THE BIG IDEA:

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

With less than a month before the midterm elections, technology companies are fighting to prove they can adequately shore up their platforms and products against foreign influence. Their success may mean the difference between getting to police their own house and having lawmakers do it for them.

Election Day could be a tipping point for Silicon Valley titans, who are increasingly in Washington's harsh glare following revelations that disinformation campaigns linked to Russia were widely disseminated on their platforms ahead of the 2016 elections. Tech moguls like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were dragged to Capitol Hill to give mea culpas for their past practices and publicly pledge to do better next time.

The companies contend they have learned from their missteps during the 2016 election and are improving their election-integrity efforts as other elections have taken place around the world. They’ve promised to do more to identify and stamp out fake accounts, and they have increased transparency around political ads. Facebook opened a 20-person war room on its Menlo Park campus aimed at quashing disinformation and deleting fake accounts. 

At the same time, tech moguls acknowledge they’re in an arms race against bad actors who are continuing to misuse their platforms ahead of the 2018 midterms that will determine which party controls Congress next year. Major failures will undoubtedly lead to more calls for tighter control of the industry from Washington. California Rep. Ro Khanna (D), who represents parts of Silicon Valley, is already calling for an "Internet Bill of Rights" tackling data breaches and privacy of consumer information if Democrats retake the majority next month.

“The jury is still out,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking minority-party member on the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated Russian interference in 2016, in an interview. “The companies are moving — whether it’s with enough focus is still an open question.”

Election integrity has become a companywide priority at Facebook, said Katie Harbath, the head of global politics and government outreach. She said the company is working round-the-clock to prevent bad actors from exploiting its platform in elections around the world.

“We know how important elections are and the role that Facebook plays in them,” she said. “We can never be perfect, but we’re continuing to improve every day.”

Facebook believes artificial intelligence can be used to support its efforts to identify bad actors, Harbath said. The company has said its technology can block millions of accounts a day as they are being created, before they spread fake news or inauthentic ads.  

The urgency of Silicon Valley’s war on disinformation was underscored this summer when the typically secretive technology players made announcements that they detected and removed fake accounts tied to Iran — a sign that other adversaries are learning from Russia’s playbook. In August, Facebook, Twitter and Google removed 994 accounts. Facebook also said it deleted an unspecified number of accounts with ties to Russia.

The announcements were also a reminder of the challenges the companies face as they engage in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with bad actors. Facebook has repeatedly made announcements about removing accounts aimed at sowing political discord that display activity similar to that conducted by Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 election. In late July, Zuckerberg said on his personal Facebook page that the company removed 32 accounts and pages engaged in a “coordinated inauthentic campaign,” which was organizing events like a protest against the “Unite the Right” event.

Facebook now includes statistics on fake account removals in its transparency reports, where it also lays out the number of data requests it received from law enforcement. The company disabled 1.27 billion fake accounts between October 2017 and March 2018. Twitter has also updated its policies to better reflect how it identifies fake accounts.

The companies can’t just look for behavior from bad actors that they’ve seen before.

“We’re having to look for a whole host of other potential behaviors and manipulation attempts,” said Del Harvey, Twitter vice president of trust and safety. She said the company is being more proactive and trying to monitor unusual behavior that could signal bad actors are trying to work their way into communities and sow division.

Yet it’s not even clear if Twitter has been able to crack down on accounts already known to be sowing fake news for more than two years. Most Twitter accounts linked to disinformation in the 2016 election are still active, according to a report from the Knight Foundation, in partnership with researchers at George Washington University and social media research firm Graphika.

Twitter pushed back on the report. Harvey said in an emailed statement the report doesn’t take into account any action the company takes to remove automated or spam accounts from being viewed by people on Twitter because of the technical method the researchers used to gather the data.

 Google has been less transparent with lawmakers in how it's tackling its own disinformation problems. The company told Congress last year that it found more than 1,000 videos that appeared to be posted by accounts associated with Russian bad actors. Links to those videos were frequently shared on other social media sites, the company said. Google said at the time that activity on its platform appeared to be more limited than other ones because it does not offer the “kind of targeting or viral dissemination tools” that these actors prefer.

Google has tried to steer clear of the spotlight as lawmakers raise the issue of election integrity, which has stoked fears the company is not taking its role in the situation seriously enough. When Twitter Chief Executive Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified on Capitol Hill about their companies’ efforts to combat election interference, Google refused to send an executive senators deemed senior enough.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai did visit Washington in late September to defuse tension, meeting with lawmakers, members of the Trump administration and Pentagon officials. During the trip, Pichai spoke with lawmakers about alleged bias against conservatives at Google, and he spoke with Pentagon officials about a recently severed defense contract.

But Warner criticized the company for not being more proactive on election security — and suggested there could be consequences.

“Google is just AWOL,” Warner said. “I think they are making a huge mistake in judgment and a huge mistake in policy for not treating these issues seriously.”

Google did not make an executive available for an interview or respond to a list of questions from The Washington Post about its efforts aimed at safeguarding the election cycle. A spokesperson said the company has protected elections around the world from cyberattacks for a decade.

“As we approach the midterms, we remain committed to providing people with accurate, up-to-date information about their elections,” the spokesperson said.

Warner warned that if the midterm elections expose uncontrolled activity from bad actors, the era of self-regulation could be at its end.

“I hope this is the last cycle we have without guardrails,” Warner said.

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A new Post-Schar School poll found voters in 69 battleground House districts narrowly prefer Democratic candidates heading into the midterms. Scott Clement and Dan Balz report: “The survey of 2,672 likely voters … shows that likely voters in these districts favor Democrats by a slight margin: 50 percent prefer the Democratic nominee and 46 percent prefer the Republican. By way of comparison, in 2016 these same districts favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones by 15 percentage points, 56 percent to 41 percent. … Women are driving Democratic support in the battleground districts, favoring the party’s candidates by 54 percent to 40 percent. Men in these districts favor Republicans by 51 percent to 46 percent. … Of the 69 districts included in the survey, 63 are held by Republicans and just six are held by Democrats.

-- Two American researchers won the Nobel Prize in economics. The AP’s David Keyton and Jim Heintz report: “William Nordhaus of Yale University and Paul Romer of New York University were announced winners of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize on Monday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The academy said Romer’s work ‘explains how ideas are different to other goods and require specific conditions to thrive in a market.’ … Nordhaus in the 1990s became the first person to create a model that ‘describes the global interplay between the economy and the climate,’ the academy said. He showed that ‘the most efficient remedy for problems caused by greenhouse gases is a global scheme of universally imposed carbon taxes.’”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. At least 20 people were killed in Upstate New York after a stretch limousine crashed into an unoccupied, parked vehicle. Witnesses said the limo failed to stop at an intersection and appeared to be traveling at a speed of “over 60 mph” as it flew into a crowded parking lot nearby. Federal transportation authorities are investigating the incident, which is believed to be the deadliest U.S. crash in nearly a decade. (Amy B Wang, Faiz Siddiqui and Arelis R. Hernández)
  2. A landmark new report from U.N. scientists found the world has barely 10 years to get climate change “under control,” and hold the planet’s warming at a moderate level of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. But to do so, scientists said, individual countries would have to enact sweeping changes to energy, transportation and other systems “at a magnitude that has never happened before.” (Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis)
  3. Interpol has accepted the resignation of its president, Meng Hongwei, after he disappeared in China in September. Interpol’s statement came hours after China’s Communist Party said that Meng was being “supervised” by its party watchdog for “unspecified crimes,” prompting many to speculate his resignation was made under duress. During a brief news conference, Meng’s wife said the two last spoke by text last month. His final message was sent moments after he arrived in China, she said, and contained just one emoji: a knife. (Gerry Shih and James McAuley)
  4. Tropical Storm Michael, which is predicted to become a hurricane, is on track to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast by midweek. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he intends to declare a state of emergency to prepare for the storm. (Jason Samenow)

  5. Haiti was struck by a 5.2-magnitude aftershock, prompting panic among emergency responders who feared a second quake just one day after the original tremor killed 12 people and injured dozens more. (AP)

  6. A top Vatican cardinal, Marc Ouellet, dismissed allegations that Pope Francis helped protect recently resigned cardinal Theodore McCarrick from allegations of sexual misconduct, blasting the charges in a letter as a “political plot” that “[lacks] any real basis.” His letter is the Vatican’s first direct response to the allegations, which were made six weeks ago by a former Vatican ambassador to the United States. (Chico Harlan)
  7. Walmart announced it would partner with Metro Goldwyn Mayer to boost its video-on-demand service Vudu. Walmart bought the service eight years ago, but it continues to struggle behind Netflix and Hulu in monthly viewership. (Fox Business)

KAVANAUGH FIGHT CONTINUES TO CHURN:

-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested that Brett Kavanaugh’s narrow confirmation to the Supreme Court will energize the GOP’s base ahead of this year’s midterms — echoing the defiant tone shared by many Senate Republicans. “We stood up to the mob,” McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We established that the presumption of innocence is still important. . . . I’m proud of my colleagues,” he added.

-- “McConnell’s charged language was shared by other Republicans, who referred to Saturday’s near-party-line vote  [to confirm Kavanaugh] of 50 to 48 as both a galvanizing and polarizing moment,” Robert Costa reports

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was glad to have helped defeat “the effort to humiliate and railroad a man I’ve known for 20 years.” "’I’ve never been more pissed in my life,” he said. “I’ve never campaigned against a colleague in my life . . . . That’s about to change.”
  • Appearing on ABC News’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway defended Kavanaugh as a victim of “political character assassination”: “We looked up and saw in him possibly our husbands, our sons, our cousins, our co-workers, our brothers,” Conway said. She also slammed reporters for their coverage of the Kavanaugh allegation, telling ABC's  Jonathan Karl: “[Many] in your industry have lost their moral authority to pretend that [they were] on some kind of fact-finding mission … They want every woman to be a victim [and] . . . every man [a] perpetrator.” (ABC News)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) explained her deciding vote to confirm Kavanaugh: “'I am convinced that Doctor Ford believes what she told us and that she was the victim, a survivor, of sexual assault and that that has been a trauma that has stayed with her for her entire life …’ But, she said, ‘I could not conclude that [Kavanaugh] was her assailant.’ When pressed  … about whether her view on Ford may be viewed by her critics as skepticism generally of women who have shared similar stories, Collins defended her position and said she was evaluating a specific case. 'When I hear that, it causes me huge pain because I have met with so many survivors of sexual attacks, including close friends. And these women have the right to be heard,' she said.”

-- “The political scramble extended to Senate Democrats, with those running in states won by Trump in 2016 explaining a critical vote that could, in part, determine their fate,” Costa writes. “[On CBS News’s 60 Minutes], Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), [said] her opposition to Kavanaugh was based not only on Ford’s testimony but also on her disappointment with Kavanaugh’s combative testimony and her lingering questions about his answers. ‘What I would say is — even if you don’t believe or believe Dr. Ford, the other issue is one of temperament, one of impartiality and blind justice,’ Heitkamp said. ‘And I think that adds to the case being made that a ‘no’ vote is the appropriate vote.’”

-- Some Democrats were cautious about the idea being floated by some in their party of trying to impeach Kavanaugh: “I think that’s premature,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” “I think talking about it at this point isn’t necessarily healing us and moving us forward.” Instead, he criticized [President] Trump for his comments on Kavanaugh’s accuser: “One of the biggest tragedies of this past week was to watch the president of the United States publicly mocking and ridiculing Dr. Ford,” Coons said, calling a “low mark in his presidency.”

-- Looking ahead: McConnell also ducked questions on whether a GOP-controlled Senate would  confirm a third Supreme Court justice during a presidential election year — even though he refused as majority leader to consider Obama's 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland. “The answer to your question is we will see if there's a vacancy in 2020,” McConnell said. “You have to go back to 1880 to find the last time a Senate controlled by a party different from the president filled a vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created in the middle of a presidential election year,” he added. “That's been the history.”

REPUBLICANS WON THE BATTLE . . .

-- Kavanaugh was sworn-in Saturday night as the newest Supreme Court justice. In addition to Chief Justice John Roberts, the private, hastily called ceremony was attended by Justices Elena Kagan, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Robert Barnes reports: “That some colleagues were missing was a matter of scheduling, not protest. The justices can resemble a family in that way: They can harshly criticize each other — at least in the confined spaces of legal opinions — but form a solid perimeter when the attacks come from outside the Marble Palace. … [Now], the tougher question is how months of partisan warfare will affect the court’s image. Can the justices convince the public that their solidified 5 to 4 split — with conservative Republican-nominated justices on one side and liberal Democratic-appointed justices on the other — is any different from the 50 to 48 vote across the street in Congress that elevated Kavanaugh?”

-- Chief Justice Roberts recently received more than a dozen judicial misconduct complaints centered on statements Kavanaugh made during his Senate confirmation hearing — but has decided, for the time being, not to refer them to a panel for investigation. Carol D. Leonnig, Ann E. Marimow, and Tom Hamburger report: “A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the court on which Kavanaugh [served] — passed on to Roberts a string of complaints the court received … That judge, Karen LeCraft Henderson, had dismissed other complaints against Kavanaugh as frivolous, but she concluded that some were substantive enough that they should not be handled by Kavanaugh’s fellow judges in the D.C. Circuit. People familiar with the matter say [Roberts] did not see an urgent need for them to be resolved by the judicial branch while he continued to review the incoming complaints . . .

“The situation is highly unusual, said legal experts … [Still], even if Roberts had referred the complaints, it may have had no practical effect. Referring the case to another appeals court could make the complaints public. But, it typically takes months for a judicial panel to decide the veracity of misconduct complaints, so these would not have been resolved by the time the Senate voted on Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

-- Kavanaugh became the first justice to have an all-female staff. Robert Barnes reports: “Kavanaugh told [senators during his confirmation hearing] that as part of a contingent plan should he be confirmed, he had to hire ‘a first group of four law clerks who could be available to clerk at the Supreme Court for me on a moment’s notice.’ He added: ‘All four are women. If confirmed, I’ll be the first justice in the history of the Supreme Court to have a group of all-women law clerks. That is who I am.’”

BUT DEMOCRATS AREN'T CEDING THE WAR . . .

-- In nearly one month, Republican leadership will be tested as voters cast their ballots in this year’s midterm elections. But until then, Kavanaugh’s confirmation has given the GOP its greatest consolidation of political power since the Great Depression, The Post’s Aaron Blake writes:Assuming the court is more tilted toward the GOP going forward, that delivers the GOP the last vestige of power in Washington that had thus far eluded it. While justices are technically nonpartisan, experts say this is shaping up to be the first reliably conservative Supreme Court since at least the New Deal era more than 75 years ago. By some measures, the court was already more conservative than it was then … and it’s likely to be even more so now …”doesn’t make women strong and stronger is really unfortunate.’”

-- A site collecting donations to defeat Sen. Collins in 2020 crashed, apparently overwhelmed with visitors. From Kristine Phillips and Eli Rosenberg: “'Collins has people more motivated than we’ve ever seen before,’ Crowdpac tweeted. ‘Hold tight, we’ll be back shortly.’ The site was back online a little less than two hours later. By Sunday morning, the campaign that vows to support Collins’s future opponent had surpassed $3.3 million — not an insignificant amount for a political race in a state with among the smallest populations in the country (1.3 million).”

-- Heidi Heitkamp offered a tearful response after her opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, dismissed the #MeToo movement as a “movement toward victimization.” The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin reports: “North Dakotans, [Cramer] said, appreciate the value ‘of saying what a lot of other people don’t dare say — but think.’ Asked for an example of what he meant, he ripped into the #MeToo movement. ‘That you’re just supposed to believe somebody because they said it happened,’ Mr. Cramer said, alluding to [Ford] … Invoking his wife, daughters, mother and mother-in-law, Mr. Cramer said: ‘They cannot understand this movement toward victimization. They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.’ …

“‘The better part of my career in public life has been working with victims,’ said Ms. Heitkamp, a former state attorney general. ‘Did you ask him how many victims during this process he actually sat down with, and survivors he sat down with, and visited with personally?’ Then Ms. Heitkamp’s voice grew thick with emotion. ‘I think it’s wonderful that his wife has never had an experience, and good for her, and it’s wonderful his mom hasn’t,’ she said. ‘My mom did. And I think it affected my mom her whole life. And it didn’t make her less strong.’ With tears welling in her eyes, Ms. Heitkamp stared intently at a reporter and continued: ‘And I want you to put this in there, it did not make my mom less strong that she was a victim. She got stronger and she made us strong. And to suggest that this movement doesn’t make women strong and stronger is really unfortunate.’”

-- The left is thinking about creative ways to overturn the status quo. “Facing a Supreme Court controlled by five solidly conservative justices, liberals have already started to attack the legitimacy of the majority bloc and discussed ways to eventually undo its power without waiting for one of its members to retire or die,” the New York Times’s Charlie Savage reports. “Some have gone as far as proposing — if Democrats were to retake control of Congress and the White House … expanding the number of justices on the court to pack it with liberals or trying to [impeach Kavanaugh]. Either step would be an extraordinary violation of constitutional and political norms. No justice has been removed through impeachment. And a previous attempt at court packing, by [FDR] … is broadly seen as having been misguided. Still, even the political pressure of the threat might make some of the conservative justices more cautious. While Congress rejected Roosevelt’s court-reform bill, the court changed course … and started upholding New Deal laws, [in a move widely known as] ‘the switch in time that saved nine.’”

  • “[Washington University professor Lee Epstein] predicted that [Chief Justice Roberts], aware of the danger to the court’s legitimacy, would try to guide it into staying quiet for at least several years.” “This could be a terrible moment for the court,” she said. “The Republicans aren’t going to be running government forever, and it could lead to the kind of clash that we had in 1936 . . . That was a bad moment for the court and a bad moment for the country.”

-- Trump’s supporters have rallied around Kavanaugh, even though his status as a D.C. insider seems at odds with the “drain the swamp” cause, Jenna Johnson reports. “Trump and his rally crowds are now firmly behind Kavanaugh, to the point where audiences sometimes chant ‘Kav-a-naugh’ in addition to ‘Drain the swamp,’ two ideas that would seem to be in forceful opposition to each other. It’s an alliance formed around a common cause and, increasingly, against a common enemy: Democrats, or anyone who tries to stand in the way of Trump notching wins. Although [Conway], Trump’s former campaign manager and current White House counselor, once described the Trump movement as ‘us vs. the elite,’ it has since become them vs. everybody else.”

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN:

-- In the moments after Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony, Kavanaugh’s hopes of confirmation seemed dim, the New York Times’s  Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos report. “Trump called [McConnell] and they agreed she was impressive. … Mr. Trump thought it was time to bring in the F.B.I. to investigate … but when he called the Hart Building, [Don McGahn] refused to take the call. Instead, Mr. McGahn cleared the room and sat down with Judge Kavanaugh and his wife[.] The only way to save his nomination, Mr. McGahn said, was to show the senators how he really felt, to channel his outrage and indignation at the charges he had denied. Judge Kavanaugh did not need convincing. [And] his fire-and-fury performance … suddenly turned the tables. While Democrats thought he went too far, demoralized Republicans were emboldened again.” “The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Sunday that the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi  was “very, very upsetting” — but stopped short of confirming reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in what has been described by people familiar with Turkey's investigation as a “preplanned murder.” “I am following this issue, pursuing it, and whatever the result, we will be the ones to tell the world,” Erdogan said, speaking in Ankara on Sunday.  (Note: Khashoggi was a contributor to The Washington Post's Global Opinion's section. Read an archive of his previous columns here.)

-- “[The Post] reported Saturday that Turkish investigators had concluded that [Khashoggi] had been killed inside the consulate Tuesday by a team sent from Saudi Arabia,” Erin Cunningham and Kareem Fahim report. "[A] U.S. official confirmed that Turkey's government had determined that Khashoggi was probably killed inside the consulate by a team that arrived on two private jets. Turkish officials further concluded that his body was probably dismembered, removed in boxes and flown out of the country, the official said. The suspected murder of Khashoggi . . . could flare tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two regional powers whose rivalry has played out across the Middle East ...”

-- The disappearance and alleged killing of Khashoggi has touched off a new set of challenges for the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which has been “diligently cultivated” by both governments, Karen DeYoung reports: “The Trump administration has said little beyond expressing public concern over Khashoggi’s fate, and the kingdom has sharply denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. In private, officials from [Mike Pompeo] on down have been frustrated with the lack of a substantive response to direct high-level queries … Confirmation that Khashoggi was killed — as some senior Turkish officials have charged — or even his disappearance at Saudi hands is likely to spark a new round of congressional pressure to reassess the relationship with Riyadh.”

  • “'If this deeply disturbing news report is confirmed, the United States & the civilized world must respond strongly, and I will review all options in Senate,’ Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Sunday, among a number of similar comments.”

-- “Did the Saudis Murder Jamal Khashoggi?by the New Yorker’s Robin Wright: “The last time I spoke with Jamal Khashoggi, in August, he was worried about his life. The Saudi dissident, a fifty-nine-year-old former editor and government adviser, was convinced that the kingdom’s new leadership wanted to kill him. ‘Of course, they’d like to see me out of the picture,’ he said. He’d said it to me before, but by then he had been in exile, in Washington, for more than a year, so I thought he was exaggerating the dangers. Maybe not.”

-- Authorities discovered the body of Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova, who was brutally raped and murdered. Marinova is the fourth journalist killed in Europe over the past 14 months. (Daily Beast)

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Un, where he said the two had a “good, productive conversation” and reportedly agreed to schedule a second summit with Trump as “soon as possible.” Simon Denyer reports: “Pompeo and Kim met for about two hours and then had a 90-minute lunch together. ‘It’s good to see you again,’ Pompeo told Kim … As the pair sat for lunch, Kim said, ‘It’s a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries.’ [Pompeo’s] previous trip to North Korea, in July, did not go so well. He came away from it saying the two sides had made progress, only for North Korea to denounce him for making ‘gangster-like’ demands . . . Pompeo then planned to return in late August, only for Trump to cancel the trip at the last minute as it became apparent that the two sides remained far apart … But a summit of the leaders of North and South Korea last month has helped to rekindle the peace process, as has the apparent desire of both Kim and Trump to meet again. An official accompanying the delegation … said the trip had gone ‘better than the last time’ but added that it is going to be a ‘long haul,’ according to a pool report from the lone U.S. journalist [on the trip].”

Later Sunday, Pompeo flew to Seoul to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “As [Trump] said, there are many steps along the way, and we took one of them today,” Pompeo told reporters. “It was another step forward. So this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us.”

-- Pompeo arrived in China today, where he heard Foreign Minister Wang Yi slam the Trump administration’s recent actions as having “directly impacted our mutual trust and cast a shadow over our bilateral relations.” Anna Fifield and Simon Denyer report: “'We urge the U.S. to stop such misguided activities,' Wang said, casting the sudden deterioration in the relationship in surprisingly undiplomatic terms. He cited the 'escalation' of trade friction, favorable treatment of Taiwan and 'criticizing China’s internal and external policies.' … The secretary of state responded by saying that Washington and Beijing were stuck in a 'fundamental disagreement' that he hoped they could make some progress on resolving. He lamented Beijing’s recent decision not to attend the strategic dialogue between the two countries’ defense secretaries planned for the middle of this month, saying that the forum was an 'important opportunity' for discussion."

-- The Brazilian presidential election will go to a second round after far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro narrowly missed capturing 50 percent of the vote. Anthony Faiola and Marina Lopes report: “Bolsonaro — who has been compared to [Trump] for his populist candidacy and polarizing style — was riding a wave of indignation against the corruption in the political class that has governed Brazil since the military dictatorship ended in 1985. With 98 percent of the ballots counted, Bolsonaro had 46.43 percent of the vote. That figure put him close to surpassing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff on Oct. 28. His closest competitor, the leftist Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, was running a distant second with 28.7 percent.”

-- The Taliban warned it would seek to disrupt Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Sayed Salahuddin reports: “The announcement casts new doubt on the troubled elections, which have already been delayed for three years and are plagued by fears of fraud and security concerns. The warning coincides with increase in the number of attacks both by the Taliban and affiliates of the Islamic State in recent months, which have killed hundreds of people, including six nominees for the parliamentary vote and scores working on the elections.”

-- “Long-standing allies whose leaders have sometimes had testy relations with Trump are increasingly keeping ties with the United States alive in ways that bypass the White House,” Carol Morello reports. “The efforts to contact local and state governments, business leaders, and civil society reflect the conviction that the United States is still an influential player in the world. So even countries that hoped to lie low until a new administration is in place have concluded that they can’t afford to do that. Some are already gaming scenarios for how to deal with a second Trump term. In the meantime, some countries are making creative connections with Americans, far from the traditional halls of power in Washington. Germany is focusing on culture and heritage in its Wunderbar Together campaign, with a database for an estimated 50 million Americans who can trace their lineage to Germany.”

THE MIDTERMS:

-- A new CBS poll found Republicans solidifying their leads in Senate races in Texas and Tennessee. CBS News’s Jennifer De Pinto, Kabir Khanna, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus report: “In the closely watched race in Texas, incumbent Republican Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke, at six points among likely voters, 50-44. … Tennessee finds Republican Marsha Blackburn with an eight-point lead over Democrat Phil Bredesen, 50-42. … Typically blue New Jersey finds Republicans trying to mount an upset of their own against incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez, but Menendez has a sizable 49-39 advantage over Republican challenger Bob Hugin.”

-- “Why New Jersey Democrats Are Suddenly Worried About the Menendez Race,” by the New York Times’s Nick Corasaniti: “Democrats in New Jersey, one of the country’s bluest states, are growing anxious that the national party is not paying attention to warning signs that [Menendez’s] re-election prospects are shakier than expected. They point out that Mr. Menendez is saddled with high unfavorability ratings caused by ethics troubles; his Senate duties have kept him in Washington for days at a time; and [Hugin] has spent millions of dollars hammering Mr. Menendez with negative ads.”

-- Taylor Swift surprisingly revealed who she is voting for in Tennessee — Bredesen for the Senate and Democrat Jim Cooper for the House. From Emily Yahr: “The pop megastar, who just wrapped up a 40-date stadium tour across the country, posted a long Instagram caption Sunday night. In it Swift, who is registered to vote in Tennessee, gave a detailed explanation about why she’s voting for Democrats Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House. Swift also slammed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), writing, ‘Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.’ ‘In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,’ Swift wrote to her 112 million Instagram followers.”

-- “‘We are here!’ From a blue dot in a sea of red comes a hopeful pitch for a politician’s visit,” by Stephanie McCrummen: “He was a Democrat in Republican territory, a citizen of a rural Georgia town that people tended to pass by on the way to someplace else, including politicians running for high office. But this election felt different to John Howard, so one morning in August he began writing a letter. ‘I am reaching out to you all, to inquire about the possibility of Stacey Abrams coming to Forsyth,’ began his email to the campaign of one of those politicians, who in November could become the first female governor of Georgia, the first black governor of Georgia and the first black woman to govern any state in America. He introduced himself as the former mayor of Forsyth, and the first African American elected to the job . . .

“As the midterm elections come down to the final weeks, so many campaigns across the country are unfolding the same way — not just as a choice between Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives, but between mini-versions of Donald Trump and candidates representing an opposite vision of America. … [That polarized dynamic] has been especially apparent in Georgia, where [Republican Brian] Kemp is courting Trump voters by calling himself a ‘politically incorrect conservative’ in ads featuring explosions, chain saws, rifles and a pledge to ‘round up criminal illegals.’ Abrams, meanwhile, is courting everyone else — not just the reliable Democrats of Atlanta but all the forsaken voters in blue-dot towns across rural Georgia. … It was a message that resonated across Georgia, in places like Pearson and Moultrie and Sparks and so many other small towns where people were sending off speaking requests to the campaign every day. And in Forsyth, too …”

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

-- Veteran GOP operative Peter Smith solicited and raised at least $100,000 as part of his 2016 search for Hillary Clinton’s emails — and documents suggest he was attempting to funnel the money through a scholarship fund for Russian students. His activities are of “intense interest” to Robert Mueller's team, who has interviewed his associates and summoned them before a grand jury as recently as this summer.

The Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau, Dustin Volz and Shelby Holliday report: “Mr. Smith’s effort [was first reported in 2017], but the extent of his planning went far beyond what was previously known. Mr. Smith died 10 days after describing his efforts to a reporter for the Journal. The documents and people familiar with the matter depict a veteran political operative with access to wealthy donors and deep connections in Republican politics on a single-minded quest … even after government officials warned of Russian involvement in U.S. politics. Mr. Smith went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the privacy and secrecy of his projects, according to emails and court records.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

A New York Times reporter predicted the Senate would largely look the same after November:

From an Inside Elections editor:

A Post reporter replied:

A CNN reporter noted a change in Mitch McConnell's rationale for Supreme Court nominations:

Columnist Connie Schultz, who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), called on Senate Republicans to condemn threats against Ford:

Those with famous political names commiserated over Twitter:

Jamal Khashoggi's editor at The Post mourned his presumed death:

A former CIA officer and spokesman for Obama's National Security Council had this to say:

A New York Times reporter noted this of the U.N. report on climate change:

Real and fictional secretaries of state took a group photo:

Lindsey Graham celebrated his number of Twitter followers:

But a former U.S. attorney with more than 900,000 followers replied:

Stormy Daniels saw a familiar face:

A CNN reporter imagined Taylor Swift's political endorsement as album titles:

And a Business Insider reporter envisioned a future political debate:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- Politico Magazine, “Democrats Fear They’re the Wet Rag Party,” by John F. Harris: “The president’s gleeful taunts of [Al Franken] as a quitter at a campaign rally in Minnesota on Thursday … were perfectly pitched to stoke anxieties that have haunted many top Democratic operatives for a generation: the fear that their party loses big power struggles because Republicans are simply tougher, meaner, more cynical and more ruthless than they are. A belief in one’s own virtue feels good. Losing a battle that could shape the American political landscape for decades feels bad. … [As Democrats interviewed this weekend articulated] it, their answer is to be more realistic about what they see as Republicans’ strategy to disregard principle and process in their pursuit of power … and more disciplined in a long-term way in fighting back …”

-- New York Times, “As Storms Keep Coming, FEMA Spends Billions in ‘Cycle’ of Damage and Repair,” by Kevin Sack and John Schwartz: “FEMA’s public assistance program has provided at least $81 billion … to state, territorial and local governments in response to disasters declared since 1992, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. But an examination of projects across the country’s ever-expanding flood zones reveals that decisions to rebuild in place, often made seemingly in defiance of climate change, have at times left structures just as defenseless against the next storm.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“The junk science Republicans used to undermine Ford and help save Kavanaugh,” from Avi Selk: “The politically convenient, scientifically baseless theory that sexual assault so traumatized Christine Blasey Ford she mixed up her attacker is now something like common wisdom for many Republicans. … It’s easy to forget that less than three weeks ago, when the mistaken-identity theory was first formulated, it was so widely ridiculed that a pundit who advanced it on Twitter subsequently apologized and offered to resign from his job. But for many cognitive researchers who study how memories actually form during traumatic events, the theory never stopped sounding ridiculous. ‘The person lying on top of you — who she’d previously met — you’re not going to forget that,’ said Richard Huganir, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. ‘There’s a total consensus in the field of memory . . . If anything, fear and trauma enhances the encoding of the memory at a molecular level.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“A Texas yard sign depicted a GOP elephant with its trunk up a girl’s skirt. Police seized it,” from Kristine Phillips: “[Last week], Marion Stanford grabbed a piece of wooden paneling, some paint and the $5 brushes she had purchased awhile back. She brought the items back to her living room, where she had been [watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony]. And [she] began to paint.  She drew an elephant, the Republican symbol, in red, white and blue — with its trunk climbing up the skirt of a little blond girl in pink. … On the opposite side … she painted the words, ‘YOUR VOTE MATTERS,’ … A few days later, [a] police officer showed up at her house. Stanford said the officer told her there had been complaints about her sign, which some saw as a graphic depiction of child abuse. Earlier that Tuesday, the sign caught the attention of Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner … [who posted] pictures of the sign on his Facebook page and claimed that the girl depicted was one of Kavanaugh’s young daughters.”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump is traveling to Orlando this morning to speak at the annual convention for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Tonight, he will participate in Kavanaugh’s swearing-in ceremony.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I have been moved by the enthusiasm … I’m going to give it due consideration after the midterms.” — Former national security adviser Susan Rice on whether she will launch a Senate bid to challenge Susan Collins.

 

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

-- Washingtonians should prepare for another hot and muggy day as summerlike conditions persist. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Not unlike the past couple days, we may have some morning low clouds and fog before sunshine breaks through. Once it does, temperatures shoot up into the toasty 80s. It’s humid as well, thanks to light winds from the southeast. During the afternoon and into early evening, a pop-up shower or thundershower can’t be ruled out.”

-- Sen. Ben Cardin (D) pushed back against criticisms from his two main challengers during Maryland’s first Senate debate. Rachel Chason reports: “Cardin, a third-generation Marylander who maintains broad support in the state, delivered a strong defense of his record, saying he is proud of what he has achieved for residents by working across the aisle. Cardin held a nearly 40-point lead in a Goucher College poll released last month, earning support from 56 percent of likely voters, compared with 17 percent for Republican Tony Campbell and 8 percent for Neal Simon, who is running as an independent.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

SNL envisioned Senate Republicans as a sports team celebrating a big win:

McConnell pushed back against John Dickerson when the CBS moderator challenged his take on Supreme Court history:

Trump asserted women were Kavanaugh's strongest defenders:

And the crash of a vintage plane in Mississippi miraculously resulted in no serious injuries: