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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- Israel announced a five-hour "humanitarian truce" Thursday morning, allowing Gaza residents to stock up on food and supplies and to let aid reach civilians after 10 days of fighting. Just before the ceasee-fire began at 10 a.m. local time, Israel hit a tunnel militants use to travel under border fences; 13 armed Hamas militants were in the tunnel. Israeli diplomats arrived in Cairo to discuss a possible cease-fire; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Moussa Abu Marzook, the head of Hamas's political wing, met in Cairo Wednesday night. (Washington Post)
-- An Israeli attack on a beachside shack it believed belonged to Hamas killed four Palestinian cousins, ages 9 to 11, on a Gaza beach just in front of a hotel where Western journalists stay. Israel promised to investigate. (Washington Post)
-- President Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. would impose a new round of sanctions against Russia, restricting access of corporate giants Rosneft and Gazprombank, among others, to American capital markets. The sanctions go farther than those imposed by European allies, which refused to match U.S. measures during a meeting in Brussels. Russia vowed to retaliate. (New York Times)
-- A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday ruled California's death penalty violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The judge, a George W. Bush appointee, said delays in the death penalty system create an arbitrary set of rules and a series of uncertainties for inmates. Since 1978, 900 people have been sent to California's death row, but only 13 have been executed. Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) has not said whether her office will appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit. (Los Angeles Times)
-- Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure to overturn the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision when Democrats fell four votes short of the votes they needed to win cloture. Democrats plan to use the messaging bill in advertisements accusing Republicans of making it harder for women to get access to contraception. (Associated Press) Expect this bill to be big in the Colorado Senate race. Sen. Mark Udall (D) has been particularly aggressive pushing the war-on-women meme.
-- Governors in Oregon and Washington declared states of emergency to deal with massive wildfires. (USA Today) The National Interagency Fire Center told us Tuesday that fire season had started off slowly, but a lightening strike set off a string of large blazes in Oregon, Idaho and northern Nevada. Of the 26 fires burning more than 100 acres in the U.S., 16 are in Oregon. (Washington Post)
-- Front Pages: WaPo: "Israeli hints at invasion of Gaza." NYT: "Israeli Invasion of Gaza Is Likely, Official Says; Brief Cease-Fire Is Set." LA Times: "Court rejects state's death penalty." WSJ: "Impatient West Ups Pressure On Putin." USA Today: "College football hits playoffs jackpot."
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- WH'16: Horse race polls are meaningless at this point, but fav/unfav ratings can provide a great window into voters' early 2016 thinking. And in both Iowa and New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has work to do. Christie's unfavorable rating is at 33 percent among Republican voters in Iowa and 31 percent among GOPers in New Hampshire. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has the best fav/unfav ratio; more than 70 percent see him favorably in New Hampshire. (First Read)
-- Mississippi: Lawyers for state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) say they expect to challenge the results of the June 24 Republican runoff within the next 10 days. McDaniel's campaign refused to say where their candidate was, but said he would launch a statewide tour beginning today. And new FEC reports show former Gov. Haley Barbour's (R) campaign machine kicked in to save Sen. Thad Cochran (R), paying about $145,000 to turn out African American voters. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Associated Press)
-- Maryland: President Obama doesn't have many stronger allies than Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). But O'Malley has broken with the White House over the crisis at the southern border, suggesting sending kids back to their home countries dooms them to "certain death." The White House fired back at O'Malley, who opposed a shelter in Carroll County; top domestic policy advisor Cecilia Munoz called to complain, then accused him of hypocrisy in anonymous comments to a CNN reporter. Immigration groups took O'Malley's side. (Washington Post)
-- Colorado: Former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) leads Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in a new Quinnipiac poll by a statistically insignificant 44 percent to 43 percent margin. Hickenlooper led by 9 in Quinnipiac's April 23 survey; his net favorable rating is down from +14 in that survey to just +1 today. (Quinnipiac) Pardon us for unskewing, but this poll doesn't fit with other polls, public and private, that we've seen.
-- Texas: State Sen. Wendy Davis (D) claimed to have outraised Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), but actual campaign filings show that's not exactly true. Davis's campaign reporter raising $11.2 million, including in-kind donations like a $250,000 concert by Willie Nelson and other donations that could go to help other Democratic candidates. Davis's campaign had $12.8 million on hand at the end of June, less than the $13.1 million her campaign said it had. (Texas Tribune) Lost in the coverage of the Most Overrated Candidate This Cycle: The fact that her opponent, Abbott, has $35 million in the bank. Those are Rick Scott numbers.
-- Michigan: The state Republican Party is defending its decision to send two volunteers to a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer (D) wearing a high-tech hidden camera in a pair of glasses. Democrats found a micro disk containing video recorded by the volunteers at a union hall about two weeks later. It's the third time this year Schauer's campaign has accused Republicans of trying to spy on their activities. (Detroit News) Ah yes, the old spy glasses trick. Totally normal, right?
-- New Hampshire: Your humble author momentarily lost his mind yesterday and incorrectly attributed the race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) and former Sen. Scott Brown (R) to Massachusetts, when of course it's a New Hampshire race. Sorry about that.
-- FEC Update: A few numbers we left out of yesterday's report: In New Hampshire, former Sen. Scott Brown (R) had $2.34 million on hand at the end of last quarter. North Carolina Republican nominee Thom Tillis raised $1.6 million in the last quarter and ended with $1.5 million on hand, after his costly primary. In Alaska, former Attorney General said it had raised almost $1.2 million, with $1.7 million in the bank. And in Iowa, state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) pulled in almost $1.8 million, just higher than Rep. Bruce Braley's (D) $1.7 million over the last quarter. Braley has $2.7 million in the bank, compared with $1 million for Ernst. (Des Moines Register)
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama heads to the Port of Wilmington to announce a new initiative to promote private sector investment in infrastructure. Later, Obama heads to New York for a DNC fundraiser and a fundraiser for the House Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC. He's expected back in D.C. by 10:30 p.m.
-- Vice President Biden heads to Detroit today, where he kicks off with a fundraiser for the state Democratic Party's coordinated campaign in Cadillac. Later, Biden visits Wayne County Community College's IT department. And at 3:30 p.m. local, Biden delivers the keynote at Netroots Nation, the annual gathering of progressive blogger types.
-- The House kicks off at 9 a.m. today with first votes expected between 10:15 a.m. and 11 and last votes expected by 1 p.m. The House will consider a measure to fight hunger and two Democratic motions to instruct conferees on the VA bill that's likely headed to a conference committee.
-- The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. to consider reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. Roll call votes on four amendments, from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are expected, with final passage expected this afternoon.
-- Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser faces a congressional probe as members of both parties accuse him of protecting deputies who intimidated staffers. Members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have asked Zinser to fire two deputies who allegedly coerced whistleblowers into signing gag orders. (Washington Post)
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.
-- Americans for Prosperity: The outside group will spend $1.3 million on two new spots critical of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) over the Affordable Care Act. It's AFP's 7th ad in New Hampshire in the past 8 months.
-- AFP spent a ton of money on early advertising in key Senate races over the last year. How much? At least $44 million since late fall, the group's president, Tim Phillips, told us in an interview. Add in field staff, mail and other spending and AFP's total tab during the midterms is going to be north of their initial $125 million estimates.
-- AFP already has full-time operatives working in 33 state chapters, with new offices opening in South Dakota and Alaska in short order. The group has about 400 field staffers on payroll, including about 40 in Florida, its single biggest state operation. One of the lessons AFP learned from 2012 is that Democrats spent more time building inroads to local communities, something they hope to emulate. "We have to have a longer sustainability, and we have to have a much larger footpring," Phillips told us. More from our chat coming later today.
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- Hillary Clinton is "on track to making the case for her candidacy on her resume rather than a vision for the future. While Clinton has touched on policy issues in her new memoir and in a steady schedule of speeches and interviews, she has yet to draw a full portrait of where she wants to lead the country." (Bloomberg)
-- Bloomberg's smart point: While it's not a formal campaign yet, Hillary Clinton version 2.016 sure looks a lot like version 2.008, with a lot of the same characters orbiting just about where they were last time.
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- Two liberal groups, the Progressive States Network and the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE), are mergin in a concerted effort to compete with the conservative-leaning ALEC, which has a foot in just about every state legislature in the country. ALEC reported revenue of $8.4 million in 2012, compared with just $343,000 for the Progressive States Network. ALICE launched in 2012. (Wall Street Journal)
-- Environmentalist Tom Steyer is struggling to raise the $50 million he said he would use to influence the midterm elections. Steyer's NextGen Climate Action super PAC has raised just $1.2 million, new campaign finance reports will show. Steyer himself has already spent $11 million of the $50 million he pledged on campaigns this year. (Politico)
-- Stock futures are trading lower before the bell after the Dow hit another all-time high on Wednesday. Most world markets are down today. (CNN)
C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work
-- Kiss a Congressman, get your money back. Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) refunded a total of $10,400 in campaign contributions from the woman he was caught smooching on camera and her husband, according to new campaign finance reports. Those reports show refunds of $2,600 each to Melissa and Heath Peacock. (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- The University of Buffalo paid Hillary Clinton $275,000 for an Oct. 23, 2013 speech, while a rider insisted the university provide a TelePrompTer and pay a $1,000 fee to transcribe the address for Clinton's records. The school said it paid for the speech through ticket sales, not with taxpayer money. (Washington Post) Hey Fox News, don't retire those TelePrompTer jokes just yet!
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- On Tuesday, a Congressional candidate mistook kids on a YMCA bus for undocumented immigrants. On Wednesday, protestors made the same mistake, blocking a bus full of YMCA-bound campers they thought were immigrants. Protestors angry that a busload of immigrant children were headed their way pushed around a group of mariachi musicians as they waited for a bus that never arrived. (Associated Press)