President Donald Trump announced Friday that his pick for the nation’s top intelligence post was withdrawing from consideration and would remain in Congress.
“Our great Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is being treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media. Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people,” Trump tweeted in the afternoon.
“John has therefore decided to stay in Congress where he has done such an outstanding job representing the people of Texas, and our Country,” he added.
The Texas congressman himself later tweeted a statement withdrawing from consideration for the post, saying he did “not wish for a national security and intelligence debate surrounding my confirmation, however untrue, to become a purely political and partisan issue.”
The unraveling of Ratcliffe’s nomination to become director of national intelligence happened slowly at first, and then all at once.
Multiple sources familiar with the discussions point to a combination of building Republican pressure and escalating anxiety on Ratcliffe’s part. The situation hit a boiling point Friday morning, when it became clear Ratcliffe, 53, had little desire to stomach what would have been a bruising confirmation battle in the fall — becoming alarmed at what he viewed as a concerning media narrative.
His selection had come under significant scrutiny in recent days, with many former intelligence officials expressing concern that Trump’s pick might politicize the job.
Hours before the president announced him as the pick to be the new director of national intelligence Sunday, Ratcliffe was on Fox News saying the Russia investigation may have been tainted by a criminal conspiracy, without offering any evidence.
Ratcliffe had little experience in national security or national intelligence. In late July, NBC News first reported that the congressman had overstated parts of his résumé. Although his website says he “put terrorists in prison,” there is no evidence he ever prosecuted a terrorism case.
Compounding Ratcliffe’s growing hesitation in the face of several similar reports, multiple Republicans were conveying concerns privately to the White House about his lack of experience operating in the intelligence community space. Since joining the House Intelligence Committee seven months ago, Ratcliffe has not traveled overseas for any of the committee’s available congressional trips, according to one source. (Another source pointed out Ratcliffe did join House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for a bipartisan weeklong visit to Venezuela.)
When asked about the pick Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed lukewarm toward Ratcliffe — and the controversies surrounding him.
“I would lean towards the president’s nominees, and I’d rather not address that until I’ve actually had a chance to meet him and discuss his background and qualifications,” McConnell said then. It was in sharp contrast with his praise for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Sunday — the day the president announced his selection of Ratcliffe with no prior notice to Coats, according to sources familiar with the decision, who then hastily released a resignation letter, in a chain of events that further angered the former Republican senator’s allies in the Senate.
Those Republicans conveying concerns to the White House also indicated that Ratcliffe’s path to nomination, while not impossible, was bound to be rocky. Some in the White House dismissed that claim, arguing that Ratcliffe would ultimately have had the votes for confirmation, had he not withdrawn from consideration. “We were very early in the process and I think we would have had good support, certainly from the Republicans,” the president said at the White House on Friday afternoon.
Ratcliffe did have backing from some key Trump allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was supportive of the Texas congressman taking a role inside the administration. Underscoring how quickly Ratcliffe’s nomination push evaporated, the president had publicly expressed confidence in his DNI pick as late as Thursday afternoon. “I’m sure that he’ll be able to do very well,” Trump said then. “I think he’s just outstanding.”
The president’s initial selection of Ratcliffe had confirmed some Republicans’ long-held fear: that when the president eventually replaced Coats, he would select someone with little management or intelligence experience.
Now, Ratcliffe’s withdrawal from consideration is likely to raise questions anew about the White House’s vetting process, with the president having withdrawn proposed nominations at least 35 times — often because nominees were not fully vetted before he announced them.
Republicans have grumbled for months about how controversial figures such as Herman Cain, Stephen Moore and others often ended up floated for positions with little apparent vetting from the White House. Reports that Ratcliffe appeared to embellish his record did little to assuage those concerns.
On Friday, the president shrugged off those concerns — and, despite his earlier claim that Ratcliffe was withdrawing because he had been treated “unfairly” by the press, told reporters he prefers to see how the media reacts to his picks first. “I give out a name to the press, and they vet for me,” he said. “We save a lot of money that way.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed relief Friday over Ratcliffe’s withdrawal. “Thank goodness,” he said in a statement. “Rep. Ratcliffe never should have been considered in the first place. This is part of a pattern from President Trump: nomination on a whim without consultation or vetting, and then forced withdrawal when mess ensues… The next Director of National Intelligence must be someone who is nonpartisan, sees the world objectively and speaks truth to power.”
Trump said Friday that he would announce his new pick for the job “shortly.”
Later in the afternoon, he told reporters he had a list of three candidates under consideration for the permanent position.
By late Friday, a bipartisan push began to emerge in support of Sue Gordon, principal deputy director of national intelligence, who is widely respected both on Capitol Hill and in the president’s orbit for her decades of experience in the intelligence community. While one current and one former U.S. official familiar with the matter say the White House had been planning to prevent Gordon from stepping into Coats’ role in an acting capacity, the president seemed to warm to the idea Friday. “Sue Gordon is there now and I like her very much,” he said. “Certainly she will be considered for the acting [job.]”
Leigh Ann Caldwell, Alex Moe, Frank Thorp V and Adam Edelman contributed.
Joe Biden hits back amid reports Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his son
“Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum,” Biden said. The comments come amid reports that President Trump pressed the head of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Trump administration also announced it would deploy troops to Saudi Arabia after the attack on its oil fields last week.
Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
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