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The Daily 202: Inside the House GOP super PAC’s strategy to localize every key race

College students Joe Meaney, Jessica Field and Marisa Engelbrecht, from left to right, volunteer last week at the Congressional Leadership Fund field office in Manlius, N.Y. (James Hohmann/The Washington Post)

with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve


 MANLIUS, N.Y. — To save the Republican House majority, the Congressional Leadership Fund is focusing on a salmon hatchery in Seattle, a gas tax increase in Sacramento and an opioid epidemic in Syracuse.

The super PAC, which House GOP leaders have endorsed and raise money for, has field offices in 34 districts. With the help of polling and focus groups, strategists identified local issues in each one that they believe will motivate people who don’t typically vote in midterm elections or persuade swing voters to support a Republican incumbent for reelection even if they disapprove of President Trump.

Thousands of young volunteers drive these customized messages by calling targeted voters from phone banks or knocking on their front doors. The group says these high school and college-aged kids have already made 15 million voter contacts over the past year. The same themes will be echoed again and again during the next three months in mailers, television commercials, radio spots and digital ads.

-- At a field office in this suburb of Syracuse, seven interns telephoned targeted voters last Thursday afternoon to tell them about everything their local GOP congressman, John Katko, has been doing down in D.C. to crack down on the synthetic drugs that have ravaged their community.

Jessica Field, a rising senior at Duquesne University, is volunteering here over the summer in between shifts as a cashier at the Marshalls down the road. “Are you aware of the work Congressman Katko has been doing to make central New York safer?” the 21-year-old asked everyone who picked up. “One of his big pushes is to help families by fighting the opioid crisis.”

“Like drugs, yes,” she repeated. “That’s one of his big pushes. He’s been helping families that have been affected by that.”

To help tailor future pitches, in a district Hillary Clinton carried by three points in 2016, Field and others also asked whether the people they were speaking with approve of Trump’s job performance, what issue they care about most and whether they think the new tax law will raise or lower their personal tax bill.

The office, which has a dartboard and a mini-basketball hoop, is in a strip mall next door to a Goodwill, Supercuts, a martial arts studio and a Chinese restaurant. The volunteers take turns making calls or knocking on doors, where they ask the exact same questions.

-- On the other side of the country, volunteers in the Central Valley of California are telling voters that GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, another vulnerable incumbent, is fighting the unpopular gas tax increase that the state legislature recently passed.

In the suburbs north of Philadelphia, voters are learning that Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is focused on efforts to clean up contaminated water wells in Horsham, Warrington and Warminster. Outside Minneapolis, they’re being told that Rep. Erik Paulsen has been fighting to protect the Boundary Waters canoe area. In the Houston suburbs, the interns are telling everyone about Rep. John Culberson’s push for Hurricane Harvey relief money as a member of the Appropriations Committee.

In Seattle, the callers and door knockers note that Dino Rossi, who is running to replace the retiring Rep. Dave Reichert, led efforts in the state legislature to rebuild the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. In Denver, the message is that Rep. Mike Coffman is focused on oversight of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Center. In Omaha, they’re talking about Rep. Don Bacon’s support for Offutt Air Force Base.

Each of these races will be crucial to determining whether Democrats can pick up the 23 seats needed to flip control of the chamber.

“Politics today are all about cynicism and skepticism,” said Corry Bliss, the executive director of the super PAC. “It’s equal on the Republican and Democratic side. The average person is not focused on politics, and they think politics is just a bunch of people trying to screw them. So if you don’t fill in the blank, the blank will be filled in by something negative. You have to convince people you are making a difference, and you have to talk to people about things they care about, or they will tune you out.”

-- Following the Portman playbook: Bliss oversees all of this from his office on Pennsylvania Avenue back in Washington. The 37-year-old managed the successful 2016 reelection bid of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R). They succeeded by focusing on very localized messages in each media market. For example, pretty much all the campaign talked about in Toledo was algae blooms. This meant that Portman was talking about something besides Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in October. He wound up winning by 21 points while the president carried the Buckeye State by eight points.

-- The past week has underscored the challenges of this approach in 2018. Tip O’Neill’s aphorism that all politics is local often feels quaint in the Trump era.

Democrats tried to localize House races in 2010 and Senate races in 2014. They failed, and lost their majorities, because they couldn’t offset Barack Obama’s unpopularity. With the rise of cable news and the Internet, the conversation about Washington has become much more nationalized.

Trump has supercharged that trend. This president has an uncanny ability to dominate almost every news cycle. He is eager to hold rallies across the country to boost local candidates as the elections near, but doing so risks drowning out these carefully crafted messages.

The White House’s announcement on Thursday that Vladimir Putin has been invited to Washington this fall is a timely reminder that the midterms, despite concerted efforts by talented Republican operatives, will probably become a national referendum on Trump. Because of the topography of the map, that increases the GOP’s chances of holding the Senate but makes it more difficult to keep the House.

Anticipating the tough national head winds that any president’s party faces in his first midterms, the Congressional Leadership Fund started building its field program in early 2017. “Since we’ve been knocking on people’s doors for more than a year, we are building relationships and breaking through the noise,” Bliss said.

The office here in Manlius has been open since June 2017.

“Super PACs really need to get away from spending 90 percent of their budget on TV ads, paying four to five times the rate that campaigns do,” Bliss said. “The field program roughly costs the same as one TV ad in each congressional district. It’s a much better way to invest our money, especially in a midterm election with lower turnout. I strongly believe that there will be a number of races across the country that we will win because of the CLF field program.”

That’s not to say the group won’t run lots of commercials, too. CLF raised $51 million during the second quarter and started this month with $71 million cash on hand.

-- In many cases, as intended, the issue that the super PAC has seized on resonates strongly with voters. As an outside group, CLF cannot directly coordinate with the campaigns they are supporting. But often, the candidates are talking about the same things. In Minnesota, for example, Paulsen’s first ad was related to the Boundary Waters. Here in central New York, there are stories on the front pages of the local papers almost every day about the epidemic.

Katko spent two decades as a federal prosecutor focused on organized crime before getting elected to Congress in 2014. “I saw various drugs come and go,” he said in an interview, mentioning names like Molly, Spike and Ice. “But I’ve never seen anything as lethal as this heroin is now.”

He grew steely as he recounted the stories of constituents who have become victims of the epidemic, especially the recent influx of fentanyl – an especially dangerous synthetic opioid. A couple lost their daughter, who had an 18-month-old infant, and then their son two years later. A woman overdosed when she was five months pregnant after a “despicable” drug dealer kept texting her to say she should really try some of his new product. “You look in the eyes of these parents, and you say: ‘My God.’ … That’s why it’s really become one of my big issues,” Katko said.

His Democratic challenger, Dana Balter, said she’s grateful Katko has kept attention on the issue but disagrees with his approach. “To him it’s a criminal problem, but we know it’s a medical problem,” she said in an interview. “We need to come at it from that perspective.”

An academic by background, Balter said she would focus more on equipping first responders with tools to help overdose victims, ensuring that substance abuse coverage is an essential benefit that insurance plans are required to cover and bolstering medication-assisted treatment. Balter also supports Medicare for All and believes universal health coverage is part of the broader solution.

Katko said fighting the epidemic requires a three-prong approach: prevention, treatment and law enforcement. “I am intimately involved in attacking all three,” he said.

Katko highlights an amendment he tacked onto a bigger bill last year that streamlines the process for officially identifying new synthetic drugs so that it’s easier to prosecute pushers. He argues that the government can only limit the supply by strengthening punishments on kingpins and cracking down on drugs coming in the mail from China. He’s also introduced a bill that would limit the over-prescription of opioids by shortening how many days of pills someone can get the first time they see a doctor.

-- Brandon Gillespie, 29, who runs the local CLF office, said the opioid-focused message resonates especially strongly in parts of the district like Oswego, which is a more blue-collar community on Lake Ontario. “They have some addiction centers up there where Katko will go and spend time with people,” Gillespie said, as he walked to the end of a cul-de-sac knocking on doors. “About two weeks ago, in Oswego, we came across a woman and she was very excited about John Katko and one of the reasons was because she said she had been addicted to opioids. And the work that he’s been doing on that has been something that really stands out for her. It’s always fun to hear people say those things because it gives you that personal touch.”

Gillespie added that, back where he grew up in Alabama, a family friend passed away at 21 from an opioid overdose. “It’s not fun going to a 21-year-old’s funeral,” he said.

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-- At least 11 people died after a duck boat capsized and sank near Branson, Mo. Allyson Chiu, Samantha Schmidt and Mark Berman report: “Some of those who died were children, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters in a briefing. Authorities warned that the scale of the tragedy could still grow, saying Friday morning that six people were still missing. The boat had 31 people aboard — 29 passengers and two crew members — when it sunk into the waters of Table Rock Lake amid intense winds and thunderstorms, Rader said. Seven people were taken to the hospital, one of them with serious injuries.”


  1. North Korea has the highest rate of modern slavery in the world, with more than 2.6 million people — or 1 in every 10 of its citizens — living under the state-run system of forced labor, according to a new report. The report’s definition of slavery also includes victims of human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage and the sale of children. (Adam Taylor)
  2. Comcast dropped its bid to buy key portions of 21st Century Fox. The decision clears the way for a Disney-Fox merger and allows Comcast to focus on its bid to buy a majority stake in Sky. (Steven Zeitchik and Tony Romm)
  3. The ruling far-right coalition party in the state of Lower Austria is pursuing a proposal to require Jews to register with the government if they seek to purchase kosher meat. The same rules would apply to Muslims. This has prompted outrage — and Nazi comparisons. (Rick Noack)
  4. One of Emmanuel Macron’s security aides was captured on video attacking a protester in Paris and then dragging her by the neck away from a May Day demonstration. The footage has touched off fierce public backlash across the country — especially after it was revealed the officer was only given a two-week suspension as punishment. (James McAuley)
  5. WhatsApp announced plans to limit message forwarding in India, where rumors spread on the global messaging platform have led to mob violence. Two dozen people have already been killed in the violence this year. (Annie Gowen and Elizabeth Dwoskin)
  6. Tornadoes continue to ravage Iowa. One storm struck downtown Marshalltown — destroying the small city’s brick clock tower, overturning vehicles and severely damaging buildings. (Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow)
  7. Starbucks will soon open its first store run entirely in American Sign Language. The store is set to open in October near Washington’s Gallaudet, the world’s only university designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. (Rachel Siegel)
  8. A new study of finds that open offices — designed to foster collaboration and face-to-face interaction — actually accomplish the exact opposite. In fact, researchers found that employees spent 73 percent less face time with their colleagues in an open office layout while email and messenger use spiked by 67 percent and 75 percent, respectively. (Jena McGregor
  9. AI-equipped devices such as Amazon's Alexa and the Google Home are less likely to understand people with accents. While those with U.S. regional dialects also had difficulty being understood, people with nonnative accents faced the biggest barriers and were misheard 30 percent of the time. (Drew Harwell)
  10. A Virginia resident has died after coming into contact with the waterborne flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio. This is the 23rd time this year that a Virginian has contracted an illness tied to Vibrio. (Dana Hedgpeth)


-- The White House announced that Trump has invited Vladimir Putin to visit Washington this fall. Shane Harris, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner report: “[Sarah Huckabee Sanders] announced the planned visit in a tweet, saying that [national security adviser John Bolton] extended the invitation and that ‘discussions are already underway.’ As the late afternoon tweet landed, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats was on stage at the Aspen Security Forum in the middle of an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who broke the news to him. Coats, clearly surprised, took a deep breath. ‘Say that again,’ he said. ‘Did I hear you?’ She repeated the news. ‘Okaaaay,’ Coats said. ‘That’s going to be special.’ … Coats said he would have advised against Trump and Putin’s private meeting in Helsinki, which worried U.S. security officials because no notes were taken and only two interpreters were present, but that he wasn’t consulted. Underscoring how little is known about the meeting, Coats acknowledged that he has not been told what happened inside the room. Asked if it was possible Putin had secretly recorded the [meeting] Coats answered, ‘That risk is always there.’ 

“Inside the White House, Trump’s advisers were in an uproar over Coats’s interview in Aspen. They said the optics were especially damaging, noting that at moments he appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of intellectual elites in a manner that was sure to infuriate Trump. White House aides are worried Trump will interpret Coats’s comments as a personal act of betrayal, coming so soon after the president’s praise for him. Explaining that Trump does not take kindly to slights and nurses grudges, one official predicted that Coats’s Aspen interview could bother the president more than the many ethical blunders of Scott Pruitt.

-- Russia’s ambassador to the United States said Putin would be “open” to visiting Washington. The AP's Angela Charlton reports: “With confusion still swirling around what the two men discussed behind closed doors in Helsinki earlier this week, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said it’s important to ‘deal with the results’ of their first summit before jumping too fast into a new one. He said he hadn’t seen Trump’s invitation himself, but that ‘Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject.’”

-- The post-Helsinki mood has some White House aides eyeing the exits. From Politico’s Eliana Johnson: “‘People are just depressed,’ said one Republican close to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to take on the public heat of resigning right now, but there are a bunch of people who were thinking maybe they’d leave after the midterms who are very seriously starting to consider accelerating their timetable.’ … [T]he spectacle in Helsinki has raised questions of how senior officials who accept that Russia is a serious adversary can continue to work for a president who looks the other way on Putin’s attacks.”

-- Putin told Russian diplomats he floated the idea to Trump of a referendum on resolving the Ukraine conflict. Bloomberg News's Ilya Arkhipov reports: “While Putin portrayed the Ukraine offer as a sign he’s seeking to bring the four-year-old crisis to an end, a referendum is likely to be a hard sell with Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to a 2015 European-brokered truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists. … One of the people said that Trump had requested Putin not discuss the referendum idea at the press conference after the summit in order to give the U.S. leader time to mull it.” 

-- The Montenegro government responded forcefully to Trump’s statement that they are a “very aggressive people” whose membership in NATO could spark “World War III.” From Siobhán O'Grady: “In a statement released Thursday, the Montenegrin government called itself a ‘stabilizing state in the region’ and pointedly noted that it has sent troops to Afghanistan. ‘We build friendships, and we have not lost [a] single one, and at the same time we are able to boldly and defensively protect and defend our own national interests,’ the statement said. ‘In today's world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity and democracy.’”

The Senate voted 98 to zero to approve a resolution urging President Trump not to allow Russian agents to question former U.S. diplomats and officials. (Video: U.S. Senate)

-- Under intense pressure, the White House announced that Trump opposes a proposal from Putin to allow the Kremlin to interrogate former U.S. diplomats and officials in exchange for allowing Americans to question 12 Russian nationals indicted last week by Robert Mueller. (Trump previously called it an “incredible offer.”) “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

The White House statement came moments before the Senate unanimously voted to approve a nonbinding resolution objecting to Putin's request and protecting ex-U.S. ambassador to Russia, Mike McFaul, a Trump critic, Karoun Demirjian and John Wagner report

-- A Senate bill that would slap new sanctions on Russia if it interferes in future U.S. elections is also picking up steam. From Politico’s Elana Schor: “[Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)] have asked bipartisan leaders of the Banking and Foreign Relations committees, which share jurisdiction over sanctions legislation, to hold a hearing on and mark up their plan to impose new penalties on Moscow within 10 days after the director of national intelligence determines that further electoral meddling has occurred. Introduced in January, the Rubio-Van Hollen bill picked up eight new cosponsors on Thursday, evenly divided between both parties.”

-- But, but, but: Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee blocked efforts to subpoena the interpreter who translated for Trump during his private meeting with Putin. Democrats on the panel wanted the interpreter to testify behind closed doors. (Politico)

-- In his new book, “From Cold War to Hot Peace,” McFaul describes the surveillance and harassment he was regularly subjected to while serving as ambassador to Russia. “Russian authorities followed [McFaul] to his son’s soccer game and on outings to McDonald’s,” Carol Morello, Tom Hamburger and John Hudson report. “They trailed his children’s bus to school and sat behind the family at church. They slashed the tires of an embassy staffer’s car and broke into the homes of other employees. Embassy security officials advised McFaul there was only one secure room at the embassy … because everywhere else was monitored by the Russian government.” McFaul was just one of 11 U.S. citizens on Putin’s list [of Americans he wants to question], which is believed to include at least two other former diplomats, a congressional staffer, a CIA agent, a National Security Council staffer and at least two DHS agents.”

  • Most of the Americans on Putin's list were involved in the passage of the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that has led to stiff sanctions against Russia for human rights abuses. 

-- McFaul said the White House's nuanced statement was “hardly a defense of us”: “The disturbing thing is, [Putin’s proposal] is just one part of the private conversation we know about, and think about how cockamamie it was,” McFaul told the New Yorker. “So that’s the one thing we know about the private talks, and it has this incredibly bad consequence for the American interest. So why wouldn’t we assume the rest of the conversation was like that as well?” 

“A U.S. Ambassador in Europe, who has extensive experience dealing with Russia, told me that he and other State Department officials who would need to know have received no post-summit briefings, or even talking points about what happened, both of which would be standard practice after such an important encounter,” Susan Glasser reports. “Nothing,” the ambassador said. “We are completely in the dark. Completely.”


-- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced a new policy to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy in an effort to combat hacking and disinformation campaigns. Ellen Nakashima reports: “The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process. ‘Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,’ said [Rosenstein] . . . Rosenstein … got a standing ovation [at the Aspen Security Forum where he spoke]. ‘The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda,’ he said. … Rosenstein said the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election ‘is just one tree in a growing forest. Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.’”

-- The FBI’s three top cybersecurity officials announced they are retiring. The Wall Street Journal’s Dustin Volz and Shelby Holliday report: “The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism [from Trump] and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent. Scott Smith, the assistant FBI director who runs the Bureau’s cyber division, is leaving this month. His deputy, Howard Marshall, also left in recent weeks. David Resch, executive assistant director of the FBI’s criminal, cyber, response and services branch, is departing the bureau as well ... Additionally, Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, has decided to leave for the private sector. And Jeffrey Tricoli, a senior FBI cyber agent who oversaw a Bureau task force addressing Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, left last month for a senior vice president position at Charles Schwab Corp[.]”

-- GOP Rep. Will Hurd (Tex.), a CIA veteran and one of the most endangered incumbents in 2018, has an op-ed in today's New York Times accusing Trump of “actively [participating] in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.” Hurd adds, “As a member of Congress, a coequal branch of government designed by our founders to provide checks and balances on the executive branch, I believe that lawmakers must fulfill our oversight duty as well as keep the American people informed of the current danger.”

-- A top Microsoft executive said three 2018 campaigns have already been targeted by a phishing attack similar to the one that breached Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. NBC News’s Mike Memoli reports: “Microsoft could not identify the campaigns targeted and said no individuals were infected by the attack. The tactics were similar to those outlined in the indictment from [Mueller] against Russian GRU operatives. ‘They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,’ Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, said.”

-- Mueller’s prosecutors published a list of nearly 500 possible exhibits in Paul Manafort’s trial beginning in Virginia next week. Rachel Weiner reports: “There will be photographs of the putting green at his home in the Hamptons, the clothes he bought from bespoke suitmakers Alan Couture and House of Bijan, and his $21,000 titanium Bijan watch. There will be records of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he spent at a rug store in Old Town Alexandria and his season tickets to the New York Yankees. There will also be email communication between Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who worked for the same Ukrainian politician.”


-- The Trump administration formally proposed a dramatic rollback of the Endangered Species Act. Darryl Fears reports: “The proposal, announced jointly by the Interior and Commerce departments, which are charged with protecting endangered wildlife, would end the practice of extending similar protections to species regardless of whether they are listed as endangered or threatened. If the proposal is approved, likely by year’s end, protections for threatened plants and animals would be made on a case-by-case basis.”

-- In light of the Flint water crisis, the EPA’s inspector general recommended the agency strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs. Brady Dennis reports: “The EPA was not alone in its failure to address the crisis for a city of nearly 100,000, including exposing thousands of young children to lead. In particular, state officials failed to implement proper treatments after Flint switched drinking water sources in early 2014 and, for months, ignored warnings from local residents about the deteriorating water quality. The EPA’s inspector general found that the federal government deserved significant blame for not more quickly using its enforcement authority to make sure state and local officials were complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as with federal rules that mandate testing for lead.”

-- Hypocrisy alert: When Scott Pruitt was redecorating his office at the EPA last year, his aides sought to protect him from a carcinogenic chemical. Months later, though, they blocked a study on the negative health effects of the exact same chemical. Politico’s Annie Snider reports: “In the spring of 2017, as Pruitt was finishing the more than $9,500 redecoration of his office, a top career official in the administrator's office noticed a California warning that one of the ornate desks their boss wanted contained formaldehyde, which the state classifies as a carcinogen. … After seeing the warning, acting deputy chief of staff Reginald Allen reached out to Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, the career official then serving as acting head of EPA's toxic chemicals office … [S]he suggested letting the desk sit somewhere other than the administrator's office to air out for a few days. … The email exchange about the desk last spring took place just months before top aides to Pruitt took steps to block a health assessment produced by another division within the agency that found the levels of formaldehyde that many Americans breathe in daily are linked with leukemia, nose-and-throat cancer and other ailments.”

-- More Pruitt: EPA officials raised concerns about the cost of a trip to Italy that the then-administrator took last year. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report: “Emails from April 2017 chart how Pruitt and his wife, Marlyn, requested that aides book business-class tickets out of New York City to Rome on Delta Air Lines — Pruitt’s preferred carrier. In response, EPA travel coordinator Gail Davis questioned Pruitt’s need to sit in business class and travel out of New York City. … Davis informed [then-deputy director for scheduling and advance Millan Hupp], a political appointee, that if Pruitt went ahead and departed from New York but flew on American Airlines, the official government carrier, it would be much less expensive. Davis used bold lettering to underscore the point that flying Delta out of John F. Kennedy Airport would cost about $3,000 more than flying American out of Washington.” But Pruitt wanted the miles, so he opted for the Delta route. 


-- The White House withdrew Ryan Bounds as its nominee for the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he didn't have enough votes to confirm him. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The nomination drew widespread criticism over articles Bounds wrote in the Stanford Review as an undergraduate that ridiculed multiculturalism and groups concerned with racial issues. Bounds attempted to apologize for those writings earlier this year, but his apology — which focused more on his rhetoric than his views — failed to convince Democrats or satisfy all Republicans. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) continued to raise concerns over those writings this week, his spokesman and others said, swaying Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also would have voted against Bounds’s nomination . . . Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters [that the] decision to withdraw the nomination was made with the White House, following concerns Scott raised. 

“Bounds was nominated to fill a seat traditionally reserved for Oregon on the notably liberal [9th Circuit court] . . . But neither senator from Oregon, both Democrats, agreed to the nomination through what is known as the ‘blue slip’ advisory process, and they objected strongly when the GOP pushed ahead with Bounds’s nomination anyway. On Thursday, they pointed to the White House’s withdrawal of Bounds as a victory for the process of vetting judges at a critical juncture.”

-- Bounds’s inflammatory college writings lend fresh urgency to demands that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh produce all of his past documents, which could top more than 1 million pages. Seung Min Kim reports: “Kavanaugh worked for five years in the George W. Bush White House, including as staff secretary, which made him the conduit for all paperwork that went through the administration. ‘A lower-court nominee’s college writings are relevant, but a Supreme Court nominee’s White House writings aren’t?’ asked Matt House, a spokesman for [Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)]. ‘I don’t think so.’ Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who will lead the confirmation hearings … is still weighing the expansive document request from Democrats . . . But Grassley also signaled he wants to pare down the documents to papers that are germane to Kavanaugh’s nomination.” 

-- McConnell is threatening to hold Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote right before the midterms if Democrats keep up their document demands. Politico’s Elana Schor and Burgess Everett report: “Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be ‘deflated’ if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election.”

-- A Russian company indicted by Mueller is leaning on a ruling by Kavanaugh to argue the charges against it should be thrown out. Robert Barnes reports: “The 2011 decision by Kavanaugh concerned the role that foreign nationals may play in U.S. elections. It upheld a federal law that said foreigners temporarily in the country may not donate money to candidates, contribute to political parties and groups or spend money advocating for or against candidates. But it did not rule out letting foreigners spend money on independent advocacy campaigns.”


-- The administration has only reunited 364 of more than 2,500 migrant children with their parents as it faces a July 26 deadline. NBC News’s Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff report: “Of 1,607 parents eligible to be reunited with their children, the filing said, 719 have final orders of deportation, meaning they could be removed from the country as soon as they are reunited. Those parents may have to choose between bringing their child back to a violent country or leaving them behind in the care of the government, nonprofits, foster families or relatives in order to seek asylum in the United States. … Attorneys for the Justice Department also said in the filing that 1,607 parents are eligible for reunification, while 908 are not expected to be eligible because of criminal backgrounds or, in the majority of cases, because the parent required ‘further evaluation.’”

-- Reporters were allowed a look inside the HHS office coordinating the reunifications. Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti and Amy Goldstein report: “HHS officials in charge of the operation say they are doing everything they can to give the children back quickly and safely, working round-the-clock to meet U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw’s deadline, or least demonstrate enough progress to keep him convinced it’s a good-faith effort. … The work is slow. Separations that took minutes require weeks to repair, coordinated among multiple federal agencies and layered with background checks and fraud safeguards. HHS had to improvise a parent-child reunification system on the fly because the Trump administration didn’t have one until a few weeks ago.”

-- Some parents who have already been deported are choosing to keep their children in the United States to give them a chance at a better life. Kevin Sieff reports: “José and Elvia [Ottoniel] are pushing for [their 10-year-old son, Ervin,] to remain in the United States — away from the crushing poverty of his birthplace. Elvia, 31, has a cousin in Arkansas who agreed to take him in. The couple explained the situation to Ervin on the phone. They hung up, and they cried. Ervin Ottoniel was the top-ranked third-grader at the village’s elementary school. He drew pictures of himself holding a laptop. He told his parents he wanted to be a lawyer. They told him they couldn’t afford his schooling beyond sixth grade.”


-- Trump laid into the Federal Reserve during a CNBC interview, saying he’s “not thrilled” that the man he appointed as the new chairman is raising interest rates, suggesting the move undercuts his efforts to grow the economy. The president's remarks break with a long-standing White House precedent against commenting on the central bank. David J. Lynch reports: “Trump nominated [Jerome] Powell as Fed chairman last year … Powell was a governor on the Fed and has largely followed the path the Fed has been on for years, slowly raising interest rates as the economy strengthens, unemployment declines and inflation ticks up. For years presidents have avoided commenting on the Fed, which markets broadly trust to act in service of its dual objective — maintaining maximum inflation and stable prices — rather than a political aim . . . 'Now I’m just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen,’ Trump said[.] ‘So somebody would say, ‘Oh, maybe you shouldn’t say that as president. I couldn’t care less what they say, because my views haven’t changed.’”

-- Speaking of the economy: U.S. weekly jobless claims dropped to a more than 48½ year low last week — another sign of an improved labor market, just as Trump starts to really ratchet up his job-killing trade war. (Reuters)

-- Trump's FDA is weighing whether to import prescription drugs from overseas to combat high drug prices but said it would only do so in limited circumstances. Laurie McGinley reports: “The FDA said Thursday that it plans to create a working group to examine how to safely import drugs in a specific situation: when there's a sharp price increase for an off-patent drug produced by a single manufacturer. In those cases, imports ‘could help address price hikes and supply disruptions that are harming American patients,’ Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.”


-- Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), House Intelligence Committee chairman, used political funds to pay for nearly $15,000 in Boston Celtics tickets, winery tours and trips to Las Vegas. McClatchyDC’s Kate Irby reports. “Nunes … used the money from his political action committee last year on three occasions to buy tickets. His PAC also spent about $42,741 since 2013 on catering, site rentals, hotels and meals in Las Vegas. The most recent instance was March 9, when the PAC spent $7,229 at seven different restaurants and hotels in Las Vegas. On June 19, the PAC’s expenditures included nearly $5,000 spent at six wineries in Paso Robles and Santa Margarita, both outside his district in California, and about $5,000 to Gold Coast Limousine the same day.” These were each listed as fundraising expenses, according to FEC reports.

-- The California Sunday Magazine has a deep profile of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking minority-party member, who has ascended during Trump's presidency from a little-known lawmaker to one of Capitol Hill's loudest defenders of the Russia probe. “Before [Trump’s election], Schiff was a respected if obscure member of Congress, [with a] reputation as an expert on national security and intelligence,” Andy Kroll writes. “His admirers used words like ‘solid,’ ‘reasonable,’ and ‘mild-mannered.’ If there was a knock on him, it was that he was too solid, too reasonable . . . The kind of guy who at the end of a long day removes his tie but leaves his collar buttoned at the neck. Then came Trump. [And] in accordance with the inside-out logic of the era, Schiff’s weaknesses have become his strengths. For many, he is the voice of reason, a steadying influence, the sober narrator in a time when chaos reigns [and] basic facts are under assault … Strangers stop him on the street and at the airport and in the aisles of CVS to thank him. His Twitter following is rapidly approaching the 1-million mark . . . ‘There’s such a desire for something you can hang on to in the midst of these gale-force winds, and there’s a solidity to Schiff that is really appealing,’ [said David Axelrod]. ‘At a time when everything seems to be going crazy, there is a sense of bland is beautiful.’”


-- Paul Ryan is spending his final months as speaker responding to Trump-inflicted controversies as he tries to help Republicans hold their majority. Mike DeBonis writes: “Still, [Ryan] has defied GOP colleagues who predicted it would be impossible for a lame-duck speaker to remain in power for months with control of the House on the line in November. Interviews with numerous Republicans this week suggested that even the speaker’s critics have been placated after he maintained a brisk fundraising pace, deftly steered them through internal political minefields, and largely kept a lid on a potentially messy and distracting contest to choose his successor. What he hasn’t done is make concrete progress overhauling immigration or mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare — key priorities he has pursued during his 20-year congressional career — or pushing back on Trump’s trade and foreign policy moves. Instead, Ryan’s final months in office have been consumed with trying to keep his party in position to keep their majority.”

-- Bill Shine, White House deputy chief of staff for communications, was subpoenaed last year in connection to accusations that, as co-president of Fox News, he helped cover up the sexual misconduct of Roger Ailes. The New York Times’s Elizabeth Williamson and Emily Steel report: “After receiving the federal subpoena last year, Mr. Shine did not testify to the grand jury but instead agreed to a voluntary interview with prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, according to a person familiar with the situation. It is not known specifically what Mr. Shine was asked. But around the same time, prosecutors were seeking information elsewhere about whether Mr. Shine played a role in intimidating and discrediting women who claimed sexual misconduct at Fox News, in reaching secret settlements to silence them and in hiding from public scrutiny settlements paid from corporate funds, according to a person directly involved in the investigation.”

-- The Senate is expected to confirm Robert Wilkie as the next VA secretary in a Monday vote. Lisa Rein reports: “The rapidly scheduled vote was announced after Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called Thursday for action on the confirmation ‘without delay.’ The move follows a report in The Washington Post on Wednesday that VA officials who are supportive of [Trump] have been taking aggressive steps to sideline or reassign employees who are perceived to be disloyal.”

-- Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, currently on a book tour, disputed Trump’s characterization of the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt.” “As of now, I see no evidence that it is,” Spicer said during an NBC interview. “I think it’s very important to be clear that Russia meddled in our elections and also clear that there’s no evidence of collusion, which the president has done.” (John Wagner)

-- The University of Virginia is facing an uproar over its decision to hire Trump’s former legislative affairs director Marc Short. Politico’s Benjamin Wermund reports: “Short, a frequent Trump spokesman on television, is leaving the White House Friday and, beginning in August, will teach at the university's business school, where he earned an MBA. … But an online petition blasts the school for hiring Short … ‘As we approach the first anniversary of the white nationalist violence against this university, this town, and our friends, neighbors, students faculty and staff — all of whom are represented among the injured — it is unconscionable that we would add to our university a person who served in a high-level position for the administration that first empowered, then defended, those white nationalists,’ the petition says.”


-- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Trump in the days after his 2016 electoral victory to congratulate him on his campaign’s successful use of advertising on the social network. BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Mac and Charlie Warzel report: “While Facebook has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge how well Trump used its social network to reach voters, it has celebrated the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign internally as one of the most imaginative uses of the company’s powerful advertising platform. In addition to interviews with Trump campaign staffers and former Facebook employees, BuzzFeed News obtained company presentations and memos that show the social media giant viewed Trump’s campaign as an ‘innovator’ of a fast-moving, test-oriented approach to marketing on Facebook.”

-- Virginia GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart accused a New York Times reporter of breaking into his campaign aide’s apartment, charges that the newspaper disputes. Laura Vozzella and Reis Thebault report: “[Campaign aide Brian Landrum] was not at home when [reporter Stephanie Saul] arrived but said a houseguest discovered the reporter inside his apartment. Saul scribbled down a note to Landrum requesting an interview and quickly left, Landrum said. Stewart and Landrum said Saul broke into the apartment; a spokeswoman for the New York Times said that the houseguest answered the door and Saul left a note without entering the premises. Prince William police are investigating the incident; no charges had been filed as of Thursday.” Stewart accused the “far left media” of “working overtime to invent wild stories to try to give advantage to Tim Kaine.”

-- In Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race, some voters rejected hard-line anti-tax policies in favor of pro-government Republican candidates. Tim Craig reports: “After years of upheaval in state government, including chronic budget shortfalls and this year’s teacher walkout over low pay, Oklahoma Republicans veered toward moderation when they selected two candidates from the state’s urban centers — [former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett] and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt — to advance to an Aug. 28 runoff. … The results were widely interpreted as a repudiation of Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who pushed for income tax cuts even as teachers and advocates decried cuts to state education funding.”


Trump took to Twitter this morning to question raising interest rates:

Trump also expressed his sympathies for victims of the Missouri boat accident:

McFaul responded:

Hillary Clinton defended McFaul:

House Democrats celebrated the White House's announcement that Trump will not let Putin interrogate McFaul:

One Republican senator dismissed Putin's suggestion as ridiculous:

Another GOP senator had more harsh words for Trump's stance on Russia:

A Yahoo reporter returned to the vice president's convention speech amid Trump's mixed messaging on Putin:

A CNBC reporter reminded his Twitter followers of reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in 2016 that he thought “Putin pays” Trump:

A Politico reporter pointed out this odd word choice:

The deputy attorney general received a standing ovation in Aspen:

Democrats literally cheered when Senate Democrats withdrew a court nomination:

A Post reporter replied with this terrible pun:

A writer for the liberal outlet Shareblue criticized a White House event:

Iowa's governor offered her prayers to those affected by the state's tornadoes:

Michelle Obama shared a star-studded PSA urging young people to register to vote:

The White House press secretary promoted her predecessor's new book:

And a congressional candidate in West Virginia swore-in his son to the Navy:


-- “Three months before the 2016 election, the [CEO] of a small, privately held bank in Chicago was appointed to [Trump’s] 13-member economic advisory team,” the American Banker’s Kevin Wack reports. “Stephen Calk may have expected his foray into presidential politics to open new doors. Instead it backfired spectacularly. The little-known banker became an important figure in the Russian election meddling saga, with prosecutors alleging that an executive who fits Calk’s description snagged a spot on the Trump advisory council in exchange for providing millions of dollars in loans to [Paul Manafort]. [As Manafort prepares to go on trial next week, Calk] could be a key witness at one of the most high-profile U.S. trials in recent memory. … Though Calk’s involvement in the Trump campaign did not go as planned, his own business history in Chicago may have given him reason to think that it would pay dividends …”

“Four years earlier, Calk struck an agreement with [Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel] that promised to bring up to 400 new employees to a gentrifying neighborhood west of downtown. The city agreed to pay the bank $10,000 per employee … to cover job training costs. In the end, Calk and his brother John pulled off a neat trick: Their bank, among the most profitable in the country that year, collected $3.6 million in public subsidies in substantial part by rehiring employees who they had recently fired from a separate company that they also owned. … ‘It was blatantly obvious what they were doing, and how they got away with it is beyond me,’ said a former Federal Savings Bank employee[.]”

-- CNN, “Rupert Murdoch's summer of good fortune,” by Hadas Gold: “Three times this summer, government regulators have had to make major decisions regarding media ownership. Three times, the decision has gone the way that Murdoch and his company, 21st Century Fox, would have wanted. Murdoch is known to speak regularly with [Trump]. And some of the biggest stars of Murdoch's network, Fox News, have arguably been the president's most important supporters over the past year and a half. There's no evidence that either of those things led to the regulators' decisions, or that the decisions coming together this way are anything but a coincidence, but Murdoch's string of good fortune has set some tongues wagging.”

-- CBS News, “Recruiters pay vulnerable addicts to try experimental treatment to kick heroin,” by Jeff Glor: “There are believed to be more than 600,000 opioid addicts in the U.S. A scheme that preys on many involves Naltrexone, a drug that curbs cravings. The FDA approved it in some forms, but not as a surgical implant. But that hasn't stopped questionable recruiters from paying addicts hundreds of dollars to have the surgery, and doctors are billing insurance companies thousands of dollars.”

-- Wired, “How a Facebook Group for Sexual Assault Survivors Became a Tool for Harassment,” by Louise Matsakis: “The group was easy to find: As recently as this month, the page associated with it ranked higher in some search results than the #MeToo page verified by Facebook. The group, which also had ‘me too’ in the name, looked legitimate to Amanda. Best of all, it was ‘closed,’ meaning that while the group showed up in search results, new members needed an admin’s approval to join and only members could see what was posted in it. ‘People shared the most intimate moments of trauma with these people,’ says Amanda. … Then suddenly earlier this month, Amanda noticed the group’s name and photo had been changed. The same day [Trump] had mocked the #MeToo movement at a rally in Montana, trolls began descending on her community.

-- BuzzFeed News, “Here’s What Happened When The Government Lost Control Of The Biggest Nuclear Cleanup In The US,” by Zahra Hirji: “As November turned to December, rumors spread through the western corner of the former nuclear weapons plant in eastern Washington. Bo-J and his anxious coworkers at the old Hanford plant would talk on lunch breaks about radioactive particles showing up on gear, and newly roped-off areas of contamination. … On Dec. 13, 2017, after the gear on half a dozen employees had tested ‘hot,’ labor unions refused to keep working, and demolition ground to a halt. It was the beginning of one of the worst contamination events at Hanford, a sprawling site that once produced the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki and whose cleanup will take most of this century.”


“Russia-friendly Rep. Rohrabacher doubts hacking indictment, plans to consult outside ‘experts,’” from David Weigel: "‘The explanation of the indictment is so complicated and technical that it is hard for anyone to judge whether it’s accurate,’ [Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)] said. ‘There are experts that will be able to judge whether it’s accurate. I know that there are a number of intelligence agents … the VIPS. They’re experts in cyberwarfare … I plan to talk to them to see if the information provided in the indictments is something that they are willing to accept as possible[.]’ Rohrabacher was referring to the work of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of ‘Russiagate’ skeptics who argued in 2017 that ‘an insider copied DNC data onto an external storage device.’”



“Whoopi vs. Judge Jeanine: ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ comment sparks yelling match on The View,” from Meagan Flynn: “‘The View’ co-host Whoopi Goldberg and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro got snarled in a yelling match on live television Thursday on an episode of ‘The View,’ after Pirro appeared to suggest Goldberg suffered from ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome.’ … Pirro appeared to mutter something about people having ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome,’ a term popular particularly on Fox for Americans outspoken in their criticism of Trump. ‘Did you just point at me?’ Goldberg asked. ‘Yes,’ Pirro confirmed. And then they were off. ‘Listen, I don’t have ‘Trump Derangement’ — let me tell you what I have,’ Goldberg said. ‘I’m tired of people starting a conversation with ‘Mexicans are liars and rapists.''”



Trump will receive his intelligence briefing and later travel to Bedminster, N.J., for the weekend.


“Women in particular . . . I want you to get more involved. Because men have been getting on my nerves lately. I mean, every day I read the newspaper and I just think like, ‘Brothers, what’s wrong with you guys? What’s wrong with us?’” — Barack Obama encouraging women to get involved in politics during a town hall in Johannesburg. (Eugene Scott)



-- Washington will see comfortable warmth today, but the good weather is not likely to last long. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “We could stay a couple of degrees cooler than Thursday thanks to some periodic clouds later, but mid-to-upper 80s still feel plenty warm. Southeasterly breezes around 10 mph should build during the afternoon and help keep us refreshed. Dew points should dip back below that palpable 60-degree mark for the afternoon, keeping our heat index in step with our air temperature. Not bad, and not sure when we’ll have another decent summer day like this. Cash it in! Just a small chance of a passing shower.”

-- House Republicans passed two measures blocking D.C. government initiatives, including a plan to prop up the Affordable Care Act. Jenna Portnoy and Peter Jamison report: “In addition to measures targeting D.C.’s version of the individual mandate under the [ACA], lawmakers passed restrictions against using local funding to help low-income women obtain abortions, to commercialize recreational marijuana and to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives. All told, the spending bill includes seven attempts to override the will of local elected officials — the most in at least a decade. The provisions must clear several legislative hurdles, and city officials said they will lean on their allies in the Senate to stop that from happening.”

-- David Blair is requesting a partial recount in the Democratic primary for Montgomery County executive. Blair, who lost the race to Marc Elrich by 79 votes, said he does not expect the result to change. (Jennifer Barrios)

-- Virginia’s attorney general declined to challenge a federal ruling that 11 state legislative districts were racially gerrymandered. From Gregory S. Schneider: “[Mark] Herring (D) called on the General Assembly to follow the orders of a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and draw new district boundaries by Oct. 30. ‘This finding of a race-based violation of Virginians’ right to vote should be of the utmost concern to each of us, and it demands a remedy as soon as possible,’ Herring said in a press release.”

-- Metro has reached a settlement with the family of Carol Glover, the 61-year-old woman who died in 2015 after being trapped in a smoke-filled Metro tunnel outside L’Enfant plaza. Glover's two sons had originally sought $50 million in damages, but it is unclear if Metro agreed to their request in the sealed, out-of-court agreement. (Martine Powers)


Russia broadcast videos showing off the testing and operation of new nuclear weapons:

Russia on July 19 broadcast a series of videos showing the testing and operation of new nuclear and conventional weapons. (Video: Reuters)

The Post explained how cold cases are solved:

Some murder investigations last decades before any real progress is made. How do police discover new evidence when all leads have been exhausted? (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

And a young boy found an inventive way to play catch with his neighbor's dog: