Friday, March 16, 2018 7:26 AM

HOLCOMB OPEN TO SPECIAL SESSION: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is leaving open the possibility of calling lawmakers back to the Statehouse after this year's legislative session descended into chaos Wednesday as bickering Republicans failed to take up some key bills (Slodysko, Associated Press). The GOP has commanding super majorities in both chambers — holding 70 of 100 House seats and 41 of 50 Senate seats — but tempers erupted in the session's final week as they struggled to come to terms. "There's still work to be done," the Republican governor said in a statement sent out during Thursday's early morning hours. "After meeting with (Republican legislative leaders) I'll look at all that can be done to complete unfinished business_whether that's by administrative or legislative authority, if needed."

RURAL BROADBAND GRANT BILL HEADED TO GOVERNOR: One of the most important bill for rural Indiana counties easily passed the Indiana House on Wednesday night and is headed Gov. Eric Holcomb (Howey Politics Indiana). House Enrolled Act 1065 would create a grant program for qualifying broadband deployment projects in unserved areas of the state, and defines upload and download speeds for “qualified broadband service.” Those speeds stand at 10/1 Mbps, while FCC benchmark is 25/3 Mbps. Access to high-speed internet is critical for Hoosier families, students and businesses, and this technology is often taken for granted where services are easily accessible. “It remains a priority of mine to ensure Hoosiers have access to these vital services, and to give our communities the resources necessary to be successful,” said State Sen. Erin Houchin, who sponsored the bill. “It’s an important step toward closing the broadband gap in rural Indiana.” The bill passed the House 94-1 and the Senate 46-2. Nashville Town Manager Scott Rudd called the bill a good start. “It’s not everything we wanted, but better than nothing.”

INDIANA'S SENATE RACE GENERATES MOST ADVERTISING IN NATION: How competitive is Indiana's Senate race? (Groppe, USA Today) The multi-candidate GOP primary combined with a top Democratic target has resulted in the contest topping the charts for most television ads aired this year among Senate races across the country, according to a report released Thursday by the independent Wesleyan Media Project. And that tally doesn't take into account more than $2 million in ads that started running Thursday by an outside group critical of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly's opposition to the GOP tax cut package. The time period included in the analysis also doesn't capture ads run last year by former state Rep. Mike Braun, one of the three Republicans running in the May 8 primary to take on Donnelly. Still, Senate race ads by the candidates themselves or outside groups have aired more than 6,700 times from January through March 12 at an estimated cost of $1.9 million. The next heaviest amount of Senate race advertising is in Wisconsin where ads have aired nearly 4,900 times for an estimated cost of $1.1 million.

PENCE TURNS TO AYRES IN CHAOTIC TIMES: The chaos in the White House was threatening Mike Pence’s chances of ever becoming president, and that was unacceptable. It was the spring of 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller had just launched his investigation into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia (Ward, Huffpo). Trump associates were scrambling to lawyer up, Pence included. And a group of the vice president’s close friends and advisers were growing fearful that everything Pence had worked for was about to be lost. His unquestioning loyalty to Trump was becoming an enormous liability. A friend familiar with the discussions said a decision was made that they had to be more strategic. Luckily, Pence knew someone who could help, an operative he trusted completely. Nick Ayers was only 34 at the time, but in his short career, he had already inspired more admiration, envy and animosity among his peers than almost anyone else in Washington’s consultant class. On June 29, it was announced that Ayers would be taking over as Pence’s chief of staff. In an interview with The New Yorker, Anthony Scaramucci summed up the calculation this way: “Nick’s there to protect the Vice-President because the Vice-President can’t believe what the fuck is going on.” Pence has always relied unusually heavily on his staffers, according to five people who have worked with him. One confessed to being “surprised” by his malleability.

COATS REVAMPS NATIONAL SECURITY: A year into his tenure as the country’s top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is reshuffling the office that oversees America’s 16 intelligence agencies, consolidating many functions under a new layer of management intended to refocus its work around a new set of security challenges. The reorganization plan was unveiled Wednesday to employees of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and provided to POLITICO by Coats’s staff. The office, created in the wake of the September 11 attacks to enforce order among the nation’s often-squabbling intelligence agencies, has struggled over the years to exert control over a world dominated by the CIA, FBI, NSA and other large intelligence-gathering agencies with powerful bureaucracies. The yearlong reorganization effort, driven in part by a survey of employees at ODNI and the agencies it oversees, will focus the office on four major functions: integrating intelligence streams from the various agencies it oversees; allocating resources among the agencies; promoting national security partnerships that include the private sector and foreign intelligence services; and developing strategies to grapple with future threats.

GRASSROOTS EFFORT ENCOURAGES MAYOR PETE TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT: A new grassroots effort has a lofty ambition — to convince South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to run for president in 2020 (Blake, South Bend Tribune). The recently launched "Mayor Pete for America" effort has a website, Facebook page and Twitter profile. While the collective reach isn't far at the moment, the man behind the campaign said he hopes the message will spread. "This has only gotten off the ground just a few days ago," said Mark Meier, a Washington D.C. resident who started the effort. It's a lofty goal, particularly for an individual who has never met Buttigieg. Meier is quick to point out the effort is independent of any candidate or campaign. Mark Bode, a spokesman for Buttigieg, said the mayor was unaware of who put together the social media accounts and website. "The mayor always appreciates a kind word, but right now he and the rest of us are focused on the State of the City," Bode said earlier this week when asked about the grassroots effort.

TRUMP OPIOID PLAN COMING; INCLUDES DEALER DEATH PENALTY: The Trump administration is finalizing a long-awaited plan that it says will solve the opioid crisis, but it also calls for law enforcement measures — like the death penalty for some drug dealers — that public health advocates and congressional Republicans warn will detract from efforts to reverse the epidemic (Politico). The ambitious plan, which the White House has quietly been circulating among political appointees this month, could be announced as soon as Monday when President Donald Trump visits New Hampshire, a state hard hit by the epidemic. It includes a mix of prevention and treatment measures that advocates have long endorsed, as well as beefed-up enforcement in line with the president’s frequent calls for a harsh crackdown on drug traffickers and dealers.

MUELLER SUBPOENAS TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to his investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter (Wall Street Journal). The Trump Organization has been voluntarily producing documents to the special counsel for months, according to people familiar with the matter. “Since July 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump Organization is fully cooperative with all investigations, including the Special Counsel, and is responding to their requests,” said Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, in a statement. Referring to reports of a subpoena being issued, he said: “This is old news and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today.” The statement didn’t directly confirm the issuance of the subpoena. The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

SANCTIONS IMPOSED ON RUSSIANS: The Trump administration on Thursday imposed fresh sanctions on Russian government hackers and spy agencies to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and for a cyberattack against Ukraine and other countries last year that officials have characterized as “the most destructive and costly” in history (Washington Post). Sanctions also were imposed on individuals known as “trolls” and the Russian organizations — including the Internet Research Agency — that supported their efforts to undermine the election. Additionally, the administration alerted the public that Russia is targeting the U.S. energy grid with computer malware that could sabotage its systems. Taken together, the moves represent the administration’s most aggressive actions to date against Russia for its incursions against the United States, though analysts say their impact is mostly symbolic and noted that a number of the individuals and groups had already been subject to sanctions. Nonetheless, officials hope the actions will help deter tampering with this year’s midterm elections while signaling to Russia that Washington will not allow its attacks to go unchallenged.

DONNELLY CALLS SANCTIONS A ‘WELCOME STEP’: U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly welcomed the Treasury Department’s announcement it is implementing new sanctions on five Russian entities and 19 individuals for attempted meddling in the 2016 election, dangerous cyberattacks, and efforts to target critical infrastructure in the United States, including the American energy grid (Howey Politics Indiana). In early 2017, Donnelly helped shape bipartisan legislation, which was signed into law in August 2017 and, in part, sanctioned Russia for its behavior in 2016. Donnelly said, “The sanctions announced today by the Administration are an overdue and welcome first step. This helps send Russia a message that there are consequences for their destabilizing actions. These sanctions follow my bipartisan work in the last year to shape and help pass into law legislation to counter the Russian threat. We cannot tolerate efforts to disrupt our electoral system, which is the foundation of our democracy, or attacks on our infrastructure, which must be safe from outside interference.”

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: By seeking records of the Trump organization, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is inching close to what has been described as President Trump’s “red line.” And the president is in a firing mode. Or as he put it on Thursday, “Who’s next?”  Hold on to your seats, folks. And good luck to the Boilers and Bulldogs today. - Brian A. Howey

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