WASHINGTON — Republican Rep.-elect Dan Bishop’s narrow victory in a North Carolina special election had drawn a half-dozen excited tweets from President Donald Trump by early Wednesday morning.
“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race,” Trump tweeted. “Big Rally last night.”
A 2-point win in a district that Trump carried by 12 points in 2016 qualified as “monumental,” he said in a phone call with Bishop — and on one level it’s hard to argue with that interpretation in the context of Trump’s sub-40 percent national approval rating, the drubbing his party took in the 2018 midterm elections and an ever-more-chaotic administration atmosphere that saw the firing of his third national security adviser in less than three years on Tuesday.
But as a matter of measuring his standing before he faces voters next year, barely holding onto turf that’s been in Republican hands for decades — where he himself jetted in for a last-minute rally to pump energy into the GOP base Monday night — should be cause for the president to sound alarm bells in his ranks rather than blast triumphant notes from his own horn.
“Republicans should feel relieved they avoided a loss, but here’s why Bishop’s 2% win isn’t encouraging: There are 35 GOP-held House seats less Republican” than North Carolina’s 9th District, David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and an NBC contributor, wrote Tuesday night.
While Trump’s charge is different than that of House Republicans — he has to win state-by-state to take an electoral college majority, while they play district-by-district to try to recapture control of the House — the political dynamics are related. The results Tuesday night demonstrated that, at least outside Charlotte, Republicans aren’t winning back many in the vote-rich suburbs they lost in the 2018 midterms.
And yet Trump could take satisfaction in one obvious subplot. The district includes a portion of Fayetteville’s Cumberland County, and those precincts had favored the Democrat in the last House election. They were Trump’s target when he held the rally for Bishop on Monday at the Crown Expo Center in Fayetteville, tucked just inside the 9th District.
On Tuesday, Bishop won the Cumberland County part of the district by six votes.
No two races are exactly alike, but this one was a reasonably good bellwether because it was a do-over of a tainted contest from November in which Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by four-tenths of a point amid allegations of election fraud. This time, fewer than 190,000 people voted, compared to almost 283,000 in November.
The key takeaways: Bishop out-performed Harris in rural areas, and McCready beat his own numbers in suburban Mecklenburg County — increasing his share of the vote there from 54.9 percent to 56.3 percent.
Trump strategy for winning re-election relies heavily on massive rural Republican turnout in swing states — as it did in 2016 — but some Republicans have privately questioned whether he can win if he doesn’t find a way to reclaim some of the suburban voters he’s alienated during his presidency.
Frank Luntz, a veteran pollster and message-maker for GOP candidates, likened Bishop’s win to a heavily favored college football team hanging on in the final minutes against an opponent that shouldn’t have been in the ballgame.
“Conservative Twitter celebrating a 2-point win in a +12 GOP district from 2016 is like Michigan celebrating a win over Army in double-overtime,” he wrote on Twitter.
Of course, Tuesday night’s election was just one of 435 House races, run in the vacuum of a special election in an off-year between midterms and the next presidential contest. But it serves as another data point — along with many months of polling on the president’s approval rating, voters’ attitudes and head-to-head matchups between Trump and potential Democratic foes — that suggests he has a lot of work to do to reclaim voters and political turf he’s lost since 2016.
Nothing Trump has done so far — including taking a self-congratulatory victory lap Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — suggests he’s heard that wake-up call yet.
George Kent tells lawmakers he was told to ‘lay low’ after raising concerns about Giuliani
WASHINGTON — State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney appointed three other Trump administration officials to spearhead the president’s efforts in Ukraine.
According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was present for the deposition, Kent testified that Mulvaney oversaw a meeting where he sidelined State Department officials and tapped three political appointees — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, European Ambassador Gordon Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker — to oversee Ukraine policy for the United States.
Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and five other countries, told congressional investigators that the trio called themselves “the three amigos” and elbowed all the other officials at State out of the way, according to Connolly.
This not the first time Mulvaney was mentioned in depositions as part of the impeachment inquiry. President Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified that then-national security adviser John Bolton said he wanted nothing to do with Mulvaney and Giuliani’s objectives in Ukraine, which Bolton said amounted to a “drug deal.”
Just weeks before the May 23 meeting, Marie Yovanovich was told that she was being recalled as the ambassador to Ukraine despite being told that she had done nothing wrong, according to her congressional testimony last week.
According to Connolly, Kent also testified that after the May 23 meeting, he was told to “lay low” by a superior when he raised concerns about Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was working to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The way I took it,” Connolly told NBC News, was that Kent “had just finished describing how he had told people that this is wrong, that Giuliani is out of control.”
Kent also said, according to Connolly, that the Trump allies who pushed for Ukraine to investigate corruption made it clear that “POTUS” wanted cooperation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government.
Kent, who attended meetings and receptions with Zelenskiy and his advisers, said that Sondland and Volker floated the idea of a meeting with Trump, according to Connolly. Text messages between Volker and Sondland released this month also show that Zeleneskiy’s cooperation was expected in order to meet with Trump.
Volker testified behind closed doors last week that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption in Ukraine but that there was “no quid pro quo” for military and security aid, which the administration had put on hold for nearly four months. Sondland is expected to testify under subpoena on Thursday.
During his nearly 10 hours of testimony, Kent also told members of Congress and their staff that Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden was a board member, was corrupt, according to a separate person who was present in the room. Kent said he told the Obama administration in 2016 that they should not hold an event with Burisma because of the company’s extensive corruption in Ukraine.
Kent was called in to testify because he raised the alarm about the disinformation campaign that Giuliani and his associates pushed regarding Ukraine, according to a emails included in the packet that the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson provided to Congress, obtained by NBC News. He sent a series of emails to colleagues alerting them of the “fake news driven smear out of Ukraine.”
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