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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff Tuesday in a special election to fill a Georgia congressional seat, dashing Democrats’ hopes of flipping a House district in order to build momentum ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Polling had been showing a tight race, with several recent surveys showing Ossoff just ahead of Handel. However, a poll released Monday evening had the two candidates neck-and neck. As of Wednesday morning, Handel led Ossoff by just under four points, with all precincts reporting, though the secretary of state has yet to certify the results.

Democrats had hoped that they could harness the anti-Trump energy in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, located in the Atlanta suburbs and brimming with well-educated voters, to take over what had for several decades been a solidly Republican seat. Though now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price handily won re-election there in November, President Donald Trump only won the district by one point, signaling that the seat could be up for grabs. But Handel’s win suggests Republicans can outrun Trump’s low approval ratings.

Handel began her victory speech Tuesday night by thanking her supporters and her cheerleaders in Republican leadership, including President Donald Trump. She then thanked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was seriously injured last week in a shooting at the congressional Republicans’ baseball practice. Handel thanked Scalise for his support and called for her supporters to “lift up” the injured Republican.

She told the crowd that Americans must “find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements” because “no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs and position,” adding that that goes for “both sides of the political aisle.”

Handel told her supporters that she is “humbled and honored” to represent the sixth district in Congress, mentioning predecessors like Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

She also noted that she will be the first Republican woman to represent Georgia in Congress, which she said reminded her “that anything is possible” with hard work, determination, and support from those who believe in you.

Ossoff delivered his concession speech just before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, thanking his supporters and his family. He said that this race showed that voters can make a statement “at a time when politics has been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division.”

“This is not the outcome many of us were hoping for. But this is the beginning of something much bigger than us,” he said.

The Associated Press called the race for Handel around 10:15 p.m. Tuesday night

Just as the networks began calling the race for Handel around 10 p.m., the House Republicans’ campaign arm sent out a statement congratulating Handel on the win.

“I am thrilled to congratulate Karen Handel on her resounding victory tonight in Georgia’s 6th District,” said National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement. “For all the Democrats’ bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldn’t be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) also quickly congratulated Handel.

“Democrats from coast to coast threw everything they had at this race, and Karen would not be defeated,” Ryan said in a statement.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said that while Ossoff lost, the fact that he made the race competitive shows promise for Democrats.

“Although we fell short tonight, it’s important to take a step back and recognize what Jon and the DCCC achieved together. In a very conservative district where Democrats rarely break the mid-30’s and Republicans enjoy a massive registration advantage, Jon and his supporters pushed the race to the limit, vastly outperforming past Democrats in both the primary and the runoff,” DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján said in a statement.

“There are more than 70 districts more favorable to Democrats than this deep-red district, and Ossoff’s close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield,” he added. “The strong headwinds facing Republicans, incredible grassroots enthusiasm behind Democrats, and a damaged and exposed House Republican Caucus all clarify that we have the momentum heading into 2018.”

Though the race only lasted a few months, it drew intense national scrutiny and record spending. Total spending in the race hit about $50 million with Ossoff raising about $23 million for his own campaign. Handel relied more on spending from outside groups. Both sides flooded the airwaves with political ads, prompting local stations in the area to add news programming to their lineups just to accommodate the flood of advertisements.

After enduring intense campaigning from both sides, voters in Georgia’s sixth district finally trudged to the polls through the rain on Tuesday. The area saw torrential downpour and a flash flood warning was issued for parts of the district.

A former Georgia secretary of state, Handel pitched herself to voters as an experienced politician with deep roots in Georgia. She contrasted herself with Ossoff, who she repeatedly criticized for not living in the district (Ossoff grew up in the district, but currently lives just outside of the district while his fiancee attends medical school). She also tried to appeal to the Republican roots in the district by trying to tie Ossoff to national Democratic bogeymen like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), while Ossoff, for his part, went after Handel over her time at the Susan G. Komen Foundation. As the group’s vice president for public policy, Handel played a role in their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

Handel held a fundraiser with the President in April, but did not associate herself with the Trump much beyond then, presumably due to his unpopularity in the district. However, in the final weeks of the race she brought in Price, Vice President Mike Pence and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor.

Despite Handel’s half-hearted embrace of Trump, the President published tweets early Tuesday morning urging his followers to vote for Handel.

Correction: This post originally stated that Handel said she would be the first woman to represent Georgia in Congress. She said she would be the first Republican woman to represent the state.

 

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Polls in Georgia closed at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday for the special election to fill an open U.S. House seat representing Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District.

At least two polling places in DeKalb County will stay open until 7:30 p.m. due to equipment issues earlier in the day.

As voters headed to the polls to cast ballots for either Democrat Jon Ossoff or Republican Karen Handel, they faced some inclement weather. The area saw torrential downpour on Tuesday and a flash flood warning was issued for parts of the district.

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Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel complained about the state of journalism in an interview Monday with Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter who was assaulted last month by a GOP candidate in Montana.

“The lack of civility in society as a whole, some of it, I believe, is very much fueled by social media and frankly, it’s fueled by the fact that journalism is not journalism any more,” Handel told Jacobs on the eve of the special U.S. House election in Georgia. “It’s tabloid. It’s 24/7 news – people get in the middle of a news cycle for 24 hours off of things that previously would never have gotten the kind of coverage that is happening.”

Asked if she was pointing “fingers at the journalism,” Handel replied, “No, don’t put words in my mouth, Ben.”

“I had a very broad sentence. See, this is exactly what happens and why things are really broken. You don’t listen and you put words in people’s mouth,” Handel told the reporter.

She added that both social media and journalism have fueled what she called a “lack of civility.” Handel then zeroed in on trackers from liberal groups (political organizations frequently send staffers to track the opposing candidate).

“The anger has been from the left with groups of trackers showing up and literally adopting a gang-like posture and virtually stalking individuals,” she said.

During a debate in early June, Handel distanced herself from the Montana congressman-elect, Greg Gianforte, after he promoted her campaign in a fundraising email for the House Republicans’ campaign arm. But she also lamented that people “on both sides of the aisle” have become aggressive toward politicians.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault the night before he was elected to the U.S. House after he grabbed Jacobs by the neck, slammed him to the ground, and punched him. Gianforte eventually acknowledged that he assaulted Jacobs and apologized to the reporter.

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On the morning of the runoff election in Georgia’s Sixth District, Democrat Jon Ossoff said that he will stand up to President Donald Trump when necessary and expressed concern about the “competence and integrity” of his administration, using a harsher tone about the President than he has over the past couple of months of campaigning.

During an interview on MSNBC, host Stephanie Ruhle noted that Ossoff has rarely mentioned Trump since he secured the top spot in the runoff to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, despite launching his campaign as an anti-Trump candidate. She asked him where he stands now.

Ossoff offered more criticism for the administration than usual, but still avoided painting himself as a purely anti-Trump candidate.

“Actually, I think the concerns regarding the competence and integrity of this administration have only grown over time and it speaks to the need for a greater focus on accountability, on effective congressional oversight, not as a partisan matter but a matter of public interest,” he told Ruhle.

“While I don’t expect a congratulatory tweet from the President if I win, and he may not be my biggest fan, I’ll try to find common ground to work with him if we can serve the needs of metro Atlanta by working together, and I won’t hesitate to stand up to him if he threatens our interests or our values,” Ossoff added.

Ruhle asked Ossoff how he could stick to such a plan when the Democratic Party is focused on resistance to Trump.

The candidate replied that he will remain focused on what’s best for his district.

“Where bipartisanship is the best way to achieve those ends, I’ll seek bipartisanship. Where standing up to proposals that aren’t in this community’s interest, I’ll do that. The only test I’ll apply to policy or legislation is does it serve the community I’m seeking to represent,” he said.

Ossoff is right that Trump isn’t his biggest fan. Early on Tuesday morning, Trump sent out tweets bashing Ossoff and urging his followers to vote for Republican Karen Handel.

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The special election to fill the Georgia congressional seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has garnered intense national scrutiny and record spending in just a few months, and the top two candidates will finally face off in Tuesday’s runoff.

The race in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District is seen as Democrats’ final chance to sweep a House seat away from Republicans and create a tailwind going into the 2018 midterms. But while the outcome of the race could determine in part the momentum the Democratic party has going forward, experts say the result will not necessarily serve as a good predictor for the midterms.

National observers also view the race as a referendum on President Donald Trump, with Democrats hoping that anti-Trump energy in Georgia will propel their candidate, Jon Ossoff, to victory and prove how much of a liability the deeply unpopular President can be to the Republican Party.

With such high stakes, the race has attracted about $50 million in spending, bombarding residents of the sixth district with wall-to-wall political ads. Local stations actually added news programs to help accommodate the flood of ads.

Ossoff has seen a small lead over Republican Karen Handel in some of the latest polls of the race, but surveys of sixth district voters have shown a very tight race throughout. A poll released by local TV station WSB on the eve of the election showed the two candidates literally neck-and-neck, with Ossoff leading Handel by a tenth of a percentage point among likely voters.

Here are six things to watch out for as results roll in Tuesday night:

Turnout 

Marc Rountree, the president of Landmark Communications, a Republican consulting and polling firm, told TPM that Ossoff should benefit if turnout on Tuesday is similar to turnout in the jungle primary or otherwise very high, while somewhat high turnout could help Handel.

Typically, high turnout is a good sign for Democratic candidates. But as Georgians head to the polls, the sheer number of voters casting ballots will not necessarily help predict the winner, according to Kyle Kondik, an expert on congressional elections with the University of Virginia.

“It’s possible that high turnout could actually benefit Republicans,” Kondik said.

Kondik added that the race is hard to predict since it’s possible that voters who don’t come out to the polls regularly are participating in this race.

In the initial round of voting that sent Ossoff and Handel to the runoff, more than 190,000 people voted total, with 57,000 of them voting early. More than 140,000 people voted early for this runoff election, but it remains to be seen whether the early vote signals a higher turnout is likely for in-person voting Tuesday.

How many Republicans break for Ossoff

Though the demographics in Georgia’s sixth district appear to be shifting to benefit Democrats, Ossoff will still need a significant number of Republican voters to cast a ballot for him in order to win the race.

The district is historically a Republican stronghold, and Price handily won re-election there in 2016 before vacating the seat. But the demographics in the district have been shifting in a way that could benefit Democrats. In 1992, 90 percent of residents in the district were white, while today 70 percent of residents there are white, per Politico.

Still, Kondik estimated that Ossoff will need about 20 percent of Republicans to vote for him in order to secure the House seat. Ossoff is well aware of this: though he launched his campaign in an anti-Trump spirit, lately he has been pitching himself as a moderate willing to work with both parties in Congress in an attempt to appeal to Republicans in the district.

It will be hard to determine just how many Republicans ultimately voted for Ossoff, however. Georgia does not require voters to register with a party and allows residents to vote in the party primary of their choice, making it difficult to pinpoint how many voters are Republicans. Analysts must rely on voters’ past primary voting patterns to determine their party affiliation.

How record-shattering spending levels impact the result

Though much has been made of the special election’s national implications, one aspect of the race is truly singular: its record spending. The candidates and outside groups together have spent about $50 million on the race, the most ever spent on a U.S. House race.

Ossoff has raised at least $23 million for his own campaign, while Handel has benefitted from major spending from outside groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund. Yet experts say the amount of money and attention the race has attracted isn’t likely to be replicated in future elections, making the Georgia special election a poor indicator for future races.

Rountree told TPM that spending in the election has “gotten so out of hand” that he believes the race “doesn’t say anything about the 2018 election anymore.” Candidates in the district will not be able to replicate that level of spending over and over again, he said.

Kondik said that he was unsure of the exact impact the record spending has had on the sixth district race, but he did note that attention and funds will be more spread out in future elections.

“The level of interest is just going to be different and more dispersed in 2018,” he said.

What role the congressional baseball shooting plays 

There’s a chance that Tuesday’s results could be impacted by last week’s tragic shooting at a congressional Republicans’ baseball practice, which left several people injured, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

A poll released Monday evening by WSB-TV and conducted by Landmark Communications indicates that the shooting could motivate Republicans to head to the polls. The survey found 46 percent of Republicans said that the shooting and a suspicious package sent to Handel’s house last week would make them more likely to vote on Tuesday. Just 24.7 percent of Democrats polled said the events last week would make them more likely to head to the polls.

Rountree, whose firm conducted the poll, told TPM that the survey indicates the shooting could be a “major factor” for Handel.

“These stories have resonated with Republican primary voters,” he said.

Indeed, some Republicans have sought to use the shooting to Handel’s benefit in the race’s final days. The conservative Principled PAC tried to link Ossoff to the shooting in a TV ad, which both Ossoff and Handel denounced, while the Republican Party chair in a neighboring Georgia district predicted that the “shooting is going to win this election” for the GOP.

What the margin of victory says about Democrats’ momentum

This special election has prompted intense national scrutiny, with Democrats pinning virtually all their hopes on Georgia’s sixth district to be the first of many red or purple districts they want to swing blue.

Trey Hood, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said that if Ossoff loses, no matter the margin, it won’t be good for Democrats.

“If Ossoff comes close, but he loses, I don’t think it’ll matter,” Hood told TPM.

Kondik, however, argued that if Ossoff loses but still performs better than Hillary Clinton did in the district it’ll show that Democrats will be able to build on Clinton’s numbers from the 2016 election going forward.

Obviously, it’s a good sign for Democrats going forward if Ossoff wins. At the very least, Kondik said, Ossoff winning the race will bring Democrats one seat closer to winning back a majority in the 2018 election.

“If he wins, I think it’s possible that it could further energize Democrats in Georgia,” Hood told TPM.

Yet Kondik, Hood and Rountree all warned against using the Georgia special election as a predictor for the 2018 midterms.

“Just because the conditions suggest one thing now, doesn’t mean the conditions will be the same in 2018,” Kondik told TPM. But he added that if Trump’s approval rating remains the same, an Ossoff win could suggest that Republicans will have a poor showing in 2018.

What the results say about how far left Georgia’s sixth has swung

If Ossoff ekes out a win, the special election may prove that Georgia’s sixth district has shifted from red to purple.

Kondik argued that the mere fact that the special election is so close shows that it is now a swing district.

“I think Ossoff’s basically already proven that this district is competitive,” he told TPM.

Hood also noted that he is seeing “shifting demographics” in the district that show it becoming more favorable to Democrats, but he added that he does not think that demographic shift alone accounted for Trump’s poor showing there in 2016.

TPM composite by Christine Frapech

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With just one day until polls open in the special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, the candidates are making their final appeals to voters in a race that has obliterated all-time spending records and come under a national microscope as a bellweather for Democrats’ chances of flipping districts under a historically unpopular President Donald Trump.

Republican Karen Handel, who is hoping to defend the GOP’s historic hold on the Sixth Congressional District, brought in some of the party’s big names to rally with her over the weekend. Both Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia who now serves as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whose congressional seat Handel is vying to fill, appeared at rallies for Handel, while House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also made an appearance alongside Handel Monday.

Perdue criticized Ossoff’s attempts to appeal to disaffected Republican voters.

“The leftists have gone and typecast and they’ve picked this young man — charismatic, articulate — and they’ve taught him a few Republican buzzwords,” the former governor said at a Handel event. “They think he can fool you. It’s not gonna happen.”

Trump himself has not visited the district since appearing a fundraiser for Handel in April, but he urged voters to turn out for her in a Monday morning tweet:

Democrat Jon Ossoff has focused less on having big-name Democrats campaign for him, but did bring in civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) for an event on Saturday. The Democrat also held get-out-the-vote rallies and appeared at events with the canvassers helping his campaign knock on doors in the final stretch.

Ossoff and Handel are locked in a tight race to fill the seat vacated by Price when he joined Trump’s Cabinet. Since Trump won the district by just one point in the November election, Democrats are hopeful that they can capitalize on his unpopularity and flip the ruby-red district blue in Tuesday’s runoff election.

Ossoff fell just short of winning the seat outright in April’s jungle primary, when he netted 48 percent of the vote. Polls have shown a tight race in the final stretch before the runoff between Ossoff and Handel, but most recent surveys have shown Ossoff with a slight lead.

High turnout is expected in the hotly contested race, especially given that more than 140,000 people cast ballots early, including 36,000 people who did not vote in the initial April 18 jungle primary.

The race has attracted record-shattering spending, to the tune of about $50 million—making it the most expensive House race ever—and intense national attention, with outside groups injecting national politics into the House race.

The conservative Principled PAC released an ad over the weekend that tries to link Ossoff to last week’s shooting at the Republican congressional team’s baseball practice. Both campaigns quickly condemned the ad.

Conservatives also have spent a lot of time trying to tie Ossoff to national Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and celebrities like Kathy Griffin, who got into hot water after she did a photo shoot with a fake severed head modeled after Trump.

While Ossoff did launch his campaign as something of a Trump resister, he’s since dialed that messaging back, instead presenting himself as a moderate looking to work with both parties.

“I think this race is about who can deliver for this community more than it’s about national politics,” Ossoff told NBC News in an interview published Saturday. “There are many in the community who do have serious concerns about the direction the administration is taking us in and I’m one of them and those concerns have only grown over time. But fundamentally what people want from their representative is the kind of results that improve quality of life.”

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The shooting at a congressional baseball practice that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and others seriously injured last week has been injected into the special U.S. House election in Georgia, just days before voters head to the polls Tuesday.

Both candidates Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel have condemned a conservative political action committee’s new TV ad that attempts to tie Ossoff to the shooting, in which a gunman shot five people before being shot himself by police.

“A man is fighting for his life in the hospital right now and it’s shameful to politicize it,” Ossoff said in a statement. “Republicans and Democrats have come together over this national tragedy, and Congressional leadership and Karen Handel should immediately disown this ad and call for it to be pulled from TV.”

While the Handel campaign condemned the ad in a statement, it did not explicitly call for the spot to be taken down.

“The video is disturbing and disgusting,” Handel spokeswoman Kate Constantini said in a statement. “For any group to use the shootings this week for political or personal benefit is shameful. This group should be ashamed.”

The ad from the conservative Principled PAC opens with footage from last week’s shooting.

“The unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans,” the narrator says.

“When will it stop?” the narrator asks. “It won’t if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday. Because the same unhinged leftists cheering last week’s shooting are all backing Jon Ossoff.”

The ad also links Ossoff to Kathy Griffin and Nancy Pelosi, two figures that have been featured in several Republican attacks on the Democratic candidate.

The Republican party chair in Georgia’s 11th district, which neighbors the 6th district in which Ossoff and Handel are running, told the Washington Post that he thinks the shooting will help Republicans win the tight race.

“I’ll tell you what: I think the shooting is going to win this election for us,” District 11 chair Brad Carver said on Saturday. “Because moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism. I get that there’s extremists on both sides, but we are not seeing them. We’re seeing absolute resistance to everything this president does. Moderates and independents out there want to give him a chance. Democrats have never given this president a chance.”

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In an interview that aired on Sunday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the outgoing House Oversight Committee chair, complained that the Trump administration has been worse than the Obama administration when it comes to fulfilling oversight requests from Congress.

“The reality is, sadly, I don’t see much difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration. I thought these floodgates would open up with all the documents we wanted from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Pentagon,” Chaffetz told Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Sharyl Attkisson.

“In many ways, it’s almost worse because we’re getting nothing, and that’s terribly frustrating and, with all due respect, the attorney general has not changed at all,” the congressman continued. “I find him to be worse than what I saw with Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. I just, that’s my experience, and that’s not what I expected.”

Chaffetz said that he had not been able to obtain any new documents pertaining to the Hillary Clinton email probe or Fast and Furious.

“We tried to issue subpoenas. We tried to hold people in contempt and the Obama administration said ‘no,’ and the Trump administration came in and did zero. Nothing. Nothing changed,” he told Attkisson.

The congressman, who will leave Congress on June 30, also lamented that Republicans are not interested in their oversight role in Congress.

“The reality is, there aren’t very many people that want to play offense. There aren’t that many who say, ‘Look we have a duty and an obligation to fulfill the oversight responsibility that was put in place at the very founding of our country,'” he said.

H/t Huffington Post

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Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has withdrawn from consideration for an assistant secretary position at the Department of Homeland Security.

“Late Friday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. formally notified Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly that he had rescinded his acceptance of the agency’s offer to join DHS as an assistant secretary,” Craig Peterson, spokesman for Clarke, told the Washington Post on Saturday. “Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role.”

Clarke said in May that he had accepted a position at DHS, but nobody in the federal government ever confirmed his hiring, as Buzzfeed News noted.

The sheriff had been set to start at DHS at the end of June, but his appointment faced delays, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed person close to the Trump administration. A DHS spokesman confirmed to CNN that Clarke is no longer under consideration for a job at DHS.

Since Clarke announced that he had accepted a position in May, he has faced accusations of plagiarism.

The sheriff also has run into legal trouble for the way he has run the prisons in Milwaukee County. In early May, an inquest jury recommended charges against Clarke after an inmate died of dehydration when prison officials cut off his access to water for a week. Another inmate sued Clarke earlier this year for keeping her shackled during childbirth in 2013.

This post has been updated.

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Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, will travel to the Middle East this week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about a potential peace deal.

The trip was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by other outlets including CNN and the Washington Post.

Kushner is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing an unnamed White House official. The official told the Journal that Kushner and these leaders will talk about “their priorities and potential next steps.”

Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s top official in charge of Israeli-Palestinian peace, will travel to the region on Monday, and Kushner will join on Wednesday, according to the Journal.

Kushner’s trip to the Middle East follows reports that federal investigators are looking into Kushner’s finances as part of the Russia probe.

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