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Immigration once again splits the GOP

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: The border wall between the U.S. and Mexico
The border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, near McAllen, Texas on March 27, 2018.Loren Elliott / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Over the past decade — going back to the end of George W. Bush’s presidency — no issue has divided the Republican Party more than immigration. Think about John McCain’s ups and downs in winning the GOP’s 2008 presidential nomination. Or the “Gang of Eight” legislation. Or the recent DACA debate and Sen. Jeff Flake’s, R-Ariz., decision not to run for re-election.

And immigration — once again — is causing cracks inside the Republican Party less than six months before the midterm elections.

Crack #1: House GOP centrists, many of whom are facing tough re-election fights, have filed a discharge petition to force a freewheeling immigration debate on DACA and other immigration issues: “Reps. John Katko (N.Y.) and David A. Trott (Mich.) became the 19th and 20th Republicans to sign the petition Wednesday. If all 193 Democrats join the petition, five more Republican signatures are needed to force action, which could come as soon as next month,” the Washington Post wrote earlier this week.

Crack #2: Conservative House Freedom Caucus members want a vote on the hardline Goodlatte immigration bill — or they won’t support the farm bill: “The Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, claims to have enough votes to block the farm bill unless Republican leaders agree to schedule a vote on a separate immigration measure from Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.),” per The Hill.

Crack #3: House Speaker Paul Ryan and the likely next GOP leader Kevin McCarthy disagree on how to handle the immigration issue: “Both have vehemently opposed an effort by centrist Republicans to force votes on bills shielding young undocumented immigrants who came here as children from deportation. But to stop it, Ryan floated the possibility of reigniting talks on a bipartisan deal that President Donald Trump could get behind,” Politico says. “McCarthy, on the other hand, has panned that idea. He worries that such an accord codifying the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would demoralize GOP voters whom the party needs to show up in the midterms to keep the House. ‘If you want to depress [GOP voter] intensity, this is the No. 1 way to do it,’ McCarthy told his colleagues in a closed-door meeting Wednesday.”

To recap: You have GOP centrists in swing districts who are afraid of getting their clocks cleaned if there’s no resolution on DACA and immigration; you have House conservatives imperiling the fate of the farm bill, which is expected to get a vote today; and you have the person who’s likely to be the next House GOP leader admitting that dealing with immigration hurts the party politically.

That’s quite a pickle.

Trump and allies seek to expose FBI source in Russia probe

Earlier this morning, President Trump fired off this tweet: “Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.” David Asman @LouDobbs @GreggJarrett Really bad stuff!”

Here’s the Washington Post to understand what Trump is referring to: “President Trump’s allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source,” the Post writes. “The dispute pits Trump and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee against the Justice Department and intelligence agencies, whose leaders warn that publicly identifying the confidential source would put lives in danger and imperil other operations.”

More: “The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity is revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter. The bureau is taking steps to protect other live investigations that the person has worked on and is trying to lessen any danger to associates if the informant’s identity becomes known.”

Remember, though: One person’s spy is another person’s whistleblower…

What matters in the Russia investigation — and what doesn’t

As we wrote yesterday, there are often SO MANY Russia-related stories in a single day that it creates confusion and chaos, even for those of us who are reporting on and following the story.

But here’s a helpful exercise: Which are the stories that ultimately matter? And which of the ones don’t?

That New Yorker scoop about a law-enforcement official leaking Michael Cohen’s financial records because the official was worried after being unable to find the reports in a government database? Well, the story didn’t end up mattering that much – after we learned that access to those reports can be limited “when requested by law enforcement authorities in connection with an ongoing investigation.”

But here’s a story that DID matter: “Paul Manafort’s former son-in-law, real estate developer Jeffrey Yohai, has agreed to plead guilty in connection with a criminal investigation in Los Angeles, multiple sources familiar with the investigation said Thursday,” per NBC’s Tom Winter and Andrew Blankstein. “It not yet clear whether Yohai’s plea deal is with the special counsel’s office or with federal prosecutors in California.”

Previewing Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in Georgia

The most high-profile — and contentious — primary next week (May 22) is the Democratic gubernatorial race in Georgia, where the choice is between two candidates who are both women, who both have state lawmaking experience, and who both are named Stacey.

The two candidates also share another element of their background — both overcame childhood adversity through education, a fact which has made education policy a central point of conflict between them.

One difference between them, though: Stacey Abrams is black; Stacey Evans is white. And race has been a major subtext of this contest.

Here’s a quick briefer on the race.

The candidates

Stacey Evans: The child of a single teen mom, Evans had a tough childhood. Her mother was the victim of domestic violence; she faced crippling poverty and her brother faced an opioid addiction. She was able to go to college on a HOPE lottery scholarship, and Evans has made the expansion of that program central to her campaign. Evans became an attorney and went on to serve as a state representative.

Stacey Abrams: Also from a working-class family, Abrams also pursued education to overcome economic disadvantage and racial discrimination. She attended Spelman College and Yale Law School. She most recently served as Georgia's House minority leader. If elected, she would be the first African-American governor of Georgia and the first black woman to be a governor of any state in the country, no doubt catapulting her into the national spotlight. (Fun fact: She also writes “romantic suspense novels” under the pen name Selena Montgomery. )

The attacks

The race was divisive from the get-go. Last summer, Evans was shouted down at the progressive Netroots Conference by Abrams backers chanting “support black women.” Abrams had this to say afterwards: "Protest is disruptive. It's uncomfortable. But for communities who have been silenced it's sometimes the only way they can be heard."

And speaking of progressives, Bernie Sanders weighed in on the race Thursday, endorsing Abrams. Abrams also has the backing of national Democratic heavyweights like Emily’s List and Kamala Harris, while Evans has a long list of backers within Georgia state politics.

Education has been a major part of their feud. Evans has accused Abrams of working with Republicans to “gut” the HOPE scholarship program. And Abrams accused Evans of supporting “voucher” programs that rob public schools of resources.

Abrams’ detractors have also painted her as too close to Republicans in the state.

Evans has come under fire from Abrams because of her “B” rating from the NRA in 2012. (Evans’ most recent rating from the organization is a D.)

The ads

Pro-Abrams group Black PAC is up with ads criticizing Evans for “back[ing] Republican efforts that would have privatized and shut down public schools.”

Power PAC, another pro-Abrams group, has spent about $615k on ads that also boost Abrams on education.

Evans has spent a significant amount (about $1.5 million) on TV ads, mostly biographical spots that focus on her push to restore Hope scholarships.

The Top 10 midterm markets

As of May 16, here are the ad markets that have seen the most TV and radio advertising so far in 2018, according to Advertising Analytics:

1. Chicago, IL: $44.0 million

2. Pittsburgh, PA: $15.1 million

3. Los Angeles, CA: $12.0 million

4. St. Louis, MO: $8.7 million

5. Indianapolis, IN: $8.4 million

6. Philadelphia, PA: $7.4 million

7. Tampa/St. Pete, FL: $7.4 million

8: Atlanta, GA: $7.4 million

9. Satellite: $6.9 million

10. San Diego, CA: $6 million