deadly gap with middle-class voters –
 National Journal

Millennials, Gen Xers outvoted older generations in 2016 election – Pew

McConnell wades into ugly Senate primary in Alabama – Politico

House heads into August recess with uncertain path on budget – The Hill

Trump to start selling tax reform this week – Axios

McCain’s absence leaves Defense bill in limbo – WashEx

Outside groups dump big money to back Trump agenda – USA Today

Cops cringe over Trump joke about roughing up suspects – NYT

Kevin Williamson: Coffee is for closers, Mr. President – National Review

Hackers breach dozens of voting machines brought to conference
 – The Hill

Meet the man behind the leak probe – Daily Beast

Nacho governor, bro: Christie confronts Cubs fan – WashEx

“Anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.” – Former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski when asked by NBC News for his advice to new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

“I’ve been reading you for years and at no point have I been as exhausted with our political system as I am now. With Republicans in control of the House, the Senate, the Presidency, we still can’t pass a bill! I know it’s early, but will we ever really see a clean repeal of Obamacare through Congress? I’m afraid our elected officials have caved into the Democrats and we will be looking at a single payer meltdown in the coming years.” – Sam Eckherd, Rutland, Vt. 

[Ed. Note: Liberal Democrats who disliked Obamacare at its inception found one thing to really love about the law: it would so tangle the system for providing health insurance that its eventual failure would move America farther down the path toward a European-style, single-payer government health insurance system. I can’t say they were wrong…]

“What gives Congress the right to leave for a full month when the President has to remain in Washington working for the American people? It seems to me that if they really cared about repealing Obamacare, they’d stay and keep trying to fix it. They’ve said over and over they’re willing stay through August, so why aren’t they actually doing it? Looks like it might be time to clean House and put some real conservatives in charge.” – Peter Darby, Scottsdale, Ariz. 

[Ed. Note: Don’t be so sure about that, Mr. Darby. While our current chief executive seems to favor weekend getaways over the long stays favored by his predecessors, like George W. Bush’s ranch time in Crawford, Texas, or Barack Obama’s trips to Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard. But we do recall that Trump spent plenty of time over the winter at the Florida country club he owns. I would not be surprised to see the President and his family get out of the “swamp” for some extended period before the summer is out. As for whether Congress should stay and try to fix Obamacare, the truth may be that they will actually get closer to a solution by leaving town for a couple of weeks and coming back with fresh eyes. It’s often counterproductive to sit and stare at the same problem day after day. Once they decided this spring that they didn’t have it in them to repeal the existing law, most of what they’ve been doing has been for appearances, anyway.]

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WTSP: “A sign reading ‘Free Stuff!!’ evidently served as an invitation to steal $3,000 worth of valuables off a Grand Rapids [Mich.] man’s property. ‘They pretty much cleaned us out. They even went so far as to take the ash trays off the table,’ said Joseph Alexander … Alexander and his girlfriend set out free items on the curb indicating that they were free for the taking. Neighbors milled through the donations. But someone took it a step further. Alexander said that they made a makeshift wall blocking off their property and valuable items, but that didn’t stop someone from stealing nearly everything beyond it. Power tools, a lawn mower, tarps, bags full of donations for specific charities were just some of the items taken from their home. Alexander says they are unable to press charges due to the ‘free’ sign on their lawn.”

“Kelly’s job is to be the gatekeeper, the doorkeeper, or in the case of this White House, the bouncer.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

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