OFF TO THE RACES

Comey’s Firing Shakes Up Jittery Republicans

GOP candidates were already worried about Trump’s drag on their midterm prospects, and now they have to deal with another mess.

Demonstrators outside the offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco on Wednesday protesting President Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
May 11, 2017, 8 p.m.

It’s time for con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and their strategists to start pop­ping their blood-pres­sure meds. Even be­fore Pres­id­ent Trump fired FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey, the po­ten­tial for GOP prob­lems in next year’s midterm elec­tions were real. Ob­vi­ously no one knows what will hap­pen in an elec­tion al­most 18 months away. But now is when in­cum­bents start de­cid­ing wheth­er they will run again. From a party per­spect­ive, it’s al­ways easi­er to de­fend an in­cum­bent’s seat than win an open one.

It’s also the time when chal­lengers and open-seat can­did­ates start mak­ing de­cisions. Sev­er­al of the strongest po­ten­tial Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers to vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors ex­pressed con­cerns to me about the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment next year—and that was be­fore Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal of Comey.

The Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate is not much in danger be­cause Demo­crats are de­fend­ing 25 seats in 2018, 10 of which are in states that Trump car­ried last year, to just nine for the GOP. Even so, the dif­fer­ence between a level play­ing field for Re­pub­lic­ans and one with stiff head­winds is the dif­fer­ence between gain­ing three to five seats versus just break­ing even or per­haps suf­fer­ing the loss of a seat. So it’s a big deal wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans come out of 2018 with as many as 57 Sen­ate seats, or just stay at 52, or even drop to 51.

But it’s the House that’s on the knife’s edge. Midterm-elec­tion his­tory, com­bined with Trump’s dis­mal job-ap­prov­al rat­ings, already put the House in play. The Comey fir­ing ad­ded to Re­pub­lic­an miser­ies, and but­tressed the Demo­crat­ic Party’s ar­gu­ment that at least one cham­ber of Con­gress should be taken out of Re­pub­lic­an hands in or­der to keep Trump in check. But more than that, the fir­ing is enough to make quite a few Re­pub­lic­ans wince—not a good thing when the mood in the GOP already seemed down­beat. The fir­ing also lif­ted the already high en­thu­si­asm of Demo­crats.

Many polit­ic­al ana­lysts were fo­cused on the spe­cial-elec­tion run­off on June 20 in Geor­gia’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, to fill the seat pre­vi­ously held by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price. Han­di­cap­pers were call­ing that con­test a toss-up be­fore the Comey mess.

An earli­er spe­cial elec­tion, on May 25, to re­place In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Ry­an Zinke in Montana’s at-large seat, is in­creas­ingly be­ing seen as an­oth­er ca­nary in the coal mine. While Trump car­ried the Big Sky State by 21 points last year, Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Greg Gi­an­forte was lead­ing Demo­crat Rob Quist by just 8 points, 45 to 37 per­cent, in an in­de­pend­ent sur­vey by Grav­is Mar­ket­ing and by 6 points in a sur­vey by one of the top Demo­crat­ic polling firms, Gar­in-Hart-Yang Re­search. The Grav­is poll was taken in the first week of May, and the Gar­in-Hart-Yang poll was con­duc­ted April 25-27. The Demo­crat­ic poll’s re­spond­ents said they voted for Trump by 22 points, mar­gin­ally bet­ter than the ac­tu­al vote in Montana last year. Among re­spond­ents most in­ter­ested in the race, Gi­an­forte’s lead was just 1 point, 48 to 47 per­cent.

I re­main some­what skep­tic­al about the Demo­crats’ chances in Montana. The path to a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity is more likely to go through up­scale, urb­an, and sub­urb­an dis­tricts than rur­al dis­tricts with large white pop­u­la­tions. But if the Montana vote is close, it will send tremors through a lot of Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers who may not have felt vul­ner­able.

It is cer­tainly a pres­id­en­tial prerog­at­ive to fire an FBI dir­ect­or, but this is more com­plic­ated than that. My view is that at every point in the FBI’s in­vest­ig­a­tion of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email use, Comey did what he thought was right. He ac­ted with the best of in­ten­tions, and did what he thought was in the best in­terest of pre­serving the in­teg­rity of his agency, even though in hind­sight these de­cisions turned out to be mis­takes.

His ac­tions in the clos­ing weeks of the cam­paign made the elec­tion al­most ex­clus­ively about Clin­ton and ul­ti­mately helped de­term­ine the out­come of the elec­tion, though there were cer­tainly plenty of oth­er factors that were im­port­ant as well. Ar­gu­ably an FBI or Justice De­part­ment in­spect­or gen­er­al might have re­com­men­ded that Comey be dis­missed, but giv­en the ex­pand­ing nature of the bur­eau’s in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to Rus­sia’s med­dling in last year’s elec­tion, Trump’s fir­ing of Comey was a huge mis­take, both in terms of policy and polit­ics. It was a rash act en­tirely con­sist­ent with the worst fears that many had about a Trump pres­id­ency, and it cer­tainly will not help his party next year.

What We're Following See More »
FOR IMPROPER SPENDING, INFLUENCE
Trump Inauguration Spending Now Under Investigation
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said. The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions."

Source:
WOULD HAVE CROSSED NATIONAL FORESTS
Federal Judges Nix Proposed Atlantic Pipeline
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a rare rebuke to energy companies in the Trump era, "a panel of federal judges has rejected permits for the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian trail in Virginia, finding that the national Forest Service 'abdicated its responsibility' and kowtowed to private industry in approving the project. The harshly worded, 60-page decision issued Thursday by three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is part of a string of legal setbacks for the 600-mile pipeline. The $7 billion project, being built by a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy, is planned to carry natural gas from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina."

Source:
PINS KHASHOGGI KILLING ON MBS
Senate Moves to End Support for Saudi War
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
REP. POLIQUIN HAD CHALLENGED THE LAW
Federal Judge Upholds Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A federal judge on Thursday rejected Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s constitutional claims against ranked-choice voting and denied the incumbent’s request for a new election against Democratic Congressman-elect Jared Golden. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled that, contrary to the arguments of Poliquin’s legal team, the U.S. Constitution does not require that whichever congressional candidates receives the most votes—or 'a plurality'—be declared the winner. Instead, Walker ruled the Constitution grants states broad discretion to run elections."

Source:
SAUDI ARABIA, ISRAEL, AND THE UAE
Mueller Probing Middle East Countries' Influence Campaigns
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Officials working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics, and are set to release the findings in early 2019. "Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel ... Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran." Investigators are also probing meetings organized by Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, and Joel Zamel, "a self-styled Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world with deep ties to Israeli intelligence."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login