Sasse refused to vote for Trump in the 2016 general election, comparing him to white supremacist David Duke and announcing that he’d write Mike Pence’s name in on his ballot. Now he says he’ll support the Republican ticket in 2020 and effusively praises the president’s judicial nominations. Last night at 9:23 p.m. Eastern, Trump returned the favor, tweeting that “Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
“Ben Sasse has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska,” the president wrote. “He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border…”
For Sasse, the past several months have represented something akin to surrender in the war for the soul of modern conservatism. More significant than his voting record is the evolution in Sasse’s tone about Trump and his increasingly long periods of silence. He’s gone to apparent pains not to be perceived as a Never Trumper or to become a face of the Republican resistance, mostly by flying below the radar and not speaking out against the president on Fox News. His once prolific personal Twitter account has been dark since May. He rarely engages with reporters seeking comment on the story of the day in the corridors of the Capitol.
During the first year of the Trump presidency, Sasse was often snarky about Trump’s apostasies. His office has released fewer such statements to the press over time, increasingly avoiding the president by name unless it’s a compliment. Last year, Sasse blasted Trump’s tariffs as “dumb.” Back home during the August recess, he was quoted by small-town papers speaking in a more cautious and measured way about the trade war. Sasse also didn’t speak out after Trump tried to bring the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, for example, nor as the president fired fellow hawk John Bolton.
Instead of critiquing Trump, Sasse has trained his ire on Nancy Pelosi. She’s become a regular object of derision in his news releases about issues like trade. When he voted against the budget deal in July that Trump negotiated with the House speaker, Sasse only singled out Pelosi for criticism. “Unless Republicans get serious, Speaker Pelosi is going to take us to the cleaners,” he said a release.
Backing up Trump on the emergency declaration was a turning point, possibly even the defining vote, of his political career. But it also made Sasse significantly more likely to win a second term by undercutting any primary challenge. Unlike his friends Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who retired in 2018 rather than risk primary defeats from pro-Trump challengers, Sasse seems likely to secure six more years in power. That would keep the 47-year-old in office beyond the Trump era, even if the president is reelected. Will the compromises have been worth it if he gets to chart the GOP’s post-Trump future in 2025?
Trump carried Nebraska in 2016 by 25 points, and the president is overwhelmingly popular among Republican primary voters. Limited public polling shows Sasse’s approval rating rising, driven by Republicans, over the past few quarters.
Pro-Trump activist Matt Innis, a former county-level GOP chairman, has been waging a primary challenge against Sasse that emphasizes his lack of fealty to the president. “You can’t find anything he’s really accomplished other than bashing the president,” Innis told the Omaha World-Herald. Last night, he told the paper that Trump’s tweet “doesn’t change anything.” Innis said he’ll emphasize other issues more going forward. But there’s no doubt the Trump endorsement takes the wind out of his sails.
Compare Sasse to Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, another Trump critic who chose not to capitulate. Last September, Sasse told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he thought about leaving the GOP to become an independent every morning when he woke up. During that interview, he praised Trump for nominating Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court but lamented the chaos in the White House. Then he scaled back national television interviews.
Amash called for Trump’s impeachment and quit the Republican Party on July Fourth after the president made clear he’d support a primary challenger. Now independent, Amash is mulling a bid for the presidency next year as the Libertarian Party’s nominee. “Sasse’s campaign team placed him in the endorsement protection program a couple years ago,” he tweeted last night.
The left has been even harsher. “Sasse finally gets his thirty pieces of silver,” tweeted Matthew Miller, an Obama Justice Department spokesman. “Sasse's political career has been a production of The Music Man directed by Roger Corman,” writes Esquire’s Charles Pierce.
The Sasse campaign called Trump’s tweet a surprise, and the senator’s spokesman said he’s still willing to break with the president when it’s called for. “Ben’s grateful for the President’s kind words,” Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said in a statement. “They don’t always see eye to eye, but they've built a relationship where they work together when they agree and they wrestle hard when they don’t. That’s a good thing.”
That’s a far cry from 2016. Back then, Sasse was so concerned about Trump that he hopped in his car and drove to Iowa to urge Republicans to caucus for anyone but him. (Here’s my Big Idea from that January.) Trump responded by attacking the senator as “totally ineffective”: “The great State of Nebraska can do much better than @BenSasse as your Senator,” he wrote.
In June 2017, when Sasse was still forcefully articulating his differences with Trumpism, the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa dismissed him as “sanctimonious” and an “arrogant academic.” Warming up the crowd at a Trump rally in Cedar Rapids, Jeff Kaufmann said the Cornhusker should steer clear of the Hawkeye State: “We love Donald Trump and, if you don’t love him, I suggest you stay on your side of the Missouri River.”
All of this is a reminder of the extent to which Trump has remade the GOP. Focused on his own reelection, the president has his own incentives to smooth things over with past critics in the party to keep the GOP as unified as possible against the motivated and angry left. To ensure Trump gets as much of a coronation as possible, state-level Republican parties have been canceling primaries and caucuses around the country that were planned for next year. The ongoing revolt against Boris Johnson among members of his own Conservative party in the U.K. Parliament has felt surprising partly because of how relatively pliant Republicans have become in the U.S. Congress.
To be sure, there have been some signs of continuing tension. When the Trump reelection campaign unveiled its list of honorary co-chairs the week before last, the governor and every member of the state’s congressional delegation was on it. Except for Sasse. The senator’s spokesman told the World-Herald that Sasse declined to put his name on the list because “we were told that being on the list would amount to a pledge to never disagree.” The other lawmakers who signed on disputed that.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- Republican Dan Bishop pulled out a narrow win in a special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. In a seat Trump carried by 12 points in 2016, Bishop prevailed by 2 points over Democrat Dan McCready. With all precincts reporting, he led McCready by about 4,000 votes. McCready has been running nonstop for two years, and the do-over election was called after credible allegations of ballot fraud against McCready’s initial GOP opponent last year. Bishop benefited from Trump and Vice President Pence stumping for him on the eve of the election. It was, perhaps, decisive.
“McCready won solid margins in affluent neighborhoods of Charlotte and the suburbs immediately south and east of the city. But he lost ground vs. his November showing in rural counties east of the city — indicating a deepening divide between conservative rural voters and the suburban voters increasingly flocking to Democrats,” Mike DeBonis and Laura Hughes report. “The results indicated that while the suburbs might not be warming to Trump, rural conservatives remain as loyal as ever. …
“McCready held a significant lead in early returns Tuesday, thanks to a Democratic turnout advantage in early voting. But that lead steadily eroded as votes were counted, reflecting a successful GOP strategy of boosting last-minute turnout with visits from Trump on one side of the district and Pence on the other. … In Monroe, N.C., voter Carolyn Slover, 27, said Tuesday that Trump’s visit ‘made me want to vote for Dan Bishop. It shows who he’s for and how they are a partnership.’ … Spending on the race approached $20 million, making it one of the most expensive special elections in U.S. history.”
Trump took credit for the GOP win: “Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago,” the president tweeted last night. “He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race.”
“Trump pushed him over the top, absolutely,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who represents a neighboring district. “Turnout is everything when you have a close race.”
-- How it's playing:
-- Trump trails potential Democratic challengers in 2020 head-to-head tests conducted as par of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Dan Balz and Emily Guskin crunch the numbers: “The new poll tested Trump against five potential general election challengers, and in four of those cases, the president trails, significantly or modestly. He does worst against former vice president Joe Biden, but also runs well behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and slightly behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). Against South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Trump is numerically behind but the gap is within the range of sampling error. … Of all the Democrats tested against Trump, Biden currently does the best, aided by significant support from women. He is ahead of the president by 15 points, 55 percent to 40 percent, among registered voters."
-- A new NPR-PBS-Marist poll shows Warren becoming more popular within her party: "The number of Democratic voters saying they have a favorable impression of the Massachusetts senator has jumped a whopping 22 points since January, the last time the question was asked," NPR notes. "She’s gone from 53% favorable to 75% among Democrats with just 11% unfavorable.” Biden, meanwhile, has taken a modest hit: “The former vice president, who leads in most national polls of the Democratic contest, is also well liked – 71%/22%. But he’s seen a decline of 5 points in his favorable and up 11 points in his negative score since January.”
- Growing nervous about Warren, Biden plans on using tomorrow night's debate to question her past corporate work, a Biden adviser told Bloomberg News: “While Warren has posted tax returns dating back to 2008 on her campaign website, the Biden camp appears to be calling for greater scrutiny of the years before 2008, the year she was appointed to the Congressional Oversight Panel that examined the government response to the financial crisis."
- The 10 Democratic candidates who will be onstage were warned not to curse while on live television. “Officials from the Democratic National Committee and ABC News -- the host network of the debate -- warned the candidates to refrain from swearing on the debate stage so as not to run afoul of Federal Communications Commission indecency rules," per CNN. "The previous Democratic debates of this cycle were hosted by cable networks MSNBC and CNN, which aren't subject to FCC rules."
-- The California Senate passed a controversial ride-share bill overnight that has divided liberals and establishment Democrats over the future of Uber, Lyft and work itself. “At issue is California bill AB5, which could convert hundreds of thousands of contract workers in the state to employee status, instituting wage floors and ushering in benefits,” Faiz Siddiqui reports. It “has pitted Obama-era officials who have joined the companies in advisory roles against newer progressives who see a mandate to address economic inequality head-on and advocate for gig workers. … California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has long been regarded as a business-friendly pragmatist, surprised some, including executives at Uber and Lyft, by forcefully backing employment for ride-share drivers. … Uber and Lyft are pushing for an alternative to AB5, and together with Doordash say they will spend a combined $90 million on a 2020 ballot initiative on gig work…”
The Biden camapign has repeatedly refused to take a position, but Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg and Julian Castro have all endorsed the bill. That puts them at odds with former Barack Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who sits on Lyft’s board. Obama transportation secretary Anthony Foxx is Lyft’s chief policy adviser. David Plouffe was an Uber executive, and Tony West from the Obama Justice Department is now waging war with the left as Uber’s general counsel.
This tension bubbled over recently when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of the Squad, scolded former senator Barbara Boxer, who now serves as an adviser to Lyft and has been criticizing the California bill:
-- In related news, Uber announced that it laid off 435 workers in its product and engineering teams as the company struggles to make money. (Siddiqui)
BOLTON FOR THE EXITS:
-- “Over a turbulent 17 months, President Trump and national security adviser John Bolton had disagreed on a variety of issues, from North Korea to Venezuela to Iran. But Trump finally decided to remove his top security aide on Tuesday after a heated discussion in the Oval Office, following accusations by other officials in the administration that Bolton had leaked to the news media, tried to drag others into his battles with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Afghanistan, and promoted his own views rather than those of the president,” Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey and John Hudson report.
How it went down: “Trump called Bolton to meet with him Monday afternoon as he prepared to leave for a campaign rally that night in North Carolina. … After Trump made his views known, Bolton offered to resign. Trump, Bolton later insisted, said they would discuss it the next day. It was the last time he saw the president. … On Tuesday morning, Bolton handed a two-sentence letter to an aide for delivery to Trump, and left the building. ‘I hereby resign, effective immediately...’ There was nothing about spending more time with his family, no praise or well-wishes for the president. But just before noon, Trump stole his thunder, announcing in a terse tweet that he had fired his third national security adviser in a row. ...
“At the White House, those outside the inner sanctum were stunned when Trump’s tweet appeared. At the Pentagon, there were cheers. When Pompeo appeared at an unrelated news briefing shortly after Trump’s tweet, he rebuffed frantic questions about Bolton, saying he wouldn’t talk about the administration’s ‘inner workings.’ … Then Pompeo smiled. That smile, one official close to Pompeo said, ‘spoke for itself.’
“Among accumulated grievances that had been building for months, the president was annoyed that Bolton would regularly call on members of Congress to try to get them to push Bolton-preferred policies on Trump … Many on Bolton’s handpicked staff were seen as unnecessarily confrontational with other parts of the national security bureaucracy. … [Mike] Pence and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney … found Bolton increasingly abrasive and self-promoting. Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had told Trump that his national security adviser was not helping him … Bolton had even refused, in recent weeks, to go on television and defend the president’s policies on Afghanistan and Russia. Bolton, the president felt, wasn’t loyal. He wasn’t on the team.”
-- A messy breakup: Following Bolton’s tweet that he resigned, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham texted reporters that Bolton was lying about the circumstances of his departure. Then Bolton texted reporters that Grisham was lying. “Bolton and Grisham’s mutual dislike is not new," writes columnist Josh Rogin. "In her previous post as Melania Trump’s press secretary, Grisham was instrumental in the public humiliation of Bolton’s former deputy Mira Ricardel, which also involved mutual accusations of leaking."
-- "Trump also largely blamed [Bolton] for overselling the strength of Venezuela’s political opposition earlier this year," Anne Gearan, John Wagner and Robert Costa report. Trump said “he would name a replacement as early as next week. Potential candidates include at least two conservative foreign policy commentators who have appeared on Fox News, where Bolton’s fierce attacks on Democrats endeared him to Trump nearly two years ago."
-- “At the center of the tension between Trump and Bolton is a difference in ideology," Hudson explains. "Trump came to power promising an end to the United States’ ‘endless war,’ saying that the country has wasted billions of dollars on a military presence that does more to protect wealthy U.S. allies than average American citizens. Bolton, by contrast, harbors a view that exalts the use of American military power and favors a forceful response to traditional American adversaries.”
-- With Bolton out, Pompeo is more empowered and emboldened to run foreign policy out of Foggy Bottom. Carol Morello reports: “Pompeo will have more autonomy and freedom to operate without being blocked by his polar opposite in style and temperament. … ‘Bolton’s departure gives Pompeo more running room,’ said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group. ‘Every time the president, or Pompeo, or anyone in the administration came up with an idea, they had to face Dr. No. That person has now been fired.'"
-- “The ouster, on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, showed how debate over policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East continues to dominate U.S. foreign policy and divide the Republican Party nearly two decades later,” notes the Wall Street Journal.
-- Among those pleased to be rid of Bolton are Iran’s leaders, who viewed him as an enemy of peace, per the New York Times: “Hesameddin Ashena, [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani’s top political adviser, tweeted that Mr. Bolton getting sidelined was ‘a definitive sign that Washington’s maximum pressure on Iran has failed’ and that ‘Iran’s blockade will end.’”
-- Florida's Republican senators, both allies of Bolton, were caught off guard. From the Miami Herald: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) “was supposed to meet with [Bolton] Tuesday afternoon, the latest in an ongoing effort by Florida Republicans trying to squeeze Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro out of power. Then came the presidential tweet. … [This] could be a blow to Venezuela hawks like Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio...”
-- Legacy: Bolton leaves behind chaos, dysfunction and no meaningful accomplishments, writes The Post’s Editorial Board: “Perversely, considering how out of sync he was with Mr. Trump’s priorities, Mr. Bolton managed to accomplish a fair amount — if mostly in a negative sense. ... The national security adviser’s principal responsibility has traditionally been to oversee a disciplined policymaking process that includes the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, and to tee up big decisions for the president. Mr. Bolton didn’t do that.”
-- He broke the National Security Council, adds John Gans, author of “White House Warriors,” a history of the council, in the Times: “Mr. Bolton’s legacy is not of destruction overseas, but dysfunction in Washington. To pursue his own policy agenda and serve an erratic president, in just 17 months Mr. Bolton effectively destroyed the National Security Council system, the intricate structure that governed American foreign policy since the end of World War II. Mr. Bolton’s most lasting legacy will be dismantling the structure that has kept American foreign policy from collapsing into chaos, and finally unshackling an irregular commander-in-chief.”
-- Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum calls on Bolton to “drop the coat, pick up the mic, and speak.” “As national-security officials, all have been party to decisions that exposed fellow Americans to the risk of their lives," he writes in the Atlantic. "Much less is asked of any of them now. They are asked only to risk their quiet retirements—their after-careers of speaking engagements and seats on boards of directors. Is that so dear? Speak! Speak! Tell the truth, all of it.”
-- As frustration with Bolton mounted, Trump reached out to retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. From NBC News: “In phone calls to McMaster — the first of which took place last fall — Trump told his second national security adviser that he missed him, according to two people familiar with the conversations. It’s a sentiment the president has also expressed to White House aides ... Trump has solicited McMaster's advice on various national security challenges, even asking McMaster whom he should nominate to lead the Pentagon..."
-- Here’s a short list of who could replace Bolton, as compiled by the Times:
- Acting adviser Charles M. Kupperman
- Representative to North Korea Stephen E. Biegun
- The administration’s Iran representative, Brian H. Hook
- Retired Army colonel and Fox News fixture Douglas Macgregor
- American ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell
- McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser
-- Remember Trump’s first national security adviser? A federal judge set Michael Flynn's sentencing for Dec. 18. Spencer S. Hsu reports: “Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon L. Van Grack said the government will file new sentencing papers as Flynn’s defense team escalated its legal fight to have a court in Washington toss his prosecution because of alleged misconduct by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. Flynn pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017, to lying to the FBI about contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak..."
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- A former Russian government official thought to have spied for the United States was hiding in plain sight, living in a suburban neighborhood an hour outside of Washington. Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report: “The Russian Kommersant newspaper reported Tuesday that Oleg Smolenkov, whom it described as a ‘missing’ employee of the Russian presidential administration, was spotted in the United States. The paper reported that Smolenkov disappeared in 2017 during a family vacation to Montenegro and suggested he may have been an American agent who was spirited out of Russia after providing information linking Russian President Vladimir Putin to his country’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It is highly unusual for a country to name a possible turncoat. It’s even more unusual for a suspected spy and defector to be living abroad using his own name.
“Public records show two addresses for an Oleg Smolenkov. One is a six-bedroom house on three acres in Stafford, Va., and the other is the Russian Embassy in Northwest Washington. … A neighbor who lives across the street from the Smolenkovs said that the family had moved into the neighborhood earlier this year. He said that Smolenkov, his wife and children left on Monday evening and hadn’t returned. When a Post reporter went to the house Tuesday morning, it appeared unoccupied, save for two black cane corsos, an Italian dog breed sometimes trained as guards. Thick drapes were drawn across the windows on the house’s lower level. The family seems to have left in a hurry. Behind the house, toys and clothing were strewn about the yard. A woman’s sweatshirt lay draped over a patio chair. A full ashtray and two lighters were on the patio table.
“One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said that Smolenkov didn’t have a job. After moving in earlier this year, Smolenkov said that he looked forward to tending the house’s ample lawn and gardens, the neighbor said. ‘He said he had a lot of time on his hands,’ the neighbor said. ...
“Another former senior CIA official said the agency discourages defectors from using their real names or living near the nation’s capital, where Russian intelligence services have an extensive presence. In most cases, ‘you come up with a completely new identity and legend, and you want to get the guy out to Colorado’ or somewhere similarly outside the Beltway, said the former official, who handled numerous defectors and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss CIA procedures.”
-- “Traitors must be punished,” Putin said in a stark warning to Russians who defect to the West. Adam Taylor reports: "Joseph Augustyn, a former director of defector resettlement operations at the CIA, said that the U.S. government would be well aware of the risks and probably would have 24-7 security on the defector. ‘Putin is very revengeful. Putin will go after these people,’ Augustyn said.”
-- Russia was behind the murder of a former Chechen rebel in Germany, U.S. officials said. From the Wall Street Journal: “The victim, a 40-year-old Georgian who once commanded forces against Russia during a Chechen uprising, was gunned down in a Berlin park on Aug. 23 on his way to a local mosque. Minutes later, German police arrested a Russian man attempting to leave the scene on an electric scooter after he discarded a pistol and silencer. The murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili is the latest in a flurry of assassinations of Kremlin antagonists or attacks on them.”
-- Trump remains skeptical of using foreign spies to collect intel on hostile countries, per CNN: “Trump has privately said that foreign spies can damage relations with their host countries and undermine his personal relationships with their leaders, the sources said. The President ‘believes we shouldn't be doing that to each other,’ one former Trump administration official [said]. In addition to his fear such foreign intelligence sources will damage his relationship with foreign leaders, Trump has expressed doubts about the credibility of the information they provide. Another former senior intelligence official [said] that Trump ‘believes they're people who are selling out their country.’”
-- In his last words, Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi asked his killers not to suffocate him. From the AP: “Sabah newspaper, which is close to Turkey’s government, published new details of a recording of Khashoggi’s conversation with members of a Saudi hit squad sent to kill him. The paper says the recording of Khashoggi’s grisly Oct. 2, 2018 killing and reported dismemberment at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul was obtained by Turkey’s intelligence agency. According to the transcript, Maher Mutreb, a member of the Saudi hit squad, tells Khashoggi that he has to be taken back to Riyadh because of an Interpol order against him. The journalist objects, saying there is no legal case against him and that his fiancee is waiting for him outside. Mutreb and another man are also heard trying to force Khashoggi to send his son a message telling him not to worry if he doesn’t hear from him, according to the paper. Khashoggi resists saying: ‘I will write nothing.’ Mutreb is later heard saying: ‘Help us, so that we can help you. Because in the end, we will take you to Saudi Arabia. And if you don’t help us, you know what will happen in the end.’ Sabah also published Khashoggi’s last words before he was apparently drugged and lost consciousness. ‘Don’t cover my mouth,’ he told his killers, according to Sabah. ‘I have asthma, don’t do it. You’ll suffocate me.’”
-- China will remove tariffs from some American products, but Beijing will offer no respite for corn, pork or soybeans. Anna Fifield reports: “China extended an olive twig, rather than a branch, to the United States in their trade war Wednesday, announcing it would exempt 16 American-made products from tariffs as a sign of goodwill ahead of talks scheduled for next month. But the gesture, which Beijing said was designed to ease the dispute’s impact on American companies, does not offer relief from tariffs on the big-ticket agricultural products that are causing the most hurt in the United States."
-- “Forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics estimates that Trump’s trade war with China has already reduced U.S. employment by 300,000 jobs, compared with likely employment levels absent the trade war,” Yahoo Finance reports. “That’s a combination of jobs eliminated by firms struggling with tariffs and other elements of the trade war, and jobs that would have been created but haven’t because of reduced economic activity. The firm’s chief economist, Mark Zandi, [said] that the job toll from the trade war will hit about 450,000 by the end of the year, if there’s no change in policy. By the end of 2020, the trade war will have killed 900,000 jobs, on its current course. The hardest-hit sectors are manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and retail.”
-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered an annexation of the West Bank to right-wing voters ahead of a cliffhanger election. James McAuley and Ruth Eglash report: “The announcement, which he said reflected coordination with the Trump administration, was the most substantive in a flurry of appeals he has made to religious Jews, West Bank settlers and others in the right-wing camp ahead of the Sept. 17 elections. Opinion polls show Netanyahu’s Likud party locked in a very tight race with the Blue and White party of former army chief of staff Benny Gantz. The contest is so close that it could turn on Netanyahu’s success in wresting voters away from smaller, far-right parties, and in recent days he has been hammering at several issues designed to excite and alarm this modest, but perhaps strategic, constituency.”
-- Dozens of Shiite pilgrims were killed in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala as they marked one of the most solemn events in their calendar. Mustafa Salim and Louisa Loveluck report: “At least 36 people were killed and more than 100 injured, some of them critically, in the Ashura commemorations, according to a spokesman for the Health Ministry. Hundreds of thousands of Shiites had gathered in Karbala to mark the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad who was killed in battle in the 7th century, an event that cemented the schism between the Islamic faith’s Sunni and Shiite sects. The stampede occurred toward the end of the procession, officials said, as tens of thousands of people rushed toward Hussein’s shrine. The charge, known as the Tweireej run, is named after the nearby village from where Hussein’s maternal cousins tried to mount a rescue — only to realize he had already been killed.”
-- The White House wants Mexico to take more steps to interdict migrants. David Nakamura and Nick Miroff report: Pence and Pompeo “sought to gain support from Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to take additional steps to stem the record surge of Central American families that led to overcrowded border facilities in the spring. But in a sign that negotiations remain fraught, Ebrard told reporters afterward that he reiterated Mexico’s opposition to the Trump administration demands for a ‘safe third country’ agreement that would require Central Americans to apply for asylum in Mexico. … The president and his aides have praised Mexico’s efforts, while acknowledging that more needs to be done, with some U.S. officials warning of signs that the numbers could spike again as the weather cools in the fall. …
“Trump, who had praised Mexico’s efforts at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday night, struck a triumphant tone, tweeting after the White House meetings: ‘Incredible progress being made at the Southern Border!’ The president’s tweet included a chart that appeared to show a sharp decline in the number of new Central American migrants who are able to remain in the United States after being taken into custody. The chart included no attribution source and is not a typical part of Customs and Border Protection metrics. An administration official said later that the chart was given to the president by the Mexican delegation.”
-- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will launch Canada’s election season, marking the start of a challenging reelection race. Amanda Coletta reports: “Trudeau will fire the starting gun on Canada’s federal election Wednesday, hoping to win a second term in the face of an ethics scandal that has turned what was once expected to be a cakewalk for the telegenic Liberal leader into a tougher-than-expected slog. … After sailing through much of Trudeau’s first term, the Liberals have fallen back this year into a close race with Andrew Scheer’s opposition Conservative Party and face an uphill battle to hold on to their parliamentary majority. In Canada, minority governments rarely last longer than 18 months."
-- A Scottish court ruled that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was illegal. Griff Witte and Karla Adam report: “The ruling does not mean Parliament will immediately come back into session, but it does give the prime minister’s opponents hope ahead of an expected Supreme Court case next week. ... Commentators said that case was likely due to be heard on Tuesday after the prime minister’s office said it would appeal the Scottish ruling. ‘We are disappointed by today’s decision,’ the office said. Johnson critics celebrated, saying they had been ‘vindicated.’ ”
THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:
-- Waiting on Trump, Congress remains at loggerheads on gun control legislation. Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report: “White House aides briefed Republican senators on potential legislative options at their private weekly luncheon Tuesday — including expanding the federal background-check system for gun buyers and encouraging states to create systems to temporarily seize guns from individuals judged to be dangerous — but they gave no indication of what Trump himself is willing to sign into law, exasperating some of those present. … Speaking to reporters afterward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed Trump has yet to weigh in on the subject. Guns were among the topics discussed at a White House meeting between Trump and Republican congressional leaders Tuesday afternoon, but attendees said there were no decisions on how to move forward on the issue.”
-- Trump is pushing for a major crackdown on California’s homeless camps Jeff Stein, Tracy Jan, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report: “The planning has intensified in recent weeks. Administration officials have discussed using the federal government to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other cities and into new government-backed facilities, according to two officials briefed on the planning. But it is unclear how they could accomplish this and what legal authority they would use. It is also unclear whether the state’s Democratic politicians would cooperate with Trump, who has sought to embarrass them over the homelessness crisis with repeated attacks on their competency.”
-- The crackdown on the use of opioids has forced pain patients to cut back on drugs they say they need. Joel Achenbach and Lenny Bernstein report: “Chronic pain patients form a vast constituency in America, and millions of them take opioids for relief. Changes in medical guidance covering opioids have left many of them frustrated, confused and sometimes howling mad. They feel demonized and yanked around. ... The situation is worse for people forced to cut back their medication too quickly. Even medical experts who advocate a major reduction in the use of opioids for chronic pain have warned that rapid, involuntary tapering could harm patients who are dependent on these drugs. There is little doubt among medical experts that opioids have been prescribed at unsound and dangerous levels, particularly in their misuse for chronic pain. But at this point there’s no easy way to dial those dosages back. Long-term use of opioids creates dependency. Tapering can cause extreme pain from drug withdrawal, regardless of the underlying ailment.”
-- The proportion of Americans living without health insurance grew significantly last year for the first time this decade, despite the strong economy, the Census Bureau found. Amy Goldstein and Heather Long report: “The finding that 27.5 million U.S. residents lacked coverage in 2018, based on a large U.S. Census Bureau survey, reverses the trend that began when the Affordable Care Act expanded opportunities for poor and some middle-income people to get insurance. … As more Americans found jobs, the poverty rate fell last year to its lowest level since 2001, and middle-class income inched marginally higher. Median U.S. income — the point at which half of U.S. families earn more and half earn less — topped $63,000 for the first time, although it was roughly the same level as it was 20 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.”
-- Trump issued a new, revised order to counter terrorism a day before the anniversary of 9/11. From the AP: Pompeo “said Trump’s action amends an earlier executive order that former President George W. Bush initially signed after 9/11 by adding clauses to let the State and Treasury departments directly target leaders of suspected terror groups and their affiliates ‘without having to tie terrorist leaders to specific acts.’ Pompeo said the order also more effectively targets individuals and groups participating in terrorist training and provides new authorities to impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions that knowingly do business with suspected terrorists. Eric Lorber, a former Treasury Department senior adviser, said the new order is a ‘significant change.’ ‘While most financial institutions would not have done business with designated terrorists even before this new authority, this action makes clear that the U.S. Treasury is willing to take serious steps to punish those financial institutions that do,” Lorber said. Using the new order, Treasury on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than two dozen individuals and entities from 11 terrorist groups, including the Quds Force, the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Hamas, the Islamic State, al-Qaida and their affiliates.”
-- The Congressional Progressive Caucus voted to back an impeachment investigation into Trump. Felicia Sonmez reports: “The group, the largest in the House Democratic caucus, is made up of nearly 100 House members and one senator, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). It is co-chaired by Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.). Of the 96 House members listed on the CPC’s website, 70 have voiced support for an impeachment inquiry, according to a Washington Post analysis. Twenty-four members of the group say congressional committees should continue their existing investigations into Trump’s administration and personal finances, while one member’s position is unclear.”
-- Meanwhile, the House Freedom Caucus elected Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs as its new chairman. The notably conservative bloc of Republicans said Biggs pledged to fight against “increased government spending, high health-care costs and ‘loopholes that incentivize illegal entry’ into the country.” (Rebecca Tan)
-- Two current and FEMA officials assigned to help manage hurricane relief in Puerto Rico were charged with fraud and bribery for trying to enrich themselves by helping a company that received $1.8 billion in government contracts. From Matt Zapotosky, Arelis R. Hernández and Steven Mufson: “One of the officials, whom the Justice Department identified as FEMA’s ‘primary leader’ for restoring power on the island, pressured her colleagues and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority officials to give government work to the company, Cobra Acquisitions LLC, authorities said. In exchange, authorities said, the company’s then-president gave her a helicopter ride, hotel accommodations, first-class airfare, personal security services and use of a credit card. And, when a friend and colleague left FEMA, the executive helped her get a job at Cobra Energy LLC, authorities said. … Those charged were Ahsha Nateef Tribble, a FEMA deputy regional administrator whom authorities described as the leader in power restoration in Puerto Rico; Jovanda R. Patterson, a FEMA deputy chief of staff who left her position in July 2018 to work for Cobra Energy; and Donald Keith Ellison, who was president of Cobra Acquisitions until June.”
-- A New Jersey man was charged with doing “doughnuts” on the greens at Trump’s Bedminster course weeks after being arrested in Rhode Island for allegedly breaking into singer Taylor Swift’s beach home. David Fahrenthold reports: “Richard J. McEwan was arrested late Monday at his home in Milford, N.J., the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said. Police said he drove onto Trump’s course twice in the past week, driving in circles on two different greens and causing at least $17,000 in damage. … A Trump Organization spokesman said that McEwan should be ‘prosecuted to the full extent of the law.’ … [Two weeks ago, McEwan reportedly] hopped a fence and broke a glass door to enter Swift’s home. He then took off his shoes … Rhode Island court records show that McEwan was charged with breaking and entering and trespassing, then was released on bond.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump commemorated the 18th anniversary of 9/11:
Ten minutes later, he went after his own pick for Fed chair:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an isolationist, celebrated Bolton's departure:
Bolton appeared to dispute Trump's account of his departure while still on the White House grounds:
The press went straight to Bolton's house, and he answered the door:
A Post columnist hit back at Trump's criticism of the latest Post-ABC poll:
The National Republican Senate Committee tried out a Biden attack ad that Biden himself would've happily aired:
And Warren appeared to enjoy hearing that Wall Street executives fear her becoming president:
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Weather should not be a partisan issue," said the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Neil Jacobs, while defending his agency at a weather industry conference in Alabama as controversy swirls over how agency officials responded to Trump's inaccurate claim that Hurricane Dorian would hit the state. (Kate Harrison Belz and Andrew Freedman)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Apple released its newest iPhones, which have more cameras for better photo quality:
(Heather Kelly and Reed Albergotti tell you all you need to know about Apple's newest products.)
Stephen Colbert celebrated the president's pettiness in firing Bolton:
Trevor Noah broke down the practice of trophy hunting and the effects the Trump administration has had on it: