It's Friday. We made it. What a long, strange year it's been this week. (Evergreen, we know). Have a great weekend and we'll see you on Monday. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The Campaign

JUST HOW FAR CAN GUN CONTROL GO AT THE BALLOT BOX?: “Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Beto O'Rourke vowed on his home turf at the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against a fellow American anymore.”

The answer, received with thundering applause inside the room, was not what you might have expected from a former Texas lawmaker. But the Democrat has retooled his campaign (again), with a laser focus on guns in the wake of the shooting in El Paso, which is part of his former House district.

To this point, O'Rourke has been mired far into the second-tier of Democratic candidates. But his audacious gun buyback plan — which goes far further than his rivals — is a test of how far the rising issue of gun control will go at the ballot box and illustrates how the issue is changing the debate.

  • “Some politicians follow public opinion, some shape it. On guns tonight, Beto going all out to shape it,” former Florida Congressman David Jolly tweeted. 

Legislative action on guns has been stalled for years — and continues to flounder as Trump waivers on expanding background checks — but outside activists and young people are coalescing around what appears to be an increasingly powerful issue in elections. 

Democrats differed on just how far they would go to change gun laws in the wake of a summer of mass shootings:

  • O'Rourke has proposed a mandatory buyback program, among other measures, and was also the first candidate to endorse the March for Our Lives gun-control program, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America.” 
  • Vice President Joe Biden defended his previous assertion that it's unconstitutional to eliminate assault weapons. “Let's be constitutional. We've got a Constitution,” he argued. 
  • Sen. Kamala D. Harris. who has called for an executive order to implement background checks, chided Biden for his constitutional naysaying: “Well, I mean, I would just say, hey, Joe, instead of saying, no, we can't, let's say yes, we can.”
  • “And the idea that we would wait for this Congress, which has just done nothing, to act, is just — it is overlooking the fact that every day in America, our babies are going to school to have drills, elementary, middle and high school students, where they are learning about how they have to hide in a closet or crouch in a corner if there is a mass shooter roaming the hallways of their school,” Harris added. 
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she thinks “we should start with a voluntary buyback program.” 
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was pressed on how realistic his support for gun licensing is in a world where Democrats can't even pass universal background checks. He replied the issue of gun violence is “a central issue to me,” and that he wants to lead a movement on the issue.
  • “We must awaken a more courageous empathy in this country so that we stand together and fight together and overwhelm those Republicans who are not even representing their constituency. Because the majority of Americans, the majority of gun-owners agree with me, not the corporate gun lobby. It is time for a movement on this issue, and I will lead it,” Booker added. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) discussed rolling back the Senate filibuster to get “anything done on guns”: “I was in the United States Senate when 54 senators said let's do background checks, let's get rid of assault weapons, and with 54 senators, it failed because of the filibuster,” she said onstage. “Until we attack the systemic problems, we can't get gun reform in this country.”
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doesn't support eliminating the filibuster but embraces “passing major legislation, the gun legislation people here are talking about.” 

REMINDER: O'Rourke's plan is certainly pretty radical — at least compared to the current status quo — and risky politically. However, the latest polls do indicate that among Democrats especially, there's a chasm between public opinion and Congress on guns. 

  • Per The Post- ABC News poll that came out earlier this week, overwhelming majorities of Democrats support implementing “red flag” laws to disarm dangerous people, expanding background checks for all potential gun buyers, banning high-capacity ammunition clips with more than 10 bullets, banning the sale of assault weapons, and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons for payment. 

BETO-MANIA FOR A NIGHT:  O'Rourke's poised and passionate debate served as a reminder of the candidate that many Democrats first became enamored with during his failed 2018 Senate bid against Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). 

In the wake of the El Paso shooting, O'Rourke's raw and expletive-laden campaign has focused on curbing gun violence. 

  • “What do you think?” the Democratic presidential candidate told reporters after he was asked how Trump could make things better after the El Paso shooting. “You know the s--- that he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press: What the f---?”

  • To kick off the debate, O'Rourke again called Trump out for his rhetoric: "A racism and violence that had long been a part of America was welcomed out into the open and directed to my hometown of El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed, dozens more grievously injured by a man carrying a weapon he should never have been able to buy in the first place, inspired to kill by our president," O'Rourke said.

  • His "Hell yes" moment was followed by a viral riff on Warren's "got a plan for that" phrase: 

O'Rourke also last night called on credit card companies and banks "to address gun violence by refusing to provide services for some firearms sales," reports the New York Times's Jacey Fortin. 

  • "In a statement, Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign said he wanted the financial institutions to stop providing services for sales of assault-style weapons — or any firearms that are sold without background checks — and to stop doing business with manufacturers that produce assault-style weapons," per Fortin. 

  • “However inadvertent or deliberate, credit card companies and banks profit off of those who terrorize our communities,” O’Rourke said in an email to voters. “And we know that in this moment, no one can sit on the sidelines. Everyone has a responsibility to do their part.”

Death threats: After the debate, Briscoe Cain, a Republican Texas state legislator replied to O'Rourke's assault weapons buyback program on Twitter: 

  •  “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” Cain replied. 

Beto's campaign reportedly referred the tweet to the FBI; and Twitter took down Cain's tweet for violating its policy.


1. Castro attacks Biden's memory: He went there. The question of whether Joe Biden has lost a step is whispered loudly and not so loudly by rivals. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro confronted it head on when he questioned Biden’s memory during an exchange on health care.

  • A number of Democrats said the attack was out of bounds: Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel said “it was a disqualifier how he handled it.” Fellow presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar said it was akin to “something like Donald Trump would tweet.” And former White House senior adviser David Axelrod said “it was personal to the point of being off putting.”
  • Booker backs him though: Castro did receive get support from Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), who said Castro had some “legitimate concerns” and “there’s a lot of people concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling.” 
  • Not personal: After the debate, Castro played down any notion he was talking about anything bigger than health care. “It was not intended as a personal attack or affront,” Castro told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

2. O, the love is in the air: They might not be singing “Come back, Barack,” but the candidates onstage clearly took note of concerns that the last debate was too harsh on President Obama’s legacy by heaping praise on his tenure.

3. Buttigieg talks about his coming out: Asked to describe the most significant professional setback he's faced, here's what the mayor said:

4. Yang promises free money: Entrepreneur Andrew Yang vowed to make history on Thursday night. He did not disappoint. In his opening statement, he promised to use campaign money to pay 10 adults $1,000 a month for the next year --- a test of his core universal basic income policy. However, there are questions on whether his sweepstakes-esque move would be legal.

5. The dad jokes and one-liners: Yes, we canned. Starting out with Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropping “Houston, we have a problem” in her intro and continuing throughout the night a number of candidates tried their best to be the next comedian-in-chief. Some might want to stick to their day jobs.

  • Harris compares Trump to the Wizard: “But the bottom line is this: Donald Trump, in office on trade policy, you know, he reminds me of that guy in 'The Wizard of Oz,' when you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude?”
  • … And she also trotted out Obama’s old slogan: “I would just say: Hey Joe, instead of saying no, we can't, let's say yes, we can.”
  • Booker makes a bald joke: “I'm the only person on this stage that finds Trudeau's hair very menacing, but they are not a national security threat.”
  • And also has some hard feelings about penguins: “And here's a bit of advice to everybody. If you're going to have a spectacular failure, have a documentary team there to capture it, because it made for an Oscar-nominated documentary called “Street Fight.” But then, unfortunately, another setback. It lost in the Oscars to a movie called ‘March of the Dagnab Penguins,’ for crying out loud.”
At The White House

MEANWHILE IN BALTIMORE: Trump kicked off the House Republicans policy retreat just as the debate got started in the same city he trashed as a “rodent infested mess.” 

Trump was fixated on his usual targets: Hillary Clinton, the media and the Democratic presidential candidates throughout a 70-minute speech. My colleagues Rachael Bade and Paul Kane were there.

  • “For the first half-hour, Trump’s speech slowly moved along at the pace of a State of the Union address. He ticked through what he considered GOP accomplishments — slashing thousands of rules, including the decision Thursday to scrap the Obama-era regulation on the wetlands and tributaries that feed into the nation’s largest rivers — and through tax cuts,” they report. 
  • “Trump became more animated later on, going off script to rant about Democrats wanting to take away plastic straws and what he called their outrageous demands for how to recycle lightbulbs.”
  • Trump notably did not mention gun control, instead saying that “Republicans will always uphold fundamental rights to keep and bear arms.” 

The freshly elected North Carolina congressman, Rep.-elect Dan Bishop, was also preseent and provided his assessment of the electorate to the group: 

  • “What I heard more than anything else from voters as I passed them in the district is that what the social Democratic Party is articulating not only stuns them, it frightens them — not only on the subject of being consumed with the idea of destroying this president . . . but also their policy proposals, which are outlandish," per Rachael and P.K. 
The Investigations

DEMS MOVE FORWARD ON IMPEACHMENT: Or did they? "Bristling over the “I″ word, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short Thursday of saying the House is ready to launch an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, even as Judiciary Committee Democrats set the stage to do just that," the Associated Press's Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro report. "By approving ground rules for impeachment hearings Thursday, the Judiciary Committee sparked the questions anew."

  • What the Judiciary Committee is doing: " ... Chairman Jerrold Nadler says there’s no uncertainty about what his committee is doing: It’s an impeachment investigation, no matter how you want to phrase it," Jalonick and Mascaro write. "As the committee voted Thursday to approve guidelines for impeachment hearings, Nadler promised an 'aggressive' fall schedule, starting with next week’s public session with Trump aide Corey Lewandowski."
  • This key quote from Nadler: “Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation," he said at the beginning of the hearing. "There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature. But let me clear up any remaining doubt: The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat. And we are doing so.”
  • One voice could change the debate: "Rep. John Lewis has called Donald Trump an illegitimate leader and boycotted his inauguration, but he's remained conspicuously silent on demands for the president's impeachment," Politico's Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle report. "Despite his silence, advocates for Trump's removal see the civil rights icon — a man Democrats describe as the conscience of their caucus — as a singularly powerful potential ally, one of the last publicly undecided lawmakers who could change the calculus inside the Democratic caucus. And Lewis himself says an announcement on impeachment is almost at hand."

The Takeaway: This week has provided the strongest examples yet of how we are in the midst Schrödinger's impeachment. The question now is just how long congressional Democrats can go without opening the box. 

In the Media