Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn't let a Democratic senator join a trip to Russia with Wyoming's U.S. Sen. John Barrasso.

Happy Monday! Casper still seems stuck in a winter wonderland of sorts, or at least that’s what I try to tell myself as I scrape ice from my windshield and slosh through melting snow in the mornings. But the holiday season is mostly over, people are back in the office and political news is picking back up.

Big news last week included the Endow council’s preliminary recommendations on how to diversify Wyoming’s economy and a second hard-right libertarian entering the governor's race. My colleague Elise Schmelzer examined the troubled past of a private prison company seeking to build an immigration detention center in Evanston and our education reporter Seth Klamann wrote about a bill that would limit state tuition benefits for veterans. I also took a look back at how the Legislature handled the tax issue in 2017 (spoiler: they didn’t).

Now for the news(letter):

Barrasso cancels Russia trip

Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, cancelled a trip to Russia after the Kremlin denied a visa to one of his Democratic Senate colleagues. Barrasso had planned to travel to Russia with fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

The trip was scheduled for “around Jan. 11,” according to Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp, but Barrasso and Johnson cancelled it after Russia refused to give Shaheen a visa. Shaheen found herself on a Russian “black list” of individuals who supported sanctions against the country.

Mengelkamp didn’t give much of a reason for the cancellation in an email.

“The Russian government denied a visa to one member of the delegation. Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Barrasso canceled the trip,” she wrote.

Barrasso also planned to visit Ukraine and Germany on the trip with a focus on national security, nuclear nonproliferation efforts and promoting American natural resource exports.

“Of particular interest to Senator Barrasso is the expansion of U.S. natural gas exports,” Mengelkamp wrote.

Barrasso’s decision to cancel the trip can be seen as a nice moment of bipartisanship from a senator who rarely takes an accommodating tone with Democrats. But it’s likely a little more complicated than that. There has long been a tradition of American lawmakers and even candidates refusing to criticize political opponents while overseas and Barrasso is an establishment stalwart unlikely to implicitly buck that convention by traveling to Russia with a Republican colleague while a Democratic senator was forced to stay home.

Murray praises end of “voter fraud” panel

Last week, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray sent out his first press release since early December, when he denied allegations of sexual assault by a Colorado woman whom worked with Murray in the 1980s.

Murray, who is considering a run for governor, sent out a statement praising President Donald Trump for disbanding a federal commission examining alleged voter fraud across the country.

Murray had joined with a majority of both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state who declined to turn over state-level voter data to the federal government last fall. Murray argued at the time that it was an instance of federal overreach and that he believed it was laying the groundwork for restricting state autonomy in administering elections.

The press release was framed as Murray expressing his agreement with Trump’s decision to disband the panel, which was kind of funny because Trump only eliminated the panel due to the intransigence of state officials like Murray.

“I’m a lifelong Republican, but President Trump’s creation of the Commission didn’t sit well with me from the get go,” Murray said in the statement. “It doesn’t matter who the president is, I am going to safeguard the privacy of Wyoming’s voters from any federal overreach because of my strong belief in a citizen’s right to privacy.”

Wyoming GOP praises Trump

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman W. Frank Eathorne sent an email to supporters passing along a list of accomplishments apparently sent to state party leaders by the White House described as “looking back on year one of Make America Great Again #MAGA.”

The highlights? (According to the email)

  • $5.5 trillion in tax cuts, 60 percent of which go to families;
  • the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 17 years;
  • 22 regulations eliminated for each new one enacted;
  • a record-setting 12 conservative federal circuit judges confirmed.

Not all of these may resonate in Wyoming, where, for example, unemployment numbers have generally been tied more to the energy industry than national trends. And our coverage of the GOP tax plan impact on Wyoming families also doesn’t entirely square with the White House assessment. But the rollback of environmental regulations has been felt in the state.

Freiss-ing in... Phoenix?

I got a Christmas card at the office from Jackson philanthropist and investor Foster Friess, who has said he is considering challenging Barrasso in next year’s GOP primary. That seems increasingly unlikely given that Friess hasn’t said anything about it in a long time and didn’t seem so committed to begin but. But anyway, he sent me a Christmas card in an envelope that said “Greetings from Jackson Hole!” on the outside but was postmarked in Phoenix.

It’s probably not fair to make much of that given that it appears to be the kind of card you design online with instructions to send it to a long list of addresses, which some company then mails out from wherever they are based.

Still, it’s not a great look for Friess -- a non-entity in the state political scene -- who is already liable to face attacks as an outsider seeking to unseat a relatively popular incumbent if he does run against Barrasso.

Round up

CHENEY PRAISED -- Political blog Scope Weekly listed Wyoming’s U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney as part of a wave of women who took public office last year.

-- “Liz Cheney was sworn into the House of Representatives earlier this year and has become one of many candidates attempting to change the political environment for women nationwide. Daughter of former Vice President, Dick Cheney, Liz has been outspoken about President Trump’s view on NATO and relations with Russia,” Scope editor Anne Howard wrote.

EVERYTHING IS TOTALLY FINE -- While many people were alarmed by Trump’s fight on Twitter with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un over who had a bigger nuclear button, Barrasso didn’t seem to mind.

-- “I believe the president is the commander in chief. Thanks.” Barrasso told Vox reporter Tara Golshan when she tried to ask whether he was bothered by Trump taunting the young dictator.

The tweet read in full: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Barasso further praised the tweet to media, saying: “We finally have a president who is actually dealing with the problem at hand, instead of what we’ve seen previously, which was ignoring the problem.”

ENZI MOVES ON HEALTH PLANS -- Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi praised a proposed rule from the Department of Labor that would allow small businesses to band together to offer health plans to employees. Enzi proposed a bill last year that would have done something similar.

-- “I have long heard from small businesses regarding the need for greater flexibility and more options for providing health insurance coverage to their employees,” Enzi said in a statement.

MOVER AND SHAKER -- Eric Ueland, a former top aide to Enzi, was selected as the State Department’s undersecretary for management in September but is still awaiting confirmation from the full Senate, contributing to a lack of leadership at the department, according to trade publication FCW.

-- “State is ... dealing with uncertainty in the executive ranks,” FCW editor Adam Mazmanian wrote in an article noting that Ueland’s appointment is still in limbo.

Thanks for reading! As always, if you haven’t subscribed to get this email every Monday you can do so at trib.com/email. Please send me tips and tidbits and encourage your friends and colleagues to sign-up for the newsletter. You can find new Wyoming politics stories every day at trib.com/307politics.

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Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.


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