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Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post / Getty Images
President Trump is defending Rob Porter even though, privately, he says he’s guilty.
Behind closed doors: The president has told multiple people that he believes the accusations about Porter, and finds him “sick.”
But his public comments don’t reflect that, at all.
Behind-the-scenes: Porter appears to have crossed Trump’s red line. In the Oval Office, Trump read a print-out of the Daily Mail story with incredulity. He quickly turned on Porter. Trump said he was shocked that this clean-cut Harvard guy with the perfectly parted hair — “straight out of central casting” — could have violently attacked women.
Over the last few days, the president has told associates he believes Porter’s ex-wives’ accusations.
Trump has also told associates that he views men who beat their wives the same way he views child molesters: as “sick puppies.” (This sits uncomfortably beside the fact that Trump stood by accused pedophile Roy Moore.)
“He thinks there’s something wrong with them [men who attack their wives] and they never change... He thinks they can’t be reformed.”— One source who has spoken with Trump about Porter.
But — at least in Porter’s case — he’ll still publicly back them up. On Friday, Trump expressed sympathy for Porter, praised his White House work, and made no mention of the women who say he attacked them.
Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
Consider this: It's been five days since domestic violence allegations toward Rob Porter surfaced. Within 24 hours, Porter was out of a job. The scandal has rocked the White House and one of its most astonishing components is that Chief of Staff John Kelly and the White House press shop are still providing conflicting stories about what happened.
This is crazy. Even in a White House that's famous for chaos, I've never seen anything like this.
Through an outside ally, Kelly has given the following account:
But the White House has publicly projected the opposite version of events. Here's what officials have told reporters on background and, in part, on the record:
One more surreal twist: Representing the Trump administration on CBS' "Face the Nation" today, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Porter was given "the benefit of the doubt" until the photos came out showing the black eye he allegedly gave his ex-wife. (This contradicts Kelly's story: The first time anybody saw these photos was at 1:53 a.m. on Wednesday when The Intercept's reporter Ryan Grim tweeted them out.)
Bottom line: Either the White House spokespeople or the president's chief of staff is lying. It's a stunning display of incompetence that five days after the initial story broke, they still can't get their stories straight.
The White House will release two documents on Monday: its much-ballyhooed infrastructure plan and its 2018 budget. Readers should file both documents under the genre of “science fiction.” The budget is dead on arrival because presidential budgets are always dead on arrival, and the infrastructure plan appears to be dead on arrival because of a larger crisis facing the party.
Behind-the-scenes: Caitlin Owens and I have spent the past two weeks interviewing Republican aides and lawmakers on Capitol Hill about their support for a massive infrastructure spending bill. Though some will publicly applaud the plan, most Republican members will crinkle their noses. Few want a midterm-year spend-a-thon when they’re marching toward a $1 trillion deficit this year.
"I think [the budget deal] does hurt the chances for an infrastructure package to get done, unless you use the money we’re just now spending... I think there’s not going to be the appetite to continue to add additional monies without real offsets.”— House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows
It’s not just ultra-conservative House Freedom caucus members who worry about the mushrooming debt under total GOP control of government.
Sources say Speaker Paul Ryan has zero interest in juicing the debt even more with a massive infrastructure package. (The White House plan is to leverage $200 billion of new federal spending into a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package.)
All that said, it’s certainly plausible Congress could move some hodge-podge of provisions which they could describe as an infrastructure package. It won’t look remotely like Trump’s proposal, but it may give cover for a Rose Garden celebration.
Meanwhile, congressional leadership is hedging. GOP leadership aides reminded me of all the infrastructure legislation Republicans have already passed under Trump, but didn’t dispute that there’s scant GOP appetite for another mammoth spending bill this year.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell — whose wife, Elaine Chao, is Trump's Transportation Secretary and invested in infrastructure happening — was a little snarky in his statement:
“It’s easy to write obituaries in advance — it’s hard to cover dozens of hearings and weeks of floor debate."
Good one, Don.
Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
The Senate will do something highly unusual on Monday.
In the words of a senior Senate aide, Mitch McConnell will effectively tell his colleagues: "Listen boys and girls, you all have lots of different ideas about what should be done on immigration. So put your big boy and big girl pants on, and put your ideas on the floor for a vote. Do your best; try to get to 60 votes to pass a bill."
Bottom line: This is McConnell fulfilling his promise to allow an open-ended vote on immigration. He gave the promise in order to reopen the government, but it's likely he would've felt he had to do so anyway because his conference is so hopelessly divided on immigration and Democrats have a lot of power, too.
Our tip: Keep an eye on senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue. They reflect President Trump's thinking on immigration.
Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
I checked in with Chuck Grassley, the powerful Senate Judiciary Chairman, who's been twisting arms for his (and Dick Durbin's) Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act .
Why it matters: Grassley-Durbin is the most ambitious bipartisan criminal justice reform bill out there. On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will vote on it. Little known fact: 20 senators are co-sponsors.
What we're hearing: There's scant appetite in the Trump administration for Grassley's bill, which combines both prison reform (including programs to rehabilitate prisoners) and sentencing reform (shorter sentences for non-violent criminals.) Grassley introduced the same bill last Congress but McConnell refused to bring it up for a vote.
The political reality: Grassley didn't deny the White House’s cool reception of his bill, but he plans to use his substantial political clout to press Trump to change his mind.
"I've carried a lot of water for the White House," Grassley told me. "They ought to give some consideration for the close working relationship we’ve had on issues we agree on."
"I think people at the White House have not wanted to go against Gen. Sessions," he added, before closing with a sentence crafted perfectly to appeal to Trump's ego. "This is an opportunity for a bipartisan victory by the President of the United States."
President Trump's week, per a White House official: