With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The White House has accumulated vastly more power than the men who wrote the Constitution intended, and one unintended consequence of the Trump presidency may be a long-term rebalancing between the three branches of the federal government.

Congress has repeatedly rolled over for presidents of both parties. Democrats looked the other way as Barack Obama used his pen and phone in sometimes constitutionally dubious ways. Republicans trusted George W. Bush to do the right thing, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks.

If they were put on truth serum, very few lawmakers of either party would tell you that they trust Donald Trump to do the right thing if left to his own devices. Especially vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin.

That’s why they almost unanimously passed a bill that ties his hands. Congress gave itself a 30-day review period to vote down any changes Trump tries to make to Russia sanctions.

Trump reluctantly signed the measure yesterday to avoid the humiliation of a veto override. But he issued two defiant signing statements, saying the “seriously flawed” legislation includes “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” by “limiting the Executive’s flexibility … to strike good deals.”

“The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President,” Trump said. “This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.”

That comment represents a bold assertion of presidential power and reveals a breathtakingly simplistic view regarding the separation of power. The Constitution, of course, gives Congress the power to declare war and ratify treaties.

Constitutional law experts agree that Congress is well within its rights. Michael Glennon from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts said Trump's statement is based on a “gross misreading” of case law. “That’s obviously a misguided interpretation of his constitutional authority,” he told Abby Phillip. “Congress has very broad authority over foreign commerce. It’s explicitly given the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. It could have, if it desired, imposed those sanctions without giving the president any waiver authority whatsoever.”

-- The balance of power has ebbed and flowed through history. The president claims fresh powers during wartime. Congress has reasserted itself after executive overreach, from Vietnam (e.g. the War Powers Act) to Watergate. Ronald Reagan’s presidency was nearly derailed when his administration funded the contras in Nicaragua, despite the Boland Amendment that barred him from doing so.

-- “Trump is something the nation did not know it needed: a feeble president whose manner can cure the nation’s excessive fixation with the presidency,” conservative thought leader George F. Will wrote in an important column over the weekend that got overshadowed by news of the latest White House shake-up: “Fortunately, today’s president is so innocent of information that Congress cannot continue deferring to executive policymaking. And because this president has neither a history of party identification nor an understanding of reciprocal loyalty, congressional Republicans are reacquiring a constitutional — a Madisonian — ethic. It mandates a prickly defense of institutional interests, placing those interests above devotion to parties that allow themselves to be defined episodically by their presidents. … Furthermore, today’s president is doing invaluable damage to Americans’ infantilizing assumption that the presidency magically envelops its occupant with a nimbus of seriousness. … For now, worse is better. Diminution drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it.”

-- A bipartisan chorus of leaders in Congress swiftly pushed back on Trump yesterday.

John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the signing statement “misplaced.” Making a rhetorical allusion to the signing statement put out by the White House, he wrote: “The Framers of our Constitution made the Congress and the President coequal branches of government. This bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice.”

“On this critical issue of national security policy, it was the Congress that acted in the spirit of national unity to carry out the will of the American people,” the 2008 Republican presidential nominee wrote in a statement from Arizona, where he’s battling brain cancer. “And that is why it is critical that the President comply with the letter and spirit of this legislation and fully implement all of its provisions. Going forward, I hope the President will be as vocal about Russia’s aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation.”

“Today, the United States sent a powerful message to our adversaries that they will be held accountable for their actions,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in his own statement about Trump signing the bill. “We will continue to use every instrument of American power to defend this nation and the people we serve.”

-- Generally, Republicans are talking much more strongly about the separation of powers than they were in the months after Trump took office.

“We work for the American people. We don’t work for the president,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), in an interview with Sean Sullivan. “We should do what’s good for the administration as long as that does not in any way, shape or form make it harder on the American people.”

“President Trump won. I respect his victory. I want to help him with health care and do other things that I think we can do together like cut taxes,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I’ll push back against ideas I think are bad for the country, like changing the rules of the Senate. And that’s the way I’m going to engage the president.”

Graham has always been critical of Trump, but other once-outspoken Republican defenders of the president are sounding more critical. When he was asked to respond to The Post's report about the president's role in dictating Donald Jr.'s misleading statement about his meeting with a Russian national at Trump Tower, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) told CBS News: “I guarantee you there were phone calls in addition to those emails, and I want to hear all of it before I answer the question you put to me.”

-- Signing statements aren’t unusual. Bush and Obama routinely issued them to express concerns about bills even as they reluctantly accepted them to avoid the risk of an override.

But Trump’s statement on the Russia bill, naturally, included a Trumpian flourish that is very unusual in a normally legalistic document: “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected,” he said. “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

-- Validating Congress’s decision to tie his hands, though, Trump continues naively playing footsie with Putin.

Russia retaliated against the United States for the sanctions over the weekend, ordering the U.S. embassy to reduce its staff by 755 people and seizing U.S. diplomatic properties. Even as he took the time to attack Golf Magazine on Twitter last night, though, Trump has yet to issue any kind of statement on Putin’s affront to our country. The silence has been deafening, especially against the backdrop of Trump refusing to fully accept the consensus of the intelligence community that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.

The prime minister of Russia trolled Trump (on Twitter and in English!), and even that couldn’t get a rise out of him:

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia and Stanford professor Mike McFaul replied: 

-- Trump’s desire to appease Moscow puts him at odds with most members of his own national security team – including Mike Pence, who returned overnight from a 3 1/2-day trip through Eastern Europe. “At nearly every stop, the vice president spoke forcefully about the specter of Russian aggression, talked of ‘peace through strength,’ and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO, reiterating its cornerstone pledge that an attack on one nation is an attack on all,” reports Ashley Parker, who traveled aboard Air Force Two.

Many of the interested parties, including the Baltic States and the Russians, aren’t sure to what degree Pence truly speaks for Trump, which means that his hardline policy pronouncements don’t pack the punch they otherwise might.

In an interview with Parker yesterday, Pence said Trump is taking a “we’ll see” attitude toward Russia and said the administration hopes the sanctions will lead to an improved relationship.

-- Republicans in Congress are now readying for round two with Trump on Russia, as hawks search for additional ways to box in the president. “Language in key defense bills in both the House and Senate would require the military to begin developing medium-range missiles banned by a 1987 treaty,” Politico’s Bryan Bender reports. “Supporters of the provisions — including Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas — assert that Russia's recent deployment of an intermediate-range missile in violation of the treaty requires the U.S. to respond in kind. … The House’s language, included in the National Defense Authorization Act passed last month, would create a program for developing a land-based missile that is banned by the INF Treaty. The Senate will soon debate a similar provision in its version of the defense policy bill, which would set aside $65 million and also require the military to reintroduce a missile capable of traveling between 500 and 5,500 kilometers — a weapon that both Cold War rivals phased out three decades ago.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- “Two close associates of Pope Francis have accused American Catholic ultraconservatives of making an alliance of ‘hate’ with evangelical Christians to back President Trump,” the New York Times’s Jason Horowitz reports from Rome. “The authors, writing in a Vatican-vetted journal, singled out Stephen K. Bannon … as a ‘supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics’ that has stymied action against climate change and exploited fears of migrants and Muslims with calls for ‘walls and purifying deportations.’ The article warns that conservative American Catholics have strayed dangerously into the deepening political polarization in the United States. The writers even declare that the worldview of American evangelical and hard-line Catholics, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, is ‘not too far apart’ from jihadists. It is not clear if the article, appearing in La Civiltà Cattolica, received the pope’s direct blessing, but it was extraordinary coming from a journal that carries the Holy See’s seal of approval.”

-- Trump repeatedly suggested firing the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan during a tense White House meeting last month “because he is not winning the war,” NBC’s Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube reported: “During the July 19 meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that [Gen. John Nicholson be replaced] … Trump has not met Nicholson, and the Pentagon has been considering extending his time in Afghanistan. He also startled the room with a story that seemed to compare their advice to that of a paid consultant who cost a tony New York restaurateur profits by offering bad advice. Trump's national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve. Those advisers are set to meet again to discuss the issue on Thursday at the White House. The president is not currently scheduled to attend the meeting, though one official said that could change …

“During the meeting, Trump criticized his military advisers seated around the table in the White House Situation Room for what he said was a losing U.S. position in the war … ‘We aren't winning,’ Trump complained … ‘We are losing.’ One official said Trump pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, and that Mattis responded to the president by saying the U.S. is losing because it doesn't have the strategy it needs.”

-- From a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: 

-- The New York property development firm owned by Jared Kushner’s family has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors due to concerns over a possible investment-for-immigration program. The Wall Street Journal’s Erica Orden, Aruna Viswanatha and Byron Tau report: “The subpoena concerns at least one Jersey City, N.J., development financed in part by a federal visa program known as EB-5: twin, 66-floor commercial-and-residential towers called One Journal Square[.] … The subpoena, received by the company in May, was a document request that included a demand for emails[.] … In early May, the company drew attention for a marketing campaign in Beijing and Shanghai that solicited Chinese investors for One Journal Square, saying that up to 300 individuals who put $500,000 each into the project could be eligible for green cards under the EB-5 program[.]”

-- “Reporter Andrew Feinberg says a Russian state-owned news site he once worked for pressured him to advance a conspiracy theory about the fatal shooting of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich,” Yahoo’s Hunter Walker reports. “Feinberg, who was the White House correspondent for Sputnik, first made the allegations when he left the Russian outlet in May. However, his story is newly relevant in light of [the] lawsuit filed this week[.] … Feinberg said that during a meeting held on May 26, his superiors asked him bring up the [Rich] story in the press briefing. … According to Feinberg, his bosses handed him a termination letter when he declined. He described the situation as ‘disturbing.’ ‘It’s really telling that the White House is pushing the same narrative as a state-run Russian propaganda outlet,’ Feinberg said.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Ex-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) is going to try to win back his old seat. The former congressman was released from federal prison last year after serving seven months for tax fraud. (NY1)
  2. Rep. Diane Black, the GOP chair of the House Budget Committee, announced that she will run for governor of Tennessee in 2018. (The Tennesseean)
  3. The NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri. The state-specific warning is the first that the organization has issued and comes after recent incidents against minority residents as well as a state law that makes it more difficult to win discrimination lawsuits. (Kansas City Star)
  4. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have hired former Hillary Clinton pollster Joel Benenson as a consultant. Benenson’s company is slated to conduct research for their philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg initiative, but the move has also fueled rumors that Zuckerberg could be weighing a run for public office. (Politico)
  5. For the first time, scientists in the United States have successfully edited the genes of a human embryo to correct for a heart condition. The experiment is the first step to exploring a controversial new era in medicine. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
  6. Brazilian President Michel Temer survived a key vote that would have suspended him from office on corruption charges. The decision of the legislature's lower house delivered a critical victory to the country’s embattled leader, just 15 months after his predecessor was impeached for financial irregularities. (Marina Lopes)
  7. The British company that provided voting software to Venezuela for its recent election has claimed there was vote tampering. Smartmatic announced that, of the over 8 million votes Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claims were cast, one million were doctored. (Wall Street Journal)
  8. Chris Christie characterized his interaction with a heckler at a baseball game as “very restrained.” “I didn’t dump the nachos on him or anything, which I think was an option,” the New Jersey governor said. (Politico)
  9. James Comey got an advance of more than $2 million from Flatiron Books to write a tell-all book. It will come out next spring. (AP
  10. NASA is hiring someone to guard our planet from aliens. (No, really.) The job comes with the prestigious title of “planetary protection officer” and offers a salary ranging from $124,000 to $187,000 a year. Best of all, there’s already someone in the role to help train you. (Andrew deGrandpre)

GIVE US YOUR RICH AND WELL-EDUCATED:

-- Trump joined Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) at the White House on Wednesday to introduce legislation that would slash legal immigration levels by 50 percent over a decade. If passed, the “Raise Act,” which was touted by Trump as a “historic and vital” proposal, would represent a profound change to U.S. immigration policies that have been in place for half a century. David Nakamura reports: “Though the bill faces dim prospects in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority, the president's event came as the White House sought to move past a major political defeat on [health care] by pivoting to issues that resonate with Trump's core supporters. The new proposal calls for drastic cuts to family-based immigration programs that allow siblings and grown children of U.S. citizens and legal residents to apply for green cards. A point system based on factors such as English ability, education levels and job skills would be created to rank applicants for the 140,000 employment-based green cards distributed annually. In addition, the senators also propose to cap refugee levels at 50,000 per year.”

-- Most economists agree this would be a “grave mistake” and would curb growth in the United States. Heather Long reports: “A Washington Post survey of 18 economists in July found that 89 percent believe it's a terrible idea for Trump to curb immigration to the United States. Experts overwhelmingly predict it would slow growth — the exact opposite of what Trump wants to do with ‘MAGAnomics.’ ‘Restricting immigration will only condemn us to chronically low rates of economic growth,’ said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. ‘It also increases the risk of a recession.’”

-- “Trump’s war on legal immigration would cripple the economy,” by The Post’s Editorial Board: “Halving the number of legal immigrants would deprive an array of businesses of oxygen in the form of labor — exactly the opposite strategy required for growth in an economy where productivity is stagnant and unemployment is extremely low.”

-- In a tense exchange during Wednesday's White House press briefing, Stephen Miller, a top policy adviser to Trump, was pressed by CNN’s Jim Acosta on the immigration bill, who questioned whether it was in keeping with American tradition, and cited a portion of the “New Colossus,” the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” he quoted. Miller brushed off the reference — arguing that the poem was “added later” to Lady Liberty and “has no significance.” (HuffPost)

Miller, who used to work for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), mocked Acosta in surely one of the weirdest exchanges ever from the podium. Callum Borchers breaks it down"'Surely, Jim, you don't actually think that a wall affects green-card policy,' Miller shot back. 'You couldn't possibly believe that, do you? … Do you really at CNN not know the difference between green-card policy and illegal immigration? I mean, you really don't know that?' Acosta referred to Trump's plan to award points to green-card applicants based on English proficiency and asked, 'Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?' Rather than defend the fairness of Trump's proposed emphasis on English skills, Miller said Acosta had just insulted English speakers from every country other than Britain and Australia. 'I am shocked at your statement, that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,' he said. 'It's actually — it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree. … This is an amazing moment ...'" Yes, yes it was.

-- Two brothers from Gaithersburg, Md., were deported to their native El Salvador yesterday, after one of them told ICE agents he had secured a scholarship to play college soccer in North Carolina. Their lawyer said it is the “fastest deportation process” he has ever seen. Rachel Chason reports: “The brothers, [Lizandro and Diego Saravia], have no criminal records, and would not have been a priority for deportation by the Obama administration, said Matthew Bourke, a spokesman for [ICE]. Lizandro’s soccer coach said he was supposed to leave Wednesday to begin pre-season practices. … The brothers were detained by ICE agents in Baltimore Friday after a regular check-in. [Lizandro] told the agents he was planning to attend college on a scholarship … ‘The ICE agents told me they were deporting the kids because Lizandro got into college, and that showed they intended to stay in the U.S.,’” said a lawyer representing the pair. 

-- A new report from the DHS inspector general said Trump’s plan for an aggressive hiring surge of 15,000 border and immigration personnel is unrealistic and unjustified. Lisa Rein reports: “[That report] concludes that based on its rigorous screening requirement for law enforcement jobs and the relatively high rate of attrition among Border Patrol agents, Homeland Security would have to vet 750,000 applicants to find 5,000 qualified personnel. In addition, to hire the 10,000 [ICE] agents … a pool of 500,000 candidates would need to apply, auditors found. The report calls into question whether DHS officials even need 15,000 new hires to target undocumented immigrants[:] ‘Neither [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] nor [ICE] could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers,’ the report [said].”

-- Newly uncovered documents reveal that, the day Trump’s travel ban went into effect, ICE officials instructed staff “NOT to engage with the media or Congressional representatives.” The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “From Dulles to San Francisco, America’s international airports got extremely noisy. But there was a glaring silence through it all: from CBP, which staunchly refused to answer questions from journalists and members of Congress. These newly obtained emails explain why that is: because senior agency officials were caught off guard just as badly as those travelers, and had to scramble to figure out how to implement the ban. Another email, sent by a CBP official whose name was redacted, shows that the agency made a deliberate choice to ignore questions from attorneys. … [Rep. Gerry Connelly] added that CBP’s Congressional Affairs office didn’t answer any of his questions during the ban — despite the fact that they were the only CBP component authorized to talk with members of Congress.”

JOHN KELLY ASSERTS HIMSELF:

-- In one of his first acts as White House chief of staff, Kelly called “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his job is safe. The AP’s Jonathan Lemire reports: “Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job. … Kelly, who was appointed to the post the day before, described the president as still miffed at Sessions but did not plan to fire him or hope he would resign.”

-- “When [Kelly] huddled with senior staff on his first day at work, he outlined a key problem in [Trump’s] White House that he planned to fix: Bad information getting into the president’s hands,” Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports. “Kelly told the staff that information needed to flow through him — whether on paper or in briefings — because the president would make better decisions if given good information. ... Several people who have spoken with him say Kelly believes that making sure Trump is getting good information is among the biggest challenges he faces … ‘John Kelly knows the challenges he is facing,' said Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to [Bill Clinton]. ‘He’s not going to just stand to the side and watch the White House fall apart piece by piece.’"

-- This has Kelly's fingerprints all over it: On Wednesday, H.R. McMaster removed a National Security Council officer more than four months after he first tried to get him out of the job. Greg Jaffe reports: “In March, McMaster told the [former Defense Intelligence Agency official, Ezra Cohen-Watnick], that he was being moved to another position. But Cohen-Watnick, who worked on the Trump transition team and is close to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appealed to Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon … Bannon and Kushner spoke with Trump, and Cohen-Watnick was kept in place. McMaster’s removal of Cohen-Watnick suggests that his influence in the White House and control over his personnel might be on the rise because of the arrival of [Kelly, another military man].”

-- Speaking of the NSC: Another top staffer was fired last month after arguing in a memo that Trump is under “sustained attack from subversive forces,” both inside and outside the government, who have deployed “Maoist tactics” to defeat his agenda. The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray reports: “Rich Higgins, a former Pentagon official who served in the NSC’s strategic-planning office as a director for strategic planning, was let go on July 21. The memo characterizes the Russia story as a plot to sabotage Trump’s nationalist agenda, [and] asserts that globalists and Islamists are seeking to destroy America. The memo also includes a set of recommendations, arguing that the problem constitutes a national-security priority. ‘Globalists and Islamists recognize that for their visions to succeed, America, both as an ideal and as a national and political identity, must be destroyed,’ the memo warns. It argues that this has led ‘Islamists [to] ally with cultural Marxists,’ but that in the long run, ‘Islamists will co-opt the movement in its entirety.’”

-- Trump’s pick to lead the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has withdrawn his nomination, citing “recent partisan attacks.” Joe Davidson writes: “In a letter to the president, George Nesterczuk said, ‘The prospect of my favorable confirmation has grown remote. Recent partisan attacks threaten to delay further the consideration of my nomination. … While the allegations against me are baseless and false, in the current climate when even non-controversial nominees endure extensive delays in the Senate, I do not wish to be a distraction for the Administration while I defend my integrity.’ Nesterczuk … had been sharply criticized by unions representing government employees. A July 26 letter from 16 labor organizations said Nesterczuk’s previous record as a Republican-appointed OPM official ‘has been a failure, while his overall stated views toward the federal workforce are dramatically opposite to the mission and task of OPM.’”

-- Energy Secretary Rick Perry is reportedly being considered to replace Kelly as homeland security secretary. Bloomberg’s Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Jennifer Jacobs report: “White House officials are considering others for the position, [officials] said. … It’s not clear Perry even wants the job. ‘Secretary Perry is focused on the important mission of the Department of Energy. He’s honored to be mentioned, but he loves what he’s doing,’ said Robert Haus, director of public affairs at the department. Some administration officials are advocating Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, who was considered for the Homeland Security job before Trump nominated Kelly. Perry has not been a seamless fit with the Energy Department, where the two most recent secretaries had Ph.D.s in physics.”

A PARADIGM SHIFT ON CIVIL RIGHTS:

-- Jeff Sessions’s indication that the Justice Department will seek to curb affirmative action has energized Trump’s base — rallying conservatives around the issue at a time when the administration has struggled to deliver on core Republican priorities. Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa report: “Sessions’s apparent intention to prohibit ‘intentional race-based discrimination’ is also a window into the direction he is pulling the department’s Civil Rights Division in his effort to reverse Obama administration policies on a range of issues, including criminal justice, policing and voting rights. For a Republican Party still searching for consensus in the Trump era, Sessions’s moves signal that the administration is embracing the base during a time of turbulence and tension, with heavy attention being paid to the concerns of the white voters who lifted Trump into the presidency. Some Republican operatives also see the affirmative action initiative as a strategic play by the White House to rally middle-class and upper-middle-class white voters, especially as the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill has stalled.”

  • “Civil rights groups Wednesday lashed out at the initiative and said Sessions may be trying to end college affirmative action programs … In June 2016, the court ruled 4 to 3 that a race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas was constitutional. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the opinion, the first time he had ruled for an affirmative action plan.”

-- The test case of Virginia transgender teenager Gavin Grimm suffered another setback amid questions about his standing. Ann E. Marimow reports: “Attorneys for [Grimm] had hoped to have his challenge to the Gloucester County School Board heard by a federal appeals court before his graduation in June. Because Grimm no longer is a high school student, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said Wednesday that a lower court must sort out whether Grimm still has enough of an affiliation to his alma mater to pursue the case. In March, the Supreme Court put off a ruling in Grimm’s case after the Trump administration revoked Obama administration-era guidelines directing U.S. public schools to accommodate transgender students. The high court’s move sent Grimm’s case back to the 4th Circuit. The appeals court earlier had sided with Grimm[.]”

WILL OBAMACARE FAIL?:

-- The health insurance industry is watching as Trump decides whether to continue paying subsidies for low-income Americans to insurers. The Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky and Michelle Hackman report: “Some insurers say they have based their premiums and coverage decisions on the assumption the payments will continue; without the funds, they say they will raise rates or pull out of some markets. That has left some Republicans hoping that Mr. Trump won’t make good on his near-monthly threats to cut the payments[.]”

-- Governors joined the growing chorus of voices pleading with Trump not to end the cost-sharing payments. The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel reports: “Members of the National Governors Association, led by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), on Wednesday warned ending the payments would be a mistake. ‘A first critical step in stabilizing the individual health insurance marketplaces is to fully fund CSRs for the remainder of calendar year 2017 through 2018,’ the group said in a statement. ‘This is a necessary step to stabilize the individual marketplaces in the short term as Congress and the Administration address long-term reform efforts.’”

-- The subsidies could remain in place indefinitely, Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Jennifer Haberkorn note: “The administration has slowed a decision to hear from lawyers, who are studying how the payments could be ended and what legal liabilities the administration could face if the payments stop, according to administration officials. … Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor, said last weekend a decision would be made this week. And Trump continues to lean towards ending the subsidies, officials said. But several other officials said to not expect a decision this week.”

THREE HEALTH-CARE REALITY CHECKS:

-- “Cutting payments to insurers could spike premiums and end up costing the government more,” by Philip Bump: “So what happens if Trump decides to end these payments? In a tweet on Wednesday, [the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry] Levitt noted that insurers would necessarily have to raise premiums to cover the costs of the policies … The government would increase tax credits for those with cost-sharing reduction policies to offset the increase in premium prices. And according to Levitt’s calculations, that would end up costing the government about $2.3 billion more than if they had paid the insurers at the outset.”

-- “If Trump Kills Obamacare Subsidies, Hospitals Face Unpaid Medical Bills,” by Forbes’s Bruce Japsen: “If Trump follows through and stops the next monthly [cost-sharing] payment due later this month, doctors and hospitals could see uncompensated care costs begin to rise for the first time in more than a decade. … What worries doctors and hospitals is that millions of Obamacare enrollees won’t be able to afford their copayments, deductibles and other related out-of-pocket costs.”

-- “Molina Exits Wisconsin and Utah,” by Bloomberg’s Hannah Recht: “Molina announced [Tuesday] that it is exiting the Wisconsin and Utah marketplaces. Molina had initially filed to sell plans next year in four Wisconsin counties — Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Waukesha — down from 30 in 2017. Their exit leaves one Wisconsin county, Menominee, and its 47 enrollees, without marketplace options next year if no other insurer files there.”

THE CREDIBILITY GAP:

-- “The Boy Scouts denied Wednesday that the head of the youth organization called [Trump] to praise his recent politically aggressive speech to its national jamboree,” the AP reports. “Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview[:] ‘I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.’ Politico published the transcript of the interview. ‘We are unaware of any such call,’ the Boy Scouts responded in a statement. It specified that neither of the organization’s two top leaders — President Randall Stephenson and Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh — had placed such a call.”

-- Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the Boy Scouts call, as well as a separate disputed call from the Mexican president that Trump referenced, both took place in person. John Wagner reports: “Sanders told reporters Wednesday that Trump was referring to in-person conversations with ‘multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership, following his speech there that day[.]’ … In a separate episode, Trump on Monday spoke of a call from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto[.] … ‘Even the president of Mexico called me,’ Trump said with reporters present in the Oval Office. ‘Their southern border, they said very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get to our border, which is the ultimate compliment.’ A statement issued later by the Mexican president’s office disputed that account, saying: ‘President Enrique Peña Nieto has not had any recent telephone communication with President Donald Trump.’ … [Sanders] was pressed by a reporter about whether Trump had lied. ‘I wouldn’t say it was a lie,’ Sanders said. ‘That’s a pretty bold accusation.’

-- Trump also disputed a report that he referred to the White House as a “real dump.” He wrote on Twitter: “I love the White House, one of the most beautiful buildings (homes) I have ever seen. But Fake News said I called it a dump - TOTALLY UNTRUE[.]” John Wagner reports: “This is not the first time Trump’s comments about government-owned accommodations have raised eyebrows. Just before taking office in January, Trump told a journalist that Camp David, the rustic presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, would be likable ‘for about 30 minutes.’”

-- “Trump’s golf game tells us an awful lot about Trump,” by Dana Milbank: “Golf is a game of humility: Even the best players are brought low by nature and chance. And it’s a game of honor: You keep your own score and are often unseen by other players. Then there is Trump golf. He breaks rules, exaggerates scores and ignores the game’s decorum. Sound familiar? He is, Sports Illustrated asserted, ‘easily the best golfer’ ever to occupy the White House. Likewise, he is an enormously talented politician, with a genius for marketing. Yet in golf, as in life, he doesn’t leave it at that. He gilds the lily with dishonesty.”

-- “Sam Clovis, [Trump's] nominee to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist, maintained a now-defunct blog for years in which he accused progressives of ‘enslaving’ minorities, called black leaders ‘race traders,’ and labeled former President Barack Obama a ‘Maoist’ with ‘communist’ roots,” CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Paul LeBlanc report. “Clovis, a long-time Iowa political activist and former economics professor, wrote the blog posts on the now-deleted website for his radio show ‘Impact with Clovis[.]’ … In his writings, Clovis directed most of his ire at then-President Obama and the progressive movement. In a post from September 2011, Clovis wrote in reference to Obama, ‘He was brought up by socialists to be a socialist. His associations were socialists or worse, criminal dissidents who were bent on overthrowing the government of the United States. He has no experience at anything other than race baiting and race trading as a community organizer.’”

THE REST OF TRUMP’S AGENDA:

-- Trump has taken to touting the recent success of Wall Street as a positive effect of his presidency. The New York Times’s Nelson D. Schwartz reports: “Despite the disorder in Washington … Wall Street and corporate America are booming. The disconnect was evident Wednesday, as the Dow Jones industrial average passed the 22,000 mark, a new high. … The initial stock market rally that followed Mr. Trump’s victory in November — the so-called Trump bump — was fueled by optimism among investors that long-sought action on tax reform and infrastructure spending might finally be at hand. Few analysts are so sanguine now, especially after Republicans could not agree last month on how to repeal the Affordable Care Act[.] … But a market surge based on political hopes has been replaced by one more firmly grounded in the financial realm.

-- Nearly half of Americans aren’t receiving any benefit from the market surge. Heather Long reports: “[Most Americans] have little, if anything, in the market. President Trump cheered the market milestone Wednesday as proof of an economic boom. … But most of gains are going to the wealthy. Nearly half of country has $0 invested in the market[.] … That means people have no money in pension funds, 401(k) retirement plans, IRAs, mutual funds or ETFs. They certainly don't own individual stocks such as Facebook or Apple. … The rich are far more likely to own stocks than middle or working-class families. Eighty-nine percent of families with incomes over $100,000 have at least some money in the stock market, compared with just 21 percent of households earning $30,000 or less[.]”

-- Senators are trying to revive efforts to construct a new FBI headquarters, a plan that was unexpectedly pulled last month. Jonathan O’Connell reports: “At a committee hearing, senators from both parties, led by and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), said the decision blindsided them, wasted millions of dollars and put the bureau’s security in jeopardy. … [Agency veteran Michael Gelber] told the committee that a new FBI campus would probably cost upward of $1.6 billion and that the agency was considering a number of paths forward. … [Carper] asked Gelber whether there was any White House involvement in the FBI cancellation; Gelber responded that although his agency had consulted with the Office of Management and Budget he was not aware of discussions with any White House officials.”

-- The Senate unanimously passed an expansion of the G.I. Bill for post-9/11 veterans yesterday. The NYT's Nicholas Fandos reports: “A patchwork of fixes and coverage expansions years in the making, the measure restores education benefits to the thousands of veterans still reeling from the closings of for-profit schools like ITT and Corinthian Colleges while they were enrolled. Other major provisions include the lifting of a 15-year limit on benefit use, as well as the expansion of tuition assistance and other benefits[.] … Advocates of the legislation say it could directly affect more than half a million veterans over the next 15 years. … Its passage presents President Trump with another modest legislative victory in one of the few areas he has been able to find them: veterans issues.

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

-- Trump has launched a “Real News” program on his Facebook page, which is hosted by his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump. “I bet you haven't heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week because there's so much fake news out there,” Lara said in one video. Another post on Trump's page says the videos will be released each week. (BuzzFeed News)

Trump's endorsement of curbing legal immigration produced this cover from the New York tabs:

From a House Democrat:

From a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer:

From a writer for The Atlantic:

From a New York Times television critic:

A reality check from a Post White House reporter:

From a HuffPost editor:

From a writer for The Atlantic:

When Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta argued over immigration, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, who was memorably body-slammed by a congressional candidate, found the scene surreal:

Oh, the irony:

From an LA Times editor:

But some on the right interpreted the exchange between Miller and Acosta as revealing of the news industry.

From the National Review editor:

From the Daily Mail's U.S. political editor:

From George W. Bush's former press secretary:

John Kelly seems to be having a positive influence as chief of staff:

From Obama’s former NSC spokesman:

A Daily Beast columnist returned to this photo of White House interns in light of the news that the Trump administration was examining affirmative action:

Trump referred to Golf magazine's reporting that he called the White House “a real dump” as “fake news,” but, back in 2014:

From a Politico reporter:

Some of the Trump children attended dinner at the White House:

The White House received this letter:

The governor of Virginia lost a "best friend":

Anthony Scaramucci's short tenure was put in perspective:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

--The New York Times, “Trump keeps his Conservative Movement Allies Closest,” by Jeremy W. Peters: ‘I’ve been to the White House I don’t know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration,” [Family Research Council head Tony] Perkins said. Mr. Trump has strained relations with a lot of people these days … But through all the drama and dismay, one group has never really wavered: the leaders of the conservative movement. This is no accident. Mr. Trump and members of his administration have spent their first six months in office cultivating and strengthening ties to the movement’s key groups and players with a level of attention and care that stands out for a White House that often struggles with the most elementary tasks of politics and governing.”

-- BuzzFeed News, “Here Is Anthony Scaramucci's “Communications Plan” From Before He Was Fired,” by Charlie Warzel: “The memo — dated July 30 and titled ‘Communications Plan’ — appears to be a detailed outline for White House staff with five ranked ‘priorities,’ labeled: ‘Improve the Culture,’ ‘Comms is a Customer Service Operation — POTUS is the Number One Customer,’ ‘Make the News — We Go First,’ ‘Fill the Content Void,’ and ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.’”

-- Politico Magazine, “Dog the Bounty Hunter Hits the Campaign Trail,” by Ben Schreckinger: “I first encounter Dog the Bounty Hunter on a Sunday morning between services in a back room at Christ Community Church in Cumming, a town of some 5,000 people about an hour’s drive from Atlanta. They’re here to support Michael Williams, a tall, broad-shouldered and clean-cut state senator who has launched a long-shot campaign to become Georgia’s next governor. … Williams is betting that the bounty hunter’s celebrity … can convey law-and-order credibility to Republican primary voters, just as Trump used his own reality show to convince millions of Americans of his executive competence. He’s also betting Dog will generate buzz. As it turns out, in the wake of Trump, who rode provocation and controversy to the White House, the Dog shtick — vulgarity, tall tales and a bare chest — is losing its capacity to shock.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

 “South Carolina governor [candidate's] 'proud of the Confederacy' remarks stir controversy,” from the Post and Courier: “Catherine Templeton made waves in her first public forum as gubernatorial candidate by saying she is ‘proud of the Confederacy’ and pledged [not to remove] Confederate monuments. A man who identified himself as a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans asked Templeton about her views on ‘Southern heritage and Southern defense’ after other states have removed monuments and memorials … Templeton’s answer was blunt. ‘Not on my watch. I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it,’ Templeton said. ‘You cannot rewrite history. I don’t care whose feelings it hurts.’ Templeton's comments … upset black leaders in the state, who are still stung by the racially charged mass shooting at a Charleston church two years ago and the vicious fight to remove the Confederate battle flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

 “Trinity Loses Donations, Students After Facebook Posts,” from Hartford Courant: “Donors have pulled back and incoming students have decided to go elsewhere in response to the firestorm that erupted from a professor’s racially-charged Facebook posts, Trinity College’s president said[.] … Joanne Berger-Sweeney said 16 incoming students have withdrawn and past donors have chosen not to contribute to the school this year, resulting in about a $200,000 loss in donations. Both groups specifically cited the national uproar surrounding Professor Johnny Eric Williams’ posts, she said. ... Two posts by Williams were featured on the conservative online publication Campus Reform in June, including a provocative essay he shared that discussed the shooting of Republicans practicing for the congressional baseball game and urged a show of indifference to the lives of bigots.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning meeting his national security adviser before a “telehealth event” for the VA. He will later give a speech at a campaign rally in West Virginia.

Pence is in Nashville today to keynote the Tennessee GOP’s Statesmen’s Dinner.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

John McCain said he’s “feeling good” after starting treatment for brain cancer. The Arizona senator gave an update to a local radio program. “I must say ... thank you for all the cards and letters and calls,” he added. “It's been very deeply moving to me, even those who have said, 'I hope you die, but you're still a good guy.'" (Politico)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- It will be sunny and hot in the District today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Plenty of sun helps push temperatures up steadily with highs reaching the upper 80s to lower 90s. The heat should help to set off isolated storms, but most of us continue to sweat it out with a southerly breeze too light for much relief.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Marlins 7-1. (Jorge Castillo)

-- The Virginia affiliate of Planned Parenthood plans to spend $3 million to help make Democrat Ralph Northam the state’s next governor. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The organization’s Virginia political action committee, working with Northam, plans to deploy canvassers to knock on 300,000 doors, send mailers to 400,000 homes and run digital and radio ads.”

-- Several candidates, including at least one Republican, are already jumping into the race to replace Democratic Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who is not seeking reelection next year. (Jenna Portnoy)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Samantha Bee looked at the future of health-care efforts:

Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller said that attempts to curb legal immigration show “compassion” for “American workers”:

Pence became the first vice president to visit Montenegro:

The Post looked at the perks and quirks of the White House, which Trump reportedly called “a real dump”:

The White House press secretary suggested that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake should focus on “passing legislation” rather than “writing a book”:

AARP began running ads to thank Republican senators who voted against the skinny repeal of Obamacare:

A transgender man in Oregon gave birth to a baby boy: