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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Now that the potentially gigantic field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 is beginning to narrow — so long, Michael Avenatti; goodbye, Deval Patrick — the scrutiny is increasing on some of the Democrats who continue to eye the upcoming presidential race.

On Thursday, for example, the New York Times reported how progressives and minority groups criticized Elizabeth Warren for the recent DNA test she took to prove her family’s Native-American origins, and then the Boston Globe’s editorial page implored her not to run for president. “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020,” the editorial page said.

“While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump” he paper continued. (We don’t remember the Globe telling Massachusetts pols like Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney not to run for president.)

Also this week, a top aide to Kamala Harris resigned “after a report surfaced of a $400,000 harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016,” per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Dartunorro Clark.

And then there was the criticism that Beto O’Rourke was getting from the progressive left:

  • Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig: “I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.”
  • Journalist David Sirota: “Here are some Beto O’Rourke donors who work in the energy industry & who gave more than $1000.” (Reality check: When you raised LOTS of money from individuals, even in small-dollar contributions, you’re going to get donors from all industries.)
  • Jacobin: “Beto O’Rourke Should Not Run for President.”

Welcome to the big leagues, guys and gals. Running for president is the best story in American politics. But the presidential vetting process is like nothing any of these folks have ever seen, even for these senators who’ve run before in high-profile Senate contests.

The opposition research. The ideological criticism. The examination of every wart and flaw. And the totality of this process is why sitting incumbent presidents who don’t get primary challenges from their own parties have an advantage in seeking re-election. See Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2012.

Just how lethal will this vetting process be for Democrats? (In that New York Times piece on Warren, a Cherokee genealogist says she won’t vote for Warren under any circumstance, even against Trump.) Will hard feelings undermine the eventual nominee? (The lack of full party unity definitely hurt the Democrats in 2016.) Or can someone transcend the presidential meat-grinder?

As Mueller prepares to release more documents, Trump rage-tweets on the investigation

NBC’s Ken Dilanian: “Three new court documents are scheduled to emerge Friday that could shed new light on what Donald Trump’s former top aides have been telling — or not telling — federal investigators. A federal judge in New York has ordered that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office have until 5 p.m. Friday to deliver sentencing memos designed to detail former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s cooperation in their ongoing investigations.”

“And special counsel Robert Mueller is also due to file a document spelling out what his team previously referred to as the “crimes and lies” that led them to cancel a cooperation agreement with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

And it sure seems like President Trump is bracing for bad news. Just check out his tweets from this morning:

Somebody is clearly worried…

Experts say lame-duck curbs on power could violate Michigan constitution

“Republican lawmakers may be violating the state constitution with fast-tracked bills in the lame-luck Legislature that curb the powers of incoming Democratic officeholders or water down proposals backed by Michigan voters, legal experts say,” the Detroit Free Press writes.

“‘They’re just going crazy,’ said Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor. Sedler, who has taught at Wayne State since 1977 and wrote a book on American constitutional law, cited a range of problematic bills — from a package the Senate passed Thursday to strip enforcement of campaign finance laws from the secretary of state to one that restricts the incoming governor’s choices to head the Michigan State Police, and bills that meddle with legislation and constitutional amendments backed by Michigan voters. ‘In the 40 years that I’ve been here, I have not seen any such effort to curtail the powers of the governor and the executive branch,’ Sedler told the Free Press Thursday.”

Republican concedes in CA-21, Democrats’ House gains now at 40 seats

GOP Congressman David Valadao conceded to Democrat TJ Cox in the CA-21 race, giving Democrats a net of 40 House pickups for their haul in 2018, NBC’s Jane Timm writes. As a result, NBC News declared Cox the apparent winner in the contest.

Democrat withdraws concession in NC-9 after the allegations of election fraud

NBC News also withdrew its call for Republican Mark Harris in that NC-9 contest after Democrat Dan McCready took back his concession amid allegations of election fraud in the race.

Here’s NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Rich Gardella: “State investigators are combing through election board records in several counties to discover whether there was an organized effort to unlawfully collect the absentee ballots of thousands of voters and then not turn those ballots over to election authorities. They are especially interested in Bladen County, a rural, low-income area in the southeastern part of the state where investigators are looking at several individuals who turned in requests for absentee ballots on behalf of hundreds of voters.”

“The results of the investigation could put in jeopardy Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’ unofficial lead of 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.”



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Theresa May NOT DONE YET: Prime Minister could accept PEERAGE and sit in House of Lords

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THERESA May could become the first former prime minister to take a seat in the House of Lords since Margaret Thatcher, according to some Tory MPs.

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Trump heads to Japan with Sumo wrestling and golf on the agenda

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Under the threat of potentially devastating U.S. tariffs on autos, Japan is ready to roll out the newest phase of its charm offensive targeting President Donald Trump as it welcomes him on a state visit tailor-made to his whims and ego.

Offering high honors, golf and the chance to present a “Trump Cup” at a sumo wrestling championship, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arguably Trump’s closest friend on the world stage, will continue a years-long campaign that so far appears to have spared Japan from far more debilitating U.S. actions.

The stakes are high. U.S. tariffs could cripple Japan’s auto industry, while North Korea remains a destabilizing threat in the region. But this trip, the first of two Trump is expected to make to Japan in the next six weeks, is more of social call meant to highlight the alliance between the countries and the friendship between their leaders.

“In the world of Donald Trump, terrible things can happen if you’re an ally, but no major blows have landed on Japan,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump, who departed Washington for Tokyo on Friday, has the honor of being the first head of state invited to meet Emperor Naruhito since he assumed power May 1 after his father stepped down, the first abdication in about two centuries. Naruhito will welcome Trump to the Imperial Palace on Monday for a meeting and banquet in his honor.

“With all the countries of the world, I’m the guest of honor at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said Thursday.

Abe will host Trump on Sunday for a round of golf and take the president to a sumo wrestling match, a sport Trump said he finds “fascinating.” Trump is eager to present the winner with a U.S.-made trophy.

It’s all part of a kindness campaign aimed at encouraging Trump to alleviate trade pressures, said Riley Walters, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, who said the personal relationship between Trump and Abe is probably the best of any two world leaders.

Abe made a strategic decision before Trump was elected to focus on his relationship with the U.S. The courtship began when Abe rushed to New York two weeks after the November 2016 election to meet the president-elect at Trump Tower. Last month, Abe and his wife, Akie, celebrated first lady Melania Trump’s birthday over a couples’ dinner at the White House.

Trump plans to return to Japan for a summit of leading rich and developing nations in Osaka in late June.

Behind the smiles and personal friendship, however, lurks deep uneasiness over Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts on national security grounds, a move that would be far more devastating to the Japanese economy than earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Trump recently agreed to a six-month delay, enough time to carry Abe past July’s Japanese parliamentary elections.

“On the surface, it’s all going to be a display of warmth, friendship, hospitality,” said Mireya Solis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. But, she said, “there’s an undercurrent of awkwardness and concern about what the future might hold. … We’re coming to a decisive moment. This is, I think, the moment of truth.”

Also at issue is the lingering threat of North Korea, which has resumed missile testing and recently fired a series of short-range projectiles that U.S. officials, including Trump, have tried to downplay despite an agreement by North Korea to hold off on further testing.

“The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent television interview. That raised alarm bells in Japan, where short-range missiles pose a serious threat.

“That is not an acceptable American position for Japan,” said Green.

Japan, which relies on the U.S. for its defense, has also been largely cut out of negotiations with North Korea, even as Kim Jong Un has met with other leaders in the region, including China’s Xi Jinping. That leaves Abe to rely on the U.S. as an intermediary, said Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Abe has to rely on Trump to advocate,” she said. Abe recently offered to meet Kim without preconditions in an effort to restore diplomatic ties.

With Trump’s relations with the leaders of the U.K., Germany, Canada and other allies strained, Abe has worked more than any other leader to try to keep Trump engaged with international institutions, Green said, adding that it is critical for Japan’s survival.

And while leaders across Europe and elsewhere might take heat for cozying up to Trump, analysts say Japanese voters see Trump more as a curiosity and understand the pragmatic importance of good relations, which they say has paid off for Abe.

Indeed, while Trump has rejected Abe’s invitations to re-join a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal and keeps the threat of tariffs in place, Trump walked away from his last meeting with Kim without a deal, which some had feared would include a declaration to end the Korean war and a vow to pull U.S. troops from the peninsula.

“I would argue that Abe has been so good at maintaining the relationship that maybe things could be worse,” Walters said.

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European election SHOCK: Green Party STORMS Dublin exit polls in WARNING to Varadkar party

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THE Green Party has shockingly topped the European polls in Dublin according to the latest exit polls.

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