A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- The U.S. and NATO will stage military exercises in western Ukraine later this month. The U.S. will move tanks and 600 troops to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for joint exercises in October. The Kremlin said Thursday that Ukrainian efforts to join NATO would derail peace talks. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko joined NATO leaders at their summit in Wales. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he and Poroshenko had agreed on a peace deal that would include international monitors on the ground. (Reuters, Washington Post)
-- Attorney General Eric Holder will launch a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., police department this week, about a month after the shooting death of unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown. The probe will examine other police departments in St. Louis County, too, several of which are predominantly white even though they serve majority-black communities. The Justice Department is also investigating whether the officer who shot Brown violated his civil rights. (Washington Post)
-- House Speaker John Boehner told Republican lawmakers in a conference call Wednesday that the 12-day pre-election legislative session will focus on passing a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30, but the House will also act on measures aimed at shaming the Senate. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told members in August the House will package a series of bills that have already passed the House and are languishing before the Senate. (Roll Call)
-- The World Health Organization said Wednesday it is worried about a cluster of Ebola patients in Nigeria because one of three who died from the virus socialized with a number of people in the oil city of Port Harcourt after he was contagious. (New York Times)
-- Front Pages: WaPo and NYT leads with a Kremlin-announced peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. Talks are scheduled to begin Friday. WSJ looks at a "jihadist highway" that lets militants slip from Turkey into Syria. USA Today: "Can Russia be stopped?" Bonus: USAT previews the Seahawks-Packers game tonight, which the Seahawks will win because your author is biased. LA Times leads with an earthquake early warning system that worked well during last month's Napa quake.
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 50 percent to 46 percent, a new CNN/ORC poll shows. McConnell leads among men by 14 points, while Grimes has a 52 percent to 45 percent edge among women. President Obama's approval rating in Kentucky is just 33 percent. (CNN, pdf)
-- Florida: Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) by a 41 percent to 36 percent margin, according to a new University of Florida Bob Graham Center poll. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie took 6 percent. Almost half of voters said Florida's economy is recovering, and a quarter said the state will recover soon. (Tampa Bay Times) Under the hood, Crist's numbers aren't good: 53 percent, including 29 percent of Democrats, say he can't be trusted.
-- Louisiana: Federal Judge Martin Feldman ruled Wednesday that Louisiana has the right to ban same-sex couples from marrying, the first ruling upholding a state's gay marriage ban since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said the state only needed to show there was a rational reason for voters to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. (Washington Post)
-- Kansas: Well this is becoming a theme: Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor (D), the Democratic nominee against Sen. Pat Roberts (R), has dropped out of the race, leaving businessman Greg Orman (I) and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson to face Roberts in November. Recent automated polling showed Orman actually leading Roberts. On Wednesday, more than 70 former state Republican lawmakers backed Orman. (Wichita Eagle, twice) The lawmakers who backed Orman are some of the same who picked state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D) over Gov. Sam Brownback (R). The moderate-conservative split within the GOP is the only way a Democrat wins in Kansas, and that split exists today.
-- New York: Something to keep an eye on before next week's primary: Former Rep. Kathy Hochul (D), Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) hand-picked running mate, is facing a late surge from law school professor Tim Wu (D). To help her out, Cuomo called in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who endorsed Hochul on Wednesday. (New York Daily News) Daily Kos headline: "NYC's Bill de Blasio endorses anti-environment, anti-ACA, pro-NRA Lieberdem." Most of our New York sources don't think Hochul is in serious trouble, but she does have to introduce herself to city voters who are far more liberal than she.
-- Nevada: Tesla has decided to build its $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant, the gigafactory, in northern Nevada. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will announce the decision at a news conference today in Carson City. He's likely to call legislators back into special session to pass a series of tax breaks and incentives for the company. (CNBC, Ralston Reports) Big win for Sandoval, and probably a bigger win for Tesla. The company pitted California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico against Nevada and won some concessions from those states, too.
-- North Carolina: State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) said in his first debate with Sen. Kay Hagan (D) that he supports allowing the birth control pill to be sold over the counter and accused Hagan of being in the pocket of big pharmaceutical companies. (Charlotte Observer) By our count, Tillis is the fourth Republican Senate candidate (along with Colorado's Cory Gardner, Mike McFadden in Minnesota and Ed Gillespie in Virginia) to back over-the-counter contraception. Call it the GOP's September surprise: Democrats don't have a good answer for it yet.
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama is in Wales at the NATO summit. He's already visited a local school with Prime Minister David Cameron. Later, NATO leaders will stand for two official family photos and hold meetings on Ukraine and Afghanistan.
-- Vice President Biden has meetings at the White House today before hosting a reception at the Naval Observatory for athletes representing the U.S. in the Invictus Games.
-- Boehner and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) reportedly have a private agreement to act on a short-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank as Hensarling builds support for a plan to reform it or close it entirely. It's not clear whether House Republicans would pass the reauthorization as part of the continuing resolution. (Politico)
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.
-- Kentucky: Here comes Mitch McConnell's money. The Senate Minority Leader is up with two big buys this week, for a total of about $640,000 on cable and broadcast ads across the state. McConnell is running ads in 10(!) cable markets, including a tiny buy in the Knoxville market.
-- West Virginia: Just about every outside group playing in House races has dropped an ad in West Virginia 03. Now the actual candidate is going on TV. State Sen. Evan Jenkins (R) began advertising Aug. 27, with small buys in the Beckley and Charleston markets. He'll be on TV through Election Day; so far, he's bought $620,000 in ad time.
-- Arkansas: Freedom Partners will fire their latest salvo at Sen. Mark Pryor (D) on Friday with this new ad, a series of man-on-the-street interviews tying Pryor to President Obama. The group says they'll spend more than $1 million to air the spot.
-- Oregon: If the Koch brothers are trying to put any one state in play, it's Oregon, where physician Monica Wehby (R) is challenging Sen. Jeff Merkley (D). Freedom Partners will run another new ad beginning Friday accusing Merkley of driving up the debt. Merkley has his own ad up attacking Wehby for her ties to the Koch brothers. (Oregonian) Side note: We're less than 60 days from Election Day, meaning this iteration of Freedom Partners has to disclose its donors.
-- Virginia: Sen. Mark Warner (D) has rich friends. The Virginia Progress PAC says it spent $480,000 on television time targeting former RNC chief Ed Gillespie (R). Democratic ad firm Shorr Johnson Magnus created the ad. (FEC)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- All 12 Federal Reserve Board regions reported growth in July and August, though only modestly. But the Fed's Beige Book found no clear evidence that the economy is expanding fast enough that the board would need to raise interest rates soon. The New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco Federal Reserve Banks reported moderate growth, while the other six regions reported weaker growth. (Associated Press)
-- At least 12 intellectual property lawyers from Squire Patton Boggs have left to open a D.C. office for New Jersey-based Porzio, Bromberg & Newman. At least 69 lawyers and professionals have left after Patton Boggs merged with Squire Sanders in May. Most have gone to rival firms like Akin Gump, Holland & Knight and Jones Day. (Washington Post)
-- Stock futures are up a quarter of a percent before the bell after an almost flat day on Wall Street Wednesday. Asian markets closed lower today, while European markets are trading higher. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- Remember when trips to Israel were mandatory before someone launched a presidential bid? Now, Central America is the required destination. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) arrived in Mexico City on Wednesday. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was in Guatemala last month. On Friday, Hillary Clinton lands in Mexico City, too. On his trip, Christie had lunch with U.S. Ambassador Tony Wayne and called for an end to a U.S. ban on crude oil exports and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. (New York Times)
C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work
-- Malaysia Airlines has ended a promotion that asked people what was on their "bucket list," after acknowledging it probably wasn't the best use of their advertising dollars after two disasters in less than a year. The ad campaign in Australia and New Zealand lasted less than a day. (Associated Press)
-- Headline of the day: "Endangered ferrets set free on Fort Collins open space amid prairie dogs." (Denver Post)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not known for subtlety. At a roundtable in Milwaukee Wednesday, the Florida congresswoman said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) "has given women the back of his hand." Walker's Democratic opponent, Madison school board member Mary Burke, distanced herself from the comments, and even the DNC walked it back. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Just imagine if a Republican had used that language. The Democratic outrage wouldn't stop for weeks.
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- Koch Industries executive vice president Richard Fink gave MSNBC a little more fodder after a secret recording of the Koch donor network's strategy conference caught him analogizing raising the minimum wage to the rise of the Third Reich. "We're taking these 500,000 people that would've had a job and putting them unemployed, making dependence part of government programs, and destroying their opportunity for earned success," Fink says of the consequences of raising the minimum wage. "And so we see this as a very big part of recruitment in Germany in the twenties." (ThinkProgress)