With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Dozens of lawmakers from both parties dunked on the National Basketball Association on Monday for apologizing to the Chinese after the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. “Unacceptable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Disgusting” and “grotesque,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Shameful!” added Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “The NBA chose its pocketbook over its principles,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “This is a mistake that they should fix quickly,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Trying to clean up this mess, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a 354-word statement this morning. “I recognize our initial statement left people angered, confused or unclear on who we are or what the NBA stands for. Let me be more clear,” he wrote. “Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA – and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game. … It is inevitable that people around the world – including from America and China – will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences. However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.”

But the league still finds itself under fire from both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Chinese entities are canceling sponsorships and the state television broadcaster is threatening not to air games, endangering a very lucrative revenue stream. To curry their favor, the NBA posted a statement on Monday in Mandarin that – when translated – went even further than the English-language apology. (The NBA denies that this was intentional.) The owner of the Rockets said his general manager “does NOT speak for the” team. And the team’s biggest star went further. “We apologize,” said Rockets star James Harden, who was the NBA’s MVP in 2018 and has traveled to China to promote his brand of Adidas sneakers. “We love China. … We love everything they’re about.”

Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz don’t agree on much, but this groveling has gone way too far for the Texans who battled each other for Senate last year. “The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment,” said O’Rourke, a former congressman now running for president. “We’re better than this; human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship,” said Cruz, a diehard Rockets fan, who beat O’Rourke in the midterms.

It’s easy to forget in the Trump era that there is still something resembling a Washington consensus. President Trump has made clear, through his words and deeds, that he does not believe the U.S. government should prioritize the promotion of democracy and human rights in foreign policy. But this position puts him at odds with the bulk of lawmakers in both major parties. With few exceptions, most members of Congress – including Cruz – see the United States as a beacon of freedom and believe that the spread of democracy makes the world safer. Taking the long view, they recognize that promoting democracy and human rights is squarely in the national interest. While veteran Republicans are nervous to challenge Trump frontally or critique his worldview directly, they still believe in the Wilsonian framework and came of age listening to Ronald Reagan speak poignantly about America as the shining city upon a hill.

If questioned, many everyday Americans would probably say they are uncomfortable with society prioritizing dollars over democracy – even though, all too often, it does. Profit without principle, however common, is not a core American value. That’s why criticizing the NBA has been so cathartic for so many in Congress. In what’s been a period of moral relativism, Monday brought a refreshing moment of moral clarity. “Basketball fans and the American people more broadly should have absolutely no doubt about what is happening here,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “The NBA wants money, and the Communist Party of China is asking them to deny the most basic of human rights. In response, the NBA issued a statement saying money is the most important thing.”

Monday brought the kind of bipartisan bonhomie that has become so unusual, especially against the backdrop of the impeachment inquiry. “China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.,” tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Barack Obama’s housing secretary. “The United States must lead with our values and speak out for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, and not allow American citizens to be bullied by an authoritarian government.”

“Julián, glad to agree with you on this one,” replied Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

And many Republicans who have been mealy-mouthed on Trump’s many apostasies strongly criticized the NBA and China. Rubio drew a distinction between his refusal to criticize Trump for asking China to investigate Joe Biden (he insists the president was joking) and upbraiding the NBA for currying favor with China:

-- The NBA donnybrook has spotlighted how many corporations routinely sell out to China to fatten their bottom lines. Sports columnist Sally Jenkins argues that the attacks on the NBA by politicians of both parties are “more than a little ludicrous” because “literally hundreds of American companies” have been “toadying to authoritarians in Beijing” for years. “A half-dozen American corporate sponsors set the template a decade ago at the Beijing Olympics, when they colluded in the silencing of U.S. athletes and were far more directly complicit in a host of human rights violations,” she writes. “Remember what champs Visa and General Electric were when the Chinese refused to grant entry to American athlete Joey Cheek because he had been too audible of an activist against abuses in Darfur? And how about the courageous support Coca-Cola gave to Chinese dissidents when Beijing authorities cracked down on them in advance of those Games?

“Never forget the standup position Johnson & Johnson took when Steven Spielberg quit as artistic director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies because Beijing not only failed to honor a single one of the reform promises it had made in procuring the right to host the Games but actually went on a terroristic bender against its own citizens, destroying whole neighborhoods, enlisting slave labor and throwing anyone who didn’t like it into a camp. … Throughout the Beijing Olympics, American companies remained silent. So did IOC President Jacques Rogge. When Rogge finally did open his mouth to protest someone’s conduct, it wasn’t anyone in China’s leaderships. The man he decided to pick was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, for his bad manners in celebrating too boldly. The outrage at the NBA is more than a little remindful of that.”

-- But the NBA is supposed to be more than just a business. It’s a symbol of America. Just because so many other companies kowtow to the communists for cash doesn’t mean it’s become morally acceptable. Part of the reason this controversy has blown up so much is because of the rank hypocrisy: The NBA has gotten so much credit from the left and minority groups over the last few years because of its commitment to social justice and racial equality, at least compared to the National Football League.

As Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) recalled in a letter he sent to Silver on Monday afternoon: “Not so long ago you said that the NBA is more than just a basketball league. Your comment was, ‘I think in this day and age, you really do have to stand for something.’ Let me remind you what the people of Hong Kong are standing for. For five months now, Hong Kong’s citizens have been calling for representative government and preservation of their basic liberties. In response, and at the instruction of the Chinese Communist Party, the Government of Hong Kong has engaged in escalating repression. The government has sought emergency powers and deployed riot police to put down the protests, often violently. Police have employed tear gas, batons, water cannons with dye, pepper spray, and rubber bullets against their own people. Thousands have been hospitalized and arrested. Some may even have paid with their lives.”

Hawley is calling on the NBA to cancel all exhibition games in China “pending a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Hong Kong” and to formally apologize. “Remember that some things are more important than money,” the freshman senator wrote to Silver, carbon copying the owners of all 30 NBA franchises. “Remember your responsibility. You may not think of your league as an American undertaking, but whatever you think, what you say and do represents America to the world. And for an American organization to help the most brutal of regimes silence dissent in pursuit of profit is appalling.”

-- Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) pleaded with Silver in his own open letter to take “corrective action” to do more to clean up Sunday’s “shameful” apology. “With democracy under threat in Hong Kong, throughout Europe, and even here in America, our ability to stand for our values will have a direct impact on the preservation of freedom,” Pascrell wrote. “A citizen of America, the NBA cannot divorce itself from that burden.”

-- The Post’s Editorial Board says it is “pathetic” how quickly the NBA chose to apologize, “essentially importing to the United States China’s denial of free speech”: “The NBA is big business in China … But that’s the point. China is attempting to enforce its version of the truth all around the world — bullying Chinese-language newspapers in Canada and the United States, patrolling the speech of its students abroad, demanding that foreign airlines and hotel chains wipe Taiwan off their maps. Some of its targets don’t have the wherewithal to stand up to this assault — which is why the NBA’s cravenness is so damaging. With all its financial muscle, its enormous popularity and its moral preening, if the NBA can cave so easily, who will resist the censorship of the Communist dictators?”

-- “The NBA is only the latest Chinese government hostage,” laments national security columnist Josh Rogin: “Just last week, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said, ‘China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the U.S.’ This is Chinese interference in our affairs. If we don’t stand up to it now, we will soon find ourselves living in an America where everyone self-censors and nobody is allowed to speak out on things that are obviously outrageous, like Chinese repression in Hong Kong. But U.S. companies are not strong enough to resist Chinese government coercion on their own. The U.S. government needs to do much more to make sure U.S. companies don’t have to abandon their values at the point of an economic gun.”

-- The Wall Street Journal reported overnight on the kind of American leadership that can make a difference: “The U.S. added 28 Chinese entities to an export blacklist Monday, citing their role in Beijing's repression of Muslim minorities in northwest Chin … Targets of the action include video-surveillance and facial-recognition giants Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, Megvii Technology Inc. and SenseTime Group Ltd. The decision by the Commerce Department to add the firms to its 'entity list' alongside telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co.—which was added in May—means suppliers will be barred from providing technology that originates in the U.S. to the Chinese firms without a license. The newly identified entities 'have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups' in northwest China's Xinjiang region, the Commerce Department said.”

-- Beijing quickly demanded Washington lift these new sanctions, the Associated Press reports, but announced this morning that negotiators will still go ahead with their planned trip to Washington for trade talks later this week.

-- “With the politically charged trade war with the United States grinding on and the Chinese economy cooling off, the latest NBA controversy was a reminder that many foreign executives say the country of 400 million middle-class consumers is more a minefield than a gold mine,” Gerry Shih reports from Beijing. “Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, said the boycott against the Rockets was a familiar pressure tactic. ‘It is unfortunately a part of the Chinese toolbox to hold foreign companies hostage,’ he said.

In 2017, a Chinese government-led boycott crippled the South Korean retail conglomerate Lotte after the company allowed a U.S. missile defense system to be installed on its land. In the years since, threats of boycotts seemed to surface on a regular basis. Mercedes-Benz was labeled an ‘enemy of the people’ following an Instagram post quoting the Dalai Lama, whom many Chinese consider a separatist. Marriott sparked outrage because it listed Taiwan as a country, when many Chinese consider it a territory of the People’s Republic. Leica, the camera maker, had to apologize for celebrating the legacy of photojournalists who covered the Tiananmen crisis, a taboo subject.”

“The political risk is so high right now it doesn’t make sense to keep investing in China. If you’re not already here, you have to think three, four, five times harder about whether it’s worth coming,” said Shaun Rein, the Shanghai-based founder of the China Market Research Group who has advised clients such as Apple, Samsung, Fidelity Investments and luxury group Richemont. Rein, an author known in China for his pro-Beijing views and support for hard-line President Xi Jinping, told Shih that the political atmosphere had become so charged that even he is advising companies to leave. “It’s killing my business, frankly,” he said, “but you can’t put all your eggs in this basket anymore.”

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

WHILE YOU WERE IN YOUR MORNING MEETINGS:

-- The Trump administration this morning blocked a planned deposition from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a central figure in the impeachment inquiry, according to a statement by his lawyer. Shane Harris and John Wagner report: “Sondland was scheduled to be deposed on Tuesday morning before House committees seeking information about his activities as Trump urged Ukraine to investigate his political opponents, according to his lawyer, Robert Luskin. … Sondland was willing to testify and didn’t appear on Tuesday at the direction of the State Department, Luskin said. ‘As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction,’ Luskin said.” Democrats say the administration’s move is itself an act of obstruction and accused Trump of trying to cover up his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals.

-- A new Washington Post-Schar School poll, in the field through Sunday night, shows that a 58 percent majority of Americans support the decision to begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump. “Nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office,” Dan Balz and Scott Clement report:

“More than 8 in 10 Democrats endorse the inquiry and nearly 8 in 10 favor a vote to recommend that Trump be removed from office. Among Republicans, roughly 7 in 10 do not support the inquiry but almost 3 in 10 do, and almost one-fifth of Republicans say they favor a vote recommending his removal. Among the critical voting bloc of independents, support for the impeachment inquiry hits 57 percent, with 49 percent saying the House should vote to remove Trump from office. Since a July poll by The Post and ABC, there has been movement toward an impeachment inquiry among all three groups, with support for the inquiry rising by 25 points among Democrats, 21 points among Republicans and 20 points among independents. …

The survey finds cracks within the Republican coalition on the question of support for the impeachment inquiry, with younger and more moderate Republicans offering greater support. Overall, 25 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support the impeachment inquiry. Broken down by ideology, 41 percent of moderate-to-liberal Republicans say they favor the inquiry compared with 16 percent of conservatives, who make up the majority of the party. Broken down by age groups, 40 percent of Republican-leaning adults ages 18-39 endorse the start of the impeachment inquiry, compared with 23 percent of those ages 40-64 and 13 percent of those age 65 and older.”

Asked about the contents of Trump’s telephone call with Ukraine’s president, 62 percent say Trump’s request to investigate Joe Biden and his son was inappropriate (compared to 32 percent who felt it was not): “Asked whether the president upholds adequate standards for ethics in government, 60 percent of Americans say he does not, while 35 percent say he does.”

But Trump’s attacks seem to be taking a toll on Biden: Asked whether the former vice president would uphold adequate ethics standards in government if he’s elected president, 47 percent said yes, while 38 percent said no. The results were split among partisan lines, with 72 percent of Democrats saying Biden would uphold ethical standards, while 63 percent of Republicans say he would not.

-- A cosmologist who revealed the universe was made mostly of invisible matter and energy and two scientists who detected the first planet orbiting an alien star were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Sarah Kaplan reports: “By studying the afterglow of radiation left over from the universe’s birth, James Peebles of Princeton developed a theoretical framework for the evolution of the cosmos that led to the discovery of dark energy and dark matter — substances that can’t be observed by any scientific instruments but nonetheless comprise 95 percent of the universe. Fellow laureates Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz revolutionized astronomy, the Nobel Committee said, when in 1995 they announced the discovery of a large, gaseous world circling a star 50 lightyears from our own sun — the very first extrasolar planet around a solar-type star. In the decades since, scientists have found thousands more of these exoplanets, and astronomers now think our universe contains more planets than stars.”

-- The Nationals beat the Dodgers, 6-1, in a do-or-die Game 4, because Max Scherzer was dominant and the offense finally clicked. Ryan Zimmerman’s blast off Pedro Báez capped Washington’s rally, Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier report in their recap.

  • Zimmerman’s goose-bump moment sends the Nats back to L.A. with plenty of hope, writes Thomas Boswell: “The Nats have been in this Game 5 spot three previous times in the past seven seasons — but never as the underdog, using every trick of pitching staff management to neutralize the Dodgers’ obvious advantages. As the Nats took the field for the ninth, the stadium PA system blasted the Beastie Boys: ‘You’ve got to fight / For your right / To party!’ The fight goes on for a few more days. The party could follow.”
  • “Max Scherzer is Max Scherzer again, and the Nationals’ season lives because of it,” writes Barry Svrluga: “He hasn’t been himself recently, this three-time Cy Young winner. He was Monday night, when the only acceptable outcome was to be just that. ... Don’t underestimate how hard it was, at that point, to even give out the energy to celebrate.”
  • The Dodgers hoped to avoid a Game 5, but they’re not too nervous about their chances. Isabelle Khurshudyan reports: “It’s a scenario they’ve been in before and are comfortable with, specifically against Washington. Los Angeles will have right-hander Walker Buehler on the mound Wednesday night, hopeful he can repeat his masterful performance from the first game of this series, when he pitched six scoreless innings and surrendered just one hit. The Dodgers won 59 games at Dodger Stadium this season, the second most for any home team in the majors. ‘It would’ve been great to finish that off here,’ center fielder Cody Bellinger said. ‘But at home with Buehler going, I like our chances.’”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Trump faced a torrent of Republican rebukes over his plan to withdraw troops from northeast Syria, a move even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would undermine U.S. national security and potentially bolster Islamic State terrorists. Toluse Olorunnipa and Seung Min Kim report: “McConnell (R-Ky.), in a rare public split with Trump, said that a supermajority in the Senate disagreed with the president’s abrupt withdrawal announcement, raising the specter of veto-proof action to oppose the decision. … McConnell referenced a January vote in which 68 senators rebuked Trump’s threat to withdraw troops from Syria, a large-enough total to override a presidential veto. ‘The conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today,’ he said. … The White House statement on Sunday announcing the withdrawal appeared to catch even the most senior levels of congressional leadership off guard.”

-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will introduce new sanctions targeting Turkey if Turkish forces invaded Syria. "So sad. So dangerous," Graham tweeted. "Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam. They are NOT tired of fighting us."

-- Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said they will seek congressional hearings “as soon as possible” on Trump’s decision: “Barring a reversal of this decision, the Administration must come before Congress and explain how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests,” Murphy and Romney said.

-- Rand Paul seemed like the only Senate Republican who was happy about Trump's move. The isolationist senator from Kentucky blasted Graham, Rubio and Romney for being part of what he called "the neocon war caucus" of the Senate. "They always want to stay at war," Paul said on Fox News.

-- Syrian Kurds said Trump’s betrayal is a boon to the Islamic State. Liz Sly, Sarah Dadouch and Asser Khattab report: “It remains unclear how extensive the U.S. troop drawdown or a Turkish incursion will be. A small number of U.S. troops pulled out Tuesday from two observation posts on the Turkish border, in the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, that were established this year in an effort to create a buffer zone along the border in cooperation with Turkey. From Turkey’s perspective, the U.S. partnership with the Kurds has always represented an affront to its decades-old NATO alliance with the United States. The People’s Protection Units, the Kurdish group that dominates the SDF, is closely affiliated with the Kurdish PKK, which has been waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is labeled a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington. ...

Kurdish officials say they are hoping they can prevent, or at least delay, a full departure of U.S. troops from Syria. A complete withdrawal would leave the Kurds at the mercy not only of invading Turks to the north but also of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian troops to the south, while facing the efforts of the Islamic State to reconstitute its insurgency. … U.S. and Kurdish officials say it is their understanding that U.S. troops will remain in Syria south of the area along the border that Turkey is threatening to invade. Outside this border zone are overwhelmingly Arab areas where the risk of an Islamic State comeback is most grave."

-- Privately, according to an adviser, Trump “just wants out” of Syria. “He doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t want to pay,” the adviser told Josh Dawsey. “He doesn’t believe any of his advisers that tell him that [the Kurds] are in jeopardy, that  [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will kill them. The president has always professed to believe that Turkey and Erdogan’s … massive military capability can contain ISIS."

-- Publicly, Trump promised to restrain Turkey and invoked his own "great and unmatched wisdom":

-- A National Security Council official said Trump got “rolled” by  Erdogan. “The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that's the bottom line,” this official told Newsweek.

-- The U.S. announcement caught Israeli leaders by complete surprise, per Haaretz.

-- Commentary:

-- The Iraqi military admitted to using “excessive force” in crackdowns against protesters. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report: “Security forces have killed more than 100 people since protests erupted in Baghdad and southern cities last week, according to the Iraqi military. Hospitals have overflowed with more than 6,000 wounded. … In a televised speech, Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned ‘unacceptable’ attacks on both protesters and the media, and he urged security forces to preserve the rights of all Iraqis."

-- Extinction Rebellion, a radical arm of the climate-change protest movement, kicked off two weeks of planned protests designed to shut down dozens of cities around the world. Activists blocked roads in central London, obstructed a major roundabout in Berlin, spilled fake blood on Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” and staged a “die-in” in New Zealand. Karla Adam reports: “The group’s message is that climate change is an emergency that requires drastic and immediate action. And it has already seen some success. ‘Extinction Rebellion is widely credited with accelerating policy change in the U.K.,’ said Robert Falkner, a fellow at Chatham House, a think tank."

-- Jennifer Arcuri, an American businesswoman and former model, declined to answer nine times if she had an affair with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Arcuri is currently at the center of an investigation into how she managed to accompany Johnson on government-sponsored trade missions. William Booth reports: “The story has been competing with Brexit headlines for a week in Britain, because Arcuri won sponsorship and grants from the British government while she was Johnson’s friend. … In her first broadcast interview since her ties to Johnson were reported, Arcuri told ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ show that when Johnson was mayor, he visited her apartment in east London a ‘handful of times,’ somewhere between five and 10. … Arcuri was asked multiple times by the morning show host whether she had a romantic relationship with Johnson. She declined to answer.”

-- An American diplomat’s wife claimed immunity and fled the U.K. after killing a British teen in a wrong-way collision, police say. Meagan Flynn and Jennifer Hassan report: “Johnson said Monday that he hoped the woman, who has been identified as 42-year-old Anne Sacoolas, would return to Britain to face justice. … The death sparked widespread outrage after authorities revealed that Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity under international law, allowing her to avoid prosecution … Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, family members of diplomats living in other countries are covered by immunity, allowing them to avoid arrest for virtually any crime and escape civil liability in most circumstances. However, the diplomat’s home country can also choose to waive immunity.”

IMPEACHMENT LATEST:

-- State Department employees are increasingly demoralized and resentful under Mike Pompeo’s leadership, amid a growing belief he has subordinated its mission and abandoned colleagues in the service of Trump’s political aims. Karen DeYoung, John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Ellen Nakashima report:

The ‘prevailing mood is low and getting lower, if it can,’ said Thomas R. Pickering, a diplomatic dean who served in high-ranking department positions and held seven ambassadorships, including to Russia and the United Nations, under six presidents of both parties. State Department officials strongly supported $141 million in department funds that Congress appropriated this year for Ukraine — in addition to $250 million in aid from the Defense Department. But there is no indication that Pompeo objected when Trump withheld all of the assistance while Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani — and the president himself — pressed the government of [Ukraine] to investigate [the Bidens]. … Several people with direct knowledge of events said Pompeo was regularly informed by State Department diplomats of Giuliani’s activities regarding Ukraine.

“Most worrisome to the department is concern that Pompeo did not intervene to protect U.S. diplomats either enlisted by Giuliani to assist his efforts or punished for being insufficiently committed to the cause, according to more than a dozen current and former officials Trump, according to Giuliani, ordered that career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch be fired as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and she was removed from her post in May. … Officials in the department say accusations against Yovanovitch were baseless and in late March began suggesting ways the State Department could defend her.Diplomats who worked closely with Yovanovitch say the State Department and Pompeo did far too little to protect her.”

-- House Democrats are considering masking the identity of the first whistleblower from Trump’s Republican allies in Congress. Rachael Bade, Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demirjian report: “The steps under consideration include having the whistleblower testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice ... The efforts reflect Democrats’ deepening distrust of their GOP colleagues, whom they see as fully invested in defending a president who has attacked the whistleblower’s credibility and demanded absolute loyalty from Republicans. ... Democrats on Monday subpoenaed Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Office of Management and Budget acting director Russell Vought for documents related to the withholding of U.S. military aid from Ukraine.”

-- Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who resigned two weeks ago and sat for a 10-hour deposition last week, stepped down from his post as executive director of Arizona State University’s McCain Institute for International Leadership, reports the Arizona Republic.

-- Mitt Romney will not challenge Trump in the primary, but an unnamed "confidant" to the Utah senator told Vanity Fair he is "the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and Ben Sasse": “Romney has also told people that, as an unsuccessful two-time presidential candidate, he’s the wrong person to take on Trump. Instead, a Romney adviser told me, Romney believes he has more potential power as a senator who will decide Trump’s fate in an impeachment trial. ‘He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,’ the adviser said. In recent days, Romney has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance.”  

-- Ohio Sen. Rob Portman joined the group of Republicans willing to say that what Trump did to Ukraine was wrong. From the Columbus Dispatch: “‘The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent,’ Portman said … ‘I don’t view it as an impeachable offense … I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things’ that haven’t panned out yet, said Portman, who as a House member voted exactly 21 years ago to impeach President Bill Clinton. Portman did express openness to an investigation of Trump by a bipartisan group such as the Senate Intelligence Committee. ‘Everything should be looked at,’ he said, including accusations that the FBI was politicized in 2016 to go after Trump.”

-- A federal judge dismissed Trump’s lawsuit seeking to block the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining the president’s tax returns as part of the investigation into hush-money payments allegedly made during the 2016 campaign. David A. Fahrenthold and Ann E. Marimow report: “That decision does not mean Trump’s tax returns will be handed over immediately. Trump appealed within minutes, and an appeals court put the case on hold until it can hear the president’s challenge. But Monday’s ruling by U.S. Judge Victor Marrero was still a broad rejection of Trump’s precedent-shattering argument in this case. The president argued that, as long as he is president, he cannot be investigated by any prosecutor, anywhere, for any reason. Marrero said that was ‘repugnant’ to an American ideal as old as the Constitution: that no man, even a president, is above the law.”

THE NON-IMPEACHMENT AGENDA:

-- E-cigarettes and the rechargeable batteries that power them are causing smoke or fire incidents on airplanes, and safety experts say federal regulators have struggled to keep up. Michael Laris reports: “In addition to the e-cigarette incidents, the FAA recorded more than 65 other cases of smoking, sparking and flaming lithium-ion batteries in laptops, tablets, phones and other devices, including power packs, drill batteries and rechargeable socks, according to a Washington Post analysis of FAA data, which the agency acknowledged is incomplete. ‘We think that’s a pretty significant threat,’ said Mark Millam, vice president of technical programs at the Flight Safety Foundation and a former safety chief at Northwest Airlines. ‘It’s gone from one to multiple devices that most passengers are carrying on. You don’t know where all these things are coming from and what’s in them and how legitimate they are.’ … Some advocates — and even some inside the airline industry — say federal regulators have not been aggressive enough in addressing the risks. … About a quarter of the incidents involving e-cigarettes, and half of those involving other electronics, happened in the air, the FAA data shows, elevating safety concerns.”

-- A whistleblower, this time in Ethiopia, filed a complaint with American regulators alleging that Ethiopian Airlines went into the maintenance records of the Boeing 737 Max jet a day after the crash earlier this year. From the AP: “Yonas Yeshanew, who resigned this summer and is seeking asylum in the U.S., said that while it is unclear what, if anything, in the records was altered, the decision to go into them at all when they should have been sealed reflects a government-owned airline with few boundaries and plenty to hide. ‘The brutal fact shall be exposed ... Ethiopian Airlines is pursuing the vision of expansion, growth and profitability by compromising safety,’ Yeshanew said in his report, which he gave to The Associated Press after sending it last month to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other international air safety agencies. Yeshanew’s criticism of Ethiopian’s maintenance practices, backed by three other former employees who spoke to AP, makes him the latest voice urging investigators to take a closer look at potential human factors in the Max saga and not just focus on Boeing’s faulty anti-stall system, which has been blamed in two crashes in four months.”

-- People have been lining up outside the Supreme Court since Friday to secure seats for today's oral arguments on whether federal law forbids discrimination against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender. Robert Barnes reports: The court's new term opened yesterday with a Louisiana case about whether a jury’s verdict must be unanimous and another about whether Kansas and other states must allow an insanity defense for criminal defendants. “The justices experimented Monday with allowing the advocates making arguments two minutes of uninterrupted time before jumping in to ask them questions. Both the lawyers and the justices seemed a little uneasy with the arrangement. … [The justices] seemed inclined to rule that jury verdicts must be unanimous. Only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, allow convictions on variations such as 10-2 or 11-1. And Louisiana voters approved a referendum requiring unanimous votes after Jan. 1, 2019. ... 

"The Kansas case involved whether a state may do away with the insanity defense, which bars holding someone criminally responsible when mental illness prevents them knowing right from wrong. James Kraig Kahler killed four family members, including his estranged wife and two teenage daughters, in 2009. He was convicted and sentenced to death. His lawyers said severe depression over the breakup of his marriage rendered him incapable of forming the intent to convict him of capital murder. But Kansas, where the murders occurred, is one of only a few states that have gotten rid of insanity as a defense to avoid conviction."

-- The cases on LGBTQ rights are the first that the court will hear since the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, who was a decisive vote for gay rights, and the addition of Brett Kavanaugh. From the AP: "The justices will first hear appeals in lawsuits filed by Gerald Lynn Bostock, who claims he lost his job working for Clayton County, Georgia, after he began playing in a gay recreational softball league. He lost his case in federal district court and at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Skydiving instructor Donald Zarda was fired shortly [after] telling a woman he was preparing to take on a dive that he was gay. Zarda, who worked for Altitude Express on New York’s Long Island, said he would sometimes reveal his sexual orientation to allay concerns women might have about being strapped together during a dive. Zarda initially lost his lawsuit, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for him. Zarda has since died."

-- Three presidential electors in Washington state who voted for Colin Powell in 2016 rather than Hillary Clinton and were fined under state law asked the Supreme Court to take up their appeal and decide whether a state can bind an elector to vote for the state’s popular vote winner. From CNN: “If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeal of the so-called ‘faithless electors,’ it could thrust the justices into yet another high-passion political fight in the heat of the 2020 presidential election. … ‘The issue is undeniably important: presidential elections in the Electoral College will be increasingly close, and could literally turn upon whether electors have a constitutionally protected discretion,’ Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer for the so-called ‘faithless electors,’ told the justices in court papers.”

-- The Trump administration told federal agencies to carry out directives aimed at restricting the role of unions in the federal workplace now that a court ban against many of those policies has been lifted. Eric Yoder reports: “Most of the provisions at issue involve topics of importance in workplaces with union bargaining units, including to limit the topics on which bargaining will be held, set time limits on negotiations and significantly reduce ‘official time,’ which is paid time that employees may use for certain union-related purposes, and other accommodations to unions such as free use of office space. The unions still have the option of a further appeal to the Supreme Court, but for the meantime the focus will shift to the bargaining table and then to the [Federal Labor Relations Authority]."

-- Roughly 40 state attorneys general plan to participate in the New York-led antitrust investigation of Facebook. Tony Romm reports: “The heightened interest — confirmed Monday by three people familiar with the matter — comes weeks after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) first announced a wide-ranging probe with seven other states and the District of Columbia to explore whether, in James’s words at the time, Facebook has ‘endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.’ … The people said that New York continues to solicit support from other states, meaning the number could grow before it is formally announced."

-- An inmate secretly recorded the gruesome reality of life inside one of Florida’s notoriously dangerous prisons. Deanna Paul reports: “For four years, [Scott Whitney, a] 34-year-old convicted drug trafficker captured daily life on contraband cameras at the Martin Correctional Institution. He smuggled footage dating back to 2017 out of the prison and titled the documentary ‘Behind Tha Barb Wire.’ The video — given to the Miami Herald — allows the public to see with their own eyes the violence, rampant drug use and appalling conditions inside the prison. … From scene to scene, Whitney’s footage revealed an unkempt and decaying environment and demonstrates a lack of attention by some corrections officers. In one nighttime video narrated by Whitney in a hushed voice, a guard passed by his prison cell carrying a flashlight, yet never glanced inside. He remained oblivious to Whitney, who was openly filming at the time. ‘They don’t check to see if we’re living,’ [Whitney said]."

-- The judge who presided over the case of that Dallas police officer who shot and killed a black man defended the hug she gave the defendant after she was convicted of murder. Reis Thebault reports: “Judge Tammy Kemp … watched last week as the brother of Botham Jean … crossed the room to hug Amber Guyger, the white former police officer … Minutes later, after she dismissed the jury, Kemp hugged members of the Jean family. She then approached Guyger and, eventually, gifted her a Bible and embraced her, too. Both moments went viral, and Kemp’s highly unusual act elicited a split-screen response. … In her first interview since the trial ended, Kemp … defended herself and said she didn’t know why people were upset. Guyger asked her for the hug, she said. Kemp hesitated, then leaned in and put her arms around Guyger, who had just been sentenced to 10 years in prison. ‘Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not,’ Kemp [said.]”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Trump's former ambassador to the U.N. spoke out against the decision to remove troops from Syria without naming the president:

So did Trump's first pick for her replacement:

Many expressed hope that former defense secretary Jim Mattis -- who resigned in protest last December after Trump announced a pullout from Syria -- would speak out about Trump's latest decision:

But Mattis declined to comment:

The attorney for two Giuliani allies sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee typed out in Comic Sans: 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen," evangelical leader Pat Robertson said as he condemned Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. He warned that Turkish aggression in northern Syrian could imperil Christian communities there. (Toluse and Seung Min)

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Promoting her new book on Stephen Colbert's show, Susan Rice called Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria "[expletive] crazy":

Former president Jimmy Carter seems to be doing better after suffering a fall:

And Ellen DeGeneres explained why she was hanging out with former president George W. Bush at a Cowboys game: