Ryan won’t run
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan this week joined the growing avalanche of Republican congressional retirements, announcing that he won’t run for re-election this fall. Ryan’s retirement is the loudest alarm bell yet that the GOP’s House majority could be in jeopardy. With many House Republicans facing difficult races against energized Democratic opponents, more than 40 are leaving their seats to retire or run for other offices, and further GOP retirements are now expected. One hour after Ryan’s announcement, Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida announced that he would be retiring as well. Ryan, whose frustrations trying to reconcile mainstream conservatives and hard-right members in his caucus are well known, insisted that he’s not leaving because he fears losing the speaker’s gavel. “You all know I did not seek this job,” Ryan said. “I have no regrets.”
Border troops arrive
Texas became the first state to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border last week, as part of a security buildup ordered by President Trump, who has been increasingly frustrated by his inability to build a border wall. The Republican governors of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico have pledged a total of 1,600 National Guard troops, with nearly 700 personnel already dispatched. California, whose Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has clashed bitterly with Trump over immigration policy, will mobilize 400 troops. Defense Secretary James Mattis has approved Pentagon funding for up to 4,000 National Guard border personnel through the end of September. The Guard units will serve in support roles, assisting civilian law enforcement with activities like surveillance, but they will not make arrests or carry guns. “That is not their role,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Trump’s Mueller fury
The White House confirmed this week that President Trump believes he has the authority to fire Robert Mueller himself. “He certainly believes he has the power to [remove him],” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, breaking with legal experts who contend that Trump can’t fire the special counsel personally. Instead, he would have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the Russia probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, to fire him. Rosenstein has said he would refuse to fire Mueller without clear evidence of misconduct. White House insiders told Axios.com that Trump is at a “breaking point” with Mueller after the offices of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, were raided by the FBI. CNN reported that Trump is considering firing Rosenstein and replacing him with someone willing to put more limits on Mueller’s probe.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott jumped into the U.S. Senate race this week, cementing Florida’s status as a key battleground in this year’s midterm elections. The two-term governor, who has no serious primary opponents, will face incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in what’s expected to be one of the most expensive races in the country. Scott alone is expected to spend upwards of $150 million on the race, mainly on TV ads. The wealthy former health-care executive spent tens of millions of his own fortune on his two gubernatorial campaigns, winning each race by a roughly 1-point margin. Recent polling shows Nelson and Scott essentially tied. Republicans are expected to suffer heavy national losses in House seats, but Scott’s entry into the race could boost their chances of holding, or even expanding, their Senate majority. Nelson is one of 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in a state won by President Trump.
Trump Tower fire
New York City
A Manhattan man was killed last week after a fire tore through his apartment on the 50th floor of Trump Tower. Todd Brassner, a 67-year-old art collector, died at a hospital after rescuers found him unconscious. President Trump has a penthouse on the 58th floor of the Fifth Avenue high-rise, and the Trump Organization is headquartered on the 26th floor. The tower’s upper residential floors, including Brassner’s apartment, are not outfitted with sprinklers because New York City law requires only residential buildings built after 1999 to be equipped. When the law was being considered, Trump and other real-estate developers successfully argued that retrofitting older buildings such as Trump Tower, which opened in 1983, was unnecessary and expensive. “Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”
President Trump this week denied reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is losing influence within the administration. The Washington Post reported that Kelly’s status has eroded in recent weeks, with Trump bypassing his top aide on recent personnel and policy decisions. Sources told the Post that Kelly threatened to resign after a heated Oval Office confrontation that occurred the same day Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Kelly’s standing with some White House staffers has also been damaged by his response to the Rob Porter scandal, with some suggesting Kelly deliberately misrepresented what he knew about allegations of domestic abuse against Porter. First lady Melania Trump is also said to be angry with Kelly about the dismissal of Johnny McEntee, Trump’s 27-year-old personal assistant, for undisclosed security reasons. “Story on John Kelly isn’t true,” Trump tweeted. “Just another hit job!”