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By Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — There may not be a more fitting duel for the Trump era than the one between a president who spends a lot of his time watching cable television, and a powerful member of Congress who’s often on it.

When House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced an ambitious expansion of Democratic-led probes into President Donald Trump and his administration last week, the nation got a preview of a battle that will be central to nearly everything that happens in the nation’s capital for the next two years.

And the sparring could be as fierce behind the scenes as it is over the airwaves and on social media.

For the first two years of the Trump presidency, Schiff was by his own admission “just trying to tread water” as a minority member of the House. Now, he’s emerged as perhaps the president’s fiercest adversary in a House newly empowered, and in fact eager, to investigate all aspects his political and personal life.

Trump has mocked the Senate’s top Democrat, and sparred with the new House Speaker. But last week featured some of his most cutting remarks to date — aimed at Schiff.

On Wednesday, after Schiff announced his committee would expand its probe into Trump and potential foreign influence, the president dismissed him as a “political hack.”

“It’s called presidential harassment and it’s unfortunate and it really does hurt our country,” he said.

Thursday he escalated the fight by accusing him of “stealing people who work at White House.” And Friday he tweeted or retweeted multiple messages about the fact that Schiff attended the same conference on national security as a key figure behind the so-called Steele dossier.

“It is all a GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX,” Trump said in one tweet.

Schiff brushed off the attacks in an interview with NBC News.

“I can understand why the idea of oversight terrifies him,” he said. “We need to do our job, he needs to do his. And a big part of our job is making sure we root out any corruption or malfeasance.”

The president’s focus on Schiff may be as much about the new tools he has in the majority to probe him, his business and his White House as it is about his frequent appearances on television. And the two adversaries could not be more different. Trump is unscripted and seems to revel in the chaos around him. Schiff’s public comments and even his occasional tweets carry his lawyerly, measured tone.

“Adam is as cool as a cucumber. And the president is hot as a jalapeño pepper,” Rep. Jackie Speier, a fellow California Democrat and Intelligence Committee member, told NBC.

The 58-year-old Schiff first came to Washington in 2001 after serving as an assistant U.S. attorney and state senator in California. He considered but ultimately passed on a run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 after the retirement of Barbara Boxer, deferring to another prosecutor, Kamala Harris. Dianne Feinstein’s decision to seek a fifth full term last year again cut off a path for higher office.

But the position Schiff has had as the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, especially now as its chairman, has given him a significant platform all his own. He was one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers ahead of the 2018 midterms, traveling throughout the country to support local candidates.

He even raised eyebrows with a trip to the early presidential voting state of New Hampshire just last week, his second visit in less than a year. He assured voters there that he was not among the dozen, or dozens, likely to run. But he said he would be watching closely to see “who can rise to the occasion, who has the stature and the gravitas and experience to take on this president.”

Schiff’s critics have seized on his expanding profile to argue he is using a fishing expedition to boost his public profile.

“This is clearly an investigation, again, without a crime. We looked for two years and didn’t find anything at all,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said on Fox News Channel last week.

And Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, said senior Democrats like Schiff who are focused on investigations are acting against the promises many newly elected Democrats made to voters.

“You can’t go home and tell the voters back home that you’re going to work for the president and then come to Washington and do nothing but investigate the president,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Schiff pushed back on the insistence by Republicans that no investigations have yet revealed collusion between Trump allies and the Kremlin. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, he noted secret talks between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador, the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and efforts by Trump associates to pursue a real estate deal in Moscow as examples of “corrupt coordination” or “corrupt combination” that needed to be further explored.

It’s ultimately up to Robert Mueller to determine if there is a crime, he told Chuck Todd. But Democrats have a separate obligation “to make sure that the president of the United States is working in the national interest, that he is not motivated by some pecuniary interest, or fear of compromise or actual compromise.”



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Voters relieved, but unmoved, after Mueller report release

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By Ali Vitali, Garrett Haake, Kailani Koenig, Shaquille Brewster and Vaughn Hillyard

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was a lot of information for Cate Tanzer to process all at once. The long-awaited report from Robert Mueller had just hit airwaves and the information was being described in real time.

“Wait,” she said, stunned while watching the findings unfold from an MSNBC-tuned laptop alongside an NBC News reporter in a local diner on Thursday and trying to get it all straight. “Trump said he was ‘effed’ or Sessions said he was ‘effed’?” (She was referring to President Donald Trump’s panicked reaction upon learning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment, detailed in the report.)

Either way: “We’re watching history in the making,” she said. “A lot of drama” after two years of investigating — and she was glad it was finally out.

From political hotspots across the country — Manchester, New Hampshire to Council Bluffs, Iowa; St. Petersburg, Florida, to Columbia, South Carolina — Americans expressed relief at finally seeing the report, even if the two-year-long-probe’s findings didn’t do much to change their already existing beliefs about Trump and his administration.

In downtown Columbia, South Carolina, Mimi Draft told NBC she was “doubtful” anything in the report would change her negative opinion of the president.

“I live in a blue bubble,” she conceded, but in her eyes, Trump had “started off on the wrong foot” all together from his early days promoting the birther movement. What she’d seen from him since had only cemented her negative opinion.

On the other side of the political spectrum, sitting outside at a cafe by the water in St. Petersburg, Florida, Bernie Angelo also remained unmoved.

“I don’t believe half of what I read,” she said. “I do think it started out as a witch hunt, and that kind of threw me off, but there’s really nothing that could change my mind about him.”

In Council Bluffs, Iowa James Binns said Mueller’s report — based on Barr’s synopses — was an answer to his prayers. “I had all the faith that President Trump was a good man,” he told NBC. “He’s been doing a good job. A lot of people don’t think so, but I do. He hadn’t done anything wrong, and I think what the report shows is that he is indeed vindicated of any wrongdoing.”

Moreover, Binns couldn’t blame the president for his oft-tweeted, emotional reactions to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election.

“If somebody accuses me of something I’m not doing, I, myself, get a little upset,” Binns said.

Mulling over the finer points of Mueller’s probe during brunch at Manchester’s Airport Diner, friends William Feldmann and Shelly Heit agreed that they don’t think Trump or his campaign ever colluded.

“Not because he’d say ‘that’s wrong’ but I don’t think they were organized enough to do that,” Feldmann reasoned. “But the obstruction of justice greatly concerns me.”

For them, hearing from Mueller himself could help clear this up — and help the country move on.

“I would be very happy to see Mueller come testify,” Feldmann said, adding in a skeptical tone that if Mueller were to echo Barr and Trump’s characterizations of his own report, he would “be perfectly happy with that” and ready to move on.

In Florida, Bernie Angelo’s husband — a retired sports executive named Jerry — also seemed ready to move on, telling NBC he would be “absolutely” fine if this was the last day the media focused on Mueller and his investigation.

And while Republicans and Democrats alike have fretted over the investigations lingering impact — especially heading into a presidential election year — the probe isn’t playing a role in Gulfport, Florida’s Alan Wise warming towards Trump since not supporting him in 2016.

Wise said he wanted to see a good overview of the report to discover “how guilty or not guilty Trump is complicit in what happened there.” That said, he’s actually “more likely to support” the president in 2020.

“He’s not perfect guy,” Wise said of Trump. “I think he’s a despicable human being. But he’s done a lot of god things for country. We are seeing a lot of good things come out of the environment and business is good now. Interest rates are low. I think that’s good for the average American.”

Months of interviews with Americans across the country paint an unclear picture of how deeply Americans have even been paying attention to the in’s and out’s of the probe. Reactions have seemed to break down along already-existing ideological and party lines, not just in Washington but across the country.

According to a March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 39 percent of Americans said they’d heard “a lot” about the Mueller story — a smaller share than those who said they had heard a lot about other big stories during Trump’s political tenure, like the firing of James Comey (56 percent) and the release of the Access Hollywood tape (66 percent).

But for some voters, this reality is as good, if not slightly worse, than fiction.

“I’m an involved citizen and I love reading a juicy novel,” South Carolinian Cindy Warren said of the Mueller report. Then, thinking of the report again: “Well, it’s very meaty. It’s actually kind of exhausting.”

Ali Vitali reported from Manchester, New Hampshire. Garrett Haake and Kailani Koenig reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Shaquille Brewster reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Vaughn Hillyard reported from Council Bluffs, Iowa.



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Biden set to announce presidential run next week

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By Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — Advisers to former Vice President Joe Biden are finalizing plans for the launch of his presidential campaign next week, ending months of suspense that has hung over the Democratic nominating race.

Discussions among his core group of advisers about the exact timing of his announcement and subsequent campaign events are ongoing and subject to change, multiple officials said. Those discussions were set into motion earlier this month, as Biden himself publicly acknowledged a decision was all but a formality.

“My intention from the beginning was if I were to run would be the last person to announce,” he said after delivering the second of three speeches since mid-March to union audiences. “We’ll find out whether I can win in a primary.”

Biden has eyed the presidency for most of his decades-long career, running twice before. Both campaigns ended early — in 1988, long before the first votes were cast as he faced accusations of plagiarism, and in 2008 after a disappointing finish in the lead-off Iowa caucuses.

In debates during that 2008 primary fight, then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Biden often found their views in sync. After Obama upset Hillary Clinton to win the nomination, he sought to balance out the ticket by tapping Biden as his running mate, bringing on board an experienced legislator and foreign policy expert.

When the two were re-elected in 2012, Biden turned to planning a campaign to succeed him. But just as he was preparing for his first visit to Iowa in 2013, his eldest son, Beau, was diagnosed with brain cancer — effectively putting the vice president’s political future on hold. At his family’s urging, he still explored the possibility of running in the months after Beau’s death, but ultimately ceded the field to Clinton.

When it seemed clear that Clinton would defeat Trump in the 2016 election, Biden laid the groundwork for an active post-White House life, building foreign and domestic policy hubs at a pair of universities in addition to launching the Biden Cancer Foundation to continue the work of his “moonshot” bid for a cure.

But Trump’s unlikely victory afforded Biden an unexpected final chance to seek the office. He became an outspoken critic especially of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and divisive political style, and campaigned aggressively for Democratic candidates in 2018, billing the midterms as a “battle for the soul of America.”

As his long-time team of political advisers began sketching out a 2020 campaign, they kept two possible impediments in mind: the still-tenuous emotional state of Biden’s family after his son’s death, and a Democratic Party growing younger and seemingly being pushed further to the left in part as a response to Trump.

While Biden has become an elder statesman who could be an antidote to the chaotic Trump era, his long track record also features past support for policies now anathema to broad swaths of the Democratic electorate.

Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act, helped pass a ban on assault weapons and embraced same-sex marriage even before Obama did. He also voted in support of the 2002 Iraq war authorization, was a lead author of a 1994 crime bill that swelled the nation’s prison population, and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation, including handling testimony by Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her.

And just weeks before Biden’s decision his intensely personal manner itself became an issue, after a Nevada Democrat described unwelcome physical contact by the then-vice president as they prepared to take the stage at a campaign event in 2014.

After other women also described similar interactions, Biden acknowledged in an online video that “social norms are changing,” and that what he viewed as “gestures of support and encouragement” have sometimes made people uncomfortable. “I think it’s going to have to change somewhat how I campaign,” he told NBC News that week.

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Trump’s FDA may revamp rules for cherry pie, milk, French dressing

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By Associated Press

President Donald Trump may soon be able to claim a sweet victory for his deregulation push, with officials preparing to get rid of the decades-old rules for frozen cherry pies.

Emails show the Food and Drug Administration planned to start the process for revoking the standard for frozen cherry pies this week, followed by a similar revocation of the standard for French dressing. Plans to get rid of the obscure rules had been tucked into the Trump’s administration’s deregulation agenda.

Standards for an array of foods including cottage cheese and canned peas were put in place decades ago partly to ensure a level of quality. They spell out how products with specific names can be made, including ingredients that are required or not allowed. The rules for frozen cherry pies say they must be 25 percent cherries by weight with no more than 15 percent of the cherries being blemished.

It’s not always clear why some food terms have standards and others don’t. The rules are seen as arcane by many and are a sore spot in the food industry, with companies saying they prevent innovation or prompt lawsuits. The FDA under Trump has said it plans to update the standards.

Lee Sanders of the American Bakers Association said she’s hopeful the cherry pie standard will finally be revoked, but that it would not make a big difference for the industry.

“I feel confident our members are producing cherry pies with more than enough cherries,” she said.

The FDA also plans to take another look at milk, which federal regulations define as coming from a cow. The dairy industry has called for a crackdown on soy, rice and almond drinks makers that use the term.

While any changes to the milk rule are likely to be contested, getting rid of the standard for frozen cherry pie is unlikely to be controversial.

The frozen cherry pie standard is an outlier because other fruit pies don’t have similar rules. The same is true for French dressing: The Association for Dressings and Sauces, which once went after a vegan spread for violating the mayonnaise standard, notes other dressings are not subject to such standards.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down this month, said in an October tweet that it was among the FDA’s priorities to “de-regulate frozen cherry pie.” He apparently wasn’t entirely joking.

In a June email , the FDA noted plans to post a proposal to revoke the frozen cherry pie standard on April 18. It said the proposal to revoke the French dressing standard would be posted May 3.

In a statement this week, the FDA said the dates were for “long range internal planning purposes” and that the timing could shift. Updates to the standards will be publicly noted, the agency said.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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