With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

RICHMOND — George W. Bush has stayed out of the political fray for nine years now, and Barack Obama has kept his head down for the past nine months. On Thursday, both former presidents used major speeches to repudiate President Trump’s brand of politics and approach to the world.

Neither mentioned Trump by name. They didn’t need to. Instead, they preached patriotic sermons that appealed to America’s better angels.

Obama appeared here last night for his first campaign rally since leaving office, stumping for Democrat Ralph Northam ahead of next month’s Virginia governor’s race.

“You’ll notice I haven’t been commenting on politics a lot lately, but here’s one thing I know: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern. You won’t be able to unite them later if that’s how you start,” he told 7,500 people at the Richmond convention center. “We’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.”

At a George W. Bush Institute event in New York earlier in the day, the former Republican president lamented that discontent has deepened and partisan conflict has sharpened. “Bigotry seems emboldened,” Bush said. “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism — forgetting the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” the 43rd president added. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments — forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge. In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity.”

-- Bush spoke for 15 minutes; Obama spoke for 34. Their speeches are especially potent when read together as a bipartisan rebuke of the man who sits in the Oval Office they occupied, together, for the past 16 years. Trump relentlessly attacked Bush during last year’s GOP primaries — blaming him for the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War — and a principal goal of his presidency thus far has been eviscerating Obama’s legacy wherever possible, from health care to the environment and foreign policy.

Bush, who declined to vote for Trump last November, has alluded to many of these points before but never gone as far — at least in public — as he did yesterday. Obama, likewise, has mostly confided his criticism of Trump to tweets or statements sent by spokespeople.

-- Notably, both men chose the word “CRUEL” to describe the state of our politics.

Obama: “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are!”

Bush: “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

-- Each nodded to the violence in Charlottesville this summer.

Bush: “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

Obama: “We saw what happened in Charlottesville. But we also saw what happened after Charlottesville, when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and hate.”

-- Both drew a line back to the country’s founding and discussed the lessons they take from the Civil War.

Obama spoke to a heavily African American audience in what was once the capital of the Confederacy, near a street still lined with monuments to Confederate generals, a few blocks from the Museum of the Confederacy and not far from the Confederate White House — where Jefferson Davis lived when he was the president of the states in rebellion. Last night, though, the streets of downtown were packed with winding lines of people trying to get a glimpse of our first black president.

“We’re all flawed, but we still try to presume some baseline measure of goodness and decency and patriotism. We look for the good in people, not the worst,” Obama told the crowd. “My father was from Kenya … but … my mother, you trace her lineage and I’m an eighth or ninth or tenth or something cousin removed from Jefferson Davis … I’ll bet he’s spinning in his grave!”

Bush alluded to the conflict as a reason not to lose patience with fledgling democracies across the globe that have seen setbacks and retrenchments in recent years. He warned his audience to not underestimate the historical obstacles to the development of democratic institutions and a democratic culture. “Such problems nearly destroyed our country — and that should encourage a spirit of humility and a patience with others,” he said.

-- Both presidents invoked Thomas Jefferson to make the case that America can do better:

“Our identity as a nation — unlike many other nations — is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood,” Bush said. “Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence.”

“We claim all of our history: the good and the bad,” Obama said. “We can acknowledge the fact that Thomas Jefferson … owned and sold slaves, while also acknowledging that he wrote the words, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …’ We can recognize that, even if our past is not perfect, we can still honor the constitutional ideals that have allowed us to come this far and to keep moving toward a more perfect union.”

-- In the Virginia governor’s race, Bush and Obama are on opposite sides. On Monday, W. headlined two big fundraisers in Virginia for Ed Gillespie, who was a senior adviser in his White House and chairman of the Republican National Committee during his presidency.

To galvanize Trump voters who didn’t support him in the Republican primary, Gillespie has been running TV ads defending Confederate statues and trying to link his opponent to MS-13 gang violence.

Obama, who said he’s seen these commercials while watching television at his new home in Washington, said the attacks are as “cynical as they get.” “What he’s really trying to deliver is fear,” Obama said. “If you scare enough voters, you might score just enough votes to win an election. That’s what makes this … damaging to our democracy.”

He tried last night to recapture some of the themes of unity that animated his 2008 campaign, allowing him to become the first Democrat to carry Virginia since 1964. “At a time when our politics just seem so divided and so angry and so nasty, it’s whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together,” Obama said. “Yes, we can,” the crowd chanted.

-- For his part, Bush embraced the recommendations from a “Call to Action” report that he commissioned earlier in the year. His four ideas:

1. “Our country must show resolve and resilience in the face of external attacks on our democracy. And that begins with confronting a new era of cyber threats. America is experiencing the sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country’s divisions. According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy. … We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.”

2. Maintain America’s role in sustaining and defending an international order rooted in freedom and free markets: “Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement. … We should not be blind to the economic and social dislocations caused by globalization. People are hurting. They are angry. And, they are frustrated. We must hear them and help them. But we can’t wish globalization away, any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. One strength of free societies is their ability to adapt to economic and social disruptions.”

3. Strengthen democratic citizenship: “We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

4. The major institutions of the country, public and private, must address the problem of declining trust: “For example, our democracy needs a media that is transparent, accurate and fair. Our democracy needs religious institutions that demonstrate integrity and champion civil discourse. Our democracy needs institutions of higher learning that are examples of truth and free expression.”

-- Both former presidents closed their speeches by making the case against losing faith in democracy.

Bush called self-correction “the secret strength of freedom”: “It is the great advantage of free societies that we creatively adapt to challenges, without the direction of some central authority. … We are a nation with a history of resilience and a genius for renewal. The American spirit does not say, ‘We shall manage,’ or ‘We shall make the best of it.’ It says, ‘We shall overcome.’ And that is exactly what we will do, with the help of God and one another.”

Obama said that America “zigs and zags,” and that setbacks have often followed progress. “That’s what our founders, for all their flaws, understood,” he said. “Our fate is in our own hands. That was the radical idea of America. That we decide our direction. Not some king. Not some despot. But us: the citizens. Our progress does not always go in a straight line. Sometimes we take two steps forward, and we might take a step back. (The founders) understood that too. But the idea of America is not about going backward. It’s about pushing forward.”

Raising the stakes dramatically in what has been a sleepy gubernatorial contest, Obama sought to frame the Virginia election in 18 days as a referendum on the direction of the country. “We need you to take this seriously because our democracy is at stake, and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” he said. “You can’t sit this one out. … You are going to send a message all across this great country and all around the world of just what it is that America stands for.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Paul Ryan roasted Donald Trump last night at the annual Al Smith charity dinner. “’Enough with the applause,’ he told the annual white-tie gathering of New York’s political and Roman Catholic elite, which raises money for needy children. ‘You sound like the cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room.’” Two other jokes, via the New York Times:

  • “The truth is the press misunderstands and never records the big accomplishments of the White House,” Ryan said. “Look at all the jobs that the president has created. Just among the White House staff!”
  • “Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn’t see later on.”

-- The Republican budget passed the Senate 51 to 49 late last night, clearing the way for the GOP to tackle a tax code rewrite without Democratic support. Elise Viebeck reports: “Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who believes the budget ought to reduce the deficit, was the only Republican to vote against it. The budget opens the door to expanding the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. … Approval of the budget is expected to help shore up ties between Senate GOP leaders and President Trump[.] … The Senate approved an amendment Thursday night that paved the way for the House to adopt its version of the budget. This could eliminate the need for a conference committee, which might expedite consideration of tax reform by several weeks[.] … The vote came after just over six hours of amendment votes in which Democrats sought to call attention to controversial aspects of the GOP tax plan.”

-- One of the Democratic amendments, proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), would have blocked a plan to raise revenue by drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Juliet Eilperin reports: “It failed 48 to 52 on a largely party-line vote, with only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) breaking ranks. Collins voted in favor of Cantwell’s amendment, while Manchin opposed it. The vote … represented a victory for the GOP and a defeat for environmentalists.”

-- Now, on to taxes, but: Almost no one has actually seen the tax plan that Republicans now consider their top priority. The New York Times’s Jim Tankersley reports: “Congressional staff members have not settled on many key details. Yet party leaders are preparing to move ahead on a timeline even more aggressive than their unsuccessful attempts to repeal and replace the [ACA]. … The speed is striking — and strategic — for tax legislation that lobbyists believe could span 1,000 pages. Republicans hope the breakneck pace will help hold their narrow Senate majority together against what will almost certainly be a deluge of lobbying and Democratic criticism.”

-- Trump will address the tax overhaul when he attends the Senate Republican weekly luncheon next week. The lunch will mark Trump’s first visit to the Capitol to meet with Senate Republicans. (Paul Kane)

-- The president praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for taking the first step toward a tax package:

-- The Dodgers are headed to the World Series for the first time since 1988 after winning the NLCS last night. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 11-1 at Wrigley Field to secure the pennant. Barry Svrluga reports: “The Dodgers’ victory finished off the National League Championship Series in five games, dethroned the defending champions, reinforced Los Angeles as the best team in baseball over the entirety of the season — and won the Dodgers their first pennant since [pitcher Clayton] Kershaw was in diapers.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid to clear his criminal record was denied. U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton wrote in her decision that Trump’s August pardon of Arpaio ruled out any punishment against the former sheriff, but it did not extend to “judicial recordkeeping.” (Kyle Swenson)
  2. A federal appeals court temporarily blocked an undocumented teenager from obtaining an abortion on Thursday, saying it will review a judge’s order that allowed her to move forward with the procedure. The appeals court said the teen may go to an abortion clinic Thursday for pre-abortion counseling, which is mandated in Texas, but cannot proceed further until it rules on the case. (Maria Sacchetti and Ann E. Marimow)
  3. Trump administration officials are scrambling to produce an emergency declaration for the opioid epidemic. They were blindsided when the president said Monday that they would have a plan ready by next week. (Politico)
  4. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will not attend the Women’s Convention, instead choosing to visit hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Sanders’s selection as a key speaker at the event sparked backlash from some feminists. (Vanessa Williams)
  5. Pollution around the globe now contributes to roughly 9 million deaths each year, according to an in-depth new study. If accurate, that means pollution is responsible for three times as many deaths annually than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. (Brady Dennis)
  6. A new study found that states with less restrictive concealed carry laws experience higher rates of gun deaths. In 2015, Louisiana (with more relaxed gun laws) had a firearm homicide rate of 9.96 per 100,000 residents, while the more stringent Hawaii had a rate of 0.75 per 100,000 residents. (Katie Zezima)
  7. A D.C. man admitted Thursday to the fatal July 4 stabbing of an American University alumnus, who was slain in 2015 on a crowded metro train, prompting intense public debate about the “bystander effect.” As part of a plea agreement, the assailant will spend 30 to 35 years in prison. (Keith L. Alexander)
  8. Emory University released excerpts of letters that Barack Obama wrote to a romantic partner over two years in the 1980s. In the letters, a younger Obama struggles with what to do professionally and how to understand his mixed-race background. (Eli Rosenberg)

COMFORTER IN CHIEF:

-- John Kelly defended Trump’s call to a Gold Star widow on Thursday, lending his credibility as both a retired four-star general and a father whose son died in combat. Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and John Wagner report: “Kelly told reporters in the White House briefing room that he counseled Trump on what to say to families of those killed on the battlefield. Kelly confirmed Trump’s claim that [Obama] had not called his family when his son [was killed in combat, but] said he did not fault the former president for that choice. Kelly added that he had recommended to Trump that he not make such calls. ‘I said to him, “Sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families,"' Kelly said.” He also said he was “stunned” by [Rep. Frederica] Wilson’s criticism of Trump’s call with the widow, calling her remarks “selfish” and “shocking.” The congresswoman spoke “in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise,” Kelly said.

“Kelly’s voice grew thin at points during an extraordinary and emotional briefing called as questions about Trump’s handling of the Niger deaths and other [military losses],” our colleagues write. “Kelly did not bring up — nor was he asked — how he felt about Trump thrusting his son’s death into the political debate this week.”

-- “John Kelly’s trying to keep his job,” [Rep.] Wilson said in response to the chief of staff’s appearance. “He will say anything. There were other people who heard what I heard.” (Politico)

-- Wilson also claimed that the story Kelly shared from 2015 about the congresswoman was nonfactual and “crazy.” Alex Daugherty, Anita Kumar and Douglas Hanks report for Miami Herald: “Kelly criticized [Wilson] for claiming ‘she got the money’ for [a new FBI] building during the 2015 ceremony while he and others in the audience were focused on the heroism of agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami. Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony. ‘He shouldn't be able to just say that, that is terrible,’ Wilson said of Kelly’s remarks[.] … ‘This has become totally personal.’”

 

This morning on CNN, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “lied” about her. “He can't just go on TV and lie on me,” she said. “How dare he.” She also said that the “empty barrel” term seemed “racist” to her.

-- Wilson referred to the ambush in Niger as “Mr. Trump’s Benghazi” and called on Congress to investigate the matter. (Politico)

Meanwhile, Trump continued to criticize Wilson on Twitter last night:

(Derek Hawkins notes that Wilson has “a long track record of taking on her constituents’ tragedies as her own” and that Sgt. Johnson graduated from a mentoring program that Wilson founded, helping to explain why she was present when Trump called Johnson's widow.)

-- Another Gold Star widow, Natasha De Alencar — whose husband, Mark R. De Alencar, was killed in Afghanistan in April — recalled a nice phone call with Trump. Thomas Johnson reports: “Trump opened by saying how sorry he is about the ‘whole situation,’ before adding that De Alencar’s husband was ‘an unbelievable hero.’ ‘At that moment when my world was upside down and me and my kids didn’t know which way we were going, it felt like I was talking to just another regular human,’ De Alencar said. … The conversation then shifted to De Alencar’s four other children. Trump asked her to say hello to them for him and to ‘tell them their father was a great hero that I respected.’ … ‘It was a moment of niceness that we needed because we were going through hell,’ De Alencar said.”

-- Meanwhile, Jim Mattis said the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. troops who were advising local anti-terror units was “considered unlikely,” and is under investigation by the Pentagon. Politico’s Connor O’Brien reports: “Mattis' remarks come as the White House and Pentagon are taking heat from Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain, who threatened early Thursday to issue subpoenas, if necessary, to get more information on the Oct. 4 incident, blamed on militants allied with [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria. McCain has slammed the Trump administration for not being forthcoming with Congress about the ambush. When asked again Thursday if the administration is sharing enough, he responded, ‘Of course not.’ ‘It may require a subpoena, but I did have a good conversation with Gen. McMaster, and they said that they would be briefing us,’ McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill[.] ‘We have a long friendship, and we'll hopefully get all the details.'”

-- Mattis also defended the other U.S. troops in Niger, who face questions over why it took two days to locate Sgt. Johnson’s remains. “The U.S. military does not leave its troops behind, and I would just ask you not to question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and whether they did everything they could in order bring everyone out at once,” Mattis said at the Pentagon. (Dan Lamothe)

-- The FBI has now joined the Pentagon’s investigation into the ambush. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling and Julian E. Barnes report: “Bringing the bureau into the probe of a military operation gone awry isn’t unprecedented, FBI officials said. The FBI has the authority to take over the investigation but hasn’t yet done so, the officials said. FBI investigators are helping gather and evaluate evidence about the militants considered responsible for the ambush and how members of the group learned of the joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol.”

-- Trump said Thursday that his administration deserves “a 10” for its handling of hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where 80 percent of residents remain without power, one-third lack access to clean drinking water, and thousands are hunkered down in shelters. “We have provided so much so fast,” he said, speaking nearly a month after the storm.

Trump’s comments came during a news conference with Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, where he argued the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria “was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen.” “It went right through the middle of the island, right through the middle of Puerto Rico,” Trump said.

John Wagner and Anne Gearan report: “Rosselló declined to give a numerical grade but said the White House thus far had answered ‘all of our petitions’ in Puerto Rico[.] But Rosselló said the island still needs more resources, adding that that was the reason he had come to Washington to meet with Trump.” “The reality is we still need to do a lot more,” Rosselló said, asking that the U.S. government to “treat us equally.” 

-- A REMINDER: During his visit to Puerto Rico earlier this month, Trump said the hurricane-ravaged island should be “proud” since it hadn’t suffered “a real catastrophe like Katrina.” Last week, he noted in a tweet that Washington “cannot keep aiding” the U.S. territory “forever!” 

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- CIA Director Mike Pompeo falsely claimed Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia did not affect the outcome of the election – a statement that distorted the findings of intelligence agencies and prompted criticism that he was politicizing the agency. Greg Miller reports: “His comment suggested, falsely, that a report released by U.S. intelligence agencies in January had ruled out any impact that could be attributed to a covert Russian interference campaign … [The report, compiled] by the CIA and other agencies … concluded that Moscow’s aims were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process and help elect [Trump]. But the report reached no conclusions about whether that interference had altered the outcome ...”

Former U.S. intelligence officials voiced concern over Pompeo’s remarks: “’This is another example of Pompeo politicizing intelligence,’ a former senior U.S. intelligence official said. Pompeo ‘is the most political CIA director since Bill Casey’ during the Reagan administration, the former official said. ‘This significantly undermines the intelligence community’s credibility.’”

-- Trump has personally interviewed at least two U.S. attorney candidates in New York — a move that critics say raises questions about their independence should either be confirmed for the role. Politico’s Seung Min Kim and John Bresnahan report: “Trump has interviewed Geoffrey Berman, who is currently at the law firm Greenburg Traurig for the job of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ed McNally of the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres for the Eastern District post[.] It was unclear when the discussions took place. The Southern District of New York is an especially notable position since it has jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney there, has asserted he was conducting an investigation into the Trump administration when Trump fired him along with all other U.S. attorneys — as is standard when an administration switches — earlier this year. ‘It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan,’ Bharara tweeted Wednesday.”

-- Trump suggested Thursday that the FBI may have “paid for” an explosive dossier alleging ties between his campaign and the Kremlin. “Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?” he tweeted. 

The dossier was produced last year by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, Anne Gearan and Devlin Barrett report. “Officials have said the FBI has confirmed some of the information, rejected other parts, and caution that it may be impossible to verify or disprove the rest. [The Post has] reported that the FBI agreed in October 2016 to pay [Steele] for further work that might help its own investigation into Russian election activities … [but] as the allegations contained in the dossier began appearing in [news stories], Steele became a publicly known figure and the FBI did not pursue further work from him.”

-- GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, want to know more about its relationship with Steele. “It is not uncommon for the FBI to pay sources of information, and Steele was well known to the FBI. Previously, Steele had helped the FBI put together a sprawling global bribery case involving [FIFA].”

-- The Russian television network RT has failed to comply with the U.S. government's request to register as a foreign agent, bucking an Oct. 17 deadline. CNNMoney’s Hadas Gold reports: "’Our legal team has been doing everything possible for RT to avoid having to register under FARA and the dialogue is ongoing,’ [RT spokeswoman Anna Belkina said in a statement]. … FARA was [created to] prevent foreign propaganda swaying the American public. Companies or individuals considered to be working on behalf of a foreign government in the United States are required to disclose their funding and relationship with a foreign government or actor with the DOJ, which then publishes the information online.” 

-- On Thursday, Vladimir Putin warned of “immediate retaliation” if the U.S. forced RT and Sputnik, another state-owned news agency, to register as foreign agents. “The Russian news media has reported that the upper house of the Russian parliament has drawn up a blacklist of at least five U.S. media outlets whose activities in Russia could be restricted in response,” David Filipov writes. “As soon as we see any efforts to limit our mass media, we will reciprocate immediately,” Putin said. 

Then there's this from NBC's intelligence and national security reporter:

THE SURVEILLANCE STATE:

-- The Senate Intelligence Committee is planning to secretly debate a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of FISA – a powerful spy tool that allows the FBI to search and use the communications of Americans in national security and criminal prosecutions. It is currently slated to expire at the end of this year. Ellen Nakashima reports: “The bill, drafted by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), would enshrine the FBI’s right to use emails and other data collected from U.S. tech companies without individualized warrants in cases related to terrorism, espionage and serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping. Burr’s bill would also enable the [NSA] to restart a controversial form of email collection if a federal surveillance court agrees and Congress does not block the move within 30 days …

“[Section 702] has been called the ‘single most important operational statute’ the NSA has … because of the rich intelligence it yields without the government having to obtain an individualized warrant. But the law has prompted significant concerns from civil liberties advocates, [who] object to the fact that the communications of Americans who might be emailing with or talking to a foreign target are being gathered and potentially searched without a warrant, in what they contend is a violation of the Constitution.”

HEALTH-CARE MOVEMENT?:

-- The Senate may have the 60 votes necessary to pass a compromise measure to restore subsidies for low-income Americans to get coverage. Juliet Eilperin and Sean Sullivan report: “Even as [bill sponsors Sens. Lamar] Alexander [R-Tenn.] and [Patty] Murray [D-Wash.] announced their sponsors . . . a top Republican argued that the plan had to undergo changes and win the clear support of Trump before it could succeed. ‘It takes the president’s support, would be the first thing it would take,’ said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.). … The president told reporters Thursday that although he prefers providing federal health funding in a block grant to states, he is open to a different approach for a finite period.” The proposal has also secured the support of many health groups and a bipartisan coalition of 10 governors.

-- Even if Alexander-Murray passes the Senate, it could face difficulty in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said the GOP “should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare.” (Politico)

-- Meanwhile, insurers worry that the resulting confusion over CSRs could stifle sign-ups on the ACA exchanges. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports: “Insurers are more immediately worried about consumer confusion stemming from the debate over halting the CSRs, especially given the administration’s recent cuts to outreach and advertising ... But they’re still trying to attract customers."

BANNON'S WAR:

-- Trump phoned three Republican senators this week to offer support for their 2018 reelection bids — aligning with GOP incumbents who have drawn the ire of Steve Bannon. Politico’s Josh Dawsey and Burgess Everett report: “Trump dialed GOP Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi … [and] promised to help the three senators against any insurgent challengers, one of these people said, and said he hoped they would be reelected. The calls are expected to eventually be followed by formal endorsements, GOP senators said. Bannon has criticized both Fischer and Barrasso and has told people he would like state Sen. Chris McDaniel to beat Wicker. Republicans hope to avoid spending money protecting incumbents in primaries and instead focus on defeating the 10 Senate Democrats representing states Trump won.”

-- Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) officially announced his retirement yesterday, representing the departure of another Ryan critical ally. Robert Costa writes: “Tiberi’s decision underscores the mounting challenge facing [Ryan] in retaining veteran Republican lawmakers, many of whom have grown weary of the tumult and stumbles that have come to define the Trump era on Capitol Hill.” Tiberi added in his statement, “While I have not yet determined a final resignation date, I will be leaving Congress by January 31, 2018.” 

-- Meanwhile, Roy Moore is on the rise in Alabama — and his ascent threatens to deliver a major blow to the heart of a Republican Party already deeply in the throes of identity crisis. Nash Jenkins and Philip Elliott have a profile in Time Magazine: “[While] several conservative rabble-rousers have joined the Senate in recent years … there is nobody in Washington quite like [Roy] Moore: a judge who recites anti-abortion poetry, rejects the theory of evolution, doesn't think Muslims should be allowed to serve in Congress [and] fought to keep antiquated wording in the Alabama constitution requiring school segregation[.] … His first priority in the Senate, he says, will be to fight to impeach the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in 2015 to give same-sex couples the right to wed from coast to coast . . . The same uprising that carried [Trump] into the White House looks poised to deliver an even more disruptive figure, one the party cannot control.”

-- The kickoff to the DNC’s annual meeting was overshadowed by the announcement that Chair Tom Perez had ousted several backers of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) from party committees. David Weigel and Ed O'Keefe report: “[A] meeting that Democrats hoped would close the door on the bitter 2016 primary produced yet another activists-vs.-establishment fight. … On the left, the DNC had been viewed cynically for years, with angst peaking during the 2016 campaign. … Some DNC members, weary of the 2016 feud, said that some backbiting was inevitable. Perez, who had not held any role in the DNC before being urged to run last year by some Democratic leaders, had made hard calls that his still-fresh relationships were not making easier.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

--Speaking in Sochi on Thursday, Putin declined to say whether he will seek reelection in March, choosing instead to use a highly anticipated speech to tick off a list of grievances against the United States. David Filipov reports: “He asserted that Washington had failed to fulfill the terms of nuclear and chemical weapons treaties. He repeated his long-standing accusations that U.S. leaders have displayed double standards with their interventions in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia while slapping Moscow with sanctions over its annexation of Crimea. Instead of helping create a safer world after the Cold War, Putin said, the United States is ‘trying to return us to the 1950s.’ [Russians] had expected Putin to announce his candidacy on Thursday, but [spokesman Dmitry Peskov] told reporters … that the Russian leader planned to concentrate on his current term.”

  • Currently, Putin enjoys a seemingly unbeatable 80 percent approval rating in the country — but critics point to two major anti-corruption protests — which have each drawn larger numbers of protesters nationwide than at any time since Putin’s 2012 election — as evidence that support for the Russian strongman has waned. 

-- The mountain hosting North Korea’s nuclear tests may not be able to take any more blasts. Anna Fifield reports: “Some analysts now see signs that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bombs, is suffering from ‘tired mountain syndrome.’ The mountain visibly shifted during the last nuclear test, an enormous detonation that was recorded as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in North Korea’s northeast. Since then, the area, which is not known for natural seismic activity, has had three more quakes.”

-- Despite the recent victory of U.S. forces in Raqqa, pro-Assad forces continue to gain ground in other parts of Syria. Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly report: “Rapid advances by Russian- and Iranian-backed government forces in eastern Syria are thwarting the U.S. military’s hopes of pressing deeper into Islamic State territory[.] … The recent government gains have cut off the approach of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to remaining militant strongholds in the southeastern part of the country, including the crucial town of Bukamal near the Syria-Iraq border. Aided by Russian airstrikes, … government forces have encircled and claimed control of another location that had been on the wish list of U.S. military planners — the town of Mayadeen, where many senior Islamic State leaders are thought to have been hiding.”

-- Years before U.S. diplomats were targeted by a bizarre string of attacks in Cuba, a U.S. tourist believes he may have also been hit. The AP’s Josh Lederman reports: “The tourist from South Carolina had cut short his trip to Cuba two years earlier after numbness spread through all four of his limbs within minutes of climbing into bed at the same hotel where American government workers were later targeted. Those weren’t the only parallels. … He stayed on the 14th floor of the same Havana hotel where U.S. government workers have been attacked, including on an upper floor. He described sudden-onset symptoms that began in his hotel bed, but disappeared in other parts of the room — similar to accounts given by U.S. government workers who described attacks narrowly confined [and also] spoke of being hit at night, in bed. … Convinced the incidents must be related, Allen joined a growing list of private U.S. citizens asking the same alarming but unanswerable question: Were we victims, too?”

THE “CULTURE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT” SPREADS FAR BEYOND HOLLYWOOD:

-- The LAPD is investigating Harvey Weinstein over new allegations that he sexually assaulted an Italian actress in 2013, making her the sixth woman to accuse him of rape or forcible sex acts. Experts say the new allegation could be “legally troubling” for Weinstein because it falls within a 10-year statute of limitations for the crime. (LA Times)

-- Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o came out with her own harassment allegations against Weinstein in a New York Times op-ed: “Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead[.] … I began to massage his back to buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation. Before long he said he wanted to take off his pants. I told him not to do that and informed him that it would make me extremely uncomfortable. He got up anyway to do so and I headed for the door[.] . . . Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. . . . I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”

-- Director Quentin Tarantino acknowledged in an interview that he knew of Weinstein’s predatory behavior for decades. “I knew enough to do more than I did,” Tarantino said. “There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things. … I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard. If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.” (The New York Times’s Jodi Kantor)

-- The Weinstein fallout has now spread to the sports world, particularly after Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney accused the U.S. team doctor of years of molestation. The New York Times's Juliet Macur writes: “There was the time when I covered Nascar in the 1990s and was cornered by a top driver in the back of his trailer while trying to conduct an interview. As the cars roared around the racetrack, he blocked the door and said he wouldn’t let me leave unless I kissed him. The team’s publicist saved me by knocking on the door. Or the time when another driver kept putting his hand on my leg as I sat next to him during a group interview."

-- The Army is grappling with a resurgence of cases in which troops trained to prevent rape and sexual assault are being accused of those very crimes, Craig Whitlock reports. “In the most recent case, an Army prosecutor in charge of sexual assault investigations in the Southwest was charged by the military last month with putting a knife to the throat of a lawyer he had been dating and raping her on two occasions … Additionally, a soldier at Fort Sill, Okla., who was certified as a sexual-assault-prevention officer was convicted at a court-martial in May of five counts of raping a preteen girl. Army officials confirmed to The Post that eight other soldiers and civilians trained to deter sex offenses or help victims have been investigated over the past year in connection with sexual assault.”

-- A top labor executive was suspended this week following complaints from staffers about his conduct toward women, Buzzfeed’s Cora Lewis reports: “The Service Employees International Union suspended Executive Vice President Scott Courtney [who led the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign] after ‘questions were raised . . . relating to our union’s ethical code and anti-nepotism policy,’ Sahar Wali, a spokesperson for the powerful union, said … The complaints about Courtney had been an open secret among women in the high-profile Fight for $15 campaign within the union, which is itself led by one of the most visible women in American labor. Seven people who have worked with Courtney, including current and former SEIU staffers, [said] the top official had a history of sexual relationships with young women staffers — who were subsequently promoted, they said.”

-- “Hollywood and politics have always been as famous for sex scandals as they are for winning hearts and inspiring dreams,” Marc Fisher writes. “What may be distinctive about the worlds of Hollywood and politics is the level of hypocrisy involved when fields that are so dependent on their public images turn out to be protecting bad behavior in their own ranks. … Some expect that new revelations about sexual misdeed, as well as continuing shifts in who gains power in major U.S. institutions, will lead to lasting change. … But others argue that especially in institutions where power still resides in a relative handful of powerful men, the incentive remains to keep protecting abusers.”

DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- Susan G. Komen announced it will hold its major fundraising event in January aboard a cruise ship docked in Palm Beach after changing the annual gala from Mar-a-Lago hotel earlier this year. The Palm Beach Post reports: “Komen was slated to host its event on Jan. 20 at Mar-a-Lago, but it canceled on Aug. 18, the day after Cleveland Clinic scrubbed its event[.] . . . [More than a dozen other charities and foundations followed suit.] ‘We loved having our Perfect Pink Party there,’ Brinker said of Mar-a-Lago, which has hosted the nonprofit for seven years. But Brinker said the pressure on the organization from philanthropists outraged by Trump’s comments was too much. ‘We are a national charity,’ Brinker said. ‘We cannot afford to lose our donors. That’s what keeps us going.’”

-- White nationalist Richard Spencer faced thousands of protesters when he arrived for his University of Florida speech. Joe Heim, Lori Rozsa, Abigail Hauslohner and Susan Svrluga report: “Police said Thursday night about 2,500 protesters came to campus, and there were five minor injuries. … Eight-hundred tickets were handed out for the event but the lower level of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts looked to be only about half filled moments before Spencer began his speech. A theater manager said there were about 400 people inside, including media.”

-- Five House Democrats demanded Thursday that Mike Pence reimburse the cost of his travel to an NFL game in Indianapolis, where the vice president staged an abrupt walkout after players knelt during the national anthem. Lawmakers also requested that Pence make public the cost of the trip, which is estimated to have set back taxpayers roughly $242,000. (The Hill)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump repeated this claim about Hillary Clinton:

The Post's Glenn Kessler responded to the resurrected falsehood:

A Politico White House reporter commented on John Kelly's role:

But a political correspondent for Time noted that Kelly contradicted Trump's account:

Another Politico reporter commented on Kelly's focus on Florida's Rep. Wilson (D):

CNBC correspondent John Harwood summarized Kelly's appearance in this way:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised George W. Bush's speech:

The former communications director for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign added this:

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, criticized Trump's self-assessment of the response to Hurricane Maria:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) slammed Trump's interviews of U.S. attorney candidates:

Politico Magazine's editor in chief reacted to the news that Steve Bannon will keynote a Republican “unity dinner” in Michigan:

Richard Spencer was asked this question during his Florida speech:

James Comey's supposed Twitter account was active again after a months-long hiatus:

Ben Wittes, editor in chief of the Lawfare blog, noted this:

And Lulu, the black lab who flunked out of the CIA's bomb detection class, went viral:

Lulu is now happily retired:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- The Wall Street Journal, “A U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Was Sent to Puerto Rico — It’s Barely Been Used,” by Daniela Hernandez: “The USNS Comfort, a 70,000-metric-ton ship staffed with roughly 800 medical and support personnel and 250 beds, has treated only about 150 people since it arrived on Oct. 3, said a U.S. Navy spokesman aboard the vessel. It costs about $180,000 daily to operate the ship, according to the Navy. Comfort service members said they initially feared demand would exceed their capabilities. Now they are frustrated they aren’t doing more[.]”

-- The New York Times, “Ebola’s Legacy: Children With Cataracts,” by Denise Grady: “Two years ago, Ebola nearly took Aminata’s life. Now, complications from it are threatening her sight. She came with her mother to an eye hospital [in Freetown, Sierra Leone] in late July, hoping for surgery to remove a dense cataract that had clouded the lens of her right eye, erasing most of its vision. Cataracts usually afflict the old, not the young, but doctors have been shocked to find them in Ebola survivors as young as 5. And for reasons that no one understands, some of those children have the toughest, thickest cataracts that eye surgeons have encountered, along with scarring deep inside the eye.”

-- The Atlantic, “A Catfishing With a Happy Ending,” by Jeff Maysh: “[O]ne evening after work, she laid on her bed and downloaded to her iPad an app called Reverse Image Search. … She uploaded the photograph of Ronnie wearing his leather jacket. The results arrived in seconds: The man in the photographs was a model and actor from Turkey, called Adem Guzel[.] … Emma decided that she needed to protect others from his scam. On September 16, 2016, she wrote a Facebook message to the Turkish model[.] … Something about the sincerity of Emma’s message stuck in his mind. He wrote back in broken English. ‘And the conversation just started,’ Adem told me, in a gruff, Turkish voice.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

“Tiny Pistons crowd cheers Eminem, boos Kid Rock,” from Matt Bonesteel: “[T]hose who showed up to see the Pistons beat the Hornets were welcomed by Detroit favorite son Eminem, who had a courtside seat and tried to hype up the crowd after the players were introduced. … Kid Rock, another Michigan-bred entertainer, also was in attendance. He wasn’t so warmly welcomed. ‘A few moments later, the videoboard showed Kid Rock, who was sitting courtside, and who got booed where Eminem got cheered,’ Shawn Windsor of the Free Press reports.”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Del. Bob Marshall: Conservative warrior fights to preserve ‘laws of nature,’” from Antonio Olivo“[T]he 13-term Republican incumbent is facing what could be his toughest reelection battle, with Democrats gunning hard for his seat this November as part of their strategy to cut into the Republican majority in the House of Delegates and launch what they hope will be a national resurgence for their party following the election of President Trump. Marshall’s opponent, Danica Roem, would be the state’s first elected official who is openly transgender, an identity that the incumbent describes as ‘against the laws of nature and nature’s God.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump has a morning meeting with the U.N. secretary general, while Pence has no public events today.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski found that Kathleen Hartnett White, Trump's nominee to be the White House senior adviser for environmental policy, said of climate change last year, “There's a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites' religion now — being evidently global warming.”

 

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

-- It will be a beautiful day and weekend in D.C. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “More sun, warmth and comfortable un-muggy air. High temperatures in the mid-70s seem likely, with a few spots possibly hitting the upper-70s (especially south of town). Breezes midday may peak near 10 mph, out of the north-northwest. ENJOY! Maybe leave work early, if you can.”

-- The two candidates in Virginia’s increasingly heated race for attorney general will have their final debate today. (Patricia Sullivan)

-- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) awarded $3 million to housing and retail projects to help address the dearth of grocery stores in the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. (Rachel Chason)

-- The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity announced plans today to spend at least another $1 million in campaign mailers and digital ads against Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate. (Fenit Nirappil)

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced in a Twitter video that Elon Musk’s Boring Co. plans to build a Hyperloop tunnel from Baltimore to Washington. Michael Laris reports: “The digging will start near Fort Meade, in Anne Arundel County[.]”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

In light of Trump's phone calls to Gold Star families, Trevor Noah called him “the worst at words”:

A debunked conspiracy theory that Melania Trump had a body double spread across the Internet:

A firefighter in California lost his home as he helped others escape the wildfires:

Flying insects are disappearing at alarming rates:

And the Dodgers celebrated their pennant victory with a drink — from the National League championship trophy: