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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- Ukraine's military launched artillery shells and airstrikes against pro-Russian separatists in the east after President Petro Poroshenko allowed a ceasefire to expire. Security forces retook a border checkpoint, while combat engineers defused 35 mines, Poroshenko's office said. (Washington Post)
-- Israeli military forces and Palestinian residents near Jerusalem continued fighting Wednesday after reports that an Arab teenager had been kidnapped and killed by Israeli settlers. The clashes began after Israel found the bodies of three Jewish teenagers who had been kidnapped and killed, allegedly by men tied to Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces will strike Hamas targets in Gaza and the West Bank. (Washington Post)
-- Iraqi lawmakers thought they had agreed to form a new government Tuesday, but a deal took less than half an hour to dissolve into factional rancor. Sunnis and Kurds had agreed on a new Sunni parliament speaker; Kurds would name a new president and Shiites would pick a new prime minister. But Shiites didn't offer a name, and many lawmakers walked out during a recess. Meanwhile, the U.N. said June was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008. (New York Times)
-- Ahmed Abu Khattala, the suspect in the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, is scheduled to appear before a U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday for a detention hearing. In papers filed with the court, prosecutors say Khattala "supervised" the attack on the diplomatic mission before helping organize a subsequent attack on an annex that same night. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
-- States will begin to see highway project funding cuts as soon as the first week in August if Congress doesn't act to bolster the Highway Trust Fund, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a letter to states. The fund will soon fall below $4 billion, the cushion needed to ensure fuel tax revenue can cover payments to states. Cuts will average about 28 percent per state, Foxx said. (Associated Press)
-- The average male White House employee currently earns about $88,600, more than $10,000 a year higher than the average female White House employee, according to salary data released Tuesday. There are 87 male staffers who earn more than $100,000, compared with 53 women who earn that much. (Washington Post)
-- Front Pages: WaPo and WSJ lead with new violence in Eastern Ukraine. NYT fronts its Adam Liptak SCOTUS wrap. USA Today highlights FTC accusations against AT&T. L.A. Times has a local story in the lead spot, but they front the best World Cup reaction photo, a mass of shrieking fans at Redondo Beach Pier.
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- WH'16: The Iowa Democratic Party is considering adopting absentee ballots, online voting, proxy voting and other ways to increase participation in the 2016 first-in-the-nation caucuses. The effort is being driven in part by Hillary Clinton's allies who want to convince her to jump in the race, and that she can win Iowa. (Los Angeles Times)
-- Mississippi: Sen. Thad Cochran's (R) campaign is denying reports it paid African American voters up to $15 to vote in the June 24 runoff. A conservative blogger published text messages allegedly sent from a Cochran campaign staffer to a minister in Meridian offering money to turn out votes. A Cochran spokesman said the campaign spent more than $500,000 on GOTV work during the runoff. A Texas-based Tea Party group is suing Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann over the runoff results. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, twice)
-- Maine: This takes the award for weird story of the day: Gov. Paul LePage (R) has met several times with members of the Sovereign Citizens, a fringe group that believes the U.S. government is illegitimate and has been dubbed a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI. One member of the group said on a radio show earlier this year that he and LePage had discussed charging two Democratic state legislators with treason; the group member said those legislators should be hanged. A LePage spokeswoman confirmed the governor had met with the group. (Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Portland Press-Herald)
-- Kentucky: A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage, five months after he ruled the Commonwealth must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. Judge John Heyburn II, a George H.W. Bush appointee, stayed his own ruling pending appeal, but he said Kentucky's arguments that marriage is necessary for procreation "are not those of serious people." (Louisville Courier-Journal)
-- Louisiana: The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-3 on Tuesday to hire a special counsel in its bid to implement Common Core curriculum. Two firms have offered to work for the Board free of charge, Board president Chas Roemer said. Superintendent of Education John White will open talks with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who opposes Common Core. (Baton Rouge Advocate)
-- California: Amid a record drought, the price of water is skyrocketing. In the last five years, prices have grown ten times, to as much as $2,200 per acre-foot. Water districts are holding auctions that draw TV camera crews. The Madera Irrigation District recently sold 3,200 acre-feet of water for $7 million; the city of Santa Barbara was outbid. (Associated Press)
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama hosts top economists to discuss improved economic growth in the Old Family Dining Room at lunch today. Later, he meets with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Vice President Biden joins both meetings.
-- Second Lady Jill Biden is on the first stop of her three-country visit to Africa, along with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Catherine Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Biden is in Zambia today, with stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone coming later this week.
-- Recess still rules.
-- Tonight at sundown: "Clueless," the fifth installment of the NoMa Summer Screen, at the corners of 2nd and L Streets NE. Check out the full schedule here.
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.
-- Arkansas: The National Education Association is the latest outside group to enter the already crowded fray. The NEA will spend $430,000 over the next two weeks on broadcast and cable ads on behalf of Sen. Mark Pryor (D). That equates to a little over 1,000 gross ratings points in Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Little Rock.
-- Colorado: Generation Opportunity, the Koch affiliated group aimed at winning over younger voters, has been on air advertising against Sen. Mark Udall (D) for about a week. The group has bought $525,000 in broadcast and cable ads running between June 25 and July 8, their first foray into Colorado.
-- More Colorado: Vote Vets Action Fund started running $195,000 in ads against Rep. Doug Coffman (R) this week, the first big Democratic group to weigh in on what's likely to be one of the most expensive races of the year. House Majority PAC, the DCCC and the conservative YG Network have all bought October airtime, but Vote Vets is running ads from June 30 to July 6.
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- Two reports from HHS's Inspector General found 2.9 million data discrepancies in records of those who signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and flaws in the internal safeguards used to check data accuracy. And that was only for people who signed up between October and December of last year, four months before the end of open enrollment.
-- HHS had the technical ability to fix about 10 percent of the discrepancies, but only about 10,000 were actually dealt with. The IG said the inconsistencies wouldn't necessarily prevent someone from getting coverage; most of the inconsistencies had to do with citizenship and immigration status. (Associated Press)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- About 34.8 million people plan to travel 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming holiday weekend, slightly higher than last year and the highest number since 2007, AAA said. Hotel occupancy across the U.S. averaged 62 percent during the first five months of the year, higher than any year since 1996. More travel and tourism is an indicator of a rebounding economy, analysts said; since the recession, the travel industry has added 750,000 jobs. (Bloomberg) 34 million people, all of them on I-270.
-- Who wants to save the penny? The zinc industry. The group that testifies on behalf of the penny is run by a lobbyist who represents Jarden Zinc Products, the company that provides coin blanks that eventually get stamped with Lincoln's face. Jarden has spent $1.5 million since 2006 lobbying for the penny. (Center for Public Integrity)
-- Stocks are up a bit in pre-market trading after the Dow closed at a record high on Tuesday. World markets are higher across the board today. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- The number of unanimous Supreme Court decisions jumped to levels not seen since the 1940s this term, but those statistics hide deep conflicts between liberal and conservative justices. Chief Justice John Roberts campaigned for more unanimous decisions, though many came with concurring opinions, in which justices agree with the outcome but not with the majority's reasoning, rather than unanimous opinions. (Washington Post)
-- "Our average voter is not John Galt," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told conservatives gathered at a D.C. think tank earlier this year. "Hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant." A deep dive into the world of the Republican Reformicon in this week's New York Times Magazine.
C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work
-- A Wikipedia editor dubbed U.S. Men's National Team goalie Tim Howard "the American Jesus" and the U.S. Secretary of Defense after his performance in Monday's round of 16 loss to Belgium. Howard has a tattoo of New Jersey on his stomach, struggles with Tourette syndrome and he participated in PETA's anti-fur ad campaign. (CNN)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- When an NBC News camera crew followed senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett into her office, they found the usual D.C. brag wall -- with one exception: A framed photo of Jarrett with what looks like small plastic figures bowing down in supplication. Jarrett tweeted that the item was a gag gift. (The Blaze) Oh, if gag gifts could talk...
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- Corporations apparently are people, according to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. What's more, they're people you can't sue. Two earlier decisions, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors, have undercut the rights of consumers to sue corporations. Lina Khan writes: "The result is a world where corporations can evade accountability and effectively skirt swaths of law, pushing their growing power over their consumers and employees past a tipping point." (Washington Monthly)