With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA today is by Paul Kane. James will be back next week.

If you really want to know why the Republican majority in the House has been so strong, the answer lies in these six states: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania — across the Rust Belt — and Virginia and Florida down South. 

After the 2008 elections, those six states sent a combined 97 members to the House and Democrats held a 51-to-46 edge over Republicans among the lawmakers representing them. The disastrous 2010 showing for Democrats resulted in a net GOP gain of 21 seats in those states, 67 Republicans to 30 Democrats, and that margin has remained remarkably steady ever since. Today, after decennial reapportionment reduced those combined seats by two, there are now 64 Republicans to 31 Democrats in the House from those six states. It's a bulwark created partly by Republican control of most of those states during the 2011 redrawing of the congressional districts —  and partly by the House Democrats' inability to field candidates who appeal to voters beyond the inner suburbs (see this year's battle over whether the Democratic Party should back candidates who don't support abortion rights). 

That's one of the most fascinating findings of the political gold standard, the "2018 Almanac of American Politics," set to be released in September (preorder your copy here). A must-read for political fanatics since its first edition in 1972, the latest version is sure to be in greater demand this year because of the way President Trump rearranged political plate tectonics in 2016 and won the White House by upending, or accelerating, past voting patterns. Its authors — Richard Cohen, James A. Barnes, Charlie Cook, Michael Barone, along with Lou Jacobson — are among the smartest political reporters in town. In an era where armchair pundits pull their analyses off websites aggregating polling data, these writers have done the spade work in the data weeds for decades. 

The opening chapters of this year's book, several of which we got a sneak peek at, read like a road map for understanding how we got to this point and provide a possible route to the pivot points of where things might change. 

Cohen slices and dices the numbers to show just how much the nation “split into two political nations,” one a Republican red wall stretching from the Deep South into the Mountain West; the other two areas of coastal terrain running from Maine to Virginia and from California to Washington. “The split between the two parties has become so clear-cut and overwhelming that the numbers are easy to present and describe,” Cohen writes. 

That Republican coalition, made up of 24 states, delivered all of its 219 electoral votes to Trump last year, sends 43 Republicans (and just five Democrats) to the Senate, and has a House delegation tilted toward the GOP by a 132-to-39 margin. 

The Democratic coalition, made up of 16 states, gave all 203 of its electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2012 and 182 of them to Hillary Clinton; 30 of its 32 senators are Democrats; its House delegation tilts to Democrats by a 113-to-55 edge.

Some might quibble with the inclusion of Florida and North Carolina in the GOP stronghold, along with Pennsylvania and Virginia in the Democratic camp, but the numbers are otherwise pretty clear. The question in 2018 is whether Trump's presidency, at historic levels of unpopularity, will grow the number of swing states and put the GOP majority at risk jeopardy in states that could suddenly turn blue.

Cook analyzes 39 midterm elections since the end of the Civil War — according to him, the president's party has lost seats in the House 36 times, with average losses of 33 seats — that's nine more seats than Democrats currently need to retake the majority. BUUUUT, all midterms are not created equal. First-term midterms are traditionally kinder to the ruling party, with presidents suffering an average loss of 26 House seats represented by lawmakers from the same party, Cook writes. If that trend held true next year, Democrats would retake the House majority, but it would be with an insanely narrow margin: 220 Democrats to 215 Republicans.

Jacobson, an expert on state and county governments, highlights how different the Two Nations theory became under Trump. It's long been noted how polarized the nation's politics have become, but the Trump-Clinton race so accelerated the changes that vast swaths of the nation did actually flip party alignment last year. Every county in Iowa along the Mississippi River supported Obama in 2012, but in 2016 Trump won all but one of those counties and narrowly lost the other. 

 

These shifting trends have left House Democrats more isolated in coastal and urban areas than at any time in party history. 

Of the six states that Cohen singles out as being the foundation for the House GOP majority, all 31 Democratic seats come from big cities or very close-in suburbs. Republicans hold every exurban and rural district in this collection of states. One of Cook's smartest proteges, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, has tracked this development closely and also published his own account this week of how bad the congressional map has become for Democrats. 

Cohen notes that the Democratic problem is deeper than just the district lines. “Only a handful of House districts in those six states have been competitive since 2012, even though many of them have been competitive in presidential elections,” he writes. 

Those include a trio of seats in the Philadelphia suburbs where Clinton won or was virtually tied with Trump, yet the GOP won the House seats by embarrassingly large margins. If they don't field strong enough candidates, or reconfigure their agenda to specifically appeal to these voters, Democrats might find themselves stuck in the minority again for another two years. 

Cook believes the “potential for losses clearly exist” for House Republicans and could “endanger their majority,” but he writes that Trump has so rewritten the rules of politics that no one can be certain of anything. For starters, Trump is so unique in voters' minds, no one can be sure that voters will associate their local Republican congressman with his presidency. 

“This most unconventional of candidates has become the least conventional president in history and many of the normal rules won't apply,” Cook concludes. 

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R) in Alabama’s special election next week, bestowing his coveted endorsement in a race that largely became a contest to embrace the president. The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin reports: “In a surprise move that caught many in the Republican Party off guard, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Strange ‘has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama.’ Mr. Trump’s decision to wade into the race to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions will test just how much clout the president enjoys among Republicans in a state where he remains highly popular. Mr. Strange has been locked in a close race with Representative Mo Brooks and Roy Moore, the controversial former state Supreme Court justice. There are also a number of other, lesser-known Republicans vying for the nomination. If nobody gets over 50 percent in the Aug. 15 vote, the party’s nominee will be decided in a September runoff.”

-- The Alabama election has entered its final phase with a pro-Trump advertising blitz by all three candidates. David Weigel reports: “The last full week of messaging in Alabama’s primary for U.S. Senate has each leading Republican candidate declaring his support for President Trump, with one twist — the opponents of [Strange] are lighting into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Strange’s messaging, which has been complemented by attacks on opponents for not supporting Trump in 2016, portrays him as a loyal Trump ally opposed only by corrupt power brokers. … Rep. Mo Brooks, who has been battered by ads playing back his 2016 skepticism about Trump, is running on his endorsements from Trump’s strongest media allies. … Roy Moore, who has risen in the polls as his opponents have focused elsewhere, is up with a spot that puts the faces of Republican Senate leaders next to those of Democrats such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi.”

-- “A car rammed into a group of soldiers in a Paris suburb Wednesday in what the local mayor described as an ‘odious attack’ that was ‘without a doubt deliberate,’” NBC News’s Nancy Ing and Alexander Smith report. “Police in the French capital were hunting the suspect, who officials said struck and injured six soldiers as they left their barracks in the Levallois-Perret region of the city. … Earlier, a statement from the Paris Police Prefecture described the vehicle as being ‘on the run’ but also added: ‘It is not clear yet if it is a hit and run or what the intention was.’”

 

-- Robert Costa and Philip Rucker have a story this morning on how John Kelly is impacting the White House: “In an administration that has split into factions and been ravaged by ideological warfare, Kelly has asserted himself as a rare apolitical force. So far, he has left no discernible imprint on the White House’s philosophy, yet he has assumed control of its governance, running operations and the policy process in a way that Trump advisers hope will lead to tangible results. Passing up opportunities to craft policies, Kelly has acted as a neutral mediator — encouraging key players to argue their points, ensuring proposals are fully vetted and then presenting the options to the president. … [H]e has cultivated personal relationships with each of the competing spheres of the White House and pledged a fair hearing for all.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. South African President Jacob Zuma survived a “no-confidence” vote in the parliament on Tuesday that could have pushed him out of office, retaining support from party members despite mounting claims of corruption and other economic concerns. Tuesday’s vote marks the sixth time Zuma has ridden out a no-confidence vote since 2009. (Peter Granitz)
  2. Mike Duggan and Coleman A. Young II were the top vote-getters in Detroit’s mayoral primary. The two Democrats will face off in a November general election. Duggan is the incumbent and the city’s first white mayor in 40 years, while Young is the son of Detroit’s first black mayor. (New York Times)

  3. The Mormon Church has excommunicated one of its top leaders for the first time in nearly three decades. Reasons for the move were not immediately clear, but the church handbook says leaders can be ousted for reasons ranging from adultery, burglary, embezzlement, spousal abuse and “homosexual relations.” (Michelle Boorstein)
  4. Only 1 in 4 Americans trust all or most of what they hear from the White House. The startling statistic comes from CNN’s latest poll, which also shows Trump’s approval rating at 38 percent. (CNN)
  5. Deaths from colorectal cancers are on the rise — but only for white Americans under 55. The mortality rate for whites is still better than that of African Americans, but only the whites’ rate has increased in recent years. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)

  6. Three girls playing soccer in Wisconsin have been repeatedly mistaken for boys because of their short haircuts. The misunderstandings have led to ridicule of the young athletes. (Cindy Boren)

  7. Another highly ranked law school dropped its LSAT requirement. Following the example of Harvard, Georgetown Law will now accept GRE scores in place of the LSAT. (Sarah Larimer)

  8. Disney plans to cut ties with Netflix and launch two of its own streaming services. One service will focus on television and movies, and the other will feature 10,000 sporting events from ESPN, a Disney entity. (LA Times)

  9. An Arizona woman who padlocked her younger cousin into a tiny box for seven hours — leaving the 10-year-old to die, folded up and trapped in the sweltering summer heat — was given the death penalty. She is the third woman to ever receive the death sentence in Arizona, and the 55th woman nationwide. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)

  10. Moscow Mules might be the go-to cocktail of the summer season. They’re icy, refreshing, and Instagram-ready — except for the fact that those cute copper mugs they’re served up in could be poisoning you. According to FDA guidelines, copper can leach into acidic foods with a pH level below 6 — and can pose serious health problems over time. (Amy B Wang)
  11. David Letterman has signed on to do a talk show with Netflix. Two years after ending his late-night tenure, Letterman has agreed to a six-episode series set to premiere next year. (Hollywood Reporter)

A NEW (AND FRIGHTENING) WORLD ORDER:

-- North Korea said last night it was considering missile strikes against Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean that has been a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American War and is 2,200 miles from North Korea (see some basic facts about Guam here). Reuters reported: “Pyongyang said it was 'carefully examining' a plan to strike Guam, which is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. military base that includes a submarine squadron, an airbase and a Coast Guard group. A Korean People's Army spokesman said in a statement carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency the plan would be put into practice at any moment once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision.

“Guam Governor Eddie Calvo dismissed the North's threat and said the island was prepared for 'any eventuality' with strategically placed defenses. He said he had been in touch with the White House and there was no change in the threat level. 'Guam is American soil.... We are not just a military installation,' Calvo said in an online video message.

See Calvo's message below:

 

-- The threat to Guam was made after Trump made his harshest threats toward North Korea on Tuesday, saying the country would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it does not stop threatening the United States. “North Korea best not make any more threats,” Trump said during an event at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club where he is on vacation, telling reporters that the threats from the communist nation had gone “beyond a normal state.”

"[Still], it was not immediately clear what Trump was responding to,” Karen DeYoung and John Wagner report. “Earlier in the day, North Korea said it would ‘ruthlessly take strategic measures involving physical actions,’ in the wake of new economic sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council on Saturday. On Monday, Pyongyang threatened retaliation against the United States ‘thousands of times.’”

-- Trump’s bluster came after a Washington Post report that U.S. intelligence officials concluded that North Korea successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a critical threshold to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima and Anna Fifield report: “The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal.

“The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller. The findings are likely to deepen concerns about an evolving North Korean military threat that appears to be advancing far more rapidly than many experts had predicted. U.S. officials last month concluded that Pyongyang is also outpacing expectations in its effort to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking cities on the American mainland.”

 --> THE BIG PICTURE: In threatening Kim Jong Un, Trump has caught himself between a rock and a hard place. “The nuclear progress further raises the stakes for [Trump] who has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with nuclear weapons,” our colleagues write. “In an interview broadcast Saturday on MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt Show, [national security adviser H.R. McMaster] said the prospect of a North Korea armed with nuclear-tipped ICBMs would be ‘intolerable, from the president’s perspective.’ ‘We have to provide all options … and that includes a military option,’ he said. But McMaster said the administration would do everything short of war to ‘pressure Kim Jong Un and those around him’ to denuclearize.”

-- “North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program has prompted politicians in Japan and South Korea to push for the deployment of more powerful weapons, in what could lead to a regional arms race,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Soble and Choe Sang-Hun report. “Some of the new capabilities under consideration … are politically contentious. Adopting them would break with decades of precedent ... [New reports about Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are] likely to feed a growing debate in Japan about whether the country should acquire the means to launch pre-emptive military strikes — attacks that could destroy North Korean missiles on the ground before they are fired at Japan or other targets. Even more than Japan, South Korea is working to build its monitoring and striking abilities ... [and] some opinion surveys have indicated that most South Koreans favor their country developing nuclear weapons of its own.…”

-- What about the leaks? Trump's retweet of a Fox News story claiming US satellites detected North Korea moving anti-ship cruise missiles to a patrol boat is raising eyebrows on Tuesday after [Nikki Haley] indicated that the information in the report is classified and was leaked,” CNN’s Zachary Cohen reports. “‘I can't talk about anything that's classified and if that's in the newspaper that's a shame,’ Haley said Tuesday on ‘Fox and Friends’ when asked about the story that cites two anonymous sources. Pushed on whether the information was leaked, Haley said ‘it's one of those things I don't know what's going on. I will tell you it's incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that.’ But just a few hours before Haley's appearance on Fox, Trump retweeted a post from the Fox News morning show promoting the story said to contain classified information.”

HOW IT'S PLAYING:

-- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Trump on Tuesday not to threaten North Korea unless he is “prepared to act.” “The great leaders I've seen don't threaten unless they're ready to act, and I'm not sure President Trump is ready to act,” McCain told local radio station KTAR. “I take exception to the president's comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you're going to do.… In other words, the old walk softly but carry a big stick.…”

-- A CBS News poll released Tuesday found just 30 percent of Americans believe the situation in North Korea requires military action. While 72 percent of Americans said they are “uneasy” about a possible conflict with Pyongyang, a majority of voters — 61 percent — also said they were concerned about Trump’s ability to handle the situation.

-- Former CIA director Leon Panetta said this during a Politico interview: “You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments — and it doesn’t help the situation in terms of trying to resolve something that has to be resolved peacefully. … The question is: ‘Does [Trump] get so frustrated with the North Korean leader — who’s yelling every other day — that he feels that somehow the North Korean leader is attacking his manhood?’

-- “[Trump’s] literally inflammatory threat is particularly baffling because of the parameters he laid out,” The Atlantic’s David A. Graham writes. “The president warned not that North Korea would be punished fiercely for firing a missile at the United States, or for conducting a missile test, but instead for issuing a threat. Yet that’s inevitable: Threats are North Korea’s major export product. Trump, who ridiculed [Obama] for allowing Syria to cross his ‘red line’ of chemical-weapons use, is establishing a red line that will almost certainly be crossed — perhaps very soon, if Kim is in a sporting mood.”

-- “Rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea weighed on Asian markets Wednesday, fueling profit-taking in stocks, while investors sought safety in the yen,” the Wall Street Journal’s Kenan Machado reports. “South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell 0.9%, with the country’s currency off nearly that much versus the dollar. Samsung Electronics, which makes up more than 20% of the index, fell 2.3%.”

-- “Trump’s Harsh Language on North Korea Has Little Precedent, Experts Say,” by the New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “Mr. Trump’s menacing remarks echoed the tone and cadence of President Harry S. Truman, who, in a 1945 address announcing that the United States had dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, urged the Japanese to surrender, warning that if they did not, ‘they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.’”

-- “We have reached the tipping point,” Commentary’s Noah Rothman writes. “American policy makers now face two distinctly suboptimal courses of action. They can determine, albeit only implicitly, to allow North Korea to develop, test, and expand its nuclear arsenal and hope that Pyongyang can be deterred from attacking the United States or its allies with a nuclear weapon. The operative word is ‘hope.’ … The other option is no less attractive: neutralize North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. That’s a near impossible task. DPRK nuclear facilities are diffuse, hardened, and underground.”

-- “We need to get Donald Trump’s finger off the nuclear button. This is not a partisan plea,” writes The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard.It is not a call to lower America’s guard against potential nuclear attacks. It is an appeal to common sense in the face of a president whose volatile temperament and erratic judgment should rule out allowing him to single-handedly start a nuclear war.”

-- “Brinkmanship is a dangerous game,” Henry Farrell writes in the Monkey Cage blog. “If you miscalculate your threats or misunderstand the other side’s motivations, you might leave the other side with no choice but to respond aggressively. This might lead to a war of mutually assured destruction that neither side wants but neither side can avoid.… [What] happens if North Korea continues its behavior? It will be highly costly, and possibly greatly damaging to the United States to deliver on Trump’s threat, even in its minimal form. If the threat leads to further brinkmanship and an out-and-out nuclear war, it will obviously be far worse still.…”

From the former Joint Chiefs of Staff:

From a former CIA director:

Some Republicans said the brinksmanship will appeal to some. From a senior counselor on defense to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.):

Greg Sargent had a similar thought:

But other Republican influencers were more sober in their assessments:

From the director of Middlebury's East Asia Nonproliferation Program:

-- MORE in international disorder: “The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project,” USA Today’s Jim Michaels reports: “Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents, [said] Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm … Prince, who has met frequently with administration officials to discuss his plan, is the brother of [Betsy DeVos]. Under his proposal, private advisers would work directly with Afghanistan combat battalions throughout the country, and the air force would be used for medical evacuation, fire support and ferrying troops. Prince said the plan will cost less than $10 billion a year, significantly lower than the more than $40 billion the Pentagon has budgeted this year.”

-- “Inside Erik Prince’s secret proposal to outsource the war in Afghanistan,” by Josh Rogin: “Prince has laid out his proposal in a PowerPoint presentation to government officials, lawmakers and congressional officials. Entitled ‘A Strategic Economy of Force,’ it is nothing less than a plan to change the way Afghanistan is governed, how the war is fought and the very nature of the U.S.-Afghan bilateral relationship. Prince’s plan is opposed by senior military leaders including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, key lawmakers who have received Prince’s brief and senior military officials who have fought in Afghanistan over the past 16 years. … That handover of control to what Prince has called a ‘viceroy’ is a non-starter for many on Capitol Hill, especially since that person would also control spending and contracting.”

-- An Iranian drone threatened and nearly collided with a Navy attack jet Tuesday, U.S. officials said, coming within 100 feet of the plane as it prepared to land on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. (Andrew deGrandpre)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Trump’s presidential campaign, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have begun turning over thousands of pages of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as part of the panel's mounting Russia probe. Bloomberg’s Steven T. Dennis reports: “The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. … [Meanwhile], a company the Judiciary panel says has been linked to a salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump, Fusion GPS, and its chief executive officer, Glenn Simpson, have yet to turn over any requested documents, Hartmann said. The committee asked for all records regarding any attempts or interest in obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russian government or affiliated sources, including the June 2016 [meeting]. The Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, [Dianne Feinstein], said last week that public hearings may be held in late September with Trump Jr. and Manafort.”

-- Trump has exchanged private messages with Robert Mueller, using his lawyer to send notes of “appreciation” to the man tasked with overseeing the Russia investigation. USA Today’s David Jackson and Kevin Johnson report: "’He appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing,'' Trump's chief counsel John Dowd [said] in an interview Tuesday. ‘He asked me to share that with him and that's what I've done.’ Trump's legal team has been in contact with Mueller's office, and Dowd says he has passed along the president's messages expressing ‘appreciation and greetings’ to the special counsel. ‘The president has sent messages back and forth,’ Dowd said, declining to elaborate further.” He told reporters all interactions with Mueller have been proper.  “We get along well with Bob Mueller; our communications have been constructive,’’ the attorney said.

-- Mueller and at least several of his team members gave up million-dollar jobs to work on the special counsel investigation, according to financial disclosure forms. Matt Zapotosky reports: “[Mueller] left a $3.4 million partner job in the white-shoe law firm WilmerHale, where he worked for clients such as Facebook, Apple, Sony and the NFL, to serve as the special counsel … The document offers a glimpse into who the special counsel and the lawyers he has hired have worked for, and where they have made and invested their money. They are likely to be closely scrutinized by allies of [Trump], who has criticized Mueller and his team as having conflicts of interest. [The documents show that several members] left behind substantial salaries to work on the Russia case. James L. Quarles III, who left WilmerHale with Mueller, drew more than $5.8 million from his partnership there. Jeannie Rhee, another partner, drew more than $2 million, and Aaron Zebley, who was Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI and also worked with him at WilmerHale, drew more than $1.4 million. It is unclear precisely how much each is getting paid to work on the Russia investigation … though it is likely a far cry from their private-sector work.”

-- AND YET: Republican lawmakers are continuing to investigate Hillary Clinton. David Weigel reports: “[C]ongressional Republicans and conservative legal watchdogs are continuing to probe the scandals that dogged the Democratic campaign. And in conservative media, the churn of possible investigations has created a news cycle that operates independently of the one seen in most of the press. … Separately, the Senate and House judiciary committees have been carrying out or exploring investigations into aspects of the 2016 campaign and Clinton’s years at the State Department.”

THE OPIOID NON-EMERGENCY:

-- During his press appearance yesterday, Trump refrained from declaring the opioid crisis to be a national emergency. Jenna Johnson and John Wagner report: “Instead, the president met Tuesday afternoon with health officials and members of his administration to receive an update on the crisis and to briefly address reporters. He said the ‘best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place.’ … Declaring a state of emergency allows the government to quickly lift restrictions or waive rules so that states and local governments don’t have to wait to take action. [Health and Human Services Secretary Tom] Price said that the administration can do the same sorts of things without declaring an emergency, although he said Trump is keeping the option on the table.”

Trump’s decision ran counter to a recommendation from a commission he assembled to study the epidemic, which released a damning report about the crisis just last week: “[T]he commission issued a preliminary report that described the overdose death toll as ‘September 11th every three weeks’ and urged the president to immediately ‘declare a national emergency.’ … The report said that 142 Americans were dying every day of drug overdoses, based on 2015 statistics — but new federal data released early Tuesday signaled that the [average] daily toll is up significantly. … The preliminary report also calls for expanded access to drug treatment for Medicaid recipients, increased use of medication-assisted treatments, development of non-opioid pain relievers, wider use of a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose and more protections for people who report a drug overdose to first responders or law enforcement officials.”

-- But instead of focusing on those recommendations, Trump emphasized a law-and-order approach to combating the epidemic. Politico’s Brianna Ehley reports: “‘Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society,’ Trump said. ‘I'm confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement experts we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.’ The remarks echoed similar comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this summer. … The Trump administration has consistently taken a law-and-order approach, despite concerns from experts who say treatment should be the priority. The administration also backed the GOP's Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal that the CBO estimated would slash Medicaid — the largest payer of behavioral health services — by $800 billion. Advocates have stressed that such a proposal would almost certainly result in less access to treatment for people with addiction.”

-- Vox’s German Lopez described Trump’s announcement on the crisis as a “huge nothingburger:” “Before the event, Trump made some vague comments that his administration was going to do something. An hour and a half later, [Price] and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway — but not Trump — held a press conference in which they reiterated (without any specifics) the administration’s intent to combat the crisis. … And Trump should have a personal interest in this issue. According to an analysis by historian Kathleen Frydl, most of the counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania that swung from Democrat in the 2012 election to Republican in 2016 were hit hard by the opioid crisis. It seems to be a major reason Trump won this election. But there has been no big plan or even an indication that one is coming.”

THE TRUMP AGENDA:

-- “The Justice Department has reversed itself in a high-profile voting case in Ohio to side with the state and allow the purging of voters from the rolls for not answering election mail and not voting in recent elections,” Sari Horwitz reports: “In a court filing Monday, Justice attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involved the state’s removal of thousands of inactive voters from the Ohio voting rolls. Civil rights groups last year challenged Ohio’s process, arguing that such purges are prohibited under the National Voter Registration Act. The Justice Department under Obama filed an amicus brief siding with the groups, and the Supreme Court is set to hear the case in the next term. But in an unusual turn, the department filed a new amicus brief Monday arguing that the purges of voters are legal under federal law …”

-- “Federal immigration courts ordered 57,069 people to leave the United States in the first six months of the Trump administration, up nearly 31 percent over the same period last year,” Maria Sacchetti reports: “Unlike the traditional federal court system, which is independent of the executive branch of government, immigration courts are administered by the Department of Justice. That agency said that from Feb. 1 to July 31, judges issued 73,127 final immigration decisions, an increase of 14.5 percent over the same period in 2016. Of those decisions, 49,983 were deportation orders, an increase of nearly 28 percent from the same period in 2016. … Federal officials attributed the increase in case completions to Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order dispatching more than 100 immigration judges to immigration jails across the country. More than 90 percent of cases heard in jails have led to orders to leave the United States. The department has also hired 54 new judges to work in immigration courts since Trump took office, [and] more are being hired every month.”

-- Former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed imploring Trump to “have a heart” about the fate of  young immigrants known as DREAMers who came to the country illegally as children: “[N]ow is the time for President Trump to make a decision about the policy’s future; he should continue DACA and instruct his attorney general to defend it in court. … It is the prerogative of the president to instruct his attorney general to defend his administration’s policies whenever there is a good-faith legal basis to do so. The DACA challenges present one such opportunity. … A decision by President Trump to defend DACA would be consistent with his own public statements that many DACA recipients are ‘absolutely incredible kids’ for whom we should show ‘great heart.’ … Deciding the future of DACA presents a chance for the president to show a ‘great heart.’”

-- The Trump administration has scrapped a proposed rule to test truck, bus and train operators for a sleep disorder that could cause them to fall asleep on the job, rolling back another Obama-era proposal as part of a larger push to relieve industries of regulatory burdens. Ashley Halsey III reports: “In pulling back the proposed rule, the Transportation Department acknowledged that moderate to severe sleep apnea is ‘an ongoing concern … because it can cause unintended sleep episodes …’ putting passengers and other drivers at risk. The Obama administration last year proposed to test bus, truck and rail operators for sleep apnea, and treat those found to have the disorder.”

-- The deputy secretary of state tried to reassure the department’s staffers before a major restructuring that has been in the works for months. Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports: “At a town hall-style session, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan also urged diplomats and other employees to take media reports on the department's woes with a grain of salt. … The session appeared aimed at bucking up sagging morale at the department, whose budget [Trump] wants to cut by a third.” Sullivan compared the shake-up to military changes following the Vietnam War. “[The Vietnam reference] suggests big shifts are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training."

-- “The help Trump promised hasn’t come. So this ‘dying city’ is determined to save itself,” by Robert Samuels: “Palatka, a [Florida] city of 10,400 swaddled by potato farms and a paper mill that employs a small fraction of the workers it once did, is desperate for an economy to call its own. Abandoned by retailers that have moved out of their city, and disappointed that President Trump hasn’t yet delivered on his promise to restore economic opportunity to small communities, the people here say they don’t have much choice. … Some here thought this would be a year of revival. Trump had vowed a major deal to pour trillions into roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure projects that Palatka … has been seeking for years. … Instead, the only Kmart went out of business this spring, and the town’s beloved J.C. Penney closed its doors last week, eliminating dozens of jobs and the only thing around that resembles upscale shopping.”

THE NEW SCIENCE:

-- U.S. diplomats have been advised to dodge questions from foreign officials about whether the Trump administration might reconsider the Paris climate agreement. Reuters’s Yeganeh Torbati and Valerie Volcovici report: “[A diplomatic] cable, sent by [Rex Tillerson] to embassies on Friday, also said diplomats should make clear the United States wants to help other countries use fossil fuels. … If asked, for example, ‘What is the process for consideration of re-engagement in the Paris Agreement?’ the answer should be vague: ‘We are considering a number of factors. I do not have any information to share on the nature or timing of the process,’ the cable advises. … The State Department guidance clarifies that right now, ‘there are no plans to seek to re-negotiate or amend the text of the Paris Agreement.’”

-- The pending release of a government report on the devastating effects of climate change is forcing Trump to choose between the experts and his base. The New York Times’s Michael D. Shear and Brad Plumer write: “... Mr. Trump’s response to the scientific conclusions in the forthcoming Climate Science Special Report will have broad implications for the American scientific community; local and state governments; and the global effort to combat the effects of rising temperatures that are already unfolding. … For Mr. Trump, that means deciding whether his message on the campaign trail will guide his actions as president.”

-- Several contributors to the climate change report have said that they do not expect the Trump administration to suppress their findings. (Politico’s Emily Holden)

-- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s campaign against climate change has received some criticism from conservative groups. Holden reports: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, political groups backed by the Koch brothers and the top lobbying organizations for the coal, oil, natural gas and power industries are among those so far declining to back Pruitt’s efforts to undermine the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change[.] … Some advocates privately worry that the debate would politically harm moderate Republicans, while wasting time and effort that’s better spent on the [EPA's] regulatory rollback. Nevertheless, the former Oklahoma attorney general is persisting — a stance that could enhance his future political prospects in his deep-red home state.”

-- Despite Trump’s approval of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline shortly after taking office, state regulators still need to greenlight the project. Steven Mufson reports: “This week they got a taste of how difficult that could be as the Public Service Commission kicked off public hearings in Nebraska, the state where opposition to the $8 billion pipeline project has been strongest. … At the same time, TransCanada must find oil producers ready to fill the 830,000 barrel-a-day 36-inch diameter pipeline running from Canada’s oil sands to a pipeline nexus in southern Nebraska. … Nebraska might be TransCanada’s biggest obstacle. The pipeline, first proposed more than eight years ago, has touched a populist nerve and aroused concerns that a leak could contaminate farm land and pasture, the delicate Sandhills, or water supplies.”

HEALTH-CARE FALLOUT CONTINUES:

-- Mitch McConnell criticized Trump for his “excessive expectations” about Congress’s ability to pass legislation. CNN’s Ryan Nobles reports: “McConnell, who has been relatively measured in his previous critiques of the White House, argued the President's approach to the legislative process is leading to an inaccurate impression of how Congress works. … McConnell made the case that the Congress is working as it should and that voters should allow the process to play itself out before passing judgment. ‘Part of the reason I think people think we're under-performing is because of too many artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the legislature which may have not been understood.’”

-- Republican donors are reportedly withholding millions of dollars in contributions after the health-care bill’s collapse. CNN’s Manu Raju reports: “At least $2 million in contributions promised to the National Republican Senatorial Committee have failed to materialize because donors are expressing frustration with the Senate GOP's inability to fulfill their central campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, according to two GOP sources familiar with the matter. The shortfall, officials said, also points to a larger concern within the party that their core voters may be disillusioned heading into the 2018 midterms when Democrats have a serious shot of retaking the House. … [A] funding shortfall could impact the ability of the party's main Senate campaign committee to mount a high-dollar ad blitz in a number of red and purple states where Democratic senators are vulnerable.”

-- Groups on the left have already begun running attack ads against Republican lawmakers who voted for the repeal of Obamacare. The Hill’s Rachel Roubein reports: “A grassroots progressive group is launching a five-figure digital ad buy against 10 lawmakers who voted for versions of an ObamaCare repeal bill. The ads from Save My Care target two of the most vulnerable GOP senators in 2018, Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.), in addition to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito[.] … Additionally, the House Majority PAC — a super PAC allied with House Democrats — announced Monday that it’s launching billboards and mobile billboards targeting House Republicans who voted for their chamber's bill.”

-- An alternative take: “The GOP’s Monstrous Health Care Fail Might Just Have Saved the Party,” by former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer in Politico Magazine: “[T]here is one thing the president was right about from the start: The Republican Party probably should have left Obamacare repeal well enough alone. At least, that is, until the party had gotten its act together. … And yet, ironically, the GOP’s complete, even historic, ineptitude has managed to work in the party’s favor — as the president might say — ‘big league.’ … Had Congress actually passed an Obamacare replacement law, with a bare majority of votes, loved by nearly no one, endlessly assailed by the new media, its consequences would be the GOP’s to bear. And unless the health care of Americans vastly improved … the GOP would pay an ugly price.”

THE ROAD TO 2018:

-- Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has already attracted a GOP primary challenger. Politico’s Kevin Robillard reports: “Danny Tarkanian, the son of a legendary Nevada college basketball coach who has run for office several times, announced Tuesday morning that he will challenge [Heller] in Nevada's Republican primary next year. Tarkanian announced his bid on ‘Fox & Friends,’ where he criticized Heller as a ‘Never-Trumper’ and said that his stance on the president helped Hillary Clinton carry the state. … Tarkanian began furiously criticizing Heller earlier this year after the senator announced he would oppose the initial Senate Republican health care bill. … Tarkanian has made numerous unsuccessful runs for office in the state, but he is well-known and has won several primaries in recent years.”

-- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who also faces reelection next year and is extremely critical of Trump in his new book “ Conscience of a Conservative,” also received an intraparty warning. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reports: “[RNC] chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, during a conversation about [Flake], said Monday that 2016 Republican senate candidates who did not back [Trump] during his presidential run and lost should serve as a ‘cautionary tale.’ … McDaniel made the comments during an interview on the ‘Laura Ingraham’ show. Ingraham repeatedly questioned if Flake could be kicked off the Republican ticket[.] … McDaniel said the RNC usually stayed out of primaries but under the party's bylaws could intervene if a number of RNC committee members agreed it was necessary. … ‘[L]et's look at Joe Heck and Kelly Ayotte, they fell short in those Senate races, so there is a cautionary tale there because voters want you to support the President in his agenda.’”

-- In an increasingly divided political environment, bipartisanship is becoming an electoral weakness. David Weigel reports of next week’s GOP primary in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, where Jason Chaffetz (R) recently resigned: “Understandably, conservatives from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth have zoomed into the 3rd District to boost Chris Herrod, a former state legislator, ALEC member and reliable right-winger. Herrod won the support of Republicans at the district convention, but Provo Mayor John Curtis has scooped up the most endorsements, and lawyer Tanner Ainge has run as an outsider. … In [a new Club for Growth ad], Curtis and Ainge are accused of ‘pretending to be conservatives.’ The evidence against Ainge? A flash card and narrator report that ‘Tanner Ainge says we need to be more “bipartisan” like Nancy Pelosi.’”

PENCE 2020?:

-- West Wing insiders say that the arrival of Nick Ayers, Mike Pence’s new chief of staff, is shaking up power dynamics between Trump’s staff and the vice president. Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports: “Ayers’ hire … was less about a secret campaign to challenge Trump in 2020 and more about helping the vice president — who, at just 58, has a political future ahead of him in the post-Trump era — preserve his future political options, whatever they may be … Last week’s passing of the baton from [Reince] Priebus to [John] Kelly and from [Pence’s former chief of staff Josh] Pitcock to Ayers has heralded broader changes in the White House — reining in presidential aides and prompting more assertiveness from the vice president’s allies. … Ayers is around to ensure that if Trump is out of the picture for one reason or another his man will be ready. He is elbowing his way into meetings at which the vice president was previously unrepresented[,] and … Ayers freely shares his views on the White House’s messaging and political strategy.”

-- The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza reports that Anthony Scaramucci also made a previously unreported comment about Ayers: “Two weeks ago, when I spoke to Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director — the same conversation in which he pilloried several colleagues, threatened to fire his entire staff, and claimed to have called the F.B.I. to investigate the White House chief of staff — he offered some cryptic thoughts about Vice-President Mike Pence. ‘Why do you think Nick’s there, bro?’ Scaramucci asked me, referring to Nick Ayers[.] … Given everything else Scaramucci told me that day, I left this exchange out of my original article about the conversation. But, in light of the news this week about Pence’s political machinations, the remarks seem worth revisiting. … Was Scaramucci suggesting that Ayers was meant to protect Pence from the fallout if and when Trump collapses politically, resigns, decides not to run for reelection, or is impeached?”

WEST WING INTRIGUE:

-- BuzzFeed News, “Behind The Jared And Ivanka PR Machine,” by Steven Perlberg: “A product of the ruthless New York corporate arena, [Josh] Raffel conducts the ‘blocking and tackling’ for Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, routinely making the couple available for off-the-record chats, sources say. People who know Raffel say he hardly supports the Trump agenda. He donated to Hillary Clinton as late as Oct. 2016. But since April, Raffel has worked in the White House’s Office of American Innovation, a hub for Kushner’s portfolio of interests. … He also manages PR for Kushner and Ivanka Trump … Sources say Raffel is intensely loyal to the couple and also to Hope Hicks, with whom he formerly worked with [at] a New York PR firm that represented Kushner’s family real estate company. That apparatus — a press shop within a press shop defending the couple’s personal brands — is yet another feature of an unconventional White House. It also seems at odds with [John Kelly’s] manifest: bringing discipline to a West Wing defined by warring factions, where senior officials have built up their own camps of aides and handlers.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump's intensifying standoff with North Korea dominated social media:

Yet again, there is an old Trump tweet for every situation:

From a former presidential candidate and #NeverTrumper:

From a Post reporter and author of a book on the atomic bomb:

From the Cipher Brief's senior national security correspondent:

Congressional Democrats lambasted Trump's remarks:

A former Justice Department spokesman under Obama responded to his own tweet from just two weeks ago:

After Trump's statement:

From a senior fellow for Media Matters:

From a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute:

From one of Politico's Capitol Hill reporters:

A progressive blogger lamented one Trump supporter's response to the threat:

One of our colleagues responded:

A former New York Times columnist and author made this dark World War I joke:

A USA Today contributor offered this reflection on North Korea's threat to attack Guam:

From one of The Post's fact checkers:

A smart thread from CNN's chief national security correspondent: 

Hours before issuing his stern threat to North Korea, Trump retweeted this "Fox and Friends" report, which relied on leaked classified information:

His decision to highlight the story baffled some commentators, given Trump's repeated disdain for leaks:

Bill Clinton commented on Kenya's elections, which took place yesterday:

And Cindy McCain gave an update on her husband's health:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New Yorker, “A Summer School for Mathematicians Fed Up with Gerrymandering,” by Dawn Chen: “On a late-spring evening in Boston, just as the sun was beginning to set, a group of mathematicians lingered over the remains of the dinner they had just shared. While some cleared plates from the table, others started transforming skewers and hunks of raw potato into wobbly geodesic forms. Justin Solomon, an assistant professor at M.I.T., lunged forward to keep his structure from collapsing. … He and his collaborators were unwinding after a long day making preparations for a new program at Tufts University — a summer school [for mathematicians, data analysts, legal scholars, schoolteachers, and political scientists] … It has drawn participants from France, Israel, Japan, Singapore, and forty U.S. states. It was inspired by a simple question: What if there are well-researched areas of math that could simplify, or at least systematize, the fraught process of redistricting?”

-- The Atlantic, “How America Lost Its Mind,” by Kurt Andersen: “The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies — every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, all of us free to reinvent ourselves by imagination and will. In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts. Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation — small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become …”

-- New York Times, “At Walmart Academy, Training Better Managers. But With a Better Future?” by Michael Corkery: “A new program for store supervisors and department managers may make them better Walmart employees, but it may not help them reach the middle class.”

-- The Atlantic, “The Trump Show Never Ends,” by Molly Ball: This is what’s going to happen, day in and day out — nonstop chaos, plot twists and cliffhangers, a furious, embattled president who finds new ways to shock while never seeming to change. … Trump keeps campaigning for the election that happened nine months ago, determined to keep that feeling alive. … The message to the faithful is clear enough: You are on the hook for this. An attack on me is an attack on you. To stop believing would be a betrayal.”

-- New York Times, “The Culture Wars Have Come to Silicon Valley,” by Nick Wingfield: “Silicon Valley’s politics have long skewed left, with a free-markets philosophy and a dash of libertarianism. But that goes only so far, with recent episodes putting the tech industry under the microscope for how it penalizes people for expressing dissenting opinions.”

-- Politico, “New Jersey gives Trump a chilly reception,” by Matt Friedman: “Aside from Gov. Chris Christie’s warm welcome, the president is getting a chilly reception from the state’s political class, which is greeting his presence in New Jersey with a shrug — or worse. ‘It’s not like he’s really here. He’s not going to walk down Main Street and buy an ice cream cone,’ said Democratic state Sen. Richard Codey[.]”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Trump gets a folder full of positive news about himself twice a day,” from Vice News: “Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president. The first document is prepared around 9:30 a.m. and the follow-up, around 4:30 p.m. Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both wanted the privilege of delivering the 20-to-25-page packet to President Trump personally[.] … [T]he folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A Melbourne cafe is charging an 18 percent ‘man tax,’” from Gene Marks: “One of the many benefits of being your own boss is that you can use your business as a platform to raise awareness about social issues — assuming that you can withstand the controversy. A Melbourne business owner is doing just that, and creating quite a stir. … [Alex O’Brien], who owns the Handsome Her eatery, is taking a stand against the country’s significant gender wage cap. She’s doing this by levying an 18 percent ‘man tax’ on her male customers, and also she’s giving her female customers seating priority. ... But the response on social media has been mixed. Some have pointed out that the move creates more divisiveness and discrimination.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump and Pence have no public events today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress on Trump’s “moral authority” to address the North Korea issue: “When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. … In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.

 

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

-- It should be a beautiful, sunny day in the District. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “High pressure provides mostly sunny skies, as highs head for the low-to-mid 80s with low humidity. Winds are light[.]”

-- The Nationals lost to the Marlins 7-3, “shrinking” their division lead over them to 13 games. (Chelsea Janes)

-- D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine has been accused of accepting $3,500 that violated campaign finance rules during his 2014 bid. Peter Jamison reports: “The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is reviewing five contributions that were above the legal limits imposed on donors[.] … [A Racine campaign adviser] said the mistake arose in part from a glitch in the software used by the District’s campaign-finance office that did not record the donations as over the limit when the campaign first reported them.”

-- Maryland’s General Assembly is considering a proposal that would allow a county-by-county option for taxpayer-funded campaign financing. Rachel Siegel reports: “Such a localized approach could face legal and political roadblocks, and a specific bill has yet to be drafted. But supporters say a program could also help mitigate the influence of large donors in state politics and help propel Maryland toward statewide public financing for legislative races.”

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert pondered why North Korea has chosen to single out the United States:

Trump’s comments about Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) on Vietnam exemplified his missteps with the military:

An audience member at a House Republican’s town hall told him, “May you die in pain”:

A conservative super PAC released an attack ad — against two Republican primary candidates in Utah:

The mayor of Nashville spoke out after her son’s drug overdose death last month:

The Post explored whether the tech sector is still a boys’ club:

The Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka featured a procession of costumed elephants:

And a group of artists in Germany attempted to build the world’s largest sandcastle: