With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: The Virginia governor’s race is a base election, and Ed Gillespie has a problem with his base.

This is a key reason the Republican nominee is trailing Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) by 13 points among likely voters in a new Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The need to consolidate conservative support also explains why the former chairman of the Republican National Committee has waded so aggressively into divisive culture wars and embraced wedge issues that he once eschewed, specifically immigration and Confederate monuments.

Among likely voters, 97 percent of Democrats support Northam while 89 percent of Republicans back Gillespie. (Among independents, 47 percent back Northam while 40 percent support Gillespie.)

Health care, the economy and education are the issues that most Virginians care about in their choice for governor. But 10 percent of registered voters say illegal immigration is the biggest factor in deciding who to vote for, and another 3 percent say Confederate monuments are what they care about most. Gillespie is fighting hard for those 13 percent.

The Post-Schar School poll finds that 57 percent of registered voters think Confederate monuments should be kept on government property, while 31 percent want them removed. Among all white voters, 67 percent want them to stay. Among Republican registered voters, an overwhelming 89 percent want to keep Confederate statues on government property.

Gillespie also wants to ban abortion, with exceptions for incest, rape and to save a pregnant woman’s life. While 55 percent of Virginian registered voters oppose such a ban, 57 percent of Republican voters support it.

THE TRUMP FACTOR:

-- Even as he struggles to galvanize Trump supporters, the president’s unpopularity poses a problem for Gillespie.

“Roughly 6 in 10 Virginia likely voters disapprove of his performance as president, and more than 8 in 10 Trump detractors support Northam,” Gregory S. Schneider and Scott Clement write in a story about the new poll. “But in a positive sign for Gillespie, just over half of all likely voters say Trump is not a factor in their choice. Some 17 percent of voters say they plan to vote to send a message of support for Trump, while 30 percent say they are voting to express disapproval.

Nearly 7 in 10 likely voters said they feel that Gillespie supports Trump … While Trump is unpopular in Virginia — the only Southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton last fall — most Republican likely voters — 82 percent — approve of Trump’s job performance. Gillespie cannot afford to alienate them.”

-- A parallel to 2014? Looking beyond this new poll, a bevy of surveys in September showed Trump’s approval rating in Virginia ranging from 33 percent to 42 percent. In no poll has Gillespie’s support exceeded Trump’s approval by more than eight points. On average, he’s outpaced Trump’s approval by four points, with a support level ranging from 36 percent to 44 percent. Northam’s support has ranged more, from 42 percent in a Suffolk poll to 53 percent in the new Post-Schar poll.

Trump has experienced a small rise in job approval nationally over the past month, which Gillespie might hope to benefit from, but every poll suggests that he is having difficulty pulling too far away from Trump. In exit polls from the 2014 midterms, no Democratic senator garnered a level of support that was more than nine points higher than Barack Obama’s approval rating in the state. The very best outperformance by a Democrat came in Virginia, where Sen. Mark Warner (D) barely fended off a challenge from Gillespie. He won reelection with 49.1 percent of the vote to Gillespie’s 48.3 percent. Obama’s approval rating in the commonwealth was 40 percent.

-- Gillespie has been trying to have it both ways. When he was a top Washington lobbyist and senior adviser in George W. Bush’s White House, he was an outspoken proponent of big-tent Republicanism. He still hopes moderate white women in the D.C. suburbs will reward him for his rhetorical nods to the importance of inclusiveness and minority outreach. But since barely winning the Republican primary in June against Corey Stewart, an anti-immigration hard-liner who chaired President Trump’s Virginia campaign last year, Gillespie has wooed the Trumpists who now dominate the GOP.

If anyone can thread this needle, though, Gillespie can. He was an accomplished and cunning political operator before deciding to run for office himself — much like outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who chaired the Democratic National Committee at the same time Gillespie helmed the RNC.

This summer Gillespie hired Trump’s Southwest Virginia field director, Jack Morgan, to play a similar role for his campaign. Morgan, an evangelical preacher, has warned that the country is on the brink of civil war and that communists are behind the effort to take down Confederate statues.

-- Turning out the base is especially important because Republicans historically vote at higher rates in off-year, low-turnout elections than Democrats. Gillespie needs to get them ginned up so they come to the polls. Greg and Scott flag three key numbers in our main story about the results of the new poll:

  • The average Virginian is pretty uninspired right now: “Fewer than six in 10 registered voters, 58 percent, say they are following the race closely — 10 percentage points lower than a similar point in the 2013 gubernatorial race.”
  • Both candidates lack widespread enthusiasm among their supporters: “Northam has an edge over Gillespie in personal popularity. By 44 to 28 percent, more registered voters have a favorable than unfavorable impression of him, while voters are split on Gillespie — 38 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable.”
  • The race is still very fluid. One in four likely voters say they could change their mind before Nov. 7. “There’s a lack of intensity right now,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, which co-sponsored the survey. “Many fewer people than typically at this stage are paying close attention, and the candidates at this point have really not excited the electorate. … A lot can change in the next month. If I were the Northam campaign, I would not feel too comfortable right now.”

THE MONUMENTS DEBATE:

-- Virginia is one of several Southern states, in league with places like Alabama and Mississippi, that have laws protecting Confederate monuments. There is a statute that passed in 1904 that prohibits local jurisdictions from trying to “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials” erected to honor veterans of war. This law has been an obstacle for officials trying to remove statues in places like Old Town Alexandria and Loudoun County.

“The law — amended several times to include memorials to every war the United States has fought — is now at the center of a legal dispute in Charlottesville over city efforts to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a courthouse park, which prompted the violent protests … that led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32,” Antonio Olivo explained in August. “With support from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill in 2016 to strengthen the law, Democratic state legislators now say that the time is ripe to give local jurisdictions more say in how to handle Virginia’s approximately 200 Confederate monuments — more than are located in any other state.”

Gillespie’s campaign says he favors letting local jurisdictions decide what to do but personally supports keeping up the monuments and placing them “in historical context.” “I think we should keep them up,” Gillespie said in an email to supporters. “We should teach history — NOT erase it.”

Northam has struggled with his messaging on the monuments issue. In the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, he announced that statues should come down. Then he clarified that the decision should be left up to local governments. The lieutenant governor seemed a little uncomfortable when the issue came up during last month’s debate. “If these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues,” Northam said. “Personally, I would think the statues would be better placed in museums with, certainly, historical context, but I am leaving it up to the localities.”

When he initially called for the removal of the monuments, though, the Republican Party of Virginia — which Gillespie once led — said that Northam — whose ancestors fought in the Civil War — had “turned his back on his own family’s heritage.” (Northam’s great-great-grandfather owned eight slaves on Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore in 1860.) “@RalphNortham has turned his back on his own family’s heritage in demanding monument removal,” the state party tweeted from its official account. “Shows @RalphNortham will do anything or say anything to try and be #VAGov — #Pathetic.” After several hours of blowback, the tweet was replaced with a toned down version.

The state GOP is flooding mailboxes this week with literature that says, “NORTHAM WANTS TO TEAR DOWN HISTORY …”

CHANGING ATTITUDES ON IMMIGRATION:

-- Gillespie has been running a commercial that blames Northam for the resurgence of MS-13. As the street gang’s motto “Kill, Rape, Control” flashes across the screen, the ad criticizes Northam for voting against a bill that would have prohibited the establishment of “sanctuary cities” in the state. (There are no sanctuary cities in Virginia.) “Northam’s campaign criticized the ‘blatantly misleading’ ad, comparing it to the racially charged ‘Willie Horton’ attack ad used against Democrat Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race,” Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirrapil reported.

Politically, focusing on illegal immigration may help Gillespie win over Republicans who support Trump and voted for Stewart in the primary. But it’s not the slam dunk it used to be: A 59 percent majority of registered voters say illegal immigration is “not a problem” in their part of Virginia. That’s 24 percent higher than when that question was asked in a statewide poll in 2007. Interestingly, the drop comes across party lines, with less than half of Republican registered voters saying it’s a big problem.

Listen to James's quick summary of today's Big Idea and the headlines you need to know to start your day:
Subscribe to The Daily 202’s Big Idea on
Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Podcasts and other podcast players.
 

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

The Post-Schar School poll was conducted Sept. 28-Oct. 2 among a random sample of 1,121 Virginia adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points among the sample of 1,000 registered voters, and 4.5 points among the sample of 720 likely voters.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Three Army Special Forces soldiers were killed during an ambush in Niger. Alex Horton reports: “The Associated Press reported that two U.S. soldiers also were wounded. … Africa Command did not elaborate on the nature of the patrol or why the unit would come into contact with enemy forces on what are typically training and advising missions there. The AP reported the attack occurred north of the capital Niamey, near the Mali border. The deaths mark the first hostile-fire casualties in Niger. A 3rd Special Forces Group soldier was killed in a vehicle accident there in February. The United States has expanded its operations in Niger in recent years, including surveillance drone flights piloted from Niamey.”

-- The Diamondbacks beat the Rockies 11-8 in the National League wild-card game. Dave Sheinin reports: “The Arizona Diamondbacks surged early, held on late and beat their division rivals, the Colorado Rockies, in front of a frenzied crowd of 48,803 at Chase Field on Wednesday night, winning a delirious, epic National League wild-card game, 11-8, in a shade under four hours. They will open play in the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, another division rival, beginning Friday night at Dodger Stadium.”

-- The Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature for his novel, “The Remains of the Day.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Embattled Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.)  announced that he will not seek reelection, following reports that the vocal antiabortion advocate asked his mistress to terminate her pregnancy. “In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing,” Murphy said in a statement. (Mary Hui and Mike DeBonis)
  2. A federal judge upheld Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, dismissing a criminal case against the former Arizona sheriff even as she left uncertain — for now — whether his conviction for improperly detaining undocumented immigrants and other orders in the case will be vacated. (Matt Zapotosky)
  3. Prosecutors in the trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have decided not to call on former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as a witness, despite his attendance at a key meeting. Reid has publicly praised Menendez as an “outstanding senator,” even after being involved in the investigation, suggesting his potential unreliability on the witness stand. (Devlin Barrett)
  4. Spain’s high court launched a sedition probe against Catalonia officials, just hours after the Spanish king appeared on television to denounce breakaway forces as acting “outside democracy” by holding a referendum. (William Booth)
  5. Amazon was ordered to pay nearly $300 million in back taxes to Luxembourg. The European Union concluded that the company benefited from an illegal tax arrangement starting in 2003. (Abha Bhattarai)
  6. Former surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy said there is a rising “loneliness epidemic” in the United States. In an essay for the Harvard Business Review, Murthy describes loneliness as a public health crisis capable of shortening one’s life — and said the issue is heavily affected by the American workplace. (Jena McGregor)
  7. Mexico’s largest university is hosting a conference on feminism. Ironically, the panels, which discuss thoughtful topics such as economics and law, consist of only male speakers. (Amanda Erickson)
  8. Archaeologists in Turkey believe they have uncovered the burial place of Saint Nicholas. Experts say they will begin excavation work at an intact temple and burial grounds in the province of Antalya, which is also the birthplace of the famed 4th-century saint. (The Guardian)

AFTER VEGAS MASSACRE, A STRUGGLE TO FIND ANSWERS:

-- The girlfriend of Stephen Paddock said Wednesday she had no warning about his plans to carry out the attack and pledged to cooperate with investigators who are struggling to determine a possible motive. “I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man,” Marilou Danley said in a statement. “He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen. … I am devastated by the deaths and injuries that have occurred and my prayers go out to the victims and their families and all those who have been hurt by these awful events,” she added.  

 “Danley’s comments came after she had become a key figure in the [investigation],” Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky report. Danley said Wednesday she traveled to the Philippines (where she was when the attack occurred) because Paddock bought her a ticket to visit family there. While she was there, Paddock wired her $100,000, which he said was to help her family purchase a home. “I was grateful, but honestly, I was worried, that [it] … was a way of breaking up with me,” she said. “It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone.”

“Federal agents — who are assisting the Las Vegas police in the investigation — have essentially two critical questions for Danley,” our colleagues write. “Did she have any idea what motivated him, and did she have any knowledge of what was about to take place and not alert authorities? That was deemed to be the case with Noor Salman, the wife of the Orlando gunman … [who was later] arrested and charged with aiding and abetting terrorism[.]” Currently, there are no immediate or obvious indications that Danley is in a similar position, though she is considered a “critical witness.”

-- Casinos appear to have played a large role in Paddock’s life — and an even larger one in his final act of violence. Kevin Sullivan, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Katie Zezima write: “Dealers, waitresses, security guards, bartenders, drivers and family members said Paddock was a committed gambler who spent much of his time in casinos, playing their slots and video poker games and living in their hotels sometimes for months at a time. A person familiar with Paddock’s gambling history … said Paddock was considered a midrange gambler whose wins and losses were in the tens of thousands of dollars — placing him in the middle tier of VIP programs for loyal gamblers.”

-- TERRIFYING: Paddock used his 32nd-floor hotel room to spray massive aviation fuel tanks with bullets during Sunday night’s massacre, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Jeff German reports. “The bullets left holes, but did not penetrate the two circular white tanks, sparing the nearby Route 91 Harvest country music festival from a potentially massive explosion … The tanks are roughly 1,100 feet from the concert site[.]”

-- ABC News’s Brian Ross says Paddock was described in the months before the shooting as a “man “descending into madness.” “More details are emerging, investigators say, that suggest Paddock’s mental state was deteriorating before the shooting — significant weight loss, an increasingly slovenly physical appearance and an obsession with his girlfriend’s ex-husband.”

-- In June, Paddock was also reportedly prescribed diazepam, an anti-anxiety drug that can lead to aggressive behavior or psychotic experiences. (The Las Vegas Review-Journal)

-- Some survivors were forced to return to the scene of the crime yesterday to collect vehicles and other belongings. Certain parking lots are still blocked off by authorities for possible evidence collection, forcing traumatized concertgoers to wait even longer before resuming their normal routines. For some, the cars themselves bring back painful memories, as the victims attempted to hide in them as the shots rained down. (Lynh Bui)

-- The Post is continuing to update its list of the victims as the final names are released. Here are a few more of their stories:

  • Denise Burditus had traveled to the Route 91 Harvest festival from West Virginia the past two years and had talked to her husband, Tony, about making the trip annually. After she was fatally struck by a bullet, Tony remained by her side as the shots continued. “I just couldn't imagine not being with her at that time,” he said.
  • The country concert was Rocio Guillen Rocha’s first chance to get away from home since her youngest son was born seven weeks ago. When the gunfire started, she ran with her fiance, Christopher Jaksha, but was hit in the thigh. The couple quickly found a police officer, who tied a tourniquet around the wound, but it was too late.
  • Christopher Hazencomb had spent the day with his friends, Nikki and Thomas Torres, and their two young sons, who called him “Uncle Chris.” Shortly after the shooting began, Hazencomb was struck in the head, and Nikki was forced by strangers to leave his side. He died Monday night from his injuries.  

FALLOUT FROM SHOOTING ON THE HILL:

-- On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to ban “bump stocks” and similar devices, which can be purchased online for $200 and make semiautomatic weapons fire more like automatic ones. “The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people,” she said. Feinstein’s  career is “inextricably tied to gun violence,” Ed O'Keefe reports. “On Wednesday, she said that her own personal history with gun violence could have become even worse — her grown daughter had planned to attend the country music festival in Las Vegas with friends but ultimately did not.”

Though Feinstein said she had yet to identify potential Republican co-sponsors, Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) said he would support the measure. “I have no problem banning those,” he told reporters. Others also expressed openness to the measure: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said hearings on the bump stock ban “would make sense.” It’s “worth having a conversation about,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, “and some of our members agree with that.”

-- Others, however, were unmoved. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who last week returned to Congress after a different shooting attack left him on the edge of death, made it clear his views on gun control had not changed. “I think it’s a shame that the day somebody hears about a shooting, the first thing they think about is, how can I go promote my gun-control agenda, as opposed to saying, how do I go pray and help the families that are suffering?” he told Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane in an interview.

-- BAD OPTICS: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a fervent supporter of gun control, sent out a fundraising email to supporters on Tuesday that linked to a list of three gun-control groups — and Murphy’s reelection campaign. (Connecticut Post)

-- Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been rolling back lower-profile gun regulations for months. Beth Reinhard and Sari Horwitz report: “[A] Feb. 28 bill signing, which blocked the Social Security Administration from reporting mentally impaired recipients to a national background-check database, earned just a brief mention at the end of a White House advisory that contained no reference to firearms. … The Army Corps of Engineers has [also] filed notice in a court case that it is reconsidering a ban on carrying firearms on its land; the Justice Department narrowed its definition of fugitives barred from purchasing weapons; and the Interior Department lifted a federal ban on hunting with lead ammunition in national parks.”

-- The massacre on Sunday also highlighted the vulnerabilities facing many sprawling casino hotels. Most are designed with high-rolling customers in mind, prioritizing luxury and openness — but not necessarily security, critics say. “Short of installing metal detectors at all the many entrances, or individually searching arriving bags,” the New York Times reports. “[It] may be nearly impossible to prevent visitors from carrying weapons into facilities like the Mandalay Bay, security experts say.”

-- Trump traveled to Las Vegas on Wednesday and declared the gunman to be a “sick” and “very demented person.” Jenna Johnson and Ashley Parker report: “’It's a very sick man. He was a very demented person,’ Trump told reporters as he left the University Medical Center[.] Throughout his four-hour visit … Trump repeatedly praised police, first responders and average Americans who quickly worked to save the lives of others on Sunday. ‘In the depths of horror, we will always find hope in the men and women who risk their lives for ours,’ Trump said … ‘The mass murder that took place on Sunday night fills America's heart with grief. America is truly a nation in mourning.’ When a reporter asked the president about gun violence, he responded: 'We're not going to talk about that today.’”

“Trump also visited the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, where he gave a brief speech and met with law enforcement officers and other first responders who were called into action on Sunday night. ‘I was a fan before this — you know that, everyone in this room knows that, a big fan before this. And, I guess, if you can be more of a fan, I guess I'm even more of a fan now,’” he said.

MORE DRAMA IN TRUMPWORLD:

-- Rex Tillerson insisted Wednesday that he would not step down as secretary of state, pushing back against reports that he was considering resigning from his post. Anne Gearan and Carol Morello report: “'I have never considered leaving this post,’ Tillerson said at an extraordinary and hastily called news conference . . . Tillerson did not directly respond to an NBC News report earlier Wednesday that he had referred to [Trump] as a ‘moron.’ ‘I’m not going to deal with petty points like that,’ Tillerson said, adding that he does not understand what he called a Washington impulse to ‘sow dissension …’ He called Trump ‘smart’ and committed to American security and the accountability of those around him.”

  • A spokeswoman for Tillerson said that he and Trump spoke by phone Wednesday. “They are all good,” she said, adding that Tillerson “never considered resigning from his post.” She also denied that Tillerson ever called Trump a “moron,” saying the secretary “does not use that type of language.”
  • Trump also responded quickly on Twitter, writing that the NBC story “has just been totally refuted” by Tillerson and Vice President Pence. “It is #FakeNews,” he added. In Las Vegas, after visiting a hospital, Trump told reporters he has “total confidence in Rex.”

-- BUT, BUT, BUT: Tillerson’s pledge of fealty to Trump may be too little too late to repair their fractured relationship, report Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, who spoke to 19 current and former senior administration officials. “The already tense relationship between the two headstrong men … has ruptured into what some White House officials call an irreparable breach that will inevitably lead to Tillerson’s departure, whether immediately or not. For months now, Trump has been piqued by rumors of disloyalty that have filtered up to him from Foggy Bottom. In private meetings, the president has … been irked by Tillerson’s arguments for a more traditional approach on policies, from Iran to climate change to North Korea, and his visible frustration when overruled. Trump has chafed at what he sees as arrogance on the part of an employee. And as Tillerson has traveled the globe, Trump believes his top diplomat often seems more concerned with what the world thinks of the United States than with tending to the president’s personal image. Meanwhile, Tillerson — who ran the world’s largest corporation with near-dictatorial control — has struggled to submit to the whims and wishes of a boss who governs by impulse.”

-- Retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) did not mince words when asked on Wednesday about the tumult in Trump’s administration — suggesting that things would be “chaos,” save from the influence of Tillerson and a few others. “I think Secretary Tillerson, [Jim] Mattis and [John] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much,” Corker said. “He, from my perspective, is in an incredibly frustrating place … [and] ends up not being supported in a way that I would hope a secretary of state would be supported,” he added.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (AND WOMEN):

-- “How Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., Avoided a Criminal Indictment,” by ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and WNYC's Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz: “In the spring of 2012, [Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr.] found themselves in a precarious legal position. For two years, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been building a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo … An indictment seemed like a real possibility. They believed that Ivanka and Donald, Jr., might have violated the Martin Act, a New York statute that bans any false statement in conjunction with the sale of a security or real estate. Prosecutors also saw potential fraud and larceny charges, applying a legal theory that, by overstating the number of units sold, the Trumps were falsely inflating their value and, in effect, cheating unsuspecting condo buyers.”

-- Earlier this week, both Jared and Ivanka were fined $200 each for missing deadlines to submit financial forms required by government ethics rules. McClatchy DC’s Anita Kumar and Ben Wieder report: “It’s the second time that Kushner has been fined for late filing … In addition, Kushner and [Ivanka Trump] listed vastly different values for some of their joint assets, with some discrepancies of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.”

-- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is seeking information about Kellyanne Conway’s trips with Tom Price on private jets. Lisa Rein reports: “Conway took several trips with Price on charter jets for appearances on the opioid epidemic[.] … In a letter to the White House, [Cummings] asked Conway to provide documentation of all noncommercial flights she has taken, including where they left from and landed, a list of passengers and the full cost of each flight, in addition to her seat. … Cummings asked Conway whether she also plans to reimburse the government for the cost of her seat on any of them.

-- YET ANOTHER ONE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry reportedly took a private plane to Ohio the day before Price resigned last week. (Reuters)

-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is already under investigation for his travel practices, is now catching flak for combining official business trips with political events. Politico’s Ben Lefebvre and Esther Whieldon report: “Republican donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photo with [Zinke] at a fundraiser held during a taxpayer-funded trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands[.] … The nearly two-hour event was one of more than a half-dozen times Zinke has met with big donors or political groups while on department-paid trips[.] … Ethics watchdogs say Zinke is combining politics with his Interior duties so frequently that he risks tripping over the prohibitions against using government resources for partisan activity[.]”

-- Erik Wemple talked to Politico’s Rachana Pradhan and Dan Diamond about how they landed their scoop on Price’s chartered planes: “Then came September. Somehow — via 'reporting,' is all Pradhan would say — Politico knew enough to head over to Dulles International Airport on Sept. 15 in an effort to add some old-world eyewitness work to the project ... Diamond was on his feet, at the terminal, while Pradhan drove a car along the road that hugs the charter-flight area of Dulles. As the flight was approaching landing, Diamond was “counting down” to Pradhan — an air-travel-checking website assisted them with flight information (though for other flights, Diamond said, such sites didn’t help much). The countdown from Diamond signaled to Pradhan when she should drive past the charter-flight location."

-- Interior Department scientist Joel Clement, who was reassigned to an accounting position after making public statements about climate change, resigned yesterday. Darryl Fears reports: “Clement was among dozens of senior executive service personnel who were quickly, and perhaps unlawfully, reassigned in June, but he was the only person who spoke out. Interior’s inspector general is probing the reassignments to determine whether the process was legal. … Clement is now the second reassigned Interior employee known to resign.”

-- A Virginia prosecutor has been asked to look into the questionable ballot that Jeffrey Gerrish, Trump’s deputy U.S. trade representative nominee, cast in November. Gerrish voted in Virginia despite having bought a home in Maryland four months before the election. The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Gerrish’s nomination today, and Democrats are sure to bring up the issue. (John Wagner)

A GOP AT WAR:

-- Roy Moore traveled to Washington on Wednesday for the first time since ousting Republican incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R) in Alabama’s primary. And his trip — which was a surprise to many GOP officials — was certainly not an attempt to reach out to the party leaders who opposed his nomination, Sean Sullivan reports: “Moore didn’t meet with [Mitch McConnell] or stop by the White House to make nice with the forces that tried to defeat him. Instead, he huddled with [Steve Bannon] and spent time in the office of a House Republican from Alabama. The latest skirmish in the escalating war for the soul of the GOP was more than awkward: It was a window into what might be coming for Republicans next year, when hard-right conservatives emboldened by [his victory] … are likely to target still more establishment incumbents. It also has immediate and potentially dire implications for the GOP’s slim working majority in the Senate.”

-- Ex-convict Michael Grimm won the backing of Steve Bannon on Wednesday, as he launches a bid to reclaim his old congressional seat and oust the current Republican incumbent, Dan Donovan. The New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher reports: “From the start, Mr. Grimm has tried to frame his comeback bid around the idea that he would be a stronger ally to President Trump in Congress than Mr. Donovan, a former district attorney who took office in a special election after Mr. Grimm pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud … Andy Surabian, a political strategist who works closely with Mr. Bannon … said, ‘Steve likes the fact that Grimm is a straight-talking, fire-breathing, conservative populist.’ ‘We agreed to cooperate through this campaign,’ [Michael] Caputo said. ‘What exactly that means will unfold in the weeks ahead.’” 

PUERTO RICO DIGS OUT:

-- The White House officially asked Congress for nearly $30 billion in emergency disaster aid on Wednesday. Ed O’Keefe reports: “The funding request includes $12.77 billion for the federal disaster relief fund; nearly $577 million to address wildfires; and a request to raise the federal flood insurance program’s borrowing limit by another $16 billion and dramatically overhaul the program. The emergency funding request comes as the Trump administration is responding to natural disasters in 20 states plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

-- Two Puerto Ricos: the wealthy San Juan suburb that Trump toured on Tuesday did not expose him to the full effects of Hurricane Maria. Arelis R. Hernández and Jenna Johnson report: “If the president had traveled a little deeper into the island, to the communities that sustained some of the heaviest damage, he would have witnessed a very different Puerto Rico. Ten miles southeast of [the wealthy suburb of] Guaynabo is the city of Caguas, nestled in a valley ringed by steep sierras and narrow mountain passes, with homes built densely on the edges of gravity-defying slopes. These hills were stripped naked by Maria’s malicious winds, leaving the trees without leaves and fruit, their bare branches contorted in painful postures. Houses that withstood tropical rain and wind for decades were blown off their foundations and destroyed by toppled vegetation. Twisted metal roofs landed in creeks all over the once-lush region.”

-- Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, who is overseeing the island’s recovery, told Dan Lamothe in a phone interview that the military plans to establish more hospitals and send thousands of additional troops in the days ahead.

-- A1 of the New York Times today, “Hurricane Damage in Puerto Rico Leads to Fears of Drug Shortages Nationwide,” by Katie Thomas and Sheila Kaplan: “Federal officials and major drugmakers are scrambling to prevent national shortages of critical drugs for treating cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as medical devices and supplies, that are manufactured at 80 plants in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. … Its factories make 13 of the world’s top-selling brand-name drugs, from Humira, the rheumatoid arthritis treatment, to Xarelto, a blood thinner used to prevent stroke[.]”

-- Wall Street freaked out after Trump suggested that $75 billion in debt owed by Puerto Rico would have to be wiped out, prompting a walk-back from the White House. Ben White and Colin Wilhelm report: “On Wednesday, the Trump administration indicated it has no current plans to take the unprecedented, politically dangerous and probably illegal step of wiping out the owners of Puerto Rico's bonds[.] … ‘I wouldn’t take it word for word with that,’ OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN. ‘We are not going to deal right now with those fundamental difficulties that Puerto Rico had before the storm.’ Added Mulvaney: ‘Puerto Rico's going to have to figure out how to fix the errors that it’s made for the last generation on its own finances.’

-- A fresh Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey finds that more Americans disapprove Trump’s hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico than approve. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) expressed disapproval of Trump's actions and comments in the wake of the devastating storm, while just 32 percent held positive views of his response.

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday agreed with the intelligence community that Russia sought to influence last year’s election and called for a “more aggressive, whole-of-government approach” for future elections. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Committee Chairman Richard] Burr [R-N.C.] also said that ‘the issue of collusion is still open’ and would not be resolved until the committee’s work was done. He said that a deadline for the committee was the looming start of the 2018 primary season. … Burr and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, said the committee has interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed more than 100,000 documents, many of them from the intelligence community, President Trump’s inner circle and former members of the Obama administration.”

-- On Twitter this morning, Trump suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate American news outlets:

-- Two former CIA directors said yesterday that Russians would have needed assistance to microtarget U.S. voters. Bloomberg News's Chris Strohm reports: “‘It is not intuitively obvious that they could have done this themselves,’ former CIA director Michael Hayden said in an interview . . . Michael Morell, who spent his career at the CIA including a stint as acting director of the agency, said in a separate interview that Russia either needed someone to help give it information on microtargeting or stole the necessary information, such as through hacking. ‘They do not have the analytic capability to do that themselves,’ Morell said.”

-- Robert Mueller’s team has taken over the investigation of a dossier alleging ties between the Trump’s campaign and Russia that was prepared by a former British spy. Reuters’s Mark Hosenball reports: “A report compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele identified Russian businessmen and others whom U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded are Russian intelligence officers or working on behalf of the Russian government. The information on Trump collected by Steele, whom officials say was one of MI6’s most respected Russia hands, was laid out last year in political ‘opposition research’ initially financed by supporters of one of Trump’s Republican primary election opponents.”

THE AGENDA:

-- A bipartisan group of lawmakers is seeking to impose a significant new restraint on law enforcement’s access to data collected by the NSA. Ellen Nakashima reports: “The measure, contained in a bill unveiled Wednesday … is likely to set up a clash with the Trump administration in the coming weeks, with the legal power set to expire at year’s end. The administration wants the bill to be renewed without change — and permanently. The law in question is often referred to as Section 702, a portion of [FISA] amended in 2008. Section 702 ‘is the single most important operational statute that the NSA has,’ [said NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell]. ‘There is no replacement for it.’" The law currently allows the FBI to query the Section 702 database for phone and email records of Americans without a warrant. 

-- Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) unveiled a plan yesterday to reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenders, a goal that is at odds with the attorney general’s “law and order” agenda. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The joint effort … would reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat nonviolent drug offenses and eliminate the ‘three strike’ provision that requires a life sentence." Jeff Sessions successfully stopped similar legislation from reaching the floor last year and is expected to do so again.

-- A Texas judge dealt a blow to Trump’s voter fraud commission this week, ruling that state officials would be violating privacy laws if they handed over voters’ personal information. The ruling places a temporary restraining order on releasing the requested information to the panel. (The Daily Beast)

-- Republican leadership is working to keep GOP lawmakers unified on its tax plan, but disputes continue to arise over which tax deductions will be eliminated. Carolyn Y. Johnson and Kelsey Snell report: “Top tax writers are working to persuade rank-and-file Republicans to set aside their focus on maintaining tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct state and local taxes, and on dramatically expanding the child-care tax credit so that they can set their sights on the greater goal of passing a package that fulfills the GOP promise of cutting taxes for most people. … One message Republicans have been trying to communicate … is that people will gain a much larger standard deduction — but that will mean a loss of individual deductions that are an important benefit for a minority of taxpayers.”

-- But the vulnerable Democrats whom Republicans hoped to woo on tax cuts are not falling for their framework. David Weigel reports: “For a number of reasons — from the president’s flagging popularity to the contents of the tax proposal — Democrats have been cool to the push. There’s nothing like the party division of 2001, when President George W. Bush got 11 members of a 50-member Democratic caucus to back his tax cuts. … [T]he nine-month, partisan attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act has emboldened even moderate Democrats, who now ask whether they can get a better tax bill if a Republican-only one falls apart.”

-- The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is launching a new ad buy today to convince vulnerable Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill, Tammy Baldwin and Joe Donnelly to support the tax plan. The $4.5 million campaign will air on cable and local networks over the next three weeks and call upon the senators to “stop benefiting from a rigged system.” “Senator Baldwin is standing in the way of a simple, fair tax system,” a narrator says.

-- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has decided that he can’t support Trump's tax framework, per USA Today’s Heidi M. Przybyla.

-- During his Senate testimony yesterday, former Equifax CEO Richard Smith attempted to justify a no-bid contract that the company recently received from the IRS to prevent fraud. Renae Merle reports: “Smith responded that he didn’t know the specifics of the contract but that he thought it was for work the company was already doing and that the contract was just being renewed. ‘You realize to many Americans right now that it looks like we’re giving Lindsay Lohan the keys to the mini bar,’ said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).”

-- Smith’s testimony prompted a rare joint news release from Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) criticizing the IRS contract. “Right now, no businesses or consumers in Massachusetts or Nebraska would blindly trust Equifax to protect against fraud or handle sensitive personal information,” they wrote.

-- The IRS justified the contract as a short-term arrangement that would allow taxpayers continued access to past tax returns. Politico’s Nancy Scola and Steven Overly report: “[T]he IRS said Equifax had been contracted by the agency for some time to help verify taxpayers' identities before they access a set of online tools that let people obtain highly sensitive information. That arrangement was due to end when the agency decided earlier this year to sign a contract with an Equifax competitor … but Equifax filed an objection to the move in July. … With the dispute unresolved, the taxpayer verification service was threatening to expire as the end of the fiscal year was approaching last Saturday. That meant the IRS had to choose between shutting down the service that allows Americans to get records of their past tax returns online, or grant Equifax a ‘bridge contract’ until the GAO resolved the protest, [an IRS deputy commissioner] said.”

-- A new report suggests that certain liberal-leaning groups may have been targeted by the IRS during the Obama years, in addition to conservative ones. Mike DeBonis reports: “The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reviewed cases between 2004 and 2013, which includes the period TIGTA previously examined[.] … The new report examines a broader range of criteria used by the IRS. It does not characterize the politics of the groups that were selected for scrutiny, a TIGTA spokeswoman emphasized Wednesday. But many of the 17 criteria the report examined had obvious political overtones — including affiliation with the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), as well as names referencing ‘Progressive,’ ‘Green Energy,’ ‘Medical Marijuana,’ and ‘Occupy.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The president met with Las Vegas victims and their families:

Civil-rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) vowed to persevere on gun control:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote out this somber list:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) responded to the assertion of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) that the U.S. cannot "legislate away evil":

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham criticized Democrats' gun control push:

A Business Insider reporter pointed out that Trump may not have written his "Fake News" tweet:

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) replied to Trump's demand that NBC "issue an apology to AMERICA":

One Republican strategist had this to say about Tillerson's news conference:

The news led to CNN making this unique statement:

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol referenced J.D. Salinger:

And former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) had his own news:

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee offered this graphic to summarize the panel's Russia probe so far:

Jeb Bush called on Trump to show compassion for Puerto Rico:

Obama's former senior adviser gave this advice to Trump after his trip to Vegas yesterday:

And Bill Clinton responded to Nick Kroll and Stephen Colbert's challenge to share awkward old photos to raise money for Puerto Rico:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Guardian, “Too poor to vote: how Alabama’s ‘new poll tax’ bars thousands of people from voting,” by Connor Sheets: “[I]n Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.”

-- The New York Times, “Brian Bowen’s Path to Louisville: A Federal Case Study,” by Marc Tracy and Adam Zagoria: “Bowen stood center stage then in the unusually rarefied world of big-time college basketball. The news media, major sponsors, fans and famous college coaches were covetous — and anxiously waiting to hear what his choice would be. Eight months later, though, everything that seemed expectant about that moment has been redrawn by federal prosecutors as the trappings of a corrupted marketplace.”

-- The Wall Street Journal, “London’s No. 1 Hiding Place: The Bushes Outside the U.S. Embassy,” by Stu Woo: “Officially, the embassy’s security staff recommends the pharmacy’s [storage] service for items that fail security protocol. Unofficially, they tolerate embassy goers’ stashing things in and around the square’s greenery under the gaze of the golden eagle atop the embassy.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“In Wake Of Vegas Tragedy, Lance Bass Slams Gay Blood Donor Ban,” from HuffPost: “Though Lance Bass wanted to help out the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas by donating blood, he faced a frustrating reality.   Unfortunately for the *NSYNC star, the [FDA] prohibits him, along with many other gay and bisexual men, from giving blood. Though the FDA lifted its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual male blood donors in 2015, their revised policy still bars any man who has had sex with another man in the past year from donating. Sexually active gay men who are married or in monogamous relationships remain banned under the policy. These restrictions don’t just reinforce outdated stereotypes … A 2014 [report] found that completely lifting the ban on gay and bisexual male blood donors would save 1.8 million lives each year.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Black Lives Matter Students Shut Down the ACLU's Campus Free Speech Event Because 'Liberalism Is White Supremacy,’” from Reason: “Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement crashed an event at the College of William & Mary, rushed the stage, and prevented the invited guest—the American Civil Liberties Union's Claire Gastañaga, a W & M alum—from speaking. Ironically, Gastañaga had intended to speak on the subject, ‘Students and the First Amendment.’ At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting ‘Good, I like this,’ as they lined up and raised their signs. … It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, ‘ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.’ They also chanted, ‘the oppressed are not impressed,’"

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has meetings today with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. He will later participate in a briefing and dinner with senior military leaders.

Pence will host the first meeting of the National Space Council in Virginia before traveling with the second lady to Florida, where he will receive a briefing on the Puerto Rico recovery and meet with Puerto Rico community members.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

"My source didn't just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron,” MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle said of Tillerson’s comment about the president.

 

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

-- It will be a bit more humid and hot in D.C. today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “The morning should still be quite pleasant but a gradual uptick in humidity and a more notable rise in temperatures make the afternoon a little less comfortable. Clouds scatter across the area early and become more numerous as the afternoon progresses with only the slightest southerly breeze. Highs top out in the low-to-mid 80s.”

-- A new poll shows Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III stands the best chance of Democrats trying to unseat Marlyand Gov. Larry Hogan (R) next year. (Ovetta Wiggins)

-- The Brookings Institution announced that John R. Allen, a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general, would serve as its next leader. 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert insisted that only he could call Trump a moron:

The Post fact-checked whether players can be fired for protesting:

Canada removed a Holocaust memorial plaque that did not mention Jewish people: