With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Republican leaders are trying to downplay the significance of Jeff Flake’s retirement speech by insisting that the party is unified and that critiques of President Trump are entirely about his personality — not his policies.

Asked about Flake’s criticisms as he boarded Marine One for a trip to Texas yesterday afternoon, Trump responded that his meeting with Senate Republicans was “a lovefest.”

“We have, actually, great unity in the Republican Party,” the president said. “If you look at the Democrats with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that's a mess. … We're really unified on what we want to do.”

Asked for reaction to what both Flake and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said about Trump, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox News: “This is more of, like, a People Magazine saga.” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) told CNN, “These things are all personality-driven, and it's unfortunate that this leaked out over into the public.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told MSNBC, “If we were all to chase every squirrel that comes running along in the form of a personal dispute or a mischaracterization of someone's integrity or intent, we would be very busy doing that and not focusing on the government.”

But that’s not the case, and they all know it. In fact, there are profound ideological differences within the Republican coalition that have become much more pronounced in the Trump era. Flake’s decision to not seek another term was as much about his refusal to abandon his core principles as his concern over Trump’s fitness for office.

“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things,” Flake said in his Tuesday speech on the Senate floor.

On the same day Flake bowed out, the Pew Research Center released a fascinating 152-page report on the nation’s political typology. Based on in-depth interviews with more than 5,000 American adults, the nonpartisan group divided everyone across the political spectrum into eight groups, along with a ninth group of politically disengaged “Bystanders.” (That is a giant sample, and the methodology is airtight.)

Pew’s typology studies, which it has conducted since the 1980s, are always a treat to read because they include a delicious trove of data to feast on. But they are expensive to conduct, so the last one came out in 2014. That’s only three years, but it feels like a generation ago: before Donald.

The report highlights fissures under the Republican big tent on a host of issues. In many cases, the dividing lines are not necessarily new. But several of the areas which Republicans are most torn about have moved to the front burner because of Trump’s disruptive campaign and presidency, from trade to immigration and America’s role in the world.

-- Pew identifies four distinct GOP factions:

Core Conservatives, about 15 percent of all registered voters, are what we think of as traditional Republicans. They overwhelmingly support smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believe the economic system is fundamentally fair. Seven in 10 express a positive view of U.S. involvement in the global economy “because it provides the U.S. with new markets and opportunities for growth.”

You might call this group the Jeff Flake Republicans. Flake grew up on a ranch that depended on the labor of undocumented immigrants, who he came to deeply respect as human beings. He was a Mormon missionary in South Africa, which made him worldly. As an ideological heir to Barry Goldwater and a devotee of Milton Friedman, he’s a devoted free trader who has unabashedly embraced the “globalist” label to describe himself.

Country First Conservatives, a much smaller segment of the GOP base (7 percent of all registered voters), are older and less educated.  They feel the country is broken, blame immigrants for that and largely think the U.S. should withdraw from the world. Nearly two-thirds agree with the statement that, “If America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation.”

Market Skeptic Republicans (12 percent of registered voters), leery of big business and free trade, believe the system is rigged against them. Just one-third of this group believes banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, and 94 percent say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. Most of them want to raise corporate taxes, and only half believe GOP leaders care about the middle class. They generally view immigrants negatively, they’re not too focused on foreign affairs and they’re less socially conservative than the first two groups.

New Era Enterprisers, the fourth group, are the opposite. They account for about 11 percent of registered voters: They’re younger, more diverse and more bullish about America’s future. They support business and believe welcoming immigrants makes the country stronger.

-- Core Conservatives are the biggest faction in the party, but they have historically punched above their weight because people in this category are more engaged with politics, more likely to vote and more likely to keep up with current events. (They also make up the lion’s share of the donor class, so politicians have another incentive to cater to their interests.)

This helps to explain why 9 in 10 Core Conservatives say the Republican Party represents their values very or somewhat well, compared to only 3 in 4 Country First Conservatives and 6 in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans.

-- Trump’s core supporters tend to regard economic policy as a zero-sum game. Many believe that others must lose for them to win. Most Americans, however, believe that it’s possible to have economic policies that benefit everyone in the country. Six in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans say that pretty much any economic policy will end up benefiting some at the expense of others, much higher than Core Conservatives.

-- Looking through the crosstabs, here were seven other questions that divided the subgroups in striking ways:

Taxes: Two-thirds of Core Conservatives say there should be lower taxes both on large businesses and corporations. On the other side, only 24 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans support lowering tax rates on high-earning households and a 55 percent majority says taxes on large businesses and corporations should be raised.

Health care: 88 percent of Core Conservatives say it is not the government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health-care coverage, compared to 72 percent of Country First Conservatives and 57 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans. But the New Era Enterprisers are split: 47 percent say it is the government’s responsibility to ensure Americans have health care, while 50 percent say it is not.

Immigration: Three-quarters of Country First Conservatives say immigrants are a burden on the country, and two-thirds of that group say that the U.S. risks losing its identity as a nation if it is too open to people from around the world. But 70 percent of New Era Enterprisers view immigrants as a strength and two-thirds of them say America’s openness is “essential to who we are as a nation.”

Role of government: Only 12 percent of Core Conservatives say that the GOP is too willing to cut government programs even when they have proven effective, compared to 36 percent of Country First Conservatives, 46 percent of New Era Enterprisers and 49 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans.

America’s role in the world: Overall, 47 percent of Americans agree that “it’s best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs,” but an identical percentage says “we should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.” Support for global engagement has spiked among Democrats since 2014. While half of Core Conservatives say the U.S. should be active globally, 66 percent of Country First Conservatives and 72 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans say the U.S. should concentrate on problems at home and pay less attention to problems overseas.

Climate change: 7 in 10 Core Conservatives say there is no solid evidence of global warming. Only half of Country First Conservatives say that. On the other hand, two-thirds of both Market Skeptic Republicans and New Era Enterprisers say there is solid evidence of global warming.

Same-sex marriage: Nationally, 62 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 32 percent still oppose same-sex marriage. Three-quarters of Country First Conservatives oppose same-sex marriage. But Core Conservatives are now closer to evenly divided — 43 percent support and 49 percent oppose. On the other side, 57 percent of Market Skeptic Republicans and 54 percent of New Era Enterprisers want to let gays and lesbians to marry legally.

-- Bigger picture: The center is not holding. There is much less overlap in the political values of Republicans and Democrats than in the past. In 2004, 49 percent of Americans took a roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions on a scale based on 10 questions. That was the same percentage as in 1994. Then, three years ago, 38 percent had a mix of liberal and conservative views. Now it’s dropped to 32 percent.

-- A good insight: Trump keeps talking about Hillary Clinton because it’s the best way to hold his coalition together. Only about 4 in 10 Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives say they agree with Trump on “all or nearly all issues,” compared to almost 6 in 10 Market Skeptic Republicans. The New Era Enterprisers are split almost evenly: 47 percent say they agree with Trump on many or all issues, while 53 percent say that they agree with the president on few or almost no issues.

In every GOP faction, though, voters strongly dislike Clinton at about twice the rate that they strongly like Trump. (Similarly, Democrats are held together right now by their near universal disdain for Trump.)

To appropriate a phrase from the late Rick James, reflexive partisanship is a helluva drug,” Aaron Blake observes on The Fix. “And today's Republican Party is much more united on what it is against — namely, the Democrats and the mainstream media — than on what it's for. … Trump may not be great on their policies, and they may even think he's kind of a jerk, but he's with them on the most important thing: being not-the-other-side. It's arguably his most pronounced quality. And in an increasingly polarized country, it's what really matters.”

-- Read the full report here.

-- Take Pew’s online quiz to see where you would fall on their political typology.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- George H.W. Bush issued a second apology Wednesday evening to actress Heather Lind, who accused him of groping her as they posed for a photo several years ago. “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures,” a spokesman for the former president said. “To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

Another woman has also come forward alleging a very similar story about Bush. Kristine Phillips and Eli Rosenberg report: “Jordana Grolnick told Deadspin that she was working on a production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ in Maine in August 2016, near the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, when Bush came backstage during intermission and grabbed her as they posed for a picture. ‘He reached his right hand around to my behind, and as we smiled for the photo he asked the group, “Do you want to know who my favorite magician is?” As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, “David Cop-a-Feel!” Grolnick said. … [Grolnick] said she had been warned by other actors not to stand next to Bush.”

-- Mark Halperin was accused of sexual harassment by five women. CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports: “‘During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me,’ Halperin said in a statement to CNN Wednesday night. ‘I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize. Under the circumstances, I'm going to take a step back from my day-to-day work while I properly deal with this situation.’ … The stories of harassment shared with CNN range in nature from propositioning employees for sex to kissing and grabbing one's breasts against her will. Three of the women who spoke to CNN described Halperin as, without consent, pressing an erection against their bodies while he was clothed. Halperin denies grabbing a woman's breasts and pressing his genitals against the three women.”

-- The New Republic continues to grapple with allegations against former editor Leon Wieseltier. HuffPost’s Jason Cherkis reports: “‘I accept I was blind and complicit and just, like, did nothing,’ one former top New Republic editor … told HuffPost. … But he added that there were men and women in the office who did not know what was going on. … ‘It was kind of a collective failure. This sits heavily on me.’ In part, Wieseltier’s behavior went unchecked because there was no one in place to check it — or at least willing to. The New Republic had no human resources office where employees could safely lodge complaints about Wieseltier. It also didn’t have a clear organizational structure; it wasn’t always clear whom Wieseltier reported to or if he reported to anyone.”

-- Bill O’Reilly is in talks for a position at Sinclair Broadcasting Group, despite sexual harassment claims that cost him his job at Fox News and new revelations that he settled a $32 million sexual harassment claim while at the network. (NBC News).

-- The Astros won Game 2 of the World Series in 11 innings. Dave Sheinin reports: “Game 2 of the World Series was already more than four hours old and about six degrees of bonkers when George Springer came to the plate in the top of the 11th inning at Dodger Stadium. Already, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros had, by all natural rights, won the game and lost the game a couple of times apiece. … But there was still one thing missing from a game that, by that point, had everything else: an outcome. And when Springer, the Astros’ leadoff man, smashed a two-run homer with no outs in the 11th off Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy — the ninth Dodgers pitcher of the night — it finally had that as well.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. An undocumented immigrant teen received an abortion on Wednesday — putting an end to a weeks-long court battle with the federal government over whether the 17-year-old, who is being held in federal custody, should be allowed to move forward with the procedure. (Ann E. Marimow and Maria Sacchetti)
  2. Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was found to have sold real estate to mysterious buyers for a profit of up to $20 million. Experts said that the transactions, which occurred in 2014, could merit a review by federal investigators. (McClatchy)

  3. Nikki Haley was evacuated from South Sudan. The U.N. ambassador was visiting a camp for displaced people in the country when a demonstration broke out against President Salva Kiir. (Politico)

  4. Joe Biden said he would have run for president in 2016 had his son Beau not been stricken by cancer. “No question,” the former vice president told Vanity Fair“I had planned on running[.] … Honest to God, I thought that I was the best suited for the moment to be president.”

  5. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R) said Wednesday he won't seek reelection in 2018 in an announcement that came as a blow to moderate Republicans and set off an immediate scramble for his replacement. In a statement, Straus said he will “continue to work for a Republican Party that tries to bring Texans together instead of pulling us apart.” (Texas Tribune)

  6. The NAACP issued a travel advisory for African Americans flying on American Airlines, citing a “pattern of disturbing incidents” after four black passengers were reportedly forced to give up their seats or removed from flights. The advisory said the incidents “suggest a corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias.” (CNNMoney)

  7. An estranged brother of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock was arrested on child pornography charges. Authorities said the 58-year-old was detained at a Los Angeles assisted-living facility Wednesday in an investigation predating the massacre. He faces 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of possession of child pornography. (NBC News)

  8. The DOJ reached settlements with tea-party groups alleging discrimination in the determination of their tax-exempt status. In one agreement, the IRS acknowledged that its practices were “wrong” and offered a “sincere apology” in the controversy that plagued the Obama administration. (Matt Zapotosky)

  9. A new report shows a dark picture of North Korea’s “re-education” camps. The camps, while less severe than those meant for political prisoners, force people to perform hard labor in near-starvation conditions. The “crimes” that can land people in the camps include making too much money in the markets and attempting to flee the country. (Anna Fifield)

  10. Jeff Glor was named the new anchor of CBS Evening News. The 42-year-old Emmy-award winning journalist has been with the network for 10 years. (CBS News)

  11. Boogie-woogie pianist Fats Domino, who helped launch rock-and-roll, died at 89. Domino’s record sales were rivaled only by Elvis Presley in the early days of rock. (Terence McArdle)

  12. California cities are experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak at homeless encampments. The homeless population in cities like San Diego has been on the rise as housing prices in the state continue to soar. (Scott Wilson)

  13. A federal panel recommended a new shingles vaccine on Wednesday — voting 8 to 7 to formally support a remedy found to be more effective in treating the painful rash in people ages 50 and older. (Lena H. Sun)  

TAXES ON CENTER STAGE: 

-- House leaders made a “frantic” attempt last night to prevent their plans to overhaul the tax code from being thwarted. The House is slated to vote on a budget measure today that sets up the process for considering the tax legislation, but several GOP lawmakers have balked at plans to eliminate the state and local tax deduction known as SALT.

Mike DeBonis and Tory Newmyer have the latest: “At least four GOP lawmakers from high-tax states said Tuesday that they intended to vote against the budget unless a deal is in place to at least partially preserve the state- and local-tax deduction, also known as 'SALT' . . . All were dismayed by language included in the latest version of the budget that refers to 'reducing federal deductions, such as the state and local tax deduction which disproportionately favors high-income individuals.' They argue that many middle-class households in high-cost-of-living areas take advantage of the deduction.”

Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady (Tex.) nonetheless said he was “confident” the budget measure would pass “because this budget vote is about allowing pro-growth tax reform to occur. It isn’t the tax bill.”

-- But there are other signs of discord among Republicans and President Trump. Two days after Trump rebutted him, Brady suggested that the GOP plan could force changes to 401(k) retirement plans. Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis report: “Brady . . . said he was ‘working very closely with the president’ on the issue. He added that many people who have tax-incentivized retirement accounts contribute $200 per month or less, a level he thought was too low. ‘We think we can do better,’ Brady said. ‘We are continuing discussions with the president, all focused on saving more and saving sooner.’ Several hours later, Senate Finance Committee Chairman [Orrin Hatch] also said he would oppose Trump’s vow to protect 401(k) plans but that he was open to changes if they made sense. ‘I’m open to look at anything,’ Hatch said[.]”

-- In openly flouting Trump’s promise, GOP lawmakers are essentially “calling Trump's bluff that what he says he wants on policy is what he means,” Amber Phillip writes. “And it underscores how little political capital Trump has on Capitol Hill right now[:] Ten months in, Trump has no working relationship with Congress and no reputation as a trustworthy dealmaker. He has taken little to no interest in policy . . . This spring and summer, he largely outsourced Obamacare repeal to the Hill, created a bunch of distracting self-inflicted controversies, then publicly bashed his own party for falling short by one vote in the Senate. He switches his positions on basic issues as often as Katy Perry changes costumes in a show.”

-- House Republicans are also toying with the idea of creating a fourth tax bracket for those who make more than $1 million a year. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports: Brady “has been telling allies that he doesn't like the idea of creating a fourth bracket but he's probably going to have to do it because Republicans are losing so much money from other concessions. In a closed-door meeting with conservative leaders on Wednesday … [Brady] did not specify that the top rate would likely stay at 39.6% for income over $1 million a year[.] … The direction Brady gave them was there was likely to be a fourth bracket, though there could be a 1 or 2 percentage point cut to 37 or 38%. One source familiar with the meeting described the move as ‘symbolic’.”

-- The stakes are very high: “The prospect of a once-in-a-generation bill to cut taxes on businesses and individuals increasingly appears to be the best hope for a party anxious to find common ground and advance an effort that it has long championed as the pinnacle of Republican orthodoxy,” New York Times’s Jim Tankersley and Thomas Kaplan write. “It is a bit like having a baby to save a failing marriage. … But, like a crying newborn, the drafting of the bill is already costing party leaders sleep. ‘The Republicans are finally figuring out if they don’t pass this, the political consequences are going to be catastrophic,’ said Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation … ‘The attitude of the conservative base is, ‘If they don’t do this, they’re worthless.’”

-- But rhetoric around the bill supposedly designed to “benefit the middle class” has given rise to an important question — who IS the middle class? “In America, an income of $59,000 a year (before tax) is smack dab in the middle, according to the U.S. Census. But it's not that simple,” Heather Long writes. “In Beattyville, Ky., a place dubbed ‘America's poorest white town,’ median income is only $16,000 and a typical home costs only $53,000. … On the other end of the spectrum are rapidly developing cities such as the San Francisco area[:] The median income is a whopping $136,000 in Palo Alto, the hub of Silicon Valley.  Even engineers at Facebook have been struggling to pay their rent. … America's vast differences in pay and costs make creating a once-size-fits-all tax policy tricky. One of the biggest dilemmas Republicans face as they work on the tax bill is where to draw the tax bracket lines for people of different incomes … [and] GOP leaders are still working out where to set the rates, and at what income level those rates will kick in.”

-- Gary Cohn is reportedly no longer under consideration to become the next Fed chair. Bloomberg’s Kevin Cirilli, Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev report: “Trump has told advisers that Cohn is doing a great job in his current role and that he wants to keep him at the White House through congressional consideration of his proposed tax overhaul[.] … ‘No decision has been made and no candidate has been ruled out but Gary’s role is too crucial to getting tax reform done,’ a senior administration official familiar with the president’s thinking said. It may be ‘too important for him to continue to be the lead, for him to announce a change at this time.’ Cohn is likely to leave the White House soon after Congress disposes with the tax plan, two people said.”

-- The Koch-backed Freedom Partners launched a $1.6 million ad campaign against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) accusing her of “rigging the [tax] system against us.” 

HEALTH CARE, NOT SO MUCH:

-- In his speech on the opioid crisis today, Trump is expected to stop short of declaring a national emergency. USA Today’s Gregory Korte reports: “Trump will order his health secretary to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency Thursday[.] … [T]here's a legal distinction between a public health emergency, which the secretary of Health can declare under the Public Health Services Act, and a presidential emergency under the National Emergencies Act. The latter is what the president's own opioid commission recommended in July. …  [T]he legal powers Trump is invoking were designed for a short-term emergencies like disasters and infectious diseases.

-- A federal judge in California refused to order the Trump administration to resume paying subsidies for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin report: “The ruling leaves intact [Trump’s] decision … to immediately end the payments that reimburse insurers for discounts the law requires them to give lower-income customers with health plans through ACA marketplaces. The attorneys general, from 18 states and the District, were seeking a temporary order that would have maintained the funding while the rest of the case is decided. [Judge Vince Chhabria] pointed out that most states’ insurance regulators had already prepared for a possible end to the money, by allowing companies to charge higher rates for the coming year. The judge did not decide the suit’s core question: whether the federal government must continue funding the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments without a specific congressional appropriation.”

-- Meanwhile, the CBO released a report showing the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill to shore up the ACA exchanges would save nearly $4 billion over the next decade. Juliet and Amy write: The proposal “would not affect the number of people with health insurance. The assessment of the plan … forecasts no fiscal effect from one of its main features: resuming for two years the cost-sharing payments Trump has stopped. That central aspect of the bill would not itself affect the deficit, the nonpartisan budget analysts conclude, because the CBO had been assuming those payments would continue. But the analysts still predict the relatively small savings because health insurers that raised their prices for the coming year to compensate for the funding loss would then need to give the government some kind of rebate for charging too much.”

-- BUT: Paul Ryan pretty much ended hope that the House would consider the deal this year. Reuters’s Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu report: “Asked whether the seven-year Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare was now dead, Ryan responded, ‘No.’ But he added, ‘I can’t imagine we can do that this year.’ … Ryan said he favored a more conservative short-term Obamacare fix offered by leading Republicans in the House and Senate. It includes provisions to suspend requirements for individuals and employers to obtain health coverage under Obamacare.”

-- Maryland announced it would allow two insurers to substantially raise Obamacare premiums in response to the end of the subsidies. (Colby Itkowitz)

-- Progressive Democrats are pushing legislation that would allow people to buy into a “public option” for Medicaid. David Weigel reports: “The State Public Option Act, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in the Senate and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) in the House, would expand Medicaid from a program available only to Americans at or slightly above the poverty level, to a universal program anyone could buy into. Already, 18 Democrats in the Senate have co-sponsored the bill, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- The head of Cambridge Analytica — a data-analytics firm that worked for Trump’s campaign — said in an email last year that he reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for help finding Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “[Alexander] Nix, who heads Cambridge Analytica, told a third party that he reached out to Assange about his firm somehow helping the WikiLeaks editor release Clinton’s missing emails … Those sources also relayed that, according to Nix’s email, Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own. If the claims Nix made in that email are true, this would be the closest known connection between Trump’s campaign and Assange.” Assange later told the Daily Beast in a statement: “We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”

-- Trump on Wednesday called the infamous dossier alleging ties between him and the Russian government a “disgrace” to Democrats. Politico’s Nolan D. McCaskill reports: “I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money,’ Trump told reporters … ‘And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it. And now, only because it’s gonna come out in a court case, they said yes, they did it. They admitted it, and they’re embarrassed by it. But I think it’s a disgrace. It’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country.’" 

He also hinted he knows the identity of the Republican who helped fund the opposition research during the GOP primary: “If I were to guess, I have one name in mind,” Trump said. “It’ll probably be revealed. I’d rather not say, but you’ll be surprised. You’ll be surprised.”

-- Hillary Clinton and top officials from her presidential campaign were largely silent yesterday about the revelations that the DNC and her campaign paid for research resulting in the dossier. Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Neither Clinton nor her campaign manager, Robby Mook, responded to requests for comment Wednesday. Campaign chair John Podesta declined to comment beyond referring reporters to a statement issued the previous day by the campaign’s law firm saying officials had not been aware of the arrangement. Brian Fallon, the former campaign spokesman, said he didn’t know about the research at the time but called it ‘money well spent’ if it provided information useful to the special counsel now investigating Russia’s involvement.”

-- Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan Russia probe has splintered, with top lawmakers on the panel, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), each agreeing to launch separate inquiries. Bloomberg’s Steven T. Dennis reports: “The two senators spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday, where they agreed to pursue different issues without giving up on the original probe — into the reasons [Trump] fired [James Comey] and Russian attempts to interfere in the election. Feinstein of California said she doesn’t understand a push by Republicans to once again investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails or pursue a 2010 Obama-era deal by a Russian-backed company to purchase American uranium mines. Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Wednesday that the chairman will continue his broad focus on multiple administrations, ‘even if the ranking member is only willing to focus on [Trump] and unwilling to examine the role of the DNC and Clinton campaign …’ Their remarks signal a significant rupture to what has been a bipartisan probe[.]”

-- A study set to be published today demonstrates how “embeds” from Facebook, Twitter and Google played a crucial role in the Trump campaign’s success. Politico’s Nancy Scola reports: “While the companies call it standard practice to work hand-in-hand with high-spending advertisers like political campaigns, the new research details how the staffers assigned to the 2016 candidates frequently acted more like political operatives, doing things like suggesting methods to target difficult-to-reach voters online, helping to tee up responses to likely lines of attack during debates, and scanning candidate calendars to recommend ad pushes around upcoming speeches.”

-- Senate investigators are gathering documents from the estate of GOP operative Peter Smith, who reportedly acknowledged before his death in May that he had led an effort to obtain Clinton’s missing emails from Russian hackers. ABC News’s Matthew Mosk and Brian Ross report: “[Ten days before his death, Smith] told a reporter from the Wall Street Journal that he had led a robust bid during the early months of the 2016 presidential contest to find what he thought were hacked copies of Clinton’s emails in hopes of using them against her during the campaign. Of interest to investigators … are documents and electronic communications that could help determine whether Smith worked in concert with anyone from the campaign of then-candidate [Trump].”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- The Pentagon deployed elite commandos in response to the deadly ambush of U.S. Special Forces in Niger earlier this month, fearing that militants were hunting Sgt. La David Johnson, who was missing at the time. Dan Lamothe and Karen DeYoung report: “The commandos, with the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), were deployed late on Oct. 4 … [two days before the body of Sgt. La David Johnson was found]. Johnson’s separation triggered declaration of what the military calls a DUSTWUN, which stands for ‘duty status whereabouts unknown,’ the officials said. Declaration of that status typically leads to an intense search for a missing service member.” 

-- White House officials initially thought that several American troops might be missing following the ambush. Greg Jaffe and Karen DeYoung report: “The White House did not officially receive word that three American bodies had been recovered, and that one soldier remained missing, until at least eight hours after the attack had begun[.] … The confusion and delays in receiving and transmitting information between field commanders, through the U.S. Africa Command in Germany, to the Pentagon and then to the White House underscores the chaotic nature of the firefight . . . In this case, the lack of firm information over so long a period was especially striking to those on the receiving end. ‘My whole life, I’ve never seen something like that happen,’ [a] senior official said[.] … ‘I was dumbfounded by it.’

-- The Trump administration is paving the way for use of armed drones and lethal force in Niger, NBC News reports: “France has already decided to arm its drones in the region, U.S. documents show, and the move to arm U.S. Reapers has been under consideration for some time — long before this month's ambush of a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. [But] in the wake of the attack, the U.S. has been pressing the government of Niger to allow armed drones at the U.S. bases in that country, three U.S. officials said. A move to expand U.S. drone strikes to Niger would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations.”

-- Meanwhile, Trump undercut Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson again on Wednesday, disputing her claim that he didn't remember her husband’s name when he called her last week. Ashley Parker reports: “Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House … Trump said he called Army Sgt. La David Johnson [by] his correct name ‘right from the beginning.’ ‘One of the great memories of all time,’ the president said, pointing at his head with his left hand. ‘There’s no hesitation.’ [He continued]: ‘Just so you understand, they put a chart in front — ‘La David,’ it says ‘La David Johnson.’ So I called right from the beginning.’” He also said he had not specifically authorized the mission in Niger: “No I didn’t, not specifically, but I have generals that are great generals — these are great fighters, these are warriors,” he told reporters. “I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win.”

WHO IS JOHN KELLY?

-- The New York Times’s Peter Baker has a smart look at the chief of staff who is lauded around Washington as the “so-called grown-up in the room,” but also shares many of Trump's tendencies. “For all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss. With his attack on a congresswoman who had criticized Mr. Trump’s condolence call to a slain soldier’s widow last week, Mr. Kelly showed that he was willing to escalate a politically distracting, racially charged public fight even with false assertions.”

Key quote: “'The real issue is understanding really who John Kelly is,'” said former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, a Democrat for whom Mr. Kelly worked at the Pentagon during President Barack Obama’s administration. 'If you understand what makes him tick, then it all fits together.' 'He is a Marine first and foremost,' Mr. Panetta said. 'In addition to being a Marine, he was born and raised in Boston' among blue-collar families with traditional views about God and country. 'You combine those two and you realize' that he “shares some of these deep values, some of which Trump himself has tried to talk about.'”

-- Meanwhile, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), with whom Kelly got into a dispute after her characterization of Trump's phone call to Sgt. Johnson's widow, has not returned to Capitol Hill amid ongoing threats to her safety. Miami Herald’s Alex Daugherty reports: “Congressional vote tallies show that Wilson last voted on Oct. 12, before the House adjourned for a week-long break. She’s missed 19 votes between Monday, Oct. 23 and Wednesday, Oct. 25. … ‘She’s home,’ said Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. ‘I have not spoken with her about it, but I’ve heard that she’s received substantial death threats and I think she is doing everything she can to ratchet down and let some of us, including me, take over.’ Hastings said she expects Wilson to return next week.”

 -- This is personal for one at least reporter: “With my husband deployed, covering the news hits home,” by CNN’s Brianna Keilar: “[John] Kelly describes the journey of a service member's remains, the journey his son would have taken, after being killed in action. … As I listen to Kelly all I can picture is my husband's body, packed in ice. I will it to stop. I can't. I am arrested by this horrific looping video image in my mind and I can't control the tears. I ask the floor director for tissues. I listen to Kelly hoping that he will talk for several more minutes and I will have time to compose myself so I can speak evenly when I bring my panel in to discuss Kelly's comments. … [F]or this moment, as I listen to [Kelly] describe my worst fear, I am not a news person at all. I am only a military wife trying not to lose it[.]

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:

-- GEO Group, a private prison giant, held its annual leadership conference at Trump’s National Doral golf resort last week as the group intensifies efforts to align itself with the Trump administration. Amy Brittain and Drew Harwell report: “During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee [and] hired as outside lobbyists a major Trump fundraiser and two former aides to [Jeff Sessions] … GEO Group, meanwhile, has had newfound success in Trump’s Washington. The company secured the administration’s first contract for an immigration-detention center, a deal worth tens of millions a year. And its stock price has tripled since hitting a low last year when the Obama administration sought to phase out the use of private prisons — a decision that [AG Jeff] Sessions reversed. GEO Group’s achievements over the past year show how a company that has long relied heavily on doing business with the government — and whose business model was under threat — is thriving in the Trump era.”

-- A close ally of Mike Pence has been advising the embattled student debt-relief industry on how to lobby Washington. BuzzFeed News’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reports: “Marty Obst, a longtime adviser to Pence and operative closely aligned with Trump’s outside political operation, was a marquee speaker at an industry conference last week[.] … Introduced to the crowd as ‘Mike Pence’s best friend,’ Obst told the group that he had personally spoken to legislators about the industry and what he characterized as the ‘good work’ that debt relief companies were doing for students[.] … He advised the companies to set up a political action committee

.”

Newsweek’s Max Kutner reports: “During the event, McMahon spoke for about 20 minutes at a podium with a ‘Trump Hotels’ sign. The topics included hurricane relief, SBA initiatives in Louisiana and tax reform . . . During the event, an SBA staffer texted the agency’s deputy press secretary with several pictures of McMahon speaking. In response to the photos, the deputy wrote, “Can you try to get the portrait mode one without the ‘Trump hotel’ sign in it?”

-- ICYMI: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke caught flak for continuing to associate with Scott B. Mackenzie, a political operative accused of running “scam PACs.” Politico’s Ben Lefebvre and Nick Juliano report: Mackenzie’s critics claim that his PACs “raise small-dollar donations from conservative voters but then spend the bulk of the money on consultants and overhead. The critics include former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who filed a suit accusing Mackenzie and other defendants of running a ‘national fundraising scam’ after they gave his 2013 campaign for governor less than a half percent of the money they had raised in his name.”

-- Puerto Rico moved to appoint an emergency manager of the island’s crippled electrical grid as Whitefish Energy — which is based in Zinke's home state — came under fire for its $300 million contract to restore power. Steven Mufson and Aaron C. Davis report: “The board said Wednesday that it intends to appoint Noel Zamot, a retired Air Force colonel and member of the oversight panel, to oversee daily operations of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The decision comes as House and Senate Democrats called for an investigation into the utility’s agreement with Whitefish Energy. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) pledged to examine the grid-rebuilding efforts at an upcoming hearing of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which she chairs.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Tuesday told Yahoo News that the contract should be ‘voided right away.’ . . . Whitefish on Wednesday clashed with San Juan’s mayor on Twitter, saying her frustration was ‘misplaced’ and ‘demoralizing’ to workers who had come to the island to work on the recovery. ‘We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived,’ Whitefish replied. ‘Do you want us to send them back or keep working?’”

The managing editor of Lawfare summarized the exchanges between Cruz and Whitefish in this way:

-- Meanwhile, Trump met briefly with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and several other lawmakers to discuss Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, as well as how to prepare for future storms. Jenna Johnson reports: “Sitting in a small conference room at a private terminal at Dallas Love Field Airport … Trump said he was open to launching some major infrastructure projects in the Houston area that are aimed at reducing flooding during future storms and suggested that homeowners living in flood zones install water-resistant drywall on the first floor of their homes — an idea that he credited to his experience in the construction industry. ’I'm the builder president. Remember that,’ said [Trump].”

2017 ELECTION IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

-- Paul Schwartzman profiles Ed Gillespie, the establishment Republican in Virginia’s gubernatorial race trying to navigate the Trump era: “Over four decades in national politics, Gillespie rose to the highest ranks of Washington’s ruling class, chairing the Republican National Committee, counseling President George W. Bush and earning millions lobbying for corporate clients seeking entree to his rarefied Rolodex. Yet as he seeks to succeed Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Gillespie is at the center of a civil war that is dividing his party, one pitting the Republican establishment he personifies with his four-star credentials against the anti-Washington forces that propelled President Trump’s rise. … [T]he president’s populist appeal remains muscular enough that Gillespie has had to become a political contortionist, seeking to appeal to Trump’s base without pushing moderates toward his opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D).”

In a sign of his outreach to Trump’s base, Gillespie released a new ad saying he would keep standing Confederate statues in the state:

-- Meanwhile, Northam sent out a new campaign mailer linking Gillespie and Trump to the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. Fenit Nirappil reports: “The mailer features images of both Republican men above a photo of the white supremacists with the text, ‘On Tuesday November 7th, Virginia Gets To Stand Up . . . To Hate.’ The back of the literature features a prominent image of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, along with Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, with the message ‘This is our chance to stand up to Trump, Gillespie, and hate.’”

-- Phillip Bump argues that a new Hampton University poll showing Gillespie 8 points ahead in the race should be taken with a grain of salt: “[T]here’s a critical caveat. Instead of asking respondents who didn’t indicate a choice between Northam and Gillespie who they preferred, those respondents were simply listed as ‘don’t know.’ The result is ‘don’t know’ ended up getting more than a quarter of the vote. Why does that matter? Because it means a quarter of the possible electorate which will weigh in on the race … isn’t counted.”

-- The announcement by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that he won’t seek reelection has upended the Arizona Senate race. RealClearPolitics’s James Arkin reports: “On the GOP side, Flake’s exit creates a wide open race for the nomination. Several GOP sources said they expected multiple members from the House delegation — Reps. Martha McSally, David Schweikert, Trent Franks and Andy Biggs — to consider a run; Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is also viewed as a potential candidate.”

-- U.S. marshals searched for former congressman David Rivera (R-Fla.) to serve him with an FEC lawsuit as Rivera hobnobbed with state legislators on the Florida Senate floor. The lawsuit concerns a campaign finance issue that has already resulted in two criminal convictions. (Politico)

-- ICYMI: Former congressman Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) entered the race to replace Sen. Bob Corker (R). He will compete against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in the Republican primary. (Tennessean)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump congratulated Chinese President Xi Jinping on being granted another five years in power:

From an opinion editor for New York Daily News:

Trump previewed the release of the JFK files:

From the Washington Examiner’s political correspondent:

Trump offered this odd defense of his civility:

From a former State Department official:

From The Post’s Eugene Scott:

From a HuffPost writer:

Fox News's Lou Dobbs told Trump that he is “one of the most loved and respected” men “in history.” From one of The Post's data reporters:

Ivanka Trump met with lawmakers to discuss the child tax credit:

Senate Republicans' super PAC went after Steve Bannon’s choice for a Senate candidate in Nevada:

Planned Parenthood questioned Mike Pence’s assertion that Ed Gillespie would be “a great governor for ALL Virginians”:

The undocumented teenager seeking an abortion issued this statement:

Sen.Ted Cruz’s office sent some baked goods to Sen. Flake’s office:

The Post’s national political correspondent had this flashback:

Capitol Hill welcomed trick-or-treaters:

And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who faces a tough reelection next year, told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) this zinger:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- HuffPost, “Four Quitters Walk Into a Bar.” Lydia Polgreen: “All of them, at some point over the course of the last nine months, had left their posts within the current administration, having decided that they could better serve their country from outside the government than from within. They weren’t happy about quitting, either. They were civil servants who wanted to remain civil servants, who, except for one, had worked under presidents of both parties. They had disagreed with superiors over the years, they had been fearful of new regulations and wary of political appointees, but they stayed on because that’s the nature of career work in government. This was different.”

-- The Daily Beast, “YouTube Trumpkin and Former Milo Intern Kills His Own Dad for Calling Him a Nazi,” by Brandy Zadrozny: “Lane had spent that Friday morning as he did most mornings, on the internet. This day, like the others, Lane read and retweeted posts celebrating the Second Amendment, bemoaning diversity, and spreading conspiracy theories that alleged Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta was involved in a child sex ring[.] … Lane Davis [later] told detectives that the fight [that ended in his father’s death] had started over ‘whether toddlers could consent to sex or not,’ and his father had called him a Nazi and a racist. Held on $1 million bail and represented by a public defender, Lane has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.”

-- BuzzFeed News, “Who Is Yashar?” by Steven Perlberg: “His reporting has touched on major news story after major news story, from the Russia investigation to the Fox News sexual harassment scandal to the Harvey Weinstein saga. … And in media circles, he’s gone from a nonentity to a well-sourced journalist recognized by just a first name: Yashar. In an industry fascinated by unexpected newcomers, reporters and editors have been left wondering just who Yashar Ali — his middle, not last name — really is. Yashar says the pen name is meant to protect his family, but in practice, it also obscures his previous career: a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and an aide to former San Francisco mayor and current California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom.”

-- Politico Magazine, “Are Trump’s Generals in Over Their Heads?” by Mark Perry: “[The] recognition that our president needs the kind of guidance that can be provided by senior military officers who know war and bloodshed is repeated throughout the military — and on Capitol Hill. But it is balanced by growing worries that Mattis, Kelly and McMaster are most recently showing that military officers are ill-suited for positions that require years of nuanced political experience and a deft handling of public opinion. Each of the three were gifted combat officers … [But] now we are asking that these three show the same expertise they showed on the battlefields of Iraq in selling the budget of the largest institution of the U.S. government, defending a president who mishandled a phone call with a grieving wife and coordinating a complex and often balky national security bureaucracy … Perhaps we are expecting too much. Or perhaps they are in over their heads.”

-- The New York Times interviewed 18 teenage girls who were captured by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, strapped with suicide bombs and sent into crowds to blow themselves up. Dionne Searcey reports: “Far from having been willing participants, the girls described being kidnapped and held hostage, with family members killed during their capture. All of the girls recounted how armed militants forcibly tied suicide belts to their waists, or thrust bombs into their hands, before pushing them toward crowds of people. Most were told that their religion compelled them to carry out the orders. And all of them resisted, preventing the attacks by begging ordinary citizens or the authorities to help them.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“A Trump Official Once Suggested Women Who Get Free Contraception Should Swear They Won't Get An Abortion,” from BuzzFeed News: “A Trump administration appointee who blocked an undocumented, pregnant teenager from obtaining an abortion … has a history of controversial statements about contraception and abortion. [Scott Lloyd] suggested in multiple opinion articles that women receiving contraception through federal funding should have to sign a ‘pledge’ promising not to have an abortion and that the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion infringe on men’s ‘right to procreation.’ ‘I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does,’ Lloyd wrote [in 2009].”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Georgetown students have filed a discrimination complaint against a campus group promoting heterosexual marriage,” from Mary Hui: “A Catholic student group at Georgetown University that promotes the benefits of traditional marriage risks losing its funding and other university benefits after being accused of fostering hatred and intolerance. Love Saxa advocates for marriage as ‘a monogamous and permanent union between a man and a woman,’ the group states in its constitution. That definition of marriage happens to be in line with that espoused by the Catholic Church, raising the question of how administrators at Georgetown, the United States’ oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning, will handle the controversy if it eventually comes before them.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will give an afternoon speech on the opioid crisis and later meet with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Jenna Johnson and Lenny Bernstein report on Trump’s speech: “[A]dvocates for the people and communities ravaged by this [opioid] crisis are hoping it is the moment when Trump puts action behind his words — laying out specific steps to combat an epidemic that is killing nearly 100 people a day. … At the top of advocates’ wish list is for Trump to propose a major increase in funding. They say billions of dollars are needed for treatment and prevention and to keep the staggering number of drug users alive.”)

Pence has a call with Austria’s foreign minister before traveling to Colorado for a tour of the Lockheed Martin Waterton Canyon Facility and an evening fundraiser.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

A senior North Korean official warned that the foreign minister’s threat of an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean should be taken “literally”: “The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally,” Ri Yong Pil said on CNN.

 

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

-- D.C. will see temperature highs in the low 60s today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “While not quite frosty, the morning chill will get your attention. Initially, clouds should be scattered but become numerous as it starts to warm up. As a result, highs only end up in the upper 50s to low 60s. Breezes are light, helping to keep it comfortable.”

-- The Wizards lost to the Lakers 102-99 in overtime. (Candace Buckner)

-- Virginia state Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) released a campaign ad accusing his opponent Danica Roem (D), who would be the first transgender person elected to office in the state, of “lewd” behavior. Patricia Sullivan reports: “The ad, which was posted on Facebook, is titled ‘Bad Judgement.’ It says Roem, a former newspaper reporter, ‘has no record of public service but does have a record of bad judgment. From a shocking bathroom video to lewd behavior during interviews . . . Danica is not interested in our future. Danica is interested in Danica’s future.’”

-- Protests have taken on a number of new forms in the Trump era, Steve Hendrix and Perry Stein write: “[P]ublic actions increasingly combine performance art and catchy visuals to toss a made-to-go-viral insult straight at the president. It is trolling as dissent. In the year since Trump won, activists have expanded the age-old Washington reliables of marches and rallies with more-unconventional ploys: queer dance parties, high-wire banner stunts, animated graffiti projected onto the walls of Trump’s Washington hotel. In volume and style, the digital age and the president’s own pugilistic instincts have created a unique moment in movements.”

-- A judge adopted the voice of John McLaughlin when announcing his decision that the late talk-show host’s ex-wife could not receive his life insurance payouts. U.S. District Judge Christopher “Casey” Cooper began his decision, “Question! On a scale from 1 to 10 — with 1 being the chance of a Washington, D.C., professional sports team winning a championship this year and 10 being absolute metaphysical certainty — how certain is the Court that Mr. McLaughlin, upon his divorce from his former wife Christina Vidal, intended for her to benefit from two life insurance annuities that he brought to the marriage? Any answer shy of 9 would be . . . Wrong! Mr. McLaughlin did not wish his ex-wife to receive the annuity benefits.” (Emily Heil)

-- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan threatened to push for disbanding the Metro board if it blocks the land transfer needed for Maryland’s Purple Line. (Faiz Siddiqui and Katherine Shaver)

-- An almost $1 billion renovation of the National Air and Space Museum will begin next summer, closing the western side of the museum. The renovation will be completed in stages to allow the museum to remain open. (Peggy McGlone)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert interviewed Gretchen Carlson about the shifting culture around sexual harassment:

And Seth Meyers asked Megyn Kelly how she decided to speak out about Bill O'Reilly on air:

The Senate chaplain’s prayer seemed to point to Jeff Flake’s speech yesterday:

The NRA responded to CNN's “This is an apple” ad:

The Post’s Nicole Lewis fact-checked Jeff Sessions’s claim that immigration lawyers encourage asylum applications:

Former deputy CIA director Philip Mudd criticized Trump's claim that reporters present a distorted image of him:

And Chi Chi, the quadriplegic golden retriever who was rescued from a South Korean dog meat market, became Internet famous: