White House Watch: ‘Weak’ Sauce

Republicans in Washington—including President Donald Trump—are preparing for their possible defeat in today’s special election for a southwestern Pennsylvania House seat. The district leans heavily Republican, with Trump winning its voters by double digits in 2016, but Democrat Conor Lamb has emerged with a small lead in the polls in the days leading up to the election. The president’s rally in the district for Rick Saccone was a last-minute effort to boost the GOP candidate. “He’s done all he’s able to do at this point,” said one White House official.

Already those around Trump are distancing the president from Saccone. A recent Gravis poll, which showed Saccone leading with 45 percent support to Lamb’s 42 percent, found Trump’s job approval at 49 percent in the district. And a Monmouth University poll released Monday showed Lamb ahead of Saccone by 6 points, 51 percent to 45 percent. Trump’s total approval, Monmouth found, is also at 49 percent. In the White House’s view, this proves Trump isn’t the one bringing down Saccone.

Jonathan Swan of Axios reports that Trump has privately called Saccone “weak” and a White House official complained to me about Saccone’s poor fundraising. Asked at Monday’s briefing about whether that report was true, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demurred. “Look, I can’t weigh in on any specifics of an upcoming election, but I can refer you back to the president’s public comments that he made on Saturday,” she said.

Read More—Read more about the special election from some of my colleagues, including Haley Byrd’s recent dispatch from the trail and David Byler’s analysis for what the close race means for the upcoming midterm elections.

The White House on Monday issued a slate of proposals designed to improve school safety, nearly a month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

The administration expressed support for new programs to train and arm school personnel to fight back in a shooter situation and calls on states to implement “Extreme Risk Protection Orders,” which allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate firearms from individuals “who are a demonstrated threat to themselves or others.” The White House also plans to expand federal mental health programs.

The proposed reforms are a far cry from the sweeping changes Trump promoted last month in the weeks following the shooting, when he repeatedly called to raise the age of purchase for a rifle to 21 and castigated Republican lawmakers for being “afraid of the NRA.” The White House maintains that Monday’s proposal does not represent the full scope of their school safety plans, but rather involves only those policies which they think can be passed quickly with broad congressional support.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday pushed back at the suggestion that Trump had “chickened out” on gun policy.

“You guys continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the comments that I’m making. I’m saying that the president is pushing forward on things that we know have broad-based support and that we can immediately get done, while at the same time we’re looking at the best way forward to push these other things through,” she said. “Because the president does have to work within the Constitution; we can’t just write things down and make them law. We actually have to follow a process.”

Looking Ahead—Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful 32-year-old heir apparent to the Saudi throne, will meet with President Trump at the White House on March 20. “The president looks forward to discussing ways to strengthen ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and to advance our common security and economic priorities,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Republicans on the House Intelligence committee announced Monday they were wrapping up their yearlong investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after finding no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. My colleague Jenna Lifhits reports:

That initial finding is one of more than 40 in a draft report spanning over 150 pages that Republicans said would be shared with Democrats for review and comment on Tuesday. The draft report is also expected to describe “how anti-Trump research made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign” and “problematic contacts between senior intelligence community officials and the media.”

Monday’s announcement effectively marks the end of the panel’s probe, which has been mired in partisan discord since at least March 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating 2016 election interference, as is the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“We will now be moving into the next phase of this investigation, working with the minority on a report to give the American people answers to the questions they’ve been asking for over a year,” said Texas congressman Mike Conaway, who along with Tom Rooney and Trey Gowdy has headed up the investigation for several months.

Democrats are expected to disagree with some of the findings in the Republicans’ draft. The panel’s top Democrat, Adam Schiff, described the end of the investigation as “another tragic milestone for this Congress.”

Trump Tweet of the Day

Must-Watch of the Day—Is it any wonder Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election? Her assessment—delivered in a foreign country, no less—of the Americans who didn’t vote for her is fairly grim and offensive. (See our editorial, too.)

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Song of the Day— “Blame It On the Tetons” by Modest Mouse

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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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