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Essential Politics: Trump lawyer contradicts the president, says he's not under investigation

Anyone observing the Trump administration over the last few days could understandably be suffering from whiplash.

I’m Christina Bellantoni, and this is the Monday edition of Essential Politics.

The most prominent about-face was related to the probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections, with President Trump complaining Friday it was a "witch hunt," and suggesting he personally is under investigation. On Sunday, Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's lawyers, insisted that the president’s Twitter statement did not amount to an acknowledgment that he was under investigation. And, in fact, Sekulow said, Trump definitely isn’t.

Trump’s tweet was "in response" to a Washington Post story last Wednesday indicating that the special counsel’s probe now included the president, Sekulow said in television interviews.

Trump was merely restating what the Post and other media had reported, Sekulow suggested. "Let me be very clear here, as it has been since the beginning, the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction," Sekulow said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Then there were a series of divergent statements at the end of the week about what Trump intends to do with roughly 750,000 so-called Dreamers who are shielded from deportation by an Obama-era policy.

Despite the Homeland Security Department moving to end a related program for undocumented parents of legally present children, and rampant speculation something would change for Dreamers, the White House said there has been no final determination on the matter.

WATCHING GEORGIA

Evan Halper reports on Tuesday’s contest to pick the replacement for Tom Price, who gave up his House seat in suburban Atlanta to join the Trump administration.

Of all the special elections this year, this is the one Democrats most want to win. And the black vote is critical to Jon Ossoff’s chances.

Follow the race and get the latest about what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.

AGITATING IN O.C.

Seema Mehta reports from Irvine about protests at an annual Orange County GOP fundraiser by a group of people aiming to unseat four House Republicans who represent districts Hillary Clinton won last fall.

Rep. Darrell Issa called the protesters gathered outside the hotel "pathetic." Keynote speaker Rep. Devin Nunes blamed the media and defended Trump.

For more on California politics, keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed.

FEINSTEIN TAKES A PASS ON TRUMP LAWSUIT

Almost every Democrat in California’s congressional delegation signed on to a federal lawsuit alleging Trump has illegally profited from foreign payments to his worldwide business interests — but Sen. Dianne Feinstein was not among them, Phil Willon reports.

Four House members also were missing from the list of plaintiffs, most of whom represent politically competitive districts. Feinstein’s spokesman said the senator did not sign because she’s the lead Democrat on one of the committees investigating the president and did not want to "create an appearance of bias." California’s other Democratic senator, Kamala Harris, also serves on a committee investigating Trump — but she had no issue about adding her name to the lawsuit.

THE AFTERMATH

Friday's Essential Politics rounded up our terrific coverage of the shocking attack on the GOP congressional baseball team’s morning practice that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise severely injured and facing multiple surgeries.

The shooting sent chills through the Capitol as lawmakers admitted feeling vulnerable knowing one of their own had been so critically wounded, and, they soon learned, targeted.

"If Scalise had a breakfast or something else this morning and wasn't there, you would have had 15 or 20 dead congressmen and 10 dead staff people. There is nothing that would have stopped this guy," Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan told me a few hours after the gunman opened fire on his rival team’s practice the day before the Congressional Baseball Game was to take place.

I’ll admit I was shaken. As the former editor in chief of Roll Call, which sponsors the game and has acted as a keeper of its history since 1962, I am more familiar with what the annual tradition means to Congress.

That field was their safe space, I wrote in a perspective piece this week.

Tickets started selling fast after the shooting, and the game went on. Like times past, the lawmakers wouldn’t be mistaken for professional athletes. (Watch the highlights here.)

Sarah Wire reported from the ballpark that Congress put up a united front on and off the field, and the Democrats won 11-2. Several Californians made decisive plays.

The Congressional Women’s Softball Game will also go on next week despite the shooting, writes Wire, who plays second base on the team of journalists that faces off against lawmakers.

TRUMP COULD SPARE POWERFUL CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY

Earlier this year, Trump’s choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent shockwaves through the national environmental community by suggesting the administration could try to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver. The waiver allows California to set tougher rules on cars and trucks than the federal government. Because other states can decide to emulate California’s rules, Sacramento regulators have outsized influence over vehicle policies around the country. Keeping that authority has been a key goal of environmentalists, especially since Trump is pulling back from the fight against global warming.

It turns out they may be able to rest easy. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told U.S. House lawmakers on Thursday that the Trump administration was not reviewing California’s waiver, and he even praised the state’s leadership on air quality issues. Chris Megerian and Halper analyze the news and what it means for states’ efforts to tackle climate change.

CALIFORNIA GETS A CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT CARD

Every year state regulators release new data on California’s progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If it was an elementary school report card, it might say "needs improvement." The state chipped away at its emissions in 2015, the latest data available, but much steeper cuts will be necessary to meet its targets in the future. In addition, emissions from passenger vehicles increased. Joe Fox and Megerian crunch the numbers.

STATE BUDGET ROUNDUP

Gov. Jerry Brown will begin the process of reviewing more than a dozen bills sent to his desk last week that constitute the various parts of a new state budget.

-- Sacramento bureau chief John Myers breaks down exactly where the budget dollars will go.

-- Nearly $50 million in the California state budget was earmarked for expanded legal services for immigrants.

-- Another budget proposal earmarked $1 million for the California Department of Justice to monitor conditions at immigrant detention centers across the state.

-- Lawmakers traded biting criticisms and accusations during budget debates last week on two side deals that were included in the spending plan: a proposal that will dramatically downsize the duties of the state Board of Equalization and one to revamp the state’s recall election rules.

-- And speaking of those multiple bills that make up the spending plan: Myers takes a look in his weekly Political Road Map column at how they’ve become, over the course of three decades, a perfect place to hide concessions to lawmakers and interest groups alike.

-- George Skelton also tackled the topic in his Monday column. The recall election provision tucked in the budget stinks, but then again so does the recall attempt, he writes.

-- This week’s California Politics Podcast not only takes a deeper dive into some of the budget’s key details but looks at the bitter debate waged over some of the bills during floor sessions under the state Capitol dome.

SCIENTISTS BECOMING A TREND

California could determine whether Democrats are able to wrestle control of the House from Republicans in 2018. Their problems in the past have been twofold: candidates and enthusiasm. Judging by street protests and animosity to Trump, enthusiasm may not be a problem next year. And the party’s candidate lineup is also coming into focus.

On Thursday, Cathleen Decker reported that a renowned stem cell scientist and entrepreneur, Hans Keirstead, plans to join a pack of Democrats running against Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the 48th Congressional District. Rohrabacher, first elected in 1988, has beat back other challenges, and easily: His narrowest victory, 10 points, occurred in 2008. Some national and California Democrats encouraged Keirstead to run, hoping his mixed science and business backgrounds will be a good fit for the coastal Orange County district.

And The Times’ science team has started a project tracking the candidates for office with science backgrounds — whether chemists or doctors. There are several hopefuls in California.

A DISRUPTED INDUSTRY

Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) is one of the leaders in the Legislature who is thinking about the future of Uber, Lyft and the ride-hailing industry. Low, who co-founded the Legislature's tech and millennial caucuses, now has a bill aimed at easing regulations for taxis to make them more competitive.

Liam Dillon interviewed Low about his motivations for supporting ride-hailing and whether the state is set up to oversee all the changes, including autonomous vehicles, heading to the industry.

LIBERALS LEAVE SAFE TURF TO TRY TO FLIP A GOP HOUSE SEAT

How badly do Democrats want to oust Rep. Steve Knight?

Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from the Westside of Los Angeles, is already paying for buses and vans to ferry volunteers over the Sepulveda Pass into Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley to reinforce local Democrats as they start up voter registration drives. Organizers say they have registered 80 voters over three trips so far.

California may offer Democrats a lopsided advantage as a whole, but this patch of the state — where the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles comes to an end and the Mojave Desert begins — is still a bastion for the Republican Party.

Javier Panzar reports from two recent weekend trips into the district that the task is grueling but uplifting work for some Democrats feeling guilty they did not do enough in 2016 to help their party.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she’s concerned that Trump will try to fire the special prosecutor appointed to investigate Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and the deputy attorney general who appointed him.

-- Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, a venture capitalist from Rancho Santa Fe, poured another $2 million of his own money into his campaign. That comes on top of the $1-million check he wrote to kick off his candidacy.

-- Citing an epidemic of opioid overdose deaths across the country, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday he is joining with more than 26 other states to investigate whether drugmakers have used illegal marketing and sales practices. Becerra said the probe will focus on whether drug manufacturers have played a role in creating or extending the opioid problem.

-- Mike Memoli rounds up the complicated financial disclosure form Trump filed Friday. Check out all 98 pages for yourself.

LOGISTICS

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