With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA today is by Kelsey Snell. James will be back on Monday.

August is supposed to be a time when Washington recharges, relaxes and refreshes. But just beyond that happy hour cocktail or beach blanket is a looming fiscal battle over funding the government and raising the debt limit.

Exciting, right? When Congress returns in September the House will have just 12 legislative days to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid default — and the same amount of time to approve a spending deal to avert a government shutdown. Those things alone would make for a hefty lift under even the best political circumstances. But the high-stakes deadlines comes as GOP lawmakers are still bruised and angry over the dramatic failure of their most recent push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Some congressional Republicans openly admit there is a strong possibility the GOP will quickly abandon a broader spending bill in favor of a short-term funding measure to keep the government open, perhaps through the end of the year. One of the likely solutions would continue current spending levels through the middle of December to give lawmakers more time to negotiate a broader deal.

Such a decision would be a practical solution to the hard reality that Republicans are deeply split over spending priorities — and likely don’t have enough votes to pass any kind of major spending bill on their own.

Republican leaders know there are about a dozen conservatives who simply won’t vote for most spending bills. Those same 12 or more far-right members also don’t want to vote to increase the debt limit without corresponding spending cuts. That means Republicans will probably have to turn to Democrats to both raise the borrowing limit and keep the government funded.

Leaders expect that Democrats would be happy to extend current spending levels and increase the debt limit. The problem is with Republicans, for whom accepting another stopgap spending measure would be a dramatic reversal. GOP leaders have pledged to cut spending and restore order to the budget process.

Still, even some hard-line conservatives seemed resigned to the reality of a short-term spending bill, no matter how distasteful to them. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters before recess that September is going to be a difficult month and he doesn’t expect there will be enough time to complete the regular process of passing funding bills.

“All the fiscal issues and deadlines are going to make it extremely difficult to get everything done in a piece-by-piece basis,” Meadows said in July. “We’re almost anticipating a bigger bill with a whole bunch of things put together that would maybe bring a whole lot of Democrats on board and pass with less than a majority of the majority.”

Meadows wasn’t happy about that idea, but he also didn’t challenge the notion that conservatives may be fighting a lonely and losing battle over spending cuts next month. Approving a short-term bill could be the quickest solution for GOP leaders — but it carries with it both risks and rewards for Republicans still reeling from their failure on health care.

 

Here are three reasons Republicans might want to force the bigger spending fight:

  1. They can delay the pain of a public debate over cutting funding for popular programs. Even deeply passionate fiscal hawks got queasy when President Trump proposed cutting funding for programs like arts education, student loans and Meals on Wheels.
  2. They won't have to grapple with the fight over Trump's border wall. Some key Senate Republicans have openly rejected the idea of spending money on the wall without spending cuts to offset it. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), John McCain (Ariz) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) all told CNN back in February they weren’t on board with the wall plan.
  3. They can focus on a tax overhaul. Republican leaders announced last month they plan to start hearings on a tax bill in September with the hope of holding a House vote in October and a Senate one in November. That timeline is ambitious, but GOP lawmakers see a tax code rewrite as an opportunity to eke out a sizable victory — even if it means that they have to settle for a simple tax cut rather than a sweeping overhaul like some had imagined.

A tax overhaul is a signature pledge for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and he is eager to move on to that project. So eager in fact that his Twitter feed has included near-daily reminders of his promise:

Here are three reasons a short-term spending measure might be a nightmare for the GOP:

  1. Trump wants his border wall funded. The White House was willing to accept the last spending bill without wall funding based on the assumption that GOP leaders would provide it in the next round of spending bills. Politico reported earlier this week that the White House is already floating a plan to increase domestic spending in exchange for money to begin construction of a “double fence.”
  2. North Korea is creating even more pressure for military spending. Most defense hawks hate short-term spending bills because it's impossible for the military to plan and prepare. Earlier this year, McCain was among those who pledged not to support another stopgap bill, saying that doing so “destroys the ability of the military to defend this nation.”
  3. Nothing’s going to change between now and December. Republicans will also still be wary of the wall. A bloc of House conservatives will still be unwilling to vote for any kind of spending bill, and barring an unforeseen surprise, the 52 Senate Republicans will still need at least eight Democrats to keep the government funded.

The upshot: We could all be getting another shutdown fight under the Capitol Christmas tree this year.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Congressional investigators now want to question Trump’s longtime personal secretary Rhona Graff over the meeting between Trump associates and a Russian lawyer. ABC News’s Benjamin Siegel reports: “Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization who has worked at Trump Tower for nearly 30 years, has acted as a gatekeeper to Trump. She remains a point of contact for the sprawling universe of Trump associates, politicians, reporters and others seeking Trump's time and attention, even now that he's in the White House. Graff's position in Trump's orbit recently gained attention after Donald Trump Jr. released a June 2016 email exchange with British publicist Rob Goldstone leading up to the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower. ...”

"‘I can also send this info to your father via Rhona,’ Goldstone wrote Donald Jr. in the email, ‘but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.’ Graff was not on the email chain and it's unclear if Goldstone ever made direct contact with her. ‘Since her name is in the email, people will want her to answer questions,’ said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who knows Graff. ‘If you go into Trump Tower, you’re going to mention her name.’”

-- China warned in a state-owned newspaper that it would not come to North Korea’s aid if it pre-emptively struck the United States, Simon Denyer reports: “[B]ut it would intervene if Washington strikes first. The Global Times newspaper is not an official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, but in this case its editorial probably does reflect government policy and can be considered ‘semiofficial,’ experts said. China has repeatedly warned both Washington and Pyongyang not to do anything that raises tensions or causes instability on the Korean Peninsula, and strongly reiterated that suggestion Friday. … The Global Times said both sides were engaging in a ‘reckless game’ that runs the risk of descending into a real war.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. CNN on Thursday severed ties with pro-Trump commentator Jeffrey Lord, after he tweeted the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil!” at a prominent liberal activist. A spokesperson for the network confirmed his ousting saying in a statement that his remarks were “indefensible.” (CNN)
  2. 2016 was the warmest year on record. The report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the most comprehensive research on climate change released by the Trump administration, but it doesn’t address the link between climate change and human activity. (Politico

  3. The governor of Louisiana has declared a state of emergency in New Orleans. A power outage threatened the city’s drainage pumps, which could cause serious problems if an above-average level of rain falls. (Tim Craig)

  4. The sentencing for the co-defendant of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in a separate fraud case was postponed. Salomon Melgen was convicted in April. Melgen's and Menendez’s corruption trial does not begin until next month. (Politico)

  5. Venture capital firm Benchmark Capital is suing former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The firm accuses Kalanick of fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. If Benchmark’s suit is successful, Kalanick could lose his seat on Uber’s board of directors. (Axios)

  6. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley lost two of her top staffers this week. Her chief of staff, Steven Groves, and communications director Jonathan Wachtel both resigned Wednesday, a decision which Haley attributed to “family concerns.” “They will always be a part of the team & dear friends,” she said in a tweet. (Bloomberg News)

  7. Authorities in Iran have arrested six people for performing Zumba, a Colombian fitness routine, as well as other types of “Western” dance. Their arrest comes just several years after a group of young people were sentenced to a year in prison after they made a video dancing to Pharrell Williams's “Happy.” (Amanda Erickson)

  8. Scientists have successfully created the first mutated ants. It’s an achievement more difficult than it might seem, according to researchers — and it’s also believed to be the first successful genetic alteration of any social insects. (Ben Guarino)
  9. Britain has introduced new and improved bank notes. They’re harder to forge, more difficult to destroy — escaping unscathed from both a full washing machine cycle and a dunk in curry — but they’re also vehemently opposed by vegetarians everywhere. Turns out, the new material uses trace amount of animal meat. (New York Times
  10. Trump’s D.C. hotel turned a $2 million in profit in its first four month, surpassing expectations. Trump International charges more for its rooms than almost any other hotel in Washington. (Jonathan O'Connell)

TRUMP, UNCHAINED:

The president sparred with reporters twice while on his “working” vacation at his golf resort in Bedminister, N.J., yesterday. The result was a wide-ranging, eye-popping performance that spanned the gamut from the Kremlin's ousting of U.S. officials to whether he ever pondered firing special counsel Robert Mueller. “It was like he was a dam that had suddenly burst free and he was able to unload a lot that was on his mind,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told Philip Rucker in must-read Debrief on the 27 minutes of presidential comments. “This is what [Chief of Staff] General Kelly will learn very quickly, which is when you put this guy in a cage and think you’re controlling him, things like this happen,” said one Trump confidant, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Here are the highlights of the president's remarks:

-- ON VLADIMIR PUTIN: Trump said Thursday that he was “very thankful” to Putin for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomats in Russia, because it “helps him cut” the U.S. payroll. “I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I'm concerned I'm very thankful … because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump [said] ... “There's no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we've been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We're going to save a lot of money.”

CONTEXT: “Trump's answer was a tad tongue-in-cheek, but he gave no clear indication that he was joking or trying to be facetious in offering his gratitude to Putin,” Rucker reports. It is also the first time Trump has publicly addressed Putin’s decision last month to slash 775 diplomatic staffers from Russian diplomatic compounds — a move that came in retaliation to expanded U.S. sanctions against Moscow.

Trump’s comments Thursday infuriated State Department employees, where many say they have felt “ignored and badly treated” by the Trump administration, Politico’s Nahal Toosi and Madeline Conway report. “Some noted that locally hired staff members affected the most are crucial to American diplomats' work overseas. A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump's remarks ‘outrageous’ and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits. ... ‘This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm's way,’ the diplomat said. ‘I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,’ one State Department official [said] shortly after Trump's comments. ‘Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.’”

The former U.S. ambassador to Russia: 

From Nicholas Burns, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs under George W. Bush:

The Daily Beast's national security reporter also pointed this out...

ON THE PRE-DAWN RAID OF PAUL MANAFORT'S HOUSE: “You know, they do that very seldom, so I was surprised to see it. I was very, very surprised to see it ... I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever,” Trump said, speaking out for the first time about the raid since it was made public earlier this week. Manafort, he said, is “like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place, who knows, I don’t know. … But I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up. Perhaps his family was there. I think that’s pretty tough stuff.” Asked whether he had spoken to Jeff Sessions or the FBI about the raid, Trump said: “I have not. But to do that early in the morning, whether or not it was appropriate, you’d have to ask them.”

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH SESSIONS: “It is what it is. It’s fine,” Trump said, after publicly and repeatedly berating his attorney general for recusing himself in the Russia probe. He praised Sessions's crackdown on illegal immigration, saying his attorney general is “working hard on the border.” “I’m very proud of what we’ve done at the border,” he said.

CONTEXT: “At the time the president was making his comments about the raid, Manafort was changing his legal team,” John Wagner and Tom Hamburger write. “Going forward, Manafort will no longer be represented by Reginald Brown of WilmerHale, a former White House counsel known for his good relationships on Capitol Hill. He will now rely on lawyers at Miller Chevalier[.] … The new team will be led in part by Kevin Downing, a former Justice Department litigator known for his work on international tax matters. The move may signal that Manafort expects to defend himself in a possible tax inquiry — and that cooperation with congressional investigators will no longer be the high priority that it was when he retained WilmerHale.”

-- ON NORTH KOREA: Trump stepped up his rhetoric in the ongoing war of words between him and Pyonyang. Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung report: “Trump told reporters that his Tuesday statement warning of ‘fire and fury’ may not have been ‘tough enough,’ but even as he stepped up his brinkmanship with [Kim Jong Un], the president sought to reassure anxious people around the world that he has the situation under control. ‘Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement — was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,’ Trump said. ‘They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.’"

Trump also called North Korea’s threat to Guam “a whole new ballgame.” Kim Jong Un was “not getting away with it,” he said, adding, “He’s not going to be saying those things, and he’s certainly not going to be doing those things.” “He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea,” he said. “It’s not a dare. It’s a statement.” Kim, Trump said, was “not going to go around threatening Guam and he’s not going to threaten the United States and he’s not going to threaten Japan and he’s not going to threaten South Korea.”

CONTEXT: On BBC News Thursday, White House aide Sebastian Gorka was asked about the apparent divergence between Trump and his senior Cabinet advisers: “You should listen to the president,” Gorka said, adding that it was “simply nonsensical” that [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson would deal with “military matters.” “We are not giving in to nuclear blackmail any longer,” Gorka said. 

“At the State Department on Thursday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded sharply to Gorka’s comments on Tillerson:” Asked whether Tillerson’s push for diplomacy was being heeded elsewhere in the administration, Nauert said: “He’s a Cabinet secretary. He’s fourth in line to the presidency. He carries a big stick.”

-- Markets suffered again. The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Yang and Kenan Machado report: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 205 points Thursday, its biggest decline since May 17, after [Trump] rejected criticism that his threats to release ‘fire and fury’ had been too inflammatory and said his statement ‘maybe wasn’t tough enough.’”

-- “North Korea met President Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ warnings with an unusually specific threat of its own Thursday,” Anna Fifield writes from Seoul: “[But] whether the North is willing to carry out the launch [at the U.S. territory of Guam] — and risk escalating the showdown with Washington — was uncertain. But the near miss scenario, analysts say, reflects an important insight into the mind and motives of [Kim Jong Un]. He is prepared to push back against the United States and its allies to a point, many believe, but never enough to risk a war that would threaten his rule as the third-generation strongman in a family dynasty that took hold after World War II.” 

Who is Kim Jong Un? — “In China, the man threatening to fire missiles at the United States is often derided as a chubby brat,” the New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun reports. “In the United States, a senator recently referred to him as ‘this crazy fat kid.’ But the target of all that scorn, Kim Jong-un … has long been underestimated. His ultimate motives, like many details of his life, are uncertain. Only a few people outside North Korea have been allowed to meet him, among them [Dennis Rodman and] a Japanese sushi chef … What little is known of Mr. Kim’s record suggests ruthlessness — and some ideological flexibility ... ‘Smart, pragmatic, decisive,’ Andrei Lankov, a North Korea [in Seoul], said of Mr. Kim. ‘But also capricious, moody and ready to kill easily.’”

-- Meanwhile, the escalating crisis with North Korea has also underscored Trump’s failure to fill key posts in the region. CNN’s Ryan Struyk reports: “A major Defense Department slot — the Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs ... Meanwhile, a key State Department position called the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs is also without a nomination. The heads of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation also remain un-nominated under Trump. And the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, essential to bridging the gap between the State and Defense Departments, has not been nominated under Trump despite being confirmed under both Bush and Obama by June. … And the crucial ambassadorship to South Korea also remains vacant[.] … It's currently filled by Marc Knapper, the previous No. 2 of the embassy.”

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING:

-- There's pretty much nothing between Trump and launching nuclear weapons, Dan Lamothe reports: “A December 2016 assessment by the Congressional Research Service stated that the president ‘does not need the concurrence of either his military advisors or the U.S. Congress to order the launch of nuclear weapons.’ Additionally, the assessment said, ‘neither the military nor Congress can overrule these orders.’ The reason is simple: The system is set up for the United States to launch an attack within minutes, so that if the United States is under a nuclear attack, it can respond almost instantly[.] … Under the existing War Powers Act of 1973, the president also is not required to seek congressional approval for any military action until 60 days after the start of a war.”

-- “Inside Washington’s ‘what if?’ industry, people at think tanks, universities, consultancies and defense businesses have spent four decades playing out scenarios that the Trump administration now faces anew,” Marc Fisher and David Nakamura report. But the nightmare scenarios are simple enough: In a launch from North Korea, a nuclear-tipped missile could reach San Francisco in half an hour. A nuclear attack on [Seoul] could start and finish in three minutes.

“[But] a conventional war, heavy casualties would likely result as North Korean troops poured into the South, using tunnels the North is reported to have built under the [DMZ]. [Additionally] North Korea is believed to have a stockpile of several thousand tons of chemical weapons …”

-- The New York Times’s Rick Gladstone presents one important question — if the U.S. attacks North Korea first, would it be considered self-defense? “Michael N. Schmitt, a professor at the United States Naval War College and an affiliate at the Harvard Law School … said three basic requirements must be met: The other country must have the ability to attack; the other country’s behavior must show that an attack is imminent; and there are no other ways to forestall it. While North Korea may have an ability to attack the United States, there is widespread skepticism that an attack is imminent. And many officials, including some of Mr. Trump’s senior aides, have said other options have not been exhausted. ‘I think that the answer to the question is fairly unequivocally ‘no,’’ said Kevin Jon Heller, a law professor at the University of London. ‘There’s no right of self-defense against a non-imminent threat.’”

-- “[Another] major consideration would be whether and when to evacuate American and other allied civilians, which is no small feat as Seoul [is a] city of about 10 million,” New York Times’s Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt report. “‘With all this talk, what I worry about is a serious miscalculation,’ said James D. Thurman, [the former top U.S.] commander in South Korea ...  He estimated that at least a quarter-million Americans would have to be moved. If the United States was prepared to go beyond a limited strike, it could conduct a surprise attack on North Korea’s missile garrison and weapon storage areas … American officials, however, do not have high confidence that the military could find and destroy North Korea’s entire arsenal of long-range missiles and nuclear warheads … “

“‘I can’t underscore enough how unappealing all the military options are,' said Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon’s top policy official at the end of the Obama administration. ‘This wouldn’t end well. The U.S. would win, but it would be ugly.’”

Back to Trump's remarks yesterday ...

ON MITCH MCCONNELL: “I’m very disappointed in Mitch. … Honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place. And it should have been on my desk virtually the first week that I was there or the first day that I was there. I’ve been hearing about it for seven years.”

CONTEXT: Trump has been lobbing attacks at the wily Senate majority leader ever since McConnell at home in Kentucky said the president's “excessive expectations” on health care had not been helpful.

“Trump declined to say whether McConnell should resign but said they should ask the question again if the Senate leader doesn’t deliver on the president’s leading priorities,” John Wagner, Ed O'Keefe and Paul Kane report. “Trump associates said the attacks, which began Wednesday night and resumed Thursday, were intended to shore up Trump’s outside-the-Beltway populist credentials and would resonate with core supporters frustrated by a lack of progress in Washington. But the tweets were quickly met with public and private defenses of McConnell — and rebukes of Trump.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted this after Trump’s morning swipe at McConnell:

Even some Republicans close to the president suggested that the attacks on McConnell would hurt him on Capitol Hill, where relations with GOP leaders have seriously frayed as Trump’s agenda has stalled,” our colleagues report. “Despite the public criticism, Trump and McConnell have been in frequent contact, usually by telephone, to discuss legislative strategy, aides said. Privately, senior GOP congressional aides across Capitol Hill have said it’s Trump and his team — not McConnell — who deserve the blame for the collapse of the GOP’s health-care plan. The aides gripe that Trump seriously damaged relationships with key Republican senators over the months-long debacle.”

-- Politico’s Josh Dawsey has more: “Trump watched clips of McConnell criticizing him on the news and wasn’t happy. In a terse but loud conversation Wednesday, the president made clear he wasn’t to blame for the Obamacare failure and was displeased with the criticism he’s gotten for it. McConnell didn’t give any ground, said people briefed on the phone call, and there are no immediate plans to speak again. … The phone call … and comments at Bedminster mirror what Trump has said in private, according to four White House officials and Trump friends: that he is preparing to distance himself from Republicans in Congress if they aren’t successful in passing legislation and that he will not take the blame for them if they can’t. Increasingly, these people say, the president is prepared to cast himself as an outsider — and Congress as an ‘insider’ Washington institution.”

-- Trump’s rebuke of McConnell was even more remarkable given the long list of high-priority items Congress needs to get passed next month. The New York Times’s Carl Hurse writes: “One Republican said it would be as if F.D.R. had undermined Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day. The unusual intramural conflict had the capital’s full attention even as the United States and North Korea traded warlike nuclear threats. … In some respects, taking on Mr. McConnell is not that politically risky for Mr. Trump. Congressional Republican leaders have far lower approval ratings than the president, whose numbers are at a record low for this point in a first term. And Mr. McConnell has never been popular with the anti-Washington crowd of conservative Republicans who align themselves much more with Mr. Trump.”

 

ON THE OPIOID CRISIS: “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”

CONTEXT: “On Tuesday, Trump received an extended briefing on the subject in Bedminster,” Joel Achenbach, John Wagner and Lenny Bernstein report. “White House aides said Trump was still reviewing the report and was not yet ready to announce which of its recommendations he would embrace. A White House statement issued Thursday evening said that Trump ‘has instructed his Administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.’

But the declaration may not have much of an immediate impact: “It should allow the administration to remove some bureaucratic barriers and waive some federal rules governing how states and localities respond to the drug epidemic. One such rule restricts where Medicaid recipients can receive addiction treatment. … The emergency declaration may allow the government to deploy the equivalent of its medical cavalry, the U.S. Public Health Service, a uniformed service of physicians and other staffers that can target places with little medical care or drug treatment[.] … Governors in Arizona, Florida, Maryland and Virginia have already declared emergencies. And in recent months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, Congress, physician groups and the insurance industry have taken institutional steps to address the crisis.”

 

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- McCain on Thursday released a strategy to increase U.S. air and ground forces in Afghanistan, preempting and rebuking Trump, who has not yet articulated a strategy for the war. Karoun Demirjian reports: “McCain promised to present his plan as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill, upon his return to Washington in September. McCain’s plan outlines short- and long-term goals that envision a significant U.S. presence on the ground … [He] does not outline specific troop numbers. But among his plans is a proposal to integrate U.S. military training and advisory teams at the battalion level of the Afghan armed forces … [a commitment which] would by necessity raise the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan significantly, and put those troops — even in their advising and training roles — closer to combat.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Trump claimed his administration is “getting very close” to articulating a strategy for Afghanistan, saying he had “[Taken] over a mess … and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.” “He also suggested he continues to support his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, despite pressure from conservative activists to fire him, and reports Trump might make him the next commander of operations in Afghanistan. “He’s my friend, and he’s a very talented man,” Trump said. “I like him, and I respect him.”

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- The immigration plan endorsed by Trump last week would cost the U.S. 4.6 million jobs and hurt the U.S. economy overall, according to two recent studies. CNNMoney’s Patrick Gillespie and Tal Kopan report: “In a report published Thursday, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School said the immigration plan, dubbed the RAISE Act, would result in 4.6 million lost jobs by the year 2040. It also found that the U.S. economy would be 2% smaller than it would be under the current immigration policy during that time. ... [The RAISE Act, crafted by Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton] seeks to cut legal immigration to the U.S. by 50% within a decade. 'If you have fewer workers, we will have less economic growth,' said Kimberly Burham, a managing director at the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a nonpartisan research team at UPenn.”

“Another analysis … found that blocking low-skilled immigrants from entering or staying in the country could also have vast ramifications for small business creation in the U.S. Low-skilled immigrants have started millions of small businesses in the U.S., despite having less than a bachelor's degree …” Under the RAISE Act, it would be nearly impossible for an immigrant with just a high school degree to qualify for residency.

-- Trump appears to be deporting fewer immigrants than Obama was at the end of his second term, and that includes immigrants who have committed crimes. Maria Sacchetti reports: “In January, federal immigration officials deported 9,913 criminals. After a slight uptick under Trump, expulsions sank to 9,600 criminals in June. Mostly deportations have remained lower than in past years under the Obama administration. … During the election, Trump vowed to target criminals for deportation and warned that they were ‘going out fast.’ Later, he suggested he would try to find a solution for the ‘terrific people’ who never committed any crimes, and would first deport 2 million to 3 million criminals. But analysts say he is unlikely to hit those targets. Since January, immigration officials have deported more than 105,000 immigrants, 42 percent of whom had never committed any crime.”

-- A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the Trump administration’s indecision on the ACA is causing premiums to rise. AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports: “[Kaiser’s analysis] found that mixed signals from [Trump] have created uncertainty ‘far outside the norm’ and led insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case. … Kaiser researchers looked at proposed premiums for a benchmark silver plan across major metropolitan areas in 20 states and Washington, D.C. Overall, they found that 15 of those cities will see increases of 10 percent or more next year. … About 10 million people who buy policies through HealthCare.gov and state-run markets are potentially affected, as are 5 million to 7 million more who purchase individual policies on their own.”

-- Even as Republicans attempt to pivot to overhauling the tax code, the Senate’s health-care failure continues to haunt town halls. David Weigel reports: “Over just one day, in three small towns along Georgia’s Atlantic coastline, Rep. Earl L. ‘Buddy’ Carter (R-Ga.) spent more than four hours answering 74 questions, many of them heated. Just three focused on tax reform; nearly half of all questions focused on health care. … Carter’s town halls — he is hosting nine total, more than any member of the House — mirrored what was happening in swing and safe Republican districts across the country. The failure of the repeal bill kick-started a tax reform campaign, backed by Republican leaders and pro-business groups[.] … But at town-hall meetings since the start of the recess, tax reform has hardly come up; health care has dominated. At a Monday town hall in Flat Rock, N.C., Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) pitched a plan to devolve ACA programs to the states, then found himself fending off constituents who backed universal Medicare.”

-- “The Trump administration gave notice it intends to relax the rules governing greenhouse gas emissions on new model cars,” Dino Grandoni reports. “In a notice on the federal register, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department announced they were considering rewriting emissions standards for cars and light trucks made between 2021 and 2025. While other climate-change initiatives spearheaded by President Obama … received more scrutiny from industry and conservative critics, emissions standards for cars are just as consequential for curbing the buildup of atmosphere-warming gases, analysts said. … The notice begins a 45-day public comment period on a potential relaxation of the rules for cars and light trucks.”

PERSONNEL IS POLICY:

-- MUST-READ PROFILE --> “Sebastian Gorka, the West Wing's Phony Foreign-Policy Guru,” by the Rolling Stone’s Bob Dreyfuss: “Almost as soon as they entered the Trump administration, the Gorkas absorbed withering incoming fire from national-security experts … [and White House sources said he was on his way out]. According to one insider, Gorka's dubious qualifications may have saved him. ‘The White House tried to find him a job at another agency,’ says the source. But no luck: ‘Nobody wanted him.’ But critics charge that Gorka's hyperbole and his hands-off relationship with the truth have lately sent his stock skyrocketing with the president. … ‘Did you see Gorka?’ Trump reportedly said after Gorka took part in figurative fisticuffs on CNN. ‘So great. I mean, really, truly great!’ …” It’s unclear what Gorka’s official White House role is, though he claims to provide “behind-the-scenes advice to Trump on how to fight terrorism.” Here’s a sample of the response from veteran terrorism analysts:

  • “It's surreal and quite horrifying that someone who's such an amateur has reached such heights,” David Ucko, a professor at National Defense University, said of Gorka.
  • “This is not somebody who should be working anywhere near the White House,” said Michael S. Smith II, a veteran terrorism analyst.
  • Cindy Storer, an ex-CIA terrorism analyst, was even more blunt: “He's nuts.”

-- Breitbart’s campaign against H.R. McMaster is isolating Steve Bannon in the White House. Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports: “The attacks on McMaster have put Bannon in an especially awkward position with his new boss, retired Marine general John Kelly, who has been increasingly defensive of McMaster[.] … McMaster, who pushed Bannon off the National Security Council principals’ committee, hasn’t spoken to Bannon in weeks, one senior administration official said. … Kelly has told West Wing staff that he won’t tolerate the infighting or anonymous comments to the press that characterized the tenure of Kelly’s predecessor Reince Priebus. … Bannon has grown more isolated without his ally [Reince] Priebus in the West Wing. He remained in Washington this week … and spends his days either holed up in his office or attending meetings.”

-- Sam Clovis, Trump’s pick to be chief scientist of the Agriculture Department, stoked unfounded theories about Obama’s birthplace and formerly referred to Eric Holder as a “racist black” during his time as a conservative radio host and political activist in Iowa. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Paul LeBlanc report: “[In a 2012 blog post] … Clovis raised questions about Obama's biography that echoed some of the theories pushed by those in the birther movement … ‘For over a decade, Obama allowed his publisher to carry a biography that had him born in Kenya. Only after beginning his pursuit of public office did he 'correct' the entry,’ Clovis wrote. (The literary agent who edited the biography has said the error was hers, and that she made it with no direct communication with Obama.) ‘Could it be that the first African-American president is being given a pass because he is Black? How incredibly racist is that?’” In a 2012 blog post, he also calls Eric Holder a “racist black” and Tom Perez a “racist Latino,” though he does not make clear in either instance why he believes they are racist. 

-- “Why General John Kelly Is Trump’s Last Hope,” by Time’s Michael Duffy: “So began a new era at Donald Trump's White House, one that might be his best, or last, chance for success. Almost overnight, Kelly shut the always-open door to the Oval Office, sent hangers-on back to their desks, fired the combustible communications director Anthony Scaramucci and told all the leaders of all the many White House factions to report to him, not to the President. No one knows whether Kelly will succeed, how long he might last or if the general's starched-shirt discipline will be rejected by the client. Early results were mixed, and skeptics are not hard to find. But Kelly clearly arrived with a mission: to fix a broken system that the nation and the world depends on every day to keep the ship called Earth in the middle of the channel.

DEMOCRATS’ ROAD AHEAD:

-- Democratic centrists are pushing back against the populist message of Bernie Sanders and his left-wing supporters. Paul Kane reports: “As the party faces great expectations of big gains in the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic centrists are increasingly worried that the disproportionate share of attention shown to [Sanders] and the agenda pushed by his anti-establishment allies will do more harm than good. That direction, the thinking goes, will energize liberals in places where Democrats are already winning by big margins. But it may drive away the voters needed to win inland races that will shape the House majority and determine which governors and state legislators are in charge of redrawing federal and state legislative districts early next decade.”

-- The progressive Organizing for Action, which sprang out of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, is also trying to expand its influence. David Weigel reports: “[OFA] is launching a new effort to train more activists by connecting progressive groups with newly-trained organizers. After training 1,000 fellows since the start of the year, OFA will work with the Wellstone institute, the woman-focused Emerge America, Run for Something, the African American-focused Collective PAC and the millennial-focused New Leaders Council to place fellows with the relevant causes.”

-- Obama’s former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has launched a new PAC called “Opportunity First” as 2020 rumors continue to swirl around the rising Democratic star. (Politico’s Scott Bland)

A BONUS READ FOR THE WEEKEND:

-- Perry Stein profiled the ANARCHISTS OF WASHINGTON, who insist their movement is about "more than just window-smashing:" “By day, they are graphic designers, legal assistants, nonprofit workers and students. But outside their 9-to-5 jobs, they call themselves anarchists — bucking the system, shunning the government and sometimes even rioting and smashing windows to make a point. [Their] anarchist community made a fiery entrance into the Trump presidency on Jan. 20, when they organized thousands of people to protest his inauguration … [using] wooden poles and pieces of concrete to break storefronts and smash newspaper boxes[.] City officials tally the damage from the rioting at about $100,000. What the court documents call 'malicious' and ‘violent’ acts, the anarchists see as a necessary way to draw attention to poverty, racism, educational inequality and other problems. … ‘It takes awhile to get used to the label because it comes with a lot of baggage,’ LeMaster said. ‘People assume that anarchism is so extreme. But I associate it with wanting everyone’s needs to be met.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Sebastian Gorka gave this tangled rationale for his critique of Tillerson:

Politico’s D.C. bureau chief responded to Gorka’s comment with confusion:

A CNN national security reporter noted the lack of coordination between Trump's policy and budget proposal:

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee targeted Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters in this startling tweet:

A Senate candidate in Alabama is already embracing the anti-McConnell trend:

Trump discussed how drugs have changed over the decades:

Once again from Politico’s D.C. bureau chief:

GOP strategist Ana Navarro commented on Jeffrey Lord's dismissal from CNN:

But Sean Hannity appeared to criticized CNN's decision to fire Lord:

From CNN's media correspondent:

A Democratic Rep. called out the NRA and its spokesperson:

One of the Weekly Standard’s writers replied:

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher went after Google:

Anthony Scaramucci, who has accused the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza of taping their infamous conversation without his consent, compared Lizza to Linda Tripp, who secretly taped conversations with Monica Lewinsky about the then-intern’s affair with Bill Clinton:

Lewinsky responded to Lizza’s comparison with a wide-eyed, blushing emoji.

An editor at Breitbart took issue with the cover:

From one of BuzzFeed's tech writers:

From a Politico media reporter:

A New York Times White House correspondent sarcastically commented on John Kelly’s Time cover:

And GOP strategist Rick Wilson shared this photo that no one will ever be able to un-see:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Foreign Policy, “Here’s the Memo That Blew Up the NSC,” by Jana Winter and Elias Groll: “The seven-page document, which eventually landed on the president’s desk, precipitated a crisis that led to the departure of several high-level NSC officials tied to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The author of the memo, Rich Higgins, who was in the strategic planning office at the NSC, was among those recently pushed out. The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled ‘POTUS & Political Warfare.’ It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House. Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents ‘an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative.’ Those threatened by Trump include ‘“deep state” actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans.’”

-- Politico, “The Democratic Party’s Looming Fundraising Crisis,” by Michael Whitney: “It’s a simple principle, one that Democratic candidates from Bernie to Elizabeth Warren to Obama understood, but which the institutional Democratic Party now seems incapable of grasping: People are motivated to act when they feel like part of something larger than themselves — and when they understand that their participation in that larger something makes a real difference. The Democratic Party’s woes are basic symptoms of the failure to understand that immutable reality. DNC Chair Tom Perez has acknowledged the party’s problem with small-dollar donors, saying during his [candidacy] that the party needs to ‘go to school’ to figure out how to raise money from grass-roots donors … He should enroll soon: [Trump] and the Republicans are already several grades ahead.”

-- The New Yorker, “The Uncomfortable Truth About Affirmative Action and Asian-Americans,” by Jeannie Suk Gersen: “The Harvard lawsuit does raise uncomfortable questions, especially in a time when it is also becoming less comfortable to be an immigrant. Is an admissions process that disadvantages a minority group benign, or even desirable, if that minority group is demographically overrepresented in higher education? Should colleges pursue their interest in a diverse class by limiting admissions of a minority group whose numbers may otherwise overwhelm the class?”

-- Vogue, “Chelsea Manning Changed the Course of History. Now She’s Focusing on Herself,” by Nathan Heller: “Chelsea Manning — graceful, blue-eyed, trans — smiles and prepares herself. In August 2013, after pleading guilty to ten charges and being found guilty of 20, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The day after the sentencing, Manning came out publicly as trans. Tonight, a summer Monday, is a different kind of coming-out. To honor the occasion, she has picked an event with a celebratory turn: the after-party for the Lambda Literary Awards  … The evening is glamorous; the guest list is varied. Here Manning will reintroduce herself to a community in which she seeks acceptance for more than her heavy past.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“The email Hillary Clinton's pastor sent her the day after the election,” from CNN: “This is the email Hillary Clinton's pastor, the Rev. Bill Shillady, sent her on the morning of November 9, 2016, the day after she lost the presidential election to Donald Trump. … ‘It is Friday, but Sunday is coming. This is not the devotional I had hoped to write. This is not the devotional you wish to receive this day. While Good Friday may be the starkest representation of a Friday that we have, life is filled with a lot of Fridays.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Bill O'Reilly set to make first appearance on CNN,” from CNN: “[N]ext month, O'Reilly is set to make an unprecedented visit to one of Fox's rivals when he sits down for an interview with CNN's Michael Smerconish. The interview will mark O'Reilly's first appearance on CNN, providing another reminder of just how much has changed for him. This time a year ago -- or even five months ago -- it might have been unthinkable to imagine O'Reilly on a cable news channel other than Fox. But at the end of an appearance Smerconish made on O'Reilly's online talk show Wednesday, O'Reilly told Smerconish that he would appear on Smerconish's CNN program.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a “workforce/apprenticeship discussion” in the afternoon, followed by a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

Pence is headed back to his home state of Indiana today. He will speak at a Ten Points Coalition event and later participate in the unveiling of his governor’s portrait at the statehouse. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Trump at his news conference on his ban of transgender service members in the U.S. military: “It’s been a very complicated issue for the military. It’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”

 

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

-- D.C. will have a cloudy weekend, which kicks off today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds may win out over sunshine for most of the day. Muggier, tropical air is also overtaking us. Stray raindrops are possible any time, with higher and higher rain chances as the day wears on. Perhaps some downpours and storms by late afternoon. … High temperatures should range in the low-to-mid 80s.”

-- The Nationals beat the Marlins 3-2. (Chelsea Janes)

-- Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates are beginning to hit the airwaves. Gregory S. Schneider reports: “Republican Ed Gillespie was first up, beginning three spots on July 25. His Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, unveiled his first TV ad of the general election on Thursday. … Titled ‘My Life,’ the 30-second spot features ordinary-looking people mentioning details about Northam’s bio — pediatrician, trained at Johns Hopkins, Army veteran — and concludes with the candidate calling to expand access to health care for Virginians. The biographical tone echoes his rival’s early ads. Gillespie’s three spots, which continue to air in markets across the state, include a one-minute spot called ‘American Dream’ that introduces Gillespie as the son of an Irish immigrant.”

-- Charlottesville is bracing for another white nationalist rally planned for this weekend. The group is protesting the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, and large counterdemonstrations are expected. (Joe Heim)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

SNL aired the first of three "Weekend Update: Summer Edition" specials last night, with Bill Hader playing Scaramucci:

Given the unplanned nature of Trump's "fire and fury" statement, Stephen Colbert offered him some tips on improv:

The Post’s Glenn Kessler explains the (somewhat confusing) connections between the opposition research firm Fusion GPS and the infamous Trump dossier:

These four politicians have all been targeted by Trump on Twitter:

In D.C., the Department of Transportation is preparing to construct a more accessible and scenic Frederic Douglass Memorial Bridge:

Taylor Swift is suing a Colorado radio DJ for allegedly groping her in 2013:

And dogs in Cairo now have their own food delivery service: