with Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: It’s so easy to get distracted by political theatrics, but it’s so important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Tectonic changes in public policy under the Trump administration will have a vastly greater impact on the lives of everyday Americans than anything he tweets or any stunt his former campaign manager pulls on Capitol Hill. A flurry of mostly under-the-radar stories over the past 24 hours put in stark relief why it’s more important to pay attention to what the president and his appointees do than what they say. Let’s look at three specific topic areas:

-- On the environment: The Trump administration plans to formally revoke California’s long-standing right to set stricter air pollution standards for cars and light trucks. This is the latest step in a broad campaign to undermine Obama-era policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.

“The move threatens to set in motion a massive legal battle between California and the federal government, plunge automakers into a prolonged period of uncertainty and create turmoil in the nation’s auto market,” Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. “Already, 13 states and the District of Columbia have vowed to adopt California’s standards if they diverge from the federal government’s, as have several major automakers. California leaders on Tuesday said they will fight any challenge to their autonomy.”

So much for federalism.

The official announcement was scheduled for today, during Trump’s swing through California, but the administration has decided to postpone the policy rollout by at least a day. Juliet and Brady explain why that might be: “Trump’s move is likely to be unpopular nationwide and in California, with Americans widely supportive of stricter fuel efficiency standards. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday found 66 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s plan to freeze fuel efficiency standards rather than enforce the Obama administration’s targets for 2025. A nearly identical 67 percent majority says they support state governments setting stricter fuel efficiency targets than the federal government.”

-- Meanwhile, an internal National Park Service report obtained by The Washington Post reveals that the bulldozers and excavators rushing to install Trump’s border barrier could damage or destroy up to 22 archaeological sites within Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the coming months.

“The administration’s plan to convert an existing five-foot-high vehicle barrier into a 30-foot steel edifice could pose irreparable harm to unexcavated remnants of ancient Sonoran Desert peoples,” Juliet and Nick Miroff scoop. “Experts identified these risks as U.S. Customs and Border Protection seeks to fast-track the construction to meet Trump’s campaign pledge of completing 500 miles of barrier by next year’s election. …With the president demanding weekly updates on construction progress and tweeting out drone footage of new fencing through the desert, administration officials have said they are under extraordinary pressure to meet Trump’s construction goals. … The Department of Homeland Security has taken advantage of a 2005 law to waive several federal requirements — including the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Endangered Species Act — that could have slowed and possibly stopped the barrier’s advance in the stretch in Arizona."

-- Speaking of the immigration wars, the Trump administration continues to take dramatic steps to make the United States a less hospitable destination for those who hope to seek refuge here.

Along the Texas border, for instance, the Trump administration has set up tent courts for virtual asylum hearings. The administration has budgeted up to $155 million to operate five temporary courts along the length of the border under the Migrant Protection Protocols initiative. The goal is to replace the asylum processing model that Trump has disparaged as “catch and release.”

“By routing migrants directly from official border crossings into the adjacent court complex, U.S. authorities can fulfill the obligation to give asylum seekers access to the U.S. court system without giving them physical access to the United States,” Nick reports from Laredo, Tex. “So far this year, at least 42,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the MPP program, and a growing number have opted to return to Central America instead of waiting. The acting Homeland Security officials who visited the Laredo courts Tuesday defended them as a lawful and appropriate response to a border crisis that has pushed illegal crossings this year to their highest levels in more than a decade.”

-- The Trump administration also wants to increase fees nine-fold for immigrants appealing their deportations, making the process unaffordable for many. In a draft Department of Justice regulation obtained by BuzzFeed News, officials propose that immigrants pay $975 to request an appeal of an immigration judge’s ruling and $895 to request a case be reopened or reconsidered with the Board of Immigration Appeals. “Currently, the fee to apply for each of these requests is $110,” BuzzFeed notes. “Experts believe, if enacted, the increases will impact certain immigrants’ very ability to obtain legal status and protections.” The proposed regulations will require a 60-day comment period before they can go into effect.

-- The White House yesterday quietly fired John Mitnick, the general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. Personnel drive policy. The general counsel is a key job at DHS because so many lawsuits against Trump’s immigration policies are pending.

“The White House this year has turned [DHS]— which oversees securing the country’s borders, disaster relief efforts and addressing domestic terrorism and cybersecurity threats — into a revolving door of officials, creating a void of permanent leadership,” the New York Times reports. “Mr. Mitnick’s ouster was prompted by the White House general counsel’s office as opposed to Stephen Miller, who has been a main force behind previous homeland security firings, an administration official said. But two other people briefed on the events disputed this account, saying that the counsel’s office had tried to keep Mr. Mitnick where he was.”

-- On health care, conservatives have been talking about block-granting Medicaid since Ronald Reagan’s administration. It looks like it’s about to start happening. Tennessee became the first state to seize on Trump’s calls to fundamentally rethink the Great Society entitlement program, a move that would rupture the federal government’s half-century-old compact with states for safety-net insurance for the poor.

“Tennessee is setting up the nation’s first test case of how far the Trump administration is willing to go to allow a state the ‘flexibility’ that has become a watchword of the administration’s health-care policies,” Amy Goldstein reports. “If TennCare, as that state calls its Medicaid program, wins federal approval for its plan, it could embolden other Republican-led states to follow suit. It also almost certainly would ignite litigation over the legality of such a profound change to the country’s largest public insurance program without approval by Congress. …

Its draft proposal would affect more than 1 million of the 1.4 million state residents on TennCare, according to the state’s Medicaid director. … National patient-advocacy organizations already have been protesting. A dozen groups wrote to the governor in late April that, for sick and vulnerable patients, changing to a block grant ‘jeopardizes their access to treatment and, in turn, their health.’ … TennCare has an important role in a state with large pockets of poor residents. Half of Tennessee children depend on the program.

“Medicaid block grants were part of unsuccessful Republican legislation two years ago that would have dismantled major parts of the Affordable Care Act … Internal GOP disagreements over the idea were a significant reason those bills failed. Since then, President Trump has called for Medicaid block grants in his budgets, though Congress has ignored the idea. Seema Verma, administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has urged states to move toward block grants, although guidance she has written for states has been under review for months at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.”

-- The Trump administration’s moves to weaken the ACA have taken hold, and companies are cashing in. BloombergBusinessweek has a deep dive on how health insurance plans that don’t cover the bills are flooding the market because of the president’s efforts to undermine Obamacare:

“David Diaz woke up his wife, Marisia, and told her he didn’t feel right. David had had a massive heart attack. … The double-bypass operation was successful, and two weeks later he was discharged. On her way out, Marisia gave the billing clerk David’s health insurance card. It looked like any other, listing a copay of $30 for doctor visits and $50 for ‘wellness.’ She’d bought the plan a year earlier from a company called Health Insurance Innovations Inc., with the understanding that it would be comprehensive. She hadn’t noticed a phrase near the top of the card, though: ‘Short-Term Medical Insurance.’ … Six months after David’s surgery, the Diaz family got a particularly big surprise bill—an error, Marisia thought when she saw the invoice. But when she called her insurer, she was told she’d have to pay the full amount: $244,447.91. …

“The Diazes’ plan was nothing like the ones consumers have come to expect under the 2010 [law], which bars insurers from capping coverage, canceling it retroactively, or turning away people with preexisting conditions. But the law includes an exemption for short-term plans that serve as a stopgap for people between jobs. The Trump administration … has widened that loophole by stretching the definition of ‘short-term’ from three months to a year, with the option of renewing for as long as three years. Fewer than 100,000 people had such plans at the end of last year, according to state insurance regulators, but the Trump administration says that number will jump by 600,000 in 2019 as a result of the changes. Some brokers are taking advantage, selling plans so skimpy that they offer no meaningful coverage.”

-- The vaping industry, which has cultivated close ties to Trump and congressional Republicans, was caught off guard by Trump's announcement that he will ban almost all flavored vaping products. "Now some companies are going into crisis mode to try to protect against a ban that would probably put small operators out of business and result in million-dollar losses for the giants," Laurie McGinley, Neena Satija, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. "Some companies have harnessed staffers and lobbyists with ties to the White House and Capitol Hill to gather information about the still-unfinished policy and figure out how they might navigate a path forward … Ironically, the company accused of igniting the underage vaping epidemic a few years ago [Juul] might benefit from the ban over the long term because the prohibition will be even harder on smaller competitors, some experts say. Tobacco giant Altria owns about a 35 percent stake in Juul. Smaller players, such as the Vapor Technology Association, say many of its members could not survive such a ban and vow a fight. The group plans to send hundreds of vaping advocates to swarm Capitol Hill on Wednesday to express their ire.”

-- In related new, a California man died of a suspected vaping-related illness, at least the seventh reported death associated with the use of vapes or e-cigarettes. Kayla Epstein and Lena H. Sun report: “The unnamed Tulare County man died of 'complications related to the use of e-cigarettes,' according to the county Health and Human Services Agency. The 40-year-old had been in the hospital for ‘several weeks’ before his death, said department spokeswoman Jan Winslow. He had a history of vaping, though Winslow said officials were still investigating what products he used. Though his death certificate would state he died due to vaping, Winslow said the man also had ‘some complicating illnesses’ that she could not disclose...”

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-- A new Guttmacher Institute report released this morning shows the U.S. abortion rate hit an all-time low — again. Ariana Eunjung Cha reports: “An unprecedented wave of 400 bills imposing restrictions on the procedure were passed by states [between 2011 and 2017]. And medical abortions, which involve taking pills instead of undergoing a surgical procedure, became widely available. The 48-page research document, which is used by policymakers and activists on both sides of the debate, provides detailed information by state and region about how American women access abortion.

There appears to be no clear pattern between efforts to ban or restrict abortion and the continuing decline in abortion rates, which has been going on for nearly 40 years. The declines were seen across regions and in states that are more supportive of abortion rights as well as those that are more restrictive. ‘Antiabortion activists are going to try to take credit for this decline, but the facts don’t support their argument,’ Rachel Jones, principal research scientist for Guttmacher, which supports abortion rights, said in a call with reporters.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler struggled to keep control of an impeachment hearing for Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (The Washington Post)


-- During his five hours before the House Judiciary Committee, Corey Lewandowski refused to answer questions, talked over lawmakers and mocked Democrats. He even promoted his possible Senate bid. Rachael Bade, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner report: Democrats subpoenaed Trump's former campaign manager to learn more about his testimony to former special counsel Bob Mueller in his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Instead, they got a front-row seat Tuesday to the Lewandowski Show — a performance aimed at an audience of one: his former boss. Trump, who was watching, applauded Lewandowski on Twitter, writing that he gave a ‘beautiful’ opening statement. But Lewandowski’s defiance and disregard for Democrats’ impeachment inquiry also prompted a contempt threat from Democrats. ‘Mr. Lewandowski, your behavior in this hearing room has been completely unacceptable,’ House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. ‘You have shown the public that the Trump administration will do anything and everything in its power to obstruct the work of the Congress.’”

The hearing produced confirmation from Lewandowski of one key element in the Mueller report: “Under intense questioning from committee counsel, [Lewandowski] affirmed that the president personally asked him to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the special counsel’s investigation. Lewandowski never delivered the message, the report found — instead passing it off to another Trump official. He testified Tuesday that he went on ‘vacation' and merely ran out of time — not because he worried that Trump’s request was illegal. But if Democrats were hoping to elicit more information about the episode to build their impeachment case, Lewandowski dashed those hopes. … Under questioning, Lewandowski routinely asked for page numbers, feigned ignorance and otherwise dodged questions from Democrats. …

“It was Lewandowski’s attitude that most infuriated panel Democrats, who chided him for being disrespectful and filibustering their hearing. ‘Mr. Lewandowski, you’re like a fish being cleaned with a spoon; it’s very hard to get an answer out of you,’ said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). … During a break from testimony, [Lewandowski] tweeted about a possible bid and mentioned a political action committee backing a candidacy. ‘New website just launched to help a potential senate run. Sign up now!’ he wrote during a panel break, a reference to his potential challenge to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). … At times the hearing was almost comical. When Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) asked Lewandowski, ‘Are you the hit man, bag man, the lookout or all of the above?’ Lewandowski replied: ‘I think I’m the good-looking man, actually.’ … Republicans, meanwhile, used their time to praise the president and sympathize with Lewandowski because Democrats asked him to testify.”

-- The bigger picture: "Five hours of nastiness made clear that the revolting politics of this moment, though aggravated by Trump, are larger than him — and will outlast him if people such as Lewandowski gain election," columnist Dana Milbank writes. "Lewandowski, with buzz cut and extra-large flag lapel pin, campaigned for the Senate. He discussed his childhood, his time as a cop and his work shaping ‘the greatest political movement in our nation’s history.’ He would later boast about his gun collection — kept in the same safe with Trump’s proposed speech ending the investigation — and his support for the New England Patriots: ‘Tom’s a winner!’ … [He] spoke about what he might do when serving ‘in the other chamber.’ … [Jeffries] interrupted Lewandowski’s taxpayer-funded campaign event. ‘You’re not on the campaign trail yet,’ he said. ‘This is the House Judiciary Committee. Act like you know the difference.’”

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Nadler, longtime friends and allies, are increasingly in conflict over whether to push for impeaching Trump. From Politico: “Pelosi stunned lawmakers and aides with a swipe at Democratic staff on the House Judiciary Committee. Pelosi criticized the panel’s handling of impeachment in harsh terms, complaining committee aides have advanced the push for ousting [Trump] far beyond where the House Democratic Caucus stands. Democrats simply don’t have the votes on the floor to impeach Trump, Pelosi said. ‘And you can feel free to leak this,’ Pelosi added … Both Pelosi and Nadler, who have served in the House together for more than 25 years, insist their relationship remains strong. But their rift over impeachment is getting harder and harder to paper over amid Democrats’ flailing messaging on the topic and a growing divide in the caucus.”

-- Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire is refusing to comply with a House Intelligence Committee subpoena ordering him to provide a whistleblower's report that alleges “serious misconduct.” Karoun Demirjian reports: Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issued a subpoena to Maguire last week, ordering him to provide the complaint to the committee or, failing that, to testify publicly Thursday about why it was being withheld. Maguire’s general counsel, Jason Klitenic, informed Schiff in a Tuesday letter ... that the director was ‘not available on such short notice’ and that the hearing ‘would not be a productive exercise’ while the office is deliberating about how to handle the panel’s demands.

“The intelligence panel has detailed little about the complaint publicly, except to reveal that while the whistleblower works in the intelligence community, the case ‘concerns conduct by someone outside of the Intelligence Community,’ as Schiff stated in a letter to Maguire last week accompanying the subpoena. In that letter, Schiff also pointed out that Maguire’s office refused to state whether White House officials and lawyers were involved in the decision not to transfer the complaint. Schiff has charged that Maguire is violating the law by withholding the complaint from Congress. By statute, he has argued, the complaint should have been transmitted to the intelligence panel within seven days because the intelligence community’s inspector general had determined that it was ‘both credible and urgent.’

-- Federal employees could face more discipline under new rules proposed yesterday by the Trump administration. Eric Yoder reports: “The rules would strip away many of the practices agencies have followed in disciplining employees, while urging them to move as fast as the law allows. For example, the rules emphasize management’s discretion to order penalties up to firing in cases of alleged misconduct regardless of whether an agency had taken lesser actions against the employee first and regardless of how it had responded in some similar past situations. For cases of alleged poor performance, agencies would have more leeway in fulfilling their obligation to help employees try to improve before taking disciplinary action. … Leaders of the two largest federal employee unions, though, said in statements that the rules would remove important protections.”

-- The U.S. government filed a civil lawsuit against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden over the publication of his memoir. From the Guardian: “Snowden, the suit contends, ‘published a book entitled Permanent Record in violation of the non-disclosure agreements he signed with both CIA and NSA.’ The lawsuit alleges that Snowden published without submitting the book to the agencies for pre-publication review, ‘in violation of his express obligations under the agreements he signed.’ Additionally, the suit argues that Snowden has given public speeches on intelligence-related matters, ‘also in violation of his non-disclosure agreements.’ Although it does not seek to block publication, the suit aims to recover all proceeds earned.


­-- Israel's do-over election left both major parties well short of a majority, prolonging uncertainty over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s future. Steve Hendrix, James McAuley and Ruth Eglash report: “After a frantic final push by the candidates to get voters to the ballot box for the second time since April, Netanyahu’s ­Likud party appeared tied with or narrowly trailing its main ­rival, the Blue and White party led by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, exit polls showed. If confirmed by official results, the outcome would be a clear disappointment to Netanyahu, an indomitable campaigner who blitzed the country through the final hours of the race. With two of his allied right-wing religious parties falling short, political analysts could identify no ready path for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister to continue in office. When Netanyahu finally appeared at 3 a.m. Wednesday in his largely empty election night headquarters in Tel Aviv, he was defiant. He told the few remaining supporters that he would fight on to ensure that Israel’s Arab citizens, whose party fared exceptionally well at the polls, would not figure in the next government.”

-- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Mideast to discuss a response to the attack on Saudi oil facilities after Iran’s supreme leader ruled out any talks with the U.S. Carol Morello and Kareem Fahim report: Pompeo’s trip, “which will include stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, underscores the danger that tensions with Iran could spiral into a military conflict. … U.S. forensics experts have been dispatched to Saudi Arabia to assist in an investigation of where the projectiles originated, and U.S. officials said the kingdom may ask the U.N. Security Council to condemn Iran if it is proved to be responsible. … Pompeo’s whirlwind visit will allow him to discuss ways to respond to Iran’s actions in the region, including its support for the rebels in Yemen, who are known as Houthis, amid a Saudi-led bombing campaign that has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.”

-- Saudi Arabia said it will produce concrete proof that Iran is behind the attack. The Saudi Defense Ministry will hold a news conference later today to present “material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Irania regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack,” per Reuters.

-- The Pentagon has been ordered to plan potential military responses to the attack, CNN reports, even though the White House is still waiting for Saudi Arabia's authoritarian rulers to decide on what they think the best response would be before charting a path forward. Leading from behind, you might call it.

-- Iran warned the U.S. that it would broadly retaliate against any attack with a “prompt and strong” response. (Paul Schemm)

-- Reality check: Saudi Arabia said its oil output will return to pre-attack levels by the end of this month. Taylor Telford and Thomas Heath report: “Saudi Aramco’s critical Abqaiq processing plant has restored 2 million barrels day that was lost due to the wave of drone and missile attacks on the Saudi oil fields, [Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz] bin Salman said. The energy minister said production will reach 11 million barrels per day by the end of September. … The kingdom will be producing back at the quota set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and its oil partner Russia, by the end of the month. It will restore its full capacity of 12 million barrels per day by the end of the October, the energy minister said. Stock markets bounced back a bit from their Monday declines as investors await an expected interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday.”

-- The Saudis spend billions on U.S. weapons to protect their most critical oil sites from a crippling attack. They didn’t work. Adam Taylor reports: “Notwithstanding the expensive military hardware purchased by Saudi Arabia, experts say, the Saturday attack represented an unusually well-planned operation that would have been difficult for even the most well-equipped and experienced countries to detect and neutralize. … The operation appeared to circumvent the defenses of Saudi Arabia’s military, including the six battalions of Patriot missile defense systems produced by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon — each of which can cost in the region of $1 billion.”

-- Trump is expected to nominate North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun as the next deputy secretary of state. Josh Rogin reports: “He’s a well-respected foreign policy professional with decades of relevant experience in government and on Capitol Hill. Although the North Korea negotiations have been largely stalled, Biegun has maintained a vigorous schedule of traveling to partner countries to drum up diplomatic progress and sanctions enforcement. He is said by colleagues to have a good personal relationship with both Pompeo and Trump. He clashed with former national security adviser John Bolton over North Korea policy, but that’s no longer an issue.” 

-- On Air Force One, Trump said five people are on his shortlist to replace Bolton as national security adviser. None are household names: U.S. hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien; Army Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also has served as deputy national security adviser; Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Energy Department undersecretary for nuclear security; former Bolton chief of staff Fred Fleitz; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who serves as the national security adviser to Vice President Pence. “Trump’s list does not include two names that current and former Trump administration officials had previously said were in circulation: Iran policy chief Brian Hook and Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell," Anne Gearan notes.

2020 WATCH:

-- Weeks shy of his 95th birthday, Jimmy Carter said he doesn’t believe he could have managed the most powerful office in the world at 80 years old. The AP’s Bill Barrow reports from Atlanta: “Carter, who earlier this year became the longest-lived chief executive in American history, didn’t tie his comments to any of his fellow Democrats running for president in 2020, but two leading candidates, Joe Biden [76] and Bernie Sanders [78], would turn 80 during their terms if elected. [Elizabeth Warren is 70.] … The 39th president left office in 1981 at the age of 56.”

Carter said the Oval Office requires a president “to be very flexible with your mind,” particularly on foreign affairs: “The things I faced in foreign affairs, I don’t think I could undertake them at 80 years old,” he said. “I hope there’s an age limit. If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president.”

Carter, who voted for Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016, said he remains undecided in the 2020 primary: “I’m going to keep an open mind,” he said. “One of the major factors I will have in my mind is who can beat Trump.”

-- A fresh NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of Democratic primary voters puts Biden at 31 percent (up 5 points since July), Warren at 25 percent (up 6 points), and Sanders at 14 percent (up 1 point). Pete Buttigieg pulls 7 percent (unchanged) and Kamala Harris is at 5 percent (down 8 points). Entrepreneur Andrew Yang garnered 4 percent in the poll, ahead of Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, both at 2 percent. No other Democratic presidential candidate gets more than 1 percent support in the poll, which was conducted after the Houston debate.

-- Sanders’s campaign is racked by internal division, per Politico: “Some of Sanders’ fiercest supporters are sounding the alarm that the campaign is bogged down by disorganization, personality clashes and poor communication between state operations and national headquarters. After a pair of setbacks this week — the acrimonious shakeup of his staff in New Hampshire on Sunday and loss of the Working Families Party's endorsement to Warren a day later — Sanders’ allies and former aides are worried that recent disappointments are not one-off stumbles but rather emblematic of larger problems in his bid for the White House. The concerns are particularly acute in New Hampshire. … Since Sunday, campaign staffers have been calling members of their steering committee, asking them not to speak to the media..."

-- The White House is seeking to end the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors with an agreement that would reopen an assembly plant in Ohio that the carmaker closed in March. From Politico: “The effort … would effectively put the White House on the side of the UAW. Some 48,000 GM workers went out on strike Monday demanding higher wages, more generous health care benefits and more job security than management has been willing to offer in a new contract. If the effort is successful, it could boost the president's reelection chances next year in Michigan and Ohio, where his approval rating has been slipping since the two states helped him to victory in 2016.”

-- Related: Playing hardball, GM has stripped health-care benefits away from tens of thousands of striking workers. Eli Rosenberg reports: “The UAW said that it would ‘provide medical assistance,’ or cover employees health-care fees under COBRA in the interim from the pool of money it keeps for strikes. GM spokesman David Barnas said that decision was a standard practice during stoppages, likening it to the cessation of worker paychecks."

-- Crowd size numbers are taking center stage in the 2020 race after Warren drew more than 20,000 people to a rally in New York on Monday night, a crowd that rivaled Trump’s simultaneous rally in New Mexico. Ashley Parker and Annie Linskey report: “Once widely regarded as an interesting but ultimately inconsequential novelty of political campaigns, crowd size is now a potentially meaningful metric of electability — one that can translate into volunteers, donors and, as Trump demonstrated in 2016, actual momentum. Ever since, Trump has consistently drawn large audiences to his rallies, many of them held in less populated parts of the country and attracting supporters who often drive hours, across multiple states, to attend. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday en route to California, Trump rejected the significance of Warren’s Monday night masses — and with no evidence rebutted her crowd count — saying that ‘anybody’ can attract crowds ‘standing in the middle of Manhattan in the most densely populated area of the country.’”

-- Sanders and Biden clashed over health care in separate appearances before a union crowd. From Sean Sullivan and David Weigel: “Speaking at a forum hosted by the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, Biden touted his plan to expand the Affordable Care Act with an optional public insurance program. Without naming Sanders and [Warren], he eagerly criticized the competing proposal they have championed as injurious to organized labor. ‘I have a significant health care plan. But guess what? Under mine, you can keep your health insurance you’ve bargained for if you like it,’ Biden said. ‘If you don’t, you can move it, and you can buy into a public plan.’ Sanders promoted his Medicare-for-all proposal, under which the government would be the sole insurer for all Americans. And he highlighted an ongoing labor dispute in which health care costs have been shifted onto the union backing striking workers. The collision showed how heavily health care is factoring into the crucial fall stretch of the race, which polls show has at least temporarily become a three-way competition between Biden, Warren and Sanders.”

-- Pelosi said there’s no need to reinvent health care. Congress just needs to improve Obamacare, she told CNBC: “‘God bless’ 2020 Democratic presidential candidates putting forth Medicare for All proposals, Pelosi said in an interview with ‘Mad Money’ host Jim Cramer. ‘But know what that entails.’ … ‘I believe the path to ‘health care for all’ is a path following the lead of the Affordable Care Act,’ Pelosi told Cramer. ‘Let’s use our energy to have health care for all Americans, and that involves over 150 million families that have it through the private sector.’”

-- Democratic megadonor Ed Buck was arrested and charged with operating a drug house in California. From the Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors are “calling him a violent sexual predator who preys on men struggling with addiction and homelessness. Buck was charged with one count each of battery causing serious injury, administering methamphetamine and maintaining a drug house, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Buck is accused of injecting a 37-year-old man, who overdosed but survived, with methamphetamine on Sept. 11. That latest incident comes after two men were found dead in his Laurel Avenue apartment in West Hollywood.”

-- Trump held a fundraiser at the Silicon Valley home of former Sun CEO Scott McNealy. The Trump campaign tried to keep the location of the event secret, but protesters showed up regardless, with a giant inflatable baby Trump in hand. (CNBC)

-- Rep. Paul Cook of California is the latest House Republican to announce his retirement from Congress. He's stepping down to run for county supervisor, which speaks volumes. From the Los Angeles Times: Cook will retire at the end of this turm to run for “a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, according to John Sobel, the congressman’s chief of staff. Cook is the first to announce his retirement in California’s Republican U.S. House delegation, which has been greatly diminished in recent years. … In all, more than a dozen GOP members have announced plans to leave Congress after 2020, including several in Texas.”

-- Republican operatives expect to lose vital support from the National Rifle Association in 2020, as the organization continues to be gripped by scandal. From the Washington Examiner: “A crippling civil war for control of the influential gun advocacy group has strained finances and sparked leadership changes, leaving Republicans in the trenches of the battle for the House and Senate, fearing it has gone astray. They are not planning on political muscle from the NRA next year. ‘We would love to have company,’ said Steven Law, a close confidant of [Mitch McConnell] and the chief strategist behind the Kentucky Republican’s affiliated super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund. ‘But we’re preparing to shoulder as much of the work in 2020 as possible.’”

-- Florida, Florida, Florida: The Secret Service will use taxpayer money to buy two new jet skis so that agents can keep up with members of the Trump family when they’re luxuriating at Mar-a-Lago. From the Palm Beach Post: “‘The First Family is very active in water sports,’ the agency wrote in a memo posted by the agency on a government bid website. ‘Several family members and their guests participate in open water activities for which the USSS Special Agent Rescue Swimmers are responsible.’ Agents have paid out of pocket to rent jet skis ‘to be near our protectees in various water environments,’ according to the memo. The agents are later reimbursed.”


Trump punched back at Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan congressman who left the GOP this summer after calling for Trump's impeachment, tried to keep the focus away from the circus and on the actual news of Lewandowski's appearance before Congress:

A former top GOP strategist for John Kasich and John McCain drew a Nixonian parallel:

A conservative luminary and Never Trumper also sought to put Lewandowski's testimony in context:

Beto O'Rourke celebrated a Republican mayor's support for gun control:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I have no obligation to be honest with the media," Corey Lewandowski said during his congressional testimony, when pressed about why he lied during an interview. (C-SPAN



Legendary broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts passed away on Tuesday at 75 of complications from breast cancer:

Cokie Roberts, an award-winning journalist and pioneer credited for paving the way for women in media, died on Sept. 17. (Reuters)

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek announced yesterday that he will resume chemotherapy for late-stage pancreatic cancer. He’s been battling the disease since March:

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek announced Sept. 17 he would be resuming chemotherapy for late-stage pancreatic cancer. He’s been battling the disease since March. (The Washington Post)

Our video team compiled nine of the more ridiculous moments from the Lewandowski hearing:

President Trump’s ex-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, faced off with the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee in a hearing on Sept. 17. (The Washington Post)

Climate activist Greta Thunberg met with Barack Obama at his office in Washington on Monday to raise awareness about climate change:

On Sept. 16, climate activist Greta Thunberg met with former president Barack Obama in Washington to raise awareness about climate change. (The Obama Foundation)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sat down with Jimmy Kimmel to talk campaign slogans:

Stephen Colbert reviewed Trump's attempt to woo Hispanic voters in New Mexico:

Seth Meyers thought a lot of important questions went unanswered during the third Democratic debate, so he held his own:

And Trevor Noah compared Elizabeth Warren's New York City rally to Trump's New Mexico performance: