READ IN: Monday, July 28, 2014: VA bill done, two more big-ticket items to go before recess, N.C. budget deal reached, McDaniel election challenge likely this week, midterm ad spending to top $2 billion ad

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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.

-- The Ukrainian military on Sunday launched a move to recapture the debris field where the remains of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lay. The assault came just hours after the Malaysian government cut a deal with pro-Russian separatists to get access to the crash site. By late Sunday, separatists said the Ukrainian military had retaken the site. (New York Times) Ukrainian troops are laying siege to Horlivka, a city of about 300,000 just outside Donetsk. (Washington Post)

-- The State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released images Sunday they said prove Russia is shooting across the border into Ukraine. The images, taken Saturday, show “blast marks” from rocket launchers fired on Russian territory. (Washington Post)

-- The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for an immediate cease-fire as Palestinians began celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. More than 1,000 Palestinians have died in three weeks of fighting, but Israel said Sunday its military was not responsible for the deaths of 16 Palestinians killed at a U.N. school. The military didn’t elaborate, and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which used the school as a shelter, didn’t accept the results of Israel’s investigation. Forty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed in the operation. (Washington Post) Israeli jets hit three sites in Gaza after a rocket was launched into Israel this morning. (Associated Press)

-- House and Senate negotiators on Sunday said they had made “significant progress” on legislation meant to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part by hiring more doctors, nurses and health care professionals. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the chairmen of the respective committees, will lay out their compromise this afternoon. One House aide said the final package resembles a Senate measure that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support last month. Under the agreement, veterans would be able to seek health care outside the VA system from Medicare-eligible providers. (Washington Post)

-- The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe previews the two big-ticket items awaiting action during the final week before Congress leaves for August recess: The first is a highway bill -- the Senate is expected to approve a House-passed version with some changes and send it back to the House for final approval. Then there's the situation on the border. Both chambers are poised to pass competing measures but chances for a resolution before things wrap up Thursday night seem slim. This is also House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s final week in leadership, before handing the reins over to incoming leader Kevin McCarthy.

-- A CNN/ORC survey released over the weekend shows Democrats leading the generic Congressional ballot among registered voters by a 48 percent to 44 percent margin. (CNN, pdf) For comparison’s sake: The last CNN/ORC survey before the 2012 elections showed Republicans with a 1 point edge. The final pre-election poll before the 2010 elections gave the GOP a 10-point advantage. And the last CNN poll before the 2008 elections gave Democrats a 14-point edge. (Hat tips: Real Clear Politics)

-- Front Pages: WaPo leads with U.S. arms heading to Syrian rebels. LA Times, USA Today and WSJ kick off with the fragile, oft-broken truce in Gaza. NYT spotlights the massive flood of ad spending to come (see below in our TV Tracker).

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- North Carolina: State House and Senate leaders on Saturday reached a budget deal after a month of negotiations. The budget will give teachers about a 7 percent pay raise and save teacher’s assistants jobs. Negotiators agreed to cut Medicaid by $135 million, though details have yet to be worked out. (Charlotte Observer) The negotiations took up a lot of House Speaker Thom Tillis’s time, time he couldn’t spend raising money. An agreement is a good thing for him. Here’s some background.

-- Kentucky: The president will campaign with Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes (D)! Bill Clinton, that is. Clinton will attend a rally with Grimes on Aug. 6 in eastern Kentucky, his second visit on her behalf. (Associated Press) Coming this weekend: Fancy Farm.

-- Mississippi: State Sen. Chris McDaniel’s (R) legal team says the formal legal challenge of his loss to Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is likely to come this week, more than a month after the actual election. State law doesn’t set a deadline on when candidates must file challenges. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

-- New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie (R) has embarked on a “No Pain, No Gain” tour of town hall meetings to sell what he says will be tough choices necessary to close the state’s $807 million budget gap. Christie says he will have to miss a few payments meant to ease the state’s unfunded pension liability. (Washington Post) Ratings agencies have downgraded New Jersey’s debt five times since he took office. Christie was in Chicago, where he ate a jumbo chili cheese dog with onions and campaigned for businessman and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R) on Friday. He’ll visit Kansas, Oklahoma and New Hampshire to campaign for GOP candidates there. (Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal)

-- California: Quirky travel schedules and rules of succession mean California will have four governors in four days this week. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is in Mexico for official meetings, meaning Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is acting governor right now. Newsom leaves the state tomorrow, handing power to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D). Steinberg himself is leaving on Wednesday, meaning power falls to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D), but only for a few hours until Brown returns. (Sacramento Bee)

DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.

-- President Obama participates in a town hall with young African leaders at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. This afternoon, Obama hands out the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal in a ceremony in the East Room.

-- Vice President Biden has meetings scheduled at the White House all day. This evening, he heads home to Wilmington to stay overnight.

-- The House meets at noon, with first votes postponed until 6:30 p.m. Then, the chamber will rename a few post offices, require airlines to be transparent in reporting their fares and take action on the Sunscreen Innovation Act, all under suspension.

-- The Senate meets at 2:00 p.m., with five nominations coming up for votes beginning at 5:30 p.m. The nominees include Pamela Harris, up for a spot as a U.S. District Court judge; two nominees for the Consumer Product Safety Commission; and Brian McKeon, tapped to become the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. Later this week, the Senate will vote on former Proctor & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald’s nomination to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Ed O’Keefe points out this fun fact: All seven VA Secretaries have been confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Anyone going to break that streak and vote against McDonald?

TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.

-- National: Spending on political advertising is set to break the $2 billion mark this year, with the number of individual spots up 70 percent since the 2010 elections. Through mid-July, more than 300,000 ads have run in Senate contests, almost half sponsored by outside groups. Top spenders so far: Americans for Prosperity, $44 million. Senate Majority PAC, $22 million. Chamber of Commerce, $17 million. (New York Times)

-- West Virginia: From the “With Friends Like These” Department: Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) will hit the airwaves today with her first advertisement, a $120,000 ad buy, in which she actually turns out the lights at the White House. (Charleston Gazette) So the most creative anti-Obama ads this year are coming from two red state Democrats -- Tennant and Kentucky’s Grimes.

-- New Hampshire: Former Sen. Scott Brown (R) is up with a new spot criticizing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) over the immigration crisis at the southern border. It’s Brown’s fifth ad of the campaign, and WMUR’s James Pindell says he’s the first Senate candidate in the country to highlight immigration policy in a paid ad. (WMUR)

The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.

-- The most troubling two sentences we read this weekend: “The United Nations found that more fighting [between advancing Taliban insurgents and Afghan troops] was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.” (New York Times)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- The big winner of the GOP’s civil war: Cold Spark Media, the Pittsburgh-based firm run by former top advisors to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that has brought in $2.4 million from Mississippi candidate Chris McDaniel, Idaho candidate Bryan Smith and Kentucky candidate Matt Bevin. Three other firms -- Red Sea LLC, Jamestown Associates and Target Enterprises -- have all worked in some capacity on each race, raking in a combined $8.5 million. (Politico) Conflict, after all, is good for business.

-- U.S. markets are down a fraction in pre-market trading after slipping on Friday. Most world markets are trading higher today. (CNN)

C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.

-- Jury selection begins today in the trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife Maureen. The trial will focus on the credibility of Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who bragged to former McDonnell aides that he was friends with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, and on the state of the McDonnells’ marriage; Bob McDonnell will argue his wife didn’t tell him about her interactions with Williams. (Washington Post)

C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work

-- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is making history this year. Sessions will become the first Republican from Alabama to run unopposed in his state. Of course, he’s only the second Alabama Republican to win a Senate seat since direct elections began in 1914: Jeremiah Denton was the first, in 1980. Richard Shelby, of course, first won election as a Democrat. (Birmingham News)

-- Spider-Man the villain? A 25-year old dressed up as the webbed wonder in Times Square slugged a New York police officer who told him to stop bugging tourists, the NYPD said Saturday. Spidey was promptly arrested; the NYPD news release referred to the man as Spider-Man throughout. (Associated Press)

Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.

-- Outraged, or thrilled? Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will launch The Sarah Palin Channel, an internet-based video subscription channel for the low, low cost of $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year. The network is modeled on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze. Subscribers will be able to post their own videos too. (Variety)

Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today

-- Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who later this week becomes House Majority Whip, refused to take impeachment off the table if President Obama takes action to limit deportations. Asked on “Fox News Sunday,” Scalise repeatedly dodged the question: “This might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president,” Scalise said. (Huffington Post) He’s not wrong.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.



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