With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: CNN treated Bernie Sanders like a front-runner and took the senator’s policy proposals seriously during Tuesday night’s debate in Detroit. It was a striking contrast from the first debate in Miami, where MSNBC focused on Joe Biden and the runner-up for the nomination in 2016 looked dispirited as he struggled to get a word in.

Sanders relished being back in the spotlight, as well as the ideological combat, which underscored how much the zeitgeist of the Democratic Party has moved his way over the past four years. Biden, who appears onstage tonight for the second round, wound up never being mentioned during a debate that lasted two hours and 43 minutes.

With his poll numbers sagging, old supporters slipping away and new rivals co-opting his ideas, Sanders got the breaks he needed to stay in the hunt. It helped that Elizabeth Warren, the biggest beneficiary of defections from his 2016 effort, chose not to attack him so that she could sell herself. It also worked to Sanders’s advantage that several lesser-known moderates — desperate to break through so that they can qualify for the third debate in Houston — were eager to serve as foils.

The Sanders campaign is already selling T-shirts and bumper stickers that say: “I wrote the damn bill!” That’s what the senator said in response to criticism from Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) that Medicare-for-all would hurt union workers who have given up wage increases during salary negotiations to get better health-care coverage. Sanders said his plan would allow for benefits that are just as good or better than what those workers now have. “It covers all health-care needs,” said Sanders. “For senior citizens, it will finally include dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses.”

“You don't know that, Bernie,” said Ryan.

“I do know it,” Sanders shot back. “I wrote the damn bill!”

Warren and Sanders stood together in solidarity, and they held their own — defending their shared policies and making complementary cases for their electability. The Massachusetts senator anticipated that the moderators would try to goad her into attacking her colleague, people familiar with her planning said, so she practiced not taking the bait in rehearsals. Warren embraced Sanders when she took the stage and exclaimed loudly enough so the mics would pick it up, “Good to see you!” Host Jake Tapper noted that Warren calls herself a capitalist and Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. He asked whether that’s her way of making the case that she’s more electable than him. She ignored the query and attacked big banks instead. Sanders smiled and nodded.

Warren was aggressive about forcing her way into the fray, and she was rewarded with more speaking time than anyone else. Her background as a onetime Oklahoma state champion high school debater shone through repeatedly. She was most disciplined about sticking to her script and delivered well-rehearsed lines in a way that didn’t make them sound canned. She also did a better job than the others onstage of telling anecdotes to humanize policy debates.

She espouses essentially the same ideas as Sanders but makes them sound less radical. For this reason, Warren remains an existential threat to his candidacy. Sanders advisers are loath to acknowledge this reality, even privately. “I genuinely do not understand why anyone would go to all the trouble of running for president just to get up on this stage and talk about what’s not possible,” Warren said in one of the most memorable lines of the night. “We’re not going to solve the urgent problems that we face with small ideas and spinelessness.”

Only once did Sanders betray a hint of jealousy about Warren’s rise in the polls. Her catchphrase on the stump is “I’ve got a plan for that!” Asked about reparations, he glanced toward her. “I also have a plan,” he said. “It's called the Thurgood Marshall Plan. And it would focus on ending the growth of segregated schools in America.”

Because Warren and Sanders would not attack each other, the moderators leaned on the moderates to create made-for-television moments. John Delaney embraced that role gleefully. The former Maryland congressman, who has been running for president longer than anyone else and has spent more time in Iowa than all 23 of his rivals but has failed to get traction, set the tone in his opening statement by comparing Sanders and Warren to George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis — three liberals who suffered landslide losses when the Democratic Party nominated them in, respectively, 1972, 1984 and 1988.

Delaney said abolishing private insurance, as Sanders and Warren propose to enact Medicare-for-all, would be the equivalent of if Franklin Roosevelt banned private pensions when he created Social Security. “Why do we got to be the party of taking something away from people?” Delaney said. “My dad, the union electrician, loved the health care he got from the [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers]. He would never want someone to take that away.” As the co-founder of a firm that lent money to health-care companies, Delaney noted that he was the only candidate “who actually has experience” working in the industry. “And with all due respect, I don't think my colleagues understand the business,” he said. Sanders pounced. “It's not a business,” he replied.

For Delaney, it sometimes looked like a kamikaze mission. After all, the bulk of the Democratic base is not where he is on the biggest issues. But the former congressman noted correctly that most of what he was saying — including proposing a public option on health care — is essentially where Barack Obama was when he ran for president in 2008. On trade, Delaney noted that he’s the only candidate who supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Obama administration negotiated but that President Trump withdrew from on his first week in office. Delaney went on to criticize a plan that Warren unveiled on Monday as extreme. “We can’t isolate ourselves from the world,” he said, saying that, under her proposal, “we would not be able to trade with the United Kingdom.”

“What the congressman is describing as ‘extreme’ is having deals that are designed by American workers for American workers,” Warren replied.

“Elizabeth is absolutely right,” said Sanders.

Several other moderates piled on against Sanders and Warren, but they did so more cautiously than Delaney. None really left a mark. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper described his health-care plan as “an evolution, not a revolution.” He called himself “a little more pragmatic” in his opening statement. Blasting the federal jobs guarantee embedded in the Green New Deal, he said: “You might as well FedEx the election to Donald Trump.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who didn’t qualify for the first debate, warned against “wish-list economics” and said people who are struggling to get by “can’t wait for a revolution.” He said “it took us decades of false starts” to get the Affordable Care Act. “So let's actually build on it,” he said. Later, Bullock said that the plans that Sanders is proposing for free health care and college would be magnets for undocumented immigrants to enter the country.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who described her policies as “grounded in reality,” seemed more reluctant than the others to attack her Senate colleagues by name, even as she pointed out that “on page eight” of the Medicare-for-all bill, which Sanders said he wrote and which Warren co-sponsored, it says people will lose their private insurance. She also criticized their higher education plans by saying that it’s unrealistic to give free college, funded by taxpayers, to rich kids.

The result was an almost definitional debate about what it means to be a Democrat in 2019. “I’ve heard some people here tonight — I almost wonder why you’re Democrats,” said author Marianne Williamson, the only candidate onstage who has never held elected office. “You seem to think there’s something wrong about using the instruments of government to help people.”

In that environment, both Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg struggled to straddle the ideological fence. The former Texas congressman, who lost a Senate race last year, made the case that he could put his home state’s 38 electoral votes in play. He spoke not of revolution but of the need for national redemption after the Trump era.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor's catchphrase on health care — “Medicare for all who want it” — captured in miniature how he’s trying to have it both ways on a host of issues. Buttigieg also seemed like he was trying to walk back the support he expressed for decriminalizing illegal border crossings in the first debate. “When I am president, illegally crossing the border will still be illegal,” he said, explaining that it will just be punished civilly.

The moderators focused on prodding the lower-tier candidates to draw contrasts and highlight differences. CNN devoted 20 minutes to health care, 13 minutes to electability, 11 minutes to both immigration and the racial divide, 10 minutes to climate change, trade and foreign policy, nine minutes to gun control, five minutes to higher education, three minutes to the Flint water crisis and also whether the ages of the candidates are relevant, and two minutes to Warren’s wealth tax, which was an attempt to force a clash between her and Delaney.

Dana Bash noted that Ohio has 96,000 autoworkers and Sanders is co-sponsoring a bill that would eliminate new gas-powered car sales by 2040. Turning to Ryan, who represents Youngstown, close to where a General Motors plant just closed, she wondered: “How concerned are you about Sen. Sanders’s plan?” In that case, Ryan did not directly answer and avoided criticizing the Green New Deal. But Sanders replied: “I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas.”

“I didn't say we couldn't get there until 2040, Bernie,” Ryan answered. “You don’t have to yell.”

Then Bash prompted Bullock to attack Sanders on the same topic. He obliged. “Let's not just talk about plans that are written for press releases that will go nowhere else if we can't get a Republican to acknowledge that the climate's changing,” the Montana governor told Sanders, who grimaced.

Tapper got Warren to explain why she thinks the U.S. should announce to the world that it will never launch a preemptive nuclear strike. Then he turned to Bullock, who represents a state that houses ready-to-launch nukes, to explain why he disagreed with her.

The failure of the more moderate candidates to bloody Sanders or Warren raises the stakes for Biden when he joins nine other candidates on the same stage tonight for Round 2. The 76-year-old can solidify his standing as the favorite of the party’s establishment and corporatist wing. But he faces pressure to show that his wobbly and halting performance in Miami was an aberration, not a reflection of his age. Biden will face a more diverse mix of candidates at 8 p.m. Eastern, including Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, the two African American senators who dunked on him last time.

HOW IT’S PLAYING: 

-- More team coverage:

  • The Fact Checker team scrutinized 13 statements made during the debate. 
  • Warren closked the most speaking time, with 17.9 minutes. Sanders followed closely behind, scoring 17.6 minutes. Buttigieg came in third with 14.4, followed by O’Rourke, 10.9; Bullock, 10.8; Klobuchar, 10.7; Delaney, 10.3; Ryan, 9.8; Williamson, 8.9; and Hickenlooper, 8.8.
  • Dan Balz: “Evolution or revolution? Democrats’ ideological divisions broke into the open in their Detroit brawl.”
  • David Fahrenthold, Sean Sullivan and Annie Linskey: “8 big moments from Night 1.”
  • Jeff Stein: “Here are the Democrat’s three key disputes about Medicare-for-all.”
  • Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: “In Detroit, Democratic fringe debaters mount a move to the fore.”  
  • Read the complete transcript of the debate here.

​​​​​​-- What pundits are saying about who won and lost:

  • The Fix’s Aaron Blake names Warren, Delaney, Buttigieg and Williamson as winners. His losers are Medicare-for-all, O’Rourke and Bullock.
  • CNN’s Chris Cillizza says Sanders, Bullock, Buttigieg, Delaney and Warren won. As for losers, O’Rourke and Klobuchar had bad nights, while Warren got put on both lists for losing some stage presence to Sanders.
  • Vox calls Warren the clear winner. Delaney also earned some points, and the liberal site says the main losers were the policy needs of black voters.
  • Fox News’s Doug Schoen thinks Warren was also the debate’s clear winner, followed by Delaney, who “made a surprisingly strong showing.”
  • Politico’s Steven Shepard says Sanders and Warren dominated, while O’Rourke and Buttigieg got “lost in the scrum.”
  • The Detroit Free Press’s Brian Dickerson and Nancy Kaffer agree that Hickenlooper and O’Rourke should drop out of the race..
  • The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein doesn’t think the debate produced a clear champion, so he divided the participants between the winners and those who seemed invisible. Winners: Warren, Sanders, Williamson, Delaney and Buttigieg. Invisible: Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Bullock, Hickenlooper and Ryan.

-- From The Post's opinion page:

  • “Marianne Williamson has the luxury of speaking plainly and passionately because she has zero chance of being the Democratic nominee. But those who do might take notice, and stop squabbling about the finer points,” writes Dana Milbank.
  • The night showed just how fractious the Democratic primary fight may become, frets E.J. Dionne. “Democrats would do well to act like a sports team, watch the film of this encounter and consider how well Medicare-for-all would hold up on the 2020 battlefield. Tuesday’s test should be sobering.”  
  • Delaney was CNN’s smirking secret weapon, notes media critic Erik Wemple. “CNN made good use of its split-screen option to show every contortion from the long shot candidate as his ideas went through the Democratic primary vetting machine. Debate watchers were transfixed.”
  • “Warren and Delaney had a good night. CNN had a terrible one,” says blogger Jennifer Rubin. “Spending valuable minutes asking candidates to explain why they are electable does nothing to enlighten voters about the views of these candidates.”
  • “Sanders and Warren both know what they believe and they can express it without appearing phony, rehearsed or synthetic. They stood apart from the other candidates on the stage,” writes Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers, who ranked the debaters’ performances, listing Warren first as the “best natural candidate in the field” and Williamson last because she “spoke a lot of words, but she said nothing.”
  • “I’ve worked for Mariannne Williamson. She is no kook,” writes Jonathan Merritt, a former writing consultant for Williamson. “Sure, Williamson has made some statements that seem odd to many Americans. … Some in the media have used her words to construct a distorted portrait of a wacky woman with weird beliefs. Perhaps ‘weird’ is just what we call unfamiliar religious beliefs and those who hold them.”

-- Other takes this morning from across the media ecosystem:

  • Politico’s John Harris: “It’s a center-left party after all.”
  • The Los Angeles Times’s Michael McGough: “Joe Biden is going to have a tough time following the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tag team.”
  • CNN’s Van Jones: “Sanders re-established himself as trying to lead the revolution. When Elizabeth Warren is trying to lead the country. She is trying to be president of the United States.”
  • MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “Because [Sanders and Warren] couldn’t have the [Medicare] argument with Biden, [they] instead had an argument with John Delaney, but that’s sort of unsatisfying.”
  • Mother Jones’s Tim Murphy: “There was no Joe Biden. So John Delaney would have to do.”
  • Vox’s Matthew Yglesias: “America deserves a debate between Joe Biden and his main progressive critics.”
  • The Daily Beast: “Four centrist Democrats on Tuesday night effectively created the kinds of ads Republicans will weaponize against the party.”
  • The Daily Caller: “Moderate Democrats make their last stand.” 
  • The Dallas Morning News: “O'Rourke sharpens message but at times gets lost in banter during make-or-break Democratic debate.”
  • The Baltimore Sun: “Klobuchar was the only presidential candidate to defend Maryland’s largest city by name.” 
  • Variety: “CNN’s Democratic Debate Was a Frantic Lightning Round, But Still an Improvement.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Flint is just the tip of the iceberg,” Williamson said in the debate, when asked about the water crisis. “We have an administration that has gutted the Clean Water Act. We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities all over this country, who are suffering from environmental injustice. I lived in Grosse Pointe [a wealthy suburb of Detroit]. What happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days. We need to say it like it is. ... And if the Democrats don't start saying it, then why would those people feel that they're there for us, and if those people don't feel it, they won't vote for us, and Donald Trump will win.”

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

TRUMP'S ASIA AGENDA:

-- The president said his trade deal with China might not happen until after the 2020 elections. Taylor Telford, Damian Paletta and David J. Lynch report: “On Tuesday, he suggested that further action could be more than a year away, and everything could change based on whether he is reelected. In several Twitter posts, Trump accused China of delaying negotiations, which began in earnest last December. Even as Trump’s chief trade advisers resumed talks in Shanghai, the president’s tweets suggested a deal may be further away than it had seemed in recent months. … Chinese officials appear to be under less pressure to cut a deal than they were a few months ago. They also have sent signals that Trump’s repeated threats are not working. … Although Trump maintains that the drawn-out conflict is mostly hurting China, experts say the trade war is damaging the U.S. economy and possibly fueling a global slowdown.”

-- The majority of Trump's bailout money for farmers, which is meant for folks in the heartland who are fighting to avoid bankruptcy because of the trade war he started with China, is lining the pockets of the rich and big agribusinesses. From Bloomberg News: Eighty-two farms received more than $500,000 each through April under the program, according to the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed records covering $8.4 billion in payments. “Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest general farm organization, said the way the Trump administration has allotted trade aid ‘provides the means for the largest farms to get even larger,’ at a time when the number of mid-sized family farms is declining.”

-- North Korea fired two more short-range ballistic missiles, South Korea said. Simon Denyer and John Hudson report: “The missile launch was the second in a week, after Pyongyang also fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last Thursday. Although a ballistic missile test is a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and the missiles are designed to threaten South Korea, Trump played down the significance of last week’s test, saying many countries test short-range missiles. North Korea has also threatened to pull out of denuclearization talks with the United States if the military exercises go ahead, claiming that they would break a promise made by Trump to Kim Jong Un when the two leaders met at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas at the end of June.”

-- The Chinese regime said its campaign of repression against the majority-Muslim region of Xinjiang has been a resounding success, claiming that almost all members of the Uighur minority group who were sent to reeducation camps have been released and now live “happy lives.” But this isn't true. Beijing bureau chief Anna Fifield reports: “The government’s portrayal of the situation in Xinjiang differs sharply from firsthand accounts of life there, with former inmates having described a systematic effort to rid the minority Uighurs of their culture and religion and make them assimilate into the Mandarin-speaking ethnic Han majority. … The officials declined to say how many people had been through the camps, describing the number as ‘dynamic.’ But academics and activists monitoring the situation in Xinjiang say there have been no signs of mass liberations from the camp.”

-- Beijing ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to take down Arabic script and Muslim symbols from their signs as part of an effort to “Sinicize” the city’s Muslim population. From Reuters: “The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture. The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas.”

-- A Trump administration official says the White House is monitoring the Chinese military forces that have gathered on the Hong Kong border, as protests in the city continue. From Bloomberg News: “The nature of the Chinese buildup wasn’t clear; the official said that units of the Chinese military or armed police had gathered at the border with Hong Kong. … Trump has spoken only sparingly about the protests, praising Chinese President Xi Jinping for his restraint. But it’s unclear how much planning the U.S. has done to prepare for possible Chinese military intervention in Hong Kong. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged the Chinese on Monday to ‘do the right thing’ in managing the protests in Hong Kong … Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Pompeo on Tuesday by blaming the U.S. for the protests.”

-- A U.S. appeals court upheld heavy contempt fines that were placed on three large Chinese banks in connection with an investigation into violations of sanctions on North Korea. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “It remained unclear whether the firms, unnamed in court papers but previously reported to be the Bank of Communications, China Merchants Bank and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, will comply with the U.S. subpoenas, the first upheld by a U.S. appeals court in a criminal sanctions probe involving Chinese banks. … The three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s contempt finding. The initial finding, issued April 10, imposed $50,000-a-day fines on each bank beginning seven business days after an appellate decision, or Aug. 8. The contempt order also allows for one of the banks — which is refusing a request under a provision of the USA Patriot Act — to be cut off from the U.S. banking system if that penalty is ordered by the U.S. attorney general or treasury secretary.”

-- Pompeo hopes to help patch up the relationship between Japan and South Korea. From Reuters: “Pompeo was due to meet the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea separately and then in a three-way discussion on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, this week. ‘We will encourage them to find a path forward,’ Pompeo told reporters on his plane on Tuesday as he flew to Bangkok. ‘They’re both great partners of ours. They’re both working closely with us on our effort to denuclearize North Korea. So if we can help them find a good place for each of the two countries we’ll certainly find that important for the United States.’”

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA: 

-- The Trump administration has taken nearly 1,000 migrant children from their parents at the southern border since a judge ordered the U.S. to stop family separations at the border, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Maria Sacchetti reports: “In a lengthy court filing in U.S. District Court in San Diego, lawyers wrote that one migrant lost his daughter because a U.S. Border Patrol agent claimed that he had failed to change the girl’s diaper. Another migrant lost his child because of a conviction on a charge of malicious destruction of property with alleged damage of $5. One father, who lawyers say has a speech impediment, was separated from his 4-year-old son because he could not clearly answer Customs and Border Protection agents’ questions. … While the judge recognized that parents and children might still be separated when a parent is found to pose a risk to their child, the ACLU and others say federal immigration and border agents are splitting up families for minor alleged offenses — including traffic violations — and urged the judge Tuesday to clarify when such separations should be allowed. … The tally of child separations adds to the approximately 2,700 children who were taken from their parents during a chaotic, six-week period from May to June 20 last year.”

-- Gina Haspel has spent the vast majority of her 34-year career at the CIA working undercover. As the agency’s director, sometimes it seems as if she's still undercover. But keeping a very low public profile is working, allowing Haspel to successfully navigate the volatile relationship between the president and the intelligence community. Shane Harris reports: “Absorbing the fulminations of a president who derided U.S. intelligence agencies even before he took office is not the position Haspel envisioned for herself, said people who have known her for years. … Haspel has often [participated] in the president’s intelligence briefings, semi-regular sessions that bear little resemblance to the deep dives on pressing issues that earlier presidents have taken. According to officials familiar with the briefings, Haspel and company boil them down to a few key points that they think Trump absolutely needs to know. Trump favors pictures and graphics over text. ...

“Haspel is careful not to contradict the president or argue with him about his opinions. ... She spends much of her time at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., running the agency day-to-day and representing it at the White House rather than cultivating a personal relationship with Trump … Haspel has concluded that there is no benefit to answering questions that would probably put her at odds with Trump — on Iran, North Korea, Russia and more — and is loath to revisit her fateful role in the CIA’s notorious detention and interrogation program.”

-- Two rape survivors who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee split sharply over Trump’s pick to be the military’s second-highest officer, a general who’s been accused of sexual abuse. Karoun Demirjian reports: “'Sexual assault happens in the military. It just didn’t happen in this case,’ Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said in defense of Gen. John Hyten at his confirmation hearing, arguing that the case ‘wasn’t just a jump ball, not a he-said, she-said’ but that ‘the full truth was revealed in this process.’ ‘The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges,’ she said. But Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said the facts of the investigation ‘left me with concerns regarding your judgment, leadership and fitness to serve as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.’” Hyten’s nomination to become the vice chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff prompted Col. Kathryn Spletstoser to come forward with allegations that he made unwanted sexual contact with her in 2017. “Ernst did not defend Spletstoser’s allegations but focused her concerns on Hyten’s approach to the colonel, who was asked to leave his command after an internal investigation determined that she had created a ‘toxic work environment.’”

-- A defining feature of this presidency has been marginalizing expertise, and here's one of the most vivid examples to come to light: The Trump administration is trying to destroy a long-standing panel of military scientists at a legendary think tank who have, over the past 60 years, won 11 Nobel Prizes and conducted hundreds of important studies for the government. From Reuters: “The advisory group, known as Jason, is a team of some 60 of America’s top physicists and scientists who spend each summer in La Jolla, California, conducting studies commissioned by the Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies. On March 28, Trump appointee Michael Griffin — the Pentagon’s chief technology officer — unexpectedly moved to terminate the group. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, objected, telling Griffin’s office the scientists were crucial for keeping America’s nuclear stockpile secure, according to an NNSA official and others affiliated with the Jason program. Gordon-Hagerty’s agency offered to take responsibility for the program. She only needed Griffin’s signature to make it happen. Griffin refused. … Jason’s supporters, backed into a corner, managed to keep the group alive, temporarily for now, for eight more months. …

“The efforts to kill the scientific panels show how the Trump administration’s crackdown on the role of independent science in the U.S. government is reaching into areas long thought immune from political influence. … This may be just the beginning. A June executive order signed by Trump requires all federal agencies to slash a third of their independent advisory committees by September 30, with the goal of ultimately reducing the total number of such committees to no more than 350 from about 1,000 now. … The Jason contract operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense, with the Pentagon funding DOD studies. … [It] was due for renewal March 31.” An officer at the contracting arm of the Office of the Secretary of Defense wrote to the Jason program saying a new contract would not make “economic sense,” thus gutting their funding, news that came as a shock to members of the group. “At the center of the conflict: Trump appointee Griffin, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. … Griffin is known as an outspoken advocate for space-based missile defense systems, an area that has drawn tough scrutiny in the past from Jason scientists.”

-- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advanced the first bill that acknowledges climate change is happening with unanimous support. Ashley Halsey III and John Wagner report: “The $287 billion, five-year reauthorization bill will fund roads and bridges in what panel chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the 'most substantial highway infrastructure legislation in history.' It is now in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del), the top Democrat on the committee, said the bill will channel $10 billion to 'reducing emissions and increasing the resilience of infrastructure so that it will better stand up to the impact of climate change.'" Trump tweeted his support for the proposal, which has been a year in the making and seeks to “fulfill a marquee Trump campaign promise by relying heavily on states, localities and the private sector to cover the costs of new roads, bridges, waterways and other public-works projects.”

-- Some parents are transferring custody of their children to less affluent relatives or associates so that they can get college financial aid. The Education Department is recommending steps to prevent this attempted fraud. Susan Svrluga reports: “The Wall Street Journal and ProPublica Illinois reported that some wealthy parents in Illinois have asked friends or relatives to take legal guardianship of their children to allow the teenagers to claim financial aid. The revelations, in the wake of the ‘Varsity Blues’ national college-admissions scandal, provoked outrage. … ‘The laws and regulations governing dependency status were created to help students who legitimately need assistance to attend college,’ Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said in a statement Tuesday. ‘Those who break the rules should be held accountable, and the Department is committed to assessing what changes can be made — either independently or in concert with Congress — to protect taxpayers from those who seek to game the system for their own financial gain.’”

  • “Need Extra Time on Tests? It Helps to Have Cash,” from the Times: “A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States. In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.” 
  • “To Cheat and Lie in L.A.: How the College-Admissions Scandal Ensnared the Richest Families in Southern California,” from Vanity Fair: “In a world dictated by status symbols, having 'a kid at Yale’ was the Holy Grail, the ultimate proof of a life worth envying—even if their kid was only interested in plugging products on Instagram. L.A. was teeming with such showboats. Five families, presented here, each interconnected to the others, lived behind that glossy façade. ... But their fates diverge: Two got caught; two have come away unscathed—so far—despite dubious entanglements; and one exposed it all, for a reason no more noble than to save his own skin.”

THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA: 

-- Trump told The Post in an interview that Baltimore is, in terms of violent crime, “worse than Honduras.” Michael Kranish and Felicia Sonmez report: “‘Baltimore happens to be about the worst case,’ Trump said. ‘If you look at it statistically, it’s like, the number of shootings, the number of crimes, the number of everything — this morning I heard a statistic, Baltimore is worse than Honduras, okay?’ Conservative news sites and commentators have in recent days sought to contrast the crime rates in Baltimore and Honduras, even though statistically it is difficult to compare a city with a country. Baltimore has a population of around 620,000, while that of Honduras is about 9 million.”

-- Trump keeps telling reporters that he is not racist, but a new poll shows that most Americans disagree with that assessment. Philip Bump writes: “Quinnipiac University released new polling data showing that three-quarters of black Americans — and more than half of Americans overall — think Trump is not only not the least racist person in the world but is actually explicitly racist. It’s not just black Americans. Most independents think Trump is racist. Most white women think Trump is racist. Most whites with a college degree think Trump is racist. The groups that don’t think that tend to be white, male, Republican and lacking a college degree.”

-- The president retweeted posts by two Twitter accounts that have been linked to the online conspiracy theory known as QAnon. Tony Romm and Colby Itkowitz report: “The president tagged one user in a tweet about election security and retweeted another blaming Democrats for voter fraud. … Trump has retweeted content connected to QAnon in the past, but it’s unclear whether he knows that he’s doing so — Trump often retweets his followers. But QAnon supporters are overjoyed when Trump does retweet, believing it’s evidence he supports their movement. Almost immediately, Trump’s tweet this time caught the eye of some QAnon adherents on the anonymous online forum 8chan. ‘Not the first time. Not the last time,’ wrote one anonymous user in response to the president’s post.”

  • Twitter suspended one of the two accounts after Trump retweeted them. Before Trump hit the retweet button, the account known as “Lynn Thomas” had pushed conspiracy theories about Democrats harvesting children’s pineal glands. (The Daily Beast
  • The other account Trump retweeted is still active and recently posted a “Keep calm and QAnon” message, notes Josh Dawsey.

-- African American legislators in Virginia skipped a Jamestown ceremony that marked the birth of democracy in America because Trump was there. Gregory S. Schneider, Michael E. Ruane and Laura Vozzella report: “Trump himself was well-behaved, sticking largely to a recitation of history and praise for the British settlers who formed a government in Jamestown on July 30, 1619. … His anodyne words came with an increasingly heavy baggage of racial division that Democrats struggled to confront. Some stayed away. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who carries racist baggage of his own, appeared early, then slipped back to Richmond before Trump arrived. And Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah (D-Fairfax) interrupted Trump’s speech with a brief protest that got him escorted out by police … When Trump arrived later at a giant air-conditioned tent at Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum about a mile from the island, he became the first sitting president to address a joint session of Virginia’s General Assembly in its 400-year history. He spoke of ‘our shared great, great, great American destiny. America always gets the job done; America always wins.’”

-- Two TSA officers were placed on leave after a racist display was found inside a workstation at the Miami International Airport. From CNN: “Three TSA officers discovered two stuffed gorillas tied together and hanging with a noose on July 21, according to four TSA employees with knowledge of the situation and a picture obtained by CNN. … The three officers notified their manager, but according to an employee with knowledge of the situation, the manager ‘tried to downplay the noose and gorilla display, saying it wasn't racist, it was just a joke.’ The manager's reaction further upset the three officers, the TSA employee said. According to an internal email obtained by CNN, the incident prompted the agency to launch an internal investigation, and two officers have since been placed on leave.”

-- A North Carolina gun shop put up a billboard that mocks the four members of the “Squad” as “idiots.” The store, which has previously posted pictures of a Photoshopped, muscular Trump promoting guns on its billboard, drew criticism from gun-control groups. (Fox News)

-- In a newly unearthed recording of a phone call between then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan and President Richard Nixon, a frustrated Reagan lashed out at African delegates to the United Nations, calling them “monkeys from those African countries.” Nixon laughed. Tim Naftali, the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, writes in the Atlantic: “This October 1971 exchange between current and future presidents is a reminder that other presidents have subscribed to the racist belief that Africans or African Americans are somehow inferior. … The exchange was taped by Nixon, and then later became the responsibility of the Nixon Presidential Library, which I directed from 2007 to 2011. When the National Archives originally released the tape of this conversation, in 2000, the racist portion was apparently withheld to protect Reagan’s privacy. ...

The taped conversation is in relation to a U.N. vote to recognize the People’s Republic of China: “When the UN took its vote to seat a delegation from Beijing instead of from Taiwan in 1971, members of the Tanzanian delegation started dancing in the General Assembly. Reagan, a devoted defender of Taiwan, was incensed, and tried to reach Nixon the night of the vote. Reagan despised the United Nations, which he described as a ‘kangaroo court’ filled with ‘bums,’ and he wanted the U.S. to withdraw from full participation immediately. Nixon was asleep when Reagan called, so they spoke the next morning. Reagan’s slur touched an already raw nerve. Earlier that day, Nixon had called his deputy national security adviser, Al Haig, to cancel any future meetings with any African leader who had not voted with the United States on Taiwan.”

-- A North Carolina grand jury returned several new indictments for a political operative who prosecutors say orchestrated a ballot-tampering scheme while working for a Republican congressional candidate in 2018. Morgan Krakow reports: “Leslie McCrae Dowless was charged with two counts of felony obstruction of justice, perjury, solicitation to commit perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice and possession of absentee ballots, according to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. Dowless worked for Republican Mark Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, who ran against Democrat Dan McCready in the 2018 general election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Initial ballot counts showed Harris with a narrow lead over McCready — about 900 votes — but the state’s board of elections did not certify the outcome amid accusations of fraud. Dowless is accused of scheming to illegally collect, fill in, forge and submit mail-in ballots from voters in two rural North Carolina counties.

Seven others who prosecutors say were involved in the scheme also were indicted Tuesday. As The Washington Post has previously reported, the FBI participated in a surveillance operation against Dowless and his associates in May 2018 but took no public action to stop the potential fraud. Search warrants released in March 2019 describe how state and FBI investigators jointly watched Dowless meet with individuals and conduct transactions at a CashPoints automated teller machine at a convenience store in Bladen County, N.C. — the epicenter of the alleged fraud in the 9th District, which stretches east from Charlotte along the South Carolina border. The individuals later told investigators that Dowless had offered them money to collect ballots, according to the documents. It was not clear whether Freeman’s office was still considering indictments for Harris or his campaign staff.”

-- A new California law would block Trump from appearing on the state’s ballot next year unless he discloses his tax returns, but many legal experts expect it will be struck down in court. The law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and requires all presidential candidates to submit five years of income tax filings, could prompt other Democratic-led states to follow suit. Trump, however, is likely to fight the legislation, with his reelection campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh saying the bill “violates the 1st Amendment right of association, since California can’t tell political parties which candidates their members can or cannot vote for in a primary election.” (John Wagner)

-- A judge dismissed a Democratic National Committee lawsuit filed against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, WikiLeaks and various Trump campaign officials over alleged hacking of its email accounts during the 2016 race. From Politico: “U.S. District Judge John Koeltl rejected the central theory of the racketeering suit: that the Trump campaign, campaign aides and Trump allies abetted the theft of the emails by encouraging WikiLeaks to publish the messages and by urging they be released when they would be of maximum political benefit to then-candidate Donald Trump. Koeltl said such actions were protected by the First Amendment when taken by people not involved in the actual hacking.”

-- Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) announced his retirement last night. He represents a red district that Republicans look certain to hold, but as the former chair of the agriculture and ethics committees, his departure is a blow for Texas's clout in Congress. (Texas Tribune)

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Twitter said these Democratic candidates got the most attention on its platform during the debate:

Williamson dominated Google search traffic in 49 of the 50 states (Bullock's home state of Montana was the exception):

She also acquired more new Twitter followers than the other Democrats onstage: 

The president's son seems to have enjoyed her performance: 

BuzzFeed's editor in chief shared this detail about Williamson's faithful followers: 

Debate viewers got a kick out of a clip of two of the candidates throwing their arms up in the air:

During the debate, Warren rubbed her hands with glee when a moderator pointed out that Delaney, worth an estimated $65 million, would be subject to her wealth tax:

In a blow to Bernie, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) endorsed Warren ahead of the debate. He was an early and outspoken endorser of Sanders in 2016:

Activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick expressed support for another player who is following in his footsteps:

George Conway, the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, hit back at former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley's suggestion that the president is trying to help Baltimore despite the hateful comments he's made against the city: 

In light of the news that most of the trade war aid went to large farms, former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer pointed out that the populations impacted by such Trump policies aren't being made aware of their effects:

And another House Democrat called for an impeachment inquiry:

This brings our tally of House Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry to 114.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

The late shows once again went live after the debate. Stephen Colbert summed up the debate as a “bunch of guys with no chance to win the Democratic nomination yelling Republican talking points at the people who can”:

Seth Meyers joked that Tim Ryan better hope Medicare-for-all passes because “he's going to need some health care” for the burn Bernie Sanders gave him while debating the terms of a health-care bill the Vermont senator wrote:

Trevor Noah noted that this was a “truly important night for America” because we got to see a man “emerge from a giant field of candidates and achieve a hard-fought victory.” He was, of course, talking about the “Bachelorette” finale: 

Former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who survived in the job for 11 days, says he is an astrologist. Watch him analyze the 2020 field: