With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump’s erratic foreign policy gives allies good reason to doubt America will follow through on its security commitments or protect friends in their hour of need.

U.S. troops are pulling out of Syria today, clearing the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces who have been steadfast partners in the fight against the Islamic State. This withdrawal, which the Kurds are calling a betrayal, began just hours after Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Syrian Democratic Forces have been scaling back their defenses against a Turkish incursion recently at the behest of Americans trying to negotiate a settlement between the two sides. Now the SDF will be left to its own devices, as the massive Turkish army prepares for an imminent ground invasion.

Earlier this year, Trump promised that the United States “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.” In August, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said any solo action by the Turks against the Kurds would be “unacceptable.” Then, at 10:51 p.m. on Sunday night, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a brief statement undoing all of that: “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Trump elaborated on Twitter this morning: “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

National security experts warn that Trump abandoning the Kurds in this manner will have a chilling effect not just in the region but around the world, further eroding American credibility against the backdrop of a rising China and a revanchist Russia.

“Well, at least the Trump Administration is consistent. We are about screwing our allies, partners and friends,” said John Sipher, who served 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, including tours of duty as a station chief in hot spots around Europe and Asia. “Don't trust America, even if you shed blood on their behalf. If you want favors, build a Trump tower.”

Other critics of Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria were also quick to note that there is a Trump Tower complex in Istanbul. This Ivanka Trump tweet from 2012 is making the rounds this morning:

Last December, shortly after another call with Erdogan, Trump caught everyone off guard when he tweeted that the U.S. would withdraw all its troops from Syria. That prompted Jim Mattis to resign as secretary of defense and Brett McGurk to step down as Trump’s special envoy for the coalition to defeat the Islamic State. National security adviser John Bolton maneuvered behind the scenes, with help from the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, to ensure that some U.S. presence inside Syria would remain to guard against the reemergence of ISIS. But, with Bolton gone, Trump is surrounded with more yes men than ever, and they’re less willing to push back against the president’s impulses.

McGurk, who now teaches at Stanford University, calls Trump’s latest move “a gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS”: “He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call,” McGurk said of his former boss. “There’s a similar defect at the core of US foreign policies across the board: maximalist objectives for a minimalist president combined with no process to assess facts, develop options, or prepare contingencies. Our personnel are left exposed at the slightest moment of friction.”

The former envoy, who also held senior roles in the George W. Bush administration, said last night’s White House statement “demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground.”

Grisham had justified Trump’s move this way: “The United States Government has pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused. The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer. Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years…”

McGurk responded: “The ‘United States’ is not holding any ISIS detainees. They are all being held by the SDF, which Trump just served up to Turkey. … Turkey has neither the intent, desire, nor capacity to manage 60k detainees in al Hol camp, which State and DoD IGs warn is the nucleus for a resurgent ISIS. Believing otherwise is a reckless gamble with our national security.” [I wrote a Big Idea in August about the inspector general’s report.]

Turkey has long seen the Kurds as terrorists, but U.S. troops who have worked with the SDF have come to deeply admire their esprit de corps and devotion to killing ISIS fighters. In a stream of tweets overnight, the SDF expressed frustration that it has been scaling back its defenses “based on our confidence” in assurances from the U.S. government. That confidence was clearly misplaced.

-- “U.S. officials depicted the impending offensive, and the U.S. troop withdrawal, as a dramatic turn after their prolonged attempt to hammer out an arrangement,” Missy Ryan, Kareem Fahim, Sarah Dadouch and Karen DeYoung report. “Military officials point out that Kurdish assistance is still required to avoid a return of the Islamic State in Syria and to guard facilities where Islamic State militants and their families are being held. A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said the U.S. government ‘has no idea’ what the Turkish operation would look like, whether it would be a small, symbolic incursion or a major offensive intended to push as far as 25 miles into Syria. … ‘There are many potential disastrous outcomes to this,’ the official said.”

-- “Trump’s decision goes against the recommendations of top officials in the Pentagon and the State Department who have sought to keep a small troop presence in northeast Syria to continue operations against the Islamic State … and to act as a critical counterweight to Iran and Russia,” the New York Times reports: “Many Syria experts criticized the White House decision and cautioned that American abandonment of its Kurdish allies could widen the eight-year Syrian conflict and prompt the Kurds to ally with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to combat the much larger and more technologically advanced Turkish army. …

“As recently as the week of the United Nations General Assembly summit in late September, senior American officials were saying there was consensus across the United States government, including Mr. Trump, on ensuring the welfare of the Kurdish forces and warding off Turkey’s persistent desire to attack those forces. But around that same time, Turkish officials were privately saying that they saw things very differently: They said they perceived a sharp division between Mr. Trump and other American officials — most notably generals in the United States Central Command, which oversees troops in the Middle East. While it was clear the generals wanted to bar Turkey from the safe zone and keep American troops there, Mr. Trump clearly wanted the troops out, they said…”

-- The Turkish press is reporting that Trump and Erdogan agreed to meet at the White House in November, per the Sun of London.

-- “The Kurds will never trust America again. They will look for new alliances or independence to protect themselves,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a veteran of the Iraq War. “Allowing Turkey to move into Northern Syria is one of the most destabilizing moves we can do in the Middle East.”

-- David Ignatius warned that Trump is making a “major, consequential mistake”: “This comes after we asked the SDF to dismantle all obstacles and pull back from the border, in the promise that this would stop a Turkish intervention. In fact, it appears to have enabled one,” our foreign affairs columnist explains. “In addition to abandoning allies, Trump is opening way for Turkish power grab in [northeast] Syria that is a guarantee of future bloodshed and instability. The Syria mission was a rare success for US military power in the Mideast—now being squandered to appease Erdogan’s ambitions.”

-- The Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Yaroslav Trofimov, decried “the casualness with which the US abandons its allies”: “Basically the US persuaded the SDF Kurds to dismantle defensive positions that deterred Turkey, promising security guarantees in exchange,” he tweeted. “Then once the SDF Kurds became defenseless, Trump gave Erdogan the green light to invade. Hard to imagine a more sinister sequence of events.”

-- This is how the Europeans view the news. From a German journalist:

-- Just over a year ago, during the United Nations General Assembly, Trump emphasized the “tremendous” role that the Kurds played in defeating the Islamic State. “We’ve fought side by side,” the president said in New York on Sept. 27, 2018. “And we have defeated ISIS, essentially, … with a lot of help from the Kurds. And they they’re great fighters. You know, some people are great fighters and some people aren’t. The Kurds are great fighters. And they’re great, great people.”

-- A tragic history: Trump is not the first American president to turn his back on the Kurds. Liz Sly explained in a piece last year: “The letdowns began after President Woodrow Wilson pushed for but failed to secure a separate Kurdish state at the 1919 peace conference following World War I, which drew the borders of the modern Middle East. Kurds say the hopes they have since placed in the United States have continued to be dashed. In 1975, the United States abandoned support for a Kurdish uprising in Iraq after President Saddam Hussein struck a deal with their ally, the Shah of Iran. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, but when Kurds in the north and Shiite Arabs in the south responded to the call, the U.S. military refrained from going to their aid. Most recently, the Trump administration [in 2017] withheld support for an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Iraqi troops rolled unopposed into areas the Kurds had controlled.”

-- The world is a tinderbox. Here are three other hotspots to keep an eye on today:

1. Protests in Iraq are spiraling deeper into violence. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report: “The country’s troops, cracking down on anti-government protests, have turned their guns on the people. Officials said Sunday that 104 people have been killed and more than 6,100 wounded. The six days of street protests are the largest challenge yet to the fragile government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Demonstrators gathered last week to decry what they described as endemic corruption. But by Sunday, it was a revolt against the entire system.”

2. North Korea gave the Trump administration a year-end deadline to change its “hostile” approach if it wants nuclear negotiations to continue. Min Joo Kim reports: “The statement came a day after the sides met in Stockholm to restart the talks after an eight-month stalemate — and then disagreed publicly over how they went. The Trump administration described the working-level talks as ‘good discussions.’ The Foreign Ministry called them ‘sickening.’ The top North Korean nuclear envoy, Kim Myong Gil, said Saturday night that the working-level talks had broken off ‘entirely due to the United States’ failure to abandon its outdated viewpoint and attitude.’”

3. Hong Kong protesters once again took to the streets and ignored the city’s ban on masks. Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin report: “The march, which until late afternoon remained peaceful, underscored the depth of dissent over the new measures that many here believe to be an infringement of their fundamental freedoms. Despite a partial shutdown of the city’s subway system, including stations close to the starting points of the rallies, participants included the disabled in wheelchairs, toddlers and senior citizens.”  

-- The NBA apologized to China after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted support for Hong Kong’s protesters. Ben Golliver reports: “His account was quickly bombarded by angry replies before he deleted the message. Some social media users replied with ‘NMSL’ — Chinese Internet slang that means ‘your mother is dead’ — and called for Morey, who has been with the Rockets since 2006, to be fired. Others replied by hailing his support for the Hong Kong protesters … Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta hastily issued a response Friday to the growing criticism. ‘Listen, Daryl Morey does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets,’ he wrote on Twitter. … The Rockets are one of the most popular and highest-profile NBA teams in China.”

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- A trio of doctors from the U.S. and Britain -- William Kaelin, Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza -- received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on how cells detect and respond to oxygen. Carolyn Y. Johnson reports: “The fundamental discoveries by the trio illuminated what the Nobel committee called 'one of life’s most essential adaptive processes' — how cells detect and respond to changes in oxygen levels, which is necessary for life and used to convert food into energy. Randall Johnson, a member of the Nobel committee, said the discoveries have implications in medicine for treating anemia, cancer and other diseases.”

-- Bullpens matter: The Nationals got rocked by the Dodgers during the sixth inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Washington now faces possible elimination tonight. Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier report: “Here came Patrick Corbin, gliding across the outfield grass, the Washington Nationals' latest escape plan resting squarely on his left arm. They needed 12 more outs against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night. They needed Corbin, the third ace of their stacked rotation, the pitcher they signed to a huge contract last winter, to get at least three of them. But he couldn’t. He instead gave up a two-run double, and then he gave up another, and then the Dodgers beat the Nationals, 10-4, because everything went sideways in that sixth inning. … Corbin was, in theory, brought to Washington for moments such as this. ... Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts had set up his lineup with the thought of Corbin entering at some point. … Then Corbin lost control.”

  • The bullpen moves in Game 3 were obviously disastrous, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Berry Svrluga makes the case: “Blame all the relievers who failed here this season — Tony Sipp and Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough and Dan Jennings, we could go on and on — for putting the Nats in this position. Don’t blame Dave Martinez for following the only script that has a chance to provide the Nats a happy ending.”
  • The Nats need more punch to stay in the fight, writes Thomas Boswell: “The Nats have shown resilience all year. But, right about now, after this thumping, they may feel like they need a bomb shelter.”
  • The Nats need Max Scherzer to bail them out one more time in tonight’s do-or-die game. (Jacob Bogage)

-- Lots of Washington sports news: The Redskins fired Coach Jay Gruden after losing the first five games of the season. Les Carpenter reports: “He had been the longest-tenured Redskins head coach in the two decades that Daniel Snyder has owned the franchise, but his 35-49-1 record in a little more than five seasons and the team’s inability to make the playoffs more than one time ultimately cost him his job. … Though Snyder had been more appreciative of Gruden than many of his other head coaches, the team’s owner has been described as increasingly frustrated over Gruden’s inability to get back to the playoffs after winning the NFC East in 2015. … Gruden … was seen as one of the league’s brightest offensive minds when Snyder hired him in 2014. Early on, his offenses did well, especially late in the 2015 season when quarterback Kirk Cousins led a late-season run to the division title and in 2016 when Washington had the third-most yards in the NFL. But his teams often had defensive breakdowns.”

-- And the Mystics took a 2-1 lead in the WNBA finals. Washington's women now have a chance to capture the franchise’s first title tomorrow. Ava Wallace reports: “Until about 30 minutes before the start of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, nobody on the Washington Mystics knew whether [Elena] Delle Donne would be able to play with a herniated disk in her back that is pinching a nerve. But the league MVP couldn’t let the moment pass — she swallowed her pain Sunday and played 26 minutes in Washington’s 94-81 win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 3 of this best-of-five series.”

IMPEACHMENT LOOMS:

-- An attorney for the CIA whistleblower who sounded the alarm on Trump's attempt to coerce Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son says he now represents “multiple whistleblowers." Felicia Sonmez and Toluse Olorunnipa report: “‘I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,’ the whistleblower’s attorney, Andrew Bakaj, said in a tweet. ... Mark Zaid, who also is a member of the original whistleblower’s legal team, confirmed to The Washington Post that the team is now representing a second whistleblower, someone who works in the intelligence community. The second individual has spoken to the inspector general of the intelligence community and has not filed a complaint. ‘Doesn’t need to,’ Zaid said in a text message, adding that the person has ‘first hand knowledge that supported the first whistleblower.’

No White House officials made appearances on the Sunday morning news shows, leaving it up to congressional Republicans and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to defend the president in heated interviews during which they offered at-times-contradictory explanations for the president’s actions. In a combative exchange on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ host Chuck Todd pressed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to explain why he told the Wall Street Journal about his concern in the summer that Trump had sought to link Ukrainian military aid to an investigation of the Bidens. Johnson repeatedly declined to answer, instead raising a conspiracy theory and criticizing the media before finally stating that Trump had ‘adamantly denied’ any quid pro quo. Johnson also at one point said he does not trust U.S. intelligence agencies. ‘Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign and in the transition, the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don’t know,’ he said.We do know the answer,’ an exasperated Todd responded, adding: ‘You’re making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place.’”

-- The impeachment inquiry has triggered a reckoning inside the Republican Party. Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report: “While GOP senators have engaged in hushed conversations about constitutional and moral considerations, their calculations at this point are almost entirely political. Even as polling shows an uptick in support nationally for Trump’s impeachment, his command over the Republican base is uncontested, representing a stark warning to any official who dares to cross him. … Few Republican lawmakers have been willing to fully parrot White House talking points because they believe they lack credibility or fret they could be contradicted by new discoveries. … A Republican strategist who is close with several senators and spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment called the situation 'a disaster.' This consultant has been advising clients to ‘say as little as possible’ about impeachment developments to buy time. ... Veteran party figures said a true break with Trump is possible, but could take months, if not years.”

-- Attorney General Bill Barr has taken an intense interest in a mysterious European professor whose conversation with an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign helped launch the FBI’s Russia investigation and who has since become the focal point of an unproven conservative theory. Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Shane Harris and Rosalind S. Helderman report: “Those involved in the FBI investigation said they are mystified by the attorney general’s activities and interest in the professor, Joseph Mifsud, and they suspect that Barr might be using Justice Department resources to validate conjecture that Mifsud was deployed against a Trump adviser by Western intelligence to manufacture a basis to investigate the campaign. ‘It just seems like they’re doing everything they can to delegitimize the origins of that investigation,’ said one person involved with the Russia probe … But Barr’s inquiry has heartened Trump and his conservative allies. Trump, who at times has inquired about the origins of the Russia investigation and the professor in particular, has bragged that Barr will get to the bottom of the case.”

-- Follow the money: While Rudy Giuliani pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens, a group of businessmen and Republican donors with ties to Trump were seeking to profit by trying to make changes at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. From the AP: “The effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors. It’s unclear if Perry’s attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, and no one has alleged that there is criminal activity in any of these efforts. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Giuliani had in helping his clients push to get gas sales agreements with the state-owned company. But the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. …

“Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it had been Perry who had prompted the phone call in which Trump asked [Ukraine's president] for a ‘favor’ regarding Biden. Axios cited a source saying Trump said Perry had asked Trump to make the call to discuss ‘something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant.’ While it’s unclear whether Trump’s remark Friday referred specifically to the behind-the-scenes maneuvers this spring involving the multibillion-dollar state gas company, The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort.”

-- Ten former White House chiefs of staff did not recall a single circumstance under which the White House had solicited or accepted political help from other countries, and they all said the very idea would be considered out of bounds. From Peter Baker in the New York Times: “One day in October 1992, four Republican congressmen showed up in the Oval Office with an audacious recommendation. President George Bush was losing his re-election race, and they told him the only way to win was to hammer his challenger Bill Clinton’s patriotism for protesting the Vietnam War while in London and visiting Moscow as a young man. Mr. Bush was largely on board with that approach. But what came next crossed the line, as far as he and his team were concerned. ‘They wanted us to contact the Russians or the British to seek information on Bill Clinton’s trip to Moscow,’ James A. Baker III, Mr. Bush’s White House chief of staff, wrote in a memo later that day. ‘I said we absolutely could not do that.’ …

"‘I served three presidents in the White House and don’t remember even hearing any speculation to consider asking for such action,’ said Andrew H. Card Jr., who ran the younger Mr. Bush’s White House and was the longest-serving chief of staff in the last six decades. William M. Daley, who served as commerce secretary under Mr. Clinton and chief of staff under Mr. Obama, said if someone had even proposed such an action, he probably would ‘recommend the person be escorted out of’ the White House, then fired and reported to ethics officials.”

-- Here’s what’s coming up next in the impeachment saga:

  • House investigators today are scheduled to depose Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. 
  • On Oct. 8, the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, will be deposed. He intends to testify.
  • State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl’s deposition is also scheduled for Oct. 8.
  • On Oct. 10, Giuliani associate Lev Parnas will be deposed. He has hired a high-profile attorney but hasn’t said whether he will attend the deposition.
  • On Oct. 11, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich will be deposed. She intends to testify. Giuliani associate Igor Fruman also stands to be deposed that day, but he has not made any public statement about his appearance.
  • On Oct. 14, Giuliani associate Semyon Kislin will be deposed.
  • Oct. 15 is the deadline for Giuliani and Vice President Pence to provide records about their work concerning Ukraine.
  • Congress set a deadline of Oct. 18 for the White House to hand over records. It's unlikely the documents will be forthcoming.

-- Trump’s defiance of oversight presents a new challenge to Congress’s ability to rein in the executive branch. Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade report: “Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) … said the spike in witness cooperation and the willingness of whistleblowers to come forward has been a welcome change in an otherwise frustrating exercise. But Schiff doesn’t expect it to last long, predicting the White House will continue what he called its ‘siege’ on documents and witnesses in the coming days. That’s one reason Democrats have decided they can no longer wait on the courts to come to their rescue. If Trump continues to stonewall their investigations … they will compile a list of his defiant actions and package it into an article of impeachment on obstructing Congress … Lawmakers, including Schiff, have discussed the possibility of trying to fine, censure or withhold money from obstinate Trump officials — but even those possibilities, they warn, may do nothing.”

-- Russia is looking for leverage as Ukraine sinks deeper into Trump’s impeachment probes. Will Englund reports: “If any country stands to gain from the developing turmoil, analysts and politicians in Kiev say, it is Russia. … On one front, Russian officials are already publicly telling Ukrainians (and the rest of the world) that the United States has proved itself to be an unreliable friend … More important in Ukraine is that Russia will likely use the scandal to portray Zelensky as a minor leaguer and Ukraine as an incorrigibly misgoverned country. And, since this is yet another Ukrainian scandal with a link to the natural gas industry, analysts in Kiev expect Russia to argue to Western European nations that it now must move forward with the stalled Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The project would send Russian natural gas to Europe, bypassing current networks via Ukraine.”

-- Trump’s impeachment saga is the product of a political hit job gone wrong. From Bloomberg Businessweek: “Trump’s sudden impeachment peril is that it’s the unintended result of an effort to help him: a political hit job aimed at a likely opponent  … and funded by a major right-wing donor (Rebekah Mercer) that Trump and his lawyer … impatiently hijacked, with consequences that could turn out to be disastrous for them. … The notion that Hunter Biden and his father could be complicit in Ukrainian corruption was first aired in a 2018 book, ‘Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends,’ by conservative author Peter Schweizer. … But Secret Empires didn’t have anything like the effect on Biden that Schweizer’s last book had on [Hillary] Clinton — it pretty much came and went. … Rather than the wall-to-wall cable news coverage his Clinton book produced, the impact of Secret Empires landed almost exclusively in conservative media, much to the frustration of Bannon, who griped about it at the time. … Here’s where Trump enters the story—and inadvertently kicks off the whole impeachment saga: Trump may be the single most devoted consumer of conservative media, absorbing hours of it each day. He was mainlining the Biden coverage as part of his daily media diet.”

-- For those who recall the “Clinton Cash” controversy, the baseless tales claiming that Biden corruptly intervened on behalf of his son’s Ukrainian business interests feel a lot like the movie “Groundhog Day,” writes the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in a recap of how the Ukraine conspiracy theory came to be.

-- Alternative universe: White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has been insisting to people that Trump could carry 45 states next year as a result of the impeachment process. From Axios: “People who've heard Mulvaney make this remark say he wasn't joking or even exaggerating. He appears to genuinely believe that impeachment will have a profoundly positive effect on Trump's political fortunes … Mulvaney also believes that the longer the impeachment process drags on, the better it is, politically, for Trump, these sources added.” If this story is accurate, it might make the White House more inclined to stonewall.

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

-- The Supreme Court today begins one of the most politically volatile terms in years, which will test Chief Justice John Roberts’s efforts to protect the legitimacy of the high court. Robert Barnes previews the docket: “Two unknowns — the health of the court’s oldest member, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and whether the court will be drawn into legal controversies arising from the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into [Trump] — add to the uncertainty. Resolution of the most contentious cases could happen in June, in the heat of a presidential campaign in which the future of the court has emerged as a galvanizing issue for conservatives and liberals.” Here are some of the key cases to watch:

  • Whether federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination or being fired.
  • Whether the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children was unlawful.
  • The first Second Amendment claim involving gun ownership in more than a decade.
  • An abortion case that gives the court’s new conservative judges and opportunity to begin reconstructing its jurisprudence on the divisive issue.

-- The Trump administration, with no viable Obamacare replacement plan, will delay any changes if the health-care law loses in court. Paige Winfield Cunningham and Yasmeen Abutaleb report: “Senior administration officials say they have some ideas for replacing parts of the 2010 health-care law, ‘principles’ crafted in part by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma. However, replacing key benefits — such as guaranteed coverage for people with preexisting conditions — would require the cooperation of Democratic congressional leaders, who have vowed to defend the law and have no interest in a piecemeal replacement plan likely to fall far short of preserving health coverage for about 20 million Americans. The administration’s plan to seek a stay of any court ruling that undermines the law reflects the political disadvantages of its decision to side with GOP-led states seeking to topple the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Even as the Justice Department urges the courts to invalidate the entire ACA, administration officials are promising voters that there will be no immediate impact on their coverage.”

-- GOP lawmakers across the country are shifting their focus to expanding mental-health treatment. Tim Craig reports: “The renewed GOP focus comes as the party, which lost more than 300 state legislative seats last year, has struggled to convince voters it cares about a host of societal challenges, including mass shootings, opioid and methamphetamine abuse, homelessness and surging suicide rates. … So far this year, Republican state legislators nationwide have proposed 5,372 bills that mention ‘mental health,’ about twice as many as they sponsored five years ago … Democratic legislators still sponsor more mental health legislation than their GOP colleagues — about 10,000 bills so far this year. … Even in Washington, [Trump] has vowed to consider federal policy changes, including floating a controversial proposal to open more psychiatric institutions."

-- Victims of opioid addiction didn’t get to have a say when OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma persuaded half the state attorneys general to settle claims over the company’s role in the opioid crisis. But, now, four people whose lives were touched by addiction are part of a bankruptcy committee that will play a major role in deciding how much Purdue will pay. From the AP: “The committee can investigate Purdue’s operations and possibly even go after more money from the members of the Sackler family who own the company. They will play a central role in evaluating the tentative settlement reached by the attorneys general representing roughly half the states. The four are a mother and a grandfather of children born dependent on opioids, a man in recovery from addiction and a mother who lost a son to overdose. Together, they could be an emotionally persuasive minority on the nine-member Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors appointed by the U.S. trustee overseeing the bankruptcy.”

-- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has met with officials from Kentucky vastly more than those from any other state. In all, 25 percent of Chao’s meetings with local officials of any state, from January 2017 to March 2018, were with Kentuckians, who make up only about 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, Politico reports.

    VIOLENCE IN AMERICA:

    -- A mass shooting at a Kansas City bar left four dead and five injured. Annie Gowen reports: “The city’s police department said that two men wielding handguns walked into the Tequila KC bar at 10th Street and Central Avenue in Kansas City about 1:27 a.m. and opened fire, sending panicked patrons fleeing into the street. On Sunday evening, the department released surveillance cameras with photos of two men – both wearing baseball jerseys, including one from the Kansas City Royals – and asked for the public’s help in identifying them. The investigation is ongoing, but police said they don’t believe the attack was random or a hate crime. … The injured, who range in age from their 20s to the 50s, were taken to four nearby hospitals, and two have been released with minor injuries, authorities said. Police said the four dead were Hispanic males but gave no further details.”

    -- A witness who was key to the murder conviction of former Dallas cop Amber Guyger – who shot Botham Jean in his own apartment – was killed in a shooting. Brittany Shammas reports: “Joshua Brown, who lived in the same apartment complex as Jean and Guyger’s and overheard their fatal encounter, was ‘shot several times by an unknown assailant’ on Friday night, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt said Saturday night on Twitter. Brown was a 28-year-old Lancaster, Tex., native and former University of South Florida football player who ran his own business in Dallas. ‘His murder underscores the reality of the black experience in America,’ Merritt wrote. ‘A former athlete turned entrepreneur — Brown lived in constant fear that he could be the next victim of gun violence, either state sanctioned or otherwise.’ The Dallas Police Department has not confirmed that Brown was the man killed, noting that the victim wasn’t carrying identification.”

    -- A 24-year-old man was charged with murder in the fatal beatings of four homeless people in New York City. Kayla Epstein and Brittany Shammas report: “The four deceased men, all believed to be homeless, and one severely injured victim were apparently random victims of bludgeoning, police said. On Sunday, authorities identified the suspect as 24-year-old Randy Rodriguez-Santos, who is also homeless. He was charged with murder, attempted murder and unlawful possession of marijuana. Rodriguez-Santos was apprehended a few blocks from the scene of the attacks. Nearby investigators found a metal pipe they believe was used as a weapon..."

    -- An Iowa teacher was placed on leave after saying on Facebook that she wouldn’t attend a rally featuring climate activist Greta Thunberg because he didn’t have his “sniper rifle.” From the Times: “The teacher, identified by school officials as Matt Baish, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the Waterloo Community School District said …  Mason Severson, 27, a former student of Mr. Baish’s, asked in an Oct. 2 Facebook post who was going to attend a climate strike rally in Iowa City on Friday, and linked to an article with a photo of Ms. Thunberg. Mr. Baish responded, ‘dont have my sniper rifle,’ according to the post. Mr. Severson said on Sunday said the post ‘was insensitive and taken too far.’ ‘It wasn’t a joke,’ said Mr. Severson, who is a pre-med student at the University of Northern Iowa. ‘It wasn’t baseless. It was irrefutably vile and wrong.’ Mr. Baish teaches chemistry at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa, about 55 miles north of Cedar Rapids.”

    -- Dick’s Sporting Goods and other corporations that have joined the gun control debate insist they’re not coming for everyone’s guns. From CBS News: “Overseeing more than 720 stores in 47 states, Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, has a multi-billion-dollar empire to run. But Stack is now balancing running a business with his new role as one of the corporate faces of America's gun control debate. … It's a pretty controversial stand from a company that's been in the gun business a long, long time. … Ever since Parkland, he and his wife, Donna, have been weighing the moral implications of continuing to sell firearms at all. They even took a trip to Florida to meet with Parkland survivors. … The experience moved Stack's stand again guns one step further. He announced he would no longer sell any firearm to anyone under the age of 21 – a move many inside the company warned would surely drive off sales. And it did.”

    SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

    Trump ended the weekend by accusing Nancy Pelosi of treason:

    Rep. Justin Amash, the libertarian-minded independent from Michigan, said Ron Johnson has not voted like someone who does not trust the CIA and FBI:

    Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) spent the weekend with family:

    A Fox poll in Wisconsin shows the president underperforming when paired against the three leading Democratic candidates: 

    A Fox poll also found Biden expanding his lead among South Carolina Democrats.

    Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke called out a woman who spoke against undocumented women:

    Ellen DeGeneres and her wife were spotted attending a football game next to former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush: 

    And here's a fun reminder of how many whistleblowers have secured attorneys so far:

    QUOTE OF THE DAY:

    “Nobody wants to be the zebra that strays from the pack and gets gobbled up by the lion,” a former senior Trump administration official said of the unwillingness of Senate Republicans to criticize the president. “They have to hold hands and jump simultaneously.” (Costa and Rucker) 

     

    VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

    John Oliver discussed China's "one child" policy: 

    "Saturday Night Live" opened this week with some of Trump's aides strategizing for impeachment:

    Kate McKinnon's Elizabeth Warren made an appearance on "Weekend Update": 

    And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) left the hospital following a heart attack: