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Essential Politics: Alabama Senate race threatens Trump agenda

What will get more attention in the coming days: the conclusion of President Trump’s trip through Asia, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessionsappearance on Capitol Hill, or the GOP tax plan headed for a late-week vote?

All of these storylines have the potential to captivate the country this week. Still, it may end up being a special election that wouldn’t have even been competitive had appointed Sen. Luther Strange won the primary.

That would be the Alabama Senate race that’s suddenly become a tossup contest.

Roy Moore, battling allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, has not flinched as Senate Republicans call for him to quit the race and the establishment searches for potential exit plans that won’t hand the seat to Democrat Doug Jones. (Even though the state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than 20 years.) For his part, Moore’s rival isn’t going there.

The close race imperils Trump’s agenda in Congress, and there are still several weeks to go until the vote.

HARASSMENT INVESTIGATIONS SHIFTING IN CALIFORNIA

Any allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct made to California’s state Senate will now go to an independent legal team instead of the chamber’s own Rules Committee, Senate leader Kevin De León announced late Sunday. The changes come after the Sacramento Bee reported on sexual harassment investigations underway into state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia).

At the same time, De León said he had moved out of the home he shared with Mendoza in Sacramento.

Last week, both the state Assembly and Senate gave bare-bones information in response to a Times request for data on harassment claims and settlements. In total there were 31 sexual harassment investigations conducted by the state Senate and Assembly, officials told us. They refused to answer the vast majority of questions asked — from whether some complaints were dismissed without an investigation, to how much taxpayer money has been spent on everything from hiring outside lawyers to paying settlements. Keep track of what we asked for, and what they shared.

PRESSURE’S ON

California’s congressional Republicans are getting pressured by ad campaigns from several groups over the GOP tax overhaul that’s headed for a vote Thursday. The focus is on the changes to the mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions that would hit Golden State residents hardest. One group of ads urges constituents to order their representatives in Congress to oppose the plan.

George Skelton’s Monday column tackles the predicament the seven California Republicans find themselves in, especially since their races will help determine whether one-party Republican rule continues in Washington or if Democrats recapture the House.

State Treasurer John Chiang and De León are asking congressional leaders to preserve major funding for low-income housing in the measure, which leaders say will get a floor vote Thursday.

We’ll be covering developments in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

NATIONAL POLITICS LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Trump delivered an "America First" trade message at the Asia summit, but it was his Twitter feed that made headlines.

Hours after Trump taunted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Twitter, suggesting he is "short and fat," the White House chief of staff insisted he doesn’t carefully follow Trump's comments on social media and tells other aides not to react to them.

He added of Trump’s tweets: "They are what they are."

Two former senior intelligence officials Sunday offered an extraordinary critique of Trump’s mode of dealing with foreign leaders, portraying the president as cowed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and overly susceptible to flattery by rivals likely seeking to manipulate him.

-- On Tuesday, Sessions will face another grilling on Capitol Hill, this time prompted by claims in court documents and congressional testimony that he was told of at least two aides' meetings with Russian officials — despite his claim last month that he was unaware of any such contacts. The attorney general’s serial inconsistencies have given Democrats an opening to hammer his credibility.

-- He’s never tried a case, and was deemed "not qualified." But Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent his nomination for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench through to the full Senate.

-- Being chairwoman of the Republican Party in Hawaii isn’t easy.

-- Andrew Cuomo is fundraising in Los Angeles, and we all know what that means.

Get the latest about Trump’s trip and what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.

THE LATEST USC/LAT POLL

Californians overwhelmingly support Sen. Dianne Feinstein in her reelection bid, but are more divided in the governor’s race, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had the support of 31% of registered voters who plan to cast ballots in the June primary, followed by Antonio Villaraigosa with nearly 21%.

Most California voters would scrap the higher gas tax and vehicle fees recently approved by the Legislature. If the matter were put to a vote today, 54.2% of registered voters surveyed said they would cancel the tax and fee hikes, while 45.8% said they would vote to keep the increases in place.

More than half of Californians support "sanctuary state" legislation to shield more than 2.3 million people living in the state illegally from deportation, the poll found. And despite the Trump administration's repeated attempts to frame illegal immigration as a threat to public safety, the poll also found an overwhelming majority believe that people without legal residency in the country help revitalize cities as opposed to increasing crime.

Californians also strongly oppose Trump, with 53% who said the state's members of Congress should "never" work with him.

Californians don’t have any consensus on whether they support protests against racial injustice by NFL players who are kneeling during the national anthem.

The poll found 38% percent opposed the protests while 33% were in favor. There’s more consensus about Trump’s response. Fifty seven percent of those surveyed disagreed with Trump’s actions, with only 18% in support.

Find everything at latimes.com/polls.

SHERIFFS WILL PLAY VITAL ROLE IN ‘SANCTUARY STATE’ LAW

In California, at least 40 of 58 county sheriffs opposed the "sanctuary state" law designed to limit the people that law enforcement officers can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. Soon, they will be on the front lines of implementing it.

As keepers of jails across the state, sheriffs will retain control over who has access to the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of people booked into their facilities every day. As elected officials, many represent conservative or rural areas, where voters might be more likely to oppose the new state law.

ANOTHER TRY FOR THE ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN

After the deadly church shooting in Texas, Feinstein reintroduced her previously rejected bill to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. And she asked a question: “When will this end?”

Not until gun control advocates — Democrats — recapture Congress and the White House, Skelton writes.

DREAM ACT DREAMS PERSISTS

Democrats, and some Republicans including Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, are pushing for Congress to act by the end of the year to address the legal status of hundred of thousands of people brought to the country illegally as children.

Some California Democrats are threatening to withhold support for an end-of-year spending bill that has to pass by Dec. 8 to keep the government open, but so far House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has stopped short of joining them.

NO GUMBO FOR DONNA BRAZILE’S FRIENDS

After writing an unfettered memoir critiquing Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid, former Democratic Party leader Donna Brazile on Thursday doubled down on her criticism of the nominee before a receptive audience in Northern California. Brazile’s tell-all book has revived sour election day memories for Democrats, including her claim that the party gamed the nomination process in Clinton’s favor.

"My Democratic friends are mad at me. So what? No gumbo for them," said Brazile, a Louisiana native, prompting a laugh at a sold-out book tour event Thursday night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: THE ‘JERRY QUESTION’

Looming large over next year’s race for governor is the legacy of the man who will be leaving office, Gov. Jerry Brown. Will candidates be helped, or hurt, by trying to walk in his footsteps?

In this week’s Political Road Map column, John Myers takes a look at data from our latest USC/LAT poll about whether voters want Brown’s policies to continue and which one of the hopefuls might benefit.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- This week’s California Politics Podcast dives down into the data in the USC/Times poll and offers details on the effort to get the Legislature to reveal more about sexual harassment complaints filed over the past decade.

-- The FBI's Russia investigation now includes a look into Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s meeting with former Trump advisor Michael Flynn.

-- Baldwin Park Councilwoman Susan Rubio shook up the state Capitol last year when she went to court and obtained a domestic violence restraining order against her estranged husband, then a Democratic assemblyman. Now, as she runs for a state Senate seat in the San Gabriel Valley against former Assemblyman Mike Eng, her campaign is garnering attention at a time when women in politics are speaking out about sexual harassment and unwanted touching they’ve experienced in the Capitol.

-- Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna endorsed De León’s bid to unseat Feinstein.

-- Brown was abroad all last week, delivering a blunt climate change message in Germany and working with the European Union to pledge support for the Paris accords.

-- Californians could vote on a $1.5-billion bond to fund improvements at children’s hospitals if a possible ballot measure qualifies.

-- Young Democrats held a panel discussion in Orange County last week about sexual harassment in politics, as local Democratic Party and labor officials continue to grapple with multiple accusations against leaders there.

-- Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer added $10 million to his Trump impeachment campaign.

-- Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) got another challenger in his reelection race, this time a registered Democrat who’s running as an independent.

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