Sinclair circling Sean Hannity

Sinclair Broadcasting is zeroing in on Sean Hannity’s team.

As its executive chairman David Smith prepares to launch a competitor to Fox News, he has met in the last few months with the executive producer of Hannity’s top-rated show on Fox, Porter Berry, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

Berry is not the only person connected to Hannity who Smith has gone after. The Sinclair boss has also been wooing Sean Compton, a Tribune Media programming executive who is close friends with the Fox host.

Meanwhile, Smith has been meetingwith other potential future employees, including several current and former Fox News on- and off-air staff, such as Greta Van Susteren and Trump favorite Jeanine Pirro. But targeting the top producer linked to Fox News’ number one talent represents a major shot across the bow.

Fox News and Sinclair did not respond to requests for comment.

Smith has yet to settle firmly on his plans for a Fox News rival, which are contingent on Sinclair’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media being approved by the Federal Communications Commission, but he has been laying out a vision for a three-to-six hour primetime conservative cable news block.

There has been considerable speculation over which hosts Smith would nab to front his effort and, last fall, he held discussions with former Fox star Bill O’Reilly, though the talks were ultimately broken off. Hannity typically does not reveal details on his contract with Fox, including when it expires and whether it has any out clauses, but said on Twitter in 2016 that he was under contract for four more years, meaning it will expire in 2020.

Hannity and Berry declined comment for this story.

Berry, who is in his fifth year running Hannity’s show, and also serves as executive producer for the Fox News show, The Five, is known to be close with Hannity.

In a 2017 Bloomberg story on Hannity, Berry was quoted saying of him, “He’s like an older brother to me. I’ve worked at Fox News since 2004. He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with.”

Hannity was upset by the departure of programming executive Bill Shine from Fox News a year ago; if Berry were to jump, it would mark the departure of yet another close ally.

As Sinclair awaits word on its mega-merger with Tribune, it has remained heavily in the news. In March, the company, which regularly requires its nationwide network of local news stations to air conservative “must-run” commentaries, forced local anchors to read a promotional script that echoed lines from President Donald Trump bashing the media.

Smith has not settled on where his primetime news block will air, but one likely option is WGN America, a cable network which Sinclair would acquire as part of its deal with Tribune, and which reaches 80 million homes.

Sinclair has said it anticipates that the merger will close near the end of this year’s second quarter.

‘I Don’t Know Exactly What the President Cares and Doesn’t Care About’

Donald Trump is the first American president to live his whole life in a city, but the war on American cities in his presidency so far has put him and congressional Republicans on the wrong side of a “a moral battle,” said Steve Benjamin, the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Last week, Benjamin, who is in his third term as mayor of Columbia, S.C., took over the bipartisan group with a pledge of inclusion. But one day into his new job, he was out with a statement responding to the White House’s proposed $60 billion in cuts to the spring spending bill, including $15 billion in social safety-net spending, almost half of which targets the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The move, said Benjamin, would be “disastrous for cities from coast to coast.”

The proposed cuts are the latest split between the White House and the mayors who lead America’s cities. At stake: policies that shape the lives of the over 80 percent of Americans who live in urban metropolitan areas.

The bipartisan group of mayors has taken on Trump over his proposed Obamacare repeal, the elimination of the state and local tax exemption, the crackdown on sanctuary cities, infrastructure proposals that seem to go nowhere in Washington and the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census—which many mayors fear will lead to an undercounting that will reduce the federal funding and representation their cities receive.

Benjamin is now the leader of those mayors, forced to try and find a balance between the intense anger many have over the administration’ policy decisions and the pragmatic need to find deals that can be made with the administration.

When I asked Benjamin in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast if he has an honest broker in the White House, he said, “Honestly, some days I am not sure what we’re dealing with.”

Asked repeatedly if Trump himself is an honest broker, the most Benjamin would say: “He’s the president of the United States of America.”

Does the president care about cities and the people who live in them?

“I don’t know exactly what the president cares and doesn’t care about,” Benjamin said.

Does he act like he cares?

“If you look at the president’s budget from last year and some of the issues that he’s advanced,” Benjamin said, “I don’t feel that they speak to the needs of American citizens, not on the whole, but certainly not to the very special needs of American cities that are driving our economy.”

Benjamin is taking a careful approach coming into the new position. Mayors love to say that cities are where government is actually working—as opposed to in Washington or state capitals—and where people are held responsible when government doesn’t work. He and others will also point out that pretty much everywhere across the country, local government is regularly four or five times more popular than the federal or state government. And Benjamin doesn’t want the group to become just another player in the new national political pastime of angry finger-pointing and Twitter flaming.

“For some reason, cities have become the whipping boy for certain Washington politicians who want to distract us from their inaction,” said Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor who many believe is looking at going up directly against Trump as a 2020 presidential candidate. But Garcetti cautioned that the big political blow-ups mask the lower-level cooperation underway. He’s in constant contact with government officials, he said, including meeting with the head of Customs and Border Patrol, and having his staff talk with members of Congress on a range of issues.

By Garcetti’s estimate, 8 out of 10 interactions with the federal government are positive.

“It’s a strange thing,” Garcetti said. “You’re simultaneously on offense and playing defense every day, where the distractions of the ideological extremism slows down some of the other work that we’re doing.”

Benjamin is trying to thread a way through, and calling on his own experience to do it. He’s figured out how to be popular enough as a black Democrat that, in a city that is 48 percent white, 41 percent black and has a significant population of Republicans, his election last year was officially canceled because no one ran against him and he automatically got a third term as mayor. He had a great relationship with Republican Nikki Haley when she was governor, and still texts with her now that she’s at the United Nations, and has a good one as well with new Gov. Henry McMaster, one of Trump’s strongest allies.

Officially, he goes at Trump gently. “If you look at the president’s budget from last year and some of the issues that he’s advanced, I don’t feel that they speak to the needs of American citizens, not on the whole, but certainly not to the very special needs of American cities that are driving our economy as we speak,” said Benjamin.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is continuing the Conference’s lawsuit against the federal government over the citizenship question on the Census, and railing against the White House and Justice Department for trying to crack down on sanctuary cities while the immigration bill is so far off Trump’s radar and mired in Congress that 15 Republicans have joined the discharge petition to try and force it into a vote on the House floor.

He’s glad he joined the other mayors who canceled their White House meeting in January, scheduled for the afternoon after the Justice Department threatened 23 cities and counties with subpoenas over their sanctuary cities provisions. Back when John Kelly was still Homeland Security secretary, Benjamin and other mayors met with him and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over sanctuary cities, but said that he thinks they still don’t get the values “that go to the core of who we are.”

Rather than slamming Trump directly, Benjamin talks more in terms of opportunities missed, talking up his “three ‘I’s” agenda—innovation, infrastructure, inclusion—and hyping that he’s a Southern Democrat whose vice president at the Conference of Mayors is Bryan Barnett, the Republican mayor of Richmond Hills, Minnesota, a suburban city of 75,000.

“The American people are tired of the approach you see out of Washington where you vilify the people who are in opposition to you and if you speak louder than the other guy, you win. I don’t think those are real wins,” said Barnett.

But Barnett struggled to name any significant specific issue which he could see the Conference or many of its mayors working with the Trump administration any time soon—which makes for uncomfortable times for Republicans in the group. In January, Barnett stood alongside Benjamin, Garcetti, then-Conference president and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as they ripped into the president over the sanctuary city subpoenas, but he was visibly uncomfortable afterward with a posture of opposition to Trump, and attended a speech by the president later that afternoon at the White House.

“I’m going to agree with my Democratic colleagues a lot over the next few years, and that may make some Republicans uncomfortable, but if it advances an agenda that benefits my residents, I’m OK with that,” Barnett said. (“I have not been invited to play golf,” he added. “But if I need an answer from the White House, I get one.”)

Benjamin is trying to contain a group of mayors who skew heavily Democratic, and as Democrats, skew heavily toward hating Trump on everything. But he’s also trying to call attention to the reality that all of them, Democratic and Republican alike, feel left behind.

“We need a partner. We need the federal government,” Benjamin said.

Asked if mayors have that partner, Benjamin’s answer was short and simple: “we do not.”

Read Trump’s speech on the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

President Donald Trump on Monday delivered video remarks at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem. His remarks are below.

The United States under President Harry Truman became the first nation to recognize the state of Israel. Today, we officially open the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations. It’s been a long time coming.

Almost immediately after declaring statehood in 1948, Israel designated the city of Jerusalem as its capital. The capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. So important.

Today, Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government. It is the home of the Israeli legislature and the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s prime minister and president. Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital.

Yet for many years we failed to acknowledge the obvious: the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem. On Dec. 6, 2017, at my direction, the United States finally and officially recognized Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel.

Today, we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem. And we’re opening it many, many years ahead of schedule.

As I said in December, our greatest hope is for peace. The United States remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement, and we continue to support the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif.

This city and its entire nation is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. The United States will always be a great friend of Israel and a partner in the cause of freedom and peace.

We wish Ambassador Friedman good luck as he takes up his office in this beautiful Jerusalem embassy, and we extend a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbors. May there be peace. May God bless this embassy. May God bless all who serve there. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you.