with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: John F. Kelly’s first move as White House chief of staff — firing communications director Anthony Scaramucci — validated President Trump’s decision to elevate him. The 67-year-old retired Marine general showed that he’s no nonsense, and the alpha male in the Oval Office surely appreciated the early show of strength.

“Trump’s willingness to dismiss Scaramucci — whom he hired just 10 days ago — was viewed by many in the West Wing as an indication that he is eager to impose order and is giving Kelly the tools to do so,” Abby Phillip, John Wagner and Damian Paletta report. “Removing him from the communications post is part of an effort to change the culture of the White House.”

It makes sense that Kelly axing someone as colorful as The Mooch would get the lion’s share of attention, but three other stories that came out in the past 24 hours also foreshadow what kind of chief he’ll be:

1. “A hint of Kelly’s potential influence on Trump emerged two weeks ago, in Aspen, Colorado, when Kelly made a startling revelation,” writes the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, the reporter who found himself on the receiving end of one of Scaramucci’s profanity-laced tirades last week: “According to several sources who attended a private briefing that included some of the nation’s most senior current and former national-security officials, Kelly sought to ease their minds about one of the most controversial and famous Trump proposals: the border wall with Mexico. Kelly explained that he had spent a great deal of time talking through the issue with Trump, and he believed he had convinced the President that he didn’t actually need to build a physical wall … To the officials in the room, it was a fascinating admission. Kelly seemed to be suggesting that he was one of the few people who might be able to tame Trump and get him to back off some of his most cartoonish policy ideas, even the ones that were core campaign promises.”

2. Kelly was so upset with how Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that he called Comey to say he was considering resigning, CNN reports: “Comey, who took Kelly's call while traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington, responded to Kelly by telling him not to resign … (Two) sources said Comey and Kelly are not close friends but that they had a professional relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other. … ‘John was angry and hurt by what he saw and the way (Comey) was treated,’ one of the sources said.”

3. Kelly is already making overtures to Democrats, per the Daily Beast: “Even before he formally started the job, Kelly was reaching out to top Capitol Hill Democrats in hopes of regaining political capital ahead of what is expected to be a bruising fight over tax reform and other administration priorities. ‘Tax reform is gonna be a heavy lift,’ a senior White House official [said]. ‘No reason to write off/alienate [Democrats] any more than we already have.’ A spokeswoman for … Nancy Pelosi [said] that Kelly reached out her over the weekend with the two holding a phone conversation on Sunday. A spokesman for … Chuck Schumer … confirmed that Kelly reached out to him as well.”


-- The new chief of staff gave a fascinating 90-minute interview last July to Foreign Policy’s Molly O’Toole, in which he decried “the cesspool of domestic politics.” At a moment when Michael Flynn was being mentioned as a possible running mate for Trump, the recently retired general warned former brass to avoid wading into the 2016 campaign. “To join in the political fray, I don’t think it convinces anyone,” he said. “It just becomes a talking point on CNN.”

“He said Clinton and Trump ‘are not serious yet about the issues’ and speak only in generalities when it comes to complex topics ranging from combating the Islamic State to handling the Syrian refugee crisis. The campaigns ‘don’t reflect reality.’ Kelly said he’d be willing to serve in either a Trump or Clinton White House but didn’t endorse either. Whomever wins, he added, ‘will be in desperate need — and I mean desperate need — of military and foreign policy advice, because the world out there is just getting crazier and crazier.’ …

“The retired general said the anti-Islamic State fight will continue long after Obama — and probably his successor — leaves office, a grim reality that neither Clinton nor Trump seems eager to openly discuss. ‘You’re not going to win this thing by dropping bombs on these people,’ he said, adding that neither presidential candidate was willing to acknowledge that the sustained ‘victory’ they promise would likely require a large number of U.S. and coalition troops deployed to Iraq for decades to come.”


-- Republican consultant Blain Rethmeier recalls a quote from Kelly during his confirmation hearing to run DHS: “I have never had a problem speaking truth to power, and I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations.”

“One reason the general's success can be expected to be repeated at the White House is his understanding of Sun Tzu's observation that ‘a leader leads by example — not by force,’” Rethmeier, who helped prepare Kelly for his hearing as a so-called sherpa, writes in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner. “He didn't mince words at his confirmation hearings in questioning the viability of the border wall or the wisdom of a complete Muslim ban, or in stressing the important role good relationships with Muslim clerics played in Iraq. I am convinced that Kelly will patiently explain to the president that he cannot go on undermining his own most loyal supporters in tweets (a la Attorney General Jeff Sessions), leaving the heavy lifting to others in achieving policy goals (Obamacare repeal), or allow open feuding among members of his leadership team. And he will insist on the power to ensure appropriate procedures are put in place to rein in the madness.”

-- “As a former White House chief of staff, the best advice I could have given [Kelly] has been overtaken by events: Don’t take the job,” quips John Podesta, who held top positions in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, in an op-ed for today’s paper. “Kelly, who has rendered extraordinary service and sacrifice to the nation, just signed up for what may truly be an impossible mission … To have any chance of succeeding, he will have to accomplish three extraordinary tasks, all at odds with President Trump’s instincts. First, discipline. … Kelly’s second task will be to restore strategic direction to Trump’s haphazard policy-making process. … Kelly’s third task might be the hardest. He has to protect the integrity and independence of the Justice Department and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation from constant interference by the president and the White House …

“The truth is that the president needs Kelly more than Kelly needs him,” argues Podesta, who was chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Trump simply cannot afford to have Kelly walk without disastrous consequences. The new chief of staff should use that power to restore discipline and dignity to a White House sorely in need of both.”

-- “In his 40 years in the military, Kelly developed a reputation for bluntness that won him the respect of his fellow Marines and sometimes grated on senior officials in the Obama administration,” Greg Jaffe and Andrew deGrandpre wrote in a profile over the weekend. “He is best known in Washington as an experienced battlefield commander who led U.S. troops in Iraq and lost a son in Afghanistan in 2010 to a Taliban bomb. But the most relevant experience he will bring to the chief of staff job is a tour as senior military adviser to Defense Secretaries Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta in the Pentagon. The job demanded Kelly act as a disciplinarian, pressing to make sure the military service chiefs and the sprawling Pentagon bureaucracy were executing the defense secretary’s agenda …

“As a four-star general, Kelly was frequently at odds with the Obama White House. He spoke out forcefully on issues including Obama’s plan to shutter the prison complex in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the perceived vulnerability of America’s borders. At a time when the Obama administration was trying to wind down America’s wars and calm fears of a terrorist attack, Kelly often spoke of the threat posed by groups like the Taliban in dire terms. … In charge of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly oversaw the military detention center at (Gitmo). His weekly updates on the prison, which were blasted out to dozens of White House and Pentagon officials, became well known for their candor. ‘His vernacular wasn’t the typical government prose,’ said one former White House official. ‘He would call out some of the military commission judges, saying that they had no idea what they were doing.’”

-- At DHS, Kelly has demonstrated that he can be combative with lawmakers: Speaking in April at George Washington University, he said that congressional critics of the Department of Homeland Security should “shut up’’ and assume the agency is acting appropriately and following the law. “If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Kelly said. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.” Watch:


-- “General Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House, and all staff will report to him,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

-- It seems inevitable, though, that palace intrigue will continue, and that Trump’s kids will balk sooner than later at going through an intermediary to get to their dad. From Abby Phillip, John Wagner and Damian Paletta: “In one of the strongest indications that Kelly will have greater authority than his predecessor, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — both of whom advocated for Kelly to be hired — have expressed their willingness to support any structural changes Kelly might make … Sanders confirmed that they, too, will report to Kelly, as will all other officials. But Kelly is planning to bring at least one senior adviser from the Department of Homeland Security with him to the White House. There are signs that these new hires may be met with a chilly reception, two people familiar with the matter said, raising questions about who will hold influence in a White House overloaded with aides competing for influence. … Ivanka Trump and Kushner were instrumental in bringing Scaramucci into the White House in large part to oust (Reince) Priebus, who led the establishment wing. After Scaramucci’s explosive interview with the New Yorker … they soured on him and were supportive of Kelly’s efforts to oust him.”

-- “The president gave Mr. Priebus many of the same assurances of control, and then proceeded to undercut and ignore him — to the point where Mr. Priebus often positioned himself at the door of the Oval Office to find out whom the president was talking to,” Michael Shear, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman note on the front page of today’s New York Times. “Mr. Scaramucci’s fall and Mr. Kelly’s rise highlighted the diminished but still important role in shaping the West Wing played by (Ivanka and Jared) … Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner had hoped to persuade Mr. Trump to appoint Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser, as chief of staff. Mr. Trump, who likes Ms. Powell, considered doing so …

“For the time being, the White House may leave the communications director post open … though Mr. Kelly has the latitude from Mr. Trump to fill the post with someone from the Department of Homeland Security. Two perennial candidates to fill the post are Kellyanne Conway, a White House senior adviser and the president’s former campaign manager, and Jason Miller, who held the communications post during the campaign. Mr. Trump has long wanted to bring Mr. Miller, who serves as an informal adviser, into the administration.”

-- Given the origins of the role under Dwight D. Eisenhower, does a military background make one more likely to be a successful chief of staff? Chris Whipple spent five years interviewing 17 former White House chiefs of staff for his book about the history of the position (“The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency”): “I’ve spoken to a few former White House chiefs who have not heard from him, interestingly, which is not a good sign,” he told Amy B Wang. “Most incoming White House chiefs would be working the phones to their predecessors and it doesn’t sound like he’s doing that. The last time we had a general as chief of staff, it didn’t end well. Al Haig [who served as chief of staff under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford] lasted little more than a month under Ford. The history here of generals as White House chiefs is not very encouraging.” (Read an extended Q&A with Whipple here.)

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-- Post columnist Dana Milbank describes Scaramucci’s termination as a “fall of biblical proportions.” He said the day he was hired that Priebus was like a brother to him. Then he clarified that they might be more like the brothers Cain and Abel. “Scaramucci’s retelling of Genesis had a twist: It was a murder-suicide,” Dana writes. “Priebus’s Abel was indeed slain by Scaramucci’s Cain … But Cain met the same fate Monday afternoon. … He wasn’t officially supposed to start until Aug. 15, so his tenure, technically, was minus 16 days. … The Mooch’s tenure was such a whirlwind that it’s tempting to describe them as Ten Days That Changed the World. But the Mooch didn’t really change anything. He just made everything wildly entertaining.”

-- “With the benefit of a few more days, it’s now clear that the better analogy comes not from the Bible but from Sophocles’ Antigone, and the cases of Eteocles and Polyneices — mutual fratricides, killed on the battlefield of a civil war,” the Atlantic’s David A. Graham writes.

-- Fun fact: Scaramucci is actually not the shortest serving White House communications director ever. In 1987, Ronald Reagan’s communications director John O. Koehler offered his resignation six days after beginning in the role due to revelations that he had been a member of a Nazi youth group as a child. (Alex Horton on Retropolis)

-- Insult to injury: Scaramucci is listed as deceased in a new Harvard Law School alumni directory, which arrived in mailboxes last week. “An asterisk by the 1989 graduate’s name indicates that he was reported dead since the last directory, which was published in 2011,” the Reliable Source's Emily Heil reports.

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-- President Trump personally dictated his son's misleading statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Tom Hamburger scoop: “On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril. The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged. But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed. Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had ‘primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children’ when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. ...

“Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to (Hope) Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions …

“As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a coverup. 'This was … unnecessary,' said one of the president’s advisers. 'Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.'

“Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired. ‘He refuses to sit still,’ the presidential adviser said. ‘He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.’”

“Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of [Valerie Plame’s] identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One. Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said. ‘The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,’ Zeidenberg said. ‘They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem. … What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.'" (Read the full story.)

-- The news presents a major problem for Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow, who repeatedly denied that the president played any role in crafting the statement. (Aaron Blake)

-- Jared Kushner told a group of congressional interns Monday that Trump’s team could not have colluded with Russia because they were too disorganized to do so. They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices,” the president's son-in-law and senior adviser said during a private talk. He also downplayed his failure to report more than 100 instances of foreign travel and contacts with foreign officials on his security clearance forms. “Make sure you guys keep track of where you travel,” he advised the interns. (Foreign Policy)

-- Kushner may have a point: “A self-described 'email prankster' in the UK fooled a number of White House officials into thinking he was other officials, including an episode where he convinced the White House official tasked with cyber security that he was [Kushner] and received that official's private email address unsolicited,” reports CNN's Jake Tapper. “White House officials acknowledged the incidents and said they were taking the matter seriously. 'We take all cyber related issues very seriously and are looking into these incidents further,' White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN."

-- “Another conservative House lawmaker is calling for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to resign,” Karoun Demirjian reports. “Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a staunch conservative and one of the more senior members of the House Judiciary Committee, argued that Mueller and former FBI director James Comey have ‘a close friendship’ and that thus, Mueller ‘appears to be a partisan arbiter of justice.’ Franks also criticized Mueller for bringing individuals to his team who donated to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which he called ‘obviously deliberate partisan hirings’ that ‘do not help convey impartiality.’ ‘Until Mueller resigns, he will be in clear violation of the law,’ Franks concluded.”

-- RNC employees have been instructed to preserve all documents related to the 2016 campaign. A memo delivered to employees said the committee “has not been contacted regarding any of the ongoing investigations, and there is no specific reason to believe we will be:” “Nonetheless, we have an obligation to keep potentially relevant documents … Serious consequences will result for anyone who fails to comply with this obligation.” (BuzzFeed)


  1. Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, was convicted of criminal contempt. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the 85-year-old had shown “flagrant disregard” for a judge who ordered him to halt his signature immigration roundups. Arpaio’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5, and he could face up to six months in prison. (The Arizona Republic)
  2. Corey Lewandowski has been fired from the pro-Trump cable channel One America News Network. Trump’s former campaign manager reportedly angered OANN’s management by frequently appearing on other networks. (The Daily Beast)

  3. U.S. Capitol Police are investigating why their elite tactical team responded to the wrong location last month after a gunman opened fire at Republicans' congressional baseball practice. Rather than being directed to Alexandria, Va., the team was first sent to Nancy Pelosi’s house in Georgetown. (Bloomberg)
  4. Trump awarded his first Medal of Honor to former combat medic James McCloughan for his service during the Vietnam War. McCloughan was credited with saving the lives of 10 fellow soldiers during a vicious 48-hour battle in Tam Ky -- running repeatedly into kill zones during close combat fighting, and refusing medical evacuation after suffering wounds from shrapnel and small-arms fire. (Andrew deGrandpre)
  5. Los Angeles reached a deal to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. The deal also paves the way for Paris to host the 2024 Games. (LA Times)

  6. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro mocked Trump after the administration placed sanctions on Maduro for his questionable election. “I don't take orders from the empire,” the Venezuelan leader said. “Keep up your sanctions, Donald Trump!” He also criticized Trump for not winning the popular vote in November. (Reuters)

  7. WikiLeaks released over 70,000 emails related to French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent campaign. Although the emails contained no immediate bombshells, they once again raised fears of cyberattacks in upcoming European elections. (James McAuley)

  8. The mayor of Nashville’s son has died of an apparent overdose. Megan Barry announced that her 22-year-old son, Max, died while in Denver. (Fred Barbash)
  9. A U.S. appeals court in Washington ordered the FAA to investigate shrinking airline seats, upbraiding the agency for dismissing complaints that smaller seat sizes could pose a problem — or even a danger — to passengers. (Avi Selk)
  10. The airline easyJet is in damage control mode, after an infant-carrying man went to complain about a 13-hour flight delay — and was punched in the face by an airport employee. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  11. Amazon said it is under federal investigation for possibly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. In an SEC filing, the online giant said it delivered products to an Iranian embassy, as well as to others with links to the Iranian government, between 2012 and 2017. Amazon said it has “voluntarily reported” those transactions, and that the review could lead to “the imposition of penalties.” (Abha Bhattarai)
  12. A manhunt is underway in Alabama for an inmate who escaped with 12 other men in a mass jailbreak this weekend. Authorities said the 24-year-old and his fellow detainees escaped the facility using peanut butter. (Kristine Phillips)
  13. Sam Shepherd died at age 73. Shepherd wrote nearly 50 plays and starred in a wide range of films over the course of his prolific career. (Peter Marks)


-- Despite the president’s public insistence that Senate Republicans pass a health-care revamp, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is eager to move on to other things. Sean Sullivan reports: “One after another on Monday, top GOP senators said that with no evidence of a plan that could get 50 votes, they were looking for other victories. 'We’ve had our vote, and we’re moving on to tax reform,’ said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of [McConnell’s] top lieutenants … McConnell did not address health care in his remarks opening Senate business on Monday afternoon. … Some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers have used the collapse of repeal-and-replace to offer new fixes and improvements to health care, but there was no sign their leaders were engaged. A growing number of Republican lawmakers have raised the prospect of working with Democrats on health care.”

A bipartisan group of House centrists released a plan Monday that they argued would help to stabilize the insurance markets: “[But] House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did not champion the plan. … After Friday’s vote, some Democrats have felt more empowered to talk about changes to the Affordable Care Act. … Getting health-care legislation backed only by Republicans to Trump’s desk by the end of August is all but impossible, even if they suddenly put aside their disagreements.”

-- Meanwhile, the Senate's top Democrat Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said yesterday that he has heard from ten of his Republican colleagues interested  in a bipartisan solution. Politico’s Jimmy Vielkind reports: “Schumer said he was ‘all for’ the concept of [the bill proposed by House centrists] that would mandate roughly $7 billion in federal cost-sharing subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for poor consumers. Schumer, the Senate's minority leader, said he wasn’t sure whether legislation would emerge in a big bill or take several steps.”

-- One of the Senate’s top Republicans publicly doubted the party is capable of revisiting an overhaul. Susan Cornwell, of Reuters, reports: “Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said on Monday that senators for now are too divided to keep working on healthcare overhaul legislation and that he and other senior Republicans will take that message to the White House. … ‘There's just too much animosity and we're too divided on healthcare,’ Hatch said[.] … The senator said he saw no real desire on the part of Democrats to work together on the healthcare issue ‘and I have to say some Republicans are at fault there, too.’ … Hatch said lawmakers would need to appropriate the cost-sharing subsidy payments that the administration has been making.”

-- “Rand Paul said he spoke to [Trump] by phone about healthcare reform on Monday and told the president he thought Trump had the authority to create associations that would allow organizations to offer group health insurance plans,” Reuters adds. Paul “told reporters that Trump was considering taking some form of executive action to address problems with the healthcare system[.] … Allowing groups like AARP, which represents retirees, to form health associations could enable individuals and small businesses to form larger groups to negotiate with health insurance companies for lower rates.”

-- Despite Trump’s warnings that Obamacare is collapsing, the system seems to be showing signs of improvement. The Toledo Blade’s Lauren Lindstrom reports: “Five health-insurance companies have stepped in to offer plans on the federal exchange in 19 of the 20 Ohio counties that otherwise would have had no marketplace options for 2018, state officials announced Monday. Paulding County in northwest Ohio is now the only county in the state without at least one insurer offering plans through the insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act[.] … The move by the insurance companies affects an estimated 11,000 Ohioans in the 19 counties who purchase a plan through the exchange ... "

-- A leading pro-Trump super PACs has been eerily silent on health care. Henry J. Gomez, of BuzzFeed, reports: “Making America Great, the political nonprofit formed by Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer to promote [Trump’s] agenda, isn’t making any noise. … The group has been absent from television airwaves and Twitter. … [Earlier this year,] [t]he new Mercer-backed group quickly spent more than $1 million on ads, including a digital spot that urged senators to back Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation, which nearly four months later stands as Trump’s biggest achievement. Since then, the group hasn’t provided noticeable backup to Trump.”


-- Mike Pence twice delivered a stern rebuke of Russia during his first full day in Eastern Europe, warning in a speech and a news conference alongside Baltic leaders that the United States will not tolerate Russian force or intimidation. Ashley Parker reports: “Under [Trump], the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies,” Pence said. “To be clear, we hope for better days, for better relations with Russia, but recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies, and the security of freedom loving nations around the world.” 

“Though Pence said he was delivering a message directly from Trump, his stern remarks at times were far more forceful than those of his [boss],” Parker notes. “The vice president also — and perhaps optimistically, in the face of Russia’s retaliatory gesture — held out the prospect of what he called ‘a constructive relationship with Russia, based on cooperation on common interests.’ ‘Trump has made it clear: America is open to a better relationship,’ Pence said. ‘But the president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia — a better relationship, and the lifting of sanctions, will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused the sanctions to be imposed in the first place.’”

-- “President Trump said nothing Monday in response to Russia’s planned expulsion of hundreds of American diplomats,” Karen DeYoung reports. “‘Right now we’re reviewing our options, and when we have something to say on it, we’ll let you know,’ White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday ... Whatever Trump decides to do in response, the fast-moving series of events appeared to leave the administration with no substantive Russia policy and without a clear idea of what direction to take. … Putin’s spokesman indicated that Trump was irrelevant to the Kremlin’s decision to retaliate before the new sanctions bill took effect.”

-- NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar explains how the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will be affected: “Given the continuing deterioration in relations between the two countries, core functions like political and military analysis will be preserved, along with espionage, experts said, while programs that involve cooperation on everything from trade to culture to science are likely to be reduced or eliminated. … The other area expected to take a heavy hit will be public services, like issuing visas to Russian travelers to the United States, which is likely to slow to a glacial pace.”

-- PUTIN RAMPING UP IN BELARUS: “Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by [Vladimir Putin], and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War,” the NYT’s Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt report: “The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, [in] Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The military exercise, planned for many months … is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Even more worrying, top American military officers say, is that the maneuvers could be used as a pretext to increase Russia’s military presence in Belarus, a central European nation that borders three critical NATO allies: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.”

-- As Ukraine faces off against Russia-backed separatists, “[the] Pentagon and State Department have devised plans to supply it with antitank missiles and other weaponry and are seeking White House approval,” the Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes, Laurence Norman and Felicia Schwartz report. “American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government. … Some U.S. and Ukrainian officials said they expect it could be months before the White House makes a final determination.”


-- The State Department may be moving away from the promotion of democracy as a part of its mission. Josh Rogin writes: “Rex Tillerson has ordered his department to redefine its mission and issue a new statement of purpose to the world. … The State Department’s draft statement on its mission is: ‘Lead America’s foreign policy through global advocacy, action and assistance to shape a safer, more prosperous world.’ … Compare that to the State Department Mission Statement that is currently on the books[:] ‘The Department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.’ … Former senior State Department officials from both parties told me that eliminating ‘just’ and ‘democratic’ from the State Department’s list of desired outcomes is neither accidental nor inconsequential.

-- White House officials are counting on an aggressive timetable to enact an overhaul of the tax code. Politico’s Aaron Lorenzo reports: “The White House expects tax reform legislation to move quickly through Congress this fall, advancing through the House in October and clearing the Senate in November, legislative director Marc Short said Monday. Markups will begin in September, Short said at an event hosted by a pair of conservative political groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers[.] … Republicans are planning to use special instructions in the budget to pass tax reform with a simple majority in the Senate to short circuit a Democratic filibuster. But Short also suggested a Republican-only pathway isn’t completely necessary. Some Democrats might get on board, particularly those up for reelection next year in states Trump carried, he said.”

-- A U.S. judge is slated to hear a challenge to Trump’s voting commission today to determine whether a Watergate-era law bars the group from accessing voter records. The court could ask for a temporary restraining order as early as Tuesday. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “The action marks the latest attempt by opponents to block the commission’s request for the voting information of more than 150 million registered voters. State leaders from both parties have voiced objections to the effort’s potential to reveal personal information, suppress voter participation and encroach on states’ oversight of voting laws.”

  • But the commission continues to hit roadblocks, even among its own members. Portland Press Herald’s Scott Thistle reports: “Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday that he is unlikely to release any state voter registration data to the federal voter fraud commission to which he was appointed by President Trump. Dunlap said he will reject a second request for the data from the commission’s vice chairman ... "

-- An inaugural report from the White House opioid commission is urging Trump to “declare a national emergency” on drug overdoses in the United States. Christopher Ingraham reports: “'With approximately 142 Americans dying every day,’ the report notes, ‘America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.’ The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, states that the goals of such a declaration would be to ‘force Congress to focus on funding’ and to ‘awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.’” The commission’s report also includes a number of recommendations to deal with the ballooning opioid epidemic, such as expanding capacity for drug treatment under Medicaid, increasing use of medication-assisted treatments for opioid disorders, and mandating that local law enforcement officers carry naloxone.

-- The Trump administration is now reportedly considering a decrease in Afghanistan troop levels even as Pentagon officials push for a surge. The Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum reports: “Unable to agree on a plan to send up to 3,900 more American forces to help turn back Taliban advances in Afghanistan, the White House is taking a new look at what would happen if the U.S. decided to scale back its military presence instead, according to current and former Trump administration officials. … The exploration is an outgrowth of a deep divide at the White House, where the president and his top advisers are reluctant to send more American troops to Afghanistan without a clear strategy. … But the idea is anathema to American military leaders who have argued that the U.S. needs to send more troops to halt Taliban gains on the battlefield.”

-- “Law enforcement officials continue to sharply criticize President Trump for his comments last week suggesting that officers should not ‘be too nice’ with suspects in police custody,” reports Mark Berman. “The sustained criticism ballooned over the weekend as major department after major department weighed in against Trump’s remarks, a remarkable expression of disapproval for a president who has repeatedly proclaimed himself to be a champion of law enforcement. Even as the White House has argued that Trump was not being serious, police officials publicly and privately expressed dismay about his comments, saying that his remarks were dangerous, given the current climate of distrust between communities and the officers patrolling them.”


-- Politico Magazine, “My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump,” by Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake: “It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama’s legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. … To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial. … If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it. If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place? … So, where should Republicans go from here? First, we shouldn’t hesitate to speak out if the president ‘plays to the base’ in ways that damage the Republican Party’s ability to grow and speak to a larger audience.”

-- The Democrats’ House campaign chair said the party would not withhold funds from candidates who oppose abortion rights. The Hill’s Ben Kamisar and Reid Wilson report: “Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018 ... ‘As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.’ … ‘Throwing weight behind anti-choice candidates is bad politics that will lead to worse policy,’ said Mitchell Stille, who oversees campaigns for NARAL Pro-Choice America. ‘The idea that jettisoning this issue wins elections for Democrats is folly contradicted by all available data.’”

-- “Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) plans to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2018,” Politico’s Kevin Robillard reports. “Barletta, the former mayor of Hazelton and an early supporter of President Donald Trump, is an immigration hard-liner serving his fourth term in the House. Trump has publicly suggested that Barletta challenge either Casey or Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. … With this move, he becomes the biggest name in a large Republican field that has formed to challenge Casey.”

-- The ACLU is backing a campaign to end felon disenfranchisement in Florida by changing its state constitution through a 2018 ballot measure. David Weigel reports: “The voter restoration campaign is one of the most ambitious outgrowths of the ACLU’s ‘people power’ project, announced four months ago with a rally in Florida. … Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law, which first gained national attention after the 2000 presidential election, has remained in place under a series of Republican governors and state legislatures. Florida, Kentucky and Iowa are the only states where felony convictions permanently strip the offender of voting rights pending special clemency hearings.”

-- Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) appears to be trying to kill Republican Sen. Susan Collins’s possible 2018 gubernatorial bid before she’s even announced if she’s running. Bangor Daily News’s Michael Shepherd reports: “The governor railed against the moderate Republican senator at a Saturday pig roast … in Canaan, where an attendee said LePage repeatedly mentioned working to defeat Collins if she runs for governor next year. …  [Collins] has said she’d make a decision on running by the fall. Few in Maine politics are certain she’ll declare one besides LePage, who said in a Thursday radio interview that he thinks she’s planning on it. ‘If the Republican base — which is the 290,000 people that voted for me (in his 2014 re-election) — tell her, “We don’t want you; you’re not winning the primary,” she’ll back down,’ he said.”

-- Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana now has a formidable opponent in his reelection bid next year. The Hill’s Ben Kamisar reports: “Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale said Monday he would challenge [Tester], giving Republicans a top recruit in their effort to win a red-state Senate seat. Rosendale will enter a crowded GOP primary field but will be the only Republican in the race to hold a statewide office. … Rosendale announced his bid on Monday with a short video blasting Washington Democrats and touting his conservative chops. The video specifically touts Rosendale as a would-be ally to President Trump and Vice President Pence, making clear he would support the administration in a state Trump won by about 20 points in November.”


-- “Ryan Zinke, Trump's Cowboy Enforcer, Is Ready for His Closeup,” by Elaina Plott in GQ: “After the election, Zinke (a Republican congressman from Montana) was hosting his office Christmas party in Washington when he got the call [that Trump] wanted to see him in New York. [But when] Zinke and his wife, Lola, passed through the gilded doors of Trump Tower, he actually had no clue what position he was interviewing for ... And by the end of a rambling conversation with the president-elect, Zinke still wasn't entirely sure. ‘The conversation went a hundred seconds. It went from women in combat to Syria policy to the Chinese to energy independence, a little about public lands, a little about hunting access,’ Zinke [said] … At one point, Trump proposed the Veterans Affairs post, to which Zinke quipped, ‘I don't think you hate me that much.’ He was flying back to Montana when Mike Pence called him. 'The vice president says, ‘Well, congratulations!’ Zinke recalls, sharing the moment he was asked to join the Trump Cabinet, ‘and I asked him, 'What job?’”

-- Zinke pushed back on allegations that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) into voting for the health-care bill. From the Associated Press: Zinke said Sunday in Nevada that he often speaks with Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and they get along well. ‘Ah, you know, the moon has been characterized as other things, too,’ Zinke said when asked by reporters about the calls and their characterization as threatening. ‘So, I think it’s laughable.’”


The New York Post updated its “Survivor” cover:

A National Journal editor noticed last night that White House aide Sebastian Gorka has vanity plates:

The ouster of Anthony Scaramucci inspired shock and satire:

From a Bravo host:

From an Atlantic writer:

From a CNBC Washington correspondent:

From a Bloomberg reporter:

From a New York magazine writer:

From a politics editor at the Daily Beast:

Comedian Seth Rogen responded to Stein’s tweet:

From a BuzzFeed News entertainment reporter:

From The Post’s media reporter:

From a House Democrat:

There is truly an old Trump tweet for everything. This one is from last year's primary campaign:

But, overall, present-day Trump took a positive approach to the turnover. He posted this last night:

A former Democratic congressman replied to Trump’s observation:

Some unexpected faces were on hand to greet the new chief of staff:

Republican strategist Rory Cooper reflected on this tidbit from Reince Priebus’s time as chief of staff:

Obama’s former senior adviser took on a new venture:


-- Politico Magazine, “Obama’s Inner Circle Is Urging Deval Patrick to Run,” by Edward Isaac-Dovere: “Barack Obama is nudging him to run. His inner circle is actively encouraging it. Obamaworld’s clear and away 2020 favorite is sitting right here, on the 38th floor of the John Hancock Building, in a nicely decorated office at Bain Capital. And Deval Patrick has many thoughts on what he says is Donald Trump’s governing by fear and a dishonest pitch to economic nostalgia, while encouraging a rise in casual racism and ditching any real commitment to civil rights.”

-- The New Yorker, “Bernie Sanders’s Campaign Isn’t Over,” by Benjamin Wallace-Wells: “The central illusion of a Presidential campaign is that a candidate can, through constant motion and boundless energy, meet countless people and, in the end, give voice to the experience of the country. After the election, Sanders seemed to adopt the illusion as an ethos.”

-- The Atlantic, “What Steve Bannon Wants to Do to Google,” by Robinson Meyer: “Over the past year, the old idea of enforcing market competition has gained renewed life in American politics. … The loudest supporters of this idea, so far, have been from the left. But this week, a newer and more secretive voice endorsed a stronger antitrust policy. Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Donald Trump, believes Facebook and Google should be regulated as public utilities[.]”


“‘Hurry up and die’: Threats, racism intensify against California officials,” from the Sacramento Bee: “The letter [sent to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León] begins with ‘Dear Corrupt Mexican’ and ends with ‘hurry up and die.’ It’s signed ‘White Power.’ The Senate leader says backlash comes with the territory as an elected official. Since November, however, he and other politicians say it’s been more frequent and hostile. ... Sen. Holly Mitchell’s Los Angeles district office representatives report getting a call once a month from someone who uses the n-word … something they said didn’t happen before the election. A fervent group of Trump supporters … called de León an ‘anchor baby’ and ‘illegal alien scumbag’ at a Latino summit … ‘In my mind there’s no doubt that Donald Trump has opened up this Pandora’s box,’ de León said.”



“Watchdog group asks Congress to probe Rep. Wasserman Schultz over fired IT aide,” from David Weigel: “A conservative anti-corruption watchdog group is asking for an ethics investigation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) after former House IT aide Imran Awan was apprehended trying the flee the country. In a complaint that will be filed Monday, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) asks if Wasserman Schultz violated the House’s rules by continuing to pay Awan after he was cut off from the House computer system. … The complaint grew out of the ongoing investigation of Awan and four other House staffers who in February came under investigation after allegedly stealing equipment from their employers.”



Trump has an afternoon event with small businesses.

Pence begins the day in Georgia. He and the second lady will meet with U.S. embassy staff before Pence later meets with Georgian opposition party leaders. He then has a meeting and joint news conference with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. He will visit the Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition and give a speech before departing for Montenegro.


Trump during his Cabinet meeting yesterday: “We'll handle North Korea...it will be handled. We handle everything."



-- It's still sunny in D.C. today but a bit hotter. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly sunny this morning and partly to mostly sunny this afternoon, with temperatures reaching highs near to slightly hotter than yesterday (upper 80s to low 90s).  Humidity is higher than yesterday, too.” 

-- The Nationals beat the Marlins 1-0. (Jorge Castillo)

-- A Florida man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat was arrested near Dupont Circle over the weekend for beating three people amid a heated political debate. Peter Hermann reports: “Police said that the 32-year-old suspect ‘straddled’ one man ‘and pounded’ him in the face 20 times with a closed fist and left and right forearms. Two others were also struck in the face when they intervened, police said.”


"The Daily Show" commemorated the highs and lows of Anthony Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure:

Late night hosts pulled no punches when it came to Scaramucci's exit:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders brushed off claims that the White House is in chaos by comparing it to her own home:

The Post's fact-checking team awarded Trump four Pinocchios for his claim that border crossings are down 78 percent because of his presidency:

A speedboater helped to put out a wildfire in British Columbia:

And Santas from around the world celebrated Christmas (very) early in Copenhagen: