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Special Report: Bannon Slams Republican Establishment at St. Louis Rally
Joined by a number of pro-Trump candidates, Steve Bannon spoke in St. Louis over the weekend, taking aim at the Republican establishment. I was in attendance: here's my report...
- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon addressed a crowd of about 400 conservatives in St. Louis on Sunday, harshly attacking Republican leaders as “corrupt and incompetent.” Bannon’s three-minute remarks closed a “Put Americans First” rally, following the 46th annual Eagle Council. Earlier Sunday, Bannon received the Phyllis Schlafly Eagle Award, an honor named after the late founder of the group hosting the conference and rally.
- Bannon’s entire speech, and much of the rally, was devoted to criticism of the Republican establishment, painting GOP congressional leaders as opposed to President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda being promoted on Sunday. “The Republican establishment on Capitol Hill has not had any support for President Trump, for his populist, nationalist, conservative message,” Bannon declared. “You know why?” he asked. ”They’re not populists, they’re elitists. They’re not nationalists, they’re globalists. They’re not conservatives, they are liberals.”
- Just five weeks ago, Bannon occupied one of the highest positions in the Trump White House, serving as Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President. Since departing the Administration — after either resigning, in his telling, or being asked to leave, according to others — Bannon has returned to the helm of Breitbart News as executive chairman, occupying the same role at the right-wing website as he did before joining the Trump campaign in August 2016. Bannon explained his White House departure on Sunday in terms that fit the event’s theme: the President “needed a wingman to go against the Republican establishment” from the outside.
- Bannon told the Eagle Council attendees, many of whom were holding “Support President Trump” placards or sporting shirts with the same slogan, that he was stopping in St. Louis en route to Alabama, where he will campaign for Senate candidate Roy Moore. Bannon will headline a rally for Moore tonight, alongside “Brexit” leader Nigel Farage and “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson. Farage’s presence is seen as an attempt by Bannon to tie Trump’s victory to other populist movements across the globe. On Sunday, the former White House aide said that his message “is going to resonate not just in this country, but throughout the world.” Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, faces interim Sen. Luther Strange in a special Republican primary election on Tuesday to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
- At the St. Louis rally, Bannon derided the “politics of personal destruction” he said were being employed against Moore, pitching the former judge as the candidate of the pro-Trump agenda. Unmentioned on Sunday? He is not the candidate endorsed by Trump himself: the President joins Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans in backing Strange. On Friday, Trump threw his full support behind the incumbent at a rally in Huntsville.
Continued below... (scroll down for more details on the Eagle Council and Bannon's speech)
Graham-Cassidy Revised to Attract Reluctant Republicans
- A new draft of the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal Obamacare was circulated among Republican congressional offices Sunday night, as the legislation's sponsors made a number of revisions in an attempt to win the support of reluctant GOP senators.
- According to the Washington Post, the revised legislation removes provisions "which would have enabled states to get federal permission to let insurers charge higher prices to customers with pre-existing medical conditions" and which would have allowed "health plan to impose annual or lifetime limits on coverage."
- The premise of the bill — which would convert all Affordable Care Act funds, including Medicaid expansion and Obamacare tax credits, into block grants for each state to set up their own health insurance system — is preserved, although changes have been made to funnel more money to states of Republicans on the fence.
- As a result of these changes, the bill's sponsors project that Arizona, Kentucky, and Alaska will all see increases in federal funding under Graham-Cassidy, while the previous version of the bill projected them receiving less funds. However, independent groups still project these states would lose money if Obamacare is replaced with the GOP repeal bill.
- Other provisions added to appeal to Republicans include a $500 million boost to states that have set up Obamacare waiver program and additional Medicaid funding for high-poverty states; both revisions would help Alaska, home of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a key vote against the "skinny repeal" bill in July who is undecided on Graham-Cassidy.
- Another revision offers $750 million to states that expanded Medicaid after 2015, while the revised bill also "would require states to demonstrate that their health-care rules meet several federal standards, including parity for mental health care, reconstructive surgery after mastectomies and minimal hospital states for newborns," according to the Post. This change is likely an appeal to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who also opposed "skinny repeal" and is currently on the fence.
- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced on Friday that he "cannot in good conscience" support the Graham-Cassidy bill, delivering a blow to the legislation. The bill will fail if three Republicans vote "no": Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Collins are seen as likely defectors. Paul has been very critical of the bill on Twitter, saying it is too much like Obamacare; "I'm just not for this block-granting concept," he said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Meanwhile, Collins said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that "it's very difficult" for her "to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill."
- On CBS' "Face the Nation," she said she is concerned about the bill's impact on Medicaid, protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, and premium costs and the number of people who will have coverage. Collins added that she is waiting for a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which could come as early as today.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also appeared to be wavering on Sunday, announcing at a Texas Tribune event "right now they don't have my vote," adding that he didn't believe Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) supported the bill yet either.
- Republican congressional leaders and White House officials are pushing hard to flip Murkowski, McCain, Collins, and Paul. The changes to the bill reflect the senators being courted by the GOP, also identified in a Sunday tweet from President Trump: "Alaska, Arizona, Maine and Kentucky are big winners in the Healthcare proposal. 7 years of Repeal & Replace and some Senators not there." Projections obtained by Axios show new gains for these states under the revised bill, including funding increases of 3% to Alaska, 14% to Arizona, 43% to Maine, and 4% to Kentucky.
- "We're moving forward," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the legislation's top sponsors said on ABC's "This Week," signaling optimism about the health care bill's chances. Meanwhile, President Trump told reporters the party will win on the issue "eventually," although he seemed to look ahead to his next priority, tax reform. White House legislative director Marc Short said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the GOP still plans to hold a vote this week, most likely on Wednesday, although Senate leaders have not confirmed those plans.
- The clock is ticking: on September 30, the GOP ability to use the "reconciliation" process for health care expires, meaning Republicans would need 60 votes to pass a repeal bill, instead of 50. If the party cannot pass a bill by the end of the month, the process will likely have to start all over again, in face of assured opposition from Democrats.
- The 146-page revised bill can be read here, via Politico.
- Travel Ban 3.0 As President Trump's so-called "travel ban" expired on Sunday, the Administration announced a new proclamation enforcing restrictions on immigration from eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. This is the third executive action prohibiting immigration issued by President Trump; the first two orders included Sudan, while the original also included Iraq. Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela are new to the list, changing the religious makeup from a list previously including only Muslim-majority nations.
- The new rules are set to take effect on October 18 and will remain indefinitely; they differ from the previous orders in that the restrictions vary from country to country, with some seeing different limitations for immigrations and non-immigrants. Any individuals from these countries who already hold a visa are still protected, and individuals with a relationship to a U.S. citizen can still apply for visas.
- "Making America Safe is my number one priority," Trump said Sunday on Twitter. "We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet." The Administration alerted the Supreme Court to the new proclamation in a letter, asking for a briefing on the updated restrictions before the scheduled October 26 oral arguments on the previous "travel ban." With the order in question now expired, the Court could end up skipping the case.
- Trump vs. the NFL President Trump spent the weekend in a showdown with football players, who resisted his criticism of players who have kneeled during the National Anthem. Trump sparked the back-and-forth on Friday, when he bashed the kneeling players at an Alabama rally. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a b---- off the field right now — he’s fired,’” Trump said.
- National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell responded in a statement, calling Trump's comments "divisive" and saying that they showed a "lack of respect." Many NFL players and owners also made comments critical of the President; on Sunday, over 200 NFL players kneeled or sat during the National Anthem, according to the Associated Press.
- In tweets each day this weekend, Trump continued to double down on his remarks, bashing Goodell's statement, basketball player Stephen Curry (who declined an invitation to a White House visit), and players and owners who kneeled during the Anthem, as well as the NFL for allowing them to do so. At times, he seemingly encouraged supporters to boycott football-watching until changes were made.
- In total, the President tweeted or retweeted about the controversy at least 14 times since Friday. This morning, he tripled down on the issue, declaring: "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"
- Politico: Kushner Used Private Email in White House Politico reports: "Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private email account set up during the transition last December, part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business."
- According to the report, Kushner has corresponded with top Trump aides including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon on the private account. Politico also said that Ivanka Trump, also an official White House aide in addition to being First Daughter, has an email account on the same domain.
- White House aides using private email accounts could run afoul of the Presidential Records Act, which requires all official documents handled by the President and his aides to be archived. The use of private accounts by Kushner and other Trump White House officials comes after Trump's blistering attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016 for her use of a private email server.
Today in Washington
- The President At 10am, President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing. At 12:30pm, he will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. At 3pm, he makes an announcement on the Administration’s "commitment to equipping the American workforce for jobs of the future." Finally, at 6:30pm, he will sit down for dinner with leaders of a number of conservative grassroots groups.
- The Vice President After having lunch with the President, Pence heads to Alabama for official business (a tour of NASA facility) and some politics (an event for Luther Strange).
- The Senate The upper chamber votes today on the confirmation of William Emanuel to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board. Emanuel is a labor law attorney appointed by President Trump to the board in June.
- The House The lower chamber votes on eight bills today, including a bill offering humanitarian aid to North Korean refugees and promoting human rights in North Korea and legislation extending funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which expires on Saturday.
MORE: Bannon Attacks GOP Establishment at St. Louis Rally
...Continued from above:
- Two days before the Bannon visit, the annual Eagle Council opened with a press conference featuring the group’s president Ed Martin, a longtime Missouri Republican operative, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, conservative writer David Horowitz, and immigration activist Maria Espinoza. The only reporter in attendance, I asked Martin about Trump’s support for Strange. He dismissed the endorsement, essentially calling the election a ‘win-win’ for the President: “I think Trump set it up so if Roy Moore wins, he’s more of a Trump-[style] disrupter,” he said, “and if Luther Strange wins, it looks like Trump’s really powerful.”
- Similarly, Martin waved off questions about recent moves by President Trump decried by Breitbart News and others in his base as a potential “pivot” towards bipartisanship. When I asked him about Trump’s rumored deal with the Democratic leaders in Congress to continue the Obama-era DACA program granting legal status to young undocumented immigrants, Martin responded: “I trust the President.” He said Trump, a “masterful dealmaker,” had “frozen all sides in this and forced them to the table,” confident that the end result would ultimately be favorable to Trump voters.
- He quickly pivoted himself, placing the blame for a potential deal squarely on the shoulders of Republican leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. “The people are not holding Donald Trump responsible for dysfunction in Washington,” Martin said. “They know who’s at fault. It’s both parties in office and they’re going to pay for it.”
- In an interview, Espinoza, who panned DACA in her remarks, also framed Trump’s maneuvering as a “strategic and brilliant move on his part.” She waved off presidential tweets supportive of the program (“Don’t mind that, he can say whatever he wants”), saying the fault was on “Paul Ryan and others trying to block and obstruct what President Trump is trying to do.” Espinoza called that Ryan and McConnell “bad for an America First agenda,” saying it was time for “new leadership” while adding that Trump felt that way as well.
- The leaders of the Republican Party were prime targets at the rally on Sunday as well: not just in Bannon’s three-minute speech on Moore, but in an hour-long program highlighting other anti-establishment candidates. Candidates from Illinois, Utah, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin addressed the group — each of them early and passionate Trump supporters who are running or have run against incumbent Republicans.
- “In 2018, another wave’s coming,” Paul Nehlen, who is challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin seat for the second time, said. “You’re gonna see me where Paul Ryan stood…[and] Roy Moore where Jeff Sessions stood,” name-checking other pro-Trump challengers on stage and across the nation. “We’re gonna win,” Bannon said at the close of his remarks. “You all know that it’s not just November 8th we’ve got to win. It’s every day. They’re not gonna give you your country back. You’re gonna have to go and take it back. We’re gonna start taking it back in Alabama on Tuesday, and then when Scott Wagner runs in Pennsylvania.”
- Who, exactly, is “they?” Bannon made that clear: “the corrupt elites represented by Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment,” who, he said, “are trying” to “tell you to shut up.” With or without Trump’s blessing, the Breitbart chief is clearly gearing up to wage war on behalf of a crop of anti-establishment challengers across the country in 2018. “It’s not about the Democrats,” Bannon said. “We’ll get to them, and we’ll beat them, like we beat Hillary Clinton.” First, he explained, “you have to get through” the Republican establishment. Will Trump himself get behind a nationwide campaign to unseat incumbent Republicans? That question seemed irrelevant to Bannon and his allies in their fiery speeches on Sunday. Bannon was introduced as “the Honey Badger,” and as the viral video adopted by Breitbart as its mascot points out: “honey badger don’t care.”