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The Daily 202: Reversals on G-7 and potentially Syria show Trump buckles in the face of enough Republican pressure

Current and former national security officials criticized President Trump's hasty withdrawal from Syria on Oct. 20, saying Russia, Iran and ISIS will benefit. (Video: The Washington Post)

with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump backs down when confronted with criticism from congressional Republicans if it’s loud enough and he fears he could lose support from his base.

National Rifle Association leaders have told Trump that he’d lose the support of gun owners if he threw his weight behind universal background checks. This helps explain why he’s backed down after calling for stricter background checks in the immediate aftermath of multiple mass shootings. This weekend, Trump nixed plans to host the G-7 summit at his Doral golf club not because it gave Democrats fodder for an article of impeachment but because key Republicans told him they couldn’t defend it. The president appears to be repeating this pattern with Syria.

These are all illustrations that conservative lawmakers have more leverage over the White House than they seem to think, especially with impeachment votes looming. “I’ve said this to the president as recently as this week: We have to be in friend-making mode,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said Sunday on ABC. “There’s a time to be combative, and there’s a time to be in friend-making mode vis-a-vis your own party.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that the U.S. troops being withdrawn from Syria are being relocated across the border into western Iraq, where they’ll have two missions. “One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”

This is quite at odds with Trump’s public rhetoric about ending the “endless wars.” Around the time Esper said this, the president tweeted: “Bringing soldiers home!”

A few hours later, the New York Times reported that “Trump is leaning in favor of a new Pentagon plan to keep a small contingent of American troops in eastern Syria, perhaps numbering about 200, to combat the Islamic State and block the advance of Syrian government and Russian forces into the region’s coveted oil fields.”

The Wall Street Journal matched that reporting, adding: “Military officials said the Pentagon supports a plan to leave as many as 300 special operations forces to carry out that mission. The idea also has support in the State Department.”

We’ve seen this movie before. Ten months ago, in December, Trump abruptly announced the complete, immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria – prompting Jim Mattis to resign in protest as secretary of defense – only to back off in order to quell public outcry from hawkish allies on Capitol Hill.

Just as he did last winter, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been a major force behind moving Trump away from what he initially announced – chastising him initially and then praising him for changing course.

In February, a dozen senators signed a letter drafted by Graham that said troops should remain in Syria. “I agree 100%,” Trump wrote in black Sharpie on the letter.

This time, the public outcry from Republicans on Capitol Hill has been even louder. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called withdrawing from Syria “a grave strategic mistake” in an op-ed for The Post on Friday.

Graham said a conversation he had with Trump over the weekend gave him fresh optimism that Trump can broker a solution where the security of the Kurds is guaranteed. Appearing on Fox, the senator said Trump is prepared to use U.S. air power over a demilitarized zone occupied by international forces and that an American presence in the air over Syria will ensure Islamic State fighters do not “break out.”

The administration remains eager to demonstrate that Trump is keeping his promises. Perhaps that’s why the commander of American forces in Afghanistan announced at a news conference today with Esper that there are 2,000 fewer U.S. troops in that country than a year ago. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the drawdown occurred “unbeknownst to the public” as troops who finished their deployments were not replaced.

-- The G-7 announcement is also instructive: Trump blamed his reversal on Democrats and the media, but behind closed doors, several aides and allies said that Trump changed his mind in response to pressure and frustration from his own party. “In a round of phone calls with conservative allies this weekend, Trump was told Republicans are struggling to defend him on so many fronts, according to an administration official,” per Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey and David Fahrenthold: “The president was told repeatedly his G-7 decision made it more difficult to keep Senate Republicans in a unified front against impeachment proceedings … Democrats, meanwhile, continued to blast Trump for awarding the massive government contract to his own company and said they might add the alleged ‘emoluments’ violation to the articles of impeachment they are preparing.”

Here are key moments from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's remarks to reporters about Ukraine on Oct. 17. (Video: The Washington Post)

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made matters worse when, while trying to defend the G-7 decision on Thursday, he ended up confessing that Trump held up nearly $400 million in aid to push Ukraine to investigate Democrats: “When a journalist followed up, saying that Mulvaney seemed to be describing a quid pro quo, Mulvaney said ‘we do that all the time with foreign policy.’ … Mulvaney expressed regret about how he handled the two issues [on ‘Fox News Sunday’]. … Mulvaney’s acknowledgment of a mistake — he also said Sunday that the news conference had been less than ‘perfect’ — comes as Trump has privately expressed displeasure with his acting chief’s job performance and as some White House officials are seeking to replace him, according to several people familiar with the matter … Several officials said Trump’s aides and allies are considering options for a new chief of staff.”

Mulvaney may have further damaged his standing with Trump by saying during his “Fox News Sunday” interview that the president “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business”: “While several Trump allies said the comment was accurate, they said it was a bad idea for Mulvaney to make it in public. Other top Republicans, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have begun to distance themselves from Mulvaney … In the month since Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry, Republicans have struggled to offer a coherent response. With no White House war room, GOP lawmakers have seized on process-related responses. …

Privately, and occasionally in public, several Republicans said they were not prepared to defend the president from charges that he was engaged in self-dealing on the G-7 site selection. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) said Friday that Trump should avoid even the appearance of impropriety that comes with holding a global summit at his private property. ‘I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff,’ he said. Rooney, who announced his retirement the day after his comments, also said he was considering backing Trump’s impeachment over his handling of Ukraine policy.”

-- “The president first heard the criticism of his choice of the Doral watching TV, where even some Fox News personalities were disapproving,” per the Times. “By Saturday afternoon, his concerns had deepened when he put in a call to Camp David, where Mr. Mulvaney was hosting moderate congressional Republicans for a discussion of issues facing them, including impeachment, and was told the consensus was he should reverse himself. Those moderates are among the votes Mr. Trump would need to stick with him during an impeachment. ‘I didn't see it being a big negative, but it certainly wasn't a positive,' said Representative Peter T. King of New York, one of those at Camp David. He said the group told Mr. Trump's aides that sticking with the decision 'would be a distraction.’”

-- Even though aides have cautioned him not to do so, Trump can’t stop bragging to foreign leaders about the resorts he owns. From Politico: “Trump was sitting beside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office in March when he fondly recalled his luxury golf resort on Ireland’s west coast. He gushed about his two tony Scottish resorts months later while standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron in France. … Trump constantly brags about his properties around the globe when he speaks with foreign leaders in person or by phone, even more than the public instances witnessed out in the open, according to three people familiar with Trump’s conversations with foreign officials. The remarks are permeating every membrane of his presidency so much that they’ve left aides and allies mastering verbal jiu-jitsu to defend his unprecedented approach to fusing personal business interests with his position in high office.”

-- Even before the impeachment inquiry began, Mulvaney was already on thin ice. “Top aides including Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner were in the process of reaching out to at least two potential replacements for the top West Wing job,” per CNN. “These previously unreported efforts did not come to fruition, but underscore the weakness of Mulvaney's position even before his headline-generating performance in the briefing room last week. One person familiar with Mulvaney's thinking said the search came as Mulvaney himself was looking for an exit after 10 months in the role, though people close to Mulvaney have denied he wanted to leave.”

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-- Two Ohio counties settled with four drug companies on the eve of a landmark federal trial over responsibility for the opioid epidemic, in a $260 million deal that emerged just an hour before opening arguments were set to begin Monday. Lenny Bernstein, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz report:The deal is with the ‘Big Three’ distributors McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Israeli-based manufacturer of generic opioids. The agreement does not include a fifth defendant, Walgreens, the retail drugstore chain that was sued over its own distribution operation. Walgreens’ case was postponed. A sixth defendant, Henry Schein Medical, announced Monday morning that it had reached a deal worth $1.25 million with the two counties.

In a statement from the bench Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster, who has been urging a settlement of all the case for nearly two years, said talks to do that would continue. He said the deal announced Monday was reached sometime around midnight or 1 a.m. Going to trial could have cost the drug companies more than $8 billion if Cuyahoga and Summit counties were awarded all the money they were seeking. It also buys the companies time to try to fashion a more wide-ranging settlement with the 2,400 cities, counties, Native American tribes and others that have sued the drug industry. Their cases have been consolidated…”


-- The Justice Department is distancing itself from Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. From the Times: The DOJ declared “that department officials would not have met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss one of his clients had they known that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating two of his associates. Several weeks ago, Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and lawyers from the division’s Fraud Section met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss a bribery case in which he and other attorneys were representing the defendants. … In distancing itself from Mr. Giuliani and trying to draw bright lines around how the Justice Department will and will not engage with him, the department has also undercut the perception that Mr. Giuliani can influence some of Washington’s most important lawyers and decision makers. That could make it harder for Mr. Giuliani to represent clients who are under Justice Department scrutiny in the future.”

­-- The impeachment investigation continues opens this week with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, who will testify Tuesday.

-- The DOJ confirmed that Donald Trump Jr. and former White House counsel Don McGahn were never called before a grand jury that heard witnesses as part of special counsel Bob Mueller's probe. From Politico: “The disclosure was set in motion by Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., who ruled last week that [DOJ] attorneys had deleted too much information from a court filing last month in an ongoing legal dispute over Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to share with House lawmakers grand jury-related information in Mueller’s final report. Howell’s opinion, issued Thursday, suggested it was perplexing why Trump Jr. and McGahn were not subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.”

-- Trump claims he doesn’t know the two Giuliani associates who were arrested at Dulles Airport. But a new 2014 picture shows him with one of the men, Lev Parnas, at a fashion show hosted by Ivanka Trump. From CNN: “The fashion show was for the luxury fashion brand Carolina Herrera on March 7 and was also attended by Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. and Ivanka's husband Jared … Donald Trump spoke at the event, according to photos and a video posted on YouTube. … The photo of Trump and Parnas smiling side-by-side was posted on Facebook on March 8, 2014, by user Shawn Jaros, who indicated in subsequent posts that he was a business associate of Parnas. Jaros declined to comment on the photo, as did John Dowd, a lawyer for Parnas.”

-- Parnas’s private Instagram account appears to show VIP access to Trump and a close relationship with Giuliani, per the WSJ.  

-- CNN’s Jake Tapper called out the Trump administration and top Republicans for not appearing on his show. From Mediaite: “As Tapper cycled through other criticisms of Trump while remarking that the impeachment inquiry remains in play, he eventually switched gears and said that ‘for the fourth week in a row, the White House and top House and Senate Republicans have refused to come on this newscast to answer our questions about all of these important developments.’ ‘We hope they will come to explain all of this to the American people,’ Tapper said. ‘Because especially at a time when the White House has ended the practice of regular press briefings, they are shirking this important part of their duty to the American public to explain what they are doing with our money and in our name.’”

2020 WATCH:

-- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told the Atlantic’s McKay Coppins he’s been reviewing the Federalist Papers and brushing up on parliamentary procedure in preparation for a potential Senate impeachment trial: “Here, in the twilight of his career, he seems to sense—in a way that eludes many of his colleagues—that he’ll be remembered for what he does in this combustible moment. ‘I do think people will view this as an inflection point in American history,’ Romney tells me. ‘I don’t look at myself as a being a historical figure,’ he hastens to add, ‘but I do think these are critical times.’ ...

"Amid all the tumult, Romney has come to terms with the fact that there will be little progress on his legislative to-do list for the foreseeable future. … Nor is Romney especially well positioned to launch a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, despite endless fantasizing by pundits. (He has said he’s not planning to run again.) ... But Romney is looking beyond the next year, and beyond the president’s base, as he tries to lay the groundwork for a post-Trump Republican Party. … After all, Romney said, ‘the president will not be the president forever.’”

-- As the impeachment inquiry heads into its second month, voters in New York’s 11th Congressional District on Staten Island try to wade through facts and disinformation to take a position on whether the president should stay. Stephanie McCrummen reports: “There is confusion about the details, especially as those details become ever more intricate. There is also an evolving sense of what is at stake — not so much among Democrats, whose reactions have changed little, moving from ‘that mofo needs to go’ in the first week to ‘they should nail his ass’ in the fourth, but among Trump supporters, whose opinions matter to Republican lawmakers who could ultimately decide the president’s fate. ‘It’s all nonsense,’ one of those supporters said in the first days of the inquiry. ‘I’m watching it very closely,’ another said last week.”

-- The Trump reelection campaign is flooding the web with more anti-impeachment ads, which have been raking in cash. From the Times: “The onslaught overwhelmed the limited Democratic response. Mr. Biden’s campaign put up the stiffest resistance: It demanded Facebook take down the ad, only to be rebuffed. It then proceeded with plans to slash its online advertising budget in favor of more television ads. … While the Trump campaign has put its digital operation firmly at the center of the president’s re-election effort, Democrats are struggling to internalize the lessons of the 2016 race and adapt to a political landscape shaped by social media.”

-- New polling and third-quarter fundraising numbers show that Republican senators – and their majority -- might be in hot water. From the National Journal: “Four Republican senators were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the third fundraising quarter, with three of them representing battleground states (Iowa, Maine, and Arizona) that Republicans will need to win to maintain power. And in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis raised only $1.2 million, an underwhelming sum for a senator facing a credible primary threat and an expensive general election ahead ... In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst failed even to hit the million-dollar mark in fundraising, a financial baseline of sorts for senators running for reelection. She was outraised by a Democratic outsider, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who raised $1.1 million despite facing a contested Democratic primary and refusing donations from corporate PACs.”

-- South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surged within striking distance of former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in Iowa, according to a new Suffolk University/USA Today poll: “The poll, taken Wednesday through Friday, put Biden at 18%, Warren at 17% and Buttigieg at 13% among 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers. Those standings reflect significant changes since the Suffolk/USA TODAY poll taken in Iowa at the end of June, when Biden led Warren by double digits and Buttigieg trailed at a distant 6%. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who was then in second place, … has plummeted 13 percentage points and is now in a three-way tie for sixth. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders earned 9% support, the same number as in the June poll. ‘Iowa is unquestionably up for grabs,’ said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Political Research Center. Buttigieg ‘has found a lane and is accelerating toward the front of the pack, surpassing Bernie Sanders. All of this is happening while the number of undecided voters continues to grow as Democratic caucusgoers pause to reevaluate the changing field.’”

-- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been privately recommending several potential hires to Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. From Bloomberg: “Earlier this year, Zuckerberg sent multiple emails to Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg’s campaign manager, with names of individuals that he might consider hiring, campaign spokesman Chris Meagher confirmed. Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s wife, also sent multiple emails to Schmuhl with staff recommendations. Ultimately, two of the people recommended were hired. The emails between Zuckerberg and Buttigieg have come to light as Zuckerberg faces unrelenting attacks from politicians from both parties over such issues as misinformation, privacy, election meddling and bias. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee on Facebook’s impact on the financial services and housing sectors. … A spokesman for the Zuckerberg-Chan family told Bloomberg News that the employees asked the tech mogul and Chan to recommend them.” The two hires were Eric Mayefsky and Nina Wornhoff, who joined the campaign as senior digital analytics adviser and organizing data manager, respectively. A spokesman for the Zuckerbergs said they haven’t decided who to support for president.

-- Warren said she will release a plan for how she'd pay for her Medicare-for-all proposal in the “next few weeks," as she continues to deflect questions about whether middle-class taxes would rise. Annie Linskey and David Weigel report: “The lag in unveiling a payment plan speaks to the difficult position Warren is in: She can either offer some kind of large tax above her wealth tax on the very rich or be pegged as evasive about a major element of her platform. Both carry political risks. ‘The cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets health care is Medicare-for-all,’ the senator from Massachusetts said at the end of a town hall in Indianola, attended by about 475 people. ‘What I see, though, is, we need to talk about costs.’ Over ‘the next few weeks,’ Warren added, she will offer a proposal for ‘specifically how we pay for it.’”

-- While Warren has threatened to end corporate lobbying as we know it, her Senate office hasn't been hostile to lobbyists. From Politico: “Six lobbyists who interacted with her office said they’d never had trouble getting meetings. Several of them said that while they’d be reluctant to bring corporate clients to meet with [Bernie Sanders], they’d have no qualms about having them sit down with Warren. ‘I don’t think she has anything against lobbyists,’ said Camden Fine, the former head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, who worked closely with Warren for years. ‘It’s not like she hates lobbyists. That’s just not how she operates.’While Warren is far from a reliable vote for corporate America’s priorities, she’s refrained from being as antagonistic as she could be, according to lobbyists ... Lobbyists for one Massachusetts-based company met with Warren’s staff in 2015 when they feared she might put a hold on a bill the company wanted to pass, according to one of the lobbyists ... Warren voted against the bill but didn’t put a hold on it, allowing it to pass. Warren’s office dismissed the notion that she’s even a little bit accommodating toward K Street.”

-- After a rally for Sanders that drew an estimated 26,000 people in Queens on Saturday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said her endorsement was an “authentic decision.” She told CBS there were no "political calculations" behind the decision. Saturday "was Sanders’s first campaign appearance since his Oct. 1 heart attack, after which he had two stents inserted into a blocked artery in a Las Vegas hospital. He took the stage in Queens clad in black to loud cheers and the strains of AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black,’” per Bloomberg News.

-- Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is being “groomed” by the Russians to play the role of spoiler in the 2020 election, a claim on which Gabbard spent the weekend raising money. The Atlantic has a smart take: Clinton’s “decision to inject herself into the 2020 election was a mistake. It was exactly the kind of clumsy, self-absorbed move that, despite Clinton’s lifetime in the public eye, revealed a total misunderstanding of how politics work. Far from exposing or thwarting Gabbard, as Clinton loyalists want to believe, the former secretary of state overshot the mark by making an accusation without proof. Gabbard will now dismiss real concerns about her as just so much conspiracy theorizing. Clinton is right that there is plenty to worry about with Gabbard. Indeed, debate moderators and other Democratic candidates should have never let her escape the first debates without direct questions about her unnatural fluency with both Syrian and Russian talking points. Gabbard even emulates the stiff, unnatural cadences of Russian rhetoric, as when she referred to Clinton on Twitter as the ‘queen of the warmongers’—the Russians used to refer to the close Clinton ally Madeleine Albright as ‘Madam War.’”

-- Buttigieg dismissed claims that Gabbard is a “Russian asset,” telling CNN that “statements like that ought to be backed by evidence.” “I consider her to be a competitor," he said. "I respect her service."


-- Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Afghanistan and Jordan over the weekend. Steve Hendrix reports: “In Afghanistan, the delegation met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, [Esper], top U.S. military commanders and diplomats, senior Afghan government officials and civil society leaders. The delegation also traveled to Camp Morehead to meet with Resolute Support Mission troops. ... After meeting with King Abdullah II and senior Jordanian officials Saturday night, Pelosi said: ‘With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia.’”

-- Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria withdrew from a flashpoint city as part of the temporary ceasefire agreement with Turkey, which could ease tensions in the conflict. Erin Cunningham and Steve Hendrix report: “Esper, in Kabul on Sunday, said the cease-fire in northeastern Syria ‘generally seems to be holding,’ despite reports of ‘intermittent fire.’ ... Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to resume a military offensive in northeastern Syria if Kurdish fighters didn’t retreat from designated border areas by Tuesday evening, the deadline in the cease-fire pact. A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they were keeping their end of the deal.”

-- The commander of Kurdish military forces says ethnic cleaning is currently underway by Turkey. From the New Yorker: “General Mazloum Kobani Abdi became America’s closest ally in Syria in 2014, after a stunning blitz by ISIS sucked up a territory the size of Indiana from Syria and Iraq for its pseudo-caliphate. Mazloum was courted, on the same day, by the leader of the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a senior U.S. military officer. Both countries wanted an ally to confront the Sunni jihadi movement threatening their disparate agendas in the Middle East. Mazloum led the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G.—a militia then made up of scrappy Kurdish fighters and armed with vintage weapons—that was holding its own against ISIS. The Iranians offered more. Mazloum opted for the United States. … ‘There is no ceasefire. The Turks are still attacking on the ground and by air strikes. We have casualties—fifty martyred, just since the ceasefire was announced, and around a hundred injured civilians and soldiers,’ [he said] … ‘We don’t want to accept the Turks occupying the entire Kurdish area and moving Kurdish people from their lands. What the Turks are doing now is ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish.’”

-- A month before invading Kurdish areas in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he couldn’t accept Western restrictions preventing him from amassing a nuclear arsenal. From the Times: “‘Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,’ he told a meeting of his governing party in September. But the West insists 'we can’t have them,' he said. ‘This, I cannot accept.’ With Turkey now in open confrontation with its NATO allies, having gambled and won a bet that it could conduct a military incursion into Syria and get away with it, Mr. Erdogan’s threat takes on new meaning. If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing its Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?”

-- A Russian cyberattack unit is masquerading as Iranian hackers, the U.K. warned. From the Financial Times: “A Russian cyber espionage unit has hacked Iranian hackers to lead attacks in more than 35 countries, a joint UK and US investigation has revealed. The so-called Turla group, which has been linked with Russian intelligence, allegedly hijacked the tools of Oilrig, a group widely linked to the Iranian government, according to a two-year probe by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre in collaboration with the US’ National Security Agency."

-- U.S. ambassador to Beijing Terry Branstad defended new American rules to keep track of Chinese officials inside the U.S. by saying China has been doing far worse and for far longer. He said American diplomats are often thwarted when trying to meet with students, local officials and the general public in China. Gerry Shih reports: “Branstad on Monday defended the U.S. change as ‘modest’ compared with what he called a systematic Chinese effort to stymie U.S. public diplomacy. In one recent instance, an event at a university in southern China was abruptly canceled after administrators said students were ‘too shy’ to meet U.S. officials, Branstad said. During a trip in western China, Branstad tried to visit a coffee shop to talk to locals but Chinese officials arrived first and warned people not to speak. ‘There are so many ways that our efforts to have exchanges end up getting blocked,’ Branstad said. ‘There have been hundreds, thousands of them over the period of decades.’”

-- Canadian voters are heading to the polls today to decide whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets a second term after an unusually cynical race dominated by attacks on candidates' backgrounds and characters. Amanda Coletta explains what you need to know about what some have dubbed the Seinfeld Election (because it’s “been about nothing”).

-- India and Pakistan continued their dispute over Kashmir, killing nine civilians and soldiers during a weekend where they traded fire. Joanna Slater reports: “It was one of the deadliest sequences this year at the Line of Control, the highly militarized frontier where soldiers from the two countries regularly trade small-arms and artillery fire. The barrage came amid increased tension between the nuclear-armed rivals. … Five civilians and one soldier were killed on Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control, a spokesman for the Pakistani army said Sunday. Two Indian soldiers and one civilian were also killed, a spokesman for the Indian Defense Ministry said. India and Pakistan claimed to have killed larger numbers of the other country’s soldiers in the incident, but such assertions could not be verified independently. Gen. Bipin Rawat of the Indian Army told reporters that the exchange began when militants attempted to cross into Indian-controlled territory. Pakistan rejected the accusation and said India’s firing was ‘indiscriminate and unprovoked.’”

-- In Chile, protests continue despite the government retreating on a subway fare hike that prompted violent demonstrations. From the AP: “Officials in the Santiago region said three people died in fires at two looted supermarkets early Sunday — among 60 Walmart-owned outlets that have been vandalized, and the company said many stores did not open during the day. Five more people later were found dead in the basement of a burned warehouse and were not employees, authorities said. At least two airlines cancelled or rescheduled flights into the capital, affecting more than 1,400 passengers Sunday and Monday. President Sebastián Piñera, facing the worst crisis of his second term as head of the South American country, announced Saturday night that he was cancelling a subway fare hike imposed two weeks ago. The fare boost had led to major protests that included rioting that caused millions of dollars in damage to burned buses and vandalized subway stops, office buildings and stores.”

-- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with having Brexit at the end of the month, despite being forced to send a letter to the E.U. asking for a delay. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “As it did on Super Saturday, the British government will try, once again, to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ on Monday in Parliament on the withdrawal agreement that Johnson successfully negotiated with his European counterparts last week. Britain is scheduled to leave the E.U. on Oct. 31, in just 10 days time. But the terms of its departure — or indeed, when or even if it departs — remain in a deep fog following Johnson’s humiliating defeat in the House of Commons over the weekend. On Saturday, Parliament voted to withhold support for Johnson’s deal, triggering a law that demanded that Johnson write a letter to the E.U. asking for a Brexit delay until Jan. 31.”

-- Jim Mattis’s former chief speechwriter, Guy Snodgrass, had the chance to sit in in Trump’s first Pentagon briefing, during which came signs of the first big rift between Trump and Mattis: the president’s demand for a military parade. From Politico: “Mattis … had hoped the [first] briefing would educate Trump on the United States’ longstanding commitment to the rest of the world. That is not at all what happened. Instead, the president burst out in the middle of the meeting. ‘I just returned from France,’ he said. ‘Did you see President Macron’s handshake?’ he asked no one in particular. ‘He wouldn’t let go. He just kept holding on. I spent two hours at Bastille Day. Very impressive.’ A pause. ‘I want a ‘Victory Day.’ Just like Veterans Day. The Fourth of July is too hot,’ he said, apparently out of nowhere. ‘I want vehicles and tanks on Main Street. On Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. We need spirit! We should blow everybody away with this parade. The French had an amazing parade on Bastille Day with tanks and everything. Why can’t we do that?’”


And while Romney didn't tweet much from his secret account, he did like some tweets. Some are notable:

This is not the first time Romney has used a pseudonym. As an undergraduate at Stanford, Romney pulled off one of the all-time greatest capers in university history against arch-rival Cal:

Sunday was the anniversary of the Saturday Night Massacre:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was criticized for his attacks on a retired civil servant who worked for presidents of both parties and is alarmed about Trump's Syria policy: 

Hillary Clinton is trying out a satirical approach to her criticisms of Trump:

An Atlantic writer compared Mulvaney's Fox hit to a scene from "Austin Powers":

Warren responded to AOC endorsing Sanders over her:

A Bloomberg economist noted a pattern in soybean trade following Trump's tariff war: 

A Pennsylvania congresswoman hung out with other new members:

A Post reporter spotted a supporter of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in Iowa:

And Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat from Iowa, announced her engagement:


"I hope those officers who go to Capitol Hill will speak truthfully [and] that they'll speak completely," Mike Pompeo said of the State Department officials who have decided to testify despite White House resistance. (ABC's "This Week")



More from Pompeo's ABC interview:

Demonstrators tried to block the U.S. Army from leaving Northern Syria:

From a former CIA official who is now a fellow at George Mason University's National Security Institute:

A tornado and several violent thunderstorms tore through the Dallas area last night, destroying homes and businesses, lifting debris at least three miles in the air and leaving tens of thousands of people without power:

A tornado struck the Dallas area on Oct. 20, destroying homes and businesses and leaving thousands of people without power. (Video: The Washington Post)

Demolition crews used controlled explosions on Sunday to topple damaged construction cranes at the site of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans:

Demolition crews used controlled explosions on Oct. 20 to topple damaged construction cranes at the site of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans. (Video: Reuters)

“Baby Shark” is a children’s song sensation with more than 3.5 billion YouTube hits. It’s also the rallying cry for the Washington Nationals as they head to the World Series, starting tomorrow in Houston:

“Baby Shark” is a children’s song sensation with more than 3.5 billion YouTube hits. It’s also the rallying cry for the Washington Nationals in 2019. (Video: The Washington Post)

And here's the remix of "Baby Shark" that all Nats fans were waiting for: