With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: The most fitting slogan for Donald Trump’s populist campaign, which continues nearly a year after the 2016 election ended, might be “us against them.” I don’t know Latin, but I do know that what we saw from the president this weekend is the opposite of e pluribus unum. He is the divider in chief.
Trump, who was a developer before he became a reality TV star and then a politician, has long been a builder of straw men. Everyone knows that he trades on controversy, but his chaotic approach to governing also depends on constantly presenting the American people with false binary choices.
Picking a fight with professional athletes who kneel during the national anthem, a controversy from last year that had mostly blown over, is just the latest example.
During a Friday night rally in Alabama, Trump said that players like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — whose protest last season was intended to draw attention to police violence against African Americans — are disrespecting the country. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’” Trump said.
Emboldened by the raucous applause that line got, Trump followed up with a dozen tweets on this subject over the weekend. He retweeted an activist calling for a boycott of the National Football League. He said the “League should back U.S.” He disinvited the Golden State Warriors from coming to the White House to celebrate their NBA championship because “Stephen Curry is hesitating.” Then he announced that the Pittsburgh Penguins have agreed to come celebrate their Stanley Cup championship. “Great team!” Trump tweeted. He continued to fixate on this theme through late last night:
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag --- we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Trump talks about the world in black-and-white terms: You’re either with him or against him. He’s been around long enough to know that this is a time-honored form of civil disobedience, but he recognizes that his base hates such displays. So Trump is using the bully pulpit of the presidency to seize a political opening that might keep his core supporters from losing faith in his leadership.
He is also looking for distractions. Trump went all-in last week on the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill, which could fail this week. The candidate he endorsed in Alabama could go down in a GOP primary. Puerto Rico has been ravaged by a hurricane, and there are mounting questions about the federal response.
This is part of a pattern. Trump is still campaigning against Hillary Clinton as a foil because he wants conservatives to judge him against her, not on his own merits. He called her “Crooked Hillary” during his Friday rally in Alabama. “Lock her up,” the crowd chanted. He didn’t stop them. At this point, what difference does she make?
Facing blowback over his false moral equivalency after the violence in Charlottesville, Trump embraced the cause of preserving historical statues. He sought to frame this national conversation on terms most favorable to him: It was not about whether to keep Robert E. Lee’s statue or other shrines to Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States to defend the institution of slavery. Employing the fallacy of the slippery slope, Trump warned that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues would come down next if statues to Stonewall Jackson are taken down. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted. “So foolish!” (It’s hard to believe this was just five weeks ago.)
Trump has described anything less than a border wall as “open borders.” Fixing Obamacare has never really been on the table for Trump. He’s often presented the choice as repealing the law vs. a Bernie Sanders-style public option. There’s never a happy medium.
-- Picking fights with people like Kaepernick is Trump’s modus operandi. He thrives on feuds, and he likes setting up binary contrasts between himself and others. Think about his attacks on people like Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of an American soldier killed in Iraq.
-- Trump allies see the NFL spat as the perfect wedge issue. The president relishes culture wars that rile up his “forgotten man” base and telegraph that he’s on their side against the elites. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said from the White House podium two weeks ago that ESPN should fire “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill for calling Trump a “white supremacist.” There are plenty of dynamics here — race, political correctness, media bias — where all sides are ready to dig in. Trump wants himself right in the middle of this so that he can signal to his base that he's picked a side, and it's now us vs. them.
A similar dynamic was at play when Trump attacked the Broadway musical “Hamilton” last November after the cast read a statement to Mike Pence celebrating diversity:
The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
It should be noted in this context that many of the people who have drawn Trump’s greatest ire are strong and successful professional women who challenge the archaic gender norms that the 71-year-old often seems nostalgic for, from Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina to Cher, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Katie Couric, Ronda Rousey, Ariana Huffington and, of course, Clinton.
In the next three months, you can take it to the bank that POTUS will start speaking again about “the war on Christmas,” another trumped-up issue that plays well with conservative evangelicals who feel like they are losing their hold over American culture. It’s about respect vs. disrespect. The way he tells it, there is no room for accommodation.
Decrying “political correctness” whenever he gets in a pinch has long been Trump’s favorite straw man.
-- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who earned a doctorate in history from Yale, put his finger on what Trump is trying to do:
btw, Trump wants you to kneel--because it divides the nation, with him and the flag on the same side. Don't give him the attention he wants. https://t.co/ic5Vc9oGyB— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 23, 2017
-- Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump, identifies what he believes are deeper origins for the president’s divisive behavior: “To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world,” Schwartz wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post this spring. “It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it … This narrow, defensive outlook took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. ‘When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now,’ he told a recent biographer, ‘I’m basically the same.’ His development essentially ended in early childhood.”
-- This scorched-earth strategy has taken a toll on Trump’s image, but it has also kept his core supporters relatively loyal.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Sunday finds that most Americans already see Trump as a divisive figure. “Overall, Trump’s image continues to be negative, with 39 percent of Americans approving and 57 percent disapproving of the president’s job performance,” Scott Clement and Philip Rucker report. “More broadly, more than twice as many Americans say Trump is doing more to divide the country than to unify it, 66 percent vs. 28 percent. The margin is significantly more negative than those recorded for Obama and Bush; at most, 55 percent of Americans said Obama or Bush was dividing the country.”
“Among registered voters who identify as independents — a group Trump won by four percentage points in last year’s election — 62 percent say Trump has done more to divide the country than unite it,” per Scott and Phil. “Among Republican voters, however, about 6 in 10 say Trump is making strides toward unity. Still, confidence in Trump as a unifying force has declined even among those in his party. While 9 percent of Republican voters in a poll last November by The Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School had expected that Trump would divide the country, the new Post-ABC poll finds 31 percent of Republicans say Trump’s actions are dividing the country today.”
-- Has Trump finally met his match? In many ways, as Sasse warned, the NFL players who knelt yesterday played into Trump’s hands. The president wanted them to react the way they did, and this story dominated the weekend. But the size of the protest, and the surprising level of solidarity from fans and owners, was also reminiscent of what happened after Joe McCarthy went to war against the Army. The demagogue from Wisconsin got away with pushing around dozens of relatively weak individuals before 1954, but he overreached when he took on one of the most favored institutions in public life. With Ike’s support, the Army fought back. And Americans took the Army’s side. At long last, has Trump no sense of decency?
WAPO TEAM COVERAGE:
-- Liz Clarke and Abby Phillip set the scene in our lead story: “Some stood. Some kneeled. Some remained in the locker room, choosing to speak through their absence from the NFL’s pregame ceremonies, in which the American flag is displayed and the national anthem sung. But from London to Los Angeles, virtually all NFL players on the sidelines before kickoff of Sunday’s slate of 14 games locked arms with each other in response to President Trump’s three-day campaign … The silent rebuke to the president, determined independently by each of the 28 NFL teams in action Sunday, represented an unprecedented collective action and show of solidarity among players who battle against one another for 16 weeks, some more, each season.”
- Dan Steinberg: “In a world polarized by Trump, FedEx Field becomes unlikely oasis.”
- Des Bieler: Cris Collinsworth says Trump “should apologize” to NFL players.
- Jerry Brewer: “The NFL responds to Trump by embracing its diversity.”
- Kristine Phillips: “ These NFL owners gave Trump millions. But when he attacked their sport, they hit back.”
- Amy B Wang: “Shahid Khan, the Jaguars owner who stood with his team, has long espoused the American Dream.”
- Sally Jenkins: “What President Trump doesn’t get about the NFL.”
- Michael Frost: “Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees.”
- Angela Denker: “Colin Kaepernick and the powerful, religious act of kneeling.”
- Steven Levingston: “Before Trump vs. the NFL, there was Jackie Robinson vs. JFK.”
- Marissa Payne: “‘To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing’: A’s player takes up anthem protest.”
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- One “no” vote away from the collapse of the latest health-care bill, Republican senators hve altered the Cassidy-Graham legislation to increase funding for Alaska and Maine, the home states of holdout GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. Sean Sullivan, Paige Winfield Cunningham and Abby Phillip report: “Alaska would get 3 percent more funding between 2020 and 2026 than under current law, and Maine would get 43 percent more funding during that time period[.] … Some Republicans close to the process have long counted Collins as an eventual ‘no,’ predicting that little could be done to the bill to change her mind. On Sunday night, some were once again privately pessimistic the changes would convince her to vote yes. … [Collins] said in a TV interview earlier Sunday that it was ‘very difficult’ to envision herself voting for the health-care bill. … Collins cited concerns about how the Cassidy-Graham legislation would affect Medicaid recipients and people with preexisting medical conditions, among other things.”
-- The revised version would make it harder for states to waive requirements for those with preexisting conditions. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “In addition, states now would not be able to allow health plans to impose annual or lifetime limits on coverage, as the original bill would have done. … Another addition to the plan, perhaps intended to appeal to [Collins], would require states to demonstrate that their health-care rules meet several federal standards, including parity for mental health care, reconstructive surgery after mastectomies and minimal hospital states for newborns, among others."
-- The bill's sponsors will introduce it this morning after more senators came out against the original version over the weekend, signaling its likely collapse. Our colleagues report: “Addressing Cassidy-Graham at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, [Sen. Ted] Cruz said: ‘Right now, they don’t have my vote. And I don’t think they have Mike Lee’s either,’ referring to one of Utah’s senators. Cruz said that he and Lee met with Graham and Cassidy last week to propose changes to the measure that would get them to yes. Their changes were not included in the latest draft.” (Kim Soffen, Amber Phillips and Kevin Schaul have the latest whip count on the legislation.)
-- Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) laid out some possible changes to the bill that could make him reconsider his “no” vote, but they would likely scare off several moderate Republicans. Robert Costa reports: “Paul said he broadly opposes a keystone of the Republican plan: issuing ‘block grants’ to states to use federal funds being spent on Medicaid expansion and subsidies as they wish. But he is willing to hear out suggestions about how that aspect of the bill could be constricted. ‘Would I talk to them if they said they wanted to make the block grants half as much? I might,’ Paul said in an interview on Sunday." The latest version isn't likely to sway Paul based on these comments.
-- The White House voiced consistent confidence that the Senate would succeed in rolling back Obamacare.
- Trump told reporters in New Jersey, “Eventually we’ll win, whether it’s now or later.” (Abby Phillip)
- White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said the administration was “planning” on a vote this week. Mitch McConnell has said that Senate Republicans “intend” to take up the Cassidy-Graham bill this week, but he may not follow through if they don’t have 50 votes to pass it. (NBC News)
-- Democrats are now pointing fingers at each other, wondering if the revived health-care fight could have been avoided if not for “Chuck and Nancy’s” budget deal or the introduction of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) single-payer proposal. David Weigel reports: “Democrats and some analysts argue that the ‘Chuck and Nancy’ deal actually made the last-ditch repeal push even tougher. On Sept. 1, Democrats confirmed with the Senate parliamentarian that reconciliation authority would run out in 30 days. By that time, [Cassidy] and [Graham] had already put in more than a month of work on their repeal bill.”
BUT, BUT BUT: “There was another, ironic reason Democrats were holding off on recriminations until Sept. 30. That was one deadline — but it might not mean the end of repeal. On Sunday, Graham said he and the bill’s co-sponsors were ‘not going to vote for a budget resolution that doesn’t allow the health-care debate to continue.’ In other words, if stymied this week, Graham would favor a budget reconciliation bill for 2018 that allowed another repeal push.”
Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.https://t.co/KJ886okyfC— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
-- Trump on Sunday announced an expansion of his travel ban, unveiling new restrictions on visitors from eight countries on a day that a key portion of the existing ban was slated to expire. Devlin Barrett reports: “A senior administration official cautioned the new restrictions are not meant to last forever, but are ‘necessary and conditions-based, not time-based.’ Three new nations were added to the list of countries whose citizens will face the restrictions: Chad, North Korea and Venezuela — although the restrictions on Venezuela are narrowly crafted, targeting that country’s leadership and their family members. The new restrictions will be phased in over time, officials said, and the restrictions will not affect anyone who already holds a U.S. visa. For those visitors affected by the changed restrictions, the new rules will go into effect Oct. 18 …”
The new rules vary per country, barring entry into the United States of immigrants and nonimmigrants from Chad, Libya and Yemen, on business, tourist or business-tourist visas. It bars entry of Iranian citizens, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, but provides an exception for Iranian students, provided they receive extra screening. The proclamation bars immigrants and nonimmigrants from North Korea and Syria. It bars immigration by citizens of Somalia.”
- In a statement Sunday, the White House called the new restrictions a “critical step toward establishing an immigration system that protects Americans' safety and security in an era of dangerous terrorism and transnational crime.’”
-- The governor of Puerto Rico told Ed O’Keefe in a phone interview last night that the island needs more federal assistance to cope with the devastation from Hurricane Maria: “[A]fter several intense days of preparation, response, rescue and cleanup, Rosselló said, local law enforcement agencies are strained and hampered in their ability to reach far-flung areas that may still need relief. Even as he asked for more assistance from the Defense Department, he stopped short of requesting that the Trump administration declare martial law. … As of Sunday night, Rosselló said he had yet to hear from the mayors of six tiny municipalities, mostly in mountainous and southern parts of the island. Although the death toll officially stands at 10, he fears it will climb in the coming days."
-- Remote areas have become even more isolated as they wait for electricity to return and for FEMA to arrive. Samantha Schmidt and Joel Achenbach report: “... regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. … For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life — gasoline, cash, food, water — began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months."
GET SMART FAST:
- A masked gunman rampaged through a Nashville-area church on Sunday, shooting seven people and killing one woman before a church usher used his own personal weapon to subdue him. Police identified the gunman as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, a Sudanese native and U.S. resident who had reportedly attended the church several times before. (Brandon Gee and Tim Craig)
- Iraqi Kurds plan to vote on independence from Iraq today. The move is opposed by leaders in Baghdad and the international community, prompting Iran to block flights to and from Kurdistan. (Tamer El-Ghobashy)
- The U.S. military launched six drone strikes against Islamic State positions in Libya, officials said, killing 17 militants and destroying three vehicles outside the coastal city of Sirte. The attacks come amid reports that Trump is seeking to relax restrictions on attacking terrorists outside active war zones. (Alex Horton)
- HHS Secretary Tom Price said this weekend that he will halt taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, following reports that he spent more than $400,000 on charter jets since May. (Politico)
- Japan’s prime minister called for a snap election next month. Shinzo Abe made the announcement just hours after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike formally introduced a new national political party. (The New York Times)
- Milo Yiannopoulos, former Breitbart editor, held an unofficial rally on Berkeley’s campus after the university canceled its “Free Speech Week.” Yiannopoulos accused the school of trying to suppress free speech, while Berkeley claimed that the provocateur had failed to fill out the proper paperwork. (Abigail Hauslohner)
- Two farm laborers died last year by choking or drowning in cow manure ponds. The deaths have led some to call for increased safety regulation on dairy farms, which have transitioned from family businesses to major operations involving thousands of cows. (Tim Craig)
- An Indiana University student says he was forced to lick damp cave walls and scavenge for insects, after his college spelunking group left him behind for nearly 60 hours in a padlocked cave. (Amy B Wang and Ellie Silverman)
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP:
-- Jared Kushner used a private email account to conduct official White House business “dozens” of times, his attorney confirmed Sunday. The account was set up during Trump’s transition period last year. Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Ellen Nakashima report: “Kushner used the private account through his first nine months in government service, even as the president continued to criticize [Hillary Clinton] … for her use of a private email account for government business. Kushner several times used his account to exchange news stories and minor reactions or updates with other administration officials. … Once in the White House, Kushner used his private account for convenience from time to time — especially when he was traveling or using a personal laptop[.] … A person who has reviewed the emails said many were quickly forwarded to his government account and none appear to contain classified information. Clinton offered a similar explanation in 2015 when it was revealed that she set up a private email account as her exclusive means of email communication when she was secretary of state.”
- White House aides who have exchanged emails with Kushner on the private account since Trump’s inauguration in January include Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and spokesman Josh Raffel, Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports.
“Fewer than a hundred emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account,” Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said Sunday. “These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal, rather than his White House, address. All non-personal emails were forwarded to his official address and all have been preserved in any event.”
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Two months before Trump’s inauguration, President Obama tried to warn Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg about the threat of fake news – hoping to deliver a wake-up call just days after the tech billionaire dismissed as “crazy” the idea that Russian propaganda on his site may have played a key role in the U.S. election. Adam Entous, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report. “[Huddled] in a private room on the sidelines of a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru … Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. Zuckerberg acknowledged the problem, [but] told Obama those messages weren’t widespread on Facebook and that there was no easy fix[.] … The conversation on Nov. 19 was a flash point in a tumultuous year in which Zuckerberg came to recognize the magnitude of a new threat — a coordinated assault on a U.S. election by a shadowy foreign force that exploited the social network he created. Among the revelations is how Facebook detected elements of the Russian information operation in June 2016 and then notified the FBI. Yet in the months that followed, the government and the private sector struggled to work together to diagnose and fix the problem[.] …”
“The sophistication of the Russian tactics caught Facebook off-guard. Its highly regarded security team had erected formidable defenses against traditional cyber attacks but failed to anticipate that Facebook users — deploying easily available automated tools such as ad microtargeting — pumped skillfully crafted propaganda through the social network without setting off any alarm bells.”
THE FAR RIGHT REACHES GERMANY:
-- Angela Merkel was elected Sunday to a fourth term as chancellor, claiming a historic — but somewhat hollow — victory, as Germany’s far-right party surged into parliament for the first time in more than half a century. Griff Witte and Luisa Beck report: “The results represented at least a partial affirmation of Merkel’s emphasis on Germany’s stability and economic prosperity at a time of upheaval elsewhere around the globe[.] … But the groundswell of support for the far right upended any notion that Europe’s largest economy and most important geopolitical player is immune to the populist currents roiling other democracies across the West. It also revealed the depths of lingering resentment toward Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than a million asylum seekers amid the European refugee crisis. The anti-immigration, anti-Islam AfD … [is] on pace to take third place with 13 percent of the vote, according to projections. That’s nearly triple its 2013 result, and matches the outer limit of its support in pre-election polls.”
-- “Across the city, in a room filled with blue and white balloons, members of the anti-immigrant, anti-euro party cheered as it became clear they would not only enter the German parliament for the first time, but would be the third-largest party in the [Bundestag],” BBC’s Jenny Hill reports from Berlin. “Among the crowds … one man told me he was horrified by the rise of the right-wing nationalists. ‘They are like the Nazis under Hitler,’ he said. ‘I was born in 1939. I'm a war child. I grew up in the ruins and now we get this again … They are criminals.’ This election will go down in the history books for two reasons[:] [Merkel] may have won a fourth term but it is her worst-ever general election result. And right-wing nationalists are now part of the German establishment. What is the political norm in many other European countries was considered unthinkable in postwar Germany. Not any more.”
-- A Russian hacker linked to a “network of Twitter bots” said he and 30 other people in Russia have been promoting pro-AfD messages during the German election. (BuzzFeed News)
-- France's Marine Le Pen praised the AfD victories:
-- “Perhaps it’s a useful dose of realism: As it turns out, Germany is not so exceptional after all,” Anne Applebaum writes. “Germany is no longer a saintly outlier — and maybe that’s good. What had been Germany’s expanding sense of moral superiority — toward France, Poland and other neighbors with raucous nationalist politicians; toward the United States with its dysfunctional White House — will rapidly diminish. Germany now becomes one of a team of countries fighting similar problems, rather than a disinterested outsider. The leading political minds of the richest country in Europe are now forced to focus with a good deal more urgency on calming the anti-immigrant, anti-E.U. emotions in their own country, instead of just denouncing it in others.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- North Korea continued to ratchet up its threats against the United States on Sunday, unleashing new violent propaganda videos after Trump derided Kim Jong Un last week. Carol Morello reports: “Photoshopped pictures from a state-owned propaganda website, DPRK Today, purported to show a North Korean missile making a direct hit on B-1B Lancer bombers and an F-35 fighter jet. In the doctored shots, the planes were engulfed in flames. Another falsified video on the website showed a missile launched from a North Korean submarine striking the USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered supercarrier. Like the planes, the ship explodes in a firestorm.
“As the war of words escalates, North Koreans are being bombarded with militaristic and tit-for-tat messages. Kim said he was considering ordering the ‘highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.’ On Saturday, the North’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said Trump’s remarks made it an inevitability that his country’s rockets would hit the U.S. mainland. And in a government-orchestrated display of North Korean anger, what appeared to be tens of thousands of people attended a huge rally Saturday … [chanting] ‘total destruction,’” according to state-run KNCA, which estimated the crowd size at 100,000.”
-- A majority of American voters trust U.S. generals — but not President Trump — to handle the escalating nuclear crisis with North Korea, according to a fresh Washington Post-ABC News poll. Only 37 percent of adults said they trust Trump either “a great deal” or “a good amount” to responsibly handle Pyongyang, a far larger 72 percent said they trust U.S. military leaders. Meanwhile, 67 percent of Americans oppose launching a preemptive strike against North Korea, with 69 percent saying a U.S. military strike would pose a “major risk” of starting a larger war in East Asia.
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
-- Even national security experts have been left wondering whether Trump would ever actually follow through on his threats to “Rocket Man.” Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports for the New York Times’s A1 today: “The disconnect has led to a deep uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump is all talk or actually intends to act. The ambiguity could be strategic, part of an effort to intimidate Mr. Kim and keep him guessing. Or it could reflect a rash impulse by a leader with little foreign policy experience to vent his anger and stoke his supporters’ enthusiasm. … Veterans of diplomacy and national security and specialists on North Korea fear that, whatever their intended result, Mr. Trump’s increasingly bellicose threats and public insults of the famously thin-skinned Mr. Kim could cause the United States to careen into a nuclear confrontation driven by personal animosity and bravado.”
-- China’s frustration with North Korea is also reaching unprecedented levels. Simon Denyer reports: “As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been weaker. Unwilling to completely pull the plug, it has nevertheless agreed to a stiff package of sanctions at the United Nations and implemented them with unprecedented determination, experts say. So far, all that has achieved is to alienate its neighbor and erstwhile friend. … China is not prepared to do anything that might bring down the North Korean regime, potentially bringing refugees streaming across its border and unifying the Korean Peninsula under a U.S.-friendly government. North Korea’s leaders, experts in brinkmanship, know that full well, and this knowledge has allowed them to call China’s bluff repeatedly.”
SWEET HOME ALABAMA:
-- Trump is slated to meet with major GOP donors on Tuesday for a private dinner at the New York restaurant Le Cirque as part of a fundraising effort for the Republican National Committee. Robert Costa reports: “The dinner is to convene as the polls close in Alabama, where Sen. Luther Strange, a Trump ally, is fending off a conservative challenger in a high-stakes GOP primary runoff[.] … Many of the Republicans' most prominent financiers have been invited[.] … One of them said they expect Trump to talk to donors — some of whom have groused recently about stalled proposals on taxes and health care — about the party’s agenda on Capitol Hill and his outlook on next year’s midterm elections.”
-- Republican leadership worries that a Roy Moore victory could trigger a wave of far-right primary challengers next year. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “[T]he party has launched a coordinated, scorched-earth campaign to take down Moore. The sheer breadth of the anti-Moore campaign has stunned Alabama’s political class: It includes non-stop TV ads, a meticulously-crafted get-out-the-vote effort, and detailed, oppo-research-filled debate prep sessions for Strange. … Through the end of the weekend, Moore was confronting a nearly five-to-one spending deficit on the airwaves[.] … Moore has hammered Strange for receiving support for national Republicans, casting him as a pawn of the party establishment and especially McConnell. He has framed his campaign as a David vs. Goliath battle that would provide momentum to other insurgents if he wins.”
-- But some political insiders question the Alabama race’s ability to foreshadow next year’s midterms, particularly given the state’s unique primary system. Birmingham News’s John Sharp reports: “‘[E]ach race will have its own idiosyncrasies and different candidates with certain strengths and weaknesses,’ [Geoffrey Skelley of U-Va.’ s Center for Politics] said. ‘A Moore win will galvanize insurgent forces in the GOP, but it wouldn't necessarily guarantee the start of something bigger.’ He noted that 2018 races in Nevada and Arizona will likely feature insurgent candidates facing incumbents who have been critical of Trump. Neither of those states, however, have primary runoffs and only a plurality is needed to win. ‘Funny enough, additional candidates in states like Arizona and Nevada might help the GOP incumbents by fragmenting the anti-incumbent vote,’ he said.”
-- It's not clear whether Trump will help Strange, despite holding a rally for him. Jenna Johnson was on the scene: “Trump repeatedly urged his supporters to vote for Strange, whom he called a ‘great person’ and a ‘tough, tough cookie.’ But he also said that both Republican candidates are ‘good men’ and that if Moore wins, he would campaign ‘like hell for him’ — although he said it would be easier for Strange to win the election against a Democrat in December … ‘I might have made a mistake,’ Trump said of his decision to support Strange. ‘I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake.’ But then he added: ‘Luther will definitely win.’”
-- “There is … no small measure of irony in Mr. Trump’s decision to side with the establishment forces that lined up against his campaign for president,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin writes. “If Mr. Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, wins, Mr. Trump will deal a blow to some of the same anti-Washington forces that propelled his own rise. … But should Mr. Strange lose, it would sow fresh doubts about Mr. Trump’s influence and create new headaches for party leaders. Other establishment-aligned candidates may find that the president is unable to inoculate them from populist challengers.”
-- Another anti-establishment figure has thrown his support behind Moore: Brexit champion Nigel Farage. Farage is expected to speak in Fairhope, Ala., tonight for Moore’s campaign. (The Guardian)
-- GOP leaders are circulating a plan that could end up as a “massive” tax cut for the wealthy. Damian Paletta reports: “Party leaders are quietly circulating proposals to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent[.] … White House advisers are divided over whether to cut the top individual tax rate, and Republican leaders, aware the plan could be construed as a huge giveaway to the wealthy, are trying to design features to the package that would ensure that the rich don't get too large a share of the plan's tax relief. Top White House negotiators and key GOP leaders have agreed on those targets, but apparently [Trump] has not.”
-- When asked by reporters yesterday about a health-care overhaul, Trump responded that his top priority was overhauling the tax code: “My primary focus, I must tell you — and has been from the beginning as you can imagine — is taxes. I believe we will be successful in the largest tax cut in our country’s history.” (Abby Phillip)
-- Trump now must convince his base that such a revision to the tax code would benefit their bottom line. Politico’s Nancy Cook reports: “In early speeches in Missouri and North Dakota, the president has argued that a raft of tax cuts for businesses and individuals will ultimately translate into higher wages, more jobs in the U.S., and greater economic growth — and the resurgence of the U.S. as a major economic engine. It’s an extension of the classic Republican ideology of supply side economics — except in Trump’s version, lower corporate taxes line up with the president’s nationalist brand. … Trump’s task is complicated by the fact that the administration would like the support of Democrats. That’s why he’s concentrating his roadshow on states with vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018.”
-- Current Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen and Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn are among a half-dozen candidates currently under consideration to lead the Federal Reserve, the New York Times’s Kate Kelly and Binyamin Appelbaum report. “The list also includes Jerome H. Powell, a member of the Fed’s board of governors; Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor; and the Stanford University economist John B. Taylor, the officials said. Preliminary interviews with some candidates have already begun with an eye toward presenting finalists to President Trump later this year.”
MELANIA IN THE SPOTLIGHT:
-- Melania Trump traveled to Toronto on Saturday for the Invictus Games, where she exchanged pleasantries with Prince Harry, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wrapped one of the busiest weeks of her tenure as first lady. Krissah Thompson reports: “In the early months of the Trump White House, she rarely held public events[.] …. Now, [Melania] is carving out a profile for herself separate from her husband’s persona and following her own interests. Unlike the international trips she has taken with her husband, there were no protesters lining the streets, nor was she called into duty, as she once was, to break up an overlong meeting [with Putin]. Mrs. Trump, who often seems nervous at public events … sat beside Prince Harry in the VIP section and enjoyed a spectacular show.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump criticized senators for not supporting the Cassidy-Graham bill:
Alaska, Arizona, Maine and Kentucky are big winners in the Healthcare proposal. 7 years of Repeal & Replace and some Senators not there.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Eric Holder tweeted this photo of Martin Luther King in response to Trump's NFL remarks:
Taking a knee is not without precedent Mr. President. Those who dared to protest have helped bring positive change pic.twitter.com/Ik0t1mHaYl— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) September 24, 2017
The New York Post's cover today focused on the controversy:
From Obama's former foreign policy adviser:
It's wrong that some people are more upset about black athletes protesting than they are about unarmed black people being killed by police.— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) September 25, 2017
From an MSNBC producer:
Trump tweets this weekend about NFL/NBA/NHL: 10— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 25, 2017
Trump tweets this weekend about Puerto Rico: 0
From the chairman of the Democratic Coaltion, an anti-Trump organization:
Every NFL player who kneels during the national anthem to protest racial injustice & Trump’s "SOB" remark speaks for MILLIONS OF AMERICANS. pic.twitter.com/5WeFrBEG4s— Jon Cooper (@joncoopertweets) September 23, 2017
From the CNN host:
I'm reminded that veteran/American icon Jackie Robinson concluded the preface to his autobiography this way: pic.twitter.com/xfqba07NyC— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 24, 2017
From the actor James Woods:
From a conservative writer:
The more NFL players #TakeAKnee to disrespect our National Anthem, our flag, and our country, the lower the NFL's ratings will go.— Makada 🇺🇸 (@_Makada_) September 23, 2017
From a writer for the New Yorker:
Trump has now attacked Jemele Hill, Colin Kaepernick, & Stephen Curry. All have something in common but I can’t quite put my finger on it.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) September 23, 2017
From the former U.S. attorney fired by Trump:
Protestors can be patriots, flag-wavers can be turncoats. Whether you kneel in sadness or salute in lock-step, America is for all Americans.— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) September 25, 2017
From the MSNBC host:
Reminder: the president of the United States thinks protest is perfectly fine for neo-Nazis but a firing offense for black athletes.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) September 24, 2017
From the Weekly Standard editor at large:
I'm confident we'll contain & transcend Trump. But the damage Trump's now doing to our national comity & civic fabric is genuinely alarming.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) September 24, 2017
Kristol later added this:
Watching Trump's demagoguery, the Hill's dysfunction, the level of debate in Alabama--you wonder: Can the GOP be saved? Is it worth saving?— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) September 25, 2017
Obama's former photographer once again trolled Trump:
And Hillary Clinton suggested that Trump send the Navy to help in Puerto Rico:
President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens. https://t.co/J2FVg4II0n— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 24, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- New York Times, “At a Florida Nursing Home, Calls for Help Made No Difference,” by Ellen Gabler, Sheri Fink and Vivian Yee: “Even through gloves, they could feel the heat corseting the 84-year-old woman’s body. As they prepared to insert a catheter, they saw what looked like steam rising from her legs …. When firefighters were finally summoned to rush people out, they said the conditions reminded them of battling a fire. Somewhere in between, the misery of a nursing home teetering toward tragedy was reported to every official channel, but no attempt was made to transfer the residents to a safer place, or even to the air-conditioned hospital practically next door.”
-- Politico Magazine, “Tony Blair Says the Left Has Lost Its Way,” by Susan B. Glasser: “Blair, the onetime wunderkind of British politics who led the Labour Party and the country for 10 years from 1997 to 2007 preaching a Clintonian centrism he called the ‘Third Way’ only to see his tenure end amid recriminations over his support for Republican George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, still punches hardest when he’s hitting to his left. In our conversation, he bashed today’s liberal leaders in both countries for ‘solutions that look back to the ‘60s or ‘70s’ and for preaching a form of feel-good ‘identity politics’ that will flop as an answer to Trumpism.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“A College Lecturer Tweeted, ‘Trump Must Hang.’ He Doesn’t Regret It,” from Politico Magazine: “The author was obscure, but the tweets were explosive. On February 17, [Lars Maischak, a history lecturer at California State University, Fresno] had posted on Twitter about the new president: ‘To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and higher the better. #TheResistance #DeathtoFascism.’ … There have been countless viewpoints aired about whether universities should defend speech that their students deem offensive or hateful[.] … But Maischak’s case is a kind of fun-house mirror inversion of that debate: What do colleges and universities do when their left-wing faculty are the ones whose speech goes too far?”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“NASCAR owners say they wouldn’t tolerate national anthem protests at races” from The Hill: “Several NASCAR team owners said Sunday they would not condone racers protesting during the national anthem, amid protests by sports players at football and baseball games. There were no protests reported during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in New Hampshire, according to The Associated Press. Former NASCAR champion Richard Petty told the AP that any member of his team would be fired if they chose to protest the national anthem. Petty now owns Richard Petty Motorsports.”
Trump and Pence are having lunch together today. After that, the president will make an announcement on his “commitment to equipping the American workforce for jobs of the future.” He also has a dinner with grass-roots leaders.
After lunch, Pence will travel to Huntsville, Ala., for a tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and to Birmingham for a Luther Strange campaign event.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Don’t you think the next Democrat who runs should just run with a blue hat that says, ‘Make America Great Again?’” George Clooney said when reflecting on the 2016 campaign.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The mugginess in D.C. today will resemble July more than late September. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “An unusually warm air mass combined with sunny skies means temperatures some 15 degrees above normal. Highs approach 90 degrees and, with dew points in the mid-to-upper 60s, it feels a few degrees hotter than that in the late afternoon.”
-- The Redskins beat the Raiders 27-10. (Master Tesfatsion)
-- The Nationals won 3-2 against the Mets. (Chelsea Janes)
-- A new poll shows Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan with a 62 percent approval rating. Josh Hicks reports: “The Goucher College survey, however, does not contain only good news for Hogan. The governor’s approval rating remains nearly 10 points below the astronomical 71 percent recorded in polls one year ago. And the percentage of Marylanders who say they are committed or likely to vote for him in 2018 has fallen six percentage points since February.”
-- Big-name donors are writing checks for the 11th Street Bridge Park proposal, which would connect Anacostia to Capitol Hill. Jonathan O’Connell reports: “Sometimes likened to New York City’s High Line public park, the Bridge Park calls for a public plaza, amphitheater, environmental education center and other amenities to be built along a 1.45-mile stretch of bridge atop four piers that once carried the 11th Street Bridge.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
John Oliver went after corporate consolidation:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) explained his decision to vote against the Cassidy-Graham bill on "60 Minutes":
Stevie Wonder took a knee during the Global Citizen Festival in New York: