The White House

The Trump administration is doing just about everything it can to slow the flood of undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans coming to the U.S. and claiming asylum. But alleviating our growing border crisis is impossible unless Congress changes our immigration laws.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was right when he said Tuesday during a congressional hearing on border security that there is “absolutely no justification whatsoever for Congress to sit on the sidelines and watch as this crisis continues to unfold.” The emergency on the border is “getting worse and worse as Congress sits on its hands and does absolutely nothing” to help.

The border pandemonium is literally fatal. Since December, six migrants have died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Five were children. This isn’t the fault of the Trump administration’s policies that aim to stanch the stream of illegal immigrants. It’s the result of a border patrol collapsing under the weight of hundreds of thousands of migrants making a dangerous and debilitating journey to the U.S. and needing urgent medical care as soon as they arrive.

In fiscal 2018, border agents apprehended nearly 106,000 “family units,” meaning families that made their way illegally onto U.S. soil and, more often than not, claimed asylum. We’re only halfway through this year, and that number has tripled to more than 316,000.

Why is this happening? It is because everyone south of the border knows that to secure indefinite legal protection to stay in the U.S., they need simply to arrive with children, who by law must not be detained for more than 20 days. When the child is released by border patrol, as it inevitably will be, so too is the person who came with them. That’s why the number of apprehensions of supposed families dwarfs apprehensions of single adults.

News media and Trump’s critics blame administration cruelty for the crisis. They’ve started referring to detention centers as “concentration camps” (see P.xx). But the crisis is caused by our nonsensical asylum laws, which are well intentioned but incapable of dealing with the sort of massive run on the border we’re seeing today. Our laws act as a magnet for illegal immigrants, encouraging migrants to make dangerous journeys with children, across Mexico, and enter our country without documentation.

Asylum claims at the border are rising rapidly. The vast majority of migrants who claim asylum, 90%, pass a first screening. They’re ordered to show up at court on a specified date that, because of a backlog of about a million cases, may be five years later. In that time, they’re allowed to work legally within the U.S. Even so, some 40% don’t show up for their court hearings, having disappeared into the country, perhaps forever.

Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, is calling for reform, so the asylum process can no longer be abused by migrants who aren’t really fleeing persecution in their own countries but are simply looking for a better way of life in the biggest economy in the world. That’s the lure of the United States. Congress should raise the bar for who can qualify for asylum, McAleenan argues, and make it much easier to remove people quickly if they don’t meet the standard.

Asylum laws are to provide a safe haven to people who arrive at our door with a well-founded fear of persecution. If you’re genuinely fleeing drug gangs out to kill you and your family in Mexico or Canada, you should be let in. If you are persecuted by Iran and can get a flight to America, this country should grant you asylum and keep you safe.

But our crisis is from South American and Central American migrants fleeing El Salvador or Venezuela and merely passing through Mexico. Most arrivals at our southern border are not Mexicans.

The question is, why didn’t they stop in Mexico? And why should they become this country’s responsibility? There are many good reasons to prefer the U.S. to Mexico — more jobs, more freedom, more welfare — but none of these are remotely valid reasons to grant asylum.

These are simple economic migrants, encouraged by massive loopholes in the law and the fecklessness of a Congress unwilling to doing anything about them. Trump has leaned on Mexico to absorb more of them, and that seems to be working. But for a lasting reform, Congress needs to change the law.

More border security, which Democrats say implausibly that they want, and fewer detained migrants: Shouldn’t everyone jump to these reforms?

The problem is that House Democrats have little political incentive to work with Republicans and the White House on any measure that would reduce the flow of illegal immigrants. Democrats are loath to cooperate with the GOP while they, at the same time, hope to drag Trump down to defeat in the 2020 election. It is certainly true that most Democrats are at best muddled on the immigration question and at worst fully in favor of opening the southern border to anyone who wants to come into the country.

But the party of the Left cannot deny that we have a crisis at the southern border. If Democrats are honest, they’ll admit it’s caused by our asylum laws, and they will help fix them.

Donald Trump at a rally

President Donald Trump speaks during a recent rally in Pennsylvania. Trump’s reelection campaign comes armed with resources it could only dream of in 2016. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

2020 elections

The president’s 2020 campaign is flipping the script from its ham-fisted approach the first time Trump sought elected office.

President Donald Trump is sitting on a war chest topping $40 million, has boots on the ground spread across nine regions crucial to his 2020 map and owns a sprawling network of volunteers who’ve been rigorously trained for the months ahead.

When he takes the stage Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., to announce his bid for reelection, Trump will be joined by 20,000 guests whose personal information — names, zip codes, phone numbers — was meticulously recorded when they requested tickets to the rally. First-time attendees will receive relentless emails and texts in the coming weeks, reminding them they can help “Keep America Great” by contributing $5, $10 or $15. Some maxed-out donors who gave generously to his 2016 campaign will trek to Florida to witness what they delivered — and decide whether to give big again.

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It’s a straightforward strategy to get the president four more years in the White House: be the political juggernaut Trump lacked in 2016.

While 23 Democratic presidential candidates scramble for attention, Trump’s 2020 campaign is quietly flipping the script from its ham-fisted approach the first time he sought elected office. His team has spent 2½ building a robust, modern and professional operation to optimize as many variables as possible and amassing an unprecedented pile of cash to keep it all afloat.

It’s worked so far. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee had a combined $82 million in the bank as of April — the result of a joint fundraising operation — and staffers have yet to devolve into the bitter infighting that strained the president’s first campaign and stained his earliest days in the White House.

“In 2016, the people on the campaign like to say that they were building the airplane while it was in flight. This time, he will have a campaign that is befitting of an incumbent president of the United States,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the new-and-improved Trump campaign.

Indeed, one official involved in Trump’s first presidential campaign likened the experience to a slow-motion plane crash: “We were strapped in on a sloppily assembled machine that was gradually spiraling out of control.”

Even with a better-financed and well-ordered campaign, Trump has found the developing 2020 landscape to be tough. State investigators are still probing his past business ventures and financial history. Court rulings have delivered devastating setbacks for his agenda. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has encouraged congressional Democrats to do everything short of impeachment to hold his administration accountable.

On top of all that, the outburst-prone president has struggled to boost his approval rating above 42 percent — where it hovers — and could encounter difficulty billing himself as an outsider while occupying the center of the swamp.

“He’s an incumbent. It’s hard to run the same way in 2020 as he did in 2016,” a person close to the Trump campaign said.

The challenges are not lost on the president’s campaign staff. This time, Trump will launch his 2020 campaign with organizational and financial advantages his previous crew could have only dreamed of — soothing allies who worry the current political environment is less conducive to victory.

From a 14th-floor suite originally designed to house the offices of a capital markets firm, Trump’s modest campaign team of about 50 employees has spent the past several months laying the groundwork for a 2020 race that diverges from 2016 without sacrificing his insurgent populist message. Extensive assistance from the Republican National Committee — driven by a massive staff, existing presence in all 50 states and a staunch Trump ally at its helm — has helped, bringing institutional knowledge and resources that were notably absent in 2016.

Officials at the RNC’s Capitol Hill headquarters are in constant contact with counterparts who work out of the Trump campaign’s Arlington, Va., office, and staffers from each side often travel to the same events to show simultaneous support for the party and for Trump. For example, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel both attended a dinner this week hosted by the local Republican Party in Macomb County, Mich., often called the “home of the Reagan Democrats” and a must-win for Trump in 2020.

“If you look at where the campaign was in 2016 and where it is today, it’s a completely different organization. It has a united Republican Party behind it that also has one of the best fundraising operations we’ve ever seen,” a Michigan Republican Party official said, adding the Trump campaign plans to deploy significant staff to Michigan beginning in early July.

A campaign official said Parscale plans to have “a fully functioning ground game by the end of summer,” as well as several coalition groups that will specifically target female, Latino and African American voters.

Many of those campaign staffers, along with members of the GOP’s state party affiliates, have gone through a program known as GROW, or Growing Republican Organizations to Win. The custom workshop-type classes were created by the Trump campaign and the RNC to train field staff in fundraising, communications, data and digital efforts that will be unique to their states in 2020. One state party official who recently completed the training said they were asked to draft mock news releases and budgets as part of the programming.

Campaign officials readily admit that Trump determines the message on any given day, making it difficult to create a fixed communications strategy that volunteers and staff can follow. Earlier this year, for instance, Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner instructed campaign staff to avoid targeting specific 2020 Democratic candidates only to watch the president lob repeated insults at former Vice President Joe Biden weeks later. Trump has also insulted Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“The key for the Trump campaign is to successfully build its operation around the most unconventional candidate in history,” said Jason Miller, a former campaign adviser who remains close to the president. “Parscale has a good enough relationship with Trump to know that you always follow his lead and your job as the campaign is to build upon and amplify his message, not force feed him some message that you cooked up.”

Parscale has declined to foist soundbites on Trump, opting instead to let the president weaponize Twitter at his own discretion. But the campaign has begun crafting candidate-specific messages that it hopes Trump will test out and eventually deploy regularly, depending on who becomes the Democratic nominee. Officials have largely focused on Biden, Sanders and Warren, believing Trump’s opponent be one of those three.

“If it’s Sanders or Warren, they immediately become advocates for radical change that’s a step too far for most voters, and Trump becomes the centrist. But against Joe Biden, the race is much more of a change vs. status quo dynamic,” Miller said.

Campaign allies who are aware of internal polling said they also want Trump to tout his accomplishments constantly. He will only outperform his Democratic opponent if he’s “getting the right amount of credit for the progress he’s making on immigration, the economy and national security,” one outside adviser said. Several 2020 Democrats have argued that the economy is booming because of policies put in place by former President Barack Obama, although Trump’s economic approval rating reached a new high in a CNN poll last month.

Trump’s campaign has been briefing him almost weekly on polling, according to two aides familiar with the conversations, one of whom said the president is more obsessed with polls than anything else, despite repeatedly questioning their reliability after 2016.

The campaign’s first internal reelection poll found Biden trouncing Trump by 7 percentage points in Florida when it surveyed Sunshine State voters in March, ABC reported Friday. The state is key to Trump’s campaign strategy: Without it, a single loss in the Rust Belt could trigger the end of his presidency.

Campaign officials said that isn’t going to happen. They said fundraising has been too successful and that their massive data-gathering operation is unmatched by any Democratic presidential hopeful.

But as Trump prepares to launch his reelection bid 17 months before voters hit the polls in November 2020, perhaps his most distinct advantage is time.

“It’s important to remember that we are not on the same timetable as the Democrats,” Murtaugh said. “We are already in the general election.”

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this story.

After receding from the national stage, the free college movement is resurfacing as a central rallying point for Democrats as they set their sights on the White House.

At least 18 of the party’s 23 presidential contenders have come out in support of some version of free college . Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises free tuition at public colleges and universities. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says it should be limited to two years of community college. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York wants to provide free tuition in exchange for public service.

The candidates are responding to what some say is a crisis in college affordability, an issue likely to draw attention in the first primary debates later this month. Year after year, colleges say they have to raise tuition to offset state funding cuts. Students have shouldered the cost by taking out loans, pushing the country’s student debt to nearly $1.6 trillion this year. Even for many in the middle class, experts say, college is increasingly moving out of reach.

Free college, a catchall term for a range of affordability plans, is increasingly seen as a solution. Nearly 20 states now promise some version of free college, from Tennessee’s free community college program to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers up to four years of free tuition at state schools for residents with family incomes below $125,000 a year.

But research on the effectiveness of state programs has been mixed. Critics say the offers are often undermined by limited funding and come with narrow eligibility rules that exclude many students.

“This is a problem that has not gone away but has gotten worse in many communities,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research for Demos, a liberal think tank. “It’s enough of a problem that people expect some action on it, and they expect some plan for how to get there.”

Plans from Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Obama housing chief Julian Castro aim to eliminate tuition at all public institutions. The candidates say that would open college to a wider group of Americans and greatly reduce the need for loans. Warren argues that college, like other levels of schooling, is “a basic public good that should be available to everyone with free tuition and zero debt at graduation.”

Others, including Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden, have backed more moderate plans to provide two years of free tuition at community colleges, similar to an idea pushed by President Barack Obama in 2015.

And there are some who say students should be able to graduate without debt. To do that, several candidates want to help students with tuition as well as textbooks and living costs. Such “debt-free” plans, which aim to steer money toward students with lower incomes, are supported Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, among others.

Proposals for free college nationwide started to gain popularity among Democrats during the Obama administration and in the 2016 primary race. That discussion stalled after the election of President Donald Trump, who is seen as hostile to the idea. His administration blames colleges for the debt crisis, saying they ramp up tuition because they know students have easy access to federal loans.

Before Trump was elected, Sanders was credited with bringing the issue to the fore when he campaigned on a promise to make tuition free at public colleges. Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee, initially criticized the idea but later adopted a similar plan. Now, early in the 2020 race, Democrats have been quick to show their support. Instead of debating whether it should be free, most are weighing which model is best and how to achieve it.

“It’s striking how much the debate has shifted over the past decade,” Huelsman said. “If you look at the 2008 election, 2012, it was not something that was necessarily a prominent part of the debate.”

For most candidates, free college is just part of the solution as they confront student debt and college access. Several also promise to help borrowers refinance loans at lower interest rates; some want to wipe away huge chunks of the nation’s student debt.

Those types of proposals are likely to be popular among the growing share of voters paying off student loans, said Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane University who has studied the effectiveness of free college.

“Something like 1 in 5 voters has college debt, which is a huge percentage,” he said. “And when you have a huge number of people affected by something, then that certainly gets people’s attention.”

One of the major sticking points over free college is the price. Warren’s total education plan is estimated to cost $1.25 trillion over a decade. Sanders’ free college plan would cost $47 billion a year. Both call on the federal government to split the cost with states while also raising taxes on Wall Street or the wealthiest Americans.

Some Democrats, though, say that kind of spending is untenable. Klobuchar has rejected the idea of free college for everyone, saying the country can’t afford it. Instead she backs two years of free community college as a way to help prepare workers and fill shortages in the job market.

“When I look at the jobs that are available right now out there, we have a lot of job openings in areas that could use a one-year degree, a two-year degree, and we’re just not filling those jobs,” Klobuchar said at a March town hall in Iowa. She added that students can attend community college and then “later go on to complete their four-year degree.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke supports free community college for all Americans, along with debt-free college at four-year institutions for students with low and modest incomes. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he would make community college free “for those who can’t afford it.”

Many free college supporters see promise in a federal plan that could bring more funding and share the cost with states. But in Congress, that kind of plan has yet to take hold.

In March, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, reintroduced his Debt-Free College Act, which calls for a partnership with states to make sure students can afford all college costs without borrowing loans. The idea died in the previous session and has yet to be taken up in this one, but the new bill has gained wider support from Democrats.

Among those backing the plan are four 2020 candidates: Gillibrand, Harris, Warren and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

___

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley

After receding from the national stage, the free college movement is resurfacing as a central rallying point for Democrats as they set their sights on the White House.

At least 18 of the party’s 23 presidential contenders have come out in support of some version of free college . Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises free tuition at public colleges and universities. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says it should be limited to two years of community college. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York wants to provide free tuition in exchange for public service.

The candidates are responding to what some say is a crisis in college affordability, an issue likely to draw attention in the first primary debates later this month. Year after year, colleges say they have to raise tuition to offset state funding cuts. Students have shouldered the cost by taking out loans, pushing the country’s student debt to nearly $1.6 trillion this year. Even for many in the middle class, experts say, college is increasingly moving out of reach.

Free college, a catchall term for a range of affordability plans, is increasingly seen as a solution. Nearly 20 states now promise some version of free college, from Tennessee’s free community college program to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers up to four years of free tuition at state schools for residents with family incomes below $125,000 a year.

But research on the effectiveness of state programs has been mixed. Critics say the offers are often undermined by limited funding and come with narrow eligibility rules that exclude many students.

“This is a problem that has not gone away but has gotten worse in many communities,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research for Demos, a liberal think tank. “It’s enough of a problem that people expect some action on it, and they expect some plan for how to get there.”

Plans from Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Obama housing chief Julian Castro aim to eliminate tuition at all public institutions. The candidates say that would open college to a wider group of Americans and greatly reduce the need for loans. Warren argues that college, like other levels of schooling, is “a basic public good that should be available to everyone with free tuition and zero debt at graduation.”

Others, including Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden, have backed more moderate plans to provide two years of free tuition at community colleges, similar to an idea pushed by President Barack Obama in 2015.

And there are some who say students should be able to graduate without debt. To do that, several candidates want to help students with tuition as well as textbooks and living costs. Such “debt-free” plans, which aim to steer money toward students with lower incomes, are supported Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, among others.

Proposals for free college nationwide started to gain popularity among Democrats during the Obama administration and in the 2016 primary race. That discussion stalled after the election of President Donald Trump, who is seen as hostile to the idea. His administration blames colleges for the debt crisis, saying they ramp up tuition because they know students have easy access to federal loans.

Before Trump was elected, Sanders was credited with bringing the issue to the fore when he campaigned on a promise to make tuition free at public colleges. Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee, initially criticized the idea but later adopted a similar plan. Now, early in the 2020 race, Democrats have been quick to show their support. Instead of debating whether it should be free, most are weighing which model is best and how to achieve it.

“It’s striking how much the debate has shifted over the past decade,” Huelsman said. “If you look at the 2008 election, 2012, it was not something that was necessarily a prominent part of the debate.”

For most candidates, free college is just part of the solution as they confront student debt and college access. Several also promise to help borrowers refinance loans at lower interest rates; some want to wipe away huge chunks of the nation’s student debt.

Those types of proposals are likely to be popular among the growing share of voters paying off student loans, said Douglas Harris, an economics professor at Tulane University who has studied the effectiveness of free college.

“Something like 1 in 5 voters has college debt, which is a huge percentage,” he said. “And when you have a huge number of people affected by something, then that certainly gets people’s attention.”

One of the major sticking points over free college is the price. Warren’s total education plan is estimated to cost $1.25 trillion over a decade. Sanders’ free college plan would cost $47 billion a year. Both call on the federal government to split the cost with states while also raising taxes on Wall Street or the wealthiest Americans.

Some Democrats, though, say that kind of spending is untenable. Klobuchar has rejected the idea of free college for everyone, saying the country can’t afford it. Instead she backs two years of free community college as a way to help prepare workers and fill shortages in the job market.

“When I look at the jobs that are available right now out there, we have a lot of job openings in areas that could use a one-year degree, a two-year degree, and we’re just not filling those jobs,” Klobuchar said at a March town hall in Iowa. She added that students can attend community college and then “later go on to complete their four-year degree.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke supports free community college for all Americans, along with debt-free college at four-year institutions for students with low and modest incomes. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he would make community college free “for those who can’t afford it.”

Many free college supporters see promise in a federal plan that could bring more funding and share the cost with states. But in Congress, that kind of plan has yet to take hold.

In March, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, reintroduced his Debt-Free College Act, which calls for a partnership with states to make sure students can afford all college costs without borrowing loans. The idea died in the previous session and has yet to be taken up in this one, but the new bill has gained wider support from Democrats.

Among those backing the plan are four 2020 candidates: Gillibrand, Harris, Warren and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Source: NewsMax America

a view of a city at night: A heating power plant in Moscow.© Maxim Shemetov/Reuters A heating power plant in Moscow.

WASHINGTON — The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.

In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

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Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

The administration declined to describe specific actions it was taking under the new authorities, which were granted separately by the White House and Congress last year to United States Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military’s offensive and defensive operations in the online world.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of United States Cyber Command, was given more leeway to conduct offensive online operations without obtaining presidential approval.© Erin Schaff for The New York Times Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of United States Cyber Command, was given more leeway to conduct offensive online operations without obtaining presidential approval.

But in a public appearance on Tuesday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was now taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort “to say to Russia, or anybody else that’s engaged in cyberoperations against us, ‘You will pay a price.’”

Power grids have been a low-intensity battleground for years.

Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.

But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.

a man sitting in front of a television: How President Vladimir V. Putin’s government would react to the more aggressive American posture is unclear.© Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press How President Vladimir V. Putin’s government would react to the more aggressive American posture is unclear.

The commander of United States Cyber Command, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, has been outspoken about the need to “defend forward” deep in an adversary’s networks to demonstrate that the United States will respond to the barrage of online attacks aimed at it.

“They don’t fear us,” he told the Senate a year ago during his confirmation hearings.

But finding ways to calibrate those responses so that they deter attacks without inciting a dangerous escalation has been the source of constant debate.

Mr. Trump issued new authorities to Cyber Command last summer, in a still-classified document known as National Security Presidential Memoranda 13, giving General Nakasone far more leeway to conduct offensive online operations without receiving presidential approval.

But the action inside the Russian electric grid appears to have been conducted under little-noticed new legal authorities, slipped into the military authorization bill passed by Congress last summer. The measure approved the routine conduct of “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace, to “deter, safeguard or defend against attacks or malicious cyberactivities against the United States.”

a man wearing a suit and tie: In 2012, the defense secretary at the time, Leon E. Panetta, was warned of Russia’s online intrusions, but President Barack Obama was reluctant to respond to such aggression by Moscow with counterattacks.© Luke Sharrett for The New York Times In 2012, the defense secretary at the time, Leon E. Panetta, was warned of Russia’s online intrusions, but President Barack Obama was reluctant to respond to such aggression by Moscow with counterattacks.

Under the law, those actions can now be authorized by the defense secretary without special presidential approval.

“It has gotten far, far more aggressive over the past year,” one senior intelligence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity but declining to discuss any specific classified programs. “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”

The critical question — impossible to know without access to the classified details of the operation — is how deep into the Russian grid the United States has bored. Only then will it be clear whether it would be possible to plunge Russia into darkness or cripple its military — a question that may not be answerable until the code is activated.

Both General Nakasone and Mr. Bolton, through spokesmen, declined to answer questions about the incursions into Russia’s grid. Officials at the National Security Council also declined to comment but said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times’s reporting about the targeting of the Russian grid, perhaps an indication that some of the intrusions were intended to be noticed by the Russians.

Speaking on Tuesday at a conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bolton said: “We thought the response in cyberspace against electoral meddling was the highest priority last year, and so that’s what we focused on. But we’re now opening the aperture, broadening the areas we’re prepared to act in.”

John R. Bolton et al. posing for the camera: President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort to warn anybody “engaged in cyberoperations against us.”© Doug Mills/The New York Times President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort to warn anybody “engaged in cyberoperations against us.”

He added, referring to nations targeted by American digital operations, “We will impose costs on you until you get the point.”

Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place “implants” — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

Because the new law defines the actions in cyberspace as akin to traditional military activity on the ground, in the air or at sea, no such briefing would be necessary, they added.

The intent of the operations was described in different ways by several current and former national security officials. Some called it “signaling” Russia, a sort of digital shot across the bow. Others said the moves were intended to position the United States to respond if Mr. Putin became more aggressive.

So far, there is no evidence that the United States has actually turned off the power in any of the efforts to establish what American officials call a “persistent presence” inside Russian networks, just as the Russians have not turned off power in the United States. But the placement of malicious code inside both systems revives the question of whether a nation’s power grid — or other critical infrastructure that keeps homes, factories, and hospitals running — constitutes a legitimate target for online attack.

Already, such attacks figure in the military plans of many nations. In a previous post, General Nakasone had been deeply involved in designing an operation code-named Nitro Zeus that amounted to a war plan to unplug Iran if the United States entered into hostilities with the country.

How Mr. Putin’s government is reacting to the more aggressive American posture described by Mr. Bolton is still unclear.

“It’s 21st-century gunboat diplomacy,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas, who has written extensively about the shifting legal basis for digital operations. “We’re showing the adversary we can inflict serious costs without actually doing much. We used to park ships within sight of the shore. Now, perhaps, we get access to key systems like the electric grid.”

Russian intrusion on American infrastructure has been the background noise of superpower competition for more than a decade.

A successful Russian breach of the Pentagon’s classified communications networks in 2008 prompted the creation of what has become Cyber Command. Under President Barack Obama, the attacks accelerated.

But Mr. Obama was reluctant to respond to such aggression by Russia with counterattacks, partly for fear that the United States’ infrastructure was more vulnerable than Moscow’s and partly because intelligence officials worried that by responding in kind, the Pentagon would expose some of its best weaponry.

At the end of Mr. Obama’s first term, government officials began uncovering a Russian hacking group, alternately known to private security researchers as Energetic Bear or Dragonfly. But the assumption was that the Russians were conducting surveillance, and would stop well short of actual disruption.

That assumption evaporated in 2014, two former officials said, when the same Russian hacking outfit compromised the software updates that reached into hundreds of systems that have access to the power switches.

“It was the first stage in long-term preparation for an attack,” said John Hultquist, the director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a security company that has tracked the group.

In December 2015, a Russian intelligence unit shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people in western Ukraine. The attack lasted only a few hours, but it was enough to sound alarms at the White House.

A team of American experts was dispatched to examine the damage, and concluded that one of the same Russian intelligence units that wreaked havoc in Ukraine had made significant inroads into the United States energy grid, according to officials and a homeland security advisory that was not published until December 2016.

“That was the crossing of the Rubicon,” said David J. Weinstein, who previously served at Cyber Command and is now chief security officer at Claroty, a security company that specializes in protecting critical infrastructure.

In late 2015, just as the breaches of the Democratic National Committee began, yet another Russian hacking unit began targeting critical American infrastructure, including the electricity grid and nuclear power plants. By 2016, the hackers were scrutinizing the systems that control the power switches at the plants.

Until the last few months of the Obama administration, Cyber Command was largely limited to conducting surveillance operations inside Russia’s networks. At a conference this year held by the Hewlett Foundation, Eric Rosenbach, a former chief of staff to the defense secretary and who is now at Harvard, cautioned that when it came to offensive operations “we don’t do them that often.” He added, “I can count on one hand, literally, the number of offensive operations that we did at the Department of Defense.”

But after the election breaches and the power grid incursions, the Obama administration decided it had been too passive.

Mr. Obama secretly ordered some kind of message-sending action inside the Russian grid, the specifics of which have never become public. It is unclear whether much was accomplished.

“Offensive cyber is not this, like, magic cybernuke where you say, ‘O.K., send in the aircraft and we drop the cybernuke over Russia tomorrow,’” Mr. Rosenbach said at the conference, declining to discuss specific operations.

After Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Russian hackers kept escalating attacks.

Mr. Trump’s initial cyberteam decided to be far more public in calling out Russian activity. In early 2018, it named Russia as the country responsible for “the most destructive cyberattack in human history,” which paralyzed much of Ukraine and affected American companies including Merck and FedEx.

When General Nakasone took over both Cyber Command and the N.S.A. a year ago, his staff was assessing Russian hackings on targets that included the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kan., as well as previously unreported attempts to infiltrate Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station, near Brownville. The hackers got into communications networks, but never took over control systems.

In August, General Nakasone used the new authority granted to Cyber Command by the secret presidential directive to overwhelm the computer systems at Russia’s Internet Research Agency — the group at the heart of the hacking during the 2016 election in the United States. It was one of four operations his so-called Russia Small Group organized around the midterm elections. Officials have talked publicly about those, though they have provided few details.

But the recent actions by the United States against the Russian power grids, whether as signals or potential offensive weapons, appear to have been conducted under the new congressional authorities.

As it games out the 2020 elections, Cyber Command has looked at the possibility that Russia might try selective power blackouts in key states, some officials said. For that, they said, they need a deterrent.

In the past few months, Cyber Command’s resolve has been tested. For the past year, energy companies in the United States and oil and gas operators across North America discovered their networks had been examined by the same Russian hackers who successfully dismantled the safety systems in 2017 at Petro Rabigh, a Saudi petrochemical plant and oil refinery.

The question now is whether placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia. While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target.

“We might have to risk taking some broken bones of our own from a counterresponse, just to show the world we’re not lying down and taking it,” said Robert P. Silvers, a partner at the law firm Paul Hastings and former Obama administration official. “Sometimes you have to take a bloody nose to not take a bullet in the head down the road.”

David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco.

President Trump at a campaign-style rally last month at an airport in Montoursville, Pa. Photo: Tom Williams/Zuma Press

He has staged dozens of rallies, stashed millions in the bank and hurled Twitter insults at potential foes. But President Trump’s re-election bid starts on Tuesday.

Officially, that is.

Ever the showman, Mr. Trump is seizing the opportunity to hold a splashy “announcement”—a megarally in Orlando, Fla.—more than two years after making clear he would seek a second term.

Holding a launch rally after the campaign effectively gets under way is hardly a new political play; President Obama announced his 2012 re-election bid more than a year before his first official rally, and early Democratic 2020 front-runner Joe Bidenheld his “kickoff rally” about a month after he entered the race.

Still, Mr. Trump has ushered in a new style of presidential politicking with his perpetual campaign mode. His predecessors waited well into their first terms before making their intentions known and avoided overt campaigning so early in the primary process.

At a recent event in Iowa, Mr. Trump suggested he hadn’t shifted fully into his campaign gear, declaring: “This isn’t political season quite for me. It’ll start next week.”

Mr. Trump and his team believe this is the right moment to re-assert his campaign prowess, as their operation has expanded and the Democratic primary field appears set. They selected the battleground state of Florida to stake their claim with one of the large-venue gatherings that defined the president’s 2016 operation.

“The campaign wants to flex its muscles to show how much better they are than any of the Democratic campaigns,” said GOP consultant Alex Conant. “What Trump is going to do in Orlando, no Democratic candidate could do.”

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The Orlando event is expected to include first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, as well as the president’s adult children, said people familiar with the planning. It has been in the works for more than six weeks and is likely to usher in a more active campaign schedule.

On the day of his inauguration, Mr. Trump filed a re-election letter with the Federal Election Commission, though that letter did say that it didn’t “constitute a formal announcement of my candidacy.” A month later, he held his first campaign-style rally, in Florida, telling the crowd: “I’m here because I want to be among my friends and among the people.”

Many of the Democrats seeking the presidency have announced first and held a rally or formal launch later—often seeking to make a symbolic point in the process.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced an exploratory committee before holding an official rally a little over a month later at the site of a historic labor strike. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont declared his plans on public radio and later held a rally in his native Brooklyn. Pete Buttigieg announced an exploratory committee a few months before formally launching his campaign in the Indiana city where he is mayor.

Former Vice President Joe Biden kicking off his presidential campaign in Philadelphia in May. Photo: Preston Ehrler/Zuma Press

When seeking re-election, past modern presidents have taken their time to shift into politics, believing that campaigning can diminish the power of the White House. Mr. Obama launched with a video announcement in April 2011 and didn’t hold his first rally for over a year. President George W. Bush filed with the FEC in May 2003 and didn’t campaign overtly until the following year.

“Obama and Bush didn’t enjoy campaigning as much as Trump. They were very much consumed with world affairs,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University professor.

Said Mr. Brinkley of Trump: “He sees himself as a leader of a movement. He has tried for some months to be a normal president and not be in campaign mode. He hunkers back down into the movement when he has a chance.”

But former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett argued that there were advantages to staying in campaign mode.

“I don’t know if any of the old rules apply any more. The news cycle is continuous and now politics is continuous,” Mr. Bennett said.

Write to Catherine Lucey at catherine.lucey@wsj.com

It’s time to celebrate dear old dad again. Another Father’s Day is here, as the recent deluge of power tool and men’s tie advertisements reminded us.

This year, I’m reminded of the two dads who led the two sides in the Civil War. Much has been written about how the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis began with a lot in common. Both were born in Kentucky just eight months and 125 miles apart. Then the Lincolns moved north, the Davises moved south and the rest, as they say, is history.

But the pair also shared a little-known paternal bond, one no father should ever experience. This is their story.

William Wallace Lincoln was an interesting blue-eyed little boy. The third son of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, he and younger brother Tad were described as “notorious hellions,” chiefly because their father kept a loose hold on the discipline reins.

But Willie, as he was known, was also charming and intelligent. He and his father were especially close. There was a sensitive, tender side to the child, too. One of my favorite tales about him happened during Lincoln’s first months in the White House. The family was having breakfast and Tad was upset about something. Willie grew lost in deep thought. Then his face brightened. Lincoln looked at his son and said, “You’ve got it, haven’t you? You’ve figured out how to make Tad happy.” Willie nodded. Lincoln turned to Mary and beamed with pride as he said something along the lines of, “I can tell you every step he went through to reach his decision because our minds work so much alike.”

But Willie Lincoln didn’t live in the White House for long. He and Tad became seriously ill in early 1862. Modern research suggests typhoid fever caused by tainted Potomac River water was likely the culprit. While Tad’s case wasn’t severe, Willie went from improving one day to worsening the next. Lincoln fretted over his son’s condition while serving as commander in chief of a nation at war with itself. It was sheer agony trying to spend as much time as possible with Willie while also supervising military movements.

The end came at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20. Willie Lincoln was 11 years old. His devastated father sobbed at the bedside, “It is hard, hard to have him die!”

Just before the funeral, a raging thunderstorm howled through Washington. Mary was too distraught to attend the service. Willie was buried in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery. When this father was assassinated three years later, a funeral train carried two caskets back home to Illinois.

One hundred miles away in Richmond, Va., Jefferson Davis was also the father of four young children, with a fifth on the way. They included Margaret, Jefferson Jr., William, and Joe.

Joseph Evans Davis was called exceptionally bright and said to be the best behaved of all the Davis offspring. He seemed to have been the kind of little boy everyone loved.

He turned five years old on April 18, 1864. Tragedy struck twelve days later. April 30 was a warm Saturday. Windows in the Confederate White House were open that afternoon. Joe went exploring the way little boys in every era do. He fell over a porch railing onto pavement 15 feet below. Jefferson Jr. screamed for help. Everyone within earshot came running. Joe was carried inside and died of massive internal injuries about an hour later. His parents had been away at the time of the accident; they returned home just as their son was dying.

Jefferson Davis was inconsolable. He was heard pacing the floor in his study all night. Although daughter Winnie was born two months later, some people claimed Davis was never the same after that. Joe was buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. His father’s remains were later reinterred there alongside his little son.

Losing a child is one of life’s most traumatic experiences. No exception is made for parents in time of war, even for those in charge of the fighting. And so the two dads who led different sides in the bloody conflict that cost so many fathers their sons shared their grief by losing sons of their own.

J. Mark Powell (@JMarkPowell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former broadcast journalist and government communicator. His weekly offbeat look at our forgotten past, “Holy Cow! History,” can be read at jmarkpowell.com.

The Secret Service arrested a man who they say assaulted a police officer and tried to climb over the fence surrounding the White House grounds.

The man, 21-year-old Dayton Hershey, tried to scale the fence on the northwest side of the Treasury Building on Pennsylvania Avenue around 9 p.m. Friday, the Secret Service said.

“The subject was immediately apprehended by Secret Service personnel and taken into custody,” a spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News. Hershey was charged with assault on a police officer and unlawful entry.

The White House announced last week that it was raising the height of the fence surrounding the iconic building in order to deter would-be climbers. The height will be doubled as part of a $64 million construction project.

The last time someone entered the White House grounds unlawfully was in November 2017. Victor Merswin, 24, was arrested soon after attempting to get into the White House by jumping a fenced bike rack.

The White House and surrounding areas are a central hub for protesters and publicity in Washington. Last month a man died after lighting himself on fire outside the White House.

Contemplating the possibility that Democrats could win the presidency in 2020 while Republicans retain the Senate, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes mused, “If there’s a Dem president and R Senate majority, what are the odds McConnell holds hearings for a Dem Supreme Court nominee?” The answer is that it depends, but also, that actually confirming a nominee is another story.

At the time McConnell blocked Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court, his official position was that given it was a presidential election year with a lame duck president in place, it was best to wait until after the election so that voters could decide the issue. The reality was that there was no way he was going to let Barack Obama replace Antonin Scalia with a liberal justice and tilt the balance of the court given that Republicans had the power to stop him. If Garland were being appointed to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he would be on the Supreme Court today.

Likewise, if in 2021 there is a Democratic president and Ginsburg retires, McConnell is likely to hold hearings on a replacement. If the vacancy is either Chief Justice John Roberts or anybody to his right, it becomes significantly less likely.

But the ultimate question isn’t only whether McConnell would hold hearings, but whether a Democratic nominee could get confirmed by a Republican Senate. And that’s a much bigger “if.”

Even if McConnell decides that he can’t get away with rationalizing blocking an otherwise qualified nominee on a non-presidential election year, it isn’t clear that he could supply the votes to get that nominee confirmed, because what he decides might make sense for the party as a whole or the institution of the Senate might be a lot different than the considerations of individual senators. And in the current environment, not many Republicans would be able to vote for a liberal justice. We are long past the days of deference to the idea that a president generally should be able to appoint who he or she wants.

In fact, in the foreseeable future, it’s unclear that we’ll have any Supreme Court confirmations unless one party controls both the White House and Senate, especially if that nomination is going to alter the ideological makeup of the court.

Looking back at every Supreme Court nomination since 1975 (which marks all of the nominations in the post-Roe v Wade era), we can see that it used to be fairly routine for the opposing party to vote in large numbers to confirm a nominee of the other party.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the last nominee who was confirmed with another party in control of the Senate, and even then, by a much narrower margin than Antonin Scalia had been a few years earlier.

Still, Thomas won over 11 Democrats, which is a higher number of opposing party votes by any nominee following Chief Justice John Roberts. Starting with Justice Samuel Alito, we’ve party defections have stayed in the single digits. Garland was of course blocked, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh only won 3 and one Democrats, respectively.

So, it’s difficult to imagine a Democratic Senate confirming any picks from a re-elected Trump, or a Republican Senate confirming picks from a Democratic president, with the obvious stipulation that it depends on the ideological shift.

Contemplating the possibility that Democrats could win the presidency in 2020 while Republicans retain the Senate, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes mused, “If there’s a Dem president and R Senate majority, what are the odds McConnell holds hearings for a Dem Supreme Court nominee?” The answer is that it depends, but also, that actually confirming a nominee is another story.

At the time McConnell blocked Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court, his official position was that given it was a presidential election year with a lame duck president in place, it was best to wait until after the election so that voters could decide the issue. The reality was that there was no way he was going to let Barack Obama replace Antonin Scalia with a liberal justice and tilt the balance of the court given that Republicans had the power to stop him. If Garland were being appointed to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he would be on the Supreme Court today.

Likewise, if in 2021 there is a Democratic president and Ginsburg retires, McConnell is likely to hold hearings on a replacement. If the vacancy is either Chief Justice John Roberts or anybody to his right, it becomes significantly less likely.

But the ultimate question isn’t only whether McConnell would hold hearings, but whether a Democratic nominee could get confirmed by a Republican Senate. And that’s a much bigger “if.”

Even if McConnell decides that he can’t get away with rationalizing blocking an otherwise qualified nominee on a non-presidential election year, it isn’t clear that he could supply the votes to get that nominee confirmed, because what he decides might make sense for the party as a whole or the institution of the Senate might be a lot different than the considerations of individual senators. And in the current environment, not many Republicans would be able to vote for a liberal justice. We are long past the days of deference to the idea that a president generally should be able to appoint who he or she wants.

In fact, in the foreseeable future, it’s unclear that we’ll have any Supreme Court confirmations unless one party controls both the White House and Senate, especially if that nomination is going to alter the ideological makeup of the court.

Looking back at every Supreme Court nomination since 1975 (which marks all of the nominations in the post-Roe v Wade era), we can see that it used to be fairly routine for the opposing party to vote in large numbers to confirm a nominee of the other party.

Justice Clarence Thomas was the last nominee who was confirmed with another party in control of the Senate, and even then, by a much narrower margin than Antonin Scalia had been a few years earlier.

Still, Thomas won over 11 Democrats, which is a higher number of opposing party votes by any nominee following Chief Justice John Roberts. Starting with Justice Samuel Alito, we’ve party defections have stayed in the single digits. Garland was of course blocked, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh only won 3 and one Democrats, respectively.

So, it’s difficult to imagine a Democratic Senate confirming any picks from a re-elected Trump, or a Republican Senate confirming picks from a Democratic president, with the obvious stipulation that it depends on the ideological shift.


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