with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: A lot has been written about the gap in support for Brett Kavanaugh between men and women, but the partisan divide is much starker than the gender divide. Against the backdrop of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, this Supreme Court confirmation fight has become the most vivid illustration to date of the escalation in tribalism during the Trump era.

An NPR-PBS-Marist poll published yesterday asked people whether President Trump’s nominee or Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth about what happened at a 1980s party when both were teenagers:

Among Republicans, 59 percent said Kavanaugh, and 5 percent said Ford.

Among Democrats, 56 percent said Ford, and 8 percent said Kavanaugh.

“Thirty-two percent of men believe Kavanaugh and 28 percent believe Ford. Thirty-five percent of women believe Ford and 20 percent believe Kavanaugh. That's a 19-point gender gap,” NPR’s Domenico Montanaro reports. “Republican men overwhelmingly believe Kavanaugh (61 percent to 5 percent) and Democratic women believe Ford (56 percent to 4 percent). Democratic men believe Ford by a 54 percent to 16 percent margin, and Republican women believe Kavanaugh by a 57 percent to 6 percent margin. A plurality of independent women believe Ford (38 percent to 16 percent).”

-- “The gulf between views of Democrats and Republicans on his nomination is even wider than the split on Trump’s signature issue: building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border,” notes Philip Bump. He made a chart to illustrate the difference in support between Republican and Democratic views across nine indicators:

-- The most remarkable number in the Marist poll: A 54 percent majority of Republicans said Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if Ford's allegations are true. As a refresher, the Palo Alto University professor says Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and attempted to rape her, while putting his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming during a party in the 1980s when both were teenagers. Kavanaugh categorically denies this, as well as Deborah Ramirez’s allegation on Sunday that he exposed himself to her at a Yale dormitory party and Julie Swetnick’s charge, leveled Wednesday, that he was present during “a gang rape” at a 1982 house party.

One of the Republicans who has been most outspoken in questioning whether Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior should be disqualifying if it happened is North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Mitch McConnell headlined a fundraiser for Cramer yesterday. “Every day is a Maalox moment,” the Senate majority leader told donors.

-- How voters respond to the testimony of Kavanaugh and Ford could reveal a great deal about the state of the culture in the #MeToo era. Overall, 32 percent of Americans believe Ford, 26 percent believe Kavanaugh and 42 percent are unsure in the Marist poll. After Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991, an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that 40 percent believed Thomas and 24 percent believed Hill.

There are certainly a lot of Americans in the middle who don’t view everything through red or blue lenses. There are also many people who might lean Republican or Democratic but who are more open to changing their minds based on new information because they are soft partisans. So a markedly bad performance by one of the witnesses could certainly shift public opinion.

-- Trump has also personalized the allegations, which makes his supporters more likely to stick with Kavanaugh. “You know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me,” the president explained during a news conference in New York yesterday. “It’s happened to me many times. I’ve had many false charges. … So when you say, ‘Does it affect me in terms of my thinking with respect to Judge Kavanaugh?’ Absolutely! Because I’ve had it many times.”

“The president then went on to incorrectly mention ‘four or five’ accusers; in fact, he has been accused of unwanted sexual advances by more than a dozen women,” Ashley Parker notes.

-- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) criticized his colleagues for making up their minds before hearing Ford and Kavanaugh out. He said he’s going into today with an open mind. “Many members of this body from both … parties have already made up their minds, on the record, in advance of the hearing,” he said in a floor speech yesterday afternoon. “They will presumably hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. One is tempted to ask, why even bother having a hearing?”

-- But even before Ford told her story — heck, even before Kavanaugh’s own confirmation hearing — the judge was already historically unpopular for a Supreme Court nominee. I explained in a Big Idea last week how this was the result of Trump’s unpopularity more than anything about Kavanaugh, the politicization of the judicial system and the country’s increasing polarization.

-- Tribalism certainly isn’t new, but we’ve seen several strong showcases of it during the past two years. I showed last April how GOP attitudes toward airstrikes against Syria changed as soon as Trump embraced them. The president’s support for Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte after he assaulted a reporter and his decision to go all-in for Roy Moore after the national party apparatus initially abandoned the Alabama Senate candidate over accusations of sexual misconduct also highlighted how much sway Trump can have over the party rank-and-file’s views.

-- If a third accuser was going to come forward against Kavanaugh, the best thing that could have happened for the White House was for her to be represented by Michael Avenatti. The outspoken celebrity lawyer represents adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, wants to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and has become a fixture of cable news. All this has made him a boogeyman on the right that many Republicans, even those who may be uneasy with Trump, find distasteful. His role helped harden GOP support for the nominee.

  • “If I were a true victim, the last person I would go to is Michael Avenatti,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
  • “Democrats Endorse Avenatti” is the headline of a pro-Kavanaugh editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal. “Kavanaugh’s opponents will believe anything.”
  • “This has all the hallmarks of Avenatt’s usual high standards,” added Rich Lowry, the top editor at National Review.

Swetnick signed an affidavit that Avenatti released Wednesday that said Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and present at a house party in 1982 where she says she was raped by multiple boys. The nominee quickly and vigorously rejected this accusation and said he has never heard of the accuser.

-- That said, during a meeting of Republican committee chairs and GOP leadership, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — a key swing vote — raised serious concerns about Swetnick’s affidavit. “Multiple sources familiar with the private Wednesday meeting [said] that Collins appeared unnerved by the latest allegation, citing in particular that it was a sworn statement sent to the panel, which carries with it the possibility of perjury for lying to Congress,” CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Manu Raju report. “The sworn statement, Collins told the senators, brought the allegations to a new level and raised concerns that enough wasn't being done to address their veracity. Pointing to the affidavit, which she had printed out, Collins said given the weight of the allegations, it made sense to subpoena Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge — an alleged witness to the incidents — and bring him in for testimony.

“Multiple senators in the room attempted to reassure Collins … Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, even brought up his own experience running the Russia probe: He said issuing subpoenas to witnesses could take weeks — if not months — and often are not successful. … Collins did not indicate how she would vote. … She has told reporters that she plans to clear her schedule Thursday to watch the hearing, in its entirety.”

WHAT TO EXPECT TODAY:

--Career prosecutor brings wild-card element,” by Rosalind S. Helderman, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Antonia Noori Farzan: “Rachel Mitchell, 50, … has never been involved in such a high-profile case or faced the glare of the national media. One aspect of her background that could be key: Mitchell, who runs the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, championed a manual for local prosecutors that recommends questioning victims of sexual assault with a ‘neutral, fact finding attitude,’ placing the ‘best interest of the victim’ first.

Republicans hope her presence will help bring credibility to the hearing. Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said she will help ‘depoliticize’ the process. But by choosing an unknown for the task, Republicans have taken a risk — gambling that Mitchell finds a way, in her first turn on the national stage, to successfully deliver tough but empathetic questions. … If Mitchell turns out to be the fair and evenhanded questioner that Republicans said they want, there could be dangers for the embattled nominee: What if Ford appears credible in the face of such questioning?

The hearing will be rigidly structured. Once it begins at 10 a.m., Grassley and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), will each have time to deliver an opening statement. Then Ford will give her opening remarks, followed by questions that will alternate between Republicans and Democrats in the order of seniority. Kavanaugh will testify after her.

Each senator will be given five minutes to ask questions of both Ford and Kavanaugh. But most — if not all — Republican senators are expected to delegate their time to Mitchell. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is on the committee, said Democrats requested a second round of questioning but were rebuffed by Republicans. … A committee spokesman said Mitchell has been working closely with Grassley’s committee aides — including more than a dozen lawyers and law clerks who were hired temporarily to work on Kavanaugh’s confirmation — to develop possible lines of questioning.

-- Trump, his advisers and allies are genuinely anxious about the hearing, and the president signaled a willingness during the news conference to drop him if today goes poorly. “Aides found it difficult to mobilize surrogates — especially female high school friends and other women who know Kavanaugh personally — to blanket the airwaves defending the judge’s character,” Phil Rucker, Bob Costa, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report. “The president has acknowledged uncertainty about how the hearing will go and how Kavanaugh might be perceived, and he has begun laying the groundwork to blame Senate Republican leaders should the nomination fail, according to people who have spoken with him … The president and his aides concluded that they have a narrowing window of time during which to push Kavanaugh through before his nomination becomes even more tainted.

For Kavanaugh, who spent the day hunkered down with White House counsel Donald McGahn and other advisers, the pressure is intense to improve upon his performance in a Fox News Channel interview earlier this week. … Kavanaugh received mixed reviews for his Fox interview from critics — including Trump, who told aides that he thought the judge came across as weak, unconvincing and insufficiently indignant … The president … wondered aloud whether Kavanaugh should have even sat for the interview … Trump wants to see the judge with a more combative posture, according to aides, and has said he is willing to fight for Kavanaugh as long as the judge is willing to fight for himself.”

-- The opening statements:

Ford will say her memories of being assaulted as a teenager “have been seared into my memory and have haunted me.” She’ll say she’s “terrified” to appear”: “Apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life.”

Kavanaugh will say he was “not perfect” in high school and “sometimes I had too many” beers. But he’ll firmly deny ever committing sexual assault.

-- The Washington Post will have live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Kavanaugh hearing starting at 9:30 a.m. Libby Casey will anchor, with analysis from Eugene Scott and Emma Brown. (Watch it here.)

-- More WaPo team coverage:

  • Amy Gardner and John Wagner: “Eight Trump accusers criticize the president for attacking Kavanaugh accusers.”
  • Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly: “Fact-checking President Trump’s statements about sexual misconduct allegations.”
  • The staff of the Style section: “‘I remember thinking, ugh, this is bad’: Scenes from teenage party life in the ’80s.”
  • Carolyn Y. Johnson and Joel Achenbach: “How alcohol causes blackouts and blocks memories.”
  • Philip Bump: “Kavanaugh’s 1982 calendar, annotated.”
  • Deanna Paul: “The problem with making a sex-crimes prosecutor the face of Senate Judiciary Republicans.”
  • Amber Phillips: “7 things to watch for in Thursday’s hearing.”
  • Greg Sargent: “Mark Judge’s former girlfriend is ready to talk to FBI and Judiciary Committee, her lawyer says.”
  • Aaron Blake: “Judge’s conspicuous absence from Thursday’s hearing.”
  • Sarah Ellison: “Inside the Kavanaugh media defense: ‘He didn’t need much convincing.’”
  • Allyson Chiu: “‘I called out his victim blaming and he lost it,’ says Kirsten Powers after Michael Caputo’s CNN meltdown.”
  • Amy B Wang: “‘You’re part of the problem,’ Tucker Carlson says of sexual assault victims who don’t speak up.”
  • Joy Yi and Katie Mettler: “Reliving Anita Hill’s testimony: How the optics shaped the historic hearing.”
  • Kristine Phillips: “How Joe Biden’s comments about the FBI and Anita Hill are now being used against Democrats.”
  • Theresa Vargas: “I couldn’t stop reading #WhyIDidntReportIt stories. Then I realized why.”
  • Jessica Contrera and Ian Shapira: “Ford’s family has been nearly silent amid outpouring of support.”
  • Jenna Portnoy: “Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) declines to say whether she believes her friend Kavanaugh’s accusers.”
  • Christopher Ingraham: “The early 1980s were the peak of teen boozing.”
  • Ovetta Wiggins and Dan Morse: “11 Md. lawmakers call for Montgomery County investigation into sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.”
  • Lisa Bonos: “We usually think of our romantic ‘firsts’ as good. But now we know how many bad firsts are out there.”

-- Commentary:

-- How it’s playing elsewhere:

  • New York magazine: “Are Republicans Releasing Anonymous Kavanaugh Claims to Discredit Legitimate Ones?”
  • Boston Globe: “What’s missing from the agenda on today’s hearing: the truth.”
  • HuffPost: “Democrats Worry They’re Facing A Stacked Deck For Historic Senate Hearing.”
  • AP: “Will the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing be a where-were-you moment?”
  • AP: “As hearing looms, GOP’s woman problem never more apparent.”
  • CNN: “21 questions Brett Kavanaugh could face under oath.”
  • Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times: “Don’t Forget Kavanaugh’s First Hearing: We shouldn’t allow the questions raised about the nominee in his first hearing to be submerged by the onrushing tide of scandal.”
  • USA Today: “1,600 men say they believe Christine Blasey Ford in full-page newspaper ad.”
  • The Atlantic: “There's No Precedent for What's Going On With Brett Kavanaugh.”
  • Vox: “Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has filed an injunction to stop the Kavanaugh vote: It’s a long-shot move that probably won’t work.”
  • Slate: “How Ken Starr’s Associate Brett Kavanaugh Would Question Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.”
  • Fred Barnes for the Weekly Standard: “We still don't have any corroborating witnesses to either of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.”
  • Phillip Zoladz for NBC News: “Ford's memories of Brett Kavanaugh are over 30 years old. Here's how they could've lasted so long: Memories of trauma have important characteristics that make them different from normal, everyday memories.”
  • Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: “Murkowski on Kavanaugh: It's about whether victim 'is to be believed.’”
  • CBS Denver: “Boulder Woman’s Attorney Calls For Republicans To Hear Client’s Story.”
  • Austin American-Statesman: “Cornyn, Cruz facing different stakes at Kavanaugh hearing.”
  • Washington Examiner: “Harvard community in uproar over Kavanaugh before teaching gig set to start.” 
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign is finalizing a decision to house its headquarters in Northern Virginia. Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report: “[O]fficials are scouting for real estate in Arlington … The campaign has not yet signed a lease on office space, but campaign manager Brad Parscale and other officials are looking at several Arlington options, including in Rosslyn, which boasts easy Metro access. The move is not expected until after the Nov. 6 midterm elections, at which point Trump’s reelection campaign will begin ramping up in earnest … The opening of Trump’s campaign office in Northern Virginia would presage a staff expansion and cement the shift in power of Trump’s political orbit from New York to Washington.”

-- The principal of D.C.'s Theodore Roosevelt High School, Aqueelha James, was caught on tape mocking a student’s claim that she was sexually assaulted last year by another student in a school bathroom. Peter Jamison and Perry Stein report: “James at first expressed concern over the accusation … ‘I’m here to support and be of assistance,’ James told the girl and her mother. The principal promised a swift and thorough investigation. ‘I don’t like the idea that your daughter has been assaulted sexually,’ James said. ‘It is a crime.’ But after the distraught girl abruptly left the conference room where she was meeting with James, followed by her mother, the principal took a different tone with other school officials who were present. She said that she was ‘sick of her and her mom’ and that she planned to try to ‘embarrass her ass.’ She ridiculed the clothes the girl was wearing. ‘This is a bunch of bulls---,’ James said. The recording, made by the girl’s mother on her cellphone, is the linchpin of a lawsuit against James and the D.C. government in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit asserts that James and other school system officials failed to adequately investigate the sexual assault allegations, as required by federal law, and that James defamed the girl by impugning her credibility to police officers.”

-- First look: Democratic House candidate TJ Cox is launching an attack ad today against Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) that links him to Trump. A narrator says the congressman has voted with the president 99 percent of the time – including on health care, immigration and water policy. We spend a lot of time covering the red state Senate Democrats who are up for reelection and treading carefully, but there’s a lot of House GOP incumbents in districts where the president is really unpopular. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Valadao’s district by 15 points in 2016. You can expect to see a lot more spots like this one, which was produced by Ralston Lapp Media, running in suburban and heavily Latino districts over the next month.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate claims he physically abused his ex-girlfriend. Ellison, who is running for Minnesota attorney general, has denied the allegations and said in a statement that he is “innocent and eager to see this entire matter resolved.” (Reis Thebault)
  2. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) is investigating allegations of child abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The archbishop said his archdiocese is cooperating with the investigation. (Julie Zauzmer)
  3. Uber has reached a $148 million settlement with 50 states and D.C. over its failure to disclose a 2016 data breach for more than a year, which affected 57 million riders and drivers globally. In addition, the ride-sharing company paid $100,000 to hackers to keep the incident quiet. (Brian Fung)
  4. Mexican authorities disarmed the entire police force in the city of Acapulco, seizing all weapons, radios, and bulletproof vests  amid allegations the force has been infiltrated by drug gangs. Authorities also issued arrest warrants for two nearby city police commanders accused of murder. (NPR)
  5. A new State Department-funded study estimates that more than 380,000 people have died in South Sudan’s civil war. The figure more than quadruples earlier estimates and puts the death toll more on par with conflicts such as the war in Syria, which has killed around 500,000 people. (Siobhán O’Grady)
  6. Following heavy backlash, Virginia reversed a new policy that would have required prison visitors to remove tampons or menstrual cups before visiting inmates. The effort was intended to stop drugs and other contraband from being brought inside the facilities, but it prompted cries of discrimination. (New York Times)
  7. A black high school student who was temporarily expelled for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is suing her Texas school district. India Landry’s legal team claims Windfern High School violated her constitutional right to free speech, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is defending a state law requiring students to recite the pledge. (Alex Horton)

  8. A North Carolina woman has been accused of hiding her mother’s dead body for several months so that she could watch it decompose. Donna Sue Hudgins was charged with concealment of death, a felony, after she told authorities she concealed her 93-year-old mother’s passing because “she was curious and wanted to see the stages of death,” according to a police statement. (Lindsey Bever)

  9. Fox News has reached a settlement with former guest commentator Scottie Nell Hughes after she accused the network of retaliating against her for reporting sexual misconduct. A judge threw out Hughes’s claim that Fox News host Charles Payne raped her, but she was allowed to proceed with her retaliation complaint. (The Wrap)

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

-- Embattled FEMA chief Brock Long used government vehicles and staff on 40 personal trips, according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general. The trips included a family vacation to Hawaii and continued even after Long was warned. Lisa Rein got it first: “Investigators took the unusual step of secretly surveilling Long over five months, from December through April, the report said. They watched him being driven multiple times in government-owned Chevrolet Suburbans or rented SUVs from his Washington, D.C., apartment to FEMA headquarters and from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport to his home in Hickory, N.C., for weekend visits … Four aides on Long’s staff took a total of 25 trips to North Carolina, none of which involved official business[.] They stayed in hotels near Long’s home while waiting to drive him … all at taxpayer expense[.]” They were all paid overtime.

“[The unauthorized trips] cost taxpayers $94,000 in staff salary, $55,000 in travel expenses and $2,000 in vehicle maintenance[.] DHS declined to address questions about the report, referring to a joint statement issued last week by Long and [Kirstjen Nielsen], who said she had ordered Long to repay the government ‘as appropriate.’" They have not yet agreed on that amount.

-- “A senior Trump appointee responsible for enforcing laws against financial discrimination once questioned in blog posts written under a pen name if using the n-word was inherently racist and claimed that the great majority of hate crimes were hoaxes,” Robert O'Harrow Jr., Shawn Boburg and Renae Merle report: “Eric Blankenstein, a policy director at the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], expressed those and other controversial views more than a decade ago on a political blog he co-authored with two other anonymous contributors. In a 2004 post, Blankenstein wrote that a proposal at the University of Virginia to impose harsher academic penalties for acts of intolerance was ‘racial idiocy.’ He questioned how authorities could know the motivation of someone using a racial slur. ‘Fine … let’s say they called him n----- ,’ he wrote, spelling out the slur. ‘ … would that make them racists, or just a-------?’ Blankenstein also wrote that ‘hate-crime hoaxes are about three times as prevalent as actual hate crimes.’

At CFPB, Blankenstein “is responsible for supervising lenders and enforcing an array of consumer protection laws, including the four-decade-old Equal Credit Opportunity Act, landmark civil rights legislation aimed at protecting blacks and other minorities from discriminatory practices and promoting ‘fair lending.’”

-- Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said he was aware of Gary Cohn taking the trade document off Trump’s desk, as recounted in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” and considered it a “wholly appropriate” move. “I know about that incident and that was wholly appropriate for Gary Cohn, who was a wonderful public servant and a great colleague, to do,” McMaster said during an event in Philadelphia. (Washington Examiner)

-- Andrew Bremberg, the head of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, is leaving the White House at the end of the year. Trump will nominate Bremberg as the next ambassador to the U.N. Mission in Geneva. (Politico)

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

-- The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by another quarter point, crediting the strength of the U.S. economy and growth that is expected to continue through the rest of the year. Fed officials also suggested they are likely to push ahead with more interest rate hikes in December and in 2019, despite Trump’s criticism. (Heather Long)

-- Trump pledged not to allow the government to shut down at the end of the week, officially delaying the fight over funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall until after the midterms. Erica Werner and Damian Paletta report: “Keeping the government open after Sunday would require Trump to sign a bipartisan spending bill from Congress, something he had resisted committing to for weeks. But Wednesday, with anxiety building on Capitol Hill, he suggested that he planned to acquiesce. The bill would fund the military and some other government programs through September 2019 and other government operations through Dec. 7. The House passed the legislation 361 to 61 on Wednesday and sent it to Trump. ‘We’ll keep the government open. We’re going to keep the government open,’ the president told reporters during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New York.

-- Trump appointees at the Justice and Education Departments opened a joint investigation into admission practices at Yale to explore whether policies designed to help African Americans and Latinos discriminate against Asian American applicants. The DOJ has already opened a similar probe at Harvard.  I wrote a Big Idea last month about how Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could offer the decisive vote to end affirmative action. (Laura Meckler has more on Trump's move against Yale.)

-- Another reminder of how much the courts matter: The Trump administration appealed a federal judge’s ruling that struck down key provisions of executive orders aimed at weakening labor unions. Lisa Rein reports: “The case will now go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. [This is the court on which Kavanaugh currently sits.] The Tuesday decision comes a month after U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington dealt the Trump administration a setback in its efforts to rein in the power of federal employee unions. Jackson ruled in August that major elements of the three executive orders the White House issued just before Memorial Day were not valid, largely because the president lacks the authority to interfere with the collective bargaining rights Congress gave civil servants 40 years ago. The orders had weakened the right of employees to challenge disciplinary action against them, including dismissal; limited work conditions that could be bargained over; and instructed agencies to restrict what is known as official time — the work that union officials perform on behalf of their members while on the clock.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump directly accused China of interfering in U.S. elections during remarks to the U.N. Security Council — asserting, without evidence, that Beijing was doing so in “retaliation” to his tariffs and hinting that he will blame the country if Republicans lose seats in the midterms. He declined to mention Russian election interference. “They don’t want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade, and we are winning on trade — we are winning on every level,” Trump said of China. “We don’t want to them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election.”

The president's top national security advisers told reporters in August they had not found specific examples of interference ahead of the midterms from countries other than Russia, David Nakamura and Ellen Nakashima report. “Afterward, in a hastily-arranged press call on ‘Chinese interference,’ a senior administration official offered no examples of activity specifically constituting interference in the 2018 election other than to say that China has hurt ‘farmers and workers in states and districts that voted for the president because he stood up to the ways China has taken advantage of our country economically.’ The official added that the activities include ‘targeting certain districts and states with tariffs, but go beyond that.’ He did not elaborate.”

  • At his news conference later, Trump insisted: “We have evidence. It will come out. I can’t tell you now. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. That I will tell you.”
  • Chinese officials denied the allegations: “China has all along followed the principle of noninterference in other country’s domestic affairs,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the U.N. meetings. “We did not and will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs.”

-- Trump also threatened Canada with severe economic sanctions if it doesn't change its trade policies. Damian Paletta reports: “Speaking at [the news conference], Trump also said he was planning to effectively terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement and impose steep tariffs on all automotive imports from Canada to the United States. ‘That’s the mother lode,’ he said. ‘That’s the big one.’ Trump’s comments came as his relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to hit a new low. … Trump said Wednesday that Trudeau had sought a meeting with him during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, but Trump said he refused to participate, because he did not like how Canada was approaching the trade discussions. A spokeswoman for Trudeau, however, said the Canadian prime minister never sought a meeting with Trump during the New York gathering.”

 -- In Canada, NAFTA’s future hinges largely on one “four-letter word”: milk. The New York Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer reports: “Canada’s longstanding policy of managing its dairy supply with production quotas and high levies on imports has become an intractable sticking point in negotiations over [NAFTA]. But the melee over milk is puzzling to many trade experts. … The United States supports its dairy farmers with a complex price support system that is economically similar to Canada’s system of supply management. And while American dairy farmers may want to sell more milk into Canada, trade observers say access to a relatively small sector of the agricultural economy is not worth jeopardizing a trade relationship that has become critical to industries across North America. ‘Opening up Canada’s very tiny dairy industry is a pretty tiny gain to risk blowing up the most advantageous trade agreement in history,’ [said Tony Fratto, founder of Hamilton Place Strategies.]. ‘But it won’t make more than a dime’s worth of difference to jobs and standards of living in either country. …. [Blowing] up Nafta over them? That’s crazy.’ For Canada, the support for dairy producers, cheese makers, chicken ranchers and the like goes beyond simply economics. Dairy is to Quebec … as ethanol is to Iowa: If you want to play in national politics, you don’t go against the industry.”

-- The Pentagon is moving four Patriot missile systems out of the Middle East in October, a drawdown that highlights the U.S. military’s increasing focus on threats posed by China and Russia even as Trump escalates his rhetoric against Iran. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports: “Although some Patriot systems will remain in the region, officials said the removal of the four batteries amounts to a major drawdown of the capability Patriots provide in the region. … Their removal comes as the White House intensifies its rhetoric against Iran and amid an increasingly complex battlefield in Syria. The State Department on Tuesday issued a 48-page report that detailed threats posed by Iran, including its missile programs. The report said Iran maintains ‘a stockpile of hundreds of missiles that threaten its neighbors in the region.’”

-- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a set of sanctions against the Syrian government and those who assist it, including Russia. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The bill would impose sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ in Syria, including his use of chemical weapons. It would also extend sanctions to individuals and entities supporting Assad’s government and its war effort — a prohibition that by definition includes countries such as Russia and Iran. … [The legislation] has already passed the House twice; Wednesday was the first time a Senate panel considered the legislation, approving it by voice vote.”

-- Trump asserted the foreign delegates who laughed during his U.N. speech were “laughing with me.” From David Nakamura: “‘They weren’t laughing at me,’ Trump said at [his news conference]. ‘The ‘fake news’ said people laughed. People had a good time with it. We were doing it together.’ News stories about the speech, including in The Washington Post, noted that the laughter came after Trump had opened his remarks by saying his administration had accomplished more than ‘almost any other administration’ in U.S. history. … At the news conference, Trump sought to portray it as a lighthearted moment. He acknowledged that he ‘heard a little rustle’ as he was making the case that ‘the country is stronger than ever before.’ ‘I said, ‘It’s true.’ I heard smiles,’ Trump said. He added, ‘They respect what I’ve done.’”

-- But diplomats told BuzzFeed News that they were indeed laughing at Trump. “Sometimes, when we see a behavior or listen to arguments or notions that seem so far-fetched, unreasonable, or insane, there is almost natural reaction of laughing,” one Latin American diplomat said. “It is not laughing at a good joke, but a nervous laugh, or a bad joke turned laughable precisely because the guy who tells the joke doesn't realize how bad it is.”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Trump said he would “certainly prefer” to keep Rod Rosenstein on as deputy attorney general, telling reporters that he is considering delaying today's meeting to discuss Rosenstein's future at the Justice Department. Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey report: “‘My preference would be to keep him, and let him finish up,’ Trump said.” Trump also appeared to side with Rosenstein’s claim that his remarks about wiretapping and the 25th Amendment were exaggerated. “He said he never said it, he said he doesn’t believe it, he said he has a lot of respect for me,” Trump said Wednesday. “He’s very nice, and we’ll see.” The president explained that another reason he might push back today's meeting with Rod because it would be “competing [with] and hurting” the Kavanaugh hearings.

-- When it looked like Rosenstein might be pushed out, the White House reached out to Matt Whitaker, Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, about taking over as deputy attorney general. The New York Times’s Katie Benner and Maggie Haberman report: “[Whitaker] would become the acting No. 2 official at the Justice Department, his White House counterpart, John F. Kelly, told him over the phone on Saturday morning, according to two people briefed on the call. To the White House, he was an obvious choice: a confident former college football player and United States attorney whom Mr. Kelly has privately described as the West Wing’s ‘eyes and ears’ in a department the president has long considered at war with him. … Mr. Whitaker cuts the kind of central-casting figure whom Mr. Trump prefers, and he has served as what one White House aide called a ‘balm’ on the relationship between the president and [DOJ]. He has frequently visited the Oval Office and is said to have an easy chemistry with Mr. Trump. On Monday morning, Mr. Trump himself called Mr. Whitaker, not with an explicit job offer but a reassurance that he has faith in him.”

-- Trump’s legal team is close to receiving a round of written questions from Robert Mueller’s investigators. CNN’s Gloria Borger, Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz report: “The questions and the President's answers would be limited to matters before the 2017 inauguration. The negotiations are continuing on the issue of any potential sit-down interview, which the Trump team still opposes. … Some people close to Trump and lawyers for witnesses question the Trump legal team's strategy, raising concern that it may leave the President exposed to deeper legal troubles at the end of the Mueller investigation. But the Trump legal team is confident about the position they're in and credit that feeling, at least in part, to the legal work of [Jane and Marty Raskin], the least publicly visible members of Trump's legal team.”

-- The House Intelligence Committee plans to meet Friday to vote on releasing transcripts from its Russia probe interviews. Karoun Demirjian reports: “Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced the 9 a.m. Friday meeting on Wednesday night, listing 53 transcripts that the panel hoped to release publicly pending redactions. The list includes the panel’s interviews with key figures such as Donald Trump Jr., attorney general Jeff Sessions, and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. The count omits several interviews that Democrats had hoped would eventually be made public, with high-profile witnesses such as former FBI director James B. Comey, former National Security Agency director Mike Rogers, and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).”

-- The Daily Beast published a memo describing the now-infamous Seychelles meeting attended by Trump and Vladimir Putin's allies in January 2017, including former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince and sanctioned Russian bank CEO Kirill Dmitriev. The meeting was scrutinized by Mueller’s team, which has obtained evidence it was an effort to set up a back-channel with the Kremlin. “The memo is characterized as a summary of some of the ideas discussed in the Seychelles,” Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banco report: “It’s not clear if Dmitriev, the Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO, drafted the actual document himself or merely sent it. The first bullet point proposes the U.S. and Russia work together on ‘military coordination and joint actions in Syria against ISIS.’ The document also suggests the countries resume intelligence-sharing on terrorism in the country and work together on a ‘large-scale humanitarian effort’ to build hospitals in rebel areas and fly in medical supplies and food … Lastly, the memo proposes the U.S. and Russia set up a small working group … to ‘finalize an action plan for a major improvement in the U.S.-Russia relationship’ and proposes ‘coordination across major agencies and government bodies to achieve tangible impact in the next 9-12 months.’

THE MIDTERMS:

-- House Democrats agreed to delay a debate over rules to elect a new House speaker until after the November elections. Mike DeBonis reports: Nancy “Pelosi’s allies cast the delay as a sign of her resilience and popularity among Democrats, even as Republicans continue to spend tens of millions of dollars across the country trying to tar Democratic candidates by associating them with Pelosi . . . But the handful of dissidents who pushed for the rules change said they would not abandon their effort but would delay it to preserve party unity as Democrats try to retake the House majority for the first time since 2011. ‘We’re all united moving forward,’ said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who ran against Pelosi two years ago. ‘Let’s win, and then have the family fight after.’”

-- A bipartisan group of House moderates is pledging to withhold support from any speaker candidate who does not back rules changes to how the chamber operates. Mike DeBonis reports: “The 10 Democrats and nine Republicans making the pledge belong to the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of centrist lawmakers who have sought to bridge partisan divides, and they say they will stick together and use their leverage to demand that the next speaker — whether it’s Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), [Pelosi] or someone else — endorse their reform proposals. … The proposed reforms, first rolled out by the Problem Solvers in July, run the gamut from opening up the amendment process to making it easier for bipartisan bill to get floor consideration to curbing the ability of a small group of rebellious lawmakers to force out a speaker. … What the reforms have in common is that they would chip away at the power of the House majority party leadership.”

-- Republican candidates have largely abandoned plans to tout the GOP tax law in the run-up to the midterms. They are pivoting to focus on immigration and crime instead. Erica Werner and Damian Paletta report: “The decision to play down the top legislative achievement of [Trump] and congressional Republicans comes as the law’s popularity has eroded and public sentiment has crystallized around the belief that it was primarily a boon for the rich. Democrats, in turn, have gone sharply on offense against the law in a number of races, instead of struggling to defend their ‘no’ votes as Republicans had predicted would occur. House GOP leaders, who continue to view the tax law as a positive, will hold a vote this week on a bill to make the law’s rate cuts permanent for individuals, not just for corporations as is currently the case. But even as they seek to refocus attention on the law, some are all but conceding that the messaging battle is already lost.”

-- The second debate in Virginia’s Senate race quickly turned ugly and personal, with Republican Corey Stewart making unfounded accusations against Sen. Tim Kaine. Antonio Olivo reports: “Minutes into the event, their mutual disdain was evident as they talked over each other in a series of exchanges that included Stewart implying — without evidence — that Kaine has committed sexual assault. ‘There have been 268 allegations of sexual harassment against you and others [in Congress],’ Stewart said. He was referring to $17.2 million paid by Congress since 1990 for 264 settlements and awards to federal employees for violations of a wide variety of employment rules … ‘You just tried to slip in that there were complaints against me, and that is completely false,’ Kaine said. ‘How do we know that?’ Stewart shot back. ‘Oh, so you just think you can make it up,’ Kaine said.”

-- “Maxine Waters is one of Trump's fiercest critics. She'll get a powerful new platform if Democrats take the House,” by the LA Times’s Jim Puzzanghera: “Waters has tried for months to get a House committee chairman to subpoena documents from Deutsche Bank about Russian money laundering and the finances of [Trump] and his family. If Democrats win the House majority in November, the 14-term Los Angeles lawmaker is almost certain to gain the committee’s gavel. That would give Waters, one of Trump’s fiercest critics, the power to issue those subpoenas along with something more — a high-profile platform to battle the administration. She’s indicated she’ll do just that. But Waters, whom Trump has publicly derided as ‘crazy’ and ‘low IQ,’ said her priorities if she becomes chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee would extend beyond the occupant of the Oval Office.”

-- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) released a new ad attacking Republican Kevin Cramer for paying family members from his campaign account. The GOP congressman paid his wife more than $150,000 out of the account. HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard reports: “The ad is the moderate Democrat’s most direct shot at Cramer so far in the campaign and the first ad to mention Cramer’s history of paying family members out of his campaign funds. … Cramer paid his wife to serve as his campaign manager during cycles when he wasn’t facing a serious challenge. He also paid other family members, including once giving his daughter $300 to babysit during an event. Paying family members with campaign money is legal as long as they aren’t paid above market rate, but ethics experts have questioned the practice. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have both paid family members with campaign cash this cycle.”

-- A new Pew Research Center poll finds that, six weeks from Election Day, voter enthusiasm has climbed to its highest level in more than two decades. A 61 percent majority of voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this year’s congressional election than in previous years -- including 67 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.

  • Opinions about Trump continue to be a major driving factor for voters, with 60 percent saying they are casting their vote either as an expression of opposition or support toward him. Within that group, a far larger 37 percent said they plan to cast their votes “against” Trump, compared to 23 who said the opposite. And Democrats have a 10 point lead on the generic ballot.
  • More Americans view the Democratic Party as more concerned with people’s needs, more honest and ethical and more willing to work in a bipartisan manner than their Republican counterparts.
  • Voters from both parties are keeping a close eye on Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings: 76 percent of registered voters said Supreme Court appointments will be a “very important” voting issue -- up more than 10 points from 2016 when Antonin Scalia's seat was being kept open.

-- A new NBC News-Marist poll shows the Ohio gubernatorial race to be a dead heat, while Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown holds a double-digit lead in the Senate race. From NBC News’s Ben Kamisar: “Both [Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine] get support from 47 percent of likely voters; 6 percent say they're undecided. Among registered voters, it's the same tie at 47 percent each. That's a tightening from NBC/Marist's last poll in June, which showed DeWine up with registered voters, 46 percent to 42 percent. … In the Senate race, Brown holds a 13-point lead over [GOP Rep. Jim] Renacci among both likely and registered voters, 52 percent to 39 percent, unchanged from June's NBC/Marist poll.”

-- Worst headline of the day for a Senate candidate: “Renacci uses strip-club owner’s private plane to campaign in Ohio,” by the Columbus Dispatch’s Jessica Wehrman: “A man who owns strip clubs in Cleveland has flown [Renacci] to more than a dozen campaign events since July, including one Tuesday after the congressman from the Akron area skipped two roll-call votes to campaign in Ohio. Renacci said he paid a total of about $2,500 between January and June for the trips provided by Don Ksiezyk, who owns the Peek-A-Boos and the Bug-A-Boos clubs in Cleveland.”

-- Another poll — this one from Quinnipiac — shows Democrat Andrew Gillum pulling ahead in the Florida governor's race by nine points, 54 percent to 45 percent. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

-- Shaking up his campaign to get back on track, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has hired a new campaign chairwoman. The Tampa Bay Times’s Steve Bousquet and Emily L. Mahoney report: “DeSantis chose Susie Wiles, a lobbyist and seasoned Republican strategist who ran [Trump's] successful 2016 Florida effort and was a key adviser in Rick Scott's first of two successful races for governor. The sudden change of command is an acknowledgment that DeSantis' campaign is in serious disarray less than six weeks before the election, but with the hope that there is still time to right the ship and keep Republicans in control of the state's most powerful office for four more years.”

-- A Florida ballot initiative aimed at restoring the voting rights of former felons could fundamentally alter the state’s electorate, Emily Bazelon writes for the New York Times Magazine. “Across the country, more than six million people have lost the right to vote because of their criminal records. More than 1.5 million of them live in Florida, a higher number than in any other state. The proposed ballot initiative would automatically restore the right to vote to people with a felony conviction who have completed their sentences. … To its supporters, Amendment 4 (which would also allow former felons to serve on juries and run for public office) represents a potential civil rights triumph: It could enfranchise more people at once than any single initiative since women’s suffrage. Amendment 4 could also change the Florida electorate. White people represent a majority of the state’s former felons. At the same time, black people are disproportionately affected by the current ban.”

-- Texas has set a record for voter registration, with hundreds of thousands of people joining the rolls this year. The Houston Chronicle’s Jeremy Wallace reports: “The Texas voter rolls have grown to 15.6 million people, a new record, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos confirmed. That is nearly a 400,000-person increase since March and a jump of 1.6 million since the last time Texas held a midterm election in 2014, according to election records.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Ford's legal team released photos of her taking a polygraph:

This photo of two senators talking really captures the tense mood in the Capitol right now:

The New York Daily News previewed today's hearing:

A top aide to Mitch McConnell highlighted the oppo on Kavanaugh's third accuser:

But a former lawyer in Barack Obama's White House highlighted another aspect of Swetnick's bio:

A Snapchat host and Vanity Fair contributor offered a reminder about McConnell's response to the allegations against Al Franken:

Trump lashed out at Avenatti:

Avenatti swung back:

A former chief of staff to Donald Rumsfeld pushed back against one argument about background checks:

One author responded this way to Lindsey Graham's tweets:

Kavanaugh got specific:

A Politico reporter noted this:

An NBC News reporter shared some interactions she's had since the Kavanaugh allegations came to light:

The CBS News reporter did eventually get her question answered at Trump's news conference:

A Democratic senator mocked Trump's trade policy:

At least one House Republican is keeping the hope alive for the midterms, per a Post reporter:

Bob Mueller was spotted at the Georgetown Apple store:

And one headline offered a light-hearted moment to the Twitterverse:

GOOD READS:

-- “How Dixon Ticonderoga has blurred lines of where its pencils are made,” by Damian Paletta: “[Dixon Ticonderoga Co.] has collected nearly $5 million in federal funding aimed at victims of foreign trade abuse since 2005 and has requested millions more, according to Customs and Border Protection records. And the fact that it has a Georgia distribution center has allowed Dixon to successfully petition the U.S. government to impose a 114.9 percent tariff on Chinese competitors — more than doubling the costs for some other pencil makers. But even as it receives these protections, its status as a U.S. firm is unclear. It has shed hundreds of jobs, and a key U.S. agency removed Dixon’s designation as a ‘domestic’ manufacturer because it made so few pencils at its Georgia plant. At retailers such as Staples, Target and Amazon.com, The Washington Post was unable to find a single Dixon pencil made in the United States.”

-- “While America wages war on opioids, meth makes its comeback,” by CNN's Drew Kann: “[O]fficials across [Oklahoma] say they are seizing meth that is purer, cheaper and in greater quantities than ever before, with most of it coming from south of the border. And while much of America is focused on combating the devastating impacts of opioid addiction, some states like Oklahoma are struggling to fight a new battle against an old foe.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“A Historic Number Of LGBTQ Candidates Won Primaries In 2018 Midterms,” from HuffPost: “A record-breaking number of [LGBTQ] candidates ran for office in 2018 ― and an unprecedented number won their primaries, according to a report from the LGBTQ Victory Fund. There are 21 openly queer Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate and House this election cycle ― a 24 percent increase compared to 2016, and 320 percent increase since 2010, per the group’s report released Thursday. And seven openly LGBTQ candidates ran for governor in 2018, with a historic high of four candidates receiving a major party nomination. There were zero openly LGBTQ nominees from the Republican Party for Congress or governor in 2018, per the report.  Some of these candidates have broken barriers with their primary wins alone ― such as Christine Hallquist, who won the Democratic primary in Vermont and became the nation’s first openly transgender candidate for governor backed by a national party …This historic number of LGBTQ nominees join (and are part of) a wave of women and people of color … promising to shake up the makeup of the nation’s overwhelmingly white and male governors and members of Congress if they prevail in November[.]”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“MSNBC star Joy Reid sued by Trump supporter for defamation,” from Fox News: “Reid is being sued for defamation by a California woman who accused the ‘AM Joy’ star of falsely accusing her on social media of screaming racial slurs at a minor because she is a Trump supporter. Roslyn La Liberte – who was wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ cap during the incident in question – filed the lawsuit in Eastern District Court of New York on Tuesday. She claims that Reid ‘used her substantial social media presence, fame, and reputation as a hard-hitting journalist’ to tell her followers that La Liberte ‘screamed abhorrent racial slurs’ at a 14-year-old boy. A photo from a Simi Valley, Calif. city council meeting went viral last June when it appeared that La Liberte was involved in a heated conversation with a young boy. ... The suit claims Reid falsely tweeted that La Liberte showed up ‘to a rally’ and ‘screamed’ that Luevanos is ‘going to be the first deported,’ calling the boy a ‘dirty Mexican’ in the process. ... The young man in the photo, 14-year-old Joseph Luevanos, told a local Fox affiliate that the conversation was civil and that La Liberte doesn’t deserve to be harassed as a result of the viral photo. The conversation was even captured on video and fails to coincide with Reid's claim that La Liberte mistreated Luevanos."

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump starts his day in New York. He will visit the U.S. mission to the United Nations before flying back to Washington. He has a roundtable and a dinner with supporters tonight.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I’m not interested in seeing Ms. Mitchell go cat woman on anybody.” — Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy’s advice to the female lawyer questioning Ford. (CNN)

 

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

-- The District will see cooler temperatures and possibly afternoon showers today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Clouds rule the day and light north winds usher in much cooler but still very humid air. In fact, with increasing shower activity as the day goes on, temperatures are likely to top out in the morning. Rains should peak just in time to make the evening commute more of a challenge than usual. Highs should hold in the mid-60s.”

-- The Nationals won 9-3 against the Marlins in what might be Bryce Harper’s final game for the team. From Chelsea Janes: “Because of that uncertainty, Wednesday’s maybe-goodbye was always going to be complicated. Harper, who is set to become a free agent after this weekend’s season-ending series at Colorado, has always been a complicated figure with a complicated relationship with D.C.”

-- Speed-camera tickets brought in $103.9 million in revenue last year for the District. The city issued more than 1 million tickets last year, bolstering its reputation among motorists as a “speed trap.” (Luz Lazo)

-- A D.C. Council member is encouraging the city to speed up its development of safety measures for those on bikes and electric scooters following the recent deaths of a bicyclist and scooter rider in the District. From Fredrick Kunkle: “That could mean accelerating the construction of bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets and requiring scooters to operate only in bike lanes, [Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3)] said. But she also said she doesn’t want to discourage the use of scooters. ”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Late-night hosts made joke after joke about Trump's news conference:

Samantha Bee rejected some of the talking points raised by Kavanaugh's defenders:

A Democratic congressional candidate in Texas shared her story of getting pregnant as a homeless teenager in her new campaign ad:

The Senate is kind of a weird place:

And an injured turtle received a custom wheelchair made from LEGOs: