Ryan says conservatives must ‘fight back’ against the alt-right

Conservatives should "fight back" against the alt-right and white nationalists, and do a better job reclaiming classic terms to stamp out identity politics, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Thursday.

“We have to go back and fight for our ground and re-win these ideas and marginalize these guys the best we can to the corners,” Ryan said. “Do everything you can to defeat it.”

Ryan made the comments in conversation with National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg. The two conservatives spoke at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan had harsh words for the alt-right, an umbrella term for extreme right-wing individuals who reject mainstream conservatism and often embrace racism and white supremacy.

“That is not conservatism. That is racism. That is nationalism. That is not what we believe in. That is not the founding vision, that is not the founders’ creed,” Ryan said.

The alt-right grabbed headlines last year when a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the death of one woman.

Ryan said 21st century technology, which allows individuals to make money off pushing divisive messaging, makes the task of pushing out the alt-right particularly difficult. He said the faction “hijacked” conservative terms like “western civilization” and distorted the conservative message.

“It is identity politics. It’s antithetical to what we believe and it’s a hijacking of our terms,” Ryan said. “How do we get the core back? How do we get back classic liberalism properly understood in the 21st century?"

Ryan recently came under fire for not taking a harder line against Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has a history of inflammatory anti-immigrant remarks.

After King retweeted a Nazi sympathizer last month, a Ryan spokesperson ultimately said, “The Speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate.” King later boasted that the spokesperson didn’t even mention him by name.

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Democrats protest cuts in election security in giant GOP spending bundle

The House on Thursday passed another giant funding package, putting lawmakers exactly halfway on the path to advancing all 12 funding bills by Sept. 30.

But the march toward the Senate was interrupted by a raucous demonstration on the floor by Democrats, who broke into a chant of "USA, USA" as they forced a procedural vote attempting to restore election security grant funding slashed by Republicans.

The House’s flurry of action so far this summer is no reassurance that both chambers of Congress can muscle through all of the spending bills by the end of the fiscal year and avoid a stopgap spending measure — or even a potential government shutdown. The election security funds could be a flashpoint in the Senate, where Democrats hold more sway.

The two-bill fiscal 2019 spending bundle, which was approved 217-199, funds a slew of agencies including the Treasury Department, the IRS, the EPA, conservation programs — and election security.

House Democrats have seized on the GOP’s plan to reject new election security funding in the legislation, even as U.S. intelligence officials warn of the ongoing threat from Russia ahead of the midterms. That issue broke open this week, as an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller revealed new details of how Russian officers attempted to crack into state voter databases.

“Surely we can rise above pandering to party and Putin to act on behalf of our elections,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor Thursday, rallying Democrats in the chant before the effort to fund new election grants failed 182-232. “We have sworn an oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the spending panel, said the GOP’s decision to not add new election security money to an existing pot was the “worst cut” in the entire spending bill. “We have all heard the public warnings of our intelligence community that Russia will attempt to attack our democracy again,” Lowey (D-N.Y.) said this week.

“Yet instead of helping states protect and fortify their election infrastructure from cyber hacking, this bill would eliminate election security grants entirely.”

GOP leaders have argued that states haven’t yet used up all the money from the last omnibus — a total of $380 million. States have been slow to line up for that money, which was approved in March. But the Election Assistance Commission, which was created after the 2000 presidential election, said this week that about 88 percent of the money has now been transferred to the states.

States can use the cash to “to help secure voting systems and processes in upcoming elections,” including equipment replacement, systemwide audits, training and other technology upgrades. California has received $34 million, Texas has gotten $23 million and Florida has gotten $19 million.

With Thursday’s final passage vote, the House has now cleared six of 12 annual spending bills — the official midway point for its current spending season.

The Senate is planning to take up the House-passed package as early as next week, though it may look different than the House version, possibly stalling bicameral negotiations.

Senate GOP leaders hope to tuck their versions of two more monstrous bills into the legislation, Agriculture and Transportation-HUD, which the House has yet to pass. That move could further complicate efforts to combine each chamber’s version of the bills, though some House Republicans believe it’s possible to get that four-bill package through their side of the Capitol.

“We clearly have not coordinated minibus-to-minibus, so I don’t know what to think,” senior appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Wednesday, adding that he thinks “we could” take up the Agriculture and Transportation bills in the House.

As the House and Senate begin to reconcile their bills, one of the biggest hurdles is the inclusion of so-called poison pill riders.

The House’s bills have been written and approved almost entirely by Republicans, with Democrats howling that they’ve been left out of the process.

Those hyperpartisan spending bills — including today’s package of Financial Services and Interior-Environment titles — include conservative policies that will be sent to their grave in the Senate, where Democratic buy-in is more necessary due to the slim GOP majority.

This package, for instance, includes language to block an Obama-era rule on methane emissions, to weaken enforcement of Chesapeake Bay cleanup and to bar the EPA from regulating truck trailers under the Clean Air Act.

The other funding challenge is time. The House is planning to leave in early August for its monthlong break. When lawmakers return, they will have just three weeks in session before that Sept. 30 deadline.

The Senate, meanwhile, plans to remain on Capitol Hill for much of August, with part of that time devoted to spending work.

The House and Senate have already begun hashing out the details between three of their spending bills, which were approved in an earlier minibus. Those bills are Military Construction-VA, Energy-Water and Legislative Branch.

That conference committee has been stuck, however, because both parties can’t agree on how to pay for a funding shortfall for a veterans health program.

The House has also already passed its massive Defense spending bill, which the Senate has yet to take up. Senate GOP leaders hope to pair that Defense bill with another domestic bill, the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which the House has yet to approve.

DHS secretary agrees Russia meddled in election, but dodges whether it helped Trump

ASPEN, Colo. — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday that Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but declined to say directly that those efforts were aimed at helping elect Donald Trump.

“Russia was absolutely attempting to interfere in our election systems,” Nielsen said during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum. She endorsed the U.S. Intelligence Community assessment of Russian meddling "full stop," she said later.

But pressed by moderator Peter Alexander of NBC News, Nielsen down played that the effort was aimed to benefit Trump, calling it “an effort to attack certain political parties … more than others” and saying Russia’s primary purpose is to “sow discord” in the U.S.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” Nielsen said. “I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides, right, whether it was in Charlottesville where we saw them on both sides, whether it’s in Syria, both sides.”

“So, no, I would not necessarily say that was the purpose,” she said. “I think the overall purpose is to sow discord and get us all to fight against each other rather than understand who the enemy is.”

Pressed further during an audience question-and-answer session, Nielsen again underscored her support for the election interference assessment, but again ducked whether Russia’s aim was to help Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

"I agree with intel community’s assessment. Full stop," Nielsen said, though she still did not say whether Russia aimed to help Trump and disadvantage Clinton.

Nielsen also predicted Russia will likely attempt to interfere in upcoming elections, adding said the Homeland Security Department was working to help prepare states for it.

"I don’t think there’s any question in the intel community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system,” Nielsen said. “They have the capability. They have the intent.”

“What we’re doing at DHS is to work with states to prepare on that election infrastructure piece. That’s the piece we have lead on,” she said. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt that they did it, and I think we should all be prepared, given that capability and will, that they’ll do it again.”

The myriad agencies in the U.S. Intelligence Committee unanimously concluded that Russia had interfered in the U.S. elections to aid Trump and damage Clinton. And Trump appears to have finally endorsed those findings as well, after considerable back-and-forths.

On Wednesday, though, he appeared to undercut the Intelligence Community’s conclusions and a recent statement by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, when he said the Russian government is no longer trying to interfere in the U.S. political process. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later attempted to walk back the statement, saying that Trump simply said "no" to answering additional questions from reporters and that he hadn’t said Russia wasn’t attempting to undermine U.S. elections.

On Wednesday, in Aspen, FBI Director Chris Wray said he stands by the intelligence community’s assessment on the 2016 election meddling and emphasixed Russia is still working to “sow divisiveness” in the U.S.

McConnell-aligned group scraps ad campaign hitting Manchin

An outside group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is abruptly halting a planned ad offensive in the West Virginia Senate race, an early blow for the Republican Party in a critical midterm contest.

One Nation, a prominent conservative group, on Thursday cancelled hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV and radio spending in the state. The organization had planned a $750,000 campaign casting Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a top GOP target, as weak on immigration.

The offensive started on July 17 and had been scheduled to run through July 26, according to a person familiar with the media buy.

As part of its midterm blitz, One Nation had been slated to run ads in five Senate battlegrounds this month: West Virginia, North Dakota, Nevada, Indiana, and Arizona. People familiar with the group’s plans said it intended to move forward in the other four states.

Republicans have had high hopes for their West Virginia nominee, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, but several recent polls have shown him trailing Manchin.

“We are always making adjustments to where and when we are deploying our resources,” said One Nation spokesman Chris Pack. “There’s no major shift in strategic direction.”

House votes to prevent IRS from punishing churches engaging in politics

The House voted Thursday to make it harder for the government to punish churches that get involved in politics.

In a 217-199 vote, lawmakers approved legislation barring the IRS from revoking the tax-exempt status of churches that back political candidates, unless it is specifically approved by the commissioner of the agency.

The provision, buried in a budget measure setting IRS funding for the upcoming year, amounts to a backdoor way around the so-called Johnson amendment, a half-century-old prohibition on nonprofits getting involved in political campaign activities.

Nonprofits denounced the move, and noted it came only days after the Treasury Department announced it was dropping requirements that most charitable organizations disclose their big donors to the IRS.

“It’s now impossible for Congress and the White House to deny their objective: to politicize the trusted charitable nonprofit community by authorizing unlimited, unfettered and untraceable political money to flow through the nonprofit sector to benefit partisan special interests,” said Tim Delaney, head of the National Council of Nonprofits.

“Charitable nonprofits are not in the business of partisan politics and are not here to be used to hide or launder political money,” Delaney said.

The move came as Senate Democrats forced the postponement of a Finance Committee confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s pick to run the IRS, in protest of the Treasury decision to ease the donor-disclosure requirements. Democrats say that will abet the rise of so-called dark money political campaign donations.

The Trump administration and House Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to repeal the Johnson amendment, named after then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson who pushed it through Congress in 1954.

Targeting the prohibition through the budgetary process is sure to be controversial in the Senate. Republicans there did not include the proviso in their draft of the IRS’ budget.

"The Johnson amendment ought to be fully and permanently repealed," said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady. "We want our faith leaders to be able to exercise their free speech" without "having to look over their shoulder about what Washington might be intimidating them about."

The House bill would grant the tax collector an additional $186 million next year, increasing its budget to $11.6 billion. That includes another $77 million to help the agency implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the latest installation of money Congress has provided to execute Republicans’ tax overhaul.

The bill was wrapped into a broader funding measure setting the budgets for the Department of Interior, EPA and other programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Senate leaders jostle amid Trump-Putin fallout

Top senators in both parties continued jockeying for the upper hand on Russia on Thursday, with little sign of action in the short term in response to President Donald Trump’s widely criticized appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after a meeting with Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that he had asked their two committees to hold hearings on the implementation of last year’s bipartisan Russia sanctions bill "and to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior."

Routing the matter through those committees, however, promises to slow down action on any potential legislation ratcheting up pressure on Moscow after Trump’s friendly overtures to Putin this week. The move also could sap momentum for a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that some of their colleagues worry could unduly impact U.S. and European businesses.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer focused on Trump’s stated openness to allowing Putin’s government to question the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and anti-Kremlin U.S. investor Bill Browder.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Trump would consider giving Russia access to McFaul and Browder in exchange for U.S. access to Russian nationals indicted for hacking the 2016 election. The idea, which Putin offered after their Monday meeting in Helsinki, alarms lawmakers in both parties.

Schumer said in a floor speech that he would soon introduce a resolution stating that the U.S. should "refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official, or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin."

"This body must agree on the importance of protecting our ambassadors," Schumer added.

However, even if Republicans rattled by Putin’s interest in questioning McFaul and Browder support the resolution, its effect on the White House would be non-binding.

Also in the symbolic category is a resolution from Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) that would state the Senate supports U.S. intelligence agencies that have documented Russian efforts to sabotage the 2016 election and hails the Justice Department for the work that led to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicting 12 Russian intelligence officers for cyber-meddling last week.

The duo plans to seek unanimous consent to pass the resolution on Thursday.