With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
James Hohmann is on vacation. He will be back on Tuesday.
THE BIG IDEA: The typical wisdom is that economy is the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds when they head to the polls. With unemployment closing in on a 50-year low, stocks near record highs and growth picking up, the possibility exists that the economy could give Republicans enough of a boost to eat into a “blue wave.”
President Trump believes he can do it. He vowed Wednesday that his party will do much better than expected on Election Day 2018 because of the strong economy — and his charisma. “The Democrats give up when I turn out,” he told The Wall Street Journal, indicating he’ll make at least 50 campaign appearances in the next 82 days. On Thursday, Trump adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters, “The single biggest story this year is an economic boom that is durable and lasting.”
Yet there’s a problem for Trump and his party: The economy isn’t the dominant issue on the 2018 campaign trail. Only 14 percent of Americans say economic issues are the most important problem facing the nation today, according to Gallup. That’s a dramatic drop from 2012 when about 70 percent cited economic issues or 2016 when around 40 percent pointed to the economy.
I asked pollsters on the left and right what’s going on and what their advice is for candidates in tight races.
There were three main takeaways.
First, there's the Trump factor. This is a personality-driven election. In places where Trump is popular, candidates are focused on acting like Trump’s BFF. In places where he’s not, candidates promote themselves as the anti-Trump. Second, when the economy is good, it takes a back seat. People start thinking of other issues like education, health care and immigration. This is particularly true for the most critical swing group this year: college-educated white women. Third, there’s a noticeable gender gap in how men and women are approaching this election.
For 25 years, GOP pollster Wes Anderson has been asking voters what is the most important issue facing the country. “When we ask that question today, there is not a single dominant answer,” he said. That’s why he thinks this election is going to be about who people want to lead the country: Trump or Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer?
Pollsters on both sides say this election is going to come down to white men and women, mostly in the suburbs. “Many swing voter white men give Trump credit for the economy. They still think he’s kind of a jerk, but he’s getting the job done,” said Anderson, who co-founded OnMessage. “White suburban women agree their financial situation is better, but many say they can’t wait to get into the voting booth to make a statement against Donald Trump.”
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster at Lake Research Partners, said health care and education are popping as hot topics for suburban women, as is women’s reproductive health with the looming Supreme Court confirmation fight. “In 2016, voters did a Hail Mary for change. In 2018, I think they’ll do a Hail Mary again for change. Lots of voters didn’t get the change they want,” Lake said. “Women, in particular, have discovered not all change is the same.”
Still, strategists on both sides tell me they are advising their candidates to talk up the economy more, despite how unusual this year is.
Republican advisers are telling candidates: Remind voters what is at stake. “Right now, there is a choice. The economy is doing well. Do voters want less regulation, more money in their pockets and more freedom to make their own financial decisions? Or do they want more government programs that they will get stuck paying the tab for?” said Greg Strimple, a GOP pollster at GS Strategy Group.
Democratic advisers are telling candidates: There’s still a lot of economic anxiety, especially over pay not keeping up with soaring health care, housing and education costs. Give voters an alternative for their woes. “The tax cut is a nothingburger for voters. In our latest poll two weeks ago, only 35 percent of voters said Trump’s economic policies were good for people like them. They don’t feel better off,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research.
The numbers could advantage either party, depending on how you slice them. Growth is on track to hit 3 percent this year, the best in 13 years, and unemployment could easily fall to the lowest rate since 1969 (it’s currently at 3.9 percent and would only need to dip to 3.7). Blue-collar job gains have been especially good lately, consumer and business optimism is high, and middle-class families are getting, on average, a $900 tax cut this year.
But there are still some sore spots, which Democrats will likely play up. Wage growth is meager while corporate profits are high. The modest 2.7 percent wage gains in the past year are getting wiped out entirely by 2.9 percent inflation. Gas is up 50 cents in the past year, Trump is running up the deficit and 48 percent of country doesn’t have any money in the stock market.
There are at least three economic “wild cards” heading into Election Day. The stock market has stayed near record highs despite Trump’s trade war and the crisis in Turkey, but October can be a volatile month for markets. A stock market rout could reinforce fears that the economy has “peaked.” Trump could also announce a big trade deal, possibly on NAFTA or with China, that could cause stocks and sentiment to rally. Finally, Trump has promised he can get at least 4, if not 5, percent economic growth in the third quarter. The government will release the third quarter GDP figure Oct. 26, a critical moment.
The tariffs don’t seem to matter. Pollsters on both sides said it’s not resonating yet with voters. The tariffs in place so far are estimated to cost the average family $80 a year so far. It’s hard for most people to notice that (and even harder for them to figure out which costs are rising because of tariffs and not something else).
Farmers are the one group getting hit hard by this. But even there, Trump’s support shows little sign of a decline. As The Washington Post has reported, most soybean farmers sold the majority of their crop in the spring when prices were much higher. They are worried, but the real financial pain won’t come until 2019, well after the midterms.
The tax cut (mostly) isn’t resonating with voters. Far more Americans disapprove of the tax bill than approve, according to polling tracker over at RealClear Politics. The sentiment I hear is summed up by Penny Harford, a 67-year-old working two jobs in North Dakota. “I tried to sit down with my old pay stubs from a year before to do the math to see if I got any tax cut, but it’s hard,” she said. “I don’t know if I got one.”
Republican pollsters mostly agreed that it’s been harder than they expected to get traction on the tax issue, although they point out Trump’s approval rating has risen this year. “Trump’s job approval was at its lowest point right before the tax bill was passed and it’s gone up consistently from a low point of 38 percent to 43 percent. It’s hard for me to believe that’s just a coincidence,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster.
The final takeaway: Trump is getting some credit for the economy (he has a 51 percent economic approval rating, according to RealClear Politics). And the swing voters could make the difference. “This time last year in 2017, I was more concerned about a serious blue wave. I still think turnout will favor Democrats in November and not us,” Anderson said. “But it does not favor Dems as much as it did last year, largely because a good chunk of swing voters are begrudgingly giving Trump credit for the economy.”
GET SMART FAST:
- The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop has filed another federal lawsuit against Colorado alleging religious discrimination after he denied service to a transgender woman. Two weeks after the Supreme Court narrowly upheld Jack Phillips’s right to deny service to a same-sex couple, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled there was probable cause Phillips had discriminated against the transgender customer on the basis of her gender identity. (Amy B Wang)
- Legal experts say the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse could lead to an overhaul of statutes of limitations. Many of the Pennsylvania victims are unable to bring charges against their alleged abusers because state law requires such criminal cases to be brought before the victim turns 50. (Reis Thebault)
- FEMA Administrator Brock Long is directing senior leaders to determine how the agency “allowed harassment to go unaddressed” for years. Following the ouster of former personnel chief Corey Coleman over misconduct allegations, Long expressed hope that FEMA would be able “to set the standard for how allegations of harassment should be handled across the federal government.” (Lisa Rein and Elise Viebeck)
- Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey outlined his goal of reforming the platform to minimize the spread of hate speech and fake news. Dorsey said in an interview with The Post that he was experimenting with features to promote alternative viewpoints and reduce “echo chambers.” (Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin)
- The SEC has sent a subpoena to Tesla over CEO Elon Musk’s tweet that he had secured funding to take the company private. The subpoena indicates the initial inquiry into Musk’s tweet, which caused the company’s shares to soar, has grown into a formal investigation. (New York Times)
- More than 72,000 people in the United States died last year from a drug overdose, according to the CDC — a record high that officials say largely stems from both a spike in opioid drug use, and the fact that those drugs are becoming even more deadly. (New York Times)
- At least 25 people at a New Haven park were rushed to the hospital over a three-hour period after suffering from an apparent drug overdose. Authorities said the victims were found in groups of four to six and shared symptoms that included hallucinating, shallow breathing, semiconscious and unconscious states. It is unclear what exact drugs they had ingested, though officials suspect it may have been a form of synthetic marijuana laced with other substances. (ABC News)
Nearly 350 news organizations have agreed to participate in a coordinated series of editorials criticizing Trump’s attacks on the press. Several of the editorials started appearing online yesterday. But some nonparticipating organizations said the coordinated effort violated the principle of an independent press. (AP)
TRUMP VS. THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY:
-- Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday. The White House cited Brennan’s so-called “erratic” behavior as the reason for his firing.
-- Sanders said last month that Trump was “looking to take away” the clearances of Brennan and half a dozen others who served in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez report: “Along with [former FBI Director James] Comey, Sanders said the following people are also having their security clearances reviewed: former CIA and [NSA] director Michael V. Hayden, former national security adviser Susan E. Rice, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
“The move sent shock waves through Washington’s political class and the nation’s intelligence community, which has traditionally sought to avoid public partisanship but has been dragged into the debate as Trump has accused what he calls the ‘deep state’ of seeking to undermine his presidency through leaks of sensitive material.
-- “Brennan reacted to the news by comparing Trump’s actions to those of ‘foreign despots and autocrats.’ ‘I never, ever thought I’d see it here in the United States,’ Brennan said on MSNBC. ‘I believe all Americans need to take stock of what is happening right now in our government — how abnormal and how irresponsible and how dangerous these actions are. … If Mr. Trump believes this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken.’" “As far as we know, this is the first time that a [U.S. president] has individually taken action against somebody’s security clearance,” said Mark Zaid, who represents government employees in legal security-clearance disputes. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley also called Trump’s actions “unprecedented.” “The public outcry of Brennan being stripped will echo long and far in the annals of American history,” Brinkley said. “It will be seen like McCarthyism — a dark stain on our democracy.”
-- Brennan wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he asserts Trump revoked his clearance in a “desperate” attempt “to protect himself and those close to him.” He added, “The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of ‘Trump Incorporated’ attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets. … Now more than ever, it is critically important that [Robert Mueller] and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.”
-- When talking to the Wall Street Journal about Brennan’s revoked clearance, Trump directly tied the decision to Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Michael C. Bender report: “In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation … Mr. Brennan was [director of the CIA in the Obama administration] and one of those who presented evidence to Mr. Trump shortly before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. ‘I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,’ Mr. Trump said in an interview. ‘And these people led it!’ He added: ‘So I think it’s something that had to be done.’”
PAUL MANAFORT’S TRIAL:
-- Jurors heard closing arguments in the trial of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is facing federal charges of tax and bank fraud in Alexandria, Va. This morning, the jury is slated to begin deliberating on the 18-count indictment.
-- “In their final appeal to the jury, Manafort’s lawyers said it defied common sense for Manafort to cheat the IRS or banks when his net worth exceeded $21 million,” Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky, Lynh Bui and Devlin Barrett report. “'Given this evidence, how can we say he didn’t have money?’ asked Manafort lawyer Richard Westling, who also said it did not make sense for Manafort to involve so many people — bankers, accountants and a former business partner — in a scheme to hide more than $15 million in income from the IRS. … In his parting instructions to the jury Wednesday, [U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis] cautioned its members to ignore certain factors, including some of his own statements during the trial. Ellis told the panel that none of his comments or questions should be construed as expressions of his opinions to be considered during their deliberations. … After the jury was sent home, Manafort spoke briefly with his lawyers and wife before heading back to the Alexandria jail where he has been held for several weeks[.]”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- Rudy Giuliani said Trump’s legal team is preparing to fight a potential subpoena from Mueller’s team. Robert Costa reports: “[Giuliani] said Wednesday that he is still awaiting a response from [Mueller] to the Trump team’s latest terms for a presidential interview, which were made last week in a letter that argued against Trump’s having to answer questions about his possible obstruction of justice. … ‘We would move to quash the subpoena,’ Giuliani said in an interview. ‘And we’re pretty much finished with our memorandum opposing a subpoena.’ Giuliani added that Trump’s attorneys are ready to ‘argue it before the Supreme Court, if it ever got there.’”
-- FBI agents have spent the past year investigating a string of cyberattacks targeting the Democratic opponent of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher — a California Republican and vocal Russia supporter. The Rolling Stone’s Andy Kroll reports: “The target of these attacks, Dr. Hans Keirstead, a stem-cell scientist and the CEO of a biomedical research company, finished third in California’s nonpartisan ‘top-two’ primary on June 5th, falling 125 votes short of advancing to the general election[.] The hacks on Keirstead began in August 2017 … [but] in December, the cyberattacks on Keirstead took a different form: a sophisticated and sustained effort to hack into the campaign’s website and hosting service. Campaign officials detected repeated attempts to access the campaign’s website, Hansforca.com. Hackers or bots tried different username-password combinations in a rapid-fire sequence over a two-and-a-half-month period … According to the campaign, there were also more than 130,000 so-called brute force attempts over a month-long period to gain administrator access to the campaign’s server.”
“Cybersecurity experts say that it’s nearly impossible to identify who was behind the hacks without the help of law enforcement or high-priced private cybersecurity firms . . . [But] Ed McAndrew, a former federal cybercrime prosecutor … [said] the FBI’s request for information suggested the bureau was taking the attacks on the Keirstead campaign seriously.” “That’s fairly comprehensive in terms of an initial list of things you would want if you were looking to investigate unauthorized access to a web server,” McAndrew says. “They weren’t short-arming; those were real requests.”
-- Trump has reversed an Obama-era directive on when the United States can deploy cyberweapons. The Wall Street Journal’s Dustin Volz reports: “Mr. Trump signed an order on Wednesday reversing the classified rules, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, that had mapped out an elaborate interagency process that must be followed before U.S. use of cyberattacks, particularly those geared at foreign adversaries. The change was described as an ‘offensive step forward’ by an administration official briefed on the decision, one intended to help support military operations, deter foreign election influence and thwart intellectual property theft by meeting such threats with more forceful responses. … It wasn’t clear what rules the administration is adopting to replace the Obama directive.”
-- In July 2017, Russia “aggressively” ramped up its pro-Trump influence campaign on Twitter — a burst of activity that came more than eight months after the U.S. presidential election. Bloomberg News’s Ben Elgin reports: “The burst of activity — revealed in a new, comprehensive dataset of nearly 3 million tweets — had an overriding focus over the ensuing three months: popularizing headlines and news stories that were originally authored by a U.S.-based news site called Truthfeed that supports [Trump] and specializes in hyper-partisan, factually incorrect stories. By Oct. 22, 2017, just hours before Twitter closed nearly all of the known accounts linked to [the Russian troll farm IRA], Truthfeed content accounted for about 95 percent of the accounts’ English-language activity[.] … The [newly published data], which include nearly all of the troll farm’s tweets since the middle of 2015, offer the clearest picture yet of Russian disinformation efforts on Twitter.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN AND WOMEN:
-- “She works for Trump. He can’t stand him. This is life with Kellyanne and George Conway,” by Ben Terris: “Here at the Conways’, it’s a house divided. She is Trump’s loyal adviser, the woman who carried him over the finish line to the White House. He is one of the president’s most notable conservative critics and wishes he had never introduced his wife to Trump in the first place. … As I spent time with Kellyanne and George, I saw an alternative symbol: The Conways, like the rest of the country, have been jolted by the Trump presidency. They love each other, are exasperated by each other, talk about each other behind each other’s backs. They share a roof and live in different bunkers. And their feud, thanks to George’s newfound Twitter hobby, is playing out for more than just the neighbors to see.”
In their D.C. home, there's a picture from the night of the 2016 election: “[In it, Trump] is reaching for the first draft of his acceptance speech, just as victory seemed imminent,” he writes. “Back then, George was such an ardent supporter of the president, and so proud of his wife for her historic role … that he wept for joy. ‘That photo was from before you cried’ Kellyanne says. … ‘Now I cry for other reasons,’ George mutters. Kellyanne pretends to ignore that comment, something she’s been doing a lot of lately. 'You gotta see this picture,' George, 54, says. 'You should like this, it’s your boss.' 'He’s not just my boss,' Kellyanne, 51, says. 'He’s our president.' 'Yeah,' George says, walking out of the room. 'We’ll see how long that lasts.'"
A key exchange between Terris and Kellyanne Conway: “Me: You told me you found [George’s tweets] disrespectful. Kellyanne: It is disrespectful, it’s a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows . . . as ‘a person familiar with their relationship.’ Me: No, we’re on the record here. You can’t say after the fact ‘as someone familiar.’ Kellyanne: I told you everything about his tweets was off the record. Me: No, that’s not true. That never happened. Kellyanne: Well, people do see it this way. People do see it that way, I don’t say I do, but people see it that way. Me: But I’m saying we never discussed everything about his tweets being off the record. There are certain things you said that I put off the record. Kellyanne: Fine. I’ve never actually said what I think about it and I won’t say what I think about it, which tells you what I think about it.”
-- Steve Bannon is launching a pro-Trump rapid response team and releasing a new documentary in the hopes of making a political comeback. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Annie Karni report: “The former White House chief strategist has started Citizens for the American Republic, an outside political group that intends to advise surrogates, generate talking points, and flood the TV and radio airwaves ahead of a perilous midterm election. As part of the campaign, Bannon — a former Hollywood producer who’s made several conservative films — will soon release a new documentary, ‘Trump@War’ … The slickly produced movie depicts the president in deeply flattering terms, casting him as a populist hero who’s followed through on his campaign promises and defied a long line of liberal critics.”
-- The appointed leader of a foreign aid agency that has been used as a source of jobs for Trump supporters is resigning. Robert O'Harrow Jr. reports: “Robert Blau, a retired Foreign Service officer and speechwriter for Trump’s presidential campaign, was named vice president of operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation in May 2017. He assumed the duties of the chief executive in May of this year, after the Senate failed to move on Trump’s nominee to lead the agency. [An email from Blau to agency employees] said he told the White House early last week that he would step down next Tuesday. … Blau’s announcement followed a July 28 Washington Post story that detailed how the White House had assumed control over hiring at the headquarters of Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, a small independent agency that promotes economic growth in poor countries.”
-- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sparked backlash when he criticized Trump’s campaign slogan by saying America was “never that great.” The New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher reports: “[Cuomo said,] ‘We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.’ Mr. Cuomo made the comment at the end of a 20-minute speech that focused heavily on Mr. Trump. The event was ostensibly a bill-signing ceremony for new penalties for sex trafficking in New York. The clip was quickly packaged by Republicans, and Marcus Molinaro, the Republican candidate for governor, said that Mr. Cuomo owed the nation an apology. ‘America, with its imperfections, has always been great,’ Mr. Molinaro said.”
Trump wasted no time wading into the controversy over Twitter:
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, IT WAS NEVER THAT GREAT.” Can you believe this is the Governor of the Highest Taxed State in the U.S., Andrew Cuomo, having a total meltdown!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
-- Nancy Pelosi, still aiming to retake the speakership, discussed her goal of building a “bridge” to new Democratic leaders. The New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report: “Most immediately perilous for Ms. Pelosi may be an impatient mood in the Congressional Black Caucus, where senior legislators have begun arguing that it is past time to elect an African-American speaker. … Some Democrats have focused on Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, as a potential successor. … In an interview, Mr. Clyburn confirmed his intention to run if Ms. Pelosi falls short — an extraordinary declaration, given the culture of deference in Congress — underscoring her vulnerability and the urgency Democrats feel to position themselves for a succession fight.”
-- House Democrats have chosen to present a minimalist national agenda as they seek to recapture the chamber, leaving it up to individual candidates to craft their platforms. The New York Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos report: “It is a risky strategy, essentially putting off answering one of the most immediate questions facing the Democratic Party after its losses in 2016: What does it stand for? The approach could also raise questions among voters about how Democrats would govern. Democrats say they have answered that question with a recently adopted slogan, ‘For the People,’ a skeletal, three-point platform and a longer version, called ‘A Better Deal.’ But with anti-Washington sentiment simmering; a deep divide between the party’s moderates and its left flank; and the brand of the party’s longtime leader, [Nancy Pelosi], toxic in large sections of the country, they have concluded that a unified campaign framework emanating from Capitol Hill would do more harm than good.”
-- Democratic candidates are flooding the airwaves with pro-gun control campaign ads, a stark reversal from previous election cycles. USA Today’s Nicole Gaudiano reports: “More spots now promote gun control than oppose it. That messaging represents a reversal from the last midterm cycle in 2014 and even 2016, when the combined total of pro-gun-rights spots in governors, House and Senate races eclipsed those touting restrictions on guns, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from Kantar Media. … Democrats are driving the surge in advertising favoring gun control as polling shows the public generally supports stricter laws covering the sale of firearms and overwhelmingly supports expanded background checks.”
-- Candidates in Arizona’s Senate race have been able to dodge the press and minimize scrutiny because of a hollowed-out local news landscape, the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes. “Arizona's Senate race, which could end up deciding which party holds power in Congress, features one leading candidate who regularly criticizes the press (Republican Martha McSally) and another who avoids the media like the plague (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema). Trying to report on Sinema’s Senate campaign was like having to deal with an incompetent cable company. Calls and emails to her campaign went unreturned for days. The campaign didn’t provide a schedule of any events during my four days in the state, and a press secretary was unable to name the last campaign event she had held — before emailing me a few recent copies of the congresswoman’s campaign newsletter. This all took place as Arizonans were casting early ballots for the state’s Aug. 28 primary, and less than three months before the midterm elections.”
-- “[Tim] Pawlenty was the wrong candidate in the wrong year, a misplaced establishment Republican turned Washington lobbyist who tried to shoehorn himself into the party of Trump on what turned out to be a misguided mission,” Dan Balz writes of the former Minnesota governor’s defeat in a GOP primary to reclaim his former post. “In the gubernatorial primary, the former two-term governor was the heavy favorite, based on traditional metrics like name identification and money. Instead, he lost decisively to Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who was both more conservative, more tied to the party’s grass roots and seemingly more Trumpian, which appears to count for nearly everything in GOP politics these days.”
-- “In these 20 Obama-Trump districts, candidates fight for persuadable voters,” by Kevin Uhrmacher and Kevin Schaul: “Voters in the House districts on the map above backed President Barack Obama in 2012 and President Trump in 2016. At the same time, eight of the 20 districts also elected a Democrat to the House — meaning many voters likely chose both a Democrat and a Republican on the same ballot. How will they react two years into Trump’s presidency, a notoriously bad year for whichever party holds the White House?”
THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:
-- Senate Democrats continue to condemn the records retrieval process for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination as partisan and unprecedented. Seung Min Kim reports: “But what makes the fight for Kavanaugh’s records unusual is that the National Archives, which has played a central role for previous nominees in vetting their White House papers and sending them to the Senate, has effectively been sidelined. In its place is a team led by attorney Bill Burck, who also served in the [George W. Bush] White House as Kavanaugh’s deputy when the nominee was staff secretary. Burck, with an army of more than 50 lawyers, appears to be moving at a much faster clip than the formal process at the Archives, where about 30 staff members are spending hours going through Kavanaugh’s records. The Archives review won’t be completed until late October, well beyond when Republicans would like Kavanaugh to be confirmed. The Archives issued a statement Wednesday saying the Burck-led process was ‘completely apart’ from its work and is ‘something that has never happened before.’”
-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed “environmental terrorist groups” for California’s wildfires, breaking with scientists who have blamed climate change. Erin B. Logan reports: “During a radio interview with Breitbart News, Zinke said that ‘environmental terrorist groups’ are preventing the government from managing forests and are largely responsible for the severity of the fires. But fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem.”
-- EPA staffers wanted the agency’s name and logo removed from a regulatory report supporting loosening fuel efficiency standards for U.S. cars. Chris Mooney and Dino Grandoni report: “Documents released Tuesday provide a window into a tense technical battle between experts at two separate government agencies — the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the Transportation Department — and show that just months or even weeks before the rollout of a massive new policy proposal, the two agencies behind it had major disagreements. … ‘EPA’s technical issues have not been addressed, and the analysis performed … does not represent what EPA considers to be the best, or the most up-to-date, information available to EPA,’ agency expert William Charmley wrote in a critique less than two months before the proposal was released.”
-- A bipartisan Senate investigation concluded HHS officials failed to keep track of unaccompanied migrant children after they were released from federal care. Colby Itkowitz reports: “The lawmakers who conducted the investigation, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), are urging the government to take responsibility for ensuring the safety and health of the minors even after they are turned over to an adult sponsor. … HHS has repeatedly said that the agency is no longer responsible for children once they are released from its supervision — although it checks in with the sponsors by phone.” Portman and Carper are holding a hearing on the issue today.
-- Trump often leans on support from anonymous figures in speeches promoting his more divisive policies. Bloomberg News’s Toluse Olorunnipa reports: “‘I was with one of the greatest companies in the world. The chief executive officer. Very short while ago. And it really affects him,’ Trump said at a July 31 campaign rally in Tampa, referring to his controversial use of tariffs. ‘He said ‘You know what, this does affect our company. But, Mr. President, keep going. You’re doing the right thing.’’ Trump didn’t identify his supporter, and the White House won’t say who it is. … But the person fits a model: an anonymous figure -- important and powerful -- who invariably supports the president’s position, according to Trump himself. They are fixtures of Trump’s speeches, defying conventional wisdom and popping up to back the president on issues including prison reform and immigration, in addition to trade.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- “Hungary’s leader was shunned by Obama, but has a friend in Trump,” The New York Times’s Patrick Kingsley reports: “For years, [Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s] government has craved validation from Washington, spending millions of dollars on lobbying, mostly in vain. The Obama administration largely ostracized Mr. Orban, avoiding high-level, bilateral contacts as punishment for his creeping authoritarian tendencies. American diplomats criticized Mr. Orban’s crackdown on civil society — as did [Obama] himself. But now the Trump administration is pivoting, signaling a new engagement with Hungary, as well as nearby Poland. The shift has alarmed many campaigners for democracy and the rule of law, even as others argue that the Obama strategy of trying to isolate Mr. Orban had failed, and created openings for Russian and Chinese influence. … [Trump] has made no secret of his fondness for strongman leaders, yet his praise for them has sometimes been out of step with the policies of his administration. Toward Mr. Orban, at least, American policy seems to be following Mr. Trump’s lead ...”
-- The escalating trade war between Trump and Turkey is rattling the country’s economy and, by extension, its citizens’ livelihoods. Kareem Fahim reports: “[The detention of Andrew Brunson, an American missionary from North Carolina,] by Turkish authorities has touched off the worst dispute between the two NATO allies in more than four decades. Their volcanic argument, with barbed tweets from U.S. officials and caustic retorts from Turkey, has devolved over the past week into a budding trade war, one that has battered Turkey’s vulnerable economy, pushed the lira to record lows and forced Turkish citizens — along with millions of refugees who live in the country — to shoulder the consequences.”
-- China said a new round of trade talks with the United States will soon take place. From CNN’s Jethro Mullen: “The Chinese Commerce Ministry announced Thursday that a delegation will travel to the United States later this month for talks. The visit is at the invitation of the United States, the ministry said in a short statement. Previous rounds of talks between the two countries failed to make much progress, resulting in the outbreak of a trade war that has already hurt businesses on both sides of the Pacific.”
-- Lawmakers pressed military and diplomatic officials for an explanation of this week’s airstrike in Yemen that killed dozens of children. Missy Ryan reports: “Democratic members of the House and Senate have sent three separate letters in the past three days to officials at the Defense and State departments and in the intelligence community, asking for an accounting of American involvement in a conflict that critics say has exposed the U.S. government to claims of responsibility for thousands of civilian deaths. Since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other members of a mostly Arab military coalition began a campaign against Yemen’s Houthi militants in 2015, the Pentagon has conducted aerial refueling of Persian Gulf planes and provided some intelligence support. But U.S. officials have sought to distance themselves from the operation as suffering has intensified in Yemen … ”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump sent tweets echoing commentators' supportive statements about his decision to revoke John Brennan's security clearance:
“I’d strip the whole bunch of them. They’re all corrupt. They’ve all abused their power. They’ve all betrayed the American people with a political agenda. They tried to steal and influence an election in the United States.” @seanhannity— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2018
Meanwhile, a slew of lawmakers and commentators criticized the decision. From a former vice president:
In the time I have known him, John Brennan has never been afraid to speak up and give it to you straight. Revoking his security clearance is an act unbecoming of a President. If you think it will silence John, then you just don't know the man.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 15, 2018
From the House minority leader:
Revoking the security clearance of an honorable patriot is a stunning abuse of power & a pathetic attempt to silence critics. This is yet another disturbing attempt by @realdonaldtrump to distract & divert attention from his Admin's #cultureofcorruption, cronyism & incompetence.— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) August 15, 2018
From a former independent presidential candidate:
Strange how the president lies as a matter of routine about almost everything yet when it least serves his perceived interests, he tells the truth. Here he is acknowledging that he revoked John Brennan’s security clearance because of the Russia probe. https://t.co/byMCbEItyS— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) August 16, 2018
From a longtime Harvard Law professor:
Trump calling Brennan “abusive” or labeling his conduct “erratic” to justify revoking the security clearance that Brennan never once abused is hypocrisy and autocracy rolled into one. I’d call it the last straw, except that this POTUS is nothing but strawhttps://t.co/HNYgMhWs7F— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) August 15, 2018
From an investigator for the Center for Responsive Politics:
A couple of weeks ago, Paul Ryan downplayed Trump's threats to revoke his political enemies' security clearances, saying "I think he's just trolling people." https://t.co/Tje9aEM9Sv pic.twitter.com/GyND5Ew6rs— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) August 15, 2018
Others noted the timing of Trump's announcement, suggesting he was trying to distract from the release of his former adviser's new tell-all book. From the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee:
This might be a convenient way to distract attention, say from a damaging news story or two. But politicizing the way we guard our nation’s secrets just to punish the President’s critics is a dangerous precedent. https://t.co/cXzgrLIwa3— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 15, 2018
Warner went even further while addressing reporters on Capitol Hill:
Mark Warner on Brennan: "I worry whether this precedent is going to somehow lead to the president trying to take away Mueller and his whole team's security clearances. This is clearly another effort to ... not allow the Mueller investigation ... to get to the bottom of this."— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 15, 2018
From a CNN reporter:
The date on President Trump's statement about revoking John Brennan's security clearance? July 26. Three weeks ago. I guess it's just a coincidence that the White House decided to announce this as they struggle to deal with the fallout from Omarosa's book. pic.twitter.com/c6TvfmOD9e— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 15, 2018
But at least one Republican senator stood by Trump's decision:
I applaud President Trump for his revoking of John Brennan’s security clearance. I urged the President to do this. Read more here: https://t.co/SAQNTJ1UAn— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) August 15, 2018
Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, who is married to former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, went in search of a lawyer:
Attorney wanted for George Papadopoulo, Pro Bono! Your biggest reward will be #History. Your name will go down on history. #attorneys #law #justice #americanjustice #fightfiryourrights— Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos (@simonamangiante) August 16, 2018
If interested write to: email@example.com
The managing editor of the liberal news outlet Shareblue mocked the president's tweet on Tuesday's primaries:
He has no idea what last night's elections were. https://t.co/IGeBGdfBsn— Kaili Joy Gray (@KailiJoy) August 15, 2018
A CBS News reporter noted the evolution in Trump's tweets about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R):
A Cook Political Report predicted the House Republicans most likely to defy a possible blue wave:
Of the 25 House Rs in Clinton districts, only 5 currently appear well-positioned to defy a "Blue Wave:" #CA21 David Valadao#FL26 Carlos Curbelo#NY24 John Katko#PA01 Brian Fitzpatrick#TX23 Will Hurd— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) August 15, 2018
Why? They built pretty strong moderate brands *before* Trump took office.
Hillary Clinton commended a young girl who was punished for kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance:
It takes courage to exercise your right to protest injustice, especially when you’re 11! Keep up the good work Mariana. https://t.co/vnGheuWyJ0— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 15, 2018
A Post columnist satirized Trump's insistence that no tape exists of him saying the n-word:
Mark Burnett called me to tell me there is no video of me eating that last piece of chocolate cake that was in the refrigerator.— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) August 15, 2018
And the AP Stylebook weighed in on a marital dispute:
Just like a healthy marriage, AP style calls for clear communication.— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) August 15, 2018
We also believe in the value of compromise. So as a reminder, the Stylebook doesn't prohibit all Oxford commas. If omitting a comma could lead to confusion or misinterpretation, then use the comma. https://t.co/vGsuRrwpQW
-- The New Republic, “When a Young Trump Went to Russia,” by Craig Unger: “The operation began during a 1978 trip to Czechoslovakia not long after Trump’s marriage to Ivana, in which the newlyweds piqued the interest of the Czech Ministry of State Security (also known as the StB) enough that a secret police collaborator began observing Ivana and met several times with her in later years. … In the end, we do not know exactly when the KGB first opened a file on Donald Trump. But it would have been common practice for the Czech secret police to share their intelligence on the Trumps with the KGB. More to the point, Trump was so highly valued as a target that the StB later sent a spy to the U.S. to monitor his political prospects for more than a decade.”
-- “I read 6 sycophantic pro-Trump books, then I read Omarosa’s. Talk about a plot twist,” by Carlos Lozada: “Whatever prompted Omarosa Manigault Newman’s shift, and whatever one makes of her more brutal or questionable contentions, it’s useful to see how quickly and sharply a true believer can flip against the president, whether for principled or self-serving motives.”
-- “Said something you’d like to forget? CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski won’t let it go,” by Paul Farhi: “Kaczynski’s four-member group — known as KFile after its 28-year-old founder — may be the foremost practitioner of the journalistic equivalent of dumpster diving. Their reportorial MO is simple, if tedious: They dig through social-media posts, old audio and video recordings and forgotten speeches, articles and books to find troubling comments uttered or written by the people they’re investigating. KFile didn’t pioneer this archaeological approach … But in the social-media age, it can be a highly effective journalistic technique.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“Trump’s ex-campaign manager cites traffic stop in a Rolls-Royce as example of ‘real guy’ experience,” from Anne Gearan: “Trump may have been criticized as out of touch when he remarked this month that people need to show identification when buying groceries, but Corey Lewandowski said his former boss knows what it’s like to be an average Joe. His evidence? Trump was once pulled over by the police while driving his Rolls-Royce from Manhattan to his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. ... ‘I shouldn’t tell the story because I’ll get in trouble, but I remember he was driving his Rolls-Royce from New York City one day up to the golf course in Bedminster — this was before Secret Service — and we were on the campaign,’ said Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager … ‘I remember because he was talking to me on the telephone. And guess what happened, right? When you’re in New York and you’re on the telephone and you drive a Rolls-Royce out to New Jersey, you get stopped.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“A Pearl Jam poster depicting a dead President Trump draws controversy in Montana Senate race,” from John Wagner: “In their bid to unseat Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Republicans have seized on a new controversy: an apocalyptic poster depicting a dead [Trump] that promoted a Pearl Jam concert that was used to raise money for Tester’s campaign. While there has been no suggestion that Tester had input into the poster’s design, Republicans are criticizing the red-state Democrat for failing to condemn its content. ‘In a state Trump won by 20 points, Senator Tester’s silence … is quickly showing Montanans there’s no stoop too low for him when it comes to attacking President Trump and his supporters,’ Calvin Moore, a spokesman for the [NRSC], said in a statement ... [The poster in question] … depicts a White House in flames, with Trump’s skeleton face down on the ground reaching for a briefcase with a hammer and sickle on it. An eagle is picking at his carcass.”
Trump will host a Cabinet meeting and have lunch with Pence before meeting with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The White House just messaged the entire American intelligence community: ‘If you stand up and say things that upset the President or with which he disagrees, he will punish you.'" — Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- It will be another hot day in the District, and storm chances return tomorrow. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Temperatures warm up quickly despite a decent amount of clouds. Humidity is on the rise but still just moderately high. Highs mainly in the lower 90s and heat index values in the upper 90s still feel plenty muggy especially given the lack of any significant breeze.”
-- The Nationals lost to the Cardinals 4-2, leaving them a game under .500 and nine games back in their division. (Chelsea Janes)
-- An arbitration board demanded Metro pay $82 million in wage increases to thousands of workers by summer 2020. Martine Powers and Faiz Siddiqui report: “The panel’s decision, announced Wednesday by Metro, requires that the transit agency provide an average annual wage increase of 1.6 percent for workers over a four-year period ending in July 2020. The award is effective retroactively to July 1, 2016. The transit agency will probably ask the jurisdictions that fund it for larger subsidies to cover the cost of the raises.”
-- Police have identified three sets of remains discovered in Southeast Washington in April as belonging to women who disappeared in 2006. Peter Hermann and Paul Duggan report: “They were identified as Jewel Marquita King, 48, Verdell Jefferson, 41, and Dorothy Jean Butts, 43. Authorities said all disappeared from their District homes and were killed. Two were shot; one was beaten. Jefferson had lived on the same street where the bodies were found. Detectives now turn to finding who killed the women, whose deaths have been ruled homicides. At a news conference, police said it does not appear the women were killed at the same time, but it is possible they were killed by the same person.”
-- Numerous children living in homes subsidized by a housing voucher and approved by D.C. inspectors tested positive for lead poisoning. Between March 2013 and March 2018, at least 41 families’ residences were found to contain lead contaminants. From Terrence McCoy: “The District Department of Energy and Environment, which performed the count and the testing, said it inspected about half of the homes because a child living at the property, or visiting it often, had tested positive for elevated levels of lead.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Trevor Noah was shocked by Huckabee Sanders's non-denial about Trump using the n-word:
Samantha Bee said fascism was “creeping into every part of our once-okay institutions”:
A PAC that produces opposition research on Democratic candidates is already out with an ad highlighting Cuomo's comments on “Make America Great Again”:
Some Fox News pundits have taken to asserting Mueller is more dangerous than Vladimir Putin:
Jim VanSickle, who works as a tutor and life coach in Pittsburgh, recounted an alleged sexual assault by one of the Catholic priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report:
And Aretha Franklin, who is reportedly gravely ill, was honored at her hometown church: