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The Daily 202: Growing GOP backlash to transgender troop ban underscores Trump’s political miscalculation

Donald Trump speaks yesterday at the White House. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump tweets first and asks questions later.

His surprise announcement Wednesday that he will ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity, reversing an Obama administration decision to allow them to serve openly, caught the Pentagon and Capitol Hill off guard.

-- Reflecting how dramatically the national conversation on LGBTQ rights has shifted in recent years, the news drew swift rebukes from several leading Republicans in the Senate.

War hero John McCain, the preeminent Republican voice on national security, took a break from battling brain cancer to send this statement: “The President’s tweet … regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.”

From Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a former Army Reserve commander and the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate: “While she believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity,” spokeswoman Brook Hougesen told the Des Moines Register.

From Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is up for reelection in one of the reddest and most socially conservative states in America:

From Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who wields a lot of control over the Pentagon’s budget from his perch on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee: “You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve,” he said on CNN. In a follow-up statement to the Huntsville Times, he added: “The current policy is a big tent for people who want to serve. You've got to remember, our military force is a voluntary force.”

From Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): “I would have significant objections to any proposal that calls for a specific group of American patriots currently serving in uniform to be removed from the military.”

From Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who served in the Marines: “I’m all about training standards. High, high standards for whoever joins the military,” he told HuffPost. “But my initial reaction is, if you can meet those standards, we shouldn’t care who you are. So, meet the standards, and you should be able to join the military.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose openly gay son prompted him to come out for gay rights in 2013: “The Secretary of Defense is conducting a study of this policy and Rob believes we should wait until that is complete before making any decisions,” a spokeswoman told in-state press.

-- Most Republicans in the Capitol tried hard to avoid reacting at all, and their silence spoke volumes about the degree to which they don’t think this is a political winner. One exception was Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), who praised Trump’s move. She recently offered an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would have blocked the Pentagon from offering gender transition therapies to active-duty service members. Twenty-four Republicans joined all 190 Democrats to reject the measure, Mike DeBonis and Ed O’Keefe note.

-- The Pentagon referred all questions about Trump’s announcement to the White House, but the White House referred questions back to the Pentagon and falsely suggested that the decision had been made at the behest of the military. Because no thought was given to the details before Trump’s trio of tweets, White House incoming press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unable to provide any clarity during her afternoon briefing. She couldn’t answer, for example, what will happen to the thousands of openly transgender troops who are already serving. A lot of lives hang in the balance, and folks whose careers could be destroyed are waiting with bated breath. But Sanders threatened to leave if reporters pressed her about it. “Guys, I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic,” she said. “As I do, I’ll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day.”

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-- Some background on the review that had been underway: “Under former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, the military lifted the ban on transgender troops and was given one year to determine how to implement a policy that would allow transgender service members to receive medical care and would ban the services from involuntarily separating people in the military who came out as transgender,” Abby Phillip, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe explain. “Trump's defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, delayed implementation … by six months in order to study its impact. … That review was due by early December. Mattis cautioned at the time that the delay ‘in no way presupposes the outcome.’ … Thousands of troops currently serving in the military are transgender, and some estimates place the number as high as 11,000 in the reserves and active duty military, according to a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department.”

-- The military was plainly caught off guard. As of this morning, the pro-transgender policy is still on the Defense Department's website.

From BuzzFeed News’s national security correspondent:

-- Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said in a radio interview that he “was not aware” of the policy change until he learned about it from social media.

In July 2017, a federal judge blocked enforcement of President Trump's three-month-old directive barring transgender troops from serving in the military. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

-- Trump’s tweets once again stomped on what could have been a good news cycle for him. Electronic manufacturer Foxconn announced plans to invest at least $7 billion in the United States and create between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs, with a huge factory in Wisconsin. But this story fell through the cracks because of Trump’s ban.

-- The timing was also bad from an optics standpoint: Trump banned transgender troops on the 69th anniversary of Harry Truman ordering the desegregation of the armed forces.

-- Could this be the civil rights issue of our time?

-- The real impetus behind Trump’s snap announcement, via Politico’s Rachael Bade and Josh Dawsey: “House Republicans were planning to pass a spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico. But … insiders feared they might not have the votes to pass the legislation because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations — something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them. They turned to Trump, who didn’t hesitate. … (But) House Republicans were never debating expelling all transgender troops from the military. ‘This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,’ a senior House Republican aide said in an email. The source said that although GOP leaders asked the White House for help on the taxpayer matter specifically, they weren’t expecting — and got no heads up on — Trump’s far-reaching directive.”

These 18 countries allow transgender people to serve in the military (Video: Amanda Erickson, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)


-- A Trump administration official boasted shortly after the announcement: “This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue,” the unnamed official told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “How will the blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like [Michigan Sen.] Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”

Such a cravenly cynical quote — with its tacit acknowledgment that a major change in social policy was announced with partisan advantage in mind — is both breathtaking and scandalous. But even taken at face value, from a purely political perspective, it also reflects a remarkably unsophisticated view of our country circa 2017.

“What this official missed: Stabenow has a perfect 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT organization, for the last session of Congress,” Time Magazine’s Phil Elliott writes from Cleveland. “In fact, Democrats here in the heartland — and beyond — have decided embracing LGBT rights is good politics. Younger voters overwhelmingly support the issue, have no issue with same-sex marriage and don’t really get the hullabaloo over transgender identities. Even in the most blue-collar towns, a neighbor's LGBT sexual orientation is less an issue than if they root for the wrong football team. Even as Democrats try to figure out their path forward, no one seriously questions whether they should retreat from the LGBT provisions in their platform.”

Look at how the 2018 Democrats in the other two states mentioned by the White House responded:

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): “I have deep respect and gratitude for anyone who volunteers to serve in our military. We should not turn away anyone who is willing and able to serve this country and help keep America safe.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is openly gay:

Even West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate (and up for reelection next year), spoke out against Trump’s ban. “I agree with Senator McCain that ‘any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are,'” Manchin told West Virginia MetroNews.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, another Democrat up for reelection next year in a ruby red state, called Trump’s “cavalier” announcement “deeply unfortunate”: “If a service member can do the job and is willing, they should be able to serve — and they should be able to be open about who they are,” Heitkamp said in a statement to the Grand Forks Herald.

-- Seeing an opportunity to gin up their grass-roots base, national Democrats certainly didn’t equivocate either. “President Trump is a draft dodger and if he wants to talk about 2018, we’ve got dozens of veteran candidates who have already shown what it looks like to step up and serve our country to keep us safe, and are ready to do it again in Congress,” said Meredith Kelly, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director.

There were lots of very fiery statements from members in this same vein: “When my Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq, I didn't care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender or anything else,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). “All that mattered was they didn't leave me behind.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump said he'd protect LGBT individuals (Video: The Washington Post)


-- “For decades leading up to [yesterday’s announcement], the businessman-turned-politician has approached the LGBT community on nonideological terms,” Robert Samuels and Jenna Johnson report. “Trump’s relationships with LGBT people, and his evolving positions on issues, have been transactional, according to people who have interacted with him, focused largely on how the community might affect his interests in the moment. Only a year ago, candidate Trump presented himself as a social liberal seeking to move the Republican Party left on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. … But circumstances have been changing since Trump entered the White House. While his staff has met with LGBT advocates and he has hired several New Yorkers who have supported LGBT rights in the past, Trump’s administration has taken positions more in tune with the president’s social conservative base.”

President Trump's tweeted transgender military ban on July 26 drew immediate criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)


-- Elites up and down the Acela Corridor are predictably outraged, but local TV stations and newspapers — including in some of the reddest places in the country, humanized the issue by featuring transgender troops.

Perry Stein on The Post’s Local desk: “Protesters speak out against Trump’s transgender military ban in front of the White House.”

New Yorker Editor David Remnick: “The Cruelty and Cynicism of Trump’s Transgender Ban; The President’s tweets are a naked attempt to divert attention from his scandals.”

USA Today: “Trump's ban leaves transgender troops in limbo, and his White House and Pentagon scrambling.”

Stars and Stripes: “‘Fired by tweet:’ Troops, veterans react to transgender ban.”

Voice of America: “Transgender Soldiers, Veterans Shaken by Trump's Ban on Their Service.”

Deseret News (Salt Lake City): “Utahns denounce Trump's ban on transgender troops in U.S. military.”

Rapid City Journal (South Dakota): “Retired Ellsworth sergeant says transgender ban hurtful.

ABC affiliate in Louisville: “Kentucky Guardsman faces uncertain future after Trump tweet.”

ABC affiliate in Charleston, S.C.: “Lowcountry transgender veteran ‘stunned’ by President Trump's transgender military ban.”

NBC News’s John Paul Brammer: “Trump’s Tweets May Leave Transgender Service Members ‘In Harm’s Way.’

NBC affiliate in Las Vegas: “Trump's morning tweets have local LGBTQ vets asking, 'What's next?'

In a sign of how much the news is breaking through, People Magazine is giving major billing to this story on its home page: “Trump’s Transgender Military Ban Is a ‘Political Tool’ to Stir Fears of His Base, Experts Say.”

Being transgender got Landon Wilson kicked out of the Navy. Now it could happen to thousands more. (Video: Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

WaPo op-ed by Col. Sheri Swokowski (ret.): “I served 34 years in the Army. I’m transgender. President Trump is wrong.

Alex Horton on Checkpoint: “Trump called transgender troops a costly disruption. An expert who studied it says he’s wrong.

Bustle: “This Trans Air Force Veteran Didn’t Serve For 20 Years To Have Trump Tear Her Down.

Air Force Space Command veteran Carla Lewis on HuffPost: “I’m A Trans Veteran And I Fought For Your Right To Hate Me. For someone who claims to value loyalty, the president fails to comprehend the ultimate loyalty of our nation’s transgender service members.”

Vice: “What it’s like to be called a ‘burden.’ We talked to transgender military members about Trump’s plan to ban them.”

San Jose Mercury News: “Apple, Google and Facebook CEOs slam Trump’s transgender military ban.

San Francisco Chronicle: “Transgender effort reopens culture wars.”

Albany Times Union (New York): “Firestorm erupts over ban of transgenders in military.”

Boston Globe Editorial: “Trump’s cruel, unnecessary transgender ban.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg penned a column for Bloomberg View: “Trump's Dishonorable Transgender Ban. It's an ill-considered decision that offends on moral and practical grounds.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton: “Donald Trump's ban on transgender people in the military is un-American.”

Washington Examiner: “Policy aside, Trump's Twitter announcement was a political disaster.”

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-- Trump had dinner with Sean Hannity, former Fox executive Bill Shine and Anthony Scaramucci to discuss a possible staff shake-up. Philip Rucker reports: “The president and his new aide solicited advice from Hannity and Shine over a meal in the Blue Room that was described by the senior White House official as social. … Scaramucci, a former Fox contributor (who appeared on Hannity’s show last night), is close to both men and is seeking their counsel about reorganizing the communications operation, the senior White House official said, though it is unclear whether Shine would ever consider taking a formal role in the administration now that he has left Fox.”

-- “The Mooch” erased a tweet launched overnight urging the FBI and Justice Department to launch a probe into a leak of his financial disclosure form to Politico and added @Reince45, suggesting to some Scaramucci was accusing the White House chief of staff with whom he has sparred as the leaker. “In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony, I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept,” Scaramucci tweeted.



-- New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza confirmed that account in a late-night tweet:

The Mooch then tweeted this:

-- The "Mooch" called into CNN's "New Day" this morning for an extended back-and-forth with Chris Cuomo in which he said he and Priebus were like biblical brothers "Cain and Abel." "No more dirty pool, no more dishonest... no more 'ha ha ha'  ... I want an honest and clean shop," Scaramucci said on-air this morning.

-- The problem, says the Weekly Standard's Stephen F. Hayes, is there was no leak to begin with: "There was a reason Scaramucci didn't respond further: There had been no leak. The Politico reporter, Lorraine Woellert, obtained Scaramucci's disclosures by making a routine request to the Ex-Im bank for the form 278e that Scaramucci completed before working there. Woellert tweeted: "Mr @Scaramucci's Form 278e is publicly available from ExIm. Just ask."

-- According to those forms obtained by Politico, Scaramucci still stands to profit from his investment firm SkyBridge Capital. Lorraine Woellert reports: “The incoming White House communications director earned $4.9 million from his ownership stake in SkyBridge in addition to more than $5 million in salary between Jan. 1, 2016, and the end of June, when he joined the Export-Import Bank[.] … The disclosure highlights the extensive wealth Scaramucci has accumulated in his career — much like many of Trump’s other top advisers and Cabinet secretaries — and also the challenge he faces in extracting himself from the potential conflicts his investments could pose.” 

-- Trump formally nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The Kansas City Star notes that the announcement comes “a little more than a month after the Kansas governor saw his signature tax policy dismantled by the state’s Legislature”: “He’ll leave office as one of the least popular governors in the nation. Brownback will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Johnson County plastic surgeon who played a key role in Brownback’s decision to privatize the state’s Medicaid system during his first term. … The position requires Senate confirmation. … Former Virginia congressman Frank Wolf drafted the bill that created the ambassadorship for religious freedom in 1998.”


  1. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was discharged from MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he has spent the past six weeks recovering from a gunshot wound. He will be transferred to an intensive inpatient rehabilitation facility. Doctors said he is “in good spirits and is looking forward to his return to work once he completes rehabilitation.” (Dana Hedgpeth)
  2. Prosecutors are asking 13 of the immigrants who were held in the San Antonio tractor-trailer to serve as witnesses against the driver. James Matthew Bradley Jr. has been charged for the 10 deaths that occurred in his overheated trailer. (Maria Sacchetti)

  3. According to a new poll, half of Trump’s voters say he won the popular vote. Forty-nine percent of those who said they supported Trump in November thought that he had won the popular vote in comparison to 40 percent of Trump voters who believed Hillary Clinton did. (Politico)

  4. One person was killed and seven others were injured after an amusement-park ride malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair. Gov. John Kasich has ordered a full investigation of the rides and said they will be shut down until a safety evaluation is complete. (Alex Horton and Katie Mettler)
  5. The University of Southern California acknowledged the existence of a damaging report about the former dean of the university's medical school accusing him of using illegal drugs, even in his campus office. Officials conceded they “could have done better” and vowed to create a task force to address concerns. (Susan Svrluga and Sarah Larimer)
The Senate rejects a plan to end major parts of the Affordable Care Act with a two-year delay to allow time for lawmakers to design new health-care legislation. (Video: U.S. Senate)


-- Senate Democrats and five of their Republican colleagues yesterday defeated legislation repealing Obamacare, the GOP's most cherished punching bag for seven years. Whatever Senate Republicans are able to pass now, it won't be anything close to repeal. Juliet Eilperin, Kelsey Snell and Sean Sullivan report: “Republicans appeared to be ­coalescing around a ‘skinny repeal’ that would abolish the individual and employer insurance mandates and perhaps just one tax in an attempt to sustain their seven-year quest to unwind President Barack Obama’s health-care law. But even if they succeed — and start negotiations with the House — they will face significant obstacles in accomplishing anything more substantial. … Some Republican senators were simply open to any legislation that could keep alive the roller-coaster push for an overhaul.”

-- “Skinny repeal” remains Mitch McConnell's last, best hope: A clearer picture is emerging of the impact of that bare-bones package: “Senate Democrats announced late Wednesday afternoon that a preliminary CBO estimate found that 16 million people would lose coverage if Republicans enacted a handful of the policies floated for the pared-down repeal bill.”

-- Not so fast, says the House. Mike DeBonis reports: “Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a key player in the negotiations that produced the House health-care bill, told reporters in recent days that a skinny-repeal bill would be ‘dead on arrival’ in the House and that a conference committee would have to be convened to work out a compromise. … It wasn’t only conservatives who were skeptical. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a moderate who brokered a compromise with the hard right ... said skinny repeal is ‘just a vehicle’ for a conference. ‘I don’t think that’s a serious effort to fix the health-care system,’ he said.”

Senators take part in several votes and debates on health care a day after Senate Republicans voted to start debating legislation to overhaul Obamacare. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

-- AND, a bipartisan group of 10 governors wrote a letter to McConnell stating their opposition to "skinny repeal." The Hill’s Rachel Roubein reports: “The governors write that the so-called ‘skinny’ repeal is ‘is expected to accelerate health plans leaving the individual market, increase premiums, and result in fewer Americans having access to coverage.’ ‘Instead, we ask senators to work with governors on solutions to problems we can all agree on: fixing our unstable insurance markets,’ the governors wrote. … GOP governors who signed onto the leader include John Kasich (Ohio), Phil Scott (Vt.), Larry Hogan (Md.), Charles Baker (Mass.) and Brian Sandoval (Nev.).

-- BOOKMARK this C-Span guide to the chaotic, unpredictable day on the Senate floor. Kelsey Snell writes: “Five things to know about the Senate’s bid to unwind the ACA”: “So far, no Republican senators have announced they oppose the idea of ‘skinny repeal.’ Even [Sen. Susan] Collins, who has been skeptical of every proposal leaders have made so far, told reporters that she wouldn’t rule out voting for the bill.”

The Senate on July 26 voted against a Democratic-sponsored motion to send health-care legislation through the committee process. (Video: The Washington Post)

-- Get ready for a long, long day. Democrats don’t have much power to stop a health-care overhaul if Republicans can unite behind one bill, but they are using every avenue they have to gum up the works. Juliet, Kelsey and Sean report: “Democrats grew frustrated by the spectacle Wednesday evening and threatened to stop offering amendments until GOP leaders released details of the narrow repeal measure they plan to offer.” Interestingly, Sen. John McCain, who the day before complained about Republicans’ method of “trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” voted against the Democratic amendment to send health-care back to the starting line in committee.

-- One Republican senator, Montana's Steve Daines, has a surprising amendment of his own: one that would create a single-payer health-care system. But Senate Democrats didn't take the bait, with a spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling the amendment a “sham.” David Weigel reports: “The Daines amendment, which the Montana senator has admitted he won’t actually vote for, will propose the text of a ‘Medicare for All’ bill backed by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). Sanders, who has delayed the release of his own single-payer bill until the end of the health-care debate … was not quite the target of Daines’s amendment. Democrats saw it as a ploy to get some of the [GOP's] more vulnerable senators to vote ‘against single payer,’ angering the party’s base. But Sanders’s decision to oppose the amendment effectively absolves other Democrats, some of whom may still reject his own bill when it’s released next month.”

-- And now the administration appears to be strong-arming Republicans who oppose the Senate bills. Alaska Dispatch News’ Erica Martinson reports: “Early Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski's vote [against opening debate]. By that afternoon, each of Alaska's two Republican senators had received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke letting them know the vote had put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy. … [Alaska Sen. Dan] Sullivan said the Interior secretary was clear that his message was in response to the no vote Murkowski cast Tuesday on the motion to proceed with debate on the House-passed health care legislation. Efforts and issues on the line include nominations of Alaskans to Interior posts, an effort to build a road out of King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and future opportunities to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expand drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, among other regulatory issues that are a priority for Murkowski and Sullivan.”


-- Trump has privately discussed the possibility of using a recess appointment to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions – but a bevy of confidants and other allies have warned him not to do so, citing the political and legal ramifications. Carol D. Leonnig, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Still raging over Sessions’s recusal from the Justice Department’s escalating Russia investigation, Trump has been talking privately about how he might replace Sessions and possibly sidestep Senate oversight … (A) senior White House official said no action is imminent. When asked Wednesday about the president’s discussions of a recess appointment, the White House released a one-sentence denial from Trump: ‘More fake news from the Amazon Washington Post.’

  • “Some advisers have come away convinced that Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions ... These advisers said Trump would prefer that the attorney general resign rather than have to be fired. But others involved in the discussions have concluded that Trump is merely venting with his continued assault against Sessions … [and said] Trump has neither fully articulated nor set in motion a plan to replace Sessions.”
  • Several lawyers around Trump have been urging the president to stop his saber-rattling against Sessions and Mueller …  The president has countered that he believes the probe is a mere political attack … [and] has largely shrugged off these concerns. ‘In his mind, he is his own best advocate, his own best lawyer,’ one adviser said.
  • “Replacing Sessions could be a precursor to firing Mueller … But several of Trump’s White House advisers — including [Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon] have strongly counseled him against ordering the dismissal of Mueller, which they have warned would be a political, if not legal, catastrophe …”

-- Talk about passive aggressive: Sessions visited the White House for a meeting again yesterday, but just like when he went on Monday, he didn't get any face time with POTUS. Trump has been carefully avoiding a one-on-one conversation like an immature high-school guy who wants to break up with his girlfriend who he's not that into, but he doesn't have the nerve to tell her. So he just keeps avoiding her and hopes she gets the message.

-- Earlier Wednesday, Trump publicly questioned why Sessions has not replaced acting FBI director Andrew McCabe — a move that Trump himself has the authority to do. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “In two tweets just before 10 a.m., Trump wrote, ‘Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!’” (That line of attack refers to reports that the political action committee of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally, gave nearly $500,000 to the state senate campaign of McCabe’s wife in 2015.)

-- Support for Sessions runs deep in the Senate, where most of his former Republican colleagues have assured both publicly and privately that they support him. “But the tension over Trump’s treatment of Sessions goes beyond defending a friend,” Paul Kane writes. “Unlike any other controversial move that Trump has pondered in his six months as president, Senate Republicans are sending preemptive signals that firing the attorney general or pressuring him into resigning would be a terrible move. Some have spoken to high-level White House officials delivering the warning that it would look as if Trump was making the move solely to shut down an investigation … while also making clear they agree with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. ... Democrats may have vehemently opposed his nomination, but they have no intention of allowing Trump to fire Sessions and appoint a new attorney general with a recess appointment, and frankly, Republicans do not sound as if they would even want to give Trump that power either.”

  • Orrin Hatch, who said he thinks Sessions “deserves to be treated much more fairly,” is trying to set up a call with Trump to directly voice his support for the AG.
  • Mitch McConnell said his support for Sessions has “gone up the chain of command.” Asked if he told Trump directly of his support for his longtime colleague, the majority leader smiled: “I’ve conveyed that to the public and to others.”
  • Chuck Grassley tweeted a warning to Trump that his committee’s schedule already is “set” for the remainder of this year. He said his Judiciary Committee will consider judge and subcabinet nominees first. “AG no way,” he wrote.

“The question, however, is how Senate Republicans will respond if Trump does force their friend out of the Justice Department,” Kane concludes. “Would there be any ramification beyond just expressing dismay? That remains to be seen...”

-- Peter Baker and Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times's say that allies warn of a conservative revolt if Sessions is ousted: “For the White House, the attacks on the attorney general have touched off a serious problem on Capitol Hill when it did not need any other headaches. Senate Republicans who almost never link arms in unison against a president from their party formed a cordon around Mr. Sessions, making it clear that they neither concurred with nor would tolerate Mr. Trump’s repeated threats ... Senate leaders made clear they would block Mr. Trump from replacing Mr. Sessions if he tried to do so during the coming recess. 'I would hope the public discussion of that would end immediately,' said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who said he delivered the message directly to the White House.”

-- Interesting: Rep. Mo Brooks offered to drop out of the Alabama Senate race to clear way for Sessions, should the attorney general choose to leave his post and try to reclaim his old Senate seat. “I support [Trump's] policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama who know Jeff Sessions so well and elected him so often by overwhelming margins,” Brooks said in a statement. He proposed that all the candidates drop out “simultaneously,” so Sessions “can return to the Senate where he has served us so well.” (Politico)

-- Conservative Jennifer Rubin writes the GOP’s general cowardice now “invites Trump to fire Sessions:” “My, it would have been grand had some Republican warned Trump that treating the Justice Department as his personal law firm is dangerous and wrong and invites grave legal/political consequences. Justice Department lawyers are the people’s lawyers, not Trump’s personal protection racket. [The] vast majority of GOP House and Senate members … are afraid of Trump and his cultist followers, afraid of falling out of favor with a Trumpified party that they imagine can be a vehicle for their policies. (How’s that working out so far?) If they cannot bring themselves to forcefully defend a conservative darling, a former Senate colleague and an advocate of many of their policies … does anyone imagine that they’ll go to war with Trump if he fired Sessions and then Mueller?

-- This goes even too far for ... Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations, who pleads in a Post op-ed for Trump to “cut it out:” “Tweet to your heart’s content, but stop the wildly inappropriate attacks on the attorney general. An honorable man whom I have known since his days as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, Jeff Sessions has recently become your piñata in one of the most outrageous — and profoundly misguided — courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.”

-- A lot has been made of Breitbart's negative coverage this week of the possibility that Trump might fire Sessions. Former Breitbart News spokesman Kurt Bardella argues in a CNN op-ed that Breitbart has not actually gone to war with Trump on Sessions’s behalf, as the media has widely reported, because the site is prioritizing its newfound proximity to power instead: “Substitute [Trump] with any other political figure, and I guarantee you these relentless, one-sided attacks against Sessions would be met with all-out open warfare. It would be open warfare conducted with the same velocity and enthusiasm I saw firsthand when they made Eric Cantor and John Boehner the focal point of their universe … Dozens and dozens of stories would appear every day, until they accumulated to a critical mass where the man who had attacked their beloved hero would have to either apologize or be met with an even bigger Breitbart-Boyle campaign to get them to resign or lose their next election.

But take a close look at the pages of Breitbart right now and you'll see that's not happening, not even close. The ‘honey badgers’ have left the building, replaced by an establishment mentality to protect their proximity to power at all costs.[In fact], it might be more accurate to say that the one-sided Trump-Sessions fight is the clearest illustration yet of how Breitbart has become that which they have spent their entire existence attacking.”


-- “Senate and House leaders struck a deal late Wednesday to send a long-debated sanctions bill imposing new measures against Russia, Iran and North Korea to the president’s desk, after securing promises that Congress will consider even more stringent measures against North Korea down the line,” Karoun Demirjian reports: “Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker announced that he agreed to have the Senate take up the measure that the House passed … after [House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy] agreed that in the near future, the House would ‘expeditiously consider and pass enhancements’ to the North Korea portion of the bill. ... In addition to codifying and enhancing existing sanctions against Moscow, the legislation requires the president to notify Congress whenever he wants to change Russia sanctions policy. That notification then triggers a 30-day period in which Congress can vote to prevent the president from easing punitive measures against Moscow.”

-- How it's playing in Moscow: “Senior Russian officials and lawmakers on Wednesday attacked new financial sanctions passed by the [House], saying they ended hopes for the detente between Moscow and Washington that [Trump] promised during his campaign,” Andrew Roth reports. “The sanctions passage cemented views in Moscow that Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency has provided few deliverables for the Kremlin and that the American president is being held hostage by a foreign policy establishment that seeks conflict with Russia. The sanctions also may prove to be an inflection point. Even for a relationship characterized by saber-rattling and dire predictions, the Russian response was notably stark. ‘Washington is a source of danger,’ said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov … ‘Essentially, the possibilities for normalization of relations in the foreseeable future are closed.’ Others said that Russia should finally expel several dozen U.S. diplomats, ending a hopeful period in Moscow that Trump would reverse [Obama’s decision] to expel 35 diplomats and seize two diplomatic compounds …"

-- “The Department of Justice has identified a former business associate of ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as an ‘upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,’” NBC News’ Tom Winter reports: “The declaration came in a 115-page filing as part of the government's case against Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was once involved in a failed multimillion-dollar deal to buy New York's Drake Hotel with Manafort, and an important player in the Ukrainian political party for which Manafort worked. Firtash is being prosecuted for what federal prosecutors in Chicago say was his role in bribing Indian officials in order to get a lucrative mining deal to sell titanium to Boeing."

-- Republicans successfully shifted a Democratic request for information on Trump’s firing of Jim Comey — to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. David Weigel reports: “Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to request documents about former FBI director James B. Comey’s conversations with the Obama administration and journalists, amending and replacing a Democratic resolution that was designed to obtain documents about Comey’s firing by President Trump. … In a heated markup, [Rep. Pramila] Jayapal and other committee Democrats expressed amazement that Republicans wanted to resurrect questions about the defeated Clinton campaign. … But over several hours, the drama and farce of the 2016 campaign — and even Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment — played out again between Judiciary members. … But the amendment passed, and the altered resolution passed on a 16-13 partisan vote, giving it a chance to be approved by the House.”


-- The White House is eyeing a narrow, short-term tax cut if Trump’s broader overhaul falters and could begin pursuing the effort early as September. Damian Paletta reports: “The top advocates for the targeted tax cut have been Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore, who were both top economic advisers during Trump’s campaign and remain in frequent contact with officials in the West Wing. Kudlow met with top NEC staffers two weeks ago and also had a private meeting with Trump, in which he urged them to consider pursuing tax cuts this year if they are unable to marshal agreement on a broader change to the tax code. Kudlow and Moore have been pitching a plan they call ‘Three Easy Pieces,’ which would — for 10 years — cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, double the standardized deduction that millions of Americans claim in their taxes, and allow companies to bring money back from overseas without a significant tax penalty.”

But that plan is being met with resistance from National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who are spearheading a more comprehensive overhaul. Congressional leaders are expected to unveil some details of that strategy this week. But, Politico reports, there's still considerable dissension within the administration, led by top White House tax staffer Shahira Knight.

-- The NAACP issued a report stating its opposition to school choice, which has been backed by Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Emma Brown reports: “Education for black students in the United States has long been unequal and inadequate, but the solution to that problem does not lie in the school choice movement, NAACP leaders said at the organization’s national conference Wednesday. … The report comes as the Trump administration has put expanding school choice at the center of its education agenda, and a year after the NAACP — long skeptical of charter schools — dove headlong into the education policy fight with a resolution supporting a moratorium on new charter schools.” (Incidentally, the White House announced yesterday that Trump was donating his second-quarter salary to DeVos's Education Department).

-- Trump has said that he wants to privatize air-traffic control, but it looks like the issue will remain unresolved before the August recess. Ashley Halsey III reports: “House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) had hoped to find both the necessary votes and time on the House floor for consideration of a bill that would spin the nation’s air traffic controllers and thousands of people working on modernizing the aviation system into a private nonprofit corporation. But in the maelstrom of last-minute action before the House heads home Friday, the bill has not been scheduled for what was expected to be a contentious debate on the floor. The proposal still faces bipartisan opposition in the Senate. … Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. … If the two houses remain at loggerheads, the likely result will be the second extension of FAA funding at current levels in as many years.”


-- “David J. Apol, named by [Trump] last week as the new head of the Office of Government Ethics, has repeatedly clashed with colleagues over his career at the agency as he sought to roll back or loosen ethics requirements on federal employees, including those in the White House,” the New York Times’s Eric Lipton reports: “Mr. Apol’s former colleagues praised his intelligence and his experience as a federal government ethics lawyer at a half-dozen different agencies, including the White House, over three decades. But the tension has been building for at least a decade, during two stints Mr. Apol served at the Office of Government Ethics, his former colleagues said. Mr. Apol has argued that the agency is often too rigid in interpreting conflict-of-interest laws … One early test for Mr. Apol could be a decision he must make on Anthony Scaramucci, [who is seeking] a tax break that will help him save tens of millions of dollars when he sells his stake in the investment firm SkyBridge Capital.”

-- “The head of the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau has resigned and will leave his post on Thursday, leaving the two top positions vacant for the foreseeable future in the bureau in charge of embassy security around the world,” Josh Rogin reports. “Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Bill Miller announced his resignation and retirement [on] July 19 … His last day of service will be July 27. Miller has been the top official in the Diplomatic Security Service since January, when the Senate-confirmed assistant secretary Gregory Starr was asked to resign [after Trump’s inauguration] … along with a host of other senior State Department officials.”

-- Sean Spicer could be pursuing a future in television. Page Six reports: “[Spicer] was seen coming out of high-level meetings at ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News in Manhattan ... A source told us some news execs ‘made the full-court press’ as they competed to woo the high-profile spokesman — who brought in solid ratings and plenty of late-night fodder … But there’s also speculation 45-year-old Spicer’s next stop could be showing off some spicy dance moves on ABC’s ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

THE ROAD TO 2018:                                    

-- The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican PAC backed by Paul Ryan, is already at work for the midterms. David Weigel reports: “The CLF’s multimillion-dollar campaign, unfolding this year in 20 targeted districts and expanding next year to 30, is an ambitious bet that the Republican House majority can be spared from midterm backlash over President Trump. If it works, each endangered Republican will be reintroduced to voters as a post-partisan who delivers on their key issues; each Democratic challenger will be framed as a vote for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to snatch back the speaker’s gavel while empowering an anti-Trump ‘resistance’ that only wants to wreck the country.”

-- Sen. Jeff Flake (R), who could face a difficult re-election in Arizona next year, has taken a less conventional path to bolster his candidacy. NYT's Alexander Burns reports: “Working privately, and largely without the knowledge of political advisers, he has written a book that amounts to an ideological manifesto for his own version of conservatism, according to three people briefed on the manuscript who discussed it on the condition of anonymity. All three said it was likely to inflame debate about the direction of the Republican Party. In his writing, Mr. Flake draws a bright-line distinction between his outlook on government and a competing vision, associated with Mr. Trump, that Mr. Flake describes as nationalist and populist in nature, the people said.”

-- Indiana Rep. Luke Messer (R) announced that he would challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) bid next year. AP reports: Messer “took to Twitter to make the announcement. ‘We're in,’ he wrote in a post that also featured a campaign slogan: ‘I Like Luke.’ … But already the GOP primary is shaping up to be a brutal affair that could lead to months of Republicans fighting each other more than the incumbent Donnelly. Messer and fellow GOP Rep. Todd Rokita — who is also preparing a bid — for weeks have traded insults and accusations, with both suggesting that the other is ‘unhinged.’”

-- Democrats have not been faring well in recent special elections, which are often read for signs of what’s to come in the next midterms. But they caught a break in a state-level race on Tuesday, when Kevin Cavanaugh became the first Democrat to win a New Hampshire Senate special election since February 1984, according to the state party. (AP)


Trump's transgender ban was hotly debated on Twitter.

Giving credence to concerns that it was nothing more than a base play, the president's Instagram account posted this video later in the day:

This is what Trump tweeted just over a year ago, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando:

The president's daughter and senior adviser voiced her support of the LGBT community just last month, on the first day of Pride Month:

(So much for the phony narrative that Ivanka moderates him...)

Trump's ban elicited broad condemnation from LGBT activists and celebrities:

Barack Obama’s former national security adviser responded to DeGeneres’s tweet:

Joe Biden weighed in too:

From the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League:

From a Post opinion writer:

From the Weekly Standard editor:

Trump’s continuing taunts of his attorney general caught the attention of two White House reporters:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a smart point about Trump's weird Twitter attacks on Sessions: 

Former speaker John Boehner doesn't seem to miss the House too much:

A presidential pair reunited:

As incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced difficult questions on the transgender ban, her new boss revived the joke he made about makeup:

A Time editor replied with this observation:


-- Washingtonian, “Eric Cantor: ‘If You’ve Got That Anger Working for You, You’re Gonna Let It Be,’” by Elaina Plott: “If [former Speaker John] Boehner’s current profile is accurate — the warden held hostage by his own inmates, free at last — Cantor’s is the opposite, the second-in-command consumed by his role in making the Republican Party feel like a prison to begin with. What’s strange is that for all his clear-eyed ruminations about where he helped steer the party establishment wrong, he seems to believe that doing more of the same is all it’ll take to get it back on track.”

-- CNN, “Matt Drudge is firing warning shots at Trump, and that should worry the president,” by Oliver Darcy: “The internet news tycoon, who founded and edits the Drudge Report, the narrative-setting conservative news website, has been one of Trump's most ardent supporters since Trump announced his candidacy. … But Drudge is blindly loyal to no one — which could, ultimately, make him as dangerous to this White House as he has been helpful to it.”

-- Rolling Stone, “Justin Trudeau: The North Star,” by Stephen Rodrick: “He talks about steps taken to deal with the opioid crisis and mentions the country's dropping unemployment rate. He uses the original Clintonian recipe on the crowd: ‘We're focused on getting people into good careers and helping families get ahead and stay ahead,’ he says. ‘But we know there's more hard work in front of us than there is behind us.’ Then he gives the press corps a high-five. ‘The back and forth between the press and government is essential to any good democracy,’ he says. ‘[So] thank you all for your tireless work.’ … Where are we? Narnia? Coachella recovery tent? 2009? We are in Ottawa, Ontario, a mere 560 miles from Washington, D.C.Justin Trudeau is trying to Make Canada Great Again. He is using, let us say, different methods.”


“A Democrat Is Proposing A Constitutional Amendment To Ban Presidents From Pardoning Themselves,” from BuzzFeed News: “On Thursday morning, Rep. Al Green will propose a constitutional amendment that would explicitly bar the president from granting himself a pardon. ‘Nobody wants to see that,’ the Texas Democrat told BuzzFeed News. ‘Bigger than the current president, this is for all presidents. If we can't stop one, we'll stop the rest.’ Green said on Wednesday evening that he doesn’t think such an amendment is needed — he thinks the Constitution doesn’t allow such a self-pardon. But he’s laying the groundwork to try to pass an amendment like this, should it become necessary.”



“Kid Rock tables US Senate run, stresses voter registration,” from Fox News: “Musician Robert James Ritchie (aka Kid Rock) left his fans, as well as political junkies, guessing Wednesday about whether he will actually run for a U.S. Senate seat in his home state of Michigan[.] … In a statement released on his website,, the rocker announced a new initiative to create a ‘non-profit organization for the promotion of voter registration,’ while he continues to explore the idea of challenging incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, in 2018. … Rock added he will hold a news conference in roughly six weeks ‘to address this issue amongst others, and if I decide to throw my hat in the ring for US Senate, believe me … it’s game on m***********.’”



Trump will participate in an afternoon ceremony recognizing the first responders to the shooting in Alexandria, Va., last month.

Pence has a morning speech to National Federation of Independent Business before joining Trump for the ceremony. He will then swear in the U.S.’s new ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty.


Republican Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) on Trump’s tweet criticizing Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her “no” vote on the motion to proceed with health-care legislation: “I think it’s perfectly fair. Let me tell you, somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their a**."



-- We should avoid rain in D.C. today, but tomorrow could include heavy showers. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “The morning [today] should be partly sunny with a light south breeze leading to a bit more humidity. Clouds become more numerous as the afternoon progresses and there is a slight chance for isolated storms late in the day. Highs top out in the mid-to-upper 80s.”

-- The Nationals rebounded from their Tuesday defeat to beat the Brewers 8-5. (Jorge Castillo)

 -- Protesters demonstrated in front of the White House to oppose Trump’s ban on transgender troops. Perry Stein reports: “They carried anti-Trump signs and faced the White House as they chanted ‘Trans rights are human rights.’ ‘As a military spouse, I urge our leaders to protect trans troops,’ one sign read.”

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that Matthew Clark will serve as his new chief of staff. Clark was Hogan’s communications director for the first 18 months of his term. (Ovetta Wiggins)


Jimmy Fallon invited transgender comedian Patti Harrison onto "The Tonight Show" to get her thoughts on Trump’s ban of transgender troops:

Rex Tillerson said in an appearance with the Qatari foreign minister that he’s “not going anywhere":

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was "not going anywhere," denying news reports that he was considering leaving his post. (Video: Reuters)

Trump supporters in Youngstown, Ohio, predicted Obamacare’s demise:

Trump supporters at a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25, rallied behind the idea of repealing Obamacare, but remained divided on how to replace it. (Video: Reuters)

Energy Secretary Rick Perry was prank called by two Russian tricksters, but the event is far from his first “oops” moment:

Two Russians prank called Energy Secretary Rick Perry and made him believe he was talking to Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. This isn't Perry's first 'oops' moment. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

And Rihanna met the president of France:

French President Macron invited pop star Rihanna to the presidential palace in Paris to discuss the singer's charity work. (Video: Reuters)