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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Culture debates have united Republicans over the last two decades — more than policy, the economy, and certainly trade and tariffs.

And they’ve been punished when they go too far on culture (see Clinton’s impeachment, Terri Schiavo and those transvaginal ultrasound bills in Virginia).

That’s maybe the best way to view the news out of Alabama, whose state Senate last night approved legislation essentially banning abortion at every stage.

Additionally, states like Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have passed laws effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — when a fetal heartbeat can be detected — ensuring that abortion will be a significant topic in 2020.

With the NRA hobbled right now, abortion has become even more important to Republicans in fighting the culture wars. Just listen President Trump in his campaign rallies.

But as the polling suggests, the country doesn’t like it when either party becomes too aggressive on abortion.

And that’s the danger for Republicans — whether it’s the legislation out of Alabama or Georgia.

Electability, yeah you know me

“Electability” means so many different things to different people — it’s difficult to gauge or define.

Still, it’s striking that none of the Top 5 2020 Democrats in the polls right now — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg — has any past record of being able to win or even compete in a purple/red state in a general election.

Biden’s from Delaware and hasn’t been on the ballot by himself since 2008.

Sanders is a democratic socialist from Vermont.

Warren hails from Massachusetts — a graveyard of past failed Dem nominees (Dukakis, Kerry).

Harris is from California.

And Buttigieg lost his lone statewide race in Indiana by 25 points.

By contrast, outside of the Top 5 in polling are Amy Klobuchar (who won 60 percent of the vote in Minnesota last fall), new entrant Steve Bullock (who’s won statewide for governor twice in Montana), Beto O’Rourke (who narrowly lost in Texas in ’18) and Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper (who’ve won multiple statewide bids in Colorado).

Sure, folks like Biden and Sanders can point to early general-election polls to say they’re “electable.” And sure, Donald Trump — a former Democrat from New York City — proved that almost anyone has a puncher’s chance to win if they become the nominee.

But it’s notable — before the first debates, mind you — that Dem voters aren’t rewarding those who have actual records of being able to win or compete in purple/red states.

Is it simply because these voters aren’t aware of these records? Or that progressive Dems don’t find cross-partisan appeal all that compelling? Or that Biden — carrying the Obama banner — has become the standard-bearer for Dem voters who do care about cross-partisan appeal?

It’s going to be McCready vs. Bishop in NC-9 race

Well, we have our general election matchup in the NC-9 congressional race – the 2018 election that got rejected after fraud allegations.

GOP state Sen. Dan Bishop won the GOP primary on Tuesday night, and he will face Democrat Dan McCready on Sept. 10, the Charlotte Observer writes.

Speaking of culture wars: “As he had throughout the campaign, Bishop decried the ‘liberal crazy clowns’ in Washington. He described their agenda as ‘socialism, open borders (and) infanticide,’” the paper adds.

“In a statement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee signaled its own attacks against Bishop: As the architect of House Bill 2, the so-called ‘bathroom bill,’ and the heir to what it called Republican election fraud.”

2020 Vision: Gillibrand heads to Georgia

This morning, Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign announced that she will travel to Atlanta on Thursday to meet with women, patients and health-care providers in wake of that state passing an effective six-week abortion ban.

On the campaign trail today: Jay Inslee tours flooding damage in Iowa… And Kamala Harris holds a town hall in Nashua, N.H.

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Politics

Trump’s border visit draws few spectators, for or against his wall

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SAN DIEGO – President Donald Trump’s visit to the border with Mexico here was attended by only a handful of supporters and protesters, some saying a border wall would protect the nation and others that it won’t address the area’s real problem of smuggling tunnels.

Trump’s stop in the Otay Mesa community was announced Monday night, leaving little time to plan organized events for his 3 p.m. arrival. The first time he came to this neighborhood, in early 2018, dozens of anti-Trump protesters shouted at the president from both sides of the border.

A few die-hard Trump fans were there Wednesday wearing red and donning “Make America Great Again” and “USA” baseball caps.

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Supporter Danny Duran had an American flag draped over his shoulders as the president’s motorcade of armored Chevrolet Suburban SUVs rolled by en route to a dirt road that would take him to a section of upgraded border barriers, unveiled last month.

The wall, Duran said, is “good for his campaign, but it’s good for America.”

Though the barrier is part of a long-planned fence replacement, Duran was convinced this was Trump’s wall.

“We need the wall,” he said. “Why not protect our country? I got a fence on my property.”

The Trump well-wishers were confined to a neighborhood of industrial parks about a half mile from the president’s appearance at the border.

Some of the Trump supporters there didn’t want to talk to reporters for fear of having their words misconstrued — one called a reporter “fake news” — or because they believed it would endanger their families.

Duran, a Latino who speaks Spanish, was proud to speak out. “I don’g agree with everything Trump says,” he said, “but he’s doing a good job.”

Luis Garcia, who owns a packaging supplies business nearby, wasn’t as enthused. He said the president’s past threats to shut down the border and place tariffs on some Mexican goods has been bad news for a border economy dependent on trade between both nations.

“I’m from the border,” he said. “I deal with both countries. People here don’t like the president.”

A border wall won’t stop legitimate trade, he said, but neither would it protect the Otay Mesa community from its true scourge — tunnels that run from Mexico to warehouses here and attract cartel traffic — he said. They’ve been used to ship drugs wholesale into the United States.

“It makes no sense,” Garcia said of Trump’s wall. “The wall doesn’t work. It’s a campaign tactic.”

Trump wrapped up a two-day trip to California that included campaign fundraisers in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and San Diego.

The $147-million replacement barrier he observed Wednesday runs for 14 miles from Imperial Beach to Otay Mesa.

Trump plans to use $3.6 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to help construct 175 miles of wall along the southern border.

Last year Trump vowed that a new border wall would stop 99 percent of unauthorized crossings along the border at San Diego.

“Now we have a world class security system at the border,” Trump said Wednesday.

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John Bercow makes prime ministers’ lives ‘hell’ by breaking precedent, claims Cameron

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DAVID CAMERON has revealed that Commons Speaker John Bercow used to make his “life hell” and was often left baffled by his actions as he made unprecedented decisions to side against the Government.

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Barr praised 2017 book that claims colleges unfairly went after male students accused of sexual assault

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WASHINGTON — Before being nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general, William Barr strongly endorsed a 2017 book accusing colleges and universities of unfairly punishing male students accused of rape.

Barr’s praise for “Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities” by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, is posted on the book’s Amazon.com page. But during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Barr was not questioned about the blurb, which suggested men are often railroaded by a politically correct campus “mob.”

In the blurb, Barr praises the book for examining multiple cases where, as he described, “Male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen.”

Barr’s professed skepticism about some campus sexual assault claims surfaced after Trump’s call this week for the Justice Department to “rescue” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book detailing asexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale that he had previously denied. The book also includes information about a new allegation.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for further investigation or for the impeachment of Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.

Barr’s endorsement of the book includes a broadside on the Obama administration’s approach to the issue of campus sexual assault.

During Obama’s presidency, colleges and universities were directed to aggressively pursue sexual misconduct allegations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in education. In 2017, the Trump administration ordered those Obama-era protections to be reversed.

“President Obama’s Education Department — promulgating regulations beyond its statutory authority, invoking erroneous data, and fanning the false narrative of a ‘rape culture’ on college campuses — has created a regime of kangaroo justice,” Barr wrote in the blurb.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr at the Justice Department, declined comment.

The book by Johnson and Taylor — and Barr’s endorsement of it — were part of the administrative record Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relied on to make her decision to roll back the Obama-era rules, according to records ordered released by a judge in response to a lawsuit challenging the rollback. DeVos, not Barr, has led the Trump administration’s effort to change campus sexual assault policy.

Taylor told NBC News that now that Barr is attorney general, “I am hopeful he will help move policy in the direction Betsy DeVos is trying to do,” while acknowledging that many of DeVos’s proposals could easily be undone by a future administration.

The changes include requiring schools to disclose the identity of accusers to alleged assailants and allowing the accused to question alleged victims during campus investigations.

In light of Trump’s recent tweet about the Justice Department and Kavanaugh, it’s unclear Barr has the power to do anything to “rescue” Kavanaugh or any male student accused of sexual misconduct. Most sexual offenses are prosecuted locally, not by the Justice Department, which handles sex trafficking and child exploitation cases.

In an interview, Taylor said Barr had agreed to write a blurb for his book at a time when neither expected Barr would serve in the Justice Department again. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Barr’s blurb has also raised concerns among some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it should have been raised during his confirmation hearings last January. A spokesman for Judiciary Democrats said they had not been aware of the blurb at the time.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, is among those who say they would have wanted to question Barr about the statement.

Due process is always important, Blumenthal told NBC News, but Barr’s comments are “way over the top.”

Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said Barr’s comments are “incredibly disturbing” coming from someone who is now the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

His statement “really discounts the experiences of survivors and the challenges they face,” Martin said.

She went on to raise concerns that Barr’s comments would mean his Justice Department would “leave schools less safe, especially for women and girls.”

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also members of the committee, agreed that Barr should have been pressed on the matter during his confirmation.

“This statement seems very out of step with the improvements that have been made in recent decades” around how victims of rape are “taken seriously,” said Whitehouse.

Trump and a number of administration officials have come under scrutiny for expressing skepticism about whether females alleging sexual assault should be believed.

In July 2017, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Candace Jackson told The New York Times that 90 percent of accusations fall into the category of “we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.” She later apologized for the comments.

Earlier, DeVos delivered a policy address in which she said “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”

At least 17 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Trump has strongly denied the accusations multiple times.

Taylor, the book’s author, said he doesn’t believe Barr’s endorsement of his book has any bearing on how he would pursue prosecution of sex crimes as attorney general.

Taylor said that he and his co-author are “strong critics” of Trump, adding, “I’m quite willing to believe a lot of the accusations against him are true.”

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