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At a listening session with inmates recovering from substance abuse this week, Rep. Dave Brat pivoted the conversation to his own re-election race.

“You think you’re having a hard time — I’ve got $5 million worth of negative ads coming at me,” the Virginia Republican said. “How do you think I’m feeling? Nothing’s easy. For anybody.”

“You think I’m a congressman, ‘Oh, life’s easy, this guy’s off having steaks every day.’” he went on. “Baloney. I’ve got a daughter, she’s got to deal with that crap on TV every day.”

“So it’s tough,” Brat continued. “No one out there’s got some easy life. Right?”

The gaffe comes as Republicans across the country look to cast their action on opioid addiction as a key legislative achievement before the midterms. Brat’s opponent, Democrat Abigail Spanberger, called his remarks “an affront to every person in recovery and the Virginians who die daily due to their addiction.”

Spanberger also pointed to Brat’s vote for the American Health Care Act, which would have hampered states’ ability to respond to public health crises like the opioid epidemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Brat’s star rose after his surprise upset of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, but he faces a tough re-election challenge this cycle: Inside with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

The inmates Brat stressed how poverty and a punitive criminal justice system are obstacles to recovery, according to a report by WCVE, a public radio station in Virginia. One woman shared that she’s entered into 90-day inpatient substance abuse treatment programs without knowing where she’ll live after those 90 days are over.

It's worth noting Brat later acknowledged the inmate was up against steeper problems. Here's a longer cut for more context. pic.twitter.com/80hTiZWAua

But Brat appeared to emphasize personal responsibility in his response, according to an audio recording, encouraging inmates to “find a substitute for drugs, be it exercise, or academics, or reading books, going to the Bible, you gotta find something.”

Brat acknowledged that facing attack ads in pursuit of public office is not as difficult as coping with substance abuse: “You got it harder, I’m not dismissing that,” he’s heard saying later.

Still, critics say Brat’s comments show he doesn’t understand how serious the opioid crisis is. A record 1,227 people died from opioid overdoses in Virginia last year, the fifth straight year of record fatalities, according to a Virginia Department of Health report.

Kim Myers, an employee of the prison’s recovery program, said she felt “attacked” by Brat’s comments.

“How could you compare yourself to someone who’s going to get out and not be able to get a job, and not be able to get housing, and has to pay all these fines and restitutions for being in jail?” she told the radio station.

But not everybody at the listening session felt that way.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard, who introduced the prison recovery program, posted on Facebook that he regrets the low-key visit became political fodder.

“A sitting Congressman, who was trying to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with addiction by learning more about it directly from those dealing with the disease, is now being portrayed in such a negative and distorted way,” Leonard said. “The real losers here will be the people struggling with addiction inside our jail and across this Nation, now who become an afterthought and a forgotten part of the story.”

Brat has dealt with the fallout from the gaffe by touting President Donald Trump’s recent endorsement — he referred to the congressman as “strong on crime” — and and by invoking scripture.

“As a Christian, we love the least of these — we visit those in prison,” he said in a statement. 

Watch: Brat Echoes GOP's Nancy Pelosi Attack Line in Virginia Debate

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Lawyer Laura Mills released a statement Thursday through Ohio Republican Senate candidate Jim Renacci’s campaign providing more details on a sexual misconduct allegation against Sen. Sherrod Brown stemming from an incident in the late 1980s.

The Ohio Democrat has previously called Renacci’s unsubstantiated claims of improper sexual conduct by him “desperate.”

But Mills’ statement Thursday, first reported by Cleveland.com, marks the first time Renacci has provided more than just hearsay knowledge of a claim against Brown.

Mills is a former business partner of Renacci and a donor to his past political campaigns.

She describes her client as a woman who met Brown “in the course of her work” and found herself one time alone with him, “but not on a date,” Mills’ statement reads.

The alleged incident occurred in the late 1980s, between Brown’s divorce in 1987 from his first wife and his marriage to his current wife.

At their meeting, Brown allegedly made “an unexpected, uninvited, unwanted, and sudden advance” toward the woman, “roughly pushing her up against a wall,” Mills said.

The woman “told a friend in confidence about her unwanted and unexpected experience in the late 80’s,” Mills said.

“This was months ago, shortly after the MeToo movement began. The reason she told her friend was to explain why she believed many of the women, as something unwanted had happened to her with a prominent politician. She had no intention of coming forward and did not know that the friend would later contact Jim Renacci with it.”

Renacci referred the woman to Mills.

Brown has issued a cease and desist letter to Renacci in which he advised the Ohio Republican not to “continue making unsubstantiated and false claims about something that never happened,” or else he would face “legal ramifications,” a spokesman for the senator, Preston Maddock, said in a statement.

Maddock highlighted Mills’ previous professional and political affiliation with Renacci and characterized her claims as “anonymous” and “unsubstantiated.”

“This will not be tolerated,” Maddock said, and “all legal means will be pursued against Jim Renacci.”

Brown’s lead over Renacci in the polls has never dropped below 13 points since the two won their respective primaries in May.

President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 8 points in the quadrennial swing state in 2016. 

Still, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for Ohio’s Senate seat Likely Democratic as Democrat Brown seeks a third term.

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The legislative proposals under development by the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform could enjoy a life of their own after the special panel’s work is done later this year.

Members of the 16-member bicameral committee are hoping to agree on a package of proposed changes to improve the budget process by a Nov. 30 deadline, allowing their recommendations to be submitted to Congress for action.

But whatever recommendations may or may not emerge, the proposals developed by the select committee are likely to play a role in further congressional deliberations.

Rep. Steve Womack, co-chairman of the Joint Committee, said the panel’s goal is to reach consensus on changes in the budget process that can be sent to the floor for votes in both chambers. But the Arkansas Republican also envisions that some of the proposals not adopted by the committee or accepted by their fellow lawmakers could be attached to legislation or considered as standalone bills in a future Congress.

For example, there seems to be an agreement emerging to move the annual process of trying to adopt a budget resolution to a biennial one, or every two years. But on other matters, such as moving the start date of the fiscal year to give appropriators more time to complete full-year spending bills, or changing the process for lifting or suspending the statutory borrowing cap, panel members don’t expect to reach consensus.

“There may be things on the menu that we’re going to offer in our package that the Congress may say, ‘Well, we’re not real sure about that one, and we’ll put that on hold a minute, maybe that’s something we could come back to in a subsequent Congress or maybe a subsequent joint select committee,’” said Womack, who also chairs the House Budget Committee. “For example, we may not be able to resolve how you deal with the debt ceiling in whatever our proposal is. But that’s something that we’ve talked about and that we could offer. And whether it gets accepted or not, it could be something that could be considered down the road.”

The Joint Committee is co-chaired by New York Democrat Nita M. Lowey, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, and comprises eight senators and eight House members with equal weight on both sides of the aisle.

Also Watch: House GOP Candidates Are Shying Away From Trump As Midterm Nears

Members of both parties in the House and Senate believe the budget and appropriations process can benefit from changes. At the same time, there is disagreement over how much the inability to pass spending bills on time is due to a broken budget process and how much is due simply to political differences.

The House and Senate Budget committees have been working on proposals to change the budget process for several years. Last year, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming reached consensus with Democrats and Republicans on the panel to implement several modest changes including releasing the budget resolution text to committee members ahead of markups and setting deadlines for filing amendments.

The Joint Committee is unusual, however, in that it has provided a forum for an equal number of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate to write and discuss process changes aimed at winning support in both chambers.

In a similar way, Republican and Democratic lawmakers worked together to develop dozens of proposals to reduce the deficit beginning in 2010 with a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform led by Democrat Erskine Bowles, a former Clinton administration chief of staff, and former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson.

That was followed by more informal talks in 2011 held by a group of lawmakers led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The effort continued with the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — which became known as the “supercommittee” — co-chaired by Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling as part of the 2011 deficit reduction law.

The fiscal commission and supercommittee did not gain enough support from their members to issue formal recommendations to Congress. Nevertheless, lawmakers would go on to adopt many of the proposals crafted by all three groups for use as offsets to higher discretionary spending in the subsequent two-year budget deals in 2013 and 2015. Some of the proposals also were used to reduce the deficit.

Take the 2013 cap-raising deal negotiated by Wisconsin’s Paul D. Ryan, the House Budget chairman at the time, and and Murray, who was Senate Budget chairman. Several of the major offsets were drawn from the previous groups’ work, such as an increase in aviation and customs user fees, requiring federal workers to pay more toward their retirement and raising the premiums that companies pay for federal pension insurance.

“When I worked on Simpson-Bowles, when I worked on the supercommittee, neither resulted in legislation, but both of those committees plus the Biden-Cantor group developed tons and tons of policies that were then used as offsets and were used in bipartisan negotiations and partisan negotiations for years to come,” Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said. “I think it’s going to be the same thing with this whether they succeed or fail.” Goldwein served as associate director of the fiscal commission and senior budget analyst to the supercommittee.

Goldwein said budget process change proposals could end up being attached to another suspension of the debt limit required after the debt ceiling is reinstated next March, or to another agreement to raise the discretionary spending caps next year. “I could see them sticking around and being the type of thing that you attach as your demand for agreeing to a budget deal or as your demand for agreeing to a debt ceiling increase,” he said.

Womack hasn’t pinpointed a date when he wants the select committee to file its recommendations. But he said he plans to talk with committee members after the midterms and meet with them shortly after Congress returns Nov. 13.

“Our committee has talked at length about the need that once we are finished in November and report out, that there will probably and more than likely be a need for a future joint select committee or this particular committee to take its knowledge and expertise and its experience and continue to work on changes that could improve the process,” he said. “I do think the process will continue for sure.”

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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An Interior Department watchdog found that Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal policy when he let his family members travel with him in government vehicles, although he had reimbursed the department.

A copy of the department’s inspector general report was sent to Congress and was provided to Roll Call by a congressional aide on Thursday.

The inspector general’s office reached its findings after investigating allegations that Zinke had made numerous trips, including in private and military jets, at taxpayer expense.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the department, complained that “Republicans have known about Secretary Zinke’s scandals for 18 months and done nothing.”

Zinke had also asked Interior Department employees about whether his wife could join the department as a volunteer, according to the IG.

“He denied that his intention in making this request was so that his wife could travel with him in an official capacity, which would have eliminated the requirement to reimburse the Government for her travel,” the report said. “Ultimately, the employees advised him that making her a volunteer could be perceived negatively, and she did not become one.”

Zinke also cost taxpayers $25,000 when he took an unarmed security detail with him during a vacation to Turkey and Greece, the IG said in its report.

The report comes as the Interior Department is dealing with public backlash over news reports that Zinke had attempted to hire Suzanne Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to serve as Interior’s acting inspector general. The Interior Department has since denied any such move and blamed it on an incorrect email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the IG report earlier Thursday.

The IG’s investigation also found that Zinke in March 2017 directed his security detail to drive someone who was not a government employee to the airport after a dinner, against agency rules.

“Secretary Zinke acknowledged that he told his detail to take the non-Government employee to Reagan National Airport,” the report said. “He said he had asked this as a matter of convenience, but he was later told not to make such requests and he has not done so since.”

The agency cleared Zinke of allegations that a department employee had resigned over requests that she walk his dog. The employee told the investigators she walked Zinke’s dog voluntarily and had instead resigned because she did not receive a position she wanted.

“The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email. “Concerning the internal travel policy, that has been updated to reflect the reality of the long standing situation.”

Democrats and environmental groups have for months been frustrated over the refusal by the Republican majority to hold oversight hearings to examine the spending and travel habits of Trump administration officials, including Zinke and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned amid a long list of spending and management scandals.

The latest report on Zinke is likely to cause them to amplify calls for oversight and for his resignation, although the White House has not given any indication that it would fire Zinke.

“Being exposed for abusing his power to rip-off the taxpayer while benefiting himself provides all the proof that should be needed to fire Ryan Zinke,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a news release. “It’s time Donald Trump fires Ryan Zinke, not give him a chance to engage in a Washington cover-up.”

Watch: Trump Heads West to Campaign — And a Lot of Senators Do, Too

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Messing With Texas, Midterm Edition

By Jason Dick

At the Races: 19 Days Left

By Simone Pathé