THE BIG IDEA: Good morning from Dana Point, Calif., where the Koch political network is wrapping up its summer retreat. A group of 450 mega donors heard from five Republican presidential candidates over the weekend. Other rising stars made the pilgrimage, too: seven sitting governors, six incumbent senators and three House members were spotted at a resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The gathering at the St. Regis had the feel of a lavishly-produced wedding held under tight security, as Matea Gold puts it in our story for today’s newspaper. Out on the grand lawn, waiters circulated with trays of chilled Evian. Only registered attendees were allowed down the drive of the resort; men with earpieces hovered in the front lobby; and donors were required to surrender their mobile phones before going into sessions. Read a recap of the nine newsiest moments from the speeches here. Bigger picture, these are four things I learned—
The Koch network is working hard to rebrand.
Despite the setting, they are determined not to be seen as a political organ for the rich. There was lots of discussion about how to appeal more to “the middle third” of the electorate that might not naturally gravitate toward their ideology. The theme of helping the poor was echoed repeatedly as leaders of the vast network laid out their plans to spend $889 million by the end of 2016 on issue advocacy, higher-education grants and political activity. Criminal justice reform was another major focus of the weekend, including a Sunday session with Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who predicted comprehensive legislation will pass this year because of Democratic support.
Reporters from 10 news organizations were invited inside with the hope that some transparency will make it harder to caricature their efforts. The condition was that we could not name donors without their permission, though several participants agreed to speak on the record.
The network has no clear favorite for 2016.
One theme from conversations at a cocktail reception last night was that donors are willing to write checks to multiple candidates at this stage, and many are not wedded to one person.
Freedom Partners and other affiliated groups are virtually certain to NOT back a single candidate during the GOP nominating contest, even if David or Charles Koch decide to anoint someone. But, notably, only six of the 16 GOP candidates got invitations: Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. Rand Paul is the only one who turned them down.
The biggest donors are obsessed with ending corporate welfare. Rubio has been a champion of ending the Export-Import bank, a top priority, but he steadfastly defends giving special breaks to his donors in the sugar industry. Cruz irked some movement conservatives with his push for federal flood insurance. Walker found himself on the defensive here over his support for a public financing deal to give the Milwaukee Bucks a new stadium.
- Cruz was a crowd favorite. He got the normally mild-mannered doors laughing and cheering with his red meat. But many worry privately whether he can win; a couple mentioned the 2013 shutdown as something that raised questions about his political judgement.
- It was Jeb’s first time at a Koch conference, and he got a warm response. Ironically, the first Koch summit was organized in response to frustration with George W. Bush’s big spending during his first term. But Jeb was funny and spoke the language of business. The network has also matured to include more establishment-linked donors who gravitate toward the Bush name.
- A big chunk of the network’s donor base is from the Midwest, so they see Walker as one of them. And he’s still a rock star because he took on labor unions and beat back the recall. Several people complimented him for becoming a better candidate since the start of the year, when he did not seem ready for prime-time.
- A handful of donors said during interviews that they are torn between Walker and Rubio.
- Some said they like the idea of Fiorina debating Hillary Clinton in a general election and appreciate her background in business.
… But there is widespread agreement that Donald Trump must be stopped.
The businessman kept coming up in hallway conversations and strategy meetings. They don’t see him as serious or conservative, and they’re worried he will hurt the eventual nominee. “People are alarmed that he has some staying power,” one person familiar with donor views told Matea. “But there is an understanding that you don’t want to overdo the response.” Some think he will naturally fizzle; others think more can be done to accelerate the process.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Trump attacked his rivals who went:
I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2015
The Koch network is growing.
Previously, Koch-backed groups have scaled back their activity in the year after an election. But there has been a conscious decision to keep expanding. This weekend’s conference drew a record number of attendees, including 146 first-timers. Network-backed advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity are expanding their efforts to mobilize a national, data-driven ground operation that will help in 2016. A super PAC supported by the Kochs and their allies plans to spend an estimated $100 million this cycle.
Banners like this, featuring quotes from donors, line the halls of the St. Regis:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
— Clinton is reserving $2 million in Iowa and New Hampshire airtime. Hillary’s first TV ads of 2016, highlighting her softer side and not mentioning Republicans, will begin airing tomorrow. The campaign plans to spend about $1 million in each state. Officially it is to get out front of impending GOP super PAC attacks. “But the new 60-second Clinton ads also come at a time when Clinton’s poll numbers have slipped in both states and when more voters say they do not find her trustworthy,” Anne Gearan and Dan Balz report. “Clinton’s weakening poll numbers have caused Democrats to express concerns privately about her effectiveness as a candidate.” Watch the ad here.
— The Greek stock market lost more than a fifth of its value after reopening for the first time in more than a month.
— “Nigerian troops rescued 178 people from Boko Haram in attacks that destroyed several camps of the Islamic extremists in the northeast of the country,” that country’s army announced, per the AP. “Spokesman Col. Tukur Gusau said that 101 of those freed are children, along with 67 women and 10 men.”
GET SMART FAST:
- There were explosions at two different churches in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about a half hour apart yesterday morning. No one was injured, and the Feds are investigating, per the Sun-News.
- “Israeli leaders proposed harsh new measures to curb ‘Jewish terrorism,’ following a wave of extremist violence that left Israeli and Palestinian children dead in knife and arson attacks,” William Booth and Ruth Eglash report from Jerusalem.
- Traveling to Egypt yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry pointedly pressed officials to ease up on repressive measures imposed on the press, charitable organizations and peaceful protesters.
- About 150 attended a pro-Confederate flag rally outside Winston-Salem, North Carolina, over the weekend.
POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:
- Chris Christie was booed “mercilessly” by a crowd of 61,000 at a horse race in New Jersey yesterday as he presented a trophy to American Pharoah, NJ Advance Media reports.
- A top political aide to Joe Biden’s late son Beau, Josh Alcorn, has signed onto the super PAC working to recruit the elder Biden to run for president, the AP reports.
- Christie, John Kasich and Rick Perry are fighting for the last two spots on the debate stage — and after an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published yesterday morning, “Perry is still most in danger of failing to qualify,” Politico’s Steve Shepard calculates.
- Rand Paul telegraphed in Iowa this weekend that he’s going to embrace his roots as a dove during Thursday’s GOP debate.
- Donald Trump‘s campaign announced that a staffer was fired for posting racial slurs on Facebook in 2007, but the staffer denied posting the comments.
- “Trump made good on threats to sue celebrity chef José Andrés, after the Washington-based [restaurateur] backed out of a deal to open the flagship restaurant in Trump’s D.C. luxury hotel, slapping him with a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit,” the Reliable Source reports.
- Hillary released eight years of tax returns late Friday showing that she and Bill paid $43.9 million in federal taxes during that period, with an effective federal tax rate of more than 35 percent for the past two years.
- “State Department investigators concluded this year that Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides, was overpaid by nearly $10,000 because of violations of rules governing vacation and sick leave during her tenure as an official in the department,” Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Carol D. Leonnig report. “The finding — which Abedin has formally contested — emerged publicly Friday after Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent letters to Kerry and others seeking more information about an investigation into possible ‘criminal’ conduct by Abedin concerning her pay.”
- Scott Walker said in Iowa that he still supports amending the Constitution to allow states to ban gay marriage, but that making such a change would be difficult and not the best use of a president’s influence, Jenna Johnson reports.
SUNDAY SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:
— Donald Trump lowered expectations for the first Republican presidential debate. In an interview with ABC, he said he’s “not a debater” and would not be “throwing punches.” To CBS, he said he pays “as little as possible in taxes.”
— John Kasich rebuked John Weaver on Fox News Sunday for tweeting about Donald Trump. The veteran operative, a senior campaign staffer, tweeted last week that preparing for the debate was like a NASCAR driver mentally preparing for a race “knowing one of the drivers will be drunk.” Kasich said Weaver won’t post anything like that again: “That’s not the way we operate.”
— Kasich also defended his support for expanding Medicaid, calling it the “morally” right position during an interview with Fox News.
— Rand Paul declined to say in an interview with CNN whether he supports a growing movement to threaten a government shutdown in order to defund Planned Parenthood.
— Bernie Sanders told ABC that he’s “very fond” of Vice President Biden, who he served with in the Senate, but that “the American people … want to go beyond conventional establishment politics.” More on Biden below.
— Mike Huckabee told CBS that GOP candidates are probably hoping they get “attacked by name” in this week’s debate so that they get more speaking time.
— Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus predicted a quick nomination process for the GOP in an interview with NBC, saying the party would pick its presidential candidate “probably by the end of March or the beginning of April.”
— “Clean-energy debate pitted ambition against legal worries,” by Joby Warrick: “The final shape of the Clean Power Plan [which officially lands today] was hashed out over months of often contentious meetings as administration officials debated how to balance two competing objectives. On one side were advocates who pushed for the deepest possible cuts in U.S. greenhouse-gas pollution to help build momentum for international climate talks this December in Paris. On the other were experienced regulators and lawyers who saw trouble ahead as the proposed rule picked up growing numbers of opponents in Congress and in the utilities industry … [A June Supreme] Court decision was an impetus for a number of changes that softened the rule’s impact on states. In the end, White House officials agreed to extended compliance timelines, giving states an additional two years and increased flexibility to help them meet pollution-cutting targets.”
The AP reports in a piece running in various newspapers this morning that the WINNERS of the rules are environmentalists, procrastinating states and renewable energy. The LOSERS are “your power bill” and energy efficiency.
— “Sen. Graham moved up in Air Force Reserve ranks despite light duties,” by Craig Whitlock: “Of all the candidates vying to become the nation’s next commander in chief, none has spent as much time in the military as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham…But a detailed examination of Graham’s military record — much of it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act — shows that the Air Force afforded him special treatment as a lawmaker, granting him the privileges of rank with few expectations in return. During his first decade in Congress, the Air Force promoted Graham twice even though documents in his military personnel file reveal that he did little or no work. Later, the Pentagon gave the military lawyer a job assignment in the Air Force Reserve that he highlighted in his biography for several years but never performed.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
— ZIGNAL VISUAL: Joe Biden dominated the 2016 conversation on social media this weekend. Here’s what the vice president’s trial balloon looks like in the media echo chamber. You can see that mentions of him on Saturday far eclipsed any day in the previous two weeks and started as Maureen Dowd’s column entered the bloodstream.
Just to provide some perspective, here’s the total mentions of Biden alongside those of Jeb during the last two weeks of July. There were nearly five times as many mentions of the former Florida governor as there were of the sitting vice president, according to our analytics partners at Zignal Labs.
But, over this weekend, there was more media interest in Biden than Bush:
Reality check from former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who tweeted Sunday: “Here’s an uncomfortable reality, 90% of the people being quoted today as ‘Sources Close to Biden,’ know nothing about the VP’s thinking.”
–WHAT EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT:
Pictures of the day:
Jeb Bush and Chris Christie crossed paths on the campaign trail (the same thing happened to Scott Walker and Rick Perry last week):
Shaquille O’Neal took over the White House Instagram account to talk about mentorship and his old friend, Mike Parris:
Bobby Jindal shared a photo of the bacon drawer at the Louisiana governor’s mansion:
Tweets of the day:
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) shared his secret to good lawn care: multiple mowers hitched together. “Pretty simple invention but very cheap and it works. But u need big lawn to maneuver in,” he tweeted:
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama:
Instagrams of the day: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined Lindsey Graham for campaign stops in New Hampshire. “He’s my man,” the two-time winner of the state’s primary told voters:
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) hearkened back to daughter Meghan’s fourth birthday to celebrate her 19th:
Scott Walker also celebrated a child’s birthday — his son Alex’s:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
— Dallas Morning News, “Texas AG Paxton’s Career and more at Stake in securities case,” by Christy Hoppe: The freshman Attorney General “is facing felony indictments on charges of securities fraud and failure to register as a financial agent — the latter an action he has already admitted in a civil proceeding. His silence about the charges and the lack of a public show of defiance indicate Paxton is hunkered down and preparing for a legal battle that could cost him, at least, his political career.”
— The New York Times, “Jeb Bush’s Camp Sees an Upside to Donald Trump’s Surge in the G.O.P.,” by Jonathan Martin: “Donald J. Trump’s surge in the polls has been met with barely concealed delight by Jeb Bush and his supporters. Mr. Trump’s bombastic ways have simultaneously made it all but impossible for those vying to be the alternative to Mr. Bush to emerge, and easier for Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor, to position himself as the serious and thoughtful alternative to a candidate who has upended the early nominating process…’The longer it goes, the greater the panic is going to build,’ said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. ‘And that means you may not have the luxury to flirt with an undeveloped, budding candidate. Trump has set the Republican Party on fire, and if you’re going to put that fire out you don’t have time to waste. You’re going to have to grab the biggest blanket you got and throw it, and right now that’s Jeb.'”
— Los Angeles Times, “Immigrants Object to Growing Use of Ankle Monitors After Detention,” by Molly Hennesse-Fiske: “GPS ankle monitors are becoming standard equipment for immigration officials along the border. In July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, used about 9,300 ankle monitors at a time — 40% more than about six months ago. Officials say the monitors are a cheap and effective way to ensure that immigrants released from detention attend court hearings.The monitors cost an average of $5 a day per person, according to an ICE spokesman, and are part of the agency’s Alternatives to Detention program, which also may require immigrants to report by phone or in person.”
— Wall Street Journal, “Light Bulb Firm Tied to Hastert Flickers,” by Mark Peters and Jacob Gershman: Hastert’s indictment “is being particularly felt at fledgling light-bulb maker PolyBrite International Inc. … west of Chicago, which now faces a future without its high-profile booster…Mr. Hastert’s role in promoting the company, including a trip to Colombia earlier this year to pitch the technology for streetlight projects, seemed a natural fit for a lawmaker who spearheaded legislation to boost alternatives to standard light bulbs. But PolyBrite, which markets its bulbs for a range of uses, has struggled to increase sales, and some shareholders have waited nearly two decades for a return on their investment.”
BUZZING AT THE CAPITOL:
— Politico, “Growing signs Schumer will oppose Iran deal,” by Manu Raju and Burgess Everett: “Schumer is one of about 15 Democratic senators who will decide the fate of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in Congress … As an Israel hawk who will be the next Democratic leader after Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires in January 2017, Schumer is seen as a bellwether among the handful of fence-sitting Democrats who may buck the White House and try to kill the sweeping accord. That leaves Schumer stuck between pro-Israel forces who have long been a key base of support and who are trying to kill the deal — and the White House and its progressive allies who are eager to secure a centerpiece of Obama’s foreign policy legacy and stave off a potential war.”
— The Hill, “Pro-trade lawmakers push for continued effort after setback in trade talks,” by Peter Schroeder: “Pro-trade lawmakers and the business community are urging the Obama administration to keep pushing, after negotiators failed to finalize a massive 12-nation trade pact Friday. A group meeting for negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) came to a standstill Friday, as the partner nations were unable to finalize the terms of the deal. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said ‘significant progress’ had been made, but all parties left the Hawaii meeting empty-handed.”
— Politico, “Planned Parenthood vote squeezes Dem moderates,” by Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn: “A pair of centrist Senate Democrats are weighing their options ahead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s scheduled vote on defunding Planned Parenthood, a politically thorny decision following the release of several controversial videos allegedly showing employees for the women’s health care organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue. On Friday, Planned Parenthood turned up the pressure on moderate Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana, releasing a television ad touting the life-saving benefits of the women’s health organization in his red state.”
— Roll Call, “Driver in barricade crash identified as Pennsylvania man,” by Hannah Hess: “The man who crashed his red sedan Friday morning into a barricade about 150 yards south of the Capitol appears to have a history of criminal activity related to automobiles. Police in Pennsylvania arrested Antonio Pierorazio, 50, in April 2014 following a spate of vandalism at car dealership lots near Reading. In three separate incidents, Pierorazio is alleged to have scratched 21 vehicles, causing more than $29,000 worth of damage. At the time of his arrest, Pierorazio told troopers he was schizophrenic.”
HOT ON THE LEFT
Draft Biden just got real. From MSNBC: “A senior adviser to Joe Biden’s late son Beau is joining the Draft Biden Super PAC to lay the financial groundwork for a potential presidential bid – a key hurdle for the sitting vice president if he hopes to take on Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. Josh Alcorn, finance director and later senior adviser to Beau Biden, raised $1.2 million in six months in 2013 to fund Beau Biden’s potential bid for governor of Delaware. Alcorn moved back to Delaware from Washington, D.C., to work on Beau Biden’s bid after managing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s vast national network of donors as finance director.
HOT ON THE RIGHT
Norman Lear: ‘I’m a total social conservative.’ From the Daily Caller: “Legendary television producer Norman Lear made a surprising revelation during a Saturday press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. — he describes himself as a conservative. The man who’s famous for creating hit shows like ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Sanford and Sons’ said his popular representation as a liberal isn’t entirely accurate. ‘Everybody knows me to be a progressive or a liberal or lefty or whatever,” the 93-year-old Lear said … ‘I think of myself as a bleeding-heart conservative. You will not fuck with my Bill of Rights, my Constitution, my guarantees of political justice for all.’”
— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker will participate in the New Hampshire Union Leader Voters First Forum at St. Anselm College (It will air on C-SPAN.). Christie, Fiorina, Perry and Walker will make additional campaign stops in New Hampshire earlier in the day.
— On the Hill: The Senate will convene at 2 p.m. and resume consideration of the Motion to Proceed to S. 1881 (A bill to prohibit Federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America). At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will have a Cloture vote on the Motion to Proceed.
— At the White House: President Obama will participate in a town hall at the Young African Leaders Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summit. In the afternoon, Obama will deliver remarks on the Clean Power Plan at an event in the East Room. In the evening, the President will participate in an Ambassador Credentialing Ceremony in the Oval Office.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Cheat on Sundays.” — Jeb Bush’s advice at the Koch summit for how to stick with the Paleo diet over the long term. When the crowd laughed, he clarified that he meant you should only cheat on your diet. He also said he gets “grumpy” sometimes by sticking to the diet, and that he enjoys the occasional glass of wine even though they are supposed to be off limits.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— “The heat lingers today and tomorrow but finally starts to back off on Wednesday,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts. “Unfortunately, rain is the price we pay for the cooler weather. A cold front drops south into our area tonight that will deliver us a more comfortable air mass — but this front doesn’t appear to be going anywhere fast and it will continue to influence our weather for the rest of the week.”
— The Nationals were swept by the Mets, losing 5-2 last night in New York.
VIDEO OF THE DAY:
Watch former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) read mean tweets:
Watch three new promo videos for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” including one featuring Mitt Romney.