With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: With the Virginia governor’s race neck-and-neck, whether Republican Ed Gillespie chooses to campaign with President Trump could be determinative.

The perennially cautious Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and top official in George W. Bush’s White House, has carefully kept his distance from Trump, avoiding clean breaks but never fully embracing him either.

In a state like Alabama, where Trump is flying tomorrow for a rally, it’s a no-brainer to appear with the president. In Virginia, despite the president’s relatively low approval ratings, it’s not black and white. Gillespie was expected to romp in the Republican primary this June, but he barely beat back a challenge from Corey Stewart, who was Trump’s campaign chairman in Virginia last year. He wants to appeal to independents, but he also needs the GOP base to turn out for him.

-- Moderator Chuck Todd twice pressed Gillespie during a televised debate Tuesday night on whether he wants Trump to campaign for him. The GOP nominee always gets visibly uncomfortable whenever he’s asked about the president. “Look, Chuck, what I have said and will continue to say is: I'll take help from anybody, anywhere,” he replied. “This is gonna be a very close race. And the fact is, you know, I'm putting myself out there to solve the problems that face the people of Virginia. And I think they wanna hear from me.”

Pointing at his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Gillespie added: “Look, I could stand up here and I could say, ‘He's Nancy Pelosi!’ And he could say I'm Donald Trump, and we could have that debate. That's not gonna get one more job created in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is not gonna get one more addict into recovery. It is not going to ease traffic congestion. It is not going to make college more affordable. This race is about the future of Virginia and who has the plans to get us growing again.”

During a post-debate gaggle, the tersest Gillespie got was when a reporter tried to get clarity on whether he plans to invite Trump to the state. “I gave an answer. I’m comfortable with the answer I gave in the debate, but thank you for that,” he said, per Fenit Nirappil.

-- Five separate polls have been released this week, and all but one shows that the Virginia governor’s race is within the margin of error. The outlier was Quinnipiac University, which found Northam ahead by 10 points (51 percent to 41 percent) among likely voters and Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent. Operatives on both sides told me yesterday that it is not a 10-point race.

  • Mason-Dixon Polling found Northam and Gillespie are essentially tied, 44 percent to 43 percent. Northam dominates in Northern Virginia, but he’s getting blown out by similar margins across the state’s three rural regions: Shenandoah/Central Virginia, Lynchburg/Southside and Roanoke/Southwest. The race remains close in Hampton Roads, Northam’s home base, and the Richmond metro area.
  • Fox News puts Northam ahead 42 percent to 38 percent among registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percent. That survey pegged Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, but three in four voters said Trump is not a factor as they decide who to vote for. Meanwhile, 22 percent of Gillespie supporters said they are voting for him to express support for the president and 26 percent of Northam voters said they’re backing him to express opposition.
  • Suffolk University’s poll places Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, which is the same percentage of respondents who back Gillespie. Only 5 percent of people in the survey who said they voted for Trump last November expressed regret about that decision.
  • A University of Mary Washington survey, which also showed a neck-and-neck race, put Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent, with 55 percent disapproving.

-- With Trump underwater, Gillespie is going to have to make inroads with people who disapprove of the president. The fact that the race is close suggests Gillespie is already doing this to some degree, though perhaps not quite enough. The director of our in-house polling unit, Scott Clement, flags two recent precedents for this. In the exit polling for the 2013 governor’s race, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 46 percent (with 53 percent disapproving). But Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe still prevailed, narrowly, by receiving 10 points more support among Obama approvers than Republican Ken Cuccinelli did among Obama disapprovers (91 percent vs. 81 percent). In 2014, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) overcame an even worse Obama approval margin (40 percent approved and 58 percent disapproved of the president in Election Day exits) by garnering 15 percent support among Obama disapprovers. He narrowly beat Gillespie.

-- I posed the question of whether a Trump visit would help or hurt Gillespie to three respected observers of Virginia politics:

Bob Holsworth, a former dean at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said the question reminds him of when Doug Wilder had to decide in 1989 whether to stump with Jesse Jackson. Wilder, who became the first African American governor since Reconstruction, resisted pressure from his base to invite another black trailblazer because he feared that Jackson would nationalize the race. “A visit by Trump could help Gillespie mobilize the Corey Stewart voters who are skeptical of Gillespie's establishment affiliations,” Holsworth said. “But it could come with a heavy price, one that might undermine the rationale for his campaign. Gillespie is laboring to denationalize the campaign by focusing almost exclusively on Virginia issues, especially jobs and the economy. A visit from the president could also mobilize Virginia's ‘federal Democrats,’ who vote in presidential elections but often sit out next year's gubernatorial contest.”

Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington, does not believe a Trump rally would do Gillespie much good: “Northam probably gains at least as much as Gillespie does should Trump campaign shoulder to shoulder with Gillespie,” he said. “The University of Mary Washington poll out this week shows that Gillespie already has the support of nearly all Trump voters. There’s no real evidence in the UMW survey that Corey Stewart voters are nursing a grudge and plan to punish Gillespie. My guess is the fact that Stewart is running for Senate in 2018 has taken the string out of the gubernatorial primary defeat for most of his backers. … Gillespie and Northam would both be wise to focus on street level issues, things like transportation, education, health care, economic development and crime, to win over the voters who are not reflexively Democratic or Republican and therefore not likely to be moved by pro-Trump or anti-Trump campaigning.”

Kyle Kondik from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics believes Trump could help Gillespie if he comes to the right part of the state at the right time: “Republican statewide candidates in Virginia now have to run up tremendous margins west of the so-called Urban Crescent, the three major urban areas: Northern Virginia, Greater Richmond, and Hampton Roads. Trump did extremely well in western Virginia, as Republicans now often do. That was not always the case. Mark Warner did quite well in that part of the state when he won the governorship in 2001. So what if Gillespie had an event with Trump in, say, Roanoke, or somewhere west of there? It would be a huge deal in that region, which loves Trump, and might help with turnout in an area where Gillespie already will win but will need to run up the score.

“Maybe it could be the last weekend before the election so the Democrats couldn't really use the inevitable clips of Trump with Gillespie in ads? … Although I can also see the downside of nationalizing the race right at the end with an unpopular president,” Kondik added. “So maybe this is just flat out a bad idea for a gubernatorial candidate who wants to localize as oppose to nationalize this race, but I think it's something for the Gillespie campaign to consider even if, at first blush, it may seem like a bad idea.”

-- Another option would be to deploy Vice President Pence. He’s not as divisive as Trump, and he could certainly help galvanize some fans of the president who supported Stewart in the primary to turn out for Gillespie. (Pence plans to campaign for Strange in Alabama next Monday.)

-- History lesson: Trump could become the first president since Richard Nixon, beset by the Watergate scandal, to not campaign for his party’s nominee in the off-year gubernatorial elections. Virginia and New Jersey elect their governors the year after the presidential election. The result is that these contests are always studied closely for any national implications. Historically, in Virginia, the party that loses the presidency benefits from backlash and wins the governorship the following year. I found clips in the archives of every sitting president campaigning in either Virginia or New Jersey in the off-year cycle going back to 1973. It seems very unlikely Trump will stump in the Garden State, so if Trump doesn’t wade into Virginia, the president could break that 44-year streak.

-- Virginia was supposed to be the marquee election of 2017, but until now it has been overshadowed by the daily drama in Washington. The special elections to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price in Georgia and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama wound up assuming larger national significance than expected.

In the homestretch, the Old Dominion is about to get much more national attention and the race is already starting to turn nastier. Both campaigns released new attack ads yesterday that signaled what’s to come: Gillespie’s blames Northam for “increasing the threat of MS-13” by voting against a bill that would have banned the establishment of “sanctuary cities,” and Northam’s highlights Gillespie’s work as a lobbyist for Enron.

Virginia does not even have any sanctuary cities. Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirappil also figured out that the tattooed gang members featured in the spot were actually photographed at a prison in El Salvador. They also note that, as chairman of the RNC, Gillespie pushed for a more diverse, “big tent” party. He has advocated for bipartisan immigration reform and for six years was a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, registered to handle issues that included “amnesty proposals.”

Northam’s ad criticizes Gillespie for lobbying on behalf of “the worst of the worst,” including “lenders trying to keep student loan rates high” and “corporations sending jobs overseas.” “Now, Enron Ed is lobbying for Donald Trump’s agenda, like cuts to Virginia’s school funding, and taking away health care from thousands of Virginians,” a narrator says. But Gillespie has not actually called for cutting school funding. “Northam’s campaign cites Gillespie’s proposal to cut taxes as evidence he would do so,” per Laura and Fenit.

-- In Alabama, meanwhile, the Republican establishment is desperate for Trump to be as involved and hands-on as possible. Robert Costa and Philip Rucker have some great inside reporting in today’s paper on how Senate leaders convinced Trump to visit Alabama to campaign for incumbent Sen. Luther Strange ahead of next week’s GOP runoff. Trump formally endorsed him at Mitch McConnell’s request earlier this year, but his advisers were deeply divided as recently as last week about whether it made sense for the president to visit. Strange is trailing in the polls, and his opponent Roy Moore is adored by many of the president’s strongest supporters, including former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

A chorus of GOP grandees told Trump that he alone can carry Strange across the finish line: “Private polls were circulated in the West Wing showing a more favorable race for Strange than public surveys — including one the U.S. Chamber of Commerce commissioned from Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio, whose imprimatur Republicans thought could sway the president. A close ally of [McConnell] briefed Trump and [Pence] on the contest. Jeff Roe, Strange’s top consultant, fed regular updates to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. And Sen. Bob Corker — whose own relationship with Trump was frayed by a summer of curt criticism — paid a visit last Friday to the Oval Office, where he delivered a blunt request at the end of a broader conversation. ‘You’ve got to go,’ the Tennessee Republican told Trump … ‘We need you there.’

“White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who has tried to control what information Trump receives about the Alabama race, was initially wary of the president appearing with a senator who might lose. He preferred Trump spend his time on policy initiatives such as tax reform rather than rousing crowds at political rallies. Likewise, Bill Stepien, the White House political director, urged caution and at first recommended that Trump stay out of the state. … (But) Kelly, who came around to backing the rally, was also told by several senators that Republicans might be hesitant to fully back Trump’s agenda if they were uncertain about his support for them. … As Trump mulled his options last week, McConnell spoke with Trump.”

-- Gillespie’s strategists will surely pay close attention to what happens in the Alabama runoff. Trump’s stop tomorrow night is in Huntsville, which is the base of support for Rep. Mo Brooks, who finished third in the first-round primary and last weekend endorsed Moore over Strange. “There are hypothetically a lot of Brooks voters available up there,” Kondik notes. “If we see a big swing in that region that helps Strange win (from the first round to the second), I think Trump could theoretically merit some credit for that. And, if so, it might provide a model for someone like Gillespie if he wanted to try to deploy the president in the Virginia race.”

-- Thinking ahead: If Strange pulls out a win in Alabama because of Trump’s late intervention and then Senate Republicans find the votes to pass the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill, the media narrative next week will probably be about a Trump “comeback.” If Strange loses and Cassidy-Graham goes down in flames, however, the narrative will cement that Trump is ineffective as a party leader and congressional Republicans are incapable of governing.

-- One interesting indicator: A fresh NBC-Wall Street Journal survey, which posted this morning, shows that Trump’s numbers are inching up nationally. “Trump’s overall job-approval rating in the poll stands at 43 percent, which is up three points since August, although that’s within the survey’s margin of error,” per NBC’s Mark Murray. “... 83 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance (up from 80 percent in August), compared with 41 percent of independents (up from 32 percent in August).”

  • Bipartisanship is playing well: Seven in 10 Americans support the president’s recent deal with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to raise the debt ceiling. (The personal ratings for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have hit new all-time lows.)
  • The poll asked respondents to evaluate Trump’s handling of 11 different issues and actions: 41 percent give him a thumbs-up for his handling of the economy, 39 percent approve of his handling of border security and immigration, 36 percent back his handling of North Korea, 27 percent support his handling of health care, and 25 percent approve of his handling of race relations and his recent pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Just 23 percent approve of how he uses Twitter to communicate, while only 20 percent support his handling of the events in Charlottesville.
  • But two in three Americans believe that Trump has accomplished “only some” or “very little” as president: “Even only a third of self-described Trump voters — 34 percent — say the president has accomplished a ‘great deal,’” Mark notes.
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-- Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as a strong Category 4 storm on Wednesday, decimating some communities and knocking out the island's entire electrical grid. It was the most powerful storm to strike the island in more than 80 years. “Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” said Puerto Rico's emergency management director, Abner Gomez. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path.”

“With sustained winds of 155 mph at landfall ... Maria was so powerful that it disabled radar, weather stations and cell towers across Puerto Rico, leaving an information vacuum in which officials could only speculate about property damage, injuries or deaths,Samantha Schmidt, Joel Achenbach and Sandhya Somashekhar report. “The entire island experienced hurricane conditions, with 20 inches or more of rain falling, often at torrential rates of up to seven inches per hour, leading to reports of raging floodwaters and people seeking help to escape them. …  Winds snapped palm trees, shredded homes and sent debris skidding across beaches and roads. Recreational boats sank in San Juan's marinas. … Far inland, floodwaters inundated homes that had never before flooded. In San Juan, the capital, Maria shook buildings and blew out windows. Residents of high-rise apartments sought refuge in bathrooms.”

“The island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, tweeted early Wednesday morning that already 11,229 people had been admitted to shelters, along with 580 pets,” Vice reports

-- The storm is expected to regain some strength at Category 3 and “is next set to scrape across the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 hurricane Thursday before arriving in the Turks and Caicos and Southeast Bahamas on Friday,” writes Jason Samenow. “This weekend, it is expected to turn north parallel to the East Coast. But just how close it tracks to the coast next week, while enormously consequential, is not yet clear.”


  1. Signaling the strength of the U.S. economy, the Fed announced it would begin reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. The move unwinds the central bank’s post-recession strategy of taking on unprecedented levels of mortgage-related securities and government bonds. (Heather Long)
  2. Thousands of Mexicans mobilized Wednesday for a massive rescue operation, frantically clearing rubble and racing to find survivors in the aftermath of a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck the capital city one day earlier. Meanwhile, the death toll has continued to climb, and officials said at least 25 people — most of them children — were found dead at an elementary school in Mexico City. (Joshua Partlow)
  3. The U.S. government will provide a humanitarian aid package worth nearly $32 million to Rohingya refugees, who have fled Myanmar by the hundreds of thousands in recent weeks to escape what the United Nations has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” (CNN)
  4. Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified last month’s presidential election because, it said, the voting may have been hacked. Two paper forms that could have validated the election of Uhuru Kenyatta over Raila Odinga were never transmitted because the computer system failed. A new election was called for October. (New York Times)
  5. California is suing the Trump administration to prevent construction of a border wall. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued the proposal impedes on states’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution. (Politico)
  6. The Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed that its system had been breached by hackers. The security failure may have allowed hackers access to data useful for lucrative stock buys. (Renae Merle)
  7. A U.S. court has dismissed two lawsuits over an OPM data breach, denying compensation to some 22 million employees, retirees and others whose personal information was stolen from two government databases. (Eric Yoder)
  8. Facebook announced it would change how ads on its platform target to certain users. The announcement follows a ProPublica report that found advertisers could use Facebook’s ad tools to target self-described “Jew haters.” (The New York Times)
  9. A Virginia Episcopal church named after Gen. Robert E. Lee has voted to change its name, citing an effort to “move on” and seek racial healing in the aftermath of deadly riots in nearby Charlottesville. (Michelle Boorstein
  10. Hillary Clinton’s new memoir about the 2016 campaign has sold more than 300,000 copies, Simon & Schuster said Wednesday. Hardcover sales have also topped 168,000, giving “What Happened” the highest debut of any nonfiction release in five years. (AP)


-- Less than two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to give a Kremlin-aligned Russian billionaire “private briefings” on the 2016 campaign. Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig and Adam Entous report: “[Manafort] made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past … ‘If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,’ Manafort wrote … There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign[.]”

  • “Several of the exchanges, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients. The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms … But investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska, who is referenced in some places by his initials, ‘OVD’ … One email uses ‘black caviar,’ a Russian delicacy, in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to payments Manafort hoped to receive from former clients.”
  • “Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men, is widely seen as an important ally of President Vladimir Putin. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2006, published by WikiLeaks, referred to Deripaska as ‘among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.’ The billionaire has struggled to get visas to travel to the United States because of concerns he might have ties to organized crime in Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

-- Even as his past international work has become a focus of Mueller’s probe, Manafort has continued soliciting foreign clients — and is quietly working on a Kurdish independence referendum opposed by the United States. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Jo Becker report: “While the Kurdish referendum, scheduled for Monday, is nonbinding, the American government and the international community have expressed serious concerns about it. They fear that, if it passes overwhelmingly, as expected, it could further destabilize Iraq, damage the coalition fighting the Islamic State, and potentially spark violence in disputed areas. Mr. Manafort agreed to assist with the referendum, including a planned push for Western recognition, after he was approached several months ago by an intermediary for the [Iraqi Kurdish leader’s] son, Masrour Barzani[.] … Mr. Manafort has traveled to the region since then to advise the Barzanis’ allies on the referendum … [and] may return to the region in the coming days for the vote, according to the advocates.

“Asked if Mr. Manafort was hired because of his ties to Mr. Trump, the spokesman said he had been chosen because of his experience in referendums and global affairs. The spokesman would not provide information about who is paying Mr. Manafort or how much he is being paid.”

-- Mueller’s office has requested “extensive” records and email correspondence from the White House, covering “everything from [Trump’s] private discussions about firing his FBI director to his White House’s handling of a warning that the Trump national security adviser was under investigation,” Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “White House lawyers are now working to turn over internal documents that span 13 different categories ... The requests broadly ask for any document or email related to ... [the] firing of [Michael Flynn] and [Jim] Comey, the people said. The list demonstrates Mueller’s focus on key moments and actions by the president and close advisers which can address whether Trump sought to block the FBI investigations of Flynn and of Russian interference. His team is also eyeing whether the president sought to obstruct the earlier Russia probe.”

  • QUOTE DU JOUR: “‘I am convinced that no matter where they end up, this investigation will run to completion even if they fire Mueller,’ the official said. ‘There is a feeling of inevitability now that we didn’t have before — not of the outcome of the investigation, but that there will be an outcome. There is no escaping this thing, whatever the conclusions.’”

-- Suspected Russia propagandists appeared to use Facebook to push Trump rallies in 17 U.S. cities during the election. The Daily Beast's Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman report: “The demonstrations — at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists — brought dozens of supporters together in real life [and] appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of [Trump]. The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called ‘Florida Goes Trump!’ and they were billed as a ‘patriotic state-wide flash mob,’ unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state.”


-- Mitch McConnell plans to bring Cassidy-Graham to a vote on the Senate floor next week, a move he had committed to only if Republicans had enough votes to pass it. But it's still unclear if the measure can cross the finish line (and spokesman Don Stewart used the word “intention” regarding bringing the measure to the floor). Sean Sullivan reports: “The announcement came as Republican leaders and the White House were trying to rally support for the measure. [Sens. Bill] Cassidy [R-La.] and [Lindsey] Graham [R-S.C.] met Wednesday with Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who have not yet said whether they support the plan.”

-- All eyes are on Murkowski, who opposed the last failed attempt to rollback the Affordable Care Act and could be the critical vote this time around, too. Also from Sean: “After leaving the meeting with Cassidy and Graham, Murkowski said she needed to review more information on how the plan would affect her state before she decides whether to endorse it. … Graham said he and his co-sponsors would not make any changes to the legislation for Alaska. But he also sought to project sensitivity to the state’s distinctive needs, perhaps opening the door to some provisions that accomplish that. … Murkowski and her team insisted that she is interested in seeing more numbers crunched to make a responsible decision. But some Republicans with a close eye on the process are under the impression that she is more interested in gaining political cover.

-- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) admitted in a candid interview with the Des Moines Register that the majority is still two votes short and that optics were a good enough reason to pass the measure. “'No, I think we’re one or two votes short and I don’t see those other one or two votes coming,” Grassley said when asked if McConnell had the necessary votes. 'I hope I’m wrong.'" He added that, although the bill, it was more important for Republicans to keep their promise of repealing Obamacare than to tank it: “'You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,' he said. “'But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.'”

-- The two major trade groups for health insurers came out against the bill yesterday, becoming the latest in a long line of powerful interest groups to oppose the measure. “The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans,” the CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said. The president of America’s Health Insurance Plans added that the legislation may allow “government-controlled single payer health care to grow.” (The New York Times’s Robert Pear)  

-- A new analysis also reveals that Cassidy-Graham would cut federal funds for 34 states. Amy Goldstein, David Weigel and Juliet Eilperin report: “The analysis by Avalere Health, a Washington-based health-policy consulting firm, forecasts that the amount of federal money devoted to Medicaid and private insurance subsidies would shrink by $215 billion between 2020, when the plan would begin, and 2026, the last year money is provided in the bill. More than half of the overall cuts in the legislation … would come from Medicaid, the analysis shows. … The divisions between winners and losers trace political fault lines. Of the 16 states that Avalere predicts would gain money under the plan, all but one have Republican governors.

-- OOPS: The Associated Press reported last night that a reporter overheard Graham at Reagan National Airport telling a fellow senator he should support his health-care bill despite “all its imperfections.” It turned out that Graham was giving an interview to Fox News’s Sean Hannity. The wire service corrected the item. “We’re going to vote,” Graham told Hannity. “Everybody will be held accountable.” The AP’s decision to run with what turned out to be an inaccurate story comes after the New York Times reported on an overheard conversation at a downtown Washington restaurant earlier this week between two of Trump’s lawyers.

-- During a speech yesterday, Barack Obama said that repealing the ACA would inflict “real human suffering.” “It wasn’t perfect, but it was better,” Obama said at an event for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “And so when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress, for the 50th or 60th time, with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage, or roll back protections for older Americans, people with preexisting conditions, the cancer survivor, the expectant mom, or the child with autism, or asthma, for whom coverage will once again will be unattainable, it is aggravating.” (Juliet Eilperin)

-- “Chuck and Nancy” are waiting in the wings if Cassidy-Graham fails. The New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg: “[I]f the [Cassidy-Graham] bill can be stopped, the Democratic leaders have already begun nudging the president toward another about-face: setting aside the mantra of ‘repeal and replace’ and adopting modest measures to make his predecessor’s signature domestic achievement work better. During a recent White House dinner, the pair pushed Mr. Trump to make permanent the subsidies … paid to insurers under the health law to help low-income customers pay for out-of-pocket health expenses[.] … In separate interviews, both leaders said that the president was noncommittal and that their future dealings with him would depend on whether he followed through on his pledge to protect [the dreamers].”

-- A handful of Democrats wonder if Bernie Sanders — and the introduction of his “Medicare for all” plan last week — bear some of the blame for Republicans’ last-minute push. David Weigel reports: “Sanders ... was particularly tight-lipped at Tuesday’s lunches, saying only that single-payer was ‘where the American people want to go.’ He had, after all, delayed the release of his bill several times, partially to get more input from Democrats, but largely to avoid confusing the Democratic caucus’s united stance against repeal. But did he crack the door open for Republicans this time? Most of his colleagues say no; those who don’t reject the idea outright acknowledge that the GOP was never going to let the Sept. 30 reconciliation deadline pass without another run at health care.”


-- Big vacancy: “[Trump] and his top aides say they’re doing everything in their power to pursue a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the North Korea nuclear threat,” David Nakamura reports. “But eight months into Trump’s tenure, he has yet to nominate a U.S. ambassador to South Korea[.] … [And behind] the scenes, Korea watchers in Washington say they are perplexed about the lengthy delay in filling the State Department’s top Seoul post. Since the spring, the leading — and perhaps only — candidate said to be in consideration has been Victor D. Cha, a former George W. Bush administration Asia policy aide[.] … In the meantime, some in Washington fear the lengthy vacancy in Seoul has sent a message that will be difficult to overcome: that Trump’s White House doesn’t really care about what an ambassador on the ground 35 miles from the North Korean border has to say about policy.”

-- On the ground: In North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s regime tells people every day the United States “wants to destroy them and their country.” By echoing that rhetoric nearly verbatim at the United Nations this week, experts say Trump’s speech could encourage the rogue nation to fire even more missiles. Anna Fifield reports: “North Korea’s streets and airwaves are filled with calls to resist the American imperialists, and from a young age, children watch cartoons showing squirrels and hedgehogs (North Koreans) fighting off evil wolves (the United States). The ‘threat’ from the United States is the whole reason North Korea needs nuclear weapons, the regime tells the people … [and] Trump’s words feed right into that narrative, analysts say.”

-- China rebuked Trump on Wednesday for threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary, a warning that “may have undermined the chances of peace but also gave Beijing an easy opportunity to seize the moral high ground,” Simon Denyer reports“Beijing has consistently blamed not just Pyongyang but also Washington for what it sees as its hostile policies toward the regime … [and] argues that U.S. hostility has helped to push North Korea’s rulers into a corner and talk of total destruction only reinforces that narrative.”

  • “Trump threatens DPRK with ‘total destruction,’ while China calls for peaceful settlement, the online English-language edition of the People’s Daily newspaper headlined an op-ed … ‘Trump’s political chest-thumping is unhelpful, and it will only push the DPRK to pursue even riskier policies, because the survival of the regime is at stake,’ it wrote.”


-- Trump said Wednesday he has decided whether to recertify the nuclear deal with Iran nuclear deal — but won't say what that decision will be. Abby Phillip reports: ‘I have decided,’ Trump said, three times. Pressed by reporters to reveal his decision, Trump smiled and said, ‘I’ll let you know what the decision is.’ The comments come a day after Trump said in a speech to the United Nations that the deal was ‘one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.’”

-- White House sources tell NBC News that Trump is leaning toward decertifying the deal. If he did, Congress would have 60 days to determine whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran, giving Trump time to attempt to renegotiate pieces of the pact and bring Iran back to the bargaining table.

-- The secretary of state appeared caught off-guard when reporters informed him that Trump had said his mind was made up. “I didn't know he was going to say today he made a decision,” Rex Tillerson said. He went on to add, “I knew he had, but I didn’t know he was going to say he had.” (David Nakamura and Anne Gearan)

-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted Trump for his “ignorant, absurd and hateful” U.N. speech on Wednesday, vowing that Iran would not be the first to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal. “’Everyone will clearly see that Iran has lived up to its agreements and that the United States is therefore a country that cannot be trusted,’ he said. ‘We will be the winners,’ while the United States ‘will certainly sustain losses.’ And in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning, Rouhani doubled down, sharply criticizing Trump for his UN speech and his insistence on undermining the Iran deal.”

-- THE BIGGER PICTURE: “[Trump] is now fully engaged in two nuclear confrontations, one with Iran over a nuclear accord he finds an ‘embarrassment’ and the other with North Korea that is forcing the Pentagon to contemplate for the first time in decades what a resumption of the Korean War might look like,” the New York Times’s David Sanger writes. “The dynamics of those cases are entirely different, but they are also oddly interdependent. If Mr. Trump makes good on his threat to pull out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, how will he then convince [Kim Jong-un] that America will honor the commitment to integrate North Korea into the world community if only it disarms — the demand Mr. Trump made from the podium of the United Nations. Presumably, the United States would have to make some concessions to North Korea in return for limits on its nuclear program. But why negotiate with the United States if this president or the next one can just throw out any agreement?

“‘If the president pulls back on the Iran deal, given Iranian compliance’ with its terms, said Wendy R. Sherman, the chief negotiator of the accord, ‘it will make diplomacy on North Korea almost impossible because U.S. credibility will be shot.’”

-- Meanwhile, one of the American prisoners in Iran’s custody was hospitalized and received a pacemaker Tuesday. Trump demanded in his U.N. speech that all such prisoners be released. Carol Morello reports: “The health of Baquer Namazi, 81, who had undergone triple bypass surgery before being imprisoned 18 months ago and convicted of espionage in a secret trial, has raised concerns that the former UNICEF official might die in custody. At least three other Americans are imprisoned in Iran, and a fourth has been missing for a decade, but Namazi’s health is considered particularly fragile.”


-- Scott Pruitt is getting round-the-clock Secret Service protection with "triple the manpower" of his predecessors, scoop Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. The extra security has "prompted officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes,”Juliet and Brady report. “The EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has summoned agents from various cities to serve two-week stints helping guard Pruitt in recent months. And while hiring in many departments is frozen, the agency has sought an exception to hire additional full-time staff to protect Pruitt. ‘This never happened with prior administrators,’ said Michael Hubbard, a former special agent who led the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division office in Boston ... The practice has rankled some employees … who note that the EPA’s criminal enforcement efforts already are understaffed and that the Trump administration has proposed further cuts to the division.

“These guys signed on to work on complex environmental cases, not to be an executive protection detail,” Hubbard said. “It’s not only not what they want to do, it’s not what they were trained and paid to do.”

-- "In a pair of 2015 speeches, [Trump's] nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas described transgender children as evidence of 'Satan's plan,' lamented that states were banning conversion therapy and argued that sanctioning same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality,” CNN’s Chris Massie and Andrew Kaczynski report: “Jeff Mateer, the current first assistant attorney general of Texas, was serving at the time as general counsel of the First Liberty Institute[.] ‘In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she's a girl who thinks she's a boy or a boy who thinks she's a girl, it's probably that, a boy who thinks she's a girl,’ Mateer said [in the 2015 speech] … ‘And so she has now sued to have a right to go in [the girl’s bathroom]. Now, I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults, a first grader really knows what their sexual identity? I mean it just really shows you how Satan's plan is working and the destruction that's going on.’”

-- Jeffrey Gerrish, Trump’s nominee to be deputy U.S. trade representative, cast a questionable ballot in last year's election, a revelation that comes as the president's voter fraud commission attempts to crack down on such behavior. John Wagner reports: “Gerrish, whose nomination is pending in the Senate, sold a home in Fairfax County, Va., in July 2016 and bought a home in North Bethesda, Md., the same month[.] … Yet Gerrish, a Washington lawyer, voted four months later in Virginia[.] … Under Virginia law, voting in the state is limited to residents, with some exceptions, including those who move out of the jurisdiction within 30 days of a presidential election. Voting by nonresidents is a misdemeanor."

-- The Department of Health and Human Services defended Tom Price’s reported use of private jets to travel for official business.: “Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13 hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS’s missions,” HHS spokeswoman Charmaine Yoest said. “The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs, including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible.” (The Wall Street Journal)

-- But congressional Democrats zeroed in on the allegations, asking the HHS inspector general to look into Price’s recent travel. Politico’s Rachana Pradhan reports: “Five Democrats asked the inspector general to review Price's adherence to federal regulations on traveling by government employees[.] … The request — sent by Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal and Sens. Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and Gary Peters — asks the office to probe how many times Price used government or charter aircraft, the costs of the trips and whether HHS personnel raised internal concerns about Price's use of private planes.”

-- A review of Trump’s hiring picks to fill the Agriculture Department reveals little government or agricultural experience — and excessive experience with Trump’s campaign. Politico’s Jenny Hopkinson reports: “Of the 42 résumés Politico reviewed, 22 cited Trump campaign experience. And based on their résumés, some of those appointees appear to lack credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries. It’s typical for presidents to reward loyalists with jobs once a campaign is over. But what’s different under Trump, sources familiar with the department's inner workings say, is the number of campaign staffers who have gotten positions and the jobs and salaries they have been hired for, despite not having solid agricultural credentials in certain cases. … ‘There is a clear prioritization of one attribute, and that is loyalty,’ said Austin Evers, American Oversight's executive director[.]”


Trump defended the Cassidy-Graham bill and went after one of its opponents:

He also weighed in on the criticism that it would allow states to waive coverage of the sickest people:

Lindsey Graham backed up the president's claim:

He later gave a more personal endorsement of Sen. Bill Cassidy, who was criticized by Jimmy Kimmel for breaking his promise on protecting children with preexisting conditions:

Trump also promoted Sen. Luther Strange's campaign in Alabama (former top aide Steve Bannon, now with Breitbart, is backing Roy Moore in Tuesday's special primary for Jeff Sessions's old seat. More on the race here):

Some criticized this May tweet from Lindsey Graham, written during the first round of health-care negotiations, as a flip-flop (the CBO says it can't score his new measure in time for the vote):

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) cited Jimmy Kimmel to explain her displeasure with Cassidy-Graham:

From a New York Times reporter:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) highlighted the abortion restrictions contained in the Cassidy-Graham bill: 

Hillary Clinton defended Obamacare:

As HHS Secretary Tom Price caught flak for his habit of flying private jets on official business, this 2009 tweet recirculated:

One of the Politico reporters that broke the Price story found one of the chartered planes that Price used:

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) recommended an alternative means of transportation for Price:

One of The Post's opinion writers offered this insight on the story that Manafort offered "private briefings" to a Russian billionaire during the campaign:

A Black Lives Matter activist questioned late-night hosts' chummy interactions with Trump and his associates:

The editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight commented on the record-setting sales of Hlilary Clinton's newest book:

And first daughter Tiffany Trump heard Ruth Bader Ginsburg's speech at Georgetown Law:


-- Bloomberg Businessweek, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Political Awakening,” by Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier: “By his own telling, Zuckerberg’s political awakening began a little more than a year ago. ‘I guess it was while the primaries were going on,’ he says. Trump was on the ascent, thanks to a nationalist message Zuckerberg saw as an attack on the global connectivity Facebook has long promoted[.] … ‘I mean, for most of the existence of the company, this idea of connecting the world has not been a controversial thing,’ he continues. ‘Something changed.’”

-- The New York Times, “Undercover With the Alt-Right,” by Jesse Singal: “Last September, Patrik Hermansson, a 25-year-old graduate student from Sweden, went undercover in the world of the extreme right. Posing as a student writing a thesis about the suppression of right-wing speech, he traveled from London to New York to Charlottesville, Va. — and into the heart of a dangerous movement that is experiencing a profound rejuvenation. And while ‘globalist’ may be one of the alt-right’s favorite slurs, [his experience] conclusively shows that the alt-right is itself now a global movement with regular interaction among far-right figures from Scotland to Sweden to Seattle.”

-- New York Magazine, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?” by Andrew Sullivan: “The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again.”

-- Politico Magazine, “The Electoral College Is a National Security Threat,” by Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Haas: “[Alexander] Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.”

-- The Wall Street Journal, “There’s Actual War, and Then There’s @Ukraine vs. @Russia,” by Drew Hinshaw and James Marson: “The @Ukraine versus @Russia battle pits one of the world’s cyberwarfare superpowers against the three nerdy Twitter comedians behind @Ukraine. … Thousands of tweeters have taken @Ukraine’s side in its spats with accounts run by Russian foreign affairs staff. @Ukraine is generally funnier than @Russia, Twitter users say, and better at digging up obscure moments from American cartoons[.]”


“A university president held a dinner for black students — and set the table with cotton stalks and collard greens,” from Lindsey Bever: “A Tennessee university president has apologized for offending African American students with a table centerpiece that included stalks of cotton — a piece of Southern-style decor that is raising questions about cultural and racial sensitivity. [An Instagram user] wrote last week that African American students had been invited to the [home of Lipscomb University President Randy Lowry] to share a meal. ‘As we arrived to the president’s home and proceeded to go in we seen cotton as the center pieces,’ she wrote. ‘We were very offended, and also the meals that were provided resembled many ‘black meals’ they had mac n cheese, collard greens, corn bread etc. The night before Latinos also had dinner at his house and they had tacos. They also DIDN’T have the center piece that we HAD tonight.’”



“Lawrence O’Donnell apologizes for profanity-laced rant caught on tape,” from New York Post: “O’Donnell was not on air, but cameras were still rolling as he went ballistic during a break on Aug. 29, complaining about an earpiece malfunction that piped in unwanted noise. ‘Call f–king [MSNBC president] Phil Griffin!’ O’Donnell yells in footage posted by Mediaite. ‘I don’t care who the f–k you have to call!’ … ‘The Last Word’ host said he was totally at fault and tweeted, ‘A better anchorman and a better person would’ve had a better reaction to technical difficulties. I’m sorry.’”



Trump is still in New York today for meetings with world leaders, including a working lunch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He will later sit down with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan before departing for New Jersey.

Pence has morning media interviews before joining the president’s meetings with the leaders of Afghanistan, Ukraine, South Korea and Japan. He returns to D.C. tonight.


When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was asked about Cassidy-Graham, after he torpedoed the last Obamacare repeal effort, he said, “Nothing has changed. If McConnell wants to put it on the floor, that’s up to McConnell. I am the same as I was before. I want the regular order.” When asked if that meant he would vote “no,” McCain replied, “That means I want the regular order. It means I want the regular order!”



-- Summer-like weather persists in D.C. today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Bright sunshine gets the day started and is tempered only by a few afternoon pop up clouds. Winds are light from the north and humidity, while noticeable, is far from oppressive. Standing in the sun may not be so pleasant in the afternoon as highs top out in the mid-to upper 80s.”

-- The Nationals beat the Braves 7-3. (Chelsea Janes)         

-- Black employees of the Trump International Hotel’s BLT Prime steakhouse have filed a civil complaint over alleged racial discrimination. Jonathan O'Connell reports: “[Dominique] Hill, a former BLT employee, and [Irving] Smith [Jr.], a current one, allege that the Trump Organization and hotel managing director Mickael Damelincourt saw to it that the restaurant routinely steered black employees to less lucrative shifts and subjected them to discriminatory behavior by other staff and by guests. … [Hill] claims only four black employees still work at BLT after the hotel opened with 15 or more.”

-- Incoming U-Va. President James E. Ryan will earn an annual base salary of $750,000, almost $200,000 more than his predecessor, Teresa Sullivan. (Sarah Larimer)


Jimmy Kimmel took a second, and even more heated swing, at Sen. Bill Cassidy last night:


Late-night hosts had some cutting words on Trump's U.N. speech:

The first lady denounced bullying in a speech at the U.N.:

Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski‏, who has been bullied by the president, responded to the first lady’s speech:

Trump mispronounced the name of the African nation Namibia during a lunch with African leaders:

Obama added in his Gates Foundation speech yesterday that "the rise of nationalism and xenophobia" rank among the world's "extraordinary challenges":

The Post's Glenn Kessler awarded four Pinocchios to Scott Pruitt's claim that 50,000 new coal jobs have been created this past year:

And a hospital in San Diego unveiled remote controlled mini cars, allowing child patients to "drive" to their operating rooms: