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PW exclusive: Tillis has no ‘particular concerns’ about Mueller’s findings

Sen. Thom Tillis

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis isn’t troubled by the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, he told Policy Watch on Wednesday.

The North Carolina Republican said he’s looking at “whether or not we should review the end-to-end investigation. But on its face, I’ve read it and I don’t have anything, I don’t have any particular concerns.”

Last month, the Justice Department released a 448-page redacted report detailing the findings of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The thorough two-year probe concluded that there wasn’t  sufficient evidence to show that “any member of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.”

But Mueller declined to reach a conclusion about whether President Trump had obstructed justice. Mueller’s report says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

The report also depicts Trump’s efforts to direct his staff to fire Mueller during the investigation. Then-White House counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out the order, “deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the report says. Trump has disputed that finding.

Asked Wednesday whether he found anything about the president’s behavior disconcerting, Tillis told NC Policy Watch that he was heartened by the revelations in Mueller’s report.

“What I liked the most is about the smart people that he had advising him. Because that’s why at the end of the day they drew the conclusion there was no obstruction,” Tillis said.

Tillis, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was en route to a hearing with Attorney General William Barr. In the wake of news reports Wednesday that Mueller wrote a letter to Barr in late March complaining to Barr about his portrayal of Mueller’s findings, some Democrats are calling on Barr to resign.

Tillis called those demands “pure politics, no merit.”

After Barr released his initial summary of Mueller’s report in March, Tillis issued a statement lauding Mueller and his investigation. “In the end, the special counsel found there was no collusion and President Trump has been vindicated,” he said.

“Democrats in Congress now have a choice to make: accept the findings of the Mueller report and move on to advancing the business of the American people or instead pander to their fringe base by rejecting the Mueller report and launching politically-motivated and conspiracy-fueled investigations that will further divide our country.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

Meadows has Trump’s back on Twitter, and Trump loves it

Rep. Mark Meadows

President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mark Meadows has been showing up a lot lately on President Trump’s Twitter feed.

The 11th District North Carolina Republican and chairman of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus is one of Trump’s most fervent defenders, and he’s been using Twitter to lash out against the president’s critics since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report was released last week.

Trump appreciates Meadows having his back.

On Thursday, the president retweeted two of Meadows’ posts attacking House Democrats over their response to the Mueller report. Trump retweeted another post linking to a news article about one of Meadows’ tweets.

In one post that Trump shared with his nearly 60 million Twitter followers, Meadows wrote, “We knew they wouldn’t give up. The collusion delusion fell flat, and now reports say House Democrats are preparing to “ramp up” their investigations of President Trump. Not “move on”—“ramp up.” They’re doubling down. This is a myopic obsession with politically targeting POTUS.”

Trump also retweeted a post in which Meadows blasted Democrats for demanding an unredacted version of the Mueller report. “They’re not interested in transparency. They want a political foil,” Meadows wrote.

Trump on Thursday retweeted a flurry of posts from Republican members of Congress attacking the Mueller investigation, criticizing Democratic lawmakers and backing Trump’s calls for a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

The president’s retweets came after he fired off a series of his own posts, including sharp criticism of former Vice President Joe Biden — who formally jumped into the 2020 presidential race.

He wrote to Biden: “Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty – you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

Betsy DeVos’ family boosts Tillis’ 2020 campaign

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Sen. Thom Tillis

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family members spent $22,400 so far this year to help fund North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’ re-election prospects, according to federal campaign finance data released this week.

DeVos’ in-laws — Michigan conservative donors and heirs to the Amway fortune — have plowed cash into the coffers of Republican Senate candidates across the country who are up for re-election in 2020, the records show.

DeVos’ husband, Dick, has three siblings — Doug, Daniel and Suzanne — each of whom contributed $5,600 to Tillis’ campaign in March. Doug’s wife, Maria DeVos, also contributed $5,600 to the campaign. That’s the maximum contribution allowed per election cycle under federal election law.

As Trump’s education secretary, DeVos has been one of the administration’s most controversial cabinet officials.

She made waves during her January 2017 confirmation hearing when she cited grizzly bears as a reason that educators might need guns in schools. Since then, her policies on issues like school choice, campus sexual assault, civil rights and student debt have drawn ire from her critics.

Earlier this year, DeVos faced a firestorm on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled her for the administration’s proposal to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics. President Trump later reversed course on the issue, saying that he supports federal funding for the program.

Tillis voted in 2017 to confirm DeVos, despite a campaign from liberal groups to convince him to oppose her nomination.

“I’m for her,” Tillis said in 2017, according to the News & Observer. The North Carolina senator pointed to DeVos’ stances on increasing opportunities for charter schools and school choice.

“She’s talking about giving states the ability to turn a trend around – which is (the trend of) failing public schools. Not all of them. There’s a lot of good ones,” Tillis said. “We owe to these kids to come up with solutions to fix it for this generation, not the next generation.”

Tillis’ office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Overall, Tillis raised about $1.2 million in the first quarter of this year for his 2020 campaign, and has about $2.9 million cash on hand, according to the reports.

The North Carolina Republican wasn’t the only incumbent GOP senator to receive donations from the wealthy DeVos family so far this year.

The education secretary’s in-laws also donated to Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Martha McSally of Arizona. Gardner and McConnell both voted to confirm DeVos; McSally wasn’t yet serving in the Senate.

Those same DeVos family members did not contribute to Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican facing re-election in 2020 who was one of two Senate Republicans who voted against DeVos’ 2017 confirmation.

The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Attempts to contact the members of the DeVos family who donated to McSally’s campaign were unsuccessful.

DeVos herself pledged that she and her husband would suspend their political contributions during her time as education secretary, although her husband later made contributions to two Michigan political action committees, the Detroit News reported.

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.

News

Tillis backs Trump on “space force”

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis lauded President Trump’s plan to establish a space force as a new branch of the military at a Senate hearing Thursday, despite skepticism from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

The North Carolina Republican told top Trump administration military officials that he welcomed the idea, while other lawmakers warned that the new force would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

“I think president was right to make this a target that we need to achieve,” said Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So to me, it’s not a matter of whether we should do it, it’s how we should do it and when we should do it.”

Military officials appeared on Capitol Hill to make a pitch for Trump’s plan. They told lawmakers that while the United States currently has a competitive advantage in space, nations including China and Russia are looking to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities. And

Sen. Thom Tillis (Photo: https://www.tillis.senate.gov)

they urged lawmakers to support a new program within the Air Force that focuses exclusively on deterring threats in space.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said his impression was that the military was “doing a good job” already.

“We’‘re dominant in space right now,” he said. “I understand the threat and I understand our adversaries are moving forward, but I don’t understand how adding a box to an organizational chart is going to give us some kind of qualitative military edge.”

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, replied, “I think we have been doing a good job. But we’ve been doing a good job in an environment where space has not been contested. What is changing is we have adversaries that are building significant capabilities that can challenge us in space.”

Patrick Shanahan, Trump’s acting secretary of defense, warned senators in his written testimony that adversaries “now perceive space as a viable target to nullify our asymmetric advantages in other domains and gain a strategic foothold for future competition.”

The military officials suggested that it was only a matter of time before the United States would need such a centralized force.

“We’re going to have a space force someday,” Hyten said. “I think what the committee has to decide is when is that going to happen … You want to get ahead of the problem, not trail it, not come in response to a catastrophe.”

King stressed that he wasn’t sure adding a new box in the Defense Department’s organizational structure would have the intended effect.

“To create a new bureaucracy that’s going to cost us half-a-billion dollars a year, I’ve got to be convinced that there’s some incremental value there.”

The Defense Department estimated that once fully established, the new force would cost about $500 million annually.

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News

Mark Meadows – climate policy champion?

Congressman Mark Meadows

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, suggested this week that he might be willing to support climate change legislation.

During a House oversight hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Meadows accused former Secretary of State and onetime Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for politicizing climate change.

But while he excoriated Kerry for his approach to the issue, Meadows mentioned that his staff was considering the merits of a carbon tax — a climate change policy that has long had bipartisan support.

“Mr. Secretary, I am one of the few people here that … is more predisposed perhaps to your message than most on my side of the aisle,” Meadows told Kerry.

“I was a wind, solar and geothermal expert for an electric utility many years ago, back when the Department of Energy actually started. I have people on my staff that are looking at a carbon tax and a number of issues.”

That may come as a surprise to some, given Meadows’ past reluctance to back climate policies.

When President Obama announced the Paris climate agreement in 2016, Meadows issued a statement saying, “With the Paris Climate Agreement, this administration is throwing away significant gains made in our country’s energy sector and handcuffing the American economy and job creators to burdensome regulations that will hurt, not help, American workers.”

He added, “The American people are tired of watching our government hamstring the economy and burden U.S. businesses in a fruitless pursuit of climate change goals that are both ineffective and unenforceable globally.”

Meadows has a 1 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, and scored zero percent in 2018.

Meadows’ office did not respond to a request for comment about what sort of climate change policy he might be open to.

Still, Meadows told Kerry on Tuesday, “There is no doubt that human contributions have attributed to greenhouse gases.”

The North Carolina Republican also told Roll Call in February, “I think that greenhouse gas emissions is certainly something that we need to look at.”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.