National Political Correspondent

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

AURORA, Colo. — On the sixth anniversary of a shooting at a movie theater here that left a dozen dead and 70 more injured, a new memorial was dedicated to the victims.

Jason Crow recalled the July 20 ceremony in an interview at his campaign headquarters six miles down the road. The Democratic nominee against Rep. Mike Coffman (R) has made tough new gun laws a central issue in one of the highest profile House races of 2018, a key test of the issue’s potency.

“I view my role right now as making sure we don’t have to build any more of those memorials,” Crow said Tuesday night. “I wish we were at a point where we were as good at dealing with the policy to prevent these things as we are at building beautiful memorials to the victims.”

Columbine High School in Littleton, where two teenagers killed 13 people and then themselves in 1999, is just one mile outside the district’s boundary.

Affluent, educated, diverse and suburban, the 6th District outside Denver is the archetype of a tough place for a Republican incumbent to survive in the upcoming midterms. Hillary Clinton won it by nine points in 2016, even as Coffman — who refused to support Donald Trump — got reelected by eight points.

Republicans note that Coffman’s Democratic challengers in 2012, 2014 and 2016 also endorsed stricter gun laws, though perhaps not as vocally as his current opponent. Crow, a former Army Ranger who now practices law, is betting his political future on 2018 being different.

“It's something that I feel like we have reached a tipping point on,” he said. “You'll find plenty of old salty politicos that would say, in a swing district like this, you shouldn't take on gun violence. I don't care about that political wisdom anymore.”

It was Taco Tuesday at Crow’s HQ, which is on the 11th floor of an office building. A dozen volunteers were phone banking in the conference room, so we chatted in the kitchenette. A crock pot had been going all day, so the room smelled of barbacoa. Crow wore blue jeans and an open-collared blue dress shirt.

He looked like he might choke up when he discussed his two kids, who are in elementary school, participating in active-shooter drills. “I've used these weapons of war, and I've had similar weapons used against me,” he said. “But I'm also a parent, and way before my political career started and way after it ends, I'm going to be a father. Geez, I still get emotional when I talk about this: I had my 5-year-old daughter come home from school, telling me that she now has ‘bad guy drills’ and she has to hide in a dark closet.”

While five of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in American history have taken place in the past three years, Crow notes that he’s also chosen to focus on guns because of everyday violence that does not generate headlines or lead to the construction of memorials.

-- Crow promises to immediately introduce several bills if he’s elected, and he hopes that he’d be part of a Democratic majority that could pass them — even if they’d die in the Senate and/or President Trump would never sign any into law:

  • He wants to reimpose the assault weapons ban that passed in 1994 but lapsed in 2004.
  • He advocates restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines.
  • He favors legislation, not executive action, to ban bump stocks, so that it’s less susceptible to a court challenge.
  • He supports universal background checks for all gun purchases, including private party transactions at gun shows.
  • He’d block gun sales to suspected terrorists on the no-fly list, anyone convicted of domestic abuse or stalking and mentally ill people who could be dangerous.
  • And he’d rescind the Dickey Amendment’s ban on federal funding for research into the causes and effects of gun violence.

-- This is not without risk. The West has a long libertarian streak, and historically people who oppose new gun laws tend to be significantly more motivated to vote on the issue than people who support them. After the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, the Democratic-controlled state government enacted new laws to limit the size of magazines and require universal background checks. This galvanized conservative activists to organize recall campaigns against two Democratic state senators, including the state Senate president. Both went down. It was the first successful recall in Colorado history.

-- But this isn’t your grandfather’s Colorado, either. Communities like this have driven the Rocky Mountain State’s transformation from red to purple to bluish. About 20 percent of the 6th District’s residents were born outside the country, and half were born outside the state. Almost 4 in 10 registered voters are unaffiliated with either major party.

-- Coffman has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, and his congressional campaigns have received more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from the group over the past decade. The congressman sponsored concealed carry reciprocity legislation, an NRA priority, that requires states to honor permits granted by other states. It passed the House 231 to 198 last December but has stalled in the Senate. He also voted early last year to overturn an Obama administration regulation that was designed to prevent some mentally disabled people from purchasing guns.

The Republican incumbent has adjusted his tone when discussing gun issues, a sign of the times. He got booed during a town hall meeting the week after the Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Half of the questions that night focused on Congress’s failure to do something to stop the violence. Coffman was noncommittal and said he supported “responsible gun ownership.”

“We live in an imperfect world,” he said at one point. “There is no way that you can say, no matter what laws you pass, that bad things are not going to happen.”

Two months later, Coffman co-sponsored a bill that would provide federal grants for states that adopt “red flag” laws like one enacted by Indiana in 2005. This allows local law enforcement to get a court order to take firearms from individuals they identify as a risk to themselves or others. Nine states have such laws on the books now, but an effort to pass one in Colorado failed during the past legislative session. Coffman said the state General Assembly should reconsider its opposition next year.

Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg said that the congressman decided to support “red flag” laws after long conversations with superintendents and local police: “While Mike Coffman has taken a thoughtful approach to the issue, helping pass school safety legislation and authoring a bill to keep guns out of the hands of the violent and mentally ill, Jason Crow is out of touch with Colorado voters, pushing Bloomberg-backed gun bans that would infringe on the constitutional rights of law abiding gun owners.”

-- Crow pushed back on the idea that he is some kind of gun-grabbing liberal. He reminisced about hunting deer, ducks and rabbits as a boy and noted his experience with weapons in the military.

-- His outspokenness on the issue has made him a favorite of groups like the one led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was nearly assassinated by a gunman outside a grocery store in 2011. “Coloradans can see through Rep. Coffman's feeble attempt to convince his voters that he is standing up for their safety, and they are going to vote him out in November,” said Isabelle James, the political director for the Giffords group.

Another group, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, spent six figures on radio ads attacking Coffman last year for sponsoring the concealed carry reciprocity bill.

-- Crow will host another town-hall-style meeting focused exclusively on guns next Tuesday night in Aurora. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), another combat veteran who has focused on the issue in Congress, is flying out for it. They will be joined by Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was among the dozen killed in the Aurora theater shooting, and Jane Dougherty, whose sister was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the same year. Her sister, Mary Sherlach, was the school’s psychologist and confronted the shooter.

Dougherty, who lives in the Denver area and has been engaged in activism ever since, praised Crow for embracing her “whole wish list” of priorities. “It’s no longer the third rail, as it used to be called,” she said.

-- Indeed, Crow is not alone in being willing to take positions that many Democrats eschewed just a few years ago. “The important point I think is that although the issue plays better in different parts of the country — better in the suburbs of Denver than in rural Kentucky, for instance — the politics have shifted in favor of gun violence protection advocates in every single part of the country,” said Democratic pollster Matt Canter of Global Strategy Group. “In other words, there is nowhere that the politics have not shifted in favor of stronger gun laws compared to five years ago.”

-- One of Crow’s biggest challenges here is that Coffman is a proven political survivor and well-liked by many in the district. First elected to the state House three decades ago, he was a Marine Corps officer in Iraq during Desert Storm and then did another tour in 2005. He was elected Colorado secretary of state in 2006, even as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee lost by 17 points in a terrible year for the party.

Coffman used to be much more conservative when his district was solidly red. (He replaced Tom Tancredo in 2008 when he resigned to run for president.) After the boundaries were redrawn to double the number of Latino voters as part of reapportionment, Coffman learned Spanish and moderated on immigration. He’s been a leading Republican voice in the House for protecting the “dreamers.” He’s also done intensive outreach to the Ethiopian and Asian populations that’s paid dividends.

-- Crow said he’s been surprised at the number of people in the redder, more rural parts of the district who have thanked him for being so outspoken on guns. But he said he also still gets strong pushback. He hopes that voters who wouldn’t go as far as he wants to will appreciate his “candid leadership” style. “This is clearly an issue that evokes a lot of passion with folks,” he said. “You’re not always going to agree with me, but you’re going to know where I stand. … People really react well to that, I find, because it’s so rare.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A retired Ohio State wrestling coach urged two former wrestlers, who accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of ignoring sexual abuse, to recant their stories. “The former wrestlers said their ex-coach made it clear to them he was under pressure from Jordan to get statements of support from members of the team,” NBC News’s Corky Siemaszko reports. "‘I’m sorry you got caught up in the media train,’ [coach Russ] Hellickson wrote in a July 4 text to Dunyasha Yetts that the former wrestler shared . . . ‘If you think the story got told wrong about Jim, you could probably write a statement for release that tells your story and corrects what you feel bad about. I can put you in contact with someone who would release it.’ … ‘[Hellickson] said, 'I will defend Jimmy until I have to put my hand on a Bible and be asked to tell the truth, then Jimmy will be on his own,' Yetts said.” Jordan is running to replace Paul Ryan as House speaker. 

-- Ohio State placed its football coach on administrative leave after allegations arose that he learned of domestic abuse claims against an assistant coach years before firing him. Will Hobson reports: “Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of recently fired Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith, said she discussed the incident — in which she claims her ex-husband shoved her against a wall with his hands around her neck — in 2015 with Shelley Meyer, [Coach] Urban Meyer’s wife. … Smith provided text messages she exchanged with Shelley Meyer in 2015 about the incident, which brought a police visit but did not result in criminal charges against Zach Smith. Meyer fired Zach Smith last month after the 2015 allegation came to light.”

-- Pope Francis has altered Catholic Church teaching to categorize the death penalty as “inadmissible.” Chico Harlan reports: “The change addresses several lines of the catechism, the compendium of Catholic teaching, but it sharply amplifies the church’s opposition against one of the world’s most debated policy practices. The church’s updated teaching states that capital punishment is ‘inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.’ Previously, the church teaching allowed for the death penalty in very rare cases, only as a means of ‘defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.’ Francis has been a vocal critic of the death penalty, and in October called the punishment an ‘inhuman measure’ that ‘heavily wounds human dignity.’”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Police identified Joseph James Pappas as a suspect in the murder of Mark Hausknecht, a longtime doctor to George H.W. Bush. Authorities said Pappas held a grudge against Hausknecht after his mother died during a surgery over 20 years ago. (Erin B. Logan)
  2. Illinois state Rep. Nick Sauer (R) resigned after an ex-girlfriend filed an official complaint accusing him of creating a fake Instagram account and populating it with nude photos she had sent him to “catfish” men into “graphic” discussions. (Politico)
  3. Lawmakers expressed shock at the rapid fall of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned over sexual abuse allegations. “More than heartbreaking, more than heartbreaking,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said of the former Washington archbishop. Leahy, the longest-serving Catholic in Congress, recalled how he and his wife often socialized with McCarrick. “Both Marcelle and I are heartbroken.” (Paul Kane)

  4. USC president C.L. Max Nikias agreed to step down in May, following a string of high-profile scandals that roiled the university. But months later, he has not actually left the campus — drawing the ire of hundreds of faculty members, who have signed two separate petitions demanding USC’s board of trustees formally announce his departure and appoint an interim president by this fall. (Susan Svrluga)
  5. The University of Virginia’s new president defended the hiring of Marc Short, Trump’s former director of legislative affairs, to the school’s Miller Center. “I think it was the right call,” James Ryan said of the decision, which prompted two history professors to resign. (Nick Anderson)
  6. Tesla posted a second-quarter loss of $743 million, slightly outperforming analysts’ projections as the beleaguered automaker races to boost the production of its electric cars. (Drew Harwell)
  7. Ted Kennedy’s former Georgetown home is about to hit the market for $22 million. Kennedy and his first wife rented the property some time after he was elected to the Senate in the 1960s. (Wall Street Journal)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Trump's tweet urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation “right now” set off a firestorm yesterday. Trump’s lawyers quickly argued that the tweet was not a directive to Sessions to take any specific action. “The president has issued no order or direction to the Department of Justice on this,” Jay Sekulow told my colleagues Carol D. Leonnig, John Wagner and Devlin Barrett.

    The tweet is especially significant given Trump is under scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller over whether he has tried to block the investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election. My colleagues note: “Mueller’s investigators have been scrutinizing Trump’s use of Twitter, seeking to determine the president’s motives for certain tweets — particularly messages that appear to push for a specific action that could affect the investigation, according to people familiar with the inquiry. Mueller’s investigators have asked witnesses whether the president made statements privately in which he indicated what he wanted to see happen as a result of his tweets, particularly whether he was trying to pressure Sessions or others to resign with certain messages, these people said.” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the idea that tweets could be used to gauge obstruction of justice was “bizarre” and “an attempt to infringe on his First Amendment right and ability to communicate with the American people.”

    Remember: Sessions has recused himself from the investigation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told them it was “entirely inappropriate” for Trump to ask this of the attorney general: “The only person who could fire Mueller is Rod Rosenstein, who is bound by Justice Department guidances that specify that he would have to have good cause, and it would have to be reported to Congress.” 

    -- Mueller has offered to limit the number of questions that his team would ask Trump in a potential interview — in an effort to restart stalled negotiations with the president’s legal team. Carol D. Leonnig reports: “In a letter sent Monday, Mueller’s team suggested that investigators would reduce by nearly half the number of questions they would ask about potential obstruction of justice … It’s unclear which topic or topics would be left out. Earlier this summer, Trump’s legal team sought to set specific conditions on an interview and make central topics off-limits — conditions they believed would be dealbreakers for the special counsel. Among them: that Mueller not ask any questions about actions Trump has taken as president, including his private discussions with [James Comey]. [Rudy Giuliani said] earlier this month that he believe such questions could unfairly expose Trump to claims of perjury. Giuliani told reporters [Wednesday] that Trump remains willing to be interviewed if the lawyers can agree on ground rules. ‘I’m not going to give you a lot of hope it’s going to happen,’ he said …‘But we’re still negotiating.'”

    -- “Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing … In effect, he believes he can convince [Mueller’s investigators] of his belief that their own inquiry is a ‘witch hunt,’” the New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report. “[Mueller’s team] did shift slightly on format, agreeing to accept some written answers, including matters in which they want to preserve the ability to have Mr. Trump answer follow-ups in person. In doing so, they firmed up a previously expressed willingness to allow certain answers in writing. The president’s lawyers are unwilling to concede to follow-ups in person, citing concerns that Mr. Trump will increase his legal exposure.”

    -- Lawmakers and analysts in Washington are expressing growing alarm that the U.S. has done little to protect itself against renewed Russian interference efforts in the midterms. Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg report: “They say that voting systems are more secure against hackers, thanks to action at the federal and state levels — and that the Russians have not targeted those systems to the degree they did in 2016. But Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the [U.S.]. … Experts say the lack of forceful administration leadership on the issue … renders less effective the efforts of agencies to mount a coordinated government action. . . . Administration officials dispute such criticism. The U.S. intelligence community for months has been meeting on the issue, including with National Security Council staff members, they said. But complicating their efforts … is the fact that the battleground is in the private sector — an area that is traditionally off-limits to intelligence agencies.”

    -- Senate Republicans voted down a measure that would direct an additional $250 million toward bolstering election security ahead of the November elections, despite warnings from the U.S. intelligence community that such efforts are already well underway. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The 50 to 47 vote fell far short of the needed 60 votes to include the $250 million amendment, proposed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), in an appropriations package that the Senate was set to approve Wednesday. Only one Republican senator — Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) … voted for the additional funds. Three other Republicans did not vote: Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, Jeff Flake (Ariz.) who is traveling in Africa, and John McCain (Ariz.), who is in [undergoing cancer treatment]. All four of those Republicans have been critical of [Trump’s] refusal to prioritize a more robust response to resist foreign government interference[.]” The vote came one day after Facebook said it uncovered a “coordinated disinformation operation” on its platform and one week after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) revealed that Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate her computer network. 

    -- Some activists are accusing Facebook of suppressing free speech by deleting pages believed to be connected to Russia’s disinformation campaign. Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Eli Rosenberg report: “Facebook said it had to act quickly to disclose that inauthentic operators were behind an upcoming event in Washington to counter a white-supremacist rally inspired by the deadly demonstration in Charlottesville last year. ‘Resisters,’ the page that created the event, was among the 32 pages and accounts Facebook removed Tuesday. However, activists who had worked with Resisters said the counterprotest they planned against a far-right rally was legitimate — and that Facebook was harming their ability to combat the rise of white supremacy.”

    -- The Senate agreed to release documents on alleged Russian operative Maria Butina to the DOJ. From Politico’s Burgess Everett: “The Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed Butina as part of its lengthy investigation into Russian influence on U.S. elections in 2016. In a joint statement, the committee's leaders said they planned to turn over records of those interviews to the federal government.”

    -- On the second day of Paul Manafort's trial, federal prosecutors sought to highlight the former Trump campaign chairman's lavish spending, including on hundreds of thousands of dollars in suits. This drew the ire of U.S. Jude T.S. Ellis III, who questioned how it furthered their case that Manafort filed fraudulent tax returns. Rachel Weiner, Rosalind S. Helderman, Justin Jouvenal and Matt Zapotosky break down the key moments from the proceedings:

    • “Trump weighed in on the trial for the first time, asking his Twitter followers if Manafort was being ‘treated worse’ than notorious gangster Al Capone.
    • “Witnesses described how Manafort paid for a life of luxury — spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on suits and home renovations — via wire transfers from foreign bank accounts.
    • “The judge repeatedly warned prosecutors not to dwell on the extravagance of the purchases Manafort made.
    • “Prosecutors suggested they might not call Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, as a witness. They also revealed they are ahead of schedule and could rest their case next week.”

    -- “[Ellis] sounded less like a federal jurist than an exasperated high school teacher,” Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein report. “In the opening days of Manafort’s case, the Ronald Reagan appointee has been an alternately salty and funny presence — chastising lawyers, comparing Ukrainian oligarchs to school principals, and joking that jurors would be served ‘pheasant under glass’ for lunch. … Amid the punchlines, Ellis … has been an equal-opportunity stickler in the Manafort case. He has chastised attorneys on both sides for asking ‘compound’ questions that stack up too many topics. He’s shot down requests from Manafort’s defense lawyers to have potential jurors say whether they’d gone to the polls in the 2016 presidential election. And he’s shown little patience for the special counsel’s requests to have repetitive series of documents and photographs entered into the record so they can be immediately released to jurors and the public.”

    -- Manafort’s trial has shined a light on the shady world of foreign political consulting. The New York Times’s Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner write: “The vigor with which Mr. Mueller has investigated the flows of foreign money from Ukraine, Turkey and other countries into Washington could be as much a part of his legacy as special counsel as whatever he discovers about possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or presidential obstruction of justice. … Beyond the special counsel’s office, the Justice Department has also recently been pursuing foreign influence cases with greater urgency. All of this has prompted lobbyists to hunt for advice about how to comply with laws governing that sphere, long viewed as toothless.”

    THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

    -- TSA is considering eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and midsize U.S. airports. CNN reports: “Internal documents from a TSA working group say the proposal to cut screening at small and some medium-sized airports serving aircraft with 60 seats or fewer could bring a 'small (nonzero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.' The internal documents from June and July suggest the move could save $115 million annually, money that could be used to bolster security at larger airports . . . The documents said a TSA working group of 20 people, including a representative of the agency's administrator's office, met on June 21 to examine the potential risks of the policy change.

    • “Two senior TSA officials, who asked not to be identified, expressed serious national security concerns over the proposal. They said the idea was explored as far back as 2011 and has been resurrected.
    • CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said: “Al Qaeda and ISIS still regard aviation as a priority target — that includes aircraft where you have fewer than 60 people on board.”
    • Reminder: Two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers first flew from an airport in Portland, Maine, to Boston.

    -- The Trump administration is widening the availability of short-term health plans that do not have to meet all Obamacare requirements. Amy Goldstein reports: “The policies will be available for 12 months at a time, up from a current limit of three, and customers will be able to renew them for additional years. The short-term plans do not have to cover preexisting conditions and certain kinds of health care that the Affordable Care Act requires. … In the months since the idea surfaced, it has elicited a wall of opposition from the health insurance industry, hospitals, doctors and patient advocacy groups. All have warned that consumers with bare-bones plans would be stranded when they need care — and that the defection of healthy customers from ACA market­places would drive up prices for those who remain.”

    -- Even as the Senate passed bills to keep the government funded, Trump touted the benefits of a pre-midterms shutdown. Erica Werner reports: “Calling in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s show, Trump said he may wait until after the November midterm elections to shut down the government, but he suggested a shutdown — part of a bid to win funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — could be good for the GOP. … Trump said ‘there are many people within our party that are good people’ who are not in favor of a pre-election shutdown. ‘They’d rather do it after. They don’t agree on doing it before, and I accept their opinion, but I happen to think it would be a good thing to do before,’ Trump said. ‘I actually think we’d get more and there’d be more pressure on the other side because we’re doing it because the Democrats are not giving us the votes.’”

    -- The far right is pushing Trump to go to the mat over wall funding. David Nakamura reports: “Trump’s hardcore backers contend that the president has more to gain by satisfying them than worrying about alienating more-moderate voters. … The decision highlights the fraught role of immigration in the nation’s political debate and the tricky calculus for the Trump White House as Democrats already hold a polling edge on November’s generic House ballot. … But a growing chorus of conservative commentators, including Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro, have suggested that fears of a shutdown rebounding negatively on Republicans and accelerating a blue wave in November are overblown.”

    -- A federal appeals court ruled that Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” was unconstitutional. Deanna Paul reports: “The decision, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, barred the Trump administration from defunding San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the case’s two plaintiffs, but it did not uphold a nationwide injunction issued late last year by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California. Instead, by a vote of 2 to 1, the three-judge panel sent the case back to the district court for additional fact-finding on the order’s nationwide impact.”

    -- The ACLU is suing the federal government on behalf of a U.S. Army medic discharged over her immigration status. Kyle Swenson reports: “Born in South Korea, [U.S. Army Specialist Yea Ji Sea] had come to the United States in 1998 when she was 9 on a visitor’s visa. At 26 she joined the Army, hoping to tap a program allowing active duty service members to earn their American citizenship. But Sea’s naturalization application had been stymied throughout her decorated four and a half years as a soldier. … The federal complaint argues that U.S. officials have improperly failed to process her rightful naturalization application. The complaint asks a judge to force the government to rule on her application within 20 days.”

    -- The Senate is not planning to hold confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh until September “at the earliest,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, making it unlikely that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will be confirmed before the start of the Oct. 1 court session. Felicia Sonmez reports: “On Wednesday, Kavanaugh was on Capitol Hill for meetings with seven senators. In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, [Grassley] was asked whether there is even ‘a 10 percent chance’ that his committee will hold hearings on Kavanaugh in August. ‘I don’t think so,’ Grassley replied. He said that it appears ‘early September would be the earliest’ that the hearings would take place.”

    -- The Trump administration is arguing its plan to freeze fuel-efficiency standards will result in fewer road deaths, a claim questioned by auto safety experts. Brady Dennis, Juliet Eilperin and Michael Laris report: “The proposed rule rejects the approach [the EPA and the Transportation Department] published less than two years ago during the Obama administration, which calculated that requiring higher fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks would save consumers money while also enhancing safety. Instead, the federal government now will argue that freezing a fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon in 2020 will save roughly 12,700 lives over the ensuing decades, partly because consumers will be more likely to purchase new cars rather than remaining in older, less safe vehicles.”

    -- The Education Department is pushing a plan that would require universities to publish more detailed information on graduates’ debt and earnings by major. But the effort has prompted stiff opposition from colleges — who have argued that the financial data could mislead future students and steer them away from pursuing certain degrees in the humanities. (Wall Street Journal)

    -- The Fed hinted that it may soon raise interest rates again as the U.S. economy continues to post strong numbers. Heather Long reports: “Trump has urged the Fed to keep rates low, but the central bank is an independent body, and Fed leaders have made it clear they intend to carry out their mandate to keep unemployment down and prices stable without political interference. Fed policymakers think the U.S. economy is on very good footing now and that the historically low rates that were put in place to aid the economy after the Great Recession are no longer necessary.”

    THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

    -- The U.S. military has begun the process of identifying the human remains believed to be U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War. Min Joo Kim and Simon Denyer report: “After a solemn ceremony at the U.S. military’s Osan Air Base in South Korea, 55 boxes of remains draped in the United Nations flag were taken to a pair of U.S. military planes, which flew them to a military laboratory in Hawaii for analysis and identification. Initial forensic analysis suggested that the remains were likely to be those of American service members, the U.S. military said. But experts say positive identification of all the remains could take years. … One dog tag was also returned, and the family of that soldier has been informed, but it has not been established whether his remains were among those returned.”

    The vice president was on hand for the honorable carry ceremony in Hawaii. “To these great American heroes fallen so long ago, today as a nation we breathe a word of thanks for your service and sacrifice and we say to you, as one people with one voice, welcome home,” Mike Pence said.

    -- Following through on Trump’s threat, the administration levied sanctions against two senior Turkish officers as punishment for refusing to release detained American pastor Andrew Brunson. Karen DeYoung and Felicia Sonmez report: “In announcing the sanctions against Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, the Treasury Department said the two had ‘played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson.’ Those organizations, it said, were responsible for ‘serious human rights abuses,’ including Brunson’s arrest in 2016 and continued detention on terrorism charges. … Turkey’s Foreign Ministry registered a ‘strong protest’ against actions it called inexplicable, disrespectful and illegal.”

    THE MIDTERMS:

    -- Primaries will be held today in Tennessee, where the race to determine a Republican gubernatorial nominee has turned contentious. David Weigel reports: “Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Budget Committee, entered the race exactly one year ago, and positioned herself as an ally of [Trump] who would crack down on illegal immigration and introduce work requirements for government benefits. The president, however, stayed out of the race, as Black’s early lead over business executives Randy Boyd and Bill Lee and state House Speaker Beth Harwell began to shrink. All four candidates ran as Trump allies; all ran against ‘sanctuary cities,’ which the state banned this spring. But Lee and Boyd attacked Black as a creature of the Washington ‘swamp,’ with some effect.”

    -- Barack Obama released his initial list of 81 midterm candidates he is endorsing. Felicia Sonmez reports: “Among the candidates on the list — the first of two waves of endorsements — are several Obama administration and campaign alumni. Notably, nearly half of the 81 candidates who have received his blessing are running for seats in state legislatures. But the list is drawing attention for its omissions as much as for who made the cut. No incumbents are included among Obama’s endorsed candidates; neither are Democrats running in several high-profile races across the country. Only one Senate candidate, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) in Nevada, appears on the list. Noticeably absent is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

    -- A new poll found the special election in Ohio to be a toss-up less than a week before voters go to the polls. The Monmouth University poll shows Troy Balderson with 44 percent support to Democrat Danny O'Connor's 43 percent support among all potential voters. (Politico)

    -- Connecticut’s GOP gubernatorial candidates are embracing Trump, even though the state’s past Republican governors were decidedly moderate. The Connecticut Post’s Bill Cummings reports: “All five Republicans vying for the nomination support securing the borders, advocate changing collective bargaining rules, oppose gun control and offer doomsday assessments of the state’s fiscal condition. Mark Boughton, the Republican Party backed candidate and Danbury’s mayor, has even resurrected repealing — or at least rolling back — the state’s personal income tax adopted decades ago.”

    -- “Kris Kobach promised cities help. It cost them millions — and powered his political rise,” by the Kansas City Star’s Hunter Woodall, Jessica Huseman, Bryan Lowry and Blake Paterson: “Kobach [who is running for governor of Kansas] likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town’s hardline anti-immigration ordinance … But ‘victory’ isn’t the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach’s work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. After two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to ‘knowingly’ hire illegal immigrants there — something that was already illegal under federal law.

    “But Kobach’s failures in the courtroom date back far longer. An investigation [shows] that the towns Kobach represented — small, largely white municipalities overwhelmed by real or perceived demographic shifts — were swayed by Kobach’s message: An ordinance would solve their problem and could easily be defended in court. [Now, for the first time, newly-released public records have detailed] the costs to municipalities and the payments to Kobach for his lengthy local legal campaigns.”

    • Former mayor Grant Young described Kobach’s role as “ambulance chasing.” 
    • A law professor likened him to Harold Hill in “The Music Man”: “Got a problem here in River City and we can solve it if you buy the band instruments from me.”

    -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a potential 2020 contender, has angered some major Democratic donors by criticizing the alleged sexual misconduct of Bill Clinton and Al Franken. HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel reports: “Most prominently, Gillibrand has attracted the ire of billionaire George Soros, who has long funded Democratic candidates and causes. Soros recently said he wasn’t sure whom he was supporting for 2020, but that it absolutely wouldn’t be Gillibrand. He accused her of going after Franken, ‘whom I admire,’ to ‘improve her chances’ for president. ‘If standing up for women who have been wronged makes George Soros mad, that’s on him,’ Gillibrand said in a statement … The 2020 race is still years away, but as donors start to shop around, her comments on Clinton and Franken could be a factor.”

    ABOUT THOSE Q SYMBOLS . . . 

    -- Members of a cultish conspiracy group known as “QAnon” attended Trump’s Tampa rally on Tuesday — invoking a level of tension that was almost palpable. Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “Believers in ‘QAnon,’ as the conspiracy theory is known, were front and center at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, where Trump came to stump for Republican candidates. As the president spoke, a sign rose from the audience. ‘We are Q,’ it read. Another poster displayed text arranged in a ‘Q’ pattern: ‘Where we go one we go all.’ … The prominence of the ‘Q’ symbol turned parts of the audience into a tableau of delusion and paranoia — and offered evidence that QAnon, an outgrowth of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory that led a gunman to open fire in a D.C. restaurant last year, has leaped from Internet message boards to the president’s ‘Make America Great Again’ tour through America.”

    -- “To believers, Q is a pseudonym for a well-placed U.S. government agent who is posting online distress messages and bits of intel, known as ‘bread crumbs,’ in an effort to save the country — and Trump — from hostile forces within the government,” Marc Fisher and Isaac report. “Q’s missives started appearing last October on 4chan, the mostly anonymous website where fringe ideas incubate and blossom. In messages written in a telegraphic, cryptic style, Q called on Americans to rally behind Trump as he planned a counteraction against forces that would investigate him and remove him from office.”

    -- “These are the deranged devotees of a supposed government agent who they believe is waging war against the ‘deep state’ that threatens the Trump presidency,” Post columnist Margaret Sullivan writes. “The HuffPost’s Andy Campbell described it as a mishmash: ‘It’s every conspiracy, all at once, an orchestra tune-up of theories.’ And although the group has staged public events in recent months, Tuesday night’s Trump rally was its real coming-out party. What’s particularly troubling about QAnon’s embrace of Trump rallies is its love for armed conflict and quasi-military associations: This crowd likes guns. As [journalist Will Sommer explained of the group], ‘The general story . . . is that every president before Trump was a ‘criminal president’ in league with all the nefarious groups of conspiracy theories past: the global banking elite, death squads operating on orders from Hillary Clinton, deep-state intelligence operatives, and Pizzagate-style pedophile rings. In an effort to break this cabal’s grip, according to Q, the military convinced Trump to run for president.’ Trump ought to be doing everything in his power to calm the waters at his rallies before real violence — perhaps deadly violence — takes over. … Rather, he and his closest allies, including his son and Sean Hannity at Fox News, are fanning the flames.

    SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

    Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for returning the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War:

    He also went after Charles Koch again:

    (Koch said Trump's trade policies were unfair to the people living in countries affected by them.)

    The former deputy attorney general Trump fired when she refused to defend his travel ban criticized his comments on the Mueller investigation:

    From a New York Times reporter:

    From a HuffPost reporter:

    Protesters disrupted Brett Kavanaugh's planned meeting with a Senate Republican:

    Another GOP senator shared a video from Antonin Scalia's confirmation hearing:

    A "Morning Joe" host recalled this 2012 Trump tweet:

    Trump called in to Rush Limbaugh's show:

    A Daily Show producer corrected Sean Hannity's understanding of DEFCON:

    A Post reporter provided updates from Manafort's trial:

    An animal-rights group criticized Manafort's ostrich jacket:

    A New Yorker writer accused Manafort of violating fashion law:

    A GOP strategist sent Manafort a copy of his new book:

    And Paul Ryan celebrated his slightly Jewish ancestry

    GOOD READS:

    -- News organizations are pre-writing stories about White House officials’ departures to keep up with the level of turnover in the Trump era. The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea reports: “One White House reporter for a large newspaper told me in an e-mail … that he has worked on a number of prewrites. ‘It's necessary,’ he said. He listed a few notable examples of this Administration’s sudden personnel moves. ‘Reince fired via tweet, Tillerson fired via tweet, McMaster, Bannon — everyone saw those coming.’ … ‘It’s sort of like the old long-standing practice of having prewritten obits,’ David Lauter, the Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, told me recently by phone … ‘We don’t do every single one,’ he added. ‘As with obits, you make a judgment of ‘How significant is this person?’ But we’ve done at least a dozen resignation prewrites so far.’ 

    “The event that precipitated this new practice was Reince Priebus’s dismissal as Trump’s chief of staff, last July. … It took the L.A. Times twenty-six minutes after Trump’s tweet to get a quick squib of a story up about the news on their Web site. In contrast, last month, when Trump tweeted that he’d accepted Scott Pruitt’s resignation as the head of the E.P.A., the paper had a full article, more than a thousand words long, published three minutes later. … These prewrites are becoming part of newsroom lore. A reporter at a major online publication … shared a story about working on them. ‘At one point,’ she told me in an e-mail, ‘one person on our policy desk was tasked with updating a prewrite … The last line of this prewrite — and it stayed this way for weeks — was: ‘but he could not withstand TK whatever he could not withstand,’ the reporter said.”

    -- New York Times Magazine, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” by Nathaniel Rich: “The inaugural chapter of the climate-change saga is over. In that chapter — call it Apprehension — we identified the threat and its consequences. We spoke, with increasing urgency and self-delusion, of the prospect of triumphing against long odds. But we did not seriously consider the prospect of failure. We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy. But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us. … Why did we do this to ourselves?”

    HOT ON THE LEFT:

    “Top House Republican: Man Killed His Wife ‘Because The Woman Was Unfair,’” from Talking Points Memo: “Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the influential House Rules Committee, told a social conservative activist who was pushing him to support the end of no-fault divorce that the way the family court system in Dallas used to process cases had led to some tragic consequences. To illustrate his point that the system had badly needed change, he used a baffling example. ‘Dallas County, a few years ago, went through a number of terrible shootings. And I gathered together [with district judges] and I said ‘guys, men, women, we’ve now had I think four or five shootings.’ One of them was from a big-time guy in Highland Park, who went and killed his wife, just gunned her down. And that was because the judge was unfair, and the woman was unfair. And she demanded something, and he was out. And it was frustration,’ Sessions said during a local GOP event earlier this summer. ‘So now we go through the court system. And unfortunately lives have to be lost and there has to be tragedy.’”

     

    HOT ON THE RIGHT:

    “Whoopi Goldberg says Trumps’ ‘War on Christmas’ is a ‘BS Debate’ — Megan McCain proves it’s alive and well,” from the Daily Caller: “Whoopi Goldberg blasted [Trump] calling the ‘war on Christmas’ a ‘B.S. debate.’ Then, Meghan McCain proved that the ‘culture war’ over the issue was alive and well. The comments came Wednesday during a panel discussion on ‘The View’ over Trump’s remarks Tuesday night at a rally in Florida where he shared that ‘people aren’t attacking [the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’] anymore. Everyone’s happy to say Merry Christmas.’ ‘The idea that somehow I’m being insensitive or intolerant by saying Merry Christmas to someone is where this comes from and why [Trump’s] brilliant to do it,’ McCain explained. ‘Because even right now… don’t look at me like that, Joy [Behar], I’m trying to explain what’s happening.’ She continued, ‘I will say that I understand it, because even here right now, just the mention of saying, ‘It’s more inclusive to say Happy Holidays’ — I don’t think I’m not inclusive, I think I am a Christian.'"

     

    DAYBOOK:

    Trump will meet with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) before traveling to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for a roundtable with supporters and a campaign rally. He will then travel to Bedminster, N.J.

    QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

    “The president is not obstructing; he’s fighting back.” — Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Trump’s Mueller tweet. (Aaron Blake)

     

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

    -- Showers and storms will continue through tomorrow in the District. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Sunshine is possible at times, but clouds bubble up quickly as temperatures climb and high humidity dominates. Showers and a few thundershowers should become more numerous, especially as the afternoon progresses. Highs reach the mid- to upper 80s fairly early, assuming showers do not pick up too soon.”

    -- The Nationals won against the Mets 5-3. (Jorge Castillo)

    -- Montgomery County police released body-camera footage from the fatal shooting of Robert Lawrence White by Officer Anand Badgujar. Dan Morse reports: “[The shooting] prompted a criminal investigation of the officer, which ended last week when Howard County prosecutors, who were reviewing the case, cleared him of wrongdoing. … ‘The tape is quite revealing,’ Howard County State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino said, referring to the body-camera video. ‘It’s pretty clear who the aggressor was.’ ‘I do not want to shoot you!’ the officer can be heard saying three different times. At least 21 times, White can be heard shouting, ‘Do it!’ After being shot the first time, White fell, got up and yelled, ‘Do it again!’”

    -- James Eason, who was paralyzed after being shot during a 2007 robbery in Southeast D.C., died from complications of the years-old bullet. His death was ruled a homicide, the city’s 95th this year. (Peter Hermann)

    VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

    Samantha Bee reacted to reports that 3-D printed guns can slip past security checkpoints:

    Stephen Colbert mocked Trump's typos:

    A Democratic senator read the U.S. code to determine whether collusion is a crime:

    Protests erupted in Zimbabwe as the country awaits results of a historic election:

    A man in Greece captured dramatic footage of a wildfire surrounding his home:

    And a 10-year-old boy in California broke one of Michael Phelps's swimming records: