Mueller may delay decision on obstruction of justice: report

The special counsel investigating Russian election interference may hold off on the obstruction of justice portion of the probe as he continues to look into other components like collusion, according to a Bloomberg report published Monday.

The news outlet, citing both former and current officials, said Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE could decide that filing charges related to the obstruction could cause witnesses to become “less cooperative.”

Bloomberg said the obstruction part of the investigation will probably be finished following interviews with President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out ‘subversion’ at VA MORE and his son, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTrump Jr. praises ‘spirit’ of poverty-stricken Indians: ‘Still a smile on a face’ State Dept. says it did not coordinate with Trump Jr. on India speech The Hill’s 12:30 Report MORE

The question of whether or not Trump will sit for an interview with Mueller has been looming for months.

Earlier this year, the president told reporters that he is “looking forward to” speaking with the special counsel’s team and that he would do so under oath.

Mueller, who since May of 2017 has been tasked with probing Russian meddling and any potential ties between Trump campaign staff members and the Kremlin, has secured three guilty pleas and filed charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawyer charged in Mueller probe pleads guilty to lying | Sessions launches cyber task force | White House tallies economic impact of cyber crime Lawyer charged in Mueller probe pleads guilty to lying to federal investigators The Hill’s 12:30 Report MORE.

Schwarzenegger planning to sue oil companies for ‘knowingly killing people all over the world’

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is planning to sue oil companies, alleging they are “knowingly killing people all over the world.”

Schwarzenegger said during an interview with Politico’s “Off Message” podcast that he is still working on the timing for his push, but he is now speaking with private law firms.

“This is no different from the smoking issue. The tobacco industry knew for years and years and years and decades that smoking would kill people, would harm people and create cancer, and were hiding that fact from the people and denied it. Then eventually they were taken to court and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because of that,” Schwarzenegger, a global environmental activist, said.

“The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill.”

Schwarzenegger accused oil companies of being irresponsible and vowed to go after them.

“It’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco,” he said.

“Every gas station on it, every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

He said he hopes to spread awareness about the harmful effects of fossil fuels.

“I don’t think there’s any difference: If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first-degree murder,” he said during the interview.

“I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”

Schwarzenegger also took aim at President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out ‘subversion’ at VA MORE during the interview, saying he doesn’t understand why “the Russians make him say certain things.”

“It’s beyond me. Why do you think he says those things? He’s supposed to be very busy,” he said.

Schwarzenegger has in the past been critical of Trump, challenging him throughout his campaign and presidency.

Playbook: What to make of tomorrow’s race in Pennsylvania

Good Monday morning. TOMORROW is the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Rick Saccone, a Republican with whom D.C. insiders are underwhelmed, faces Conor Lamb, a Democrat who is running as a conservative. Spending in the race is out of control: $12.5 million has been shelled out, mostly by Republicans. If Republicans win, they’re going to say it’s proof that they can keep the House even with their president’s approval rating in the 30s. If Democrats win, they’ll say they can take back the House, tax reform isn’t as big of a positive as Republicans think and Nancy Pelosi isn’t as big of a drag as conventional wisdom holds. Elena Schneider and Alex Isenstadt break down the details of the GOP push here

PRO-TIP: This race is fascinating, because a Democrat is running basically even with a Republican in a district that Trump won by 20 points. It matters, because everything in politics matters. But Republicans are not going to be able to dump $8 million into every competitive seat. (Actually, they won’t be able to dump $8 million into most seats.) And most Democratic candidates are going to have primaries, so they won’t be able to move to the middle, like Lamb has been able to. That all said, if Republicans are struggling to hold onto a seat they held for 15 years — and a seat the president won by double digits — it will be an interesting election season.

Story Continued Below

— FOR GOOD MEASURE: The Congressional Leadership Fund and the RNC are both still spending in this race! CLF dropped $51,425 on “mobile communications” and the RNC put in $26,031 on “phone services.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS … YES, here we are again, GOVERNMENT FUNDING runs out in less than two weeks, and there’s more drama developing behind the scenes. THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Will Republicans in Congress keep funding for the so-called Gateway Tunnel, a new tunnel between New York and New Jersey? President Donald Trump has threatened to veto any funding bill that includes money for the project, but House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is retiring, and it’s one of his top priorities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also wants it built, and Republicans will need Democratic votes.

— ALSO REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-N.C.), the House Freedom Caucus leader who is close to President Trump, tweeted over the weekend that the funding bill should cut off money for so-called sanctuary cities. This is a nonstarter for Democrats and could be a serious issue if the Freedom Caucus digs in on it.

— THIS FUNDING BILL is the last must-pass bill of the year, so lawmakers are going to try to attach all sorts of stuff to it. Republicans are eyeing the bill as a vehicle to get school safety legislation through. There’s talk of renewing the FAA’s charter as part of the bill. Issues like pesticide regulation and reauthorizing intelligence programs have come up in talks. Keep an eye open because this bill will likely get loaded up.

FROM 30,000 FEET — BURGESS EVERETT and ELANA SCHOR: “The ‘attention-deficit-disorder’ Congress”: “Even in peak form, Congress struggles to focus on any one issue for more than a few days. But its short attention span has taken on new meaning in the era of Donald Trump. ‘We kind of have attention deficit disorder,’ as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) put it.

“Every time it seems the president has zeroed in on an issue, and appears determined to see it through — guns and immigration are just the two latest examples — he moves on to something else. And Congress, which isn’t designed to respond swiftly to national events and the wishes of the White House even in the least distracted of circumstances, simply can’t keep up. The constant whiplash of priorities is getting on lawmakers’ nerves.

“‘It’s unbelievable to me,’ said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). ‘The attention span just seems to be … it’s a real problem.’ The hyperactive mindset of the Oval Office has had the effect, whether by design or not, of quickly diverting attention from topics big or small. After a bout of attention on gun control in the wake of the Florida school massacre last month, Congress has seemingly moved on already. Before that, it was the plight of Dreamers facing deportation. In the end, nothing gets done on the issue of the day.”


— DEPT. OF THE PRESIDENT WASTING HIS TIME … TRUMP BACK TO ARMING TEACHERS: “Trump administration to aid states in firearms training for teachers, school staff,” by Michael Stratford: “The White House on Sunday night announced backing for a new Justice Department program that would aid states that seek to train teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms, as part of a package of steps to curb school violence.

“In addition, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will chair a new government commission exploring steps to prevent school violence, following the Parkland, Fla., shooting last month that left 17 dead, the Trump administration said. …

“DeVos said the commission would include teachers. A senior administration official on the call said that it was expected the work would be completed within a year. The official said existing Justice Department funds would be used to assist states and local law enforcement groups that want to bolster their armed school personnel programs.”

— IT’S WORTH NOTING: Most Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said they oppose an effort to arm teachers.

MORE DEVOS: IF YOU WATCH ONE THING – LESLEY STAHL ON “60 MINUTES”: “Betsy DeVos on guns, school choice and why people don’t like her: The secretary of education has been one of the most criticized members of President Trump’s Cabinet, but DeVos says she’s ‘more misunderstood than anything.’”

****** A message from Business Roundtable: Trade drives American prosperity. International trade is essential to a prosperous American economy. Now is the time to modernize agreements and expand free and fair trade – not restrict opportunities for American businesses to compete and create jobs. See what CEOs are saying about the importance of international trade at ******

BUZZFEED’S CHRIS GEIDNER: “Trump Lawyers Are Considering A Challenge To Stop ‘60 Minutes’ From Airing A Stormy Daniels Interview”: “Lawyers associated with President Donald Trump are considering legal action to stop ‘60 Minutes’ from airing an interview with Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director who goes by Stormy Daniels, BuzzFeed News has learned.

“‘We understand from well-placed sources they are preparing to file for a legal injunction to prevent it from airing,’ a person informed of the preparations told BuzzFeed News on Saturday evening. It was not immediately clear what legal argument the lawyers would be making to support the considered litigation, and Trump and his legal team often have threatened litigation without following through on those threats in the past.

“Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney who previously was a longtime lawyer for the Trump Organization, directed questions about the possibility of litigation to Larry Rosen, who Cohen told BuzzFeed News is ‘my attorney handling this matter.’ Rosen — a partner in the firm LaRocca, Hornik, Rosen, Greenberg & Blaha — acknowledged his role in the matter generally but did not comment directly on the possibility of seeking an injunction.

“BuzzFeed News has learned that CBS plans to air the ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Clifford next Sunday, March 18.”

HMM — “Trump targets European car-makers with big plants in states he won,” by Matt Nussbaum: “President Donald Trump, expressing his ire over trade imbalances this weekend, made a peculiar choice: He focused his criticism on two European brands, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, that have significant investments in two of the nation’s most Trump-friendly states.

“‘Open up the barriers and get rid of your tariffs,’ Trump said of the European Union’s trade policies in a wide-ranging and rollicking address in Pennsylvania Saturday. ‘And if you don’t do that, we’re going to tax Mercedes-Benz, we’re going to tax BMW.’

Trump made no mention of the German brands’ significance to two states that formed part of the bedrock of his support in 2016. BMW has an assembly plant employing more than 9,000 people in Spartanburg, South Carolina; about a third of the BMWs sold in the U.S. in 2017 were produced in the country, the company said. A Mercedes-Benz factory employs 3,500 people near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, according to data from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.”

IVANKA WATCH — “‘Where is Ivanka?’ First daughter seeks control in dual role as White House aide,” by WaPo’s Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker: “[I]in recent months, the strain between her and [General John] Kelly has deepened, White House officials said. Kelly — who Ivanka and her husband, also a senior adviser, initially pushed for chief of staff — has grown frustrated with what he views as the duo’s desire to have it both ways: behaving as West Wing officials in one moment, family members the next. He has griped to colleagues about what he views as her ‘freelancing’ on ‘pet projects’ as opposed to the administration’s stated top priorities. Ivanka argues that every issue she has championed is also a policy her father campaigned on and pushed in office. …

“Ivanka’s last name creates an aura of invincibility around her within the White House. In private, some aides criticize and share unflattering details about her — and, more acutely, Kushner — but are loath to do so publicly and risk the president’s wrath.”

JARED MIDEAST PEACE UPDATE – “The Mideast Peace Plan Is Nearly Finished. Is It Dead on Arrival?” by NYT’s Mark Landler (print headline: “The Mideast Plan is Nearly Ready. Will Either Side Read It?”): “The Trump administration is putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, three senior officials said on Sunday, and President Trump is likely to present it soon, despite risking swift rejection by the Palestinians and having already taken on another of the world’s thorniest disputes, with North Korea. While the exact timing of the plan’s release is still not set, these officials said, the most immediate challenge for the White House is how to roll it out so that it is not proclaimed dead on arrival.

“The Palestinians remain furious over the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and they have refused White House entreaties to come back to the table. … [T]he quickening pace of activity inside the White House suggests that, regardless of the political headwinds, Mr. Trump will soon unveil a detailed blueprint that one of his senior aides said was intended to help Israelis and Palestinians get around traps and bottlenecks to an agreement. The aide likened it to Waze, the navigation software, developed by Israelis, that helps drivers bypass traffic jams.”

2018 WATCH – “Why Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren Are Eyeing Ohio in 2018,” by NYT’s Alex Burns: “As [Sherrod] Brown seeks a third term in 2018, it is his brand of indignant populism setting the tone for Democrats in Ohio, where the governorship and several congressional seats are also up for grabs. Long a crucial swing state, Ohio may now be the most vital proving ground for a progressive economic message in Trump country. Democrats there have adopted a rallying cry that echoes both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and traditional union-hall populism, assailing Wall Street banks and multinational corporations for exploiting workers and accusing Washington of colluding in their perfidy.”

ISAAC DOVERE sat down Sunday in Austin with ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER at SXSW for a live “Off Message” podcast taping: “Schwarzenegger to Sue Big Oil for ‘First Degree Murder’”: “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next mission: taking oil companies to court ‘for knowingly killing people all over the world.’ The former California governor and global environmental activist announced the move … revealing that he’s in talks with several private law firms and preparing a public push around the effort.

“‘This is no different from the smoking issue. The tobacco industry knew for years and years and years and decades, that smoking would kill people, would harm people and create cancer, and were hiding that fact from the people and denied it. Then eventually they were taken to court and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because of that,’ Schwarzenegger said. ‘The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill.’

“Schwarzenegger said he’s still working on a timeline for filing, but the news comes as he prepares to help host a major environmental conference in May in Vienna.”

— MORE SXSW FUN: TODAY: ANNA is hosting a live back-to-back #WOMENRULE podcast taping at 12:30 p.m. with former Texas state Democratic legislator WENDY DAVIS and Milkbar CEO and founder CHRISTINA TOSI. TUESDAY — DANIEL is on a panel with JOE LOCKHART, TIM MILLER and AUBREY QUINN at 9:30 a.m. called “Communicating in the Era of Constant Crisis.”

UP NEXT: PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW WITH BILL GATES — RSVP to get a spot on the waitlist for our Thursday morning event.

MONDAY LISTEN: “When the President of the United States Calls You a ‘Son of a Bitch’” — SUSAN GLASSER spoke with CHUCK TODD in the latest “Global POLITICO” podcast.

TRUMP’S MONDAY — This afternoon the president will host the 2017 World Series champions Houston Astros. He will also lunch with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

IT’S BRACKET TIME!Compete against your friends, top Playbookers, political insiders and VIPs to win prizes including Apple Watches, Airpods, GoPros, Google Home — not to mention bragging rights. THE DETAILS: Submit your bracket before the first full round of the tournament begins Thursday. Governors, senators, congressmen, mayors, and some of the biggest names in politics and media are already in the game. SIGN UP

— LOOK FOR a special delivery of Playbook basketballs to Congressional and Senate offices Tuesday. We’ll retweet fun basketball photos with #PlaybookLoyal.

WORLD WATCH — “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,” by NYT’s Ben Hubbard in Riyadh, David D. Kirkpatrick in London, Kate Kelly in New York and Mark Mazzetti in Washington: “Businessmen once considered giants of the Saudi economy now wear ankle bracelets that track their movements. Princes who led military forces and appeared in glossy magazines are monitored by guards they do not command.

“Families who flew on private jets cannot gain access to their bank accounts. Even wives and children have been forbidden to travel. In November, the Saudi government locked up hundreds of influential businessmen — many of them members of the royal family — in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in what it called an anti-corruption campaign. …

“During months of captivity, many were subject to coercion and physical abuse, witnesses said. In the early days of the crackdown, at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse and one later died in custody with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse, according to a person who saw the body. In an email to The New York Times on Sunday, the government denied accusations of physical abuse as ‘absolutely untrue.’

“To leave the Ritz, many of the detainees not only surrendered huge sums of money, but also signed over to the government control of precious real estate and shares of their companies — all outside any clear legal process. The government has yet to actually seize many of the assets, leaving the former detainees and their families in limbo.”

****** A message from Business Roundtable: America’s trade policies should build on the benefits of tax and regulatory reform. As a result of tax reform and regulatory relief, America’s economy is on the path to strong, sustained economic growth. Yet, President Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum threaten to slow this economic momentum. The White House should support trade policies that continue to increase America’s competitiveness rather than making it harder for our businesses to grow and create jobs for American workers. See what CEOs are saying about the importance of international trade at ******

DEEP DIVE — “Orange Crush: Inside the GOP Struggle to Hold the Southern California Suburbs: Democrats think they can win the House by toppling the Reagan-era fortress in Orange County,” by Gabe Debenedetti in Mission Viejo, California, in POLITICO Magazine: “All is not well for the Republicans of Orange County. If it were, the door knockers wouldn’t be knocking on these particular doors, or many others across California’s third-most populous county.

“The long-term demographic shifts that have basically doomed the Republican Party throughout the rest of the state may finally have reached the GOP’s prized California hideaway. And in Washington, the Republican Party is led by a man whose crass style of politics clashes with the sensibilities of the chinos-and-mimosas conservatives and sandals-and-surfboards libertarians who still run this place. …

“Today less than half white, roughly one-third Latino, and nearly one-fifth Asian American, Orange County would appear from the outside to be a reasonable target for Democrats. At least 18 serious Democrats are running for one of the four Republican seats.

“The county is heavily, and famously, suburban, and the GOP is losing ground fast in areas like it: Donald Trump in 2016 became the third straight Republican presidential nominee to fall short of 50 percent in the suburbs nationwide. When Hillary Clinton won Orange County by beating Trump in 2016, she became the first Democrat to do so in 80 years, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected with 61 percent of the national vote.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS — POLITICO Space is our new, free weekly briefing on the policies and personalities shaping the second space age in Washington and beyond. Sign-up today to start receiving the newsletter right at launch on April 6th.

SPOTTED AT SXSW: London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Brazos Street yesterday in Austin … Mayor Pete Buttigieg last night at the Contemporary Austin at the Jones Center for a U.S. Conference of Mayors party … Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) walking on West 6th Street yesterday afternoon.

SPOTTED: Bernie Sanders on an American Airlines flight from PHX to BWI seated in an exit row. He came from Dodgers spring training camp — pic … Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) at the Jacksonville airport boarding a JetBlue flight to DCA …

… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) with family at Cap Hill Trader Joe’s — “she packed her own bags!!!” per our tipster … Stephen Colbert with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, at Sunday’s 27th Rose Mass for health care professionals at Bethesda’s Church of the Little Flower.

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Suzanne Hammelman, president of the Hawthorn Group (hat tip: Joe Brettell)

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Jake Tapper, anchor of CNN’s “The Lead” and “State of the Union” and chief Washington correspondent, is 49. A fun fact about Jake: “I don’t know what people know about me. Assuming nothing, I would say, in no particular order, I’m a failed cartoonist; I collect posters of losing presidential candidates; I have a novel coming out on April 24 called ‘The Hellfire Club,’ which is a thriller that takes place in 1954 Washington, DC, with Eisenhower, the Kennedy brothers, McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Estes Kefauver, and Margaret Chase Smith as characters.” Read his Playbook Plus Q&A:

BIRTHDAYS: Mitt Romney is 71 … Chris LaPlaca … Lloyd Dobyns is 82 … author Carl Hiaasen is 65 … former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is 7-0 … Matt Bravo, principal at S-3 Group … Andrew Young is 86 … Eric Burns, founder/partner at Bullfight Strategies and a Media Matters alum … Politico’s Emily Stephenson … James Ball … Rachel Greenberg … Hugh Maska-Jackson … consultant Marcy Stech … Alex Vargo, LD for Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) (h/ts Andrew Bell and James Braid) … Neil Fried … Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is 5-0 … Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) is 68 … Riley Barnes, who’s on the policy planning staff and is a senior speechwriter at State, is 31 (h/t Sorelle Wyckoff) … Scott Comer, president of Fortune Hill Group … Ashley Ludlow … Chase Delano … Lewis Laskin … Remi Yamamoto, comms director for Fred Hubbell’s Iowa gubernatorial campaign (h/t Ian Sams) … Kathleen Siedlecki of KAS Strategies (h/t Jon Haber) … Autodesk’s Reed DesRosiers, a Politico alum (h/t Rachel Schindler) … Chris Ellis, Bush 43 WH and DHS alum now director of security for the Seattle Mariners … Rebekah Williams Lovorn, Bush 43 DHS alum now executive director at the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation (h/ts Ed Cash) …

… Preston Maddock, comms director for Sherrod Brown’s reelection campaign … Slate’s Jim Newell is 33 (h/t Daniel Strauss) … Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) is 61 … Bloomberg Law’s Tara Jeffries, a Morning Consult alum, is 25 celebrating with steak frites and watching “Billions” (h/t Eric Garcia) … Aaron Magid … Selma Bardakci … Marshall Kosloff (h/t Saagar Enjeti) … Elizabeth Hinson … Melissa Ryan, visiting fellow at Media Matters for America … Theresa Jansen … Jeff Miller … Wroe Jackson … State’s Kedenard Raymond … Brian Weiss, comms director for Democrats on the Senate Small Business Committee … Frank McDougall is 68 … David Sheon … Noah Flessel … Steven Stenberg, partner of the Strategy Group … Aaron Kraus … Sam Noel.. . Jeff Lande … James Srodes … Baker Ellett … Yana Calou … Talia Schmidt … Nick Woodfield … Rebecca Dishotsky … Stacey Grundman.

****** A message from Business Roundtable: Continued economic growth depends on expanding – not restricting – international trade. Business Roundtable member companies collectively employ more than 16 million American workers. The ability to grow and create more jobs for the American people depends on a modern and competitive U.S. trade agenda that expands free and fair trade removes unfair barriers. Business Roundtable CEOs welcome the opportunity to work with the Trump Administration on trade policies that ensure a healthy, prosperous, and growing American economy for years to come. See what CEOs are saying about the importance of international trade at ******

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The Memo: Moment of truth for Trump in Pennsylvania 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out ‘subversion’ at VA MORE and the GOP are playing for high stakes in Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania. 

A loss in a district Trump carried by 20 points in 2016 would amplify Republican anxiety about November’s midterm elections and sharpen questions about the damage the president’s low approval ratings are doing to the party.

The mere fact that the race is close, in a district that should be such favorable territory for the GOP, is an ominous sign, according to strategists from both parties. 

For Trump, “this would be bad news if the Republican wins a close race, and it will be terrible news if the Democrat wins,” said Democratic strategist Robert Shrum.

GOP strategist Dan Judy said that the closeness of the race underlines “the conventional wisdom, which is correct: that this is a tough environment for Republicans — and especially when the president is unpopular, that gives us significant headwinds.”

Money has poured into the race, with NBC News reporting on Friday that TV and radio advertising alone will amount to nearly $12 million. The NBC report, based on data from Advertising Analytics, stated that Republicans had outspent Democrats on the airwaves by $7.3 million to $4.4 million.

Polls indicate the race could swing to either party. 

A Gravis poll last week gave Republican candidate Rick Saccone a three-point lead in the contest, while an Emerson poll put Democrat Conor Lamb up by the same margin. 

Seeking to give Saccone a boost, Trump traveled to Pennsylvania on Saturday and held a campaign rally outside of Pittsburgh. 

“I came tonight because this guy is special,” Trump told the crowd. The president also branded the Democrat “Lamb the sham,” alleging that he was “trying to act like a Republican.”

In a race where turnout could prove decisive, Trump’s rally could help energize Republican voters. But Democrats insist his appearance could also drive their voters to the polls.

Trump’s visit “is a double-edged sword in the district because it will fire both sides up equally,” said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist. 

The president has been burnt in special elections before, notably in a Senate race in Alabama where Democrat Doug Jones won an upset victory despite Trump backing Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Trump endorses Romney in Utah Senate race Juan Williams: Evangelicals sell their souls for Trump MORE

A Republican victory, even a narrow one, would at least give Trump a respite after a rough few weeks.

The White House has been rocked by the recent resignations of two major figures, communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksJohn Kelly — like this whole White House — is done Mueller interviews former Trump legal spokesman: report Liberals undermine #MeToo with partisan attacks MORE and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.  

The Russia probe led by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE is reportedly finding new avenues of interest all the time.  

And the president has been hit by a legal suit from adult actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual liaison with the president in 2006. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, made a $130,000 payment to Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election, apparently to keep her quiet, though Cohen denies Trump was involved in negotiating that deal. 

On more sober policy issues, the president’s taste for unorthodox choices remains intact. 

Against the wishes of his own party, Trump confirmed last week that he would enact tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. 

That decision could benefit Saccone in Pennsylvania, where the steel industry has deep roots. 

“Your steel is coming back. It’s all coming back,” Trump told the crowd at his Saturday rally.

Amid Trump’s many controversies, including the Daniels saga, Republicans have sought to keep a singular focus on the economy in hopes that it will prove to be the difference-maker in elections. 

Job creation continues to be robust — more than 300,000 new jobs were added in February, according to new data released Friday morning. The tax cut passed last December is the GOP’s single biggest legislative achievement under Trump. 

One Republican strategist, who asked for anonymity in order to be candid, said that the economic picture was potent enough to counterbalance even tabloid-friendly distractions like the Daniels story.

“One of the things we learned from the Clinton scandals of the ‘90s is that if people’s lives are good and the economy is improving, they pay a lot less attention to the personal peccadilloes of politicians,” the source said.

But Democrats say that simply isn’t true. 

They argue that Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure and point to his low approval ratings. Trump’s job performance earns the approval of 40.9 percent of American but the disapproval of 53.7 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average as of Sunday evening. 

That is the context that makes the race in Pennsylvania so keenly watched — and why Democrats are so enthused.

“The most important outcome from this race will be the perception,” Nevins said. “A perception that Democrats can win in districts that are R+20 — where Trump won by 20 points — will further energize Democrats for the midterms.”

Trump himself seems fully aware of what’s at stake.

“The whole world, remember that, they’re all watching,” he said at his Saturday rally. “This is a very important race.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.