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At The White House

MULVANEY-ING IN THE BALANCE: President Trump has already worked his way through two chiefs of staff during the past two-and-a-half years — and he might very well be on his way through his third and on to the fourth. 

Several people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private discussions confirmed to The Post that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's string of bad headlines comes as Trump has privately expressed displeasure with Mulvaney's job performance. Allies and aides are considering options for a potential replacement, according to these sources. 

  • “He's just too weak,” one person who speaks frequently with Trump told Power Up of Mulvaney. Trump “wants somebody strong but of course, when they're too strong, it doesn't work … It's a tough job with him,” the source added. 
  • CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, and Gloria Borger first reported on Mulvaney's tenuous standing: “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” even before the House impeachment inquiry began.
  • But serious question: “Why would anyone want that job?” a White House staffer told Power Up.

A no good, very bad week: The role of chief of staff has traditionally been one of the most difficult positions to fill in a White House rife with infighting and a president who doesn't want to be managed.

But things went from bad to cringe worthy last week after Mulvaney's news conference aimed at defending the now-reversed decision to hold the G-7 at his private Doral resort.

  • On Thursday: Mulvaney said plainly Trump stalled aid to Ukraine in a bid to push the Ukrainian government to investigate Democrats, “comments that undercut Trump's central defense in the inquiry,” per our colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey and David Fahrenthold. 
  • “We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded after a journalist said that he was describing a quid pro quo.
  • On Sunday: Mulvaney tried to clean up during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, insisting he didn't say “what people are saying that I said.” 
  • “Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely. But I never said there was a quid pro quo, because there isn't,” Mulvaney claimed to Wallace. “Did I have the perfect news conference? No.”
  • It didn't end there …: When discussing Trump's decision to move the G-7 from the Doral after bipartisan pushback, Mulvaney said that Trump “still considers himself to be in the hospitality business and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world and he wanted to put on the absolute best show …”

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told our colleagues on Friday that “Mulvaney’s standing in the White House has not changed.” But Mulvaney's Sunday showing may have only reinforced Trump's desire to oust his acting chief: 

  • “While several Trump allies said the comment was accurate, they said it was a bad idea for Mulvaney to make it in public,” Toluse, Josh and David report on Mulvaney's “hospitality” remark.
  • And about the quid pro cleanup: “A source familiar w/ the presidents thinking says that after watching media coverage this weekend about [Mulvaney’s] news conference & his attempts to clean it up, the President is increasingly frustrated with what he sees as [Mulvaney's] inability to communicate on impeachment,” per CNN's Dana Bash. 
  • “Mulvaney’s interview did not play well among Trump allies and advisers, with one calling it a 'self-immolation,'" Politico's Nancy Cook reports, referring to the Fox appearance.

Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman, hosted moderate Republican lawmakers at Camp David over the weekend, according to the New York Times's Maggie Haberman, Eric Lipton and Katie Rogers, where members said that the president needed to reverse his decision to host the G-7 at one of his own properties.

  • Important reminder: “Those moderates are among the votes Mr. Trump would need to stick with him during an impeachment,” per Haberman, Lipton and Rogers. 
  • On Friday, our colleagues Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim reported: “In interviews with more than 20 GOP lawmakers and congressional aides in the past 48 hours, many said they were repulsed by Trump’s decision to host an international summit at his own resort.” 
  • Advice from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on ABC's This Week: “I’ve said this to the president as recently as this week. We have to be in friend-making mode. Okay? There’s a time to be combative and there’s a time to be in friend-making mode, vis-a-vis your own party. And right now, when you’re facing impeachment — which by the way, is predetermined, as I’ve said before.”

Global Power

YET ANOTHER REVERSAL?: “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, a senior administration official said,” the New York Times's Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman report

  • Flip-flop-flip?: If Trump approves the decision, “it would mark the second time in 10 months that he has reversed his order to pull out nearly all American troops from the country,” per Schmitt and Haberman, adding, “the decision would also be the potential second major political reversal in a matter of days under pressure from his own party” after the administration pulled out of holding the G-7 at Doral.
  • More on the troops' possible mission: “The main goal would be to prevent the Islamic State from reestablishing all or parts of its religious state, or caliphate, in Syria and neighboring Iraq. A side benefit would be helping the Kurds keep control of oil fields in the east, the official said.”
  • Trump appeared to reference the oil in a bizarre tweet where he called his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “Mark Esperanto.” Trump claimed  on Twitter Esper said the United States has “secured the Oil.” However, "admin officials do not believe Esper has said this anywhere publicly,” according to our colleague Josh Dawsey. 

ON THE GROUND: "Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria withdrew from a flash-point city as part of a cease-fire agreement with Turkey, a spokesman said Sunday, a move that could ease tensions amid U.S.-led efforts to quell a spiraling conflict," our colleagues Erin Cunningham and Steve Hendrix report.

  • The details: "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," our colleagues write. A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they were keeping their end of the deal.
  • An uneasy cease fire: "Sporadic clashes between the SDF and Turkish forces and their proxies in recent days in Ras al-Ayn, on the border with Turkey, threatened to undo the fragile agreement," our colleagues write. "Under the deal, Turkish forces would halt military operations for 120 hours to allow the SDF to retreat."

Meanwhile, Pelosi goes to Jordan and Afghanistan: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led an unannounced congressional visit to Afghanistan and Jordan over the weekend, highlighting her sharp disagreement with [Trump]” over the administration's Syria policy, our colleague Steve Hendrix reports.

  • Pelosi on meeting with King Abdullah II and other senior Jordanian officials: “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,” she said in a statement. 
  • 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,” our colleague writes.
  • One retiring Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), the top GOPer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined Pelosi, along with Rep. Susan Davis (Calif.) and the chairs of the Intelligence (Rep. Adam Schiff) and Foreign Affairs (Rep. Eliot Engel) committees, both of which are involved in the impeachment inquiry.

The Investigations

THE WEEK AHEAD FOR IMPEACHMENT: Nine administration officials ranging from the top U.S. official in Ukraine to the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

Thus far, the White House has blocked lawmakers' attempts to access to documents from senior administration officials. And how they handle the potential testimony of acting OMB director Russel Vought will be something to watch.

The highlight of the week: Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is schedule to be deposed behind closed doors on Tuesday.

More: Taylor would be the last person on the now infamous text chain of senior diplomats to come before lawmakers. In the chain, Taylor seems torepeatedly press other officials, especially E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland, to reply to his questions. 

To refresh your memory:

  • [9/1/19, 12:08:57 PM] Bill Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?

  • [9/1/19, 12:42:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Call me

Here's what else you should be on the look out for, per our colleagues' calendar:

Outside the Beltway

BREXIT MAY DRAG ON PAST OCTOBER: "Lawmakers voted to withhold support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal, scuppering his hope of finalizing Britain’s exit plan at an extraordinary 'Super Saturday' session in Parliament," our colleagues William Booth and Karla Adam reported from London over the weekend where parliament held its first Saturday session in almost four decades.

  • What happened: "Saturday’s successful amendment, from Conservative Party rebel Oliver Letwin, was designed to box in Johnson — so he cannot force Britain to leave the European Union until lawmakers have scrutinized and passed all necessary legislation for an orderly exit," our colleagues write. "According to legislation passed last month, if a deal was not approved by 11 p.m. Oct. 19, Johnson was required to formally seek a three-month extension beyond the Oct. 31 deadline."
  • Johnson vows that it's not over yet: He plans to press on this week.

The People

WHY WEST VIRGINIA IS A CASE STUDY FOR THE OPIOIDS CRISIS: "In 2001, at the dawn of the crisis, West Virginia became the first state to take OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma to court," our colleagues Debbie Cenziper, Emily Corio, Kelly Hooper and Douglas Soule write in their A1 story this morning the latest in The Post's opioids series.

"Eighteen years later, as a federal judge in Ohio prepares to hear a historic series of opioid lawsuits waged by plaintiffs nationwide, West Virginia’s journey provides a case study in how legal battles against drug companies can fail to balance the scales, leaving behind more conflict than resolution in communities still reeling from the crisis."

  • The state appears to have settled for very little: "In West Virginia, which has the highest opioid death rate in the country, officials settled the four cases for a total of $94 million," our colleagues write. "In comparison, Oklahoma settled two opioid-related cases this year, one with Purdue and the other with Teva Pharmaceuticals, for a total of $355 million. In late August, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million. If the decision is upheld, Oklahoma stands to receive nearly $930 million."
  • Why: "Over the course of the state’s lawsuits, politicians accused their rivals of playing into the hands of drug companies. Newspapers raised questions about conflicts of interest. Lawmakers criticized the state’s former attorney general for spending settlement money on pet projects. Auditors found money was mismanaged. State officials fought over how to allocate it."
  • The result: "West Virginia spent $24 million of the settlements on legal fees to private lawyers and more than $20 million on drug treatment facilities. All the while, the state’s child welfare crisis mounted. Nearly 6,900 children are in state care, double the number from a decade ago. Officials estimate that more than 80 percent have been impacted by the drug epidemic."

Viral

ROMNEY LETS LOOSE: The day began with Sen. Mitt Romney's buzzy interview with the Atlantic's McKay Coppins, but a few crumbs in the story led Slate's Ashley Feinberg to the Utah senator's possible secret Twitter account, which contained even more tantalizing details.