THE BIG IDEA: Exhausted from his ideological battles with the House Freedom Caucus and clashes with Donald Trump’s White House, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) has decided to retire.

“As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I've worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington,” Dent said in a statement last night announcing that he will not seek an eighth term. “I've fought to fulfill the basic functions of government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default. Regrettably, that has not been easy given the disruptive outside influences that profit from increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos.”

Dent is the co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, which has about 50 center-right members. That’s more than the three dozen or so guys in the Freedom Caucus, but the tea partyers punch above their weight because they mostly vote as a bloc.

-- The retirement gives Democrats a prime pickup opportunity, and some veteran GOP strategists are increasingly nervous that a stream of others will follow – especially if the House fails to put more legislative points on the board (e.g. overhauling the tax code) and the political winds continue to suggest major Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms.

-- Dent has increasingly drawn the wrath of the Trumpist movement for his willingness to publicly express concerns about Trump that many of his House GOP colleagues are still only willing to say on background. The congressman called for Trump to drop out when the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged last October and then voted for independent Evan McMullin. Since January, he’s spoken out against the president’s travel ban, his firing of James Comey as FBI director and his false moral equivalency after Charlottesville.

Breitbart, again under Steve Bannon’s leadership, played up a story last Friday about an anti-Dent rally in Allentown that drew more than 100 conservative activists.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Justin Simmons announced on Wednesday that he would challenge Dent in a primary next year, emphasizing the incumbent’s lack of support for Trump. “Like many Republicans, I used to support Charlie Dent,” Simmons said in the news release kicking off his campaign. “But in the past year, Charlie Dent has completely gone off the rails.”

Dismissing the challenger as an opportunistic “phony,” Dent released embarrassing text messages that he received from him last year. One asked him to host a fundraiser to help in a contested primary. Another asked, “Do you think there’s any chance the party can replace Trump on the top of the ticket?”

Instead of facing off with Simmons, though, Dent is now stepping aside.

-- That surprise news came just one day after another seven-term moderate announced he will retire. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), who represents a suburban Seattle district that Hillary Clinton carried, is chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade. Breaking with the protectionist president, Reichert wrote a goodbye statement emphasizing the importance of free trade to the Pacific Northwest. “From serving on President Obama’s Export Council to battling to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank to leading the fight to pass the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement, I have always fought to give our exporters the chance to sell their goods and services around the world,” he wrote.

-- A third moderate, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), also expressed concern about the direction of the party when she revealed her plan to step down this spring. The first Cuban American elected to Congress expressed confidence she’d get reelected, even though Clinton won her Miami district by 20 points, but she said the prospect of two more years in the current environment just didn’t appeal to her. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it's not about getting elected,” she told the Miami Herald in April.

Ros-Lehtinen, the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has spoken out loudly against Trump since then, on issues like deportations (including DACA this week), transgender rights (her son is transgender) and budget cuts. “I'm not one of those name-callers that think the Democrats don’t have a single good idea,” she said. “Too many people think that way, and I think that's to the detriment to civility and of good government.”

-- Even as relations continue to fray between Republican congressional leaders and Trump, Democrats say these retirements are just the latest proof points that the Trumpists have completed their hostile takeover of the GOP. “With Trump in charge of the GOP, they might as well have a sign on the door that says ‘Moderates need not apply,’ ” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who previously ran the independent expenditure arm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The last cellblock has fallen and now Trump's rabble of inmates are running the asylum. Dare to stand up to Trumpism by thinking people should be able to keep their health care or by opposing white supremacists, and you'll find there is no home for you in the Republican party anymore. That's dangerous for the next two years and for the next 20. Whether it's in Seattle, Miami or now Allentown, the GOP is pushing out the only leaders who could convince suburban voters there was a way to get a home in the Republican Party that wasn't Trump-owned.

-- A close ally of GOP leadership, Dent also serves as chairman of the House Ethics Committee and is a powerful “cardinal,” which in congressional parlance means that he chairs an Appropriations subcommittee. (He controls tens of billions in annual spending related to veterans’ affairs and military construction.)

-- While acknowledging that Trump is a factor, Dent says that the trends driving him to give up this immense power predate the current president.

The ideological makeup of the House Republican conference has changed markedly since Newt Gingrich seized the majority in 1994. When the party won back the lower chamber in the 2010 midterms, after four years in the wilderness, the success of the tea party movement meant that there were relatively fewer moderates than before.

Republicans dominated the decennial redistricting process and drew lots of safely red districts. This meant that many House members became more vulnerable to a primary challenge from their right than a general election challenge from a Democrat. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor went down in a 2014 primary, and the Freedom Caucus formed the next year.

This created additional incentives for members to become part of the unofficial “vote no, hope yes” caucus. This is a group of Republicans who want spending bills and debt-ceiling increases to pass but won’t support them because they fear retaliation from outside conservative groups. The departure of Barack Obama from the Oval Office has lessened some of the reflexive, knee-jerk partisanship (it’s harder to tell Trump no), but “vote no, hope yes” remains a powerful force that House Speaker Paul Ryan must contend with every day.

Perversely, these “no” votes force Republican leaders to turn to Democrats for the necessary votes to pass key bills. That has given House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) more leverage than she would have otherwise had. The result is that final deals are often less conservative than they might be otherwise.

People like Dent, who considers himself a conservative, constantly bang their heads against the wall because of this dynamic. He explained last night that solving problems requires “negotiation, cooperation and, inevitably, compromise.”

The 57-year-old said he has been having “periodic discussions” with his wife and three kids about whether to stay in Congress ever “since the government shutdown in 2013.” He said discussions about retiring “increased in frequency” earlier this year, and that he made the decision to step down “in midsummer” — before he drew the primary challenger. “Accomplishing the most basic fundamental tasks of governance is becoming far too difficult,” Dent explained to The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis in an interview last night. “It shouldn’t be, but that’s reality.”

-- The nonpartisan Cook Political Report plans to move Pennsylvania’s 15th District – which covers Allentown, Bethlehem and much of the Lehigh Valley – from “Solid Republican” to “Lean Republican” in ratings that will publish later Friday.

Trump carried the district by eight points last November, while Dent won reelection by 20 points. Obama won the 15th in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012.

Democrats see a great pickup opportunity. “After nine months of utter failure to get even the most basic things done for hardworking families, it’s no surprise that Dent is as sick and tired of the Republican party as the American people,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske.

The National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Stivers, expressed confidence Republicans will hold the seat. “From reforming the broken VA to ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education, Congressman Dent has championed conservative values since taking office in 2005," said Stivers (R-Ohio). “While his leadership in Congress will be sorely missed, I wish him the very best in the next chapter of his life.”

-- Dent is the 13th Republican to leave the House since the start of 2017. Four accepted jobs in the Trump administration, and three more are running for governor. Dent is the sixth to retire without another position in mind.

As a point of comparison, seven Democrats have announced plans to leave the House. All but one (Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts) did so to run for higher office. Only one represents a district Trump won: Rep. Tim Walz, who is now a front-runner to become the next governor of Minnesota.

-- To be fair, though, the current number of House members who are retiring remains far below the historical norm. Going back to 1976, an average of 22 House members have retired in each cycle without seeking a higher office. With Dent, we’re at just seven for this term. Contrary to some of the liberal commentary on places like Twitter and cable news, Trump has not opened the floodgates. At least not yet.

-- Happening at 9 a.m. ET this morning: The Daily 202 Live with Wilbur Ross. Watch the live stream of my interview with the Commerce secretary here.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A massive 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck off Mexico’s southern coast, shaking Mexico City and killing at least five people. Joshua Partlow reports: “The epicenter of the quake was off the coast of Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico, but the rumblings rocked the Mexican capital more than 600 miles away, causing electricity failures, and reports of sporadic damage. … Photos showed collapsed ceilings, flattened concrete buildings, and rubble from damage in southern cities such as Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Tonala. … The U.S. Tsunami Warning System said hazardous tsunami waves were possible on the Pacific coasts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras within three hours. There was no tsunami threat for the West Coast of the United States, but the warning system said waves could reach Mexico and as far as Ecuador.”

-- Defeat for President Trump and Jeff Sessions: A federal appeals court panel ruled Thursday that grandparents and extended relatives of people in the United States are exempt from the travel ban, as well as refugees with formal assurances from a government agency. Matt Zapotosky reports: “The [ruling] is a blow to the government, which after the most recent Supreme Court compromise had been allowed to block refugees with assurances, though not grandparents and other extended relatives. ... The judges also said their ruling would take effect in just five days — on Tuesday — a significant decrease from the normal 52 days, saying that refugees’ lives ‘remain in vulnerable limbo’ in their current uncertain state. The government has estimated there are about 24,000 refugees with formal assurances.”

-- The Department of Homeland Security “is planning nationwide raids to target 8,400 undocumented immigrants later this month, according to three law enforcement officials and an internal document that described the plan as ‘the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE,’” NBC News’s Julia Ainsley and Andrew Blankstein report: “The raids, scheduled over five days beginning Sept. 17, are being called ‘Operation Mega.’ … The higher-than-usual target number may be partially driven by an effort to reach a deportation goal at the end of the [fiscal year].  …  Other undocumented immigrants not suspected of crimes may be swept up in the raids as ‘collateral,’ the official said. Operation Mega would not target juveniles, one of the officials said.” 

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement denying the plan for widespread raids: “There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time.”

FLORIDA BRACES FOR IRMA'S WRATH:

-- Hurricane Irma continued its perilous path toward Florida on Thursday, tearing through the Atlantic and leaving a trail of possibly catastrophic damage in its wake. “Based on what we know now," Gov. Rick Scott (R) said in a midday update, “Florida will have major hurricane impacts with deadly storm surge and life-threatening winds, and we can expect this all along the eastern coast of Florida.”

Significant weakening of the storm is unlikely at this point, and the National Hurricane Center labeled Irma a powerful Category 4 hurricane as it approached Florida on Friday. Because the storm could change its course, Scott added, “every Florida family must prepare to evacuate, regardless of the coast you live on." (Capital Weather Gang)  

-- “In Miami and all across the state, people are trying not to panic but anxiety is building as they contemplate danger, damage and devastation," the Miami Herald reports. “Once again, we are paying the price for living in paradise, and it is tremendous stress,” said local resident Richard Crisler, who recounted his terrifying memories of Hurricane Andrew more than two decades ago. “I’m feeling an oppressive sense of dread.”

  • Scott ordered the closure of every public school, college and university in the state from Friday to Monday. Schools in non-affected areas will ensure extra space for shelters and emergency response shelters, he said.
  • In the Florida Keys, residents were told that as of Friday morning, hospitals will be closed, ambulances will not be running, and all Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessels will have left the area. “You might as well leave now while you have a chance, because when you dial 911 you will not get an answer,” said Monroe County administrator Ramon Gastesi. (CNN)
  • Gas remained impossibly scarce, with more than 35 percent of gas stations in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region without fuel. Scott directed state police to escort fuel delivery trucks.
  • Other essentials were also in short supply: One Best Buy store in Naples, for example, sold out of backup batteries and phone chargers in less than a minute, with dozens lining up in front of the store before it opened. 

-- But some of the most vulnerable residents in South Florida — those living in the region's 54,000 mobile homes — will not be evacuating ahead of the catastrophic storm. “In a high-rent, low-wage community like South Florida, trailer parks expose the economic disparities that can hinder evacuation efforts,” the Herald writes. “During Hurricane Andrew, trailer parks in South Dade were wiped off the face of the earth. … [But] with so much news coming over smartphones, those without internet access are a step behind.” Some said they didn’t know where the city’s storm shelters are — or how to get there — while others were unaware that the mandatory evacuation orders had even taken effect.

  • One trailer park owner said she estimates about half of the park’s 230 residents plan to stay. “I’m going to talk to the police,” she said. “I want to light a fire under [the residents] … There will be casualties.”

-- States of emergency were also declared in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where Irma could make landfall as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. Georgia ordered coastal evacuations beginning Saturday. 

-- U.S. warships began Irma relief operations Thursday, conducting damage assessments and medical evacuations for areas already hit by the monster storm. Four additional amphibious warships are either en route to the region or in standby position off Florida, making it one of the largest potential amphibious relief operations ever. (CNN)

-- Meanwhile, two other hurricanes, Jose and Katia, continued to swirl in the Atlantic Ocean basin. The Capital Weather Gang reports they are both predicted to strengthen and impact land areas by Friday and into the weekend. “Late afternoon Thursday, Jose had maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour, making it a Category 3 hurricane. … The storm is forecast to strengthen further by Friday, potentially reaching Category 4.” Current models predict Jose could hit some of the same small islands devastated by Irma earlier this week. 

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Credit monitoring company Equifax said Thursday that a data breach could have exposed the Social Security numbers and other private information of 143 million U.S. consumers. Equifax said the breach, discovered in July, also may have exposed private data such as names, birth dates and driver’s license numbers of some customers. (CNBC)
  2. Meanwhile, three senior Equifax executives, including the company's chief financial officer and the head of information solutions, sold shares worth nearly $1.8 million just days after the breach was discovered. A spokeswoman for the company said they had “no knowledge” that an intrusion had occurred at the time. (Bloomberg)
  3. The number of immigrants protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is 690,000 – not 800,000. A number of publications, including The Washington Post, originally cited the 800,000 figure, but the Department of Homeland Security clarified that over 100,000 "dreamers” have had their DACA status lapse or change since the program began. (David Nakamura

  4. Steve Bannon asserted in a CBS interview that the Catholic church has been “terrible” about undocumented immigrants, possibly because their presence is economically beneficial to the church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan responded to Bannon’s statements, “That’s insulting and that’s just so ridiculous that it doesn’t merit a comment.” (Politico)

  5. All five living former presidents have launched a fundraising effort for Harvey victims. The effort, called “One America Appeal,” ran an ad featuring each president during last night’s NFL game. (The Hill)

  6. SpaceX successfully launched an unmanned Pentagon space plane from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, kicking off a 270-day space mission to the low Earth orbit. (Christian Davenport)
  7. Amazon announced it's seeking a home for a second company headquarters in North America, where it plans to hire as many as 50,000 full-time employees and invest an estimated $5 billion in construction and operation. (Amazon's owner, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post) (Abha Bhattarai)
  8. The INDECLINE art collective hung Ku Klux Klan effigies in a Richmond park. The collective attracted attention last year for unveiling naked statues of Donald Trump in major U.S. cities. (Justin Wm. Moyer)

  9. Graydon Carter announced he will step down as the editor of Vanity Fair in December, ending his 25-year tenure and kicking off what will probably be a highly competitive search for his successor. (New York Times)

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Donald Trump Jr. told congressional investigators Thursday that “no meaningful information” came out of last year’s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, which he set up on the guise of receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Tom Hamburger and Karoun Demirjian report: “Trump Jr. told congressional investigators he was skeptical of the meeting before attending but ‘to the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of the presidential candidate I believed I should at least hear them out.’” In the closed-door meeting with members and staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump Jr. said he “would have consulted with lawyers” had any useful information been provided about Clinton.

Also in attendance at the June 2016 meeting was music promoter Rob Goldstone, “[who] represented a Trump business associate, Russian pop music star Emin Agalarov. “In his statement Thursday, Trump Jr. acknowledged for the first time that phone records show three short phone calls he had with Agalarov before the June 9 meeting, which he said he did not recall.” Other takeaways:

  • Trump Jr. told lawmakers he had “no recollection” of any documents left behind by the Russian visitors. One participant in the meeting had said that a document was left behind by the Russians.
  • Trump Jr.’s testimony again emphasized the innocence of the June meeting: “I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did,” he told lawmakers. “I am grateful for the opportunity to help resolve any lingering concerns that may exist.”

-- Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is seeking interviews with White House staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the initial misleading statement about Trump Jr.’s meeting was crafted.

CNN’s Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Jeremy Diamond report: “The special counsel's discussions with the White House are the latest indication that Mueller's investigators are interested in the response to the Trump Tower meeting. Mueller wants to know how the statement aboard Air Force One was put together, whether information was intentionally left out and who was involved. ... Mueller's questions could go to the issue of intent and possible efforts to conceal information during an obstruction of justice investigation.

-- New FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that he has not detected “any whiff of interference” from the White House with the Russia probes. Ellen Nakashima reports: “He said he has ‘enormous respect’ for Mueller, whom he knew when Mueller ran the FBI in the early 2000s and Wray was a senior Justice Department official. … Wray also noted that the FBI, in its counterintelligence mission, is working at preventing Russian interference in future elections. ‘So there’s overlap of mission there’ with Mueller’s probe, and ‘I’m impressed with the strides that we’ve made on that front.’”

-- Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Thursday that Facebook's disclosure of selling about $100,000 in political ads to Russian troll farms during the U.S. election was just the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to election interference on social media. “It appeared to me that the very social media sites that we rely on for virtually everything ... [were being used by Russia to] intervene in our elections,” Warner said. “And the first reaction from Facebook was: 'Well you're crazy, there's nothing going on' — well, we find yesterday there actually was something going on." Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Warner's concern. “There is no software patch for what happened last year, there is no cyberdefense capable enough,” Schiff said. “If Russians want to get into the [Democratic National Committee] in 2020, they'll get in. If they want to get into the [Republican National Committee], they will get in." (CNN’s Jeremy Herb)

-- Warner added that Twitter will be expected to brief the committee on any Russian activity tied to its election ads in the near future. The Virginia senator said that he has been in touch with Twitter representatives and expected the company to respond to investigative questions on the matter. (Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau)

-- Matea Gold wrote an explainer on why the question of whether the Russian ads break election law is not completely clear: “The law is clear that foreign nationals and foreign corporations are prohibited from making contributions or spending money to influence a federal, state or local election in the United States. The ban includes independent expenditures made in connection with an election. But whether the Russian company broke the law by running ads on Facebook comes down to two big questions: What was in the content of the ads, and did a U.S. campaign assist the company in placing the ads. If the Facebook ads were overtly political — that is to say, they advocated the election or defeat of a specific candidate — then they would violate the ban on foreign national spending, legal experts said. But if they were vaguer appeals, it's less clear cut.”

But there is an important exception: “Russian-financed ads could have still run afoul of election law if they were placed on Facebook or targeted at certain voters in coordination with a campaign — one of the central questions of the ongoing Russia probes. In that scenario, the ads would not have to explicitly advocate for a candidate to be illegal.”

-- How “DC Leaks” worked  ---> “The Fake Americans That Russia Created to Sway the Election,” from the New York Times’s Scott Shane: “Sometimes an international offensive begins with a few shots that draw little notice. So it was last year when Melvin Redick of Harrisburg, Pa., a friendly-looking American with a backward baseball cap and a young daughter, posted on Facebook a link to a brand-new website. ‘These guys show hidden truth about [Clinton, George Soros and others’] he wrote. … Mr. Redick turned out to be a remarkably elusive character. No Melvin Redick appears in Pennsylvania records, and his photos seem to be borrowed from an unsuspecting Brazilian. But this fictional concoction has earned a small spot in history: The Redick posts that morning were among the first public signs of an unprecedented foreign intervention in American democracy.

 “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled. … Multiple government agencies have investigated the Russian attack, though it remains unclear whether any agency is focused specifically on tracking foreign intervention in social media.”

PROGRESS ON CAPITOL HILL:

-- The Senate passed the agreement that Trump and Democratic congressional leadership struck Wednesday, approving $15.25 billion in Harvey aid, raising the debt ceiling and keeping the government running until December. Kelsey Snell reports: “The House is expected to quickly vote on the package, despite growing opposition from fiscal conservatives who oppose pairing aid with debt and spending elements. … [Sen. Mitch] McConnell praised that agreement Thursday morning despite broad GOP concerns that Trump caved to Democrats on [their] request that any deadline for extending the federal borrowing limit line up with a short-term spending package. … If approved, the legislation is expected to set the stage for a bruising year-end fiscal battle.”

-- The House is set to approve the package Friday before members leave town for the weekend.

-- Trump is also reportedly open to working with the Democrats on another key issue: ending the debt ceiling. Damian Paletta reports: “On Wednesday, Trump and [Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)] reached what one senior White House official called a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to develop a plan that would no longer require Congress to routinely raise the limit on government borrowing. Details have not been worked out, and any plan would require approval from congressional Republicans, but the shift signifies a remarkable political evolution for Trump, who has long cheered weaponizing the debt ceiling, no matter the cost. … Trump’s discussions with Democrats on the debt ceiling could mark the end of Congress’s greatest political weapon — a legislative hand grenade that has never exploded but has unnerved financial markets for decades.” 

-- And Trump’s Twitter reassurance to DACA beneficiaries appears to have been the result of advice from top House Democrat and longtime GOP punching bag Nancy Pelosi. CNN’s Tal Kopan, Deirdre Walsh and MJ Lee report: “Pelosi told House Democrats at a closed-door she spoke to Trump via phone Thursday morning and urged him to reassure those protected in [DACA], two sources said. Trump initiated the phone call to Pelosi, they said. She ‘asked him to tweet this to make clear Dreamers won't be subject to deportation in 6 month window,’ according to one of the sources. She did not provide specific wording, just a general idea.” Pelosi later said at a news conference, “This is what I asked the president to do and, boom boom boom, the tweet appeared.”

BUT REPUBLICANS ARE NOT HAPPY:

-- On the front page of Friday's Post: “Republicans jolted by, and Democrats wary of, Trump’s overtures to opposing party,” by Robert Costa, Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis: “The [deal] confounded congressional Republicans and Democrats ... where some long-standing political norms seemed to many to be shattered. The upheaval also raised new questions about how Trump plans to approach the looming debates over tax reform, immigration, government funding and the nation’s debt — and where congressional Republicans fit in. ‘Haven’t seen anything like it before,’ said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has served in the Senate for three decades. Of Trump, McCain said: ‘I have no way of divining his motives. I’m a pretty intelligent guy, but I don’t understand this.’ …

Democrats see the dynamics in Washington as newly fluid and potentially in their favor on a host of issues. In addition to pressing for new protections for undocumented immigrants, Democrats hope to water down GOP plans for tax policy and thwart a bevy of federal budget cuts proposed by Republicans. Even so, some suggested caution about Trump’s sudden cooperation with them. They warned that the president’s unpredictability makes him a dangerous ally. ‘Take advantage of it — but do it with the full knowledge that Trump will be calling, you know, Chuck Schumer names on Twitter within the fortnight,’ [Democratic Sen. Chris] Murphy said.”

 -- But as Ryan gets pushed to the left by Trump, a group of hard-line conservatives are plotting on how to force him to the right, including a possible challenge to his speakership. Robert Costa and Ashley Parker report: “The group has gone so far as to float the idea of recruiting former House speaker Newt Gingrich or former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum as potential replacements for [Ryan] should there be a rebellion. The Constitution does not require that an elected member of the House serve as speaker. While the chances that a non-House member could mount a credible threat to Ryan are exceedingly slim, the fact that the group has even toyed with the idea underscores their desire to create trouble for GOP leaders if they believe their demands are not being addressed.

“The closed-door conversations are being led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, in consultation with his allies on the right, in particular Stephen K. Bannon[.]”

IN THE COURTROOM:

-- Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial continued, with the judge in the case criticizing prosecutors for focusing on “tabloid” details. Devlin Barrett reports: “U.S. District Judge William Walls stopped testimony for 20 minutes in which he tongue-lashed prosecutors for their painstaking recounting of emails used to book a luxury hotel in Paris for the New Jersey Democrat in 2010. The three-day hotel stay is a central part of the Justice Department’s case. Menendez’s friend, wealthy eye doctor Salomon Melgen, paid for the senator’s nearly $5,000 hotel stay, and prosecutors contend the gift is one of the most incriminating bribes the senator received.”

That testimony may sound dry, but there were some “tabloid”-like exchanges regarding the hotel stay: “The judge cut him off and said he was concerned prosecutors were trying to create an unfair inference because the emails showed Menendez went to Paris with a woman friend. ‘It’s ridiculous, what you’re asserting,’ Walls told the prosecutor. ‘You’re saying because a person, according to you, wants to stay at a hotel with another person that he then goes out and solicits a bribe. Is that what you’re telling me?’ The exchange prompted Menendez’s lawyer to interject: ‘This person is actually just a friend, and it is not anybody to be shacked up with.’ ... The prosecutor, then insisted he was not trying to suggest to the jury Menendez ‘went to Paris in order to shack up with another person.’”

DISMANTLING THE GOVERNMENT:

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said after a speech on campus sexual assault that she has begun the process of rescinding Obama-era guidelines on the issue. Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson report: “DeVos spoke to about 100 invited guests at George Mason University, where protesters had gathered outside, worried that she would announce changes to the way sexual violence cases are handled on campuses across the country. ‘One rape is one too many,’ DeVos said firmly, and ‘not one more survivor will be silenced. We will not abandon anyone.’ … But she also repeatedly emphasized the rights of students who are accused, saying one person denied due process is one too many, and was harshly critical of the system established by the Obama administration. …

DeVos criticized a key element of Obama’s policy: that schools use a standard known as ‘preponderance of the evidence’ when weighing sexual misconduct cases. ‘Washington dictated that schools must use the lowest standard of proof. … It’s no wonder so many call these proceedings “kangaroo courts.”’ … Rather than the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard used in criminal cases, or the ‘clear and convincing’ standard some universities had previously used for sexual assault investigations, schools now must use a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard, often described as ‘50 percent plus one,’ when determining responsibility in such cases.”

-- Jeff Sessions's Justice Department on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Robert Barnes reports: “The [DOJ] on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to [create] a cake to celebrate [a same-sex marriage] because it would violate his religious beliefs. The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe. The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue. But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the [American Civil Liberties Union], which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing. ‘Even in an administration that has already made its hostility’ toward the gay community clear, Melling said, ‘I find this nothing short of shocking.’”

-- Trump has nominated one of his White House lawyers to a seat on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ann E. Marimow reports: “Gregory G. Katsas, whose nomination requires confirmation by the Senate, has served as Trump’s deputy legal counsel since March, held senior posts at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration and was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. If confirmed, Katsas would join a bench referred to as the nation’s second-highest court — because of its decisions on separation-of-powers issues and because it has been something of a pipeline to the Supreme Court.”

-- The House is planning to vote next week on privatizing almost two-thirds of the Federal Aviation Administration’s workforce. Ashley Halsey III reports: “More than 30,000 people — no one is quite sure of the exact number — would be shifted into a private, nonprofit corporation responsible for directing and modernizing the movement of airliners and private planes. … In the face of Democratic opposition in the House and bipartisan foes in the Senate, [Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee] devoted the summer to persuading those who will vote on the House floor.” But the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate if it can pass the House.

HEALTH CARE IS BACK:

-- Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he hopes to soon reach a compromise on insurer payments with Democrats. The Wall Street Journal’s Michelle Hackman reports: “Alexander suggested he would be willing to authorize the subsidy payments for multiple years, as Democrats are demanding, in exchange for ‘structural changes’ to the [Affordable Care Act]. … Alexander, who is crafting the package jointly with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), aims to win Congress’s final approval before the end of the month, when insurers will sign their ACA contracts for 2018.”

-- A bipartisan group of governors rallied around the proposed changes to stabilize the ACA during yesterday’s hearing. (The New York Times’s Robert Pear)

-- Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) plans to propose legislation that would allow individuals and businesses to buy into Medicare as part of the ACA’s exchanges. The idea could provide a viable alternative to Democrats who are wary of Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan. Murphy said that the proposal “may not be as big a leap for the health care system as single-payer, but I think it’s a big, easy-to-understand, and super-popular idea.” (Politico’s Elana Schor)

NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump reiterated Thursday that he hopes to avoid military action with North Korea. Anne Gearan reports: “‘It would be great if something else could be worked out,’ he said. Trump cast doubt that further negotiations could work, however, saying that U.S. presidents have been ‘talking and talking and talking’ to North Korea for 25 years while North Korea has been developing its nuclear capability. ‘North Korea is behaving badly and it's gotta stop,’ Trump said, after praising U.S. military capability. ‘Hopefully we're not going to have to use it on North Korea,’ he said. ‘If we do use it on North Korea, it's going to be a very sad day for North Korea.’”

-- The Navy’s second-in-command said the service has to reconsider how it deploys ships given this year’s two deadly collisions. Dan Lamothe reports: “Adm. William F. Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, told a House Armed Services subcommittee on military readiness that the demands on ships that do not return to the United States on a regular basis will be scrutinized. … ‘Forward-deployed’ naval forces go years at a time operating from ports abroad and were seen by the Navy as a way to keep up with increasing demand for U.S. military presence around the world. But the ships are sometimes deployed without sailors keeping up on training and ships maintaining certifications that show they are ready for all operations, the admiral acknowledged.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A former DOJ official questioned Donald Trump Jr.’s rationale for his Russia meeting:

A CNN reporter noted Trump’s growing rapport with congressional Democrats:

A ProPublica reporter emphasized the importance of Facebook in the 2016 election:

Equifax took its time to report the security breach:

A New York Times reporter gave fresh perspective on DACA ending:

Some Trump voters still hold him in high regard:

The roads in Florida became surreal as residents fled Irma's path:

Florida's governor swept the state to discuss hurricane preparedness:

The hurricane has already unleashed catastrophic damage in the Caribbean:

The Miami Herald offered some advice on weathering the storm:

Wildfires continue to impact the West Coast:

The video from all former living presidents asking for Harvey donations was released:

Former Army lieutenant colonel and Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth "broke" her leg:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The New Yorker, “The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea,” by Evan Osnos: “To some in the Trump Administration, the gaps in our knowledge of North Korea represent an argument against deterrence; they are unwilling to assume that Pyongyang will be constrained by the prospect of mutually assured destruction. But if the alternative is a war with catastrophic costs, then gaps in our knowledge should make a different case. Iraq taught us the cost of going to war against an adversary that we do not fully understand.”

-- Miami Herald, “Broward GOP uncovers a nasty secret about its young party secretary,” by Jose Lambert: “Four months after 28-year-old Rupert Tarsey was elected secretary, party officials have found out the young philanthropist and supporter of President Donald Trump is really Rupert Ditsworth. And a decade ago, the then-Beverly Hills teenager was charged with attempted murder in Los Angeles after hitting Harvard-Westlake School classmate Elizabeth Barcay over the head at least 40 times, splitting her skull open. Now, local GOP bigs are desperate for Tarsey to resign. … Thing is, Tarsey says he was elected fair and square and has no plan to resign.”

-- Buzzfeed News, “This Private Investigator Was The Original Most Interesting Man In The World,” by Eamon Javers: “[Tom Corbally’s] story — together with those of his mentors and colleagues — amounts to a secret history of the 20th century. It’s the stuff that doesn’t often make it into the textbooks: Black bag jobs by blackout drunks. Undercover operations for large corporations. The daily deposits and withdrawals from a global favor bank that few people know exists. If journalism is the first rough draft of history, Corbally’s life story is the part written in disappearing ink. It's the part no one wants you to know about. Heidi Fleiss was right about one thing: Corbally did have a secret identity. In fact, he had lots of them.”

-- Politico, “Bernie backers' attacks on Democrats infuriate the party,” by Gabriel Debenedetti: “Tensions boiled over recently when a handful of Sanders loyalists bashed freshman Sen. Kamala Harris — a rising star in the party and potential 2020 hopeful — as an establishment tool. Democratic senators and outside groups have begun telling Sanders and friendly intermediaries that if he wants to be a leading figure for Democrats ahead of 2020’s presidential election, he needs to get his supporters in line — or at least publicly disavow their more incendiary statements. … After a handful of such stories, Harris herself spoke with Sanders on the Senate floor about the criticism, said multiple Democrats briefed on the exchange.”

-- The Spokesman-Review, “Spokane family escapes Eagle Creek fire, ‘will never again be unprepared for a hike,’” by Rich Landers: “More than 140 hikers found themselves cut off from an easy escape. Another fire was blocking a potential escape route a few miles away. … [One hiker said,] ‘Some of the trail runners and hikers were in wet clothes because they’d come in on a hot day to be refreshed at the waterfall. Some girls were in bathing suits.’ … Without headlamps, many of the hikers used cell phones to help illuminate the trail as they crossed creeks and bridges and traversed precipitous slopes.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Photo of 5 males in KKK hoods leads to discipline against students in Creston, Iowa,” from the Omaha World-Herald: “[Five high school students in Creston, Iowa] have been disciplined after a photo showing five males wearing white hoods circulated on social media Wednesday morning. The photo, posted on Twitter and Facebook, shows them in front of a burning cross. One of the students is holding a rifle with a scope on it, and another is holding what may be a Confederate flag. African-Americans in Creston, including current and former students at the high school, said they had experienced instances of racism before but were caught off guard by the photo’s brazenness.” “It’s just something I never thought would have come to Creston,” said sophomore student Austin Bloyd.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Democrats Duck Questions About Sen. Bob Menendez’s Corruption Trial,” from HuffPost: “[Chuck Schumer] on Wednesday declined to say whether he would stand by Menendez if he’s proven guilty.  ‘Senator Menendez is issuing a spirited defense,’ Schumer said. ‘We all believe in the presumption of innocence in this country, and Senator Menendez is fighting very hard, and we respect that greatly.’  Other Democrats were similarly hesitant to weigh in on the trial. ‘I’m a former prosecutor, so I was trained appropriately to never discuss a trial until it is completed,’ said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). ‘That process needs to be completed before we all start weighing in politically.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

President Trump and Vice President Pence will both receive a hurricane update before traveling to Camp David for the weekend with the entire Cabinet.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney offered a straightforward explanation for why Trump is dealing with Democrats on Fox Business Network: Is he annoyed at Republican leadership? Yeah, I think he probably is. … And believe me, as a Republican, so am I. … As a citizen, I am too. I was promised that they would have repealed and replaced Obamacare by now … To the extent that the president was annoyed by that is simply reflecting many of the people of this country.

 

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

-- It should be another beautiful day in the District. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “This is September at its best. We’ve got low- to mid-70s for high temperatures, mainly sunny skies (sunscreen please!), and low dew points (50s!) allowing for high comfort. A light 5 to 10 mph west-northwesterly breeze should feel refreshing!”

-- The Nationals won against the Phillies 4-3. (Jorge Castillo)

-- Metro failed to reach an agreement with its largest union, triggering an arbitration process that is sure to prove arduous. Robert McCartney reports: “The stalemate won’t affect rail or bus service, Metro said, but it signals a worsening of labor relations at a time when the jurisdictions that fund the agency want it to rein in costs and improve performance.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Seth Meyers compared Trump’s cozying up to Democrats to a hurricane with no path:

Stephen Colbert referenced Trump’s "Access Hollywood" tape in explaining how the president had imperiled his own party:

The Post explored how Trump's views on DACA have evolved since he began his presidential campaign:

Harvey has completely transformed the landscape of Houston:

The president's campaign released an ad attacking "career politicians and the media":

The Post’s fact-checking team looked into Trump’s assertion that his presidency has influenced companies to bring more jobs to the United States:

And a weatherman's no-nonsense reporting on Hurricane Irma went viral: