With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Bowing to pressure from Republicans on Capitol Hill and public criticism from President Trump, Tom Price announced Thursday that he will partially reimburse the government for the costs of his flights on charter planes in recent months.

The Health and Human Services secretary is writing a check for $51,887 to the Treasury Department. He said he will no longer take private charters at taxpayer expense and plans to cooperate with the HHS inspector general, who last week launched an investigation into his travel practices.

The optics here are terrible. Price took a $25,000 charter flight from Dulles to Philadelphia when a round-trip train ticket would have cost $72. The government also paid for a private jet to whisk Price to a resort in Georgia where he owns land and to Nashville, where he lunched with his son.

-- It came out last night that Price also used military aircraft for trips to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers. Politico, which broke that story, notes that the reimbursements do not cover any military planes: “The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May. … Price’s wife, Betty, accompanied him on the military flights, while other members of the secretary’s delegation flew commercially to Europe. … But one of Price’s recent predecessors, Kathleen Sebelius, who served for five years under President Barack Obama, said she never took a military plane on her many trips overseas; she always flew commercially.”

-- A million dollars isn’t nothing, but is it more scandalous than the New York Times’s estimate that Donald Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year, if Congress enacts the proposal he unveiled this week? We cannot know for sure how much Trump stands to gain personally because he’s the first president since Richard Nixon who refuses to release his tax returns.

The national debt topped $20 trillion for the first time ever this month, yet Senate Republicans tentatively agreed last week to a budget deal that would allow them to pass as much as $1.5 trillion in tax cuts without spending reductions or revenue offsets to pay for them. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly called the debt ‘unsustainable’ and ‘alarming,’ even going so far as to say in 2013 that it ‘makes us look a lot like Greece.’ Yet McConnell was the one who held the meeting in his office to broker the red-ink deal,” Heather Long notes.

Many of Price’s charter flights, which numbered more than two dozen in total, were so that he could be the lead cheerleader for repealing Obamacare. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill that passed the House in May, which Price aggressively advocated for, would have left 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law.

-- Price was also flying high on the taxpayer dime at the same time he was championing cuts in spending on scientific research, medical research, disease prevention programs and health insurance for children of the working poor.

The Trump administration’s May budget called for cutting $1.2 billion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of HHS, including an $82 million cut at the center that works on vaccine-preventable and respiratory diseases, such as influenza and measles. Price’s budget proposed a cut of $186 million from programs at CDC’s center on HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis prevention. There was also $222 million in cuts to the agency’s chronic disease prevention programs, which are designed to help people prevent diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and obesity. The agency’s center on birth defects and developmental disabilities saw a 26 percent cut to its budget. The experts there are still trying to understand the full consequences of Zika infections in pregnant women and their babies.

Price’s first budget also sought $1 billion in cuts for the National Cancer Institute, $575 million in cuts for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and $838 million in cuts for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The administration asked Congress to slash the overall National Institutes of Health budget from $31.8 billion to $26 billion. These cuts went further than even some of the most conservative GOP lawmakers were willing to go.

-- All these numbers are far more consequential to the long-term health, both fiscal and physical, of the United States than Price’s private plane habit. But they are also way more abstract, and thus less sexy, than a million bucks spent on airfare.

People are inclined to focus on relatively small expenditures because they sometimes struggle to wrap their heads around bigger numbers that underscore harder truths. A search of Lexis Nexis and Google News makes clear that Price’s flights have garnered far more attention than the proposed HHS budget cuts in May or even the GOP’s $1.5 trillion debt deal last week. Non-mainstream outlets like TMZ have seized on the plane story.

-- By no means is the point here that Price’s travel is unworthy of coverage. His profligacy signifies misplaced priorities, demonstrates hypocrisy (he decried Democrats for flying on military aircraft when he was in Congress) and suggests that a culture of entitlement pervades the upper echelons of the Trump administration.

-- Drip, drip, drip: More stories continue to emerge about members of Trump's Cabinet flying private.

“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chartered a flight from Las Vegas to near his home in Montana this summer aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives,” Drew Harwell and Lisa Rein scooped last night. “The flight cost taxpayers $12,375, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman. Commercial airlines run daily flights between the two airports and charge as little as $300. …

“Zinke and his official entourage also boarded private flights between the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix during a three-day trip to the Virgin Islands in March … The spring trip included an official snorkeling tour of the nearby Buck Island Reef National Monument … Zinke also attended a Virgin Islands GOP event and spoke on behalf of President Trump.”

Taxpayers have spent more than $58,000 for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to take at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating Steven Mnuchin for his use of a government plane to visit Kentucky during the solar eclipse with his wife, as well as for a short trip from New York City to Washington.

-- Congressional Republicans are taking this seriously. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a proud penny pincher, called on Trump last night to impose a governmentwide ban on the use of charter flights by administration officials. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has requested that more than 20 agencies provide details about the use of private, charter aircraft and government-owned aircraft by political appointees since January.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- The NFL’s demonstrations during the national anthem continued last night — as players for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, along with some fans, stood and locked arms while the song was performed. Cindy Boren and Des Bieler report: “Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his team had called on their home supporters to join them in a display of ‘unity and love’ before a Thursday night game broadcast to a national television audience. None of the Green Bay or Chicago players appeared to be kneeling during the anthem[.] …

“Reports from Lambeau indicated that most of the over 81,000 fans in attendance did not link arms, as some saluted and many stood with their hands over their hearts. Before the anthem was performed by country singer Tyler Farr, many fans chanted ‘U-S-A!’ as a large American flag was unfurled on the field. As players linked arms on their respective sidelines, some fans reportedly booed, although others at the stadium reported that they did not hear any booing.” The Packers went on to win the game 35-14.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. The Islamic State released what appears to be the first recording in nearly a year of its reclusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The 46-minute recording seemed intended to rally the militant fighters and quiet rumors that he had been killed earlier this year. (New York Times)
  2. Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema officially launched a Senate bid Thursday, ending months of speculation about whether she would challenge Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, an outspoken Trump critic. Flake also faces what is shaping up to be a tough primary challenge from former state Sen. Kelli Ward. (Arizona Central)
  3. The Supreme Court agreed to hear another challenge to organized labor and the mandatory payment of fees to public employee unions by nonmembers, after justices deadlocked on the issue last year following Justice Scalia’s death. Now, conservative groups say they are hopeful Neil Gorsuch will provide the tiebreaking vote. (Robert Barnes)
  4. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in income on a Senate ethics form. Moore listed receiving between $50,000 and $150,000 in speaking fees on a prior ethics form, but he failed to re-list it on the Senate form. (The Daily Beast)

  5. A federal judge in Kentucky struck down a state law requiring pregnant woman to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, ruling that the measure “appears to inflict psychological harm” on patients. (Travis M. Andrews)
  6. A 77-year-old woman in Houston was killed by necrotizing fasciitis — or flesh-eating bacteria — after falling and breaking her arm in floods from Hurricane Harvey, officials said this week. It is the second known case of necrotizing fasciitis to occur in the area, though the other infection was nonfatal. (New York Times)
  7. Five black cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School had racial slurs written on their doors. A cadet’s mother posted a photo to social media showing the words “go home n*****r” written on her son’s white board. (Susan Svrluga)
  8. A professor was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight this week after she complained about two dogs onboard, telling officers she had a “life-threatening” pet allergy. In a cellphone video, officers can be seen tugging and wrapping their arms around the woman in an apparent attempt to pull her down the aisle. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced Thursday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” the 56-year-old Veep star wrote on social media. She found out the day after the Emmys. (Yahoo News)
  10. When a British postal worker and former smoker fell ill for a year and began coughing up phlegm, both he and his medical team expected the worst. Fortunately, they were both wrong — and instead of finding the tumor they suspected, doctors stumbled upon a tiny toy traffic cone, which had been lodged in his airway for 40 years. (Lindsey Bever

THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Twitter said Thursday that it identified more than 200 accounts linked to Russian operatives who had also purchased political ads on Facebook. But the company's testimony did little to appease lawmakers, who slammed as “inadequate” its efforts to combat Russia’s broad disinformation campaigns. Elizabeth Dwoskin, Adam Entous and Karoun Demirjian report: “The Twitter accounts, which were taken down over the last month, were associated with 470 accounts and pages that Facebook last month said came from the Internet Research Agency, a Russia-connect troll farm. Twitter said the groups on Facebook had 22 corresponding Twitter accounts. Twitter then found an additional 179 accounts linked to those 22. … But lawmakers and analysts criticized Twitter for appearing as if it only accepted and looked into the data that it received from Facebook, rather than conduct a broader internal investigation.”

  • Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, characterized Twitter’s presentation as “deeply disappointing,” and “inadequate on almost every level.” He said after that he is “more than a bit surprised … that anyone from the Twitter team would think that the presentation they made [would] even began to answer the kinds of questions that we’d asked.” The company “showed an enormous lack of understanding . . . about how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions,” Warner added.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Twitter needs to launch “a far more robust investigation” into how Russian actors used the platform.

-- Twitter did not address “extensive” outside research that identified far more suspected Russian-linked activity, the New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos and Scott Shane report. “Nor did Twitter address a web 'dashboard' set up last month by researchers to track and compile statistics on 600 Twitter accounts the researchers believe to be linked to the Russian government or to have a longstanding pattern of repeating its propaganda. The statement [also] said nothing about still-functioning Twitter accounts of DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, which American intelligence officials identified last year as created by Russian agents …”

-- In the days leading up to the 2016 election, propaganda on Twitter flowed most heavily into 12 battleground states, with “junk news” in those areas even exceeding the amount of information from professional news organizations. Craig Timberg reports: “[Researchers at Oxford University] found that false, misleading and highly partisan reports were shared on Twitter at least as often as those from professional news organizations. But in 12 battleground states, including New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida, the amount of what they called ‘junk news’ exceeded that from professional news [outlets], prompting researchers to conclude that those pushing disinformation approached the job with a geographic focus in hopes of having maximum impact on the outcome of the vote.”

-- BIGGER PICTURE: “Silicon Valley has long enjoyed a hands-off approach from regulators and has become a major lobbying force in Washington in order to keep things that way,” our colleagues write. “But that attitude appears to be shifting quickly. Last week Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Warner urged colleagues Thursday to support a bill that would create new transparency requirements for platforms that run political ads online akin to those already in place for TV stations … Lawmakers from across the political spectrum — from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — have called for more scrutiny into the market power of technology companies over the last few months.”

-- Jared Kushner did not disclose the existence of his private email account — which he has used for official business — during a closed interview with Senate Intelligence Committee staff earlier this year. CNN’s Jake Tapper reports: “[The] chair and vice chair of the committee were so unhappy that they learned about the existence of his personal email account via news reports that they wrote him a letter via his attorney Thursday instructing him to double-check that he has turned over every relevant document to the committee including those from his 'personal email account’ described to the news media, as well as all other email accounts, messaging apps, or similar communications channels you may have used …’” Previously, Kushner was criticized for failing to disclose more than 100 contacts with foreign leaders as well as a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer claiming to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.   

-- The White House launched an internal probe of private email use this week after reports that Kushner and other senior aides had used personal accounts for official business. Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Andrea Peterson report. “The probe could take several weeks or even months to complete … as officials are searching for all emails sent or received about government business. The White House counsel's office is reviewing the accounts to determine if the messages are germane to any investigations such as the ongoing Russia probes At least five current and former White House officials have used private email, [including] Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Of particular interest is Kushner and Ivanka Trump's private email domain, because they still work in the White House …”

-- Mike Pence’s lawyer met privately in June with Robert Mueller at Pence’s request to express the vice president’s willingness to cooperate in the Russia investigation. Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum has the story: “The meeting with Mueller took place soon after [lawyer Richard] Cullen accepted the job. Pence has largely remained on the sidelines of the Russia controversy, but he became a central figure in the firing of [Michael Flynn] … Meetings like the one between Mueller and Cullen are common in high-profile investigations like the Mueller probe, especially if the person in question intends to cooperate and the lawyers have an existing relationship, as Mueller and Cullen do[.]”

-- Christopher Wray was formally sworn in as FBI director yesterday — with the notable absence of Trump and former FBI directors Jim Comey and Mueller. Devlin Barrett reports: “The president would normally make remarks, and the director’s predecessors would be in the front row of the audience. That’s what happened at the last such event, held for Comey in 2013. … None of the speakers referred directly to the Russia probe, but its shadow seemed to hang over the 45-minute proceeding on a sunny afternoon. In its way, the event was a physical manifestation of the unusual amount of distance the FBI now has from the White House because of the investigation. The most senior administration official in attendance was [Jeff Sessions], who has recused himself from the Russia probe.”

-- The Senate by voice vote confirmed Jon Huntsman yesterday as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. (Karoun Demirjian)

MARIA FALLOUT CONTINUES:

-- Trump continued to defend his administration’s response to the situation in Puerto Rico on Thursday, tweeting that the it is doing a “GREAT” job on the hurricane-ravaged island. John Wagner reports: “’FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico,’ Trump said … ‘Massive food & water delivered,’ Trump said. ‘Docks & electric grid dead. Locals trying . . . really hard to help but many have lost their homes. Military is now on site and I will be there Tuesday. Wish press would treat fairly!’” Trump’s remarks came as he has faced harsh criticism for not being as engaged in the recovery from Hurricane Maria as he was for Harvey and Irma. Other top administration officials also spent the day attempting to defend the federal response to Maria:

  • “You are seeing devastation in Puerto Rico. That is the fault of the hurricane,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told reporters, adding that she is “very satisfied” with the federal response on the island. “The relief effort is under control. It is proceeding very well considering the devastation that took place,” she said.
  • Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert said some of the media reports on the disaster were “based on outdated images and data. “I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we're not moving fast enough,” Bossert said, adding: “The people of Puerto Rico have every bit of support from [Trump] that he gave to the citizens of every other state in this country, and I think you’re going to see that continue in a very positive way.”

-- BUT, BUT BUT: In 2010, the United States responded to an earthquake in Haiti more forcefully than to Maria's impact on Puerto Rico. Aaron C. Davis, Dan Lamothe and Ed O'Keefe report. “Within two days [of the Haiti quake], the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering [supplies]. By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria … just 4,400 service members were participating [and] about 50 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory.”

-- One problem: getting aid to certain parts of the island is tough. Amid mounting criticism, Trump on Thursday flipped his stance on the Jones Act — an obscure 1920s shipping law that requires vessels traveling between U.S. ports be U.S. ships. But the waiver only lasts 10 days, Arelis R. Hernández and Steven Mufson note. And there are other problems: “While many lawmakers from both parties said the [waiver] would speed assistance for Puerto Rico and reduce costs, U.S. shipping executives [and] maritime unions warned that the bottleneck was on the island, not on the seas.

-- Overall, progress on the island has been slow, our colleagues report.FEMA said it would bring in about 3.2 million meals and 2.68 million liters of water, some by air and some by sea. Only 28 percent of the island now has some cellphone reception. About 86 bank branches are open, but many people still have no cash or access to checking accounts. FEMA said it would use barges to ship 100 fuel distribution trucks with 275,000 gallons of diesel and 75,000 gallons of gasoline, [expected] to arrive Sunday. ‘I wish we were in a better position but we are limited by the gravity of the situation,’ [Governor Ricardo] Rosselló said.”

-- Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) traveled to Puerto Rico Thursday. (Orlando Sentinel)

-- A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a majority of Americans say climate change contributed to the severity of recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas, marking a significant shift from previous years. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, just 39 percent of Americans said they believed climate change helped fuel the storms. Now, 55 percent believe that. (Emily Guskin and Brady Dennis)

THE GOP'S TAX PLAN:

-- Trump’s habit of leaving policy details to Congress is creating more headaches for Republicans’ tax push. Damian Paletta writes: “The approach was successful as a presidential candidate: It allowed Trump to promise his presidency would yield big benefits for his supporters. But by not laying out details of how he planned to deliver, Trump left his opponents with little to latch onto. As president, however, it has yet to yield a major legislative victory[.] … After dozens of closed-door meetings and public hearings, the White House and GOP leaders have still not sorted through many of the most vital details of Trump’s promise to deliver the largest tax cut in U.S. history. There is, in short, no hammered-out tax plan, only a nine-page framework of GOP goals that have yet to be filled in or agreed to.”

-- The vague framework means that no one can tell if it will really deliver tax cuts to middle-income people. Carolyn Y. Johnson reports: “The tax plan has provisions targeted at middle-class taxpayers. It doubles the standard deduction, increasing the amount of money people can earn tax-free up to $24,000 for a married couple. But that comes paired with the loss of the $4,050 per person exemption currently in the tax code, which could mean that large families could end up worse off. Whether they do would depend in part on how much bigger the existing child tax credits get. … On net, the changes in the plan might end up being a wash or slight cut for most middle-class families, several economists said.”

  • Ivanka Trump visited Capitol Hill yesterday to advocate for the child-care tax credit and paid family leave. It was her second trip to the Hill in two days, as she spent Wednesday with members of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Kelsey Snell)

-- Heather Long outlines nine ways Trump's tax plan would benefit the wealthy — including cutting the top tax rate, eliminating the estate tax and preserving multiple tax breaks for the super rich.

-- Lobbyists came out swinging to protect industry-specific tax breaks, even as they remain uncertain which deductions will ultimately be targeted. The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan report: “Opposition from the real estate industry was swift and vocal[.] … While the plan specifically calls for preserving the mortgage interest deduction, real estate agents are warning that a proposal to double the standard deduction will make taxpayers less likely to itemize their tax returns and claim the mortgage deduction. The deduction is a key incentive for people to buy homes[.] … A proposal to limit the deductibility of corporate interest has prompted jockeying among powerful groups that rely on debt to help finance their operations, including real estate companies, private equity firms, financial companies and other businesses.”

The most likely tax break to be eliminated — the deduction for state and local taxes — is also causing controversy: “The measure is particularly prized in blue states with high property taxes, but is also widely used in some Republican districts in Virginia, New Jersey and California. Eliminating the deduction, which the real estate industry also opposes, would save more than $1 trillion over a decade and make room for the tax cuts.”

-- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has repeatedly argued that workers would benefit most from the framework’s proposed corporate cut, and a 2012 paper showing the opposite has now been deleted from his department’s website. The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports: “The 2012 paper from the Office of Tax Analysis found that workers pay 18% of the corporate tax while owners of capital pay 82%. That is a breakdown in line with many economists’ views and close to estimates from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office. … But Mr. Mnuchin has been arguing the opposite, citing other papers that attribute more of the burden to labor.”

-- The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza breaks down how Republicans came to abandon the idea of revenue-neutral reform for slashing tax rates: “The Big Six … couldn’t agree on enough reforms to raise revenue. [Paul] Ryan had one idea, a so-called border-adjustment tax, which would have raised a trillion dollars to offset some of the rate cuts in the plan by taxing imports. But that was nixed by the White House and never replaced with anything as ambitious. In the end, the Big Six also couldn’t agree on as many details as the group originally proclaimed. … Instead of doing the hard work of crafting a revenue-neutral tax reform, which requires taking on powerful political constituencies and working with Democrats, Republicans will fall back on arguing that the economic effects of the tax legislation will be so powerful that it will pay for itself with growth.”

-- Bruce Bartlett, a former domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan (and now vocal #NeverTrumper), wrote a Post op-ed entitled, “I helped create the GOP tax myth. Trump is wrong: Tax cuts don’t equal growth:” “It’s worth remembering that the first version of the ’81 tax cut was introduced in 1977 and underwent thorough analysis by the CBO and other organizations, and was subject to comprehensive public hearings. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 grew out of a detailed Treasury study and took over two years to complete. Rushing through a half-baked tax plan, in the same manner Republicans tried (and failed) to do with health-care reform, should be rejected out of hand.”

TRUMP'S AGENDA:

-- Despite Trump’s push for tougher immigration enforcement and his pledge to round up “bad hombres” living here illegally, ICE agents are on track to deport fewer people than last year. Nick Miroff reports: “As of Sept. 9, three weeks before the end of the 2017 fiscal year, ICE had deported 211,068 immigrants . . . ICE removed 240,255 people during the government’s 2016 fiscal year. [But] the lower totals are not for lack of effort. According to ICE, its agents have made 43 percent more arrests since Trump took office versus the same period last year. [And] while ICE took into custody more immigrants with criminal records, the fastest-growing category of arrests since Trump’s inauguration are those facing no criminal charges. The agency arrested more than 28,000 'non-criminal immigration violators' between Jan. 22 and Sept. 2, according to the agency’s records, a nearly threefold increase over the same period in 2016.”

-- The government’s most recent arrests of undocumented immigrants focused on those living in sanctuary cities. Maria Sacchetti reports: “Federal officials said Thursday that ‘Operation Safe City’ specifically targeted some of the fiercest opponents of [Trump’s] immigration policies, including New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Washington. In all, 498 immigrants … were taken into custody in a four-day operation that ended Wednesday, officials said. Just under two-thirds of those arrested had criminal records in the United States.”

-- The search for a permanent DHS secretary is “back to square one” after House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Tex.) was ruled out for the job. Politico’s Andrew Restuccia and Eliana Johnson report: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly … privately raised red flags about McCaul’s stance on immigration, which has at times diverged from that of [Trump]. … McCaul is in lockstep with Trump on many issues. He is pushing legislation that would provide $10 billion for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. But he also has publicly broken with the president over his travel ban, distancing himself from the restrictions and criticizing its haphazard rollout as ‘problematic.’” 

-- Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered remarks on free speech yesterday at the Trump International Hotel, prompting protests from demonstrators who believe the hotel violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Robert Barnes reports: “Outside, protesters organized by the abortion rights group NARAL and other organizations inflated a large figure in a hazmat suit for a ‘corruption cleanup.’ They chanted that Gorsuch was a ‘sellout.’ Even [Chuck Schumer] released a statement saying Gorsuch should not have gone to the hotel. … Gorsuch made no mention of the controversy in his 20-minute speech, although he might at times have been talking about those outside. The rights guaranteed by the First Amendment ‘ensure that Americans can say pretty much anything they want, for more or less any reason they want, more or less anytime they want,’ Gorsuch said. ‘It’s a wonderful thing.’”

-- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also faced protesters on two college campuses yesterday. During her address on school choice at Harvard University, “several students — one by one — raised their fists in protest and began to unfurl banners emblazoned with messages written in red lettering on white bedsheets: ‘WHITE SUPREMACIST,’ ‘EDUCATIONAL JUSTICE IS RACIAL JUSTICE,’ ‘PROTECT SURVIVORS’ RIGHTS,’ Moriah Balingit and Sarah Larimer report. “At George Washington University earlier Thursday, a small group of protesters gathered, voicing their support for transgender students and victims of sexual assault before an appearance by the secretary[.] … At Harvard, about 300 protesters packed the sidewalks outside the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, raising issues about DeVos’s civil rights record and her support for charter schools.”

-- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore “don’t agree” on gay rights. “I have not taken a deep dive on every comment that the senator — or the Senate nominee — has made, but I certainly know where the president stands on those issues and wouldn’t see any parallel between the two of them on that front,” Sanders said. For his part, Moore has previously described homosexual conduct as an “inherent evil,” and he refused to obey the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage. (Anne Gearan)

-- The leaders of the Senate’s health committee are making progress on a bipartisan deal to shore up Obamacare's exchanges. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Burgess Everett report: “‘Maybe by the end of next week, we will go and hand a piece of legislation to Sen. [Mitch] McConnell and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer,’ [Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)] said on Thursday. The failure of the Graham-Cassidy bill … has created an opening, albeit a small one, for moderates like Alexander to push an interim measure to prop up the markets. … But some conservatives are skeptical of doing anything that could be construed as an embrace of the Democrats’ law. … Alexander cautioned that a deal with [ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.)] would be meaningless unless other Republican and Democratic senators sign on.”

NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- As tensions with North Korea continue to escalate, the U.S. plans to send “strategic assets” to Seoul on a more regular basis to help bolster defense in South Korea and deter Pyongyang. Anna Fifield and Dan Lamothe report: “[South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-young], told lawmakers in Seoul that American ‘strategic assets’ could be deployed to South Korea on a ‘rotational’ basis before the end of the year. ‘This will help us expand our defense capabilities,’ he told the lawmakers … He did not define ‘strategic assets,’ but South Korean officials usually use the term to refer to B-52 bombers, stealth warplanes, nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. The Pentagon confirmed that Moon and [Trump] agreed to ‘enhanced deployment of U.S. strategic assets in and around South Korea on a rotational basis’ when they met on the sidelines of the [UNGA] last week.”

-- Meanwhile, North Korean state media claimed Thursday that 4.7 million people are seeking to enlist in the nation’s army, which is already among the largest in the world. Adam Taylor reports: “It is difficult for outside analysts to gauge the accuracy of the report . . . [and] North Korean state media has issued similar claims during past moments of tension. [But] North Korea's constitution explicitly states that … citizens are required to serve in the armed forces by law.”

-- During a fundraising event with high-dollar donors Tuesday, Trump offered his thoughts on a range of foreign policy issues, including North Korea. Josh Rogin writes: “Trump … praised his own handling of the North Korea nuclear crisis, touted his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and explained how he came up with his latest nickname for Kim Jong Un. Although Trump called Kim ‘Rocket Man’ in his first address to the United Nations, he thought it was not an insult and could even be seen as a compliment, Trump said at the dinner[.] … But after Kim issued a statement calling Trump a ‘dotard,’ Trump upped the ante. ‘So I said, all right, so now I’ll call him Little Rocket Man,’ Trump said. … On Afghanistan, Trump said he had wanted to stop spending money on the war there altogether but was convinced by his generals that due to the large number of terrorist organizations there, withdrawing was not a safe option.”

-- Julie Vitkovskaya has a helpful explainer on what North Korea hopes to get out of its intensifying war of words with Trump. 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) returned to Capitol Hill after being shot 15 weeks ago:

Rihanna stressed the urgency of Puerto Rico's situation:

"Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda pleaded with the president:

Trump kept this falsehood going:

ESPN's Jemele Hill responded to Trump's comment to Fox News that some NFL owners are "afraid of their players":

A Yahoo political editor shared this memotable photograph from Trump's trip to Indianapolis:

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) went after Alabama's Republican Senate candidate:

A Bloomberg News White House reporter offered this reminder:

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and white nationalist Richard Spencer went back-and-forth over Russian Internet trolls stoking America's racial divides:

The White House's social media director went after CNN's Brian Stelter for a doctored photo that Ana Navarro, one of the network's political analysts, tweeted out:

Navarro quickly apologized for the tweet:

But, despite the apology, the argument continued:

One vice president gave his best wishes to another:

The Russian propaganda network recognized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “The Myth of Mitch McConnell, Political Super-Genius,” by Adam Jentleson: “If any believers in the Myth remain after the brutal week McConnell just endured, which capped off an unbelievably brutal eight months, they should take this challenge: Name one major legislative accomplishment to McConnell’s credit over the more than 30 years he has been in the Senate. (Last minute deals don’t count.) You can’t do it[.]”

-- The New York Times, “Alabama Victory Provides Blueprint for New Bannon Alliance,” by Kenneth P. Vogel and Jeremy W. Peters: “The obstacles Mr. Bannon and [billionaires Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer] face are formidable: the well-funded resistance of mainstream Republicans; a shortage of viable anti-establishment candidates like Roy Moore, the victor in Tuesday’s Alabama Republican Senate primary; an absence of political infrastructure for supporting them; and their own reputations for not always following through on big political plans. But the Bannon-Mercer alliance is likely to be a potent factor in widening the divisions laid bare by the Alabama race and the intraparty battles that have crippled the Republican agenda in Congress.”

-- Smithsonian Magazine, “What ever happened to the Russian Revolution?” by Ian Frazier: “Russia is both a great, glorious country and an ongoing disaster. Just when you decide it is the one, it turns around and discloses the other. For a hundred years before 1917, it experienced wild disorders and political violence interspersed with periods of unquiet calm, meanwhile producing some of the world’s greatest literature and booming in population and helping to feed Europe. Then it leapt into a revolution unlike any the world had ever seen. Today, a hundred years afterward, we still don’t know quite what to make of that huge event. The Russians themselves aren’t too sure about its significance.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Librarian explains why she rejected books donated by Melania Trump,” from CBS News: “A librarian at the Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts is declining a shipment of books from first lady Melania Trump. One school from each state was chosen by the White House to receive 10 Dr. Seuss books … ‘Getting an education is perhaps the most important and wondrous opportunity of your young lives,’ Trump said in a letter to the children … The school's librarian, Liz Phipps Soeiro, wrote a lengthy [editorial] explaining why her school does not need the books. 'My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.' She also criticized Melania’s book choices, adding: 'You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children's literature …'”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“NFL ticket sales plummet 17.9 [percent]” from the Washington Examiner: “The National Football League is feeling the impact of the ‘Trump Effect.’ Ticket sales since he called on team owners to fire players who take a knee to protest the National Anthem have cratered. The online ticket reseller TickPick told Secrets that sales have dropped 17.9 percent, far more than the usual Week Three fall … Last year the drop was 10.8 percent . . . ‘[Week 3] seems to usually have less ticket orders than week 2, but this year ticket purchases are down more than 7 percent from this time last year,’ said TickPick's Jack Slingland. ‘While we can't specify if this decrease is due to the president's comments, player and owner protests, play on the field, or simply the continued division of consumer's media attention, the conversation around the NFL this week has focused on [those things] …’”

DAYBOOK:

Trump will give a speech today to the National Association of Manufacturers, and he’ll later have lunch with Pence and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). He then departs for New Jersey.

Pence also has a meeting with the president of Kosovo and a planned visit to the National Reconnaissance Office.  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said of trying to bring down the national debt. “It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”

 

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

-- D.C.’s beautiful weather today may actually resemble fall. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Dry, un-muggy air with temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s? Yes, please! This is certainly ‘Nice Day’ certifiable! Note that a morning jacket isn’t a terrible idea. We’re used to abnormally warm conditions, so give your body a couple days to adapt.”

-- The Nationals beat the Pirates 5-4. (Chelsea Janes)

-- Gabby Giffords will campaign for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on Monday. Her pro-gun control PAC also announced that it would spend $150,000 promoting Northam through digital ads and mailers. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Virginia’s Republican candidate Ed Gillespie released a second ad tying Northam to the gang MS-13, even though the first ad was criticized as racist. Fenit Nirappil and Laura Vozzella report: “The latest ad, which started airing Tuesday in the Roanoke market, begins with a dark hooded figure in a home holding up a baseball bat as the MS-13 motto ‘Kill, Rape, Control’ flashes on the screen. Then, a narrator warns of violent crime linked to the street gang in Virginia — and accuses Northam of putting Virginia families at risk.”

-- The March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women will converge on the Mall this weekend. (Perry Stein)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trevor Noah reminded his viewers of everything Puerto Rico has done for the rest of the U.S.:

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) made his first floor speech since being shot. Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane have more on his emotional return to Capitol Hill:

The Post fact-checked whether the wealthy will get a tax cut under the Republicans' tax plan:

The Post’s video team premiered a new series called “Underdogs,” which will cover the behind-the-scenes people who keep D.C. running. The first episode features Obama speechwriter David Litt:

The Post's Margaret Sullivan discussed Hugh Hefner's complicated legacy:

And see this little girl who stole Prince Harry's popcorn at the Invictus Games: