In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) thinks about what he would say about Donald Trump if he were in the throes of his own re-election, if in 2016, he had had a primary challenger back home to contend with and a tight general election to stare down.

He likes to believe he'd still have called Trump's attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel "very disturbing" and continued to raise alarm bells after Trump sought to ban Muslims from entering the country.

But, in a candid, Capitol Hill interview with TPM, Flake offered what he has all campaign season, honesty and insight into what it is like to be one of the few elected Republicans in Washington willing to call out his own party's nominee for president.

"I am in a position to do it," Flake said. "I'm not up for re-election. ... I'm the first to wonder if I would do the same thing if I were up for re-election. I'd like to think I would, but I don't know."

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Following a months-long standoff between the House Science Committee and state attorneys general conducting an investigation into Exxon over climate change denialism, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has called a hearing to affirm his right to subpoena the state officials overseeing criminal investigations.

Smith, a noted climate change denier, has made repeated demands that the attorneys general and several environmental groups turn over their communications about Exxon, accusing them of embarking on an "unprecedented effort against those who have questioned the causes, magnitude, or best ways to address climate change." The attorneys general, as well as the activist groups, have refused to comply with the committee's requests, setting up a battle over subpoena power.

In a June statement, the committee's ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), said that Smith's demands were "not about legitimate oversight," but that the committee was "harassing" attorneys general investigating Exxon.

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Donald Trump’s speech Friday to evangelicals at the Values Voter Summit was greeted with hooting and hollering and a standing ovation. But throughout the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C. where the social conservatives’ conference was being held were signs of anxiety that the movement wasn’t fully behind the GOP nominee.

"I’d like to elect a godly man, but we don’t have that choice,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) could be heard saying in the hallway to another attendee, before giving a speech urging voters to rally around Trump.

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In a cramped, carpeted ballroom at the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, the rebranded "alt right" movement took a victory lap Friday and looked optimistically toward their future as a growing movement in the United States.

The press conference included all the same alt right notes that have become the centerpiece of the movement. There were discussions about an "ethnostate" and how to build one and debates about whether Jewish people could rightly identify themselves as European. One participant waxed poetic on why he is tired of being called a white supremacist in the media, and another predicted that the United States "will break up" over its divisions. Russia was applauded for being the "sole white power in the world." If the alt-right was in control, one of the presenters imagined there would be more images of beautiful "blonde women" running their hands through wheat fields.

"Race is real. Race matters and race is the foundation of identity," said Richard Spencer, one of the group's leaders and activists.

After years in relative obscurity in chatrooms and anonymous forums online, the disjointed alt right movement, closely aligned with the white nationalist movement, is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. In Europe, a backlash against a refugee crisis has resulted in Brexit. And in the United States, at the top of a major party ticket, the alt right finally has a Republican candidate in Donald Trump it can rally around.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has often had a mantra for his conference. He wants decision making to come from the bottom up.

So on Friday morning when the Republican conference met behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol to hash out a plan to fund the government after the Sept. 30 deadline, leadership was prepared.

Instead of just a small group of the loudest, most conservative wing of the conference rising to argue for their preferred path forward – a longer term continuing resolution that would push the funding process into March when there is a new president–dozens of members who supported a short-term CR that would go to December stood to make their case, according to accounts from those in the room.

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In a past election cycle, a presidential candidate calling one of the U.S. top’s foreign rivals a better leader than its current president might be met with widespread condemnation. Likewise, if the candidate praised an authoritarian as a "strong leader." Or if he became enchanted by the air kisses the authoritarian floated his way.

But in the era of Donald Trump, all of the above are happening – repeatedly! – and many GOP senators are simply shrugging it off. A few hardcore Trump supporters try to defend it or explain it away. And some senators, perhaps feeling the acute awkwardness for a party that until recently has portrayed Putin as an existential threat to America, seem to just want the whole thing to go away.

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Hours after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivered high praise for Vladimir Putin, House Speaker Paul Ryan had only harsh criticism for the Russian president and not a whole lot of praise for his own nominee.

"Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share out interests. Vladimir Putin is violating the sovereignty of neighboring countries. It certainly appears that he is conducting state-sponsored cyber attacks on what appears to be our political system," Ryan said at his weekly press conference in response to a question from TPM. "That is not acting in our interests."

Pushed further, Ryan would not say if he was concerned about Trump's affinity for Putin.

"I made my points about Putin clear. I will just leave it at that," Ryan said.

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Do no harm.

That appears to be the mantra of GOP leaders as they barrel toward the November election –still optimistic they can hold onto their Senate majority and preserve their historic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives– even as their nominee Donald Trump remains an unpredictable force at the top of their ticket.

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After a crushing primary defeat last month, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) is as disenchanted as ever with his party's leadership in Congress.

Huelskamp, a member of the uber-conservative House Freedom Caucus, has had a strained relationship, to put it mildly, with House GOP leaders for years. He was on the outs under then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and his relationship with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been frosty.

With his seat already lost and his term wrapping up in January, Huelskamp did not hold back in a Wednesday interview with TPM in the Capitol. In particular, he had some harsh words for Ryan over how the appropriations process has played out in Congress.

"It's leadership's fault. They decided not to move appropriations bills through so here we are in September having to do a CR. Why? Don't forget it's because they didn't do the full appropriations," Huelskamp said. "It's what Boehner did. What's the difference?"

As Republicans return from a seven-week recess, Congress now is grappling with keeping the government funded through the election. Originally, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate had pledged to get back to "regular order" and pass spending bills through committee before bringing them to the floor.

Disagreements within GOP ranks as well as controversial amendments over LGBT rights halted that process and has brought members to the point where they may have to pass a continuing resolution.

Huelskamp lost his election earlier this summer in part because of his hardline conservative votes against items like the farm bill, which was of great importance to his district. He had also been thrown off of the Agriculture Committee under Boehner's reign and begged Ryan to publicly promise to restore him to the post, which Ryan said was up to the House Steering Committee.

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For months, Donald Trump has gloated about being on the winning end of a political system where elected officials owe their major donors favors. But now Trump is distancing himself from the pay-to-play world as he faces scrutiny over a major donation he made in support of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as her office was weighing whether to sue Trump University.

Since embarking on his presidential campaign, Trump has boasted about his history of making major contributions to politicians of both parties -- contributions he said are part of a “game” that he has been on the “other side all of my life.”

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