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On The Hill
THE ANGER ELECTION, PART II: Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez called us from the road in New Mexico to rebut the White House midterm assessment that Republicans will continue to control all the levers of power after Election Day.
But Democrats admit that recapturing the Senate majority would require a lucky night. Perez believes the road to victory runs through Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi. "The challenge is undeniable…it’s an uneven playing field," Perez told us. He's referring to the 10 Democrats defending seats in states Trump won in 2016. Only one Republican incumbent -- Nevada's Dean Heller -- started the cycle vulnerable.
Reality Check: We compared Perez's roadmap to FiveThirtyEight's current Senate forecast:
- Arizona: Rated "Lean D," with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema projected to win 50.1 percent of the vote.
- Nevada: Rated "Toss Up," with Democrat Jacky Rosen slightly behind and projected to receive 47.9 percent of the vote.
- Tennessee: Rated "Likely R," with Democrat Phil Bredesen projected to lose with 45.7 percent of the vote.
- Texas: Also rated "Likely R," as Democrat Beto O'Rourke is projected to come up short, pulling in 46.6 percent of the vote.
- Mississippi: Rated "Likely R," but Democrat Mike Espy is expected to make it to the post-election runoff.
It's the issues, stupid: "The issue terrain that is being fought over in the final three weeks is extraordinarily favorable to Democrats -- the most significant issue being health care," DSCC Communications Director David Bergstein told us. "The issues that are being decided in this election are entirely unfavorable and massive liabilities for Republican Senate candidates."
- For example: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg he would have to take a hard look at cutting entitlement programs in order to pay for the soaring deficit. (Shortly thereafter, the president said he's "not touching" Social Security in an AP interview)
A term Perez won’t be using? "blue wave," explaining: "Waves are an act of God. When you have a tornado, that’s an act of God. People win seats only when we are organizing everywhere. A wave implies that you don’t have to do anything."
Perez scoffed at White House claims that Trump isn't aiming to incite Republican rage. Trump's "currency is to stoke anger," Perez said, calling Trump's overarching midterm message one of "zero-sum politics."
Self-reflection after Trump's 2016 win: “We were all too non-present in rural America and that was a 'shame on us moment.'"
More from Perez:
- The health-care debate: Perez dubbed "laughable" the recent claim by GOP lawmakers they are trying to protect people with preexisting conditions when the vast majority voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
- 2020 debate prep: With a slew of Democrats prepping to run for president, Perez wouldn't commit to an idea gaining traction among some of them: randomizing the debate participants in each encounter.
Counter-programming: House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said her party could "find common ground" with Trump if Democrats take charge on an infrastructure package, for instance. But she signaled there was "nothing" she would trade for Trump's border wall, calling the wall a "manhood issue" for POTUS.
At the White House
THE CHANGING KHASHOGGI NARRATIVE: The Post's David Ignatius published a piece last night revealing a conversation last weekend between presidential adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about disappeared Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In it, Ignatius said Kushner “urged MBS last weekend to organize an investigation that could identify the culprit responsible for Khashoggi’s death,” two sources told Ignatius, a friend of Khashoggi's.
That's not exactly in line with what Trump and administration officials have been publicly saying, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was in Saudi Arabia yesterday and is now in Turkey, where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
- In fact, Trump last night compared the Saudis to Brett Kavanaugh in an AP interview, both of whom he suggested were victims of rumors from their accusers. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
- “I don't want to talk about any of the facts. [The Saudis] didn't want to, either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way,” Pompeo said on the tarmac in Riyadh, adding the Saudis would make “no exceptions to whom they would hold accountable.”
- A step back: Trump seems eager to contain, not confront, fallout from journalist's disappearance, The Post's Anne Gearan writes. “Trump has not threatened any consequences for Saudi Arabia. He has already publicly rejected punitive sanctions or cancellations of military sales to Saudi Arabia, and he has not discussed other potential consequences for the relationship,” reports Gearan.
Pompeo's statement repeats the Saudi leadership's denial of any knowledge of what took place in the Istanbul consulate. Diplomatic sources expect a mutual understanding was made that someone will take the fall for Khashoggi's death, but US won't let this rupture the relationship pic.twitter.com/3CI7HdQ5sh— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) October 16, 2018
A NO PUBLIC EVENTS KIND OF TUESDAY: Trump conducted two interviews yesterday with Fox News and the AP and he tweeted a lot. Here a few other notable bits from the AP interview:
- On Michael Cohen testifying that Trump directed him to commit a crime: “Totally false. It’s totally false . . . Oh, absolutely he’s lying. And Michael Cohen was a PR person who did small legal work, very small legal work. And what he did was very sad, when you look."
- On climate change: “I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture."
- On Jeff Sessions: “I could fire him whenever I want to fire him, but I haven't said that I was going to...But if you ask me: Am I thrilled? No, I am not thrilled."
“HORSEFACE": Remember Trump's crude tweet attack on Stormy Daniels during executive time yesterday? Do read Ashley Parker and Elise Viebeck on Trump's attacks on female adversaries ranging from Heidi Cruz to Carly Fiorina, just to name a few.
THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATION:
- More grisly detail: The Wall Street Journal reports that Turkish officials shared evidence with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that includes an audio recording that documents Khashoggi's murder. “Mr. Khashoggi wasn't interrogated, the people said. Instead he was beaten up, drugged, and killed by Saudi operatives who had flown in from Riyadh earlier in the day . . . The voice of a man Turkish authorities identified as Saudi forensic specialist Salah Al Tabiqi can be heard recommending other people present to listen to some music while he dismembered Mr. Khashoggi's body, the people said.”
- Suspects had ties to MBS: Using “facial recognition, publicly available records, social media profiles, a database of Saudi cellphone numbers, Saudi news reports, leaked Saudi government documents,” the New York Times confirmed that “at least nine out of the 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.” One of the suspects traveled “extensively” with MBS.
WHO'S DRIVING?: Reports the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. (MBS's brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman) left Washington permanently highlight a glaring gap in American foreign policy: at the height of this crisis, neither the Americans nor the Saudis have top diplomats in each other’s countries.
- Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who tracks turnover in the Trump administration for the Brookings Institution, told us these vacancies are “disastrous for our international standing.”
- Wait, what?: Oddly, there are confirmed ambassadors in Timor-Leste, Djibouti and other far-flung countries.
- The Post and the Partnership for Public Service teamed up to track administration staffing and found a higher-than-average rate of vacancies, especially in top diplomatic jobs. There are no nominees for nearly 20 percent of key ambassadorships.
- Here’s why that matters, from the Partnership's CEO Max Stier: “Leaders matter. The absence of leaders means you have organizations that can’t change effectively and react to crises as quickly … you want to have your best team on the field.”
Outside the Beltway
Context, please: Every week we'll try to provide some historical context on the blink-and-you-missed it news cycle. Yesterday, we talked to Craig Unger, author of “House of Bush, House of Saud,” who reminds us that Saudi Arabia has ingratiated itself with an American first family before, leveraging close business and personal ties with the Bushes to avoid answering hard questions after the 9/11 attacks.
- Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a member of the House of Saud and a former ambassador to the U.S., was so friendly with the Bush family — especially Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — that he earned the nickname “Bandar Bush.”
- Bandar was one of the few people allowed to slip into the Bush compound in Maine and cook the family dinner as a surprise guest as “effectively a member of the family,” Unger said.
- From the book: Unger describes one of Bandar’s post-9/11 visits to Bush 43's White House. The longtime friends retreated to the Truman balcony, a space usually reserved for celebration. “But Bandar and President Bush had nothing to celebrate. Thousands of Americans were dead. They had been killed in a terrorist operation largely run by the Saudis. Nonetheless, the two men each lit up a Cohiba and began to discuss how they would work together in the war on terror.”
- Unger sees parallels in Jared Kushner’s close ties to the Saudi royal family, forcing a key question about Trump’s government: “Is it working for American interests or is it working to preserve the financial interests of Jared Kushner?”
In the Media
- What political reporters are reading: Nate Silver will make one firm prediction about the midterms. Most journalists won’t want to hear it by Margaret Sullivan via The Post
- Attention, parents: Miseducation: Is there racial inequality at your school? by Lena V. Groeger, Annie Waldman and David Eads via ProPublica
- Know what you're watching: The Growth of Sinclair's Conservative Media Empire by Sheelah Kolhatkar via The New Yorker.
- Take a road trip: 24 hours in America: Documenting moments across the country, large and small, quiet and indelible by the staff of The New York Times
- What football fans are reading: Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc. by the spotlight team at the Boston Globe
- Feel good: Shoe-shiner who raised $202K for UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh dies at 76 by Natasha Lindstrom of Trib Live
This is the most honest and devastating obituary you will ever read about a person who died from opioid addiction: https://t.co/P1SskBNLc6— Lauren Ober (@OberandOut) October 16, 2018
THE DEVASTATING REALITY OF THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC WAS LAID BARE IN MADELYN LINSENMEIR'S OBITUARY: The 30 year-old passed away on Oct. 7th from a drug overdose.
- It's worth your time to read the whole obit: "It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction. To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay. In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her 'til the end. She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift."