Trump-aligned super PAC to hold fundraising meeting in Texas Tuesday

President Donald Trump’s political operation will accelerate its planning for the 2018 and 2020 elections this week, with a group of deep-pocketed donors gathering in Texas to plot the path forward, according to four people involved in planning the event.

Oilman T. Boone Pickens will host Trump’s financial backers at his Mesa Vista ranch on Tuesday. The group of two dozen contributors, which will include Republican bundler Roy Bailey and businessman Tommy Hicks, will lay out plans to raise money for the Trump-aligned America First Action super PAC. The organization, which is the primary Trump-backed outside group, is expected to play a role in a number of 2018 midterm races.

Bailey is spearheading an effort to establish a fundraising committee for the super PAC. Those involved in the group include energy executive Harold Hamm, real estate investor Jim Wilson, businessman Doug Deason and investor Jim Lee.

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., is slated to address the meeting. The younger Trump recently cut a check to the super PAC, according to two people familiar with the donation. The organization’s president, Brian O. Walsh, will also give a presentation.

It will be America First Action’s first major organizational meeting. While much of the focus will be on 2018, there is also expected to be discussion of 2020. Many of the people raising money for the group are likely to be part of the fundraising team on Trump’s re-election campaign.

America First Action has been largely quiet this year, though it did invest in the Alabama special election on behalf of GOP Sen. Luther Strange. The super PAC and its allied non-profit, America First Policies, have raised around $25 million, according to an official.

The president will be in Dallas on Wednesday for a fundraiser benefiting his re-election campaign. About $4 million is expected to be raised.



CBC women: John Kelly must apologize to Rep. Wilson

White House chief of Staff John Kelly must apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) for his "blatant lies," according to a statement released Sunday by 17 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The statement from her fellow members continues the ongoing tit-for-tat between the Trump administration and Wilson over who is telling the truth about President Donald Trump’s call expressing his condolences over the death of a U.S. serviceman in fighting in Niger.

“General Kelly’s comments are reprehensible. Congresswoman Wilson’s integrity and credibility should not be challenged or undermined by such blatant lies. We, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus, proudly stand with Congresswoman Wilson and demand that General Kelly apologize to her without delay and take responsibility for his reckless and false statements," said the members, including Democratic former CBC chairs Marsha Fudge of Ohio, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters of California, and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas.

Kelly, himself a Gold Star father, accused Wilson of inappropriately listening to Trump’s call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. service members killed in Niger. Kelly made an unusual appearance during the White House press briefing to address Wilson’s claim that President Donald Trump was insensitive during a call with Johnson’s wife, Myeshia Johnson. Wilson was present when she received Trump’s phone call.

Further seeking to undermine Wilson, Kelly alleged that the Florida representative flippantly claimed credit for getting funding for a Miami FBI building that was dedicated to two slain agents. Video from the event directly refutes Kelly’s claims. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Kelly, a four-star general, by saying it was inappropriate to criticize someone of his rank.

For his part, Trump attacked Wilson again Sunday through his Twitter account.

"Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action & vote R!"


Khizr Khan: Families of fallen soldiers in Niger deserve ‘dignity and respect’

With President Donald Trump once again in a dispute over the treatment of Gold Star families, Khizr Khan on Sunday said the families of the fallen servicemen in Niger deserve "dignity and respect."

During an interview with CBS’ "Face the Nation," Khan, the father of a serviceman killed in Iraq, said that the soldiers will always be remembered and that their "families will always be remembered as best of America."

"I stand with them. I support them. They deserve utmost dignity and respect and privacy at this moment. That should have been quoted when this matter came to public. But that had not been done," Khan said. "It had been made political football. Again, I request and I ask utmost dignity, respect and privacy."

Trump fueled controversy over his treatment of Gold Star families in recent days as part of a dispute with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.). Wilson said she and four witnesses overheard Trump on speakerphone say to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway." The congresswoman also said Trump did not know Johnson’s name.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Wilson’s comments and called her statement untrue. Johnson was one of four American soldiers killed in the African nation of Niger.

Khan also said he believes chief of staff John Kelly should have refrained from speaking about the controversy. Kelly earlier this week said that Gold Star families are no longer considered above criticism, a shift that occurred during the "convention over the summer."

Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016, and his remarks there drew the wrath of Trump as well. Khan’s son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed during an explosion in 2004 during the Iraq War.

During the "Face the Nation" interview, Khan said that he acknowledges Kelly’s "sacrifices and service and his family’s service," but that he "should have refrained from doing exactly same thing that he was complaining about."

Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director, on Sunday said during an interview with ABC’s "This Week" that soldiers serve to protect the rights of United States citizens, even those who criticize the military.

“We, in uniform, protect the rights of those to criticize us, frankly … at the end of the day, we are fiercely protective of the rights of our Americans to express themselves even if that includes criticizing us,” he said.


Trump to rally House Republicans around Senate budget

President Donald Trump on Sunday will implore House Republicans to back a Senate budget they resent in order to boost momentum for a massive tax reform overhaul, multiple GOP aides told POLITICO.

Trump will join a rare Sunday afternoon House GOP conference call to rally Republicans behind the budget bill. Its passage would allow Republicans to fast track their tax plan and move it forward without Senate Democratic votes, potentially giving them a legislative accomplishment Republicans desperately want after their fumbling efforts earlier this year to repeal Obamacare.

Trump’s presence on the call highlights the sensitivity of the upcoming vote for House Republicans, who are typically more conservative then their Senate colleagues. Backing the Senate bill would require them to vote for a budget that is not balanced over 10 years — it would allow tax cuts to add $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit — and does not include spending cuts the House had incorporated in its own earlier draft of the budget bill.

GOP leaders and the White House argue that time haggling with the Senate over the fiscal blueprint will only delay the tax bill by three or more weeks. Better to just accept the Senate version and move on, they say.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) have been making that argument to their members in phone calls over the past several days.

Trump has also spoken to some House Republicans, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker. The North Carolina Republican — a vocal proponent of the House’s proposed $200 billion in cuts to welfare programs, which were sidelined in the Senate — asked GOP leaders to commit to separate votes on a balanced budget amendment and other deficit-reduction legislation.


Sen. Lankford: Lawmakers want full story on Niger

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford on Sunday said lawmakers want a "full, accurate story" on what happened to the four servicemen who were killed on a mission in Niger, adding that "at this point we have conflicting stories."

"We have all the same questions that have already been mentioned there as well to find out what actually happened. That’s the key aspect right now, is all the facts that are on the ground," Lankford, a Republican who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on CBS’ "Face the Nation."

When asked whether he shares the same frustration as some of his collgues like Sen. John McCain for the lack of information from the Trump administration, Lankford said he does.

"I do. What Senator McCain focuses on is getting the full story, not getting parts of the story or not getting conflicting stories," he said. "So at this point we have conflicting stories. We want to be able to get the full, accurate story and get it right."

Lawmakers are supposed to be briefed this week on the mission in Niger.


Schumer: Bipartisan health care bill ‘has a majority’

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that the Alexander-Murray bipartisan health care bill has a majority of votes supporting and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should bring it to the floor "immediately."

“This is a good compromise. It took months to work out. It has a majority. It has 60 senators supporting it. We have all 48 Democrats, 12 Republicans," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "I would urge Senator McConnell to put it on the floor immediately, this week. It will pass and it will pass by a large number of votes.”

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced this past week that they had reached an agreement on a Obamacare deal which would fund a key insurance subsidy program.

Schumer said that President Donald Trump originally urged lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan health care fix, but said the president’s hesitancy to support the bipartisan bill comes after the "right wing" attacked it.

"The Republicans are in charge, and they should be coming up with a solution and Senator Alexander, their leader on health care did," Schumer said.

"We can get together in a bipartisan way, the president urged it originally. He called both Senators Murray and Alexander and said, ‘Come to a solution.’ Then they come to a solution. The right wing attacks it, and he backs off. That’s not leadership."

McConnell said on Sunday during an interview with CNN’s "State of the Union" that he would only bring the bill to the floor if Trump would sign it. Trump has called the bill a "short-term fix" and has urged lawmakers to go further.


Graham says servicemen in Niger were there to ‘defend America’

Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday said he was given a little insight on the mission in Niger where four United States servicemen were killed and that they were there to "defend America."

“I can say this to the families: They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies," the South Carolina senator said.

Speaking on "Meet the Press," Graham said lawmakers will be briefed next week on why the troops were in Niger and what they are doing. But Graham said he was given "a little, little insight on why they were there and what they were doing."

The South Carolina senator also through his support for a new system his ally Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is trying to create with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to answer questions on where American soldiers are around the world and why they are there.

"Senator McCain is frustrated, rightly so, we don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing," Graham said, adding that with McCain’s system: "We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper."

The Pentagon later said that about 800 U.S. soldiers were in Niger at the time of the attack. They are said to be there to help combat an insurgent group, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which is taking advantage of general instability in that region of Africa.

Graham also said he doesn’t believe that Islamic State-affiliated forces in Niger will have the capability to attack the United States, but could attack our allies.

"The ungoverned spaces of Africa is where the terrorists will come after you defeat them in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. And there are some groups within this system of terrorist groups in Africa that would attack our allies or the United States.”


Sherrod Brown: Trump at ‘fork in the road’ on working with Democrats

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said on Sunday that President Donald Trump is at a "fork in the road" on working with Democrats on a bipartisan bill for tax reform.

"If he throws in with McConnell and the billionaires, Democrats don’t support it," Brown said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

"If he chooses to fight for the middle class and help those companies that keep production in the United States, not the bill that McConnell has, if he does that, it’s a bipartisan bill. That’s what I have been saying all along.”

Brown offered a distinction between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump, saying that the president needs to decide whether he’s "going to go with his campaign promises and his more recent comments, too, about focusing on the middle class," or choose McConnell’s tax reform bill.

"That’s the fork in the road. And, so far, the jury’s out," said Brown, who’s hoping for a plan that would encourage American employers to pay decent wages.

Brown also compared Trump’s White House to a retreat for Goldman Sachs executives.

Trump met with senators this past week, and he suggested that a bipartisan working group for tax reform should be created.

"The people closest to the president whispering in his ear all want to do tax cuts for — want to do trickle-down economics, big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, and hope it trickles down," Brown said.


McConnell: Bannon a specialist ‘at nominating people who lose’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that Steve Bannon, along with others who are not backing GOP incumbents, are "specialists at nominating people who lose."

During an interview on "Fox News Sunday," McConnell responded to a clip played by guest host of Dana Perino of Bannon who called out the Senate majority leader for supporting appointed Sen. Luther Strange for the Republican primary for Alabama’s special election. Strange ended up losing to Bannon-backed former judge Roy Moore.

"Some of these folks you’ve been quoting, as I said, are specialists at nominating people who lose, and that isn’t going to help President Trump achieve his agenda," McConnell said.

Bannon, who served as Trump’s chief strategist before returning to Breitbart where he serves as executive chairman, has also begun recruit challengers to incumbent Republicans.

On CNN’s "State of the Union," McConnell said the only way to advance Trump’s agenda, is to elect people who support it. He also referred to the 2010 and 2012 elections, when Republicans looking to take control of the Senate suffered setbacks because the GOP nominated candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.

“I think most Republicans want to see us win elections, because I always remind people that the winners of elections make policy, and the losers go home and go into some other line of work," he said. "The years in which we have nominated people who could win, we took the majorities, and years in which we didn’t, we lost.”

"These interparty skirmishes are all about whether or not we can nominate a candidate who can win in November," McConnell said.


Price’s wife defends AIDS quarantine remark as ‘provocative’

Betty Price, the wife of former HHS Secretary Tom Price, is defending her comment about quarantining people with HIV as an attempt to be provocative about a public health crisis.

The physician and Georgia state legislator says she does not favor quarantining people with HIV or AIDS.

"I made a provocative and rhetorical comment as part of a free-flowing conversation which has been taken completely out of context." she said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday. "I do not support a quarantine in this public health challenge and dilemma of undertreated HIV patients. I do, however, wish to light a fire under all of us with responsibility in the public health arena."

Her comments last week at a state House Study Committee meeting were videotaped and widely circulated.

"I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it,” Price said then.

"Is there an ability, since I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition," she said. "So, we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. What would you advise, or are there any methods legally that we could do, that would curtail the spread."

On Saturday, Price stressed she has worked in public health for years and had made the comments during a discussion of why there were so many people in Georgia who were not getting treatment and posed a risk of spreading the virus to others. Georgia has one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country.

She is married to Tom Price, who resigned as HHS secretary last month amid multiple federal inquiries and growing criticism spurred by POLITICO reports of his use of private and government planes for travel.