With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: It’s not just Republican senators any more. From his perch outside the White House, Stephen K. Bannon is now picking fights with the foreign policy establishment.
David Petraeus reflected on the lessons of the Iraq surge yesterday during a day-long conference sponsored by the conservative Hudson Institute on countering violent extremism. “This is a generational struggle,” the retired Army general and former CIA director said. “Therefore, we must have a sustainable and sustained commitment as our strategy. … That is: we need to have a strategy that is sustainable in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure, so that we can have the kind of sustained commitment that is necessary in an endeavor that is generational in nature.” Part of that, he explained, means never setting timelines for withdrawal.
Bannon, who was President Trump’s chief strategist into the summer, sought to directly refute Petraeus when he appeared at the conference later in the day. “There’s nobody in the United States that wants to be engaged in combat operations, Special Forces operations, drone operations (for multiple generations),” he said. “That’s just not where the American people are. It’s not the way our country was founded or formed. … We’re prepared to be allies. What we don’t want is these countries to be protectorates. It’s not our fight.”
He said Petraeus was too focused on “nation building.” “We have to build a nation called the United States of America,” Bannon said. “The way you can have Pax Americana is if we’re a robust and strong society ourselves, not trying to impose our way of life and our beliefs on other people.”
After privately urging him for months to not go along with the military’s recommendation, Bannon also broke publicly with Trump over his decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan, I believe we’ve tried to impose our values,” said Bannon, who is back to running Breitbart News. “I believe we’re trying to impose a liberal democratic system on a society that clearly to me doesn’t seem to want it. … We’re not looking to transform the world into our values. The world has got to come to its own conclusions about how it wants to govern themselves.”
Bannon, wearing three layers of black shirts under a black blazer, described the 2016 election as primarily a repudiation of elites and pooh-poohed the value of expertise in policymaking. He said he’d rather have 100 people who show up for a Roy Moore rally in rural Alabama lead the country than the top 100 partners at Goldman Sachs, where Bannon once worked. He added that he’d prefer that same group of citizen populists decide U.S. foreign policy than the globalists who travel to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum.
Insisting that Trump is neither an isolationist nor Islamophobic, Bannon assailed the searing critiques of Trumpism delivered last week by George W. Bush and John McCain as “just more pablum.” “The geniuses in the foreign policy elite, what they left on President Trump is essentially the Bay of Pigs in Venezuela, the Cuban missile crisis in Korea and the Vietnam War in Afghanistan — all at one time,” he said. “President Trump didn’t do this. The deplorables that voted for President Trump didn’t do this. This is the geniuses of both political parties. Both political parties delivered this upon us!”
-- During the panel immediately preceding Bannon’s appearance, the lights abruptly went off in the ballroom. For nearly half an hour before the former White House chief strategist made his entrance, hundreds of attendees chitchatted in hushed tones. An emcee announced three times that no one would be able to enter or exit the room once Bannon started speaking. Finally, with the room still dark, he took the stage to tepid applause. Organizers shined a spotlight on Bannon as he spoke, which projected an ominous shadow onto the wall behind him. For a guy depicted as the Grim Reaper on “Saturday Night Live,” the metaphors were inescapable — especially in a den of establishmentarians and internationalists during the week before Halloween.
Bannon began by reading off his iPhone a passage from Trump’s inaugural address, in which he pledged to completely “eradicate” radical Islamic terrorism “from the face of the Earth.”
He argued that the fall of Raqqa last week demonstrates that Trump is following through. “In nine months, President Trump has accomplished something that people would have mocked and laughed at him for saying in the campaign: Raqqa fell the other day,” Bannon declared. “It was breathtaking. … The world kind of backed off. In eight months of President Trump’s strategy, executed by (Defense Secretary Jim) Mattis, and that strategy was not a war of attrition, he was very specific from day one, this will be a war of annihilation: We will physically annihilate the caliphate. And that’s what’s been accomplished.”
-- Trump has also personally taken credit for the victory in Raqqa. “I totally changed rules of engagement,” he said in a radio interview last week. “I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military … ISIS is now giving up. They are giving up. They are raising their hands. They are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.” The conservative host, Chris Plante, asked why it hadn’t happened earlier. “Because you didn't have Trump as your president,” Trump replied. “We are fighting now to win, as opposed to fighting to stay there. We were losing. Now we are winning.”
Continuing the victory lap, the White House issued an official statement from Trump on Saturday: “With the liberation of ISIS’s capital and the vast majority of its territory, the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight,” the president declared. “One of my core campaign promises to the American people was to defeat ISIS and to counter the spread of hateful ideology. That is why, in the first days of my Administration, I issued orders to give our commanders and troops on the ground the full authorities to achieve this mission. As a result, ISIS strongholds in Mosul and Raqqah have fallen. We have made, alongside our coalition partners, more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years.”
-- Ash Carter, who was Barack Obama’s secretary of defense, pushed back on Trump’s claim that he deserves credit: “The plan . . . was laid out two years ago and has been executed pretty much in the manner and the schedule that was foreseen then,” he said on CNN.
-- Regardless of who gets credit: Don’t unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet. Veterans of the war in Iraq caution against declaring that the Islamic State is in its last throes, as Dick Cheney infamously did in May 2005.
To be sure, retaking Raqqa was a big win for the U.S.-led coalition. “Three years after seizing a swath of land the size of Belgium across Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State no longer holds any major cities and is clinging to only one sizable stretch of territory spanning the border between the two countries,” Louisa Loveluck reports from the region.
But the cost of victory has been high: “Much of the city now lies in ruins,” Loveluck notes. “The water supply and electricity grid have been shattered. According to monitoring groups, more than 1,000 civilians were killed in the fight. More than 270,000 people had fled the city since June. Many are camped across a network of poorly supplied displacement camps with little hope of being able to return home anytime soon.”
And more conflicts loom. Now that their capital is gone, the group will likely shift back toward guerrilla warfare.
-- This is one reason members of Trump’s national security team have been much more circumspect than the president and his former top strategist.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned last Thursday that Islamic State militants remain capable of orchestrating and carrying out an attack against the United States, possibly downing an airplane, even after being evicted from Raqqa. “IS’ capability to conduct an external operation remains,” Pompeo said at an event sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “But I wouldn’t put them in a singular bucket. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has for a long time had this mission statement, which includes the taking down of a commercial airliner bound for a western country. Certainly, among those would be the United States.” In addition to worrying about America’s enemies “using commercial aviation as their vector to present a threat to the West,” Pompeo also expressed concern about a terrorist capability “we just don’t see.”
-- Trump’s quotes from the past few days could come back to haunt him if ISIS successfully executes a major terrorist strike on U.S. soil despite losing its capital.
-- There are many other reasons to worry:
-- “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 after winning the battle for Raqqa,” Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly reported last week. “An expansion of territory held by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is also likely to provide Assad with additional leverage in political negotiations over Syria’s future, talks the United Nations hopes to reconvene next month. 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, in apparent violation of a deconfliction line along the Euphrates River that U.S. officials said had been tentatively agreed on with Moscow, (Syrian) 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. The militants put up little resistance, and most appear to have escaped.”
-- Bigger picture, the U.S. still has no long-term plan to keep the peace. “The problem with this campaign from the beginning was that our military dominance was patched on top of political quicksand,” David Ignatius wrote in his column last Thursday. “That’s still true. Obama never had a clear political strategy for creating a reformed, post-Islamic State Syria and Iraq; neither does Trump. Our military is supremely effective in its sphere, but the enduring problems of governance, it cannot solve.”
-- Most of the speakers at the Hudson conference agreed that the administration should not spike the football after Raqqa.
“It’s a good thing that Raqqa fell last week. … But we can’t just assume that that fight is over,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said at the Hudson event. “The Islamic State still controls territory in eastern and southern Syria, which is vital to Iran and the Assad regime and Hezbollah having a land bridge built. It’s in our paramount interest that we stop it from happening.”
Cotton, who led an Army platoon in Iraq a decade ago, warned of Iran filling the vacuum left over by the retreat of ISIS and the strengthening of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. “We need to take a firmer hand in trying to reach a negotiated compromise solution between some of the factions while also pushing all those factions away from Iran,” the senator said.
Discussing the botched mission in Niger that left four U.S. soldiers dead, Cotton harkened back to Iraq. “As the actual caliphate falls, one fear is that we may see growing numbers of Islamic State cells in places like Africa or Afghanistan or around the world,” he noted. “It’s possible you could see some of the most dangerous foot soldiers or high commanders of the Islamic State escaping Iraq and Syria and getting into some of those new safe havens.”
“The apparent recent success against the Islamic State … should not result in hubris or complacency,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, after questioning Bannon on stage. “Radical Islamism has been defeated or suppressed in one region only to raise its head elsewhere. Just as the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan soon after 9/11 did not mark the end of the problem, extremist forces in the Muslim world will try and resuscitate themselves in another form in another theater. If al-Qaeda was Jihad 1.0 in our era, and ISIS was Jihad 2.0, we should now start preparing ourselves for Jihad 3.0.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- SCOOP: A $300 million contract to restore Puerto Rico’s electric grid was awarded to Whitefish Energy, a small for-profit company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's home state, Steven Mufson, Jack Gillum, Aaron C. Davis and Arelis R. Hernández report. The contract for the Whitefish, Mont., based firm is an “unusual” arrangement that is now being scrutinized by Congress — the company had only two employees when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico but has now dispatched 280 people to the island, a number that grows daily.
Whitefish's “chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another — but only, Zinke’s office said in an email, because Whitefish is a small town where ‘everybody knows everybody.’ … Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico. Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved. Techmanski said in an interview that the contract emerged from discussions between his company and the utility rather than from a formal bidding process. … The House Committee on Natural Resources is examining Whitefish’s role in Puerto Rico, said Parish Braden, a spokesman for the committee. … NBC Montana quoted Techmanski in a report Oct. 1 as saying he had asked Zinke for help in getting personnel and equipment to the territory.”
-- Meanwhile GOP Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Mike Lee (Utah) are holding up swift passage of a disaster-relief bill. Politico’s Seung Min Kim reports: “[Flake and Lee] are holding up the legislation … due to fiscal concerns but also to allow Puerto Rico to bow out from the Jones Act, which restricts shipments between U.S. ports to just those vessels built and operated by Americans. ‘I’ve got concerns about the absence of reforms in this bill, especially its failures to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act and address the shortcomings of the island’s bankrupt, state-run power company,’ Flake said in a statement. … The Senate on Monday evening voted 79-16 to advance the $36.5 billion measure, which has already passed the House. Even with the objections, senators are expected to pass the bill later this week and send it to [Trump] for his signature.”
-- Chinese President Xi Jinping was elevated to the level of Mao Zedong, with his name being written into the Communist Party’s constitution. Simon Denyer reports: “The move will make Xi the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, with ambitions to tighten party control over society and make his country a superpower on the world stage.”
GET SMART FAST:
The special election to replace former congressman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has been set for March 13. Republicans have the edge in Murphy’s district, where Trump won 58.1 percent of the vote last year. (David Weigel)
The military judge assigned to sentence Bowe Bergdahl indicated that Trump’s recent remarks on the case may have jeopardized its fairness. Bergdahl’s lead defense attorney has argued that Trump’s negative comments amount to unlawful command influence and should force the case to be dismissed. (Alex Horton)
New Justice Department guidelines will curb gag orders when tech firms hand over customers’ information. Previously, firms were routinely barred from telling their clients that emails or other records had been turned over because of legal demands. (Ellen Nakashima)
- Indonesia is seeking answers after the United States invited its military chief to Washington to attend a conference on countering violent extremism — then denied him entry into the country. Experts say it was likely just an administrative mistake — but one that has dominated headlines in the country. “It is something that people are paying close attention to,” Aaron Connelly said. “It folds into a long narrative about the U.S. not respecting Indonesian military[.]” (Amy B Wang)
Melania Trump kicked off her anti-bullying initiative with a trip to Michigan. The campaign, which the first lady had promised earlier this year, will likely receive pushback given the president’s own combative style. (CNN)
- The number of apartments deemed affordable for low-income families plummeted by 60 percent from 2010 to 2016, according to a new report — with just 4 percent of apartments now considered affordable for America’s poorest families. (Tracy Jan)
- Since announcing plans to open a second headquarters in North America last month, Amazon has received a whopping 238 bids from localities vying to house the future “HQ2.” The second location is expected to boast as many as 50,000 jobs and billions in investment dollars — and is slated to be the largest corporate move in decades. (Jonathan O'Connell)
The father of missing 3-year-old Sherin Mathews has been charged with the first degree felony of injury to a child. Authorities report that Wesley Mathews provided “an alternate statement of events” about his daughter’s disappearance after a small child’s body was discovered. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Avi Selk and Herman Wong)
- Since the election, millennials are subscribing to paid legacy news publications at record levels — more than doubling subscription rates from previous years and “far outpacing” any other age group. (Politico)
- After Cambridge University posted Stephen Hawking’s doctoral thesis, the website hosting it crashed due to the 60,000 downloads requested in less than 24 hours. (Susan Svrluga)
- Game 1 of the World Series today will likely set a record for hottest temperature during the MLB championship. The Dodgers and Astros will play in Los Angeles, where triple-digit temperatures are expected. (Angela Fritz)
CONSOLER IN CHIEF?
-- Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson appeared Monday on “Good Morning America,” where she said Trump’s condolence call made her “cry even worse." Her comments drew an immediate rebuttal from the president himself. Kristine Phillips and J. Freedom du Lac report: “Making her first public comments since she took the call from Trump last week … Johnson recalled that the president said her husband ‘knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. And it made me cry. I was very angry at the tone of his voice, and how he said it.’ She added: ‘I didn’t say anything. I just listened.’” Johnson also said the version of events from Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) were “100 percent correct,” and that several people – including her aunt and uncle, an Army official, and Wilson — heard the conversation because Trump was placed on speaker phone. “Why would we fabricate something like that?” she said.
“Johnson said Trump’s remarks during the call were not the most upsetting part for her. She said she cried harder after she heard the president stumble trying to remember her husband’s name. ‘If my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?’ she said.”
Within the hour, Trump took to Twitter to dispute Johnson’s account of the call. “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” he wrote.
-- Although much of the Niger coverage has focused on Sgt. Johnson, three other Green Berets were also killed in the ambush. Their names were Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright (29), Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black (35) and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson (39). Eli Rosenberg and Kristine Phillips have more on their stories.
-- The Gold Star father who was promised a $25,000 check from Trump in July has received the money. Dan Lamothe reports: “Trump made out the check to Chris Baldridge, whose 22-year-old son Dillon, an Army sergeant, was killed in Afghanistan in June. It was issued from the president’s personal account, according to a photo of the check posted online Monday by a reporter with ABC-11 TV in North Carolina. The check is dated Oct. 18. The Washington Post approached the White House about Trump’s $25,000 pledge early that day. … It was sent along with a letter from Trump in which he appeared to blame legal proceedings for the delay.”
-- The bigger picture: Trump's New York playbook is failing him in Washington. “Trump’s actions [have] followed a careful formula he long ago devised for winning a skirmish, which has been described by senior White House advisers: Make it a fight, use controversy to elevate message and never apologize,” Philip Rucker and Michael Scherer report.
“Without Trump’s rules of engagement, the bungled effort to soothe a mourning widow could easily have been resolved with a simple statement of clarification from the president. But Trump chose otherwise, and Kelly followed him into the breach, along with [Sarah Huckabee Sanders]. … ‘We’re cruising toward a war with North Korea and for eight days we’ve watched [this] inane behavior …’ retired four-star Army general Barry McCaffrey said. ‘It really makes me sick, to be honest. I’m sure his phone call with the widow was absolutely disastrous. He wings stuff. He doesn’t have any empathy[.]” Reflecting on the past eight days, he added, “I’m starting to wonder if the country’s losing its moorings.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- Why did Sgt. Johnson die? U.S. officials said the emerging theory is that the attack on U.S. Special Forces in Niger was likely a setup by terrorists. NBC News’s Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Ken Dilanian report: “Investigators are leaning toward a conclusion that local militants used the meeting in the village of Tongo Tongo to mount a sneak attack, officials said. Villagers sought to delay the troops as they tried to leave the village, according to officials. Once they departed, in unarmored vehicles, militants attacked them with small arms and machine-gun fire[.] … The soldiers got back in their trucks and retreated about a mile before they were ambushed again. The attackers had trapped the Americans in a kill zone, the officials said, where they could envelop them in fire.” The village chief in Tongo Tongo was arrested after the attack.
“The latest information raises a fundamental set of questions, analysts said: Why would a small, lightly armed U.S. unit go into a village sympathetic to terrorists without drones overhead and a rescue force available if things went wrong?”
-- Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an update on the Pentagon’s best understanding of the timeline. Dan Lamothe reports: “The U.S. Special Forces team caught in a deadly ambush three weeks ago in Niger did not request help from nearby French forces for about an hour after the firefight began near a village the Americans had visited during a reconnaissance mission several hours prior, the Pentagon’s top general said Monday. It then took the French another hour to get fighter jets over the American troops[.] … The disclosure doubles the amount of time the U.S. troops were believed to have fought without significant additional help. … Less clear is whether they deviated from [their assigned] task, whether they had adequate communications to call for help and how Johnson wound up missing. An ongoing investigation aims to answer those questions, Dunford said.”
-- Several leading senators said they did not know U.S. troops were operating in Niger, but the Pentagon has responded that it kept lawmakers up-to-date on the operation. (CNN)
-- Trump is unlikely to visit the demilitarized zone during his 12-day trip to Asia next month — a decision that comes amid concerns from the State Department and South Korean officials that such a visit could further inflame tensions with Pyongyang. David Nakamura reports: “[A] White House official said that Trump's personal security was not a concern in weighing a DMZ trip but that there is not enough time for the president to visit both Camp Humphreys and the outpost along the border. Asked if the White House was concerned whether avoiding the DMZ would compromise Trump's message to Pyongyang, the senior administration official said: ‘Not really . . . The message is that we are guests during a state visit of President Moon Jae-in. He invited us to make the visit to Camp Humphreys . . . I don't think this sends a message in a negative way.’”
- Trump’s trip — which includes visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines — will be his longest foreign trip to date. Officials say Trump will focus largely on ramping up international pressure on North Korea in response to its nuclear program. Trade and economics are also expected to be on the agenda.
It was Kabul and it wasn’t Kabul. There was a clock and there wasn’t a clock.https://t.co/lbR3jK5Hpp— Mujib Mashal (@MujMash) October 24, 2017
-- Rex Tillerson made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan (and Iraq) on Monday, where he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Kabul following a week of deadly Taliban attacks. Antonio Olivo and Carol Morello report: “Tillerson’s visit to Afghanistan was conducted in even greater secrecy and was announced only after he had left the country. Though he never left Bagram air base, north of Kabul, his short visit showcased U.S. support for the Afghan government after a week of Taliban attacks that killed more than 200 people.”
-- Photos of Tillerson’s meeting with Afghan President Ghani revealed the visit actually took place at America’s military base in Bagram — not in Kabul. The New York Times’s Mujib Mashal reports: “The misinformation, apparently meant to obscure the true venue, was betrayed by discrepancies in similar photographs released by the Americans and the Afghans. Both show Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Ghani sitting at the head of the room, two giant television screens behind them. On the coffee table between them is a thermos, two cups, and bottled water. Their delegations sit across from each other. But the version released by Mr. Ghani’s office erased the large digital clock showing ‘Zulu time’ — the military term for Coordinated Universal Time — and a red fire alarm behind Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Ghani, in what would be a giveaway that it was an American military facility.”
WHY IT MATTERS: “Security concerns for the visit of someone as high profile as Mr. Tillerson are justified because of the Taliban’s resurgence. … But many Afghans may see the altered photo of Mr. Tillerson’s visit as evidence of a government effort to twist facts to package a positive narrative, both to its international partners as well as its citizens.”
-- The White House is expected to announce today that refugee admissions will resume from all countries, with added vetting procedures. The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler and Shane Harris report: “Under the new rules, the administration will collect more biographical data, such as names of family members and places of employment, officials said. The administration will also do more to mine social media posts to see, for instance, if refugees’ public pronouncements are consistent with the stories they offer in their applications, the officials said. … The refugee program was put on hold in June for 120 days as part of the larger travel ban[.] … That period expires on Tuesday.”
-- Trump vowed there would be no changes to 401(k)s in his tax cut plan, following reports that House GOP lawmakers were weighing a “sharp reduction” to the amount workers could save for retirement through the tax-deferred accounts. Philip Rucker reports: “Trump tweeted Monday morning: ‘There will be NO change to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!’”
-- But Trump’s growing list of promises is causing Republicans headaches. Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: “Republicans have already promised not to jettison Americans’ ability to deduct their mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and now income for 401(k) contributions, limiting the number of other changes they could make to raise revenue. Party leaders now believe they will only be able to make some of the tax cut changes permanent, and others temporary, expiring after 10 or fewer years. Business groups are lobbying Republicans to ensure that the corporate tax cuts are permanent, but this could put Republicans in an awkward position of promising companies better tax treatment than families, particularly as Trump has said the plan will primarily be a middle-class tax cut.” House Republicans plan to release their bill as soon as next week.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) defended the broad outline of the tax plan in a Time op-ed.
The pro-Trump nonprofit America First Policies told White House officials yesterday that it plans to spend millions backing a tax overhaul. (Politico)
-- Senate Republicans hope to get more clarity from Trump on his legislative priorities when he visits the Capitol today. Sean Sullivan reports: “While GOP aides and senators predicted Monday that Trump’s visit would center mostly on the ongoing effort to rewrite the nation’s tax laws, the broad array of topics on their mind, coupled with the president’s penchant for suddenly veering from one subject to another, could open the door to an unpredictable afternoon.”
-- Senate Republicans are also looking to Trump for guidance on whether to bring a bipartisan health-care measure to the floor. Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn and Adam Cancryn report: “Mounting pressure from conservatives makes it all but impossible the Alexander-Murray bill will get a stand-alone vote in the Senate without a clear directive from Trump. Some Republicans, including the bill's author, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and [Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia], say the fact the White House weighed in at all is a sign the legislative process is moving along. Still, Republican aides say the most likely scenario is that it gets wrapped in some fashion into a broad year-end spending deal.”
-- Meanwhile, Iowa has abandoned its stopgap plan to shore up its Obamacare exchange. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “The state’s withdrawal comes two months after President Trump telephoned a top federal health official with instructions to reject Iowa’s proposal. In announcing the withdrawal of what the state has called a crucial ‘stopgap’ plan to prevent its marketplace from collapsing, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Monday did not mention the president’s intervention, instead thanking Trump for trying to repeal the ACA and blaming the law itself for what she called its inflexibility.”
-- Trump’s EPA plans to repeal an Obama-era regulation on emission standards for truck components. Juliet Eilperin reports: “Unlike some Obama-era regulations, the rule, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, has been widely embraced by the trucking industry. The rule applies the standards now used for heavy-duty trucks to new truck components called gliders and trailers. … Trucking companies can install an outdated engine into a new truck body and avoid regulations that would apply to an entirely new truck. Engine manufacturers and public health advocates are in favor of closing that loophole and applying pollution controls uniformly.”
-- After the administration blocked government scientists from presenting research related to climate change at a Rhode Island conference yesterday, demonstrators arrived to protest the decision. “This type of political interference, or scientific censorship — whatever you want to call it — is ill-advised and does a real disservice to the American public and public health,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who was joined by the rest of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation in speaking at the event and condemning the administration's decision. (Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin)
-- The voter fraud commission championed by Kris Kobach has gaping data security flaws that could imperil the private information of millions of people, ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman and Derek Willis report: “[Illinois-based advocacy group] Indivisible Chicago … filed a public-records request with Illinois and Florida for information on the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. Crosscheck was created and run by the Kansas secretary of state’s office and is often cited by [Kobach] as a way to identify voters casting ballots in more than one state … The emails and records revealed numerous security weaknesses. Crosscheck’s files are hosted on an insecure server [and] usernames and passwords were regularly shared by email, making them vulnerable to snooping. And passwords were overly simplistic and only irregularly changed. Experts say the documents released … undercut Kobach’s claims that he understands how to protect voter data.” “It blows my mind — this is complete operational security incompetence,” said Joe Hall, the chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology.
-- Democrats on the panel have also voiced frustration with its transparency and mission. John Wagner reports: “In just the past week, two of the commission’s four Democrats have written letters to its executive director, demanding basic information such as when the panel might meet again, what kind of research is being conducted by its staff and when it might send a report to the president … Asked about plans for future meetings, the commission’s executive director, Andrew Kossack, issued a statement leaving open the possibility that there would be none.”
THERE'S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is slated to meet privately this week with House and Senate intelligence panels as part of their ongoing Russia investigations, CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: “Cohen's planned meeting comes after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence delayed a highly anticipated public appearance Wednesday — a session many believe was an attempt by the Senate panel to punish the Trump attorney after his originally scheduled testimony was abruptly canceled. His public session is still expected to happen at a later date. Cohen now will meet in private with members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Tuesday, before a classified session with Senate intelligence committee staff investigators Wednesday[.]”
-- Trump’s direct attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller have been somewhat tamed thanks to White House lawyer Ty Cobb. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn writes: “Since the end of July, [Trump] has noticeably tempered his public complaints about the Russia investigation, avoiding any Twitter allusions to a ‘witch hunt’ or threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. … It’s a dramatic turnaround from earlier this year, when Trump’s legal team was based in New York under the leadership of his longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who often served as the president’s attack dog — including at a June appearance at the National Press Club during which he declared Trump’s innocence and suggested that [James Comey] had lied under oath to Congress. Now, Cobb says, ‘we’ve got a good relationship in terms of trust’ with Mueller. ‘They know the effort we’ve put into it,’ he added.”
-- A1 of the New York Times today: “YouTube Gave Russian Outlet Portal Into U.S.,” by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Nicholas Confessore: “[A]s investigators in Washington examine the scope and reach of Russian interference in United States politics, the once-cozy relationship between RT and YouTube is drawing closer scrutiny. YouTube — the world’s most-visited video site, owned by one of the most powerful and influential corporations in America — played a crucial role in helping build and expand RT[.] … While Kremlin-aligned agents secretly built fake Facebook groups to foment political division and deployed hordes of Twitter bots to stoke criticism of Hillary Clinton, RT worked out in the open, bolstered by one of the largest online audiences of any news organization in the world and a prominent presence on YouTube’s search results.”
-- Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued a joint statement requesting an immediate review of why Bill Browder’s U.S. travel privileges were revoked. Browder, a defender of the Magnitsky Act and a known enemy of Vladimir Putin, discovered last week that his status as a member of the Global Entry program had been revoked by DHS. McCain an Cardin wrote that it “would be unfortunate if the U.S. decided to bar him based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation.” (The Hill)
-- An assailant broke into a top Russian radio station on Monday and stabbed a leading journalist in the neck — a brazen assault that is the latest of several attacks, some with political motives, on prominent reporters in Moscow. The stabbing also comes just weeks after the journalist was targeted in a state-run media expose for meeting with a Russian opposition figure. (Andrew Roth)
-- Is the American conception of Vladimir Putin a myth? Politico Magazine’s Susan B. Glasser writes: “To read the U.S. coverage these days about the Russian president, you’d think he’s 10 feet tall, a puppet master who merely has to yank the strings of his hacker army in the Kremlin to make democracy-loving Americans quake over their iPhones, an unfettered colossus at home prepared to challenge the United States on many fronts abroad. There’s just one problem with this view: Virtually all of the smartest Russia hands I know and many Russians themselves disagree with it.”
MORE MEN BEHAVING BOORISHLY:
-- Megyn Kelly blasted Bill O’Reilly on her NBC morning show on Monday, saying she complained about his behavior while at Fox News but was “ignored.” Paul Farhi reports: “In an extraordinary monologue, Kelly went after O’Reilly, her former bosses and colleagues, accusing the network of fostering a toxic culture for its female employees. ‘O’Reilly’s suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior is false,’ Kelly said … ‘I know because I complained.’ In [November], Kelly emailed Fox’s co-presidents, Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy, to object to O’Reilly’s comments during a CBS News interview [in which he said he wasn’t] ‘interested’ in discussing a topic — sexual harassment — that ‘makes my network look bad.’”
“Perhaps he didn’t realize his exact attitude of shaming women into shutting the [expletive] up about harassment on grounds that it will disgrace the company is in part how Fox News got into the decade-long [Roger] Ailes mess to begin with,’ [she said]. ‘Perhaps it’s his own history of harassment of women which has … blinded him to the folly of saying anything other than, ‘I am just so sorry for the women of this company, who never should have had to go through that.’”
On his “No Spin News” Web series last night, O’Reilly said that he was “mad at God” for controversy. “I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn't happen. I can't explain it to you. Yeah, I'm mad at him.” (CNN)
-- After the LA Times reported that 38 women accused filmmaker James Toback of sexual harassment, more than 200 additional women reached out to the Times to share their stories of Toback. LA Times’s Glenn Whipp reports: “The majority of the new accounts, which have not been verified, told of Toback approaching women on the streets of Manhattan, offering them the chance at a part in an upcoming movie, and a wide range of unwanted sexual advances and behavior. ‘Today Show’ anchor Natalie Morales, wrote on Twitter: ‘ … add one more. Exact same playbook by James Toback when I encountered him near Central Park.’ … The Los Angeles Police Department has fielded numerous phone calls related to Toback in the last few days, said LAPD Det. Danetta Menifee.” The LAPD is currently sorting through the complaints against Toback and determining whether to launch an investigation.
-- The New York attorney general has opened a civil rights inquiry into the Weinstein Company. The New York Times’s Twohey reports: “On Monday, the attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau sent a subpoena to the company seeking a long list of documents, including personnel files; criteria for hiring, promoting and firing; formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment or other discrimination based on gender or age; and records showing how such complaints were handled[.] … The office is also seeking any documents and communications related to private out-of-court settlements struck with accusers[.] … The inquiry will also examine whether the company itself bears financial responsibility for any misconduct.”
-- Celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from his restaurant group in New Orleans after 25 women accused the company of fostering a culture of sexual harassment. (Travis M. Andrews)
-- The California Senate announced it is hiring two outside firms to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, after more than 140 women signed an open letter last week lamenting a “widespread culture of sexual harassment” in the state capital. (LA Times)
-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has shared an example of sexual harassment from her days as a young law professor, and the story appears to have evolved over decades. Boston Globe’s Julia Jacobs and Victoria McGrane report: “[On Sunday,] she described a harrowing incident that left her shaken. She said that she wondered if she’d done something to deserve it and that she told no one but a close friend. But the tone of her telling, recounted on NBC’S ‘Meet the Press,’ appears to be inconsistent with the reportedly more lighthearted manner in which she described the same incident two decades after it occurred, during the memorial service for the senior University of Houston faculty member she accused of pursuing her around his office. During the service after his death in 1997, Warren spoke fondly of law professor Eugene Smith and told the gathered mourners she was laughing as Smith chased her around his desk[.] … The contrasting accounts would appear to highlight the evolution of Warren’s approach to dealing with the episode. That evolution took place amid changing attitudes about harassment and increasing empowerment of women to speak up.”
-- With two weeks left until Election Day, Republican Ed Gillespie is attacking Democrat Ralph Northam for being soft on crime in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Laura Vozzella and Fenit Nirappil report: “Gillespie on Monday launched a TV ad claiming that [Northam] made it easier for violent felons and sex offenders to get their hands on guns. The ad is based on outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s sweeping actions to restore voting and other civil rights to felons. … McAuliffe (D) on Monday tore into Gillespie for what he saw as an attack on one of his signature achievements in office — one that Northam, as a member of McAuliffe’s administration, has called ‘one of our greatest feats.’ ‘It’s based on the same fears and same division we saw from Donald Trump,’ McAuliffe said[.]”
-- The Northam campaign boasted that its volunteers and organizers knocked on 212,000 doors last weekend. “That’s a jump from about 143,000 doors knocked at a similar point in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in Virginia, and 87,000 doors knocked during [McAuliffe’s] 2013 campaign,” Fenit Nirappil notes.
-- Two progressive groups also announced they would funnel a collective $1.9 million to Virginia Democrats for the race’s final stretch. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The Virginia League of Conservation Voters’ political arm is pouring an additional $1.1 million to support Democratic candidates, bringing its total spending this year to more than $3 million. Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of one of the nation’s largest gun control groups, is donating an additional $400,000 to Northam, $300,000 to Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s reelection bid and $100,000 to Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax. That comes on top of an earlier $1 million dollar commitment from the organization bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
-- Meanwhile, in New Jersey’s governor’s race, Democrat Phil Murphy has modeled many of his proposals after the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he leads by double digits in the polls. Reuters’s Joseph Ax reports: Murphy “has pushed to increase taxes for corporations and the rich to pay for a plethora of populist policy proposals: tuition-free community college, increased school funding and tax credits for families. … With Republican Governor Chris Christie’s record-low approval ratings dragging down [Republican candidate Kim] Guadagno’s campaign, Murphy, a 60-year-old who has never held office, has pushed a decidedly liberal agenda that would put his state at the center of his party’s resistance to the president’s policies.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
James Comey, who was in Iowa recently celebrating his father-in-law’s 90th birthday, confirmed the existence of his Twitter account:
Goodbye Iowa. On the road home. Gotta get back to writing. Will try to tweet in useful ways. pic.twitter.com/DCbu3Yvqt3— Reinhold Niebuhr (@FormerBu) October 23, 2017
Benjamin Wittes — the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog and a friend of Comey’s — conceded that this was the former FBI director’s account:
From Obama’s former senior adviser on Trump's call to the Gold Star widow:
What you wish he’s say but never will: “I’m sorry if I my words came across in ways I never intended. All of us grieve with and for you.” https://t.co/IRhFgJ9zSS— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) October 23, 2017
This 2010 speech by John Kelly made the rounds on Twitter:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded to a comment by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that he didn’t know the U.S. had 1,000 troops in Niger:
You know you are in too many wars in too many places when even warmonger Lindsay Graham can’t keep track anymore— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) October 23, 2017
The No. 2 Senate Republican may be flying blind in his support for Trump, per a Politico reporter:
Asked for his position on CSR deal, @JohnCornyn responds: “I’m with the president.” I asked where Trump is and Cornyn throws hands in air— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) October 23, 2017
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) criticized the Education Department for rescinding 72 guidance documents on rights for students with disabilities:
This Administration’s campaign against students with disabilities continues. We should be doing more, not less, to help them. https://t.co/g5flDmlpfO— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 23, 2017
(The department said yesterday that many of the documents were cut because they no longer reflected current guidance.)
The White House press secretary caught flak for this tweet:
The average American family would get a $4,000 raise under the President’s tax cut plan. So how could any member of Congress be against it?— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) October 22, 2017
A Financial Times columnist responded to Sanders’s tweet:
Spicer’s lie about size of inauguration crowd was trivial compared to this. https://t.co/5z7QClfLxF— Edward Luce (@EdwardGLuce) October 23, 2017
The Post’s economics correspondent spotted this bus in D.C.:
Spotted in DC today: ‘Tax Cuts Now’ bus. It says “honk if u support tax cuts.”— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) October 23, 2017
The driver has had everything from honks to the middle finger pic.twitter.com/Bdxu9joEWC
Bill O’Reilly hit back against two of his former colleagues who have spoken out about sexual harassment at Fox News:
My former FNC colleagues Megyn Kelly & Gretchen Carlson wrote me notes when we worked together. You can read them on https://t.co/rryWmyXe7C— Bill O'Reilly (@BillOReilly) October 23, 2017
Gretchen Carlson responded to his tweet:
So what. Still paid $32m https://t.co/elekogWOee— Gretchen Carlson (@GretchenCarlson) October 23, 2017
ESPN’s Jemele Hill returned to the network and Twitter after a two-week suspension from the network:
::taps mic:: Is this thing on?— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 23, 2017
Trump’s daughter-in-law advertised his campaign merchandise:
But that hat has a hefty price tag:
George H.W. Bush said that he would have sung with Lady Gaga at the former presidents’ concert for hurricane relief:
But Barack Obama will be staying away from the mic:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) celebrated his daughter Meghan’s birthday on “The View”:
And he had a hilarious time:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The Atlantic, “On Safari in Trump's America,” by Molly Ball: “Nearly a year after Donald Trump’s election shocked the prognosticators, ivory-tower types are still sifting through the wreckage. Group after group of befuddled elites has crisscrossed America to poke and prod and try to figure out what they missed — 'Margaret Meads among the Samoans,’ one prominent strategist remarked to me. … In Wisconsin, I had seen and heard everything the [researchers] did — and eaten at the same restaurants, and slept at the same Hampton Inn in Eau Claire . . . I heard all the optimism they did, but I also heard its opposite: that one side was right and that the other was the enemy; that other Americans, not just the government, were to blame for the country’s problems. There’s plenty of fellow-feeling in the heartland for those who want to see it, but there’s plenty of division, too. And not every problem can be solved in a way that splits the difference.”
-- The Wall Street Journal, “China’s Pursuit of Fugitive Businessman Guo Wengui Kicks Off Manhattan Caper Worthy of Spy Thriller,” by Kate O’Keeffe, Aruna Viswanatha and Cezary Podkul: “For many months, [wealthy Chinese businessman Guo Wengui], from his self-imposed exile, had been using Twitter to make allegations of corruption against senior Chinese officials and tycoons . . . During [an] hourslong conversation, [officials from China’s Ministry of State Security] urged him to quit his activism and return home, after which the government would release assets it had frozen and leave his relatives in peace. … The dramatic meeting sparked an unresolved debate within the Trump administration over the Guo case and laid bare broader divisions over how to handle the U.S.’s top economic and military rival[.] …
“The episode took a twist when President Donald Trump received a letter from the Chinese government, hand-delivered by Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas casino magnate with interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. Mr. Trump initially expressed interest in helping the Chinese government by deporting Mr. Guo, but other senior officials worked to block any such move[.] … In the meantime, he said he knew of at least one ‘Chinese criminal’ the U.S. needed to immediately deport[.] … ‘Where’s the letter that Steve brought?’ Mr. Trump called to his secretary. … The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.”
-- The New York Times, “He Didn’t Vote in a Few Elections. In the Next One, Ohio Said He Couldn’t,” by Adam Liptak: “In 2012 … [Larry Harmon] was unimpressed by the candidates. He did not vote[.] … Three years later, Mr. Harmon did want to vote, against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. But his name was not on the list at his usual polling place. It turned out that Mr. Harmon’s occasional decisions not to vote had led election officials to strike his name from the voting rolls. On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the officials had gone too far in making the franchise a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.”
-- BuzzFeed News, “Steve Bannon Dropped Milo After White Nationalism Revelations. Will The Mercers Stand By Him?” by Joseph Bernstein: “Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon has told multiple people that he will never work with Milo Yiannopoulos again in the aftermath of a BuzzFeed News exposé linking Breitbart's former tech editor to white nationalists, BuzzFeed News has learned. Yiannopoulos, Bannon told at least one acquaintance, is ‘dead to me.’ But members of the Mercer family, Bannon's and Yiannopoulos's key, shared patrons and partners on the new right, have not signaled whether they will continue to bankroll the controversial culture warrior.”
-- GQ, “Chris Christie's Last Fight,” by Jason Zengerle: “This wasn’t how he figured it would end. A year after being steamrolled by Donald Trump, Chris Christie is hobbling out of office as the most unpopular governor in the history of New Jersey — a casualty of scandal and hubris, and a guy freed up to quietly pursue the toughest job of his life.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
“Thousands Of Americans Will Scream Helplessly At The Sky On Trump's Election Anniversary,” from Newsweek: “Over 4,000 Facebook users have RSVP'd—another 33,000 are interested in attending—to the Nov. 8 event being held in Boston that is literally titled ‘Scream helplessly at the sky on the anniversary of the election.’ The event is pretty much self-explanatory. On the anniversary of last year’s election, thousands will flock to the Boston Common for a party fueled by despair and aggravation over the contest's winner—whom 73 million Americans voted against.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“Principal Apologizes For Trump Tombstone At School Halloween Party,” from CBS Boston: “The parent teacher organization hosted a fundraiser at West Parish Elementary School Friday night and one of the parents brought in a bean bag toss game that included fake tombstones. One of them had the name ‘Don Trump’ on it. Offended parents sent pictures to Massachusetts Republican Party committeewoman Amanda Orlando Kesterson[.] … ‘Politics does not belong in an elementary school — any politics,’ she told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kendall Buhl. ‘But it’s particularly egregious to be putting the name of the sitting US president on a tombstone.’”
Trump will participate in an awards ceremony for “minority enterprise development week” and the swearing-in ceremony of Callista Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican before going to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans.
Pence has a morning speech at the American Enterprise Institute on overhauling the tax code and will then join Gingrich’s swearing-in ceremony.
A Trump-backed super PAC will hold a fundraising meeting at the home of Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens today to accelerate planning for the midterm and 2020 elections. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “The group of two dozen contributors, which will include Republican businessmen Roy Bailey and Tommy Hicks, will lay out plans to raise money for the Trump-aligned America First Action super PAC. The organization, which is the primary Trump-backed outside group, is expected to play a role in a number of 2018 midterm races. It will be America First Action’s first major organizational meeting. While much of the focus will be on 2018 … Many of the people raising money for the group are likely to be part of the fundraising team on Trump’s reelection campaign.” Donald Trump Jr. is also slated to address the meeting.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
While on "The View" yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said of Trump’s draft deferments, “I don’t consider him so much a draft dodger as I feel the system was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their responsibilities to serve the country.” But, when co-host Sunny Hostin mentioned that people thought McCain was “talking about Mr. Trump because he had a doctor’s note that said he had bone spurs,” the senator chimed in, “I think more than once, yes.”
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Those in the District could see some rain during their morning commute. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Showers and maybe a rumble of thunder may attempt to wake you before your alarm clock this morning and affect part of the rush hour. Skies linger on the cloudy side into the rest of the morning, but could be partly cloudy at times through the rest of the day as highs reach the low to mid-70s.”
-- The Redskins lost to the Eagles 34-24. (Liz Clarke)
-- The Wizards beat the Nuggets 109-104. (Candace Buckner)
-- Chicago Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez and New York Mets hitting coach Kevin Long are both expected to interview for the Nationals’ new manager. (Jorge Castillo and Barry Svrluga)
-- Washington Nationals TV analyst Ray Knight was charged with assault and battery after an altercation at his Virginia home this weekend. Police said he had been fighting with a 33-year-old male acquaintance around 4 a.m., and both men were taken to the hospital for treatment. (Justin Jouvenal)
-- Republicans think that they can pick up the House seat of Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who is leaving Congress to run for president in 2020. Jenna Portnoy reports: “Throughout the country next year, Democrats running for Congress will try to tie every Republican they can find to President Trump. But Republicans in Maryland’s 6th District believe they have a not-so-secret coat of armor to protect them from those attacks: Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has repeatedly distanced himself from the president and maintains high approval ratings across party lines.”
-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed an executive order prohibiting state business with companies that boycott Israel. Ovetta Wiggins reports: “Hogan took the executive action against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, an effort started in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian organizations in response to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank territory.”
-- The Metro’s electrical arcing incidents, which can cause track fires, have more than doubled since last summer. The alarming increase has led to doubts about Safetrack’s year-long push toward improved safety standards. (Martine Powers)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers offered some advice to Trump for his Twitter criticisms of a Gold Star widow — “Just stop”:
Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to retired Army Capt. Gary M. Rose for his heroism during the Vietnam War:
Mark Cuban, who has warned that he may challenge Trump in 2020, has a long history with the president:
Bill O’Reilly’s CBS interview took a sharp turn when the sexual harassment allegations against him came up:
CNN released a new ad campaign:
And a meeting between Emmanuel Macron and some associates was interrupted when the French president’s dog, Nemo, began peeing in the nearby fireplace: