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

-- Russia has withdrawn thousands of troops from the border with Ukraine, even as violence spikes in eastern Ukraine. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said thousands of troops remain on the border, but he called the partial withdrawal "promising." (Washington Post)

-- The Obama administration and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden offered differing accounts Thursday of Snowden's claims that he raised concerns over NSA activities more than a year ago. Intelligence officials released a brief email from Snowden, raising questions over legal authorities. But Snowden said the official release did not include his correspondence with NSA compliance officials. (Washington Post)

-- White House counselor John Podesta briefed House Democrats on Thursday in advance of next week's rollout of new EPA rules on carbon emissions, and President Obama's weekly address will preview the new rules. The proposed rule is expected to set state-by-state percentage reduction targets for carbon, calculated from a baseline year or average set of years. Which year the administration settles on is a big deal: Emissions have fallen more than 10 percent in the last decade. (Wall Street Journal)

-- Preview of headlines Republicans will love: "Kentucky's coal-burning power plants are likely targets under plan Obama to announce Monday." That's on the front page of today's Lexington Herald-Leader.

-- Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki made his case to Congressional Democrats and veterans groups on Thursday as calls for his resignation intensified. Shinseki laid out plans to hold VA employees accountable and to make sure veterans made to wait months on secret waiting lists get immediate care. But calls for his resignation have intensified; late Thursday, House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Mike Michaud (D-Maine) said it was time for Shinseki to go. (Washington Post)

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn't say Thursday whether President Obama still has confidence in Shinseki. Smart point: Though Obama tries desperately not to be cowed into firing people during partisan scandals, this one is different; it's the first time Democrats have raced to call for an ouster. No way the White House can call this one a partisan pile-on. (Politico)

-- Front Pages: WaPo leads with Shinseki's outreach. NYT spotlights doctor shortages at the VA. WSJ covers the Justice Department's pressure on BNP over evading sanctions. USA Today and the L.A. Times lead with Steve Ballmer's purchase of the L.A. Clippers. The EPA's new regulations get lead-story treatment in the Toledo Blade and the Kansas City Star.

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- North Carolina: State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) leads Sen. Kay Hagan (D) by a 39 percent to 36 percent margin, with Libertarian Sean Haugh clocking in at 8 percent, according to a new National Research Inc. poll conducted for the conservative Civitas Institute. In a two-way race, Tillis leads 46 percent to 41 percent. President Obama's favorable ratings stand at 45 percent, compared with 52 percent who see him unfavorably. And 55 percent say it's time for someone new to replace Hagan. (Civitas, cross tabs should be posted by midday)

-- Mississippi: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will campaign for state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) on Friday at a rally in Ellisville, near Hattiesburg, the campaign said Thursday. McDaniel's campaign is running minute-long radio ads featuring Palin's endorsement. (Breitbart)

-- New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been working behind the scenes to smooth over relations with the Working Families Party, a small but active group of unions and liberal activists who think Cuomo is too conservative. Co-chair Karen Scharff said Thursday Cuomo isn't likely to succeed, and the party is likely to back Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, a former Howard Dean aide. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio helped broker talks between Cuomo and the WFP. (New York Times)

-- Illinois: Businessman Bruce Rauner (R) has now raised more than $20 million, according to new disclosure reports, $6.6 million of which came from his own pocket. Rauner has raised $5.2 million since winning the GOP nomination in March. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has $8.8 million in the bank. (Chicago Tribune)

-- Kansas: Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) will run for the seat he held from 1995 to 2011 against his successor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R), he said Thursday. Tiahrt criticized Pompeo for calling for U.S. military strikes in Syria, and for defending NSA eavesdropping programs. The Club for Growth is already weighing in on Pompeo's behalf. (Kansas City Star)

-- Washington: The Seattle City Council will vote Monday on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest in the nation. The proposal to begin increasing the minimum wage by April 1, 2015, passed a council committee on Thursday. Businesses with more than 500 employees will begin paying the $15 wage in 2017. (Seattle Times)

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

-- President Obama meets with the My Brother's Keeper Task Force for a progress report before having lunch with Vice President Biden. This afternoon, Obama travels to FEMA Headquarters for a briefing on hurricane preparedness. Biden attends the swearing-in of Suzi Levine, the newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland.

-- The House debates the Intelligence Authorization Act and ten amendments this morning. First votes are expected at 10 a.m., with final votes to wrap up by 1:30 p.m.

-- The Senate returns Monday. Next week, the Senate is likely to vote on Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama's nominee to take over Health and Human Services.

-- House Republicans apparently love their McDonald's. NPR's Todd Zwillich on Thursday snapped a photo of a cart laden with Egg McMuffins, hash browns and other tasty treats heading into the House GOP Conference meeting. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's office sent the photo far and wide a few hours later, as Republicans voted to allow some school districts to waive nutrition requirements. (San Francisco Chronicle)

-- Former D.C. City Council member Michael Brown was sentenced to 39 months in prison for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. Brown had sought leniency by cooperating in an investigation that snared businessman Jeffrey Thompson, but prosecutors said he had withheld information. (Washington Post)

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

-- Colorado: The DSCC on Thursday plunked down $4.7 million on behalf of Sen. Mark Udall (D) for ads beginning Sept. 16 and running through Election Day, mostly in the Denver market and some in Colorado Springs. The NRSC made their own $2.1 million buy in Denver, for ads beginning Sept. 22.

-- Arkansas: The DSCC bought $3.6 million in broadcast airtime to aid Sen. Mark Pryor (D), with the bulk going into the Little Rock market and smaller amounts going to the Jonesboro and Fort Smith markets. The committee's ads will start running on Aug. 5. The NRSC has already reserved $1.75 million in late airtime.

-- New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) will get $1 million in DSCC ads set to begin in late September. National Republicans haven't started buying on behalf of former Sen. Scott Brown (R) yet. (Washington Post)

The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.

-- Senior House Republicans have decided to postpone a floor vote on an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, making it unlikely that a GOP alternative will be made public before the midterm elections. Republican committee chairmen told leaders last week they prefer to wait until next year to vote on a comprehensive alternative. (Washington Post)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- Former Bush/Romney general counsel Ben Ginsberg, former NRSC general counsel William McGinley and former FEC chairman Don McGahn will leave Patton Boggs for Jones Day, beginning Monday, the firm will announce today. And a group of six health care attorneys will leave Patton Boggs for Akin Gump, led by John Jonas, who founded Patton's health practice. Patton Boggs' merger with Squire Sanders becomes official over the weekend. (Washington Post)

-- Kentucky fundraiser Nate Morris has helped Sen. Rand Paul (R) get audiences with internet startup guru Garrett Johnson in Silicon Valley, investor Herb Allen in New York, and investors in Rubicon Global, at chairman Lane Moore's home in Atlanta. Morris, 33, was the youngest bundler for George W. Bush's 2004 campaign; he learned fundraising in a George Washington University graduate class taught by Jack Oliver. (Lexington Herald-Leader)

-- Stock futures are flat or slightly down this morning after U.S. markets posted gains on Thursday. World markets are mixed today. (CNN)

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

-- Hillary Clinton delves into the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi in a 34-page chapter in her forthcoming book, defending U.S. talking points that blamed an anti-Islamic video for sparking protests and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who used those talking points on national television. Clinton has hired former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor to help with the book's rollout. (Politico)

-- State governments are issuing new debt at the slowest rate in the last 20 years while rainy day funds grow, a reflection of a newly conservative approach to budgeting across the nation. About half the states saw their total tax-supported debts decline last year. California owes $94 billion, even after paying down some of its debt. Puerto Rico owes by far the most per capita, at $54 billion. (Washington Post)

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

-- The disagreement between Irwindale, Calif., and the makers of Sriracha hot sauce is over after city officials dropped their lawsuit against the spicy sauce-maker and tabled a resolution that would have dubbed the factory a "public nuisance." The deal came Thursday after officials in Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) office helped arrange a meeting between Huy Fong Foods CEO David Tran and city leaders. (Los Angeles Timesx)

-- A must-click ode to Sriracha, from The Oatmeal.

-- Missed yesterday's gripping finals of the National Spelling Bee? Test your own abilities with the Post's Spelling Challenge. Spoiler alert for those of you who DVR'd the finals: Two teenagers were declared co-champions of the Bee after they ran through the entire word list yesterday. (Washington Post)

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

-- DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told a House panel on Thursday his department will try to work with sanctuary cities, but he won't end a program that finds undocumented immigrants in prisons and jails. Johnson said he doesn't want DHS officials capturing those undocumented immigrants at courthouses. (Washington Times) Drudge headline: "Homeland: Agents shouldn't target illegals at courthouses."

-- The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has fined the National Organization for Marriage more than $50,000 for violating state campaign finance laws during a 2009 referendum election that banned same-sex marriage. The commission also ordered NOM to disclose its donors. NOM gave almost $2 million to the referendum campaign committee, more than 60 percent of its total cash haul. (Associated Press)

Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today

-- In a Republican debate Thursday night, Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst (R) referred to last week's mass shooting in California as an "unfortunate accident." Ernst, who stars in a TV ad in which she wields a handgun, had called the shooting a tragedy twice before. (Des Moines Register)

-- Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, now a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the shootings in Isla Vista are linked to "the crumbling of the moral foundation of the country," and "the attack on natural marriage and the family." (Right Wing Watch)