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Which way will Castro play it?

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Which way will Castro play it?

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On the roster: Which way will Castro play it? – Trump defends desire for foreign dirt – Buttigieg, Warren follow Trump’s lead on TV – Tillis may avoid nasty Senate primary – Dine and dash

WHICH WAY WILL CASTRO PLAY IT?
TEMPE, ARIZ. – Democrats are not unreasonably afraid of what is starting to happen in their presidential primary. But they should try to stop worrying. It’s inevitable. 

Fox six months, the Blue Team’s presidential contenders have been shadowboxing. Rather than directly attacking each other, they have been taking oblique, contoured swipes, often structured around pie-in-the sky policy provisions.

But that phase has apparently ended.

Consider the formerly beatific Beto O’Rourke. Appearing on MSNBC today, he went on a tear against frontrunner Joe Biden that would make even Donald Trump proud. O’Rourke, struggling to hold his spot in the second tier and offer some rationale for his otherwise aimless candidacy, tore into not just Biden, but also the most popular living Democrat, Barack Obama.

Calling Biden a “return to the past,” the former Texas congressman explained that Democrats “cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that’s good enough.” 

Complaining of Obama’s failure to enact “meaningful” gun control and of the high number of deportations in the previous Democratic administration, the sixth-place candidate for the nomination declared, “We cannot simply be about defeating Donald Trump.”

Hoo boy.

The joke is on O’Rourke because that is exactly what Democrats are about. The highest, greatest good for at least a plurality of his fellow partisans is beating the incumbent president. What they have so far mostly not been about is moody Texans who get their hair cut on the internet.

There are a couple of ways for O’Rourke and the 18 other candidates who have been staring at the vanishing point to think about the race.

One is to figure that, as history would suggest, Trump will be hard to beat and that it is imperative to avoid a bloodletting over the next 12 months. Not only would inevitable personal and character attacks weaken the eventual nominee, but the policy-oriented fights would tend to yank that same nominee toward positions unattractive to the suburban and small town voters on which the party must pin its 2020 hopes.

The other is to figure that, as current opinion polls would indicate, Trump is already irretrievably capsized and that the eventual nominee will be made stronger and more ideologically sound by a serious scourging. In this scenario, Democrats don’t need to hurry through the primary or blunt their attacks on each other because the general is pretty much in the bag.

Guess which one of the B and C flights the Democratic field tend to ascribe to? But are they willing to face the consequences of going negative when most primary voters are strongly opposed to knife-fight tactics?

We get why O’Rourke, dated and ill-fated, is trading in his Boy Scout kerchief for a sharp knife. But what about the rest of them? Particularly, what about the proto Beto, former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro?

You couldn’t call Castro’s candidacy to this point a flash in the pan because there’s been no flash. That’s not to say there isn’t some combustible material. He’s whip smart, experienced on the national level, connected to a deep-pocketed network of donors, hails from a delegate-rich early primary state and, in a huge primary field notable for its extreme pallor, the only Hispanic-American candidate.

Castro is no radical, so there’s little point for him to join the sideshow of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren fighting over who is the most liberal senator from New England born in the 1940s. So does he follow O’Rourke and start trying to hobble Biden at the risk of Chris Christie-ing himself or does he lay back and wait to try to benefit if Biden goes belly up?

We’ll find out at 6:30 pm ET when he faces voters and our colleagues Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum here tonight.

THE RULEBOOK: SUPPORT SYSTEM
“The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them; to the predilection and probable support of the people; to the disposition and faculty of resisting and frustrating the measures of each other.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 45

TIME OUT: PLAYING THE BLUES  
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Weave them together, and the tapestry of your Stanley Cup champions tell an even more powerful tale. ‘Character,’ owner Tom Stillman said, tears in his eyes. ‘That’s how they will be remembered.’ The team with the fewest points in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 became the first team in any of the four major sports leagues to rise from last place in the league standings after more than a quarter of the season, then still qualify for the league championship. And on Wednesday night at TD Garden, the Blues did what their predecessors could not: Finish. For the first time since their chase began in the 1967-68 season, the Blues stand alone, unrivaled in their relentlessness and inspiration. … The Blues taught us that sometimes heroes are just waiting to hear their names called. That a true team can achieve the impossible. That the past only holds you back if you let it.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
42 percent
Average disapproval: 51.4 percent
Net Score: -9.4 points
Change from one week ago: up 2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 42% approve – 53% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve – 49% disapprove; IBD: 42% approve – 52% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve – 53% disapprove; CNBC: 40% approve – 50% disapprove.]

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TRUMP DEFENDS DESIRE FOR FOREIGN DIRT
Fox News: “A defiant President Trump pushed back Thursday against the outrage over his comments that he would be open to accepting opposition research from individuals from foreign countries, arguing he should have no obligation to call the FBI in certain cases while trying to turn the tables on Democratic lawmakers over their own foreign contacts. ‘I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day,’ the president tweeted Thursday. Citing recent conversations with leaders in the United Kingdom and Ireland, France and Poland, Trump said, “We talked about ‘Everything!’’ … The president was fighting back amid the backlash over his interview with ABC News on Wednesday, where Trump was asked what he would do if a foreign power offered dirt on his 2020 opponent. ‘I think I’d want to hear it,’ Trump said, adding… The comments revived calls from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, including from Sens. Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke.”

Special Counsel recommends firing Conway for Hatch Act violations – Fox News: “The Office of Special Counsel recommended Thursday that Kellyanne Conway be fired from the federal government for violating the Hatch Act on ‘numerous occasions.’ The Hatch Act is a federal law that limits certain political activities of federal employees. The OSC, which is separate from the office with a similar name previously run by Robert Mueller, said in a scathing report released Thursday that White House Counselor Conway violated the Hatch Act by ‘disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.’ … But the White House showed no sign of taking action against Conway in response, calling the OSC ruling ‘unprecedented’ and suggesting it was politically influenced.”

House held contempt vote against Barr, Ross – Politico: “The House Oversight Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress on Wednesday for defying the panel’s subpoenas for documents about the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The vote came hours after President Donald Trump moved to block Congress’ access to the subpoenaed documents by asserting executive privilege. Trump issued the broad privilege claim at the urging of the Justice Department on Wednesday morning as the committee was beginning contempt proceedings against Barr and Ross for not complying with the panel’s subpoenas, which were issued in April.”

Amash breaks from party on contempt vote – The Hill: “Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the only Republican in Congress to come out in favor of starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump, broke with his party again on Wednesday with a committee vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt. Amash joined Democrats to vote in favor of the contempt resolution, which was in relation to subpoenaed documents on the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Amash had also sided with Democrats in votes over which amendments to add to the contempt resolution.”

BUTTIGIEG, WARREN FOLLOW TRUMP’S LEAD ON TV
NYT: “…Mr. [PeteButtigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has cracked the code of the early months of the presidential campaign, embracing TV appearances while mastering the art of creating moments for social media and cable news. … He’s not alone: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has inundated reporters with policy proposals, prompting hours of cable news coverage and forcing fellow candidates to respond to her ideas during live interviews. Over the first six months of the presidential campaign, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren have out-maneuvered the other 21 Democratic candidates, demonstrating an innate understanding of the value of viral moments and nonstop exposure that drives politics in the Trump era. … Unlike many of their rivals, who built their political careers in the era of carefully chosen, less-is-more press interaction, the two have placed their fate in the hands of TV bookers and the gods of online viral content.”

Bullock, shut out of debate, complains about debate criteria – Politico: “Montana Gov. Steve Bullock submitted paperwork to the Democratic National Committee asserting that he has qualified for the first primary debate at the end of June, setting up a showdown between the party committee and red-state governor. ‘Governor Bullock has met the threshold for qualification for the first debate,’ Bullock campaign manager Jenn Ridder wrote in a letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez, obtained first by POLITICO. But that’s an assessment the DNC likely disputes. At issue is whether Bullock has crossed the polling threshold to qualify for the first debate. Candidates needed to earn at least 1 percent in three polls conducted by qualifying organizations and released by the end of Wednesday. But Bullock’s case hinges on the rules surrounding a single poll released in January by ABC News and The Washington Post.”

Inslee still wants climate change debate – Fox News: “Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is stepping up his push to force the Democratic National Committee to hold a primary debate solely on the issue of climate change. ‘This planet is on fire and we have to have a debate on how to put it out,’ the Democratic presidential candidate and longtime champion of combating climate change told reporters. And Inslee warned that if the DNC doesn’t drop its opposition to a climate change-only debate, he will ‘be talking to the other candidates’ who agree with him and ‘we will pursue what other options we can make.’ Inslee made his comments Wednesday while campaigning in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the race for the White House. … [DNC Chairman TomPerez reportedly told activists who confronted him at a party gathering in Florida this past weekend that holding such a debate was ‘just not practical.’”

Schultz announces summer campaign convalescence – HuffPo: “Starbucks billionaire Howard Schultz told campaign staff that he is making significant cuts to his team, as he suspends his political plans for the summer. Schultz came into the office Wednesday for the first time in months and met with the staff, according to a person in the room. He announced that he was letting everyone go except those in senior leadership positions, adding he would not make a decision about running for president until after Labor Day. Shortly thereafter, Schultz sent an email to supporters, saying that medical reasons had taken him out of commission for months, and he still needed time to recover.”

Dem candidates’ faith becoming more central in 2020 – Politico: “After years of playing down or even ceding the message of faith and values to Republicans, Democratic presidential candidates are trying to reclaim it in the 2020 election… While past Democrats have shared their faith on the trail, party strategists and observers say it is playing a more central role in the 2020 campaign than they’ve seen in a long time. But the Democratic focus on religion comes with a new twist: While some previous Democratic candidates have used their faith to connect with conservative or traditionalist voters, 2020 hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten GillibrandCory Booker and others are using their religion to justify liberal positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and other policy areas that have traditionally animated the conservative religious right in the other direction.”

TILLIS MAY AVOID NASTY SENATE PRIMARY 
Politico: “Rep. Mark Walker has decided not to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina, in a relief to senior Republicans who feared a scorched-earth battle in a key state. Walker has been seriously considering a run for Senate but was eager to first secure President Donald Trump’s blessing. He met with Trump at the White House last month to discuss the race and was trying to lock down a second meeting this week as he weighed a bid. Top Republicans, however, had expressed concern to Trump about the potential consequences a nasty primary race could have on GOP control of the Senate and his own re-election prospects, and a green light from the president was unlikely to be coming. … Walker met with Tillis in his Senate office Wednesday afternoon to deliver the message that he would not challenge him, according to Jack Minor, a Walker spokesman.”

After failing first, Maine popular vote hack – Portland Press Herald: “House lawmakers reversed course Wednesday and voted to add Maine to the growing list of states pushing to switch to a national popular vote in presidential elections. The 77-69 vote in the Maine House came roughly two weeks after the national popular vote bill had failed by a 10-vote margin but after the Maine Senate had reaffirmed its support for the measure. The fate of the bill remains unclear, however, because it faces additional procedural votes in both the House and Senate. The bill would add Maine to the growing list of states pledging to use the national popular vote, rather than the Electoral College system, to choose a president. … Maine has four Electoral College votes.”

THE JUDGE’S RULING: TRASHING THE CONSTITUTION AGAIN
This week Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explains how the Department of Justice is attempting to ignore the Constitution by keeping American citizen Lyman Faris in jail because he could possibly commit a crime in the future: “Under the doctrine of the separation of powers — which is integral to the Constitution — only Congress can prescribe penalties for violations of federal law, not the executive or judicial branches. And under basic principles of due process in America, people are not punished because of what the government fears they might do. They may only be constitutionally punished for crimes for which they have lawfully been convicted — once real crimes, but in post-9/11 Orwellian America, regrettably, false crimes as well. … The day we move to punish people — citizens or not — because of what the government fears they might do is the day all liberty will be lost.” More here.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
McConnell pushes hard for budget deal – The Hill

House passes 9/11 victims fund bill – CBS News

Dems struggle to reach final agreement on bill to fund the migrant crisis – Politico

Trump unveils new red, white and blue Air Force One paint job – Fox News

AUDIBLE: ZING
“Well, you can ask Sen. [MarkUdall that question.” – Sen. Cory Gardner’s, R-Colo., joking about the incumbent senator he unseated in a long-shot bid in 2010, when asked by KDVR why Colorado voters who are writing him off are wrong.

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

DINE AND DASH 
Fox News: “The Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana said on Facebook a deputy spotted an 8-foot alligator Monday in the middle of Highway 1, but before the call was through, the cops learned the gator just wanted to eat and run. Deputies tried to contain the gator on the roadway north of Caddo Parish while awaiting the arrival of wildlife removal experts. But this gator was not going to be captured. The reptile ended up escaping the long arm of the law after taking a bite out of a deputy’s patrol vehicle. Photos posted to the sheriff’s Facebook show the gator lurking in tall grass and the damage to the vehicle afterward. A piece of the bumper that was torn away from the vehicle could be seen lying on the roadway. ‘The one that got away…’ the sheriff’s office wrote. The sheriff’s office said no one was injured during the incident.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“When I tell friends that three of us once drove from Washington to New York to see Garry Kasparov play a game [of chess], it elicits a look as uncomprehending as if we had driven 200 miles for an egg-eating contest.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2002.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Politics

U.S. president confirms no withdrawal from security pact: Japan

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Civil rights groups sue Tennessee over law imposing new penalties on voter registration

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s top government spokesman said on Tuesday the United States has confirmed its defense treaty with Japan after a report suggested U.S. President Donald Trump considered withdrawing from the pact.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that Trump has recently spoken privately about withdrawing from the treaty as he is of the view that the pact treated the United States unfairly.

“The thing reported in the media you mentioned does not exist,” Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

“We have received confirmation from the U.S. president it is incompatible with the U.S. government policy,” he added.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Darren Schuettler

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Winning ugly? Media hit Trump style over Iran, but sometimes it works

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Winning ugly? Media hit Trump style over Iran, but sometimes it works

It’s a headline that captures the establishment’s disdain for the president’s unorthodox style of governing.

“Trump’s Erratic Policy Moves Put National Security at Risk, Experts Warn,” says The Washington Post.

Never mind that the first three critics quoted — after a defense from Mike Pence on CNN — were Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

The other “experts” were two professors who were mildly critical and a lawyer who was supportive of Trump.

But the piece does get at a central question about this president in the wake of the aborted airstrikes against Iran, which he called off with 10 minutes to spare.

Does Trump preside over a messy and sometimes chaotic process? Of course. But sometimes that style gets results.

On Iran, for instance, many liberals liked that he pulled back on bombing over the downing of an unmanned drone, even as they say he extinguished a fire that he had started. (Maureen Dowd: “As shocking as it is to write this sentence, it must be said: Donald Trump did something right.”)

TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER DELIVERING ‘HARD-HITTING’ SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

In negotiations, the president often makes a dramatic demand or threat, sparking a media and diplomatic furor over whether this time he’s gone too far — then hammers out a compromise and claims victory. It’s the style of a blustery New York real estate developer who’s always one minute from walking away from the table, transferred to the staid, tradition-bound world of Washington.

Over the weekend, Trump called off a wave of ICE arrests that was to begin on Sunday, which he said would begin deportations of “millions” of illegal immigrants. That set off the predictable uproar.

Trump, after a reported call with Nancy Pelosi, said he was delaying the arrests for two weeks to allow time for negotiations with the Democrats. Nobody seems to think a deal can be struck in so short a period, but Trump won points with his base by threatening the mass arrests and again drove the news agenda.

SUBSCRIBE TO HOWIE’S MEDIA BUZZMETER PODCAST, A RIFF OF THE DAY’S HOTTEST STORIES

The Post’s take: “Three policy turnarounds by President Trump this month have underscored his freewheeling governing style, an approach that some experts warn sends mixed messages and puts U.S. national security at risk …

“The results of Trump’s strategy on policy have been mixed at best — and few issues offer as complete a picture of the president’s habitual brinkmanship as his effort to overhaul U.S. trade policy.”

Remember when Trump threatened to close the Mexican border? The Beltway went ballistic. He didn’t.

PELOSI SAYS ‘VIOLATION OF STATUS’ NOT A REASON TO DEPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Then he threatened to slap tariffs on all Mexican products, beginning at 5 percent, if the country didn’t crack down on migrants fleeing Central America for the U.S. border. Lo and behold, Trump got a last-minute agreement. It’s hard to judge how concrete these steps are, and The New York Times said most of them had been previously agreed to, but the perception — or perhaps the reality — is that he got Mexico to move.

Trump even used the tough-talk tactics against Canada before finally hammering out a trade deal. Whether the tariffs imposed on China ultimately lead to an agreement is another question.

The point is that while Trump’s approach horrifies the traditionalists, he rarely carries out the well-publicized threats.

I see a link between the zig-zagging negotiating style and the repeated failures of Trump’s vetting operation. Rather than wait for full-fledged inquiries and background checks, the president announces who he wants to nominate — and often has to pull back.

That was painfully on display when acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan had to withdraw over a violent family past that would have made clear he would be impossible to confirm. The same was true when the president had to drop his planned nominees to the Fed, Herman Cain and Steve Moore.

Axios obtained nearly 100 Trump transition vetting documents that clearly show the RNC and others were overwhelmed in trying to check on potential nominees. The documents show that ethical and management questions were raised about Scott Pruitt and Tom Price, who later had to resign their posts at EPA and HHS.

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As president, Trump has far more resources available to vet nominees, yet still rushes to name them before any real investigation.

This president isn’t going to win any awards for a tidy management process. But when it comes to military action and trade talks, he sometimes wins ugly.

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Emergency aid bill challenges Pelosi’s grip on Democrats

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Emergency aid bill challenges Pelosi’s grip on Democrats

A $4.5 million House bill aimed at providing more funding to migrant families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border is posing a challenge to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grip on her party, as its liberal faction argue that the bill doesn’t go far enough while moderates worry that pushing for perfection will result in inaction at the border.

Calls for more funding at the border come amid reports that children detained entering the U.S. from Mexico are being held under harsh conditions. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News on Monday that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is dire. Azar said HHS shelters are at capacity and the budget is not there to increase it unless Congress acts.

Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press that Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people – more than three times their maximum capacity.

A $4.5 trillion House bill aimed at alleviating circumstances like these is up for a vote Tuesday, but liberal Democrats are calling for provisions to strengthen protections for migrant children, and challenge the Trump administration’s border policies. Democrats met on Capitol Hill with Pelosi late Monday to try and reach a compromise. The meeting reportedly eased some Democratic complaints.

PELOSI TELLS NEW YORK CROWD ‘VIOLATION OF STATUS’ NOT A REASON TO DEPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Asked before the meeting about her concerns that Democrats’ push for perfection might result in inaction at the border, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called it “a delicate situation.” Afterward, she appeared to have left the door open saying: “My main goal is to keep kids from dying,” before calling the humanitarian bill a “short-term” measure.”

But others weren’t swayed. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said after the meeting: “We cannot continue to throw money at a dysfunctional system. We are not just asking for simple changes to be made into this bill, but to go back to the drawing board and really address this from a humanitarian issue.”

The White House accused lawmakers in a letter earlier Monday of trying to undermine its efforts at the border, arguing that the House package does provide enough money to toughen border security or funds for Trump’s proposed border wall.

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Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess. While lawmakers don’t want to depart without acting on the legislation for fear of being accused of not responding to humanitarian problems at the border, it seems unlikely that Congress would have time to send a House-Senate compromise to Trump by week’s end.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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