With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: If you took a shot of liquor every time Luther Strange name-dropped the president during a televised debate last night, you’d probably be too hammered to attend Donald Trump’s rally for him in Huntsville later today. Heck, depending on your tolerance, you might still be too hung over to go vote next Tuesday in the GOP runoff.

The senator, who was appointed to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, doesn’t just want to ride Trump’s coattails to a come-from-behind victory against former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore. The 64-year-old is gambling his political future on being able to successfully play the Trump card.

At a venue down the road from the state capitol in Montgomery, Strange hyped up what he described as a “close personal friendship” with Trump. He repeatedly said that the two have “bonded” and made sure to mention that he spoke with the president on the phone for half an hour just the night before. “Think how much the president gets attacked every day,” Strange said at one point. “Good lord. We actually have the kind of relationship where we can laugh about that!”

In fact, it took a full-court press by establishment Republicans in the Senate to convince an ambivalent president that he should travel to Alabama. White House aides were deeply divided as recently as last week about whether Trump should risk humiliation by holding a rally for someone who trails in the polls.

After Strange had invoked him a few dozen times, Moore argued that the president was misled and manipulated into endorsing him by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. He noted that several of Trump’s former advisers have endorsed him, such as ex-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former National Security Council aide Sebastian Gorka. “They know what President Trump stands for,” Moore said. “The problem is President Trump is being cut off in his office. He’s being redirected by people like McConnell, who do not support his agenda and will not support his agenda in the future. I think we need to go back and look at what’s going on.”

Strange feigned great umbrage at this line of attack and insisted that “it was not just a namby-pamby decision” when Trump chose to endorse him: “What you just said reveals a total lack of understanding of the president and of his character, and of his determination, and of his loyalty and of his friendship,” he replied. “I met Mitch McConnell about six or seven months ago. I’ve already stood up to him on many occasions. To suggest that the president of the United States, the head of the free world, a man who is changing the world, is being manipulated by Mitch McConnell is insulting to the president. It’s absolutely insulting to the president! That’s why he’s chosen me. He’s not being manipulated by anyone. As a matter of fact, many of the people who are supporting you look like the unemployment line at the White House. They were fired! They’re not there. There’s a reason for that: because the president is his own man. If anyone in this room … doubts that, that he can’t make up his mind without being influenced by someone, then you just misread the president. You just flat misread him!”

Moore ribbed Strange for how hard he sucks up to Trump. He noted that, as a registered lobbyist, Strange advocated for trade deals that Trump says are bad. He said that his opponent only endorsed blowing up the rules of the Senate so bills can pass with a simple majority after Trump called for it on Twitter. Then he attacked Strange for supporting Trump’s deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling.

“This race is not me against the president. … It’s me against Luther Strange,” he said. “I can’t tell you what the president thinks. I can’t tell you every move he makes, when he goes to the bathroom and when he doesn’t! … I do know Mr. Strange has been a lobbyist. That’s what a lobbyist does. … You don’t get rid of lobbyists in the swamp by sending them to the United States Senate.”

Threading a delicate needle, Moore simultaneously sought to link himself with Trump. The most amusing example came when he noted that Trump attended a military academy for high school that is not far from West Point, where he went. He praised the president’s ban on transgender troops in the military. “I said that even before he said it! I agree with him very much on that,” said Moore.

-- Strange — who is known as “Big Luther” because he’s 6’9” — has dramatically outspent Moore, but Moore has a devoted following among evangelicals and activists. While polls show Moore ahead, the race is tightening in the closing days as establishment groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and McConnell’s super PAC relentlessly pound Moore with negative ads and play up the president’s endorsement. Turnout is expected to be low, and it’s hard to predict what the electorate will look like. Trump was shown polling that his late intervention could change the outcome of the race and promised that this would buy him goodwill among Senate Republicans.

-- Strange talked about Trump like certain donors talk about their “friendships” with elected officials when all they got was a grip-and-grin photo and a short chat during a fundraiser. He said that “having a relationship with the commander in chief” will get more defense industry jobs for Alabama and said he “can call the president up and ask for help” whenever Alabama needs it.

No matter the subject, Strange always pivoted back to the president: “I can tell you no one is more determined than I am to support the president’s agenda. … If you have not followed the president on Twitter, I urge you to do so. He just tweeted a great tweet out about my campaign. … He’s angry, and I’m angry, at the lack of progress in Washington. … I think, through divine intervention, he was elected our president.”

He also praised Trump’s North Korea saber-rattling: “I’ve been honored to be in a number of top secret briefings. … I am so proud of his leadership there. He’s changed the dynamic. … We’re not taking any options off the table. … Let’s not forget about the need to support our president in the national defense area.”

In both his opening and closing statements at the debate, Strange called next week’s vote a referendum on Trump: “It will be a test of our state and our people: Are we going to support our president? … Are we going to make America great again?”

-- By the end of the hour, Moore’s supporters in the crowd could be heard laughing at Strange’s over the trop paeans to POTUS. “I know you may get tired of hearing this, and you may resent that the president is my friend and is supporting me in this race,” Strange replied unapologetically, “but I think it’s a good thing that the president of the United States has a personal relationship with the junior senator from Alabama and loves Alabama as much as he does. That’s why he’s coming here on Friday night. He also knows my record on the economy.”

-- The debate offered a potent reminder of just how much raw courage it takes for someone like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, facing a serious primary challenge next year, to consistently defend conservative principles when Trump flouts them.

-- During a post-debate rally for Moore, Sarah Palin echoed the message that Trump is being co-opted. “The forgotten man and woman in this country, they stood up, and we beat the swamp. But, alas, 10 months later, guys, the swamp, it's trying to hijack this presidency,” said Palin, the 2008 GOP nominee for vice president. “The swamp is trying to steal the victory that we worked so long and hard for — to steal the victory that a lot of us put our reputations on the line for. We voted to put America first, not the political elite that had ignored us for decades.”

Palin described Moore as being “deplorable before deplorable was cool”: “A vote for Judge Moore isn't a vote against the president. It is a vote for the people's agenda that elected the president. … The president needs support to keep the promises that elected him. So we're sending Trump someone who has our back, not Mitch McConnell's … Make no mistake, 'Big Luther' is Mitch McConnell's guy!”

“The evening contained at least three prayers,” Jenna Johnson writes in a colorful dispatch about the event, which was held inside a Montgomery train depot. “A woman sitting in the front row … wore a red ‘Make America Great Again’ visor and held a homemade sign that read: ‘Mr. President and Mr. V.P. I love you, but you are WRONG! America needs Judge Moore.’ … At the Moore rally … which was repeatedly interrupted by passing freight trains … most of the featured speakers were careful to not harshly criticize the president. Instead, they soothingly reassured the crowd that it's okay to pick a different candidate than their beloved president did … The final rally speaker was Moore himself, who took the stage as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ blared. … Moore told his the crowd … how it's more important for ‘the country to be good again’ than for it to be great again.”

-- Michael Scherer, who just joined The Washington Post’s politics team after a tour as Time Magazine’s Washington bureau chief, has a fantastic profile of Moore on today’s front page: “Moore has always been controversial, and proudly so. As a judge, he denied custody of three teenagers to their mother, who was in a lesbian relationship, writing that her private behavior was ‘an inherent evil against which children must be protected.’ In his current campaign, he has called for the impeachment of judges, including possibly Supreme Court justices, who issue rulings for same-sex marriage and sodomy …

“He also acts nothing like a professional political candidate. During the final days of a brutal campaign, which has featured withering daily television and direct-mail assaults on his character, he invited a reporter to spend hours alone with him traveling through the state. Unstaffed by campaign aides and tethered to the outside world only by a flip-phone, Moore offered a seat in his family’s pew for Sunday church services, welcomed a tag-along when he visited with his 90-year-old mother, gave a tour of his home and property in rural Gallant, Ala., and then offered to speak on the record for a two-hour drive, with a quick stop for lunch with his wife, Kayla, at a roadside Cracker Barrel, where they both ordered the Sunday Homestyle Chicken.

“Moore’s on-the-record candor arises from an earnest desire to make sure that his unconventional ideas about the Constitution and God, which he has recorded in three separate books, are accurately portrayed for a national audience. ‘One thing I do not want you to do, because it’s not right, is to say that I believe in biblical punishments,’ he said during the drive, which included periodic rain storms that blotted out the rolling forest and farmland. ‘I’ve been accused of saying I want to kill homosexuals because the Bible says. And I don’t.’

In 2003, when a federal judge ordered Moore to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had installed at the Supreme Court of Alabama, he refused. Like a soldier ordered to murder civilians, he could not, as an officer sworn to the Constitution, carry out an illegal command, he explained. He was removed from office as a result. Alabama’s electorate returned Moore to his old post 10 years later — just in time for the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Moore again rebelled, writing a flurry of memos and decisions, telling the governor to ‘oppose such tyranny’ and announcing that the order should not be accepted as the ‘rule of law’ since human beings are not ‘at liberty to redefine reality.’ He was suspended from the bench without pay and voluntarily retired.” (Read Mike’s whole piece here.)

-- “I fought in Vietnam,” Moore said in his closing statement last night. “I fought in the courts against liberal, federal judges who tried to make us do things. And I’ll fight for you in the United States Senate.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- After making landfall in Puerto Rico Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Maria has turned many neighborhoods into disaster zones — covering large swaths of the island in “detritus, destruction and despair.” Samantha Schmidt, Sandhya Somashekhar and Katie Zezima report: “As of Thursday afternoon … much of the U.S. territory remained without power — and could lack electricity for months. Communications were in many places nonexistent. The information that did trickle out Thursday included images of downed power lines, caved-in buildings and streets blanketed in choppy brown water. Roofs in the capital of San Juan were torn apart, leaving the interiors open to the elements. Enormous trees were pulled from the ground by their roots, and forests were stripped of their leaves. Stark images and grave news also emerged out of other islands battered by Maria. In the island nation of Dominica, the prime minister said Thursday that at least 15 were confirmed dead and 20 more were missing in the wake of the storm ...”

-- Trump said he plans to visit Puerto Rico to assist in recovery efforts. “Puerto Rico is in very, very tough shape,” Trump told reporters Thursday, describing the island as “absolutely obliterated.” “All you have to do is read or turn on the television and you'll see a place that was practically leveled. It's incredible, the power of that wind.” (Politico)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Mexican officials expressed doubt that any children remained trapped in the rubble of a collapsed elementary school following an emotional and nearly 24-hour search-and-rescue operation. “It is very likely that there is nobody,” said one senior Mexican official, though he insisted that search would continue until “any shred of doubt” was removed. (Joshua Partlow)
  2. For the first time in history, a woman is slated to become a Marine Corps infantry officer. Her anticipated graduation on Monday comes nearly two years after the Pentagon opened all military jobs to women. (Dan Lamothe)
  3. A new study found that Flint’s lead-poisoned water had a “horrifyingly large” effect on fetal deaths and miscarriages in the Michigan city. Researchers estimated that among the babies conceived from November 2013 through March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.” (Christopher Ingraham)
  4. Rhode Island passed a law restricting access to guns for people convicted of domestic abuse, becoming the seventh state so far this year to pass such legislation. And of those seven states, at least three of them — New Jersey, North Dakota and Rhode Island — require those who are convicted to relinquish their firearms to police. (Katie Zezima)
  5. The Education Department's inspector general wants to pull $713 million in student aid from Western Governors University — a popular online school — claiming the “limited” role of faculty renders it ineligible for federal loans and grants. The recommendation could threaten a growing push for “competency-based education,” which has won praise from politicians in both parties. (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)
  6. Four MLB teams announced plans to extend protective netting at their ballparks after a toddler was badly injured by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. (Des Bieler)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump announced he is imposing new economic sanctions on North Korea — eliciting a fiery response from Kim Jong Un, who warned he will make the U.S. leader “pay dearly” for his words and actions at the U.N. this week. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report: “The new penalties seek to leverage the dominance of the U.S. financial system by forcing nations, foreign companies and individuals to choose whether to do business with the United States or the comparatively tiny economy of North Korea. … Trump's executive order grants the Treasury Department additional authority that Trump said would help cut off international trade and financing that Kim's dictatorship uses to support its banned weapons programs. Significantly, Trump also said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had ordered Chinese banks to cease conducting business with North Korean entities. Trump praised Xi, calling the move ‘very bold’ and ‘somewhat unexpected.’”

In Kim's angry and unusually direct reply, he called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and said he is “thinking hard” about how to respond. “I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech,” he said. “I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue. Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation,” Kim said, saying that he would “tame” Trump “with fire.”

Bonus points for the definition of "dotard:" "A state or period of mental decay marked by decline of mental poise,” according to Merriam Webster.

-- Ruh roh: North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho reportedly said in New York that his country may soon test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

-- The same foreign minister will speak today for the first time at the U.N. General Assembly. Anna Fifield has a good preview: “In person, Ri comes across as at ease with himself and self-confident, and sometimes even self-deprecating … But in a forum like [UNGA], Ri's job is to espouse the regime's most polemical lines[.] ‘My guess is that he will launch into a pretty intense assault on the United States … and maybe even make oblique negative references to China and Russia,’ [former State Department official Evan Revere said]. Although the foreign ministry has relatively little influence [in] North Korea, Ri holds a special position in the regime. He is also one of the few North Korean apparatchiks well known to American officials. ‘He is a well-connected foreign minister,’ said Ralph Cossa … who has met Ri on several occasions. ‘The foreign ministry as a whole is an organization without a great deal of clout within the DPRK but he as a foreign minister is listened to, and he is one of the few people that we come into contact with who is also believed to talk to Kim Jong Un.’”

-- The Trump administration is poised to drop key Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, the New York Times’s Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt report: “The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the United States has not previously tried to kill or capture them. [Trump’s] top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said. First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the C.I.A., now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a ‘continuing and imminent threat’ to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting.”

-- Russia threatened retaliatory strikes against U.S. troops and their allies in Syria, saying it would target areas occupied by American units and U.S.-backed militias if its troops came under fire. David Filipov and Liz Sly report: “The warning was issued amid rising tensions in the Syrian desert between the United States and its Kurdish and Arab allies on the one hand, and Russia, the Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias on the other, as both converge on territory held by the Islamic State in eastern Syria. A Russian military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, had twice in recent days shelled Syrian government positions outside Deir al-Zour, a strategic city in the region. … ‘Firing positions in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means,’ [Konashenkov said in a statement].”

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- An internal analysis by the Trump administration of the new GOP health-care measure shows that 31 states will lose federal money under Cassidy-Graham. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “The report … shows that government funding for such health insurance would be 9 percent lower overall in 2026 under the plan than under current law. The predicted loss is less than that forecast by three independent analyses of the bill’s impact in recent days, but the internal numbers show a similar checkerboard of states that would be big winners and equally big losers. The states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA would be hit with the greatest reversals of federal aid. [According to the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services data], the greatest winners in 2026 would be Mississippi and Kansas, where federal health-care funding would more than triple and double, respectively. On the other hand, Connecticut’s aid would be cut by just over half."

  • “The method used by federal officials to predict the bill’s effects on spending to states differs from that of another major analysis released earlier on Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The latter concluded that 35 states would lose $160 billion under the bill. The Kaiser study, like two earlier this week, looked at the cumulative effect from 2020 to 2026, while the administration’s looked only at the first and last years in that time frame.”
  • “The administration’s figures also show that the fortunes would differ sharply in the home states of the legislation’s two primary sponsors, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). Federal funding for coverage would plunge by 41 percent in Louisiana, whose health secretary has publicly criticized the bill, while it would grow by 126 percent in South Carolina.”

-- How Alaska would fare is getting a ton of scrutiny as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) remains a pivotal vote (she hasn't said whether she supports the bill). Juliet Eilperin reports: “Beginning on page 95, the bill has a provision that exempts low-density states whose block grants either decrease or stay flat between 2020 and 2026 from the Medicaid per capita cap. Under that scenario, Alaska and Montana would be exempted from the funding cap that applies to all other states during that period. [Murkowski] has been negotiating behind closed doors with Senate GOP leaders on the measure, and neither she nor the state’s junior senator, Dan Sullivan (R), have said how they would vote if the legislation came to the floor next week, [as McConnell maintains he will do].”

-- The White House’s plan for tax cuts is moving forward, as GOP lawmakers attempt to set aside months of party infighting and throw their collective weight behind Trump’s agenda. Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: “Two developments are accelerating the effort: Key Senate Republicans reached a tentative deal this week to allow for as much as $1.5 trillion in tax reductions over 10 years; and there is a growing willingness within the GOP to embrace controversial, optimistic estimates of how much economic growth their tax plan would create. Those upbeat estimates, often rejected by nonpartisan economists, would supplant the traditional forecasts offered by official scorekeepers at the [CBO] and Joint Committee on Taxation, helping lawmakers argue that the plan would not increase the national debt …

“Numerous pitfalls remain, and Republicans have not yet agreed on major aspects of the plan. They haven’t reached a deal on what the tax cut’s impact should be on the budget deficit, what tax breaks should be jettisoned, or whether to pursue permanent tax cuts … [But] activity over the next few days could determine the tax effort’s fate, as the White House and congressional Republicans, desperate for a legislative victory after a string of setbacks, hope to seize internal enthusiasm for the plan to pressure vulnerable Democrats to negotiate.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Relenting under pressure from congressional investigators who could make the company's life miserable, Facebook finally said that it will turn over copies of more than 3,000 political ads bought through Russian accounts during the 2016 presidential race. Carol D. Leonnig and Craig Timberg report: “The company had previously shown some of the ads to investigators but taken back copies before they could be studied carefully, citing concerns over user privacy at the time. [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] announced the decision on Facebook Live Thursday afternoon … [and] announced other initiatives to strengthen the review of advertisements, make information about political advertisers more widely available and work more closely with election officials worldwide. ‘I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,’ Zuckerberg said … ‘I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.’” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the decision an “important [and] absolutely necessary first step.”

-- Warner and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are seeking co-sponsors on legislation to require Web platforms with more than 1 million users to “publicly disclose the names of individuals and organizations that spend more than $10,000 on election-related advertisements,” Politico’s Nancy Scola, Josh Dawsey, and Ali Watkins report: “The sites would also have to provide a copy of the advertisement, and disclose details about the targeted audience, the number of people who view the ad, the time and date it was published, the amount of money charged and the buyer's contract information.”

-- A prominent New York-based law firm is facing questions from the Justice Department about a report it prepared for Paul Manafort, which was used by allies of his former client — the Russian-backed former president of Ukraine — to justify the jailing of a political rival. The New York Times’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Andrew E. Kramer report: “The [Justice Department] recently asked the firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, for information and documents related to its work on behalf of [Viktor] Yanukovych’s government, which crumbled after he fled to Russia under pressure. … It’s unclear if the Justice Department’s request to [Skadden] is part of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. But the interest from prosecutors in what Skadden did for the Ukrainian government is one indication of the wide-ranging nature of the inquiries related to Mr. Manafort.”

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN — AND WOMEN:

-- Since May, HHS Secretary Tom Price has traveled by private charter plane at least 24 times at taxpayers’ expense, Politico’s Rachana Pradhan and Dan Diamond report: “The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips [exceeds] $300,000, according to a review HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible. But many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. … Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance … Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.”

Price's office sought this week to justify the practice of using charter jets, saying that after becoming secretary the former House member was forced to wait for several hours at an airport and made him a “no-show” at an event planned by HHS, reports Aaron Davis. “This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,' said Charmaine Yoest, his assistant secretary for public affairs. 'Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.'”

-- A spokeswoman for Betsy DeVos said the education secretary uses her own private plane when she travels on the job, but she does not bill the government for her trips. Moriah Balingit reports: “’Secretary DeVos travels on personally owned aircraft, accompanied by her security detail and whenever possible, additional support staff, at zero cost to U.S. taxpayers,’ spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said. ‘The secretary neither seeks, nor accepts, any reimbursement for her flights, nor for any additional official travel-related expenses, such as lodging and per diem, even though she is entitled to such reimbursement under government travel regulations.’” 

-- EPA employees have been ordered to attend mandatory “anti-leaking” classes this week … and it leaked. The AP’s Michael Biesecker reports: “It is part of a broader Trump administration order for anti-leaks training at all executive branch agencies. … Government employees who hold security clearances undergo background checks and extensive training in safeguarding classified information. Relatively few EPA employees deal with classified files, but the new training also reinforces requirements to keep ‘Controlled Unclassified Information’ from unauthorized disclosure. [And] a three-page fact sheet sent to EPA employees as part of the training warned that leaks of even unclassified information could have serious consequences to national security. ‘Enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm US interests,’ the document said.

-- BIZARRE: Sean Spicer threatened legal action against a reporter this week, accusing Axios co-founder Mike Allen of “harassment” after he inquired about Spicer’s note-taking habits. Callum Borchers reports: “Citing unnamed former colleagues of Spicer, Allen reported on Thursday that [Trump's] ex-spokesman ‘filled 'notebook after notebook' during meetings at the [RNC], later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.’ Before publishing his report, Allen sought comment from Spicer via email and text message. That's when things got strange. This is what Spicer texted back, according to Allen: ‘Mike, please stop texting/emailing me unsolicited anymore.’ A second text went like this: ‘From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again …’ Spicer then sent a similar message by email, [adding]: ‘Should you not do so I will contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment.’”

From The Post's media reporter:

IS EUROPE'S FAR-RIGHT MOVEMENT FLAMING OUT?

-- It was just months ago that many observers feared Marine Le Pen was on the verge of winning France’s presidential election. But the far-right National Front party she championed has begun drifting further from power — and maybe even into obscurity. James McAuley reports: “[The] proverbial nail in the coffin may well have come Thursday, when Le Pen’s top aide, Florian Philippot — the man widely credited with bolstering the party’s image as much as was possible — resigned. On some level, the move did not come as a surprise ... But the question now is: How will the party fare in his absence? [Philippot] oversaw the oft-cited attempt at ‘de-demonizing’ the public image of a party co-founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a convicted Holocaust denier … [His] mission was to repair the National Front's toxic image and move it more toward economic protectionism and against the European Union, focusing on national sovereignty."

-- And stability seems to have won out in Germany, where Angela Merkel will almost certainly be reelected Sunday for her fourth term as chancellor. Griff Witte reports: “With just two days to go before the country casts ballots, and with the wider world convulsed by change, Merkel is on the cusp of something extraordinary: winning a fourth term in office with a campaign built on a promise to keep things more or less the same. So how did she do it? ‘Stability, stability, stability,’ said Stefan Kornelius, a Merkel biographer. ‘She’s led Germany through 12 rather calm and prosperous years. … People feel protected by her.’ Merkel shows no sign of changing … with few hints of the sort of grand vision for Germany, Europe or the West that she has famously eschewed. But whether the low-key, incremental and reactive style of leadership that has served the 63-year-old so well in the past continues to work in her favor will be the question that defines her legacy — and helps to shape the West’s future.

THE MOST INTERESTING STORY YOU'LL READ ALL DAY --> “The Mysterious Madame Giselle,” by Manuel Roig-Franzia: “For a time, the elegant woman in Apartment 713 appeared to be just another fascinating curio in a city thick with the crème de la crème of foreign dignitaries and financiers, an only-in-Washington sort of apparition. … Over homemade Turkish [coffee], she has shared in a confiding tone that she occupies a prime White House office next to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. ‘I’m kind of a mom figure to her,’ [she says]. On one level, the saga of Madame Giselle is a story about, in no particular order, allegations by two neighbors who say they were swindled in an elaborate scheme to sell T-shirts to the Venezuelan army, a cash-stuffed envelope slipped under a doorway, a legendary bygone scandal involving the Colombian military and a woman known as ‘The Blonde’[.] But on another level … it’s a story about friendship and trust, about what we can make ourselves believe and how we can sometimes suspend disbelief when dreams are in sight.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

One GOP lobbyist calls out Cassidy-Graham:

Marco Rubio and Tim Tebow helped with Irma recovery efforts in Florida:

Paul Ryan helped Harvey recovery efforts in Texas:

Airlines began shifting their routes to Japan to avoid missiles:

Heritage Action threw shade at Jimmy Kimmel:

So did Fox News:

Regarding any special treatment of Alaska, these comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were making the rounds:

Flint still has water problems:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- New York Times, “Megyn Kelly Is Ready for Her Morning Closeup,” by John Koblin: “Though she had a Sunday newsmagazine show in the summer … the centerpiece of [Megyn Kelly’s] NBC deal is the morning show. Her pivot to the daytime format feels like a reboot after years in the political maelstrom, though she will not call it that. In a recent promo for the show, Ms. Kelly said she hoped NBC’s new 9 a.m. hour would be ‘fun and uplifting and empowering — that makes people feel fists in the air at the end of it.’ Her show on Fox News often felt more like a fist to the face. ‘I think it’s the presentation of the whole me,’ Ms. Kelly said. ‘It’s not like I am changing. I’m just sharing more of who I am …’ The question is, who’s buying?”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“CEO's bonus cut 25% for his anti-gay, sexist tirade at Kathy Griffin,” from CNNMoney: “The bonus of Jeffrey Mezger, one of the most powerful people in real estate, will be slashed by 25% after he went on an anti-gay tirade against his neighbor, comedian Kathy Griffin. Mezger, the CEO of homebuilder KB Home, used multiple homophobic and sexist slurs against Griffin and her partner. ‘Let's declare war, [a----] … Let's bring it on, you b----,’ Mezger said during one of the tamer parts of the security camera audio recording. The verbal outburst occurred last weekend after Griffin and her partner called the police to report a noise disturbance on Mezger's property. KB Home … revealed on Thursday that its board of directors decided to cut Mezger's 2017 bonus [and] warned him that a similar incident will result in his firing. [Still] some think the board didn't go far enough …”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Comedy legend Mel Brooks is speaking out about political correctness and how it is leading to the ‘death of comedy,’” from the Daily Caller: “[Mel] Brooks, who said he could find humor in almost anything, warned on Thursday that political correctness is strangling comedians from being able to perform and said there only a handful of subjects he personally wouldn’t make fun of. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Brooks stated: ‘We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy.’ ‘It’s not good for comedy,’ he added. … In recent years, comedians have found themselves in hot water for making politically incorrect topics about everything from race to gender. In his interview with BBC, Brooks said that there was no way the 1974 western parody ‘Blazing Saddles’ could be made in today’s political climate due to its satirization of racism.”

 

DAYBOOK:

At the White House: Trump will travel to Huntsville, Ala., this afternoon to participate in the rally for Luther Strange. Then he will fly to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Mike Pence will participate in a meeting with Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to discuss health care and overhauling the tax code. Then the Veep will join Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D), and Republican Reps. Susan Brooks, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita on a visit to Anderson in his home state to meet with local business leaders and families to discuss health care and taxes. Pence will conclude his trip with remarks at the Wylam Center of Flagship East.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

 “The forgotten man and woman in this country, they stood up, and we beat the swamp. But, alas, 10 months later, guys, the swamp, it's trying to hijack this presidency,” said former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, speaking at a Thursday night rally on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. 

 

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

-- Today’s weather will be sunny and warm, much like the rest of the week. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine dominates, and temperatures respond by warming to above-average readings in the mid- and upper 80s.”

-- The Nationals lost to the Braves, 3-2.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) spoke at a naturalization ceremony in Bakersfield, Calif.:

Sean Spicer told ABC that he did not “knowingly” lie:

Jimmy Kimmel again took aim at the Cassidy-Graham bill in his monologue:

And Stephen Colbert leaked his own “meltdown” video in solidarity with Lawrence O'Donnell: