John Boehner and Mitch McConnell during the February showdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

THE BIG IDEA:

Congress, returning from summer break today, has a lot to get done in the next three weeks. At the top of its long to-do list: averting a government shutdown and casting the most significant foreign policy vote since the 2002 Iraq war authorization. The legislative agenda is playing out against the backdrop of fresh doubts about the House speaker’s staying power. One conservative member says that a “sword of Damocles” hangs over John Boehner.

Expect intense floor debate on Iran, starting this afternoon in the Senate. Sept. 17 is the deadline for action on an Iran nuclear agreement resolution. Democrats have the votes to allow the nuclear agreement to take effect. The question right now is whether President Obama can win the support of 41 senators, which would allow a filibuster of the planned Republican resolution of disapproval. That would spare him the need to use his veto pen.

Democrats have a hard whip count of 38 votes backing the Iran deal, meaning they only need three of these five: Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, Michigan’s Gary Peters, Oregon’s Ron Wyden and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Manchin complicated things a little when he said he won’t participate in an Iran filibuster, so his support would require another to come onboard; he’s poised to announce his decision later this morning.

A continuing resolution must past by Sept. 30 to keep the government from shutting down. It seems very unlikely there will be any agreement this month to lift the budget limits imposed by sequestration, even though there’s significant bipartisan support to do so. The reason is Republicans want to increase defense spending; Democrats say they’ll only go along if domestic program caps are lifted too, which many conservatives say would unacceptably grow the deficit. And, of course, most streams of fresh revenue are off the table. So we’ll likely wind up with a short-term funding measure that once again kicks the can down the road. Republican sources say it’s unclear how long the extension will last, but it seems most likely that we’ll postpone a bigger spending showdown for later this year.

Planned Parenthood complicates the funding debate and makes real the possibility of an Oct. 1 shutdown. Undercover videos emboldened Ted Cruz and other conservatives to pledge they’ll oppose any spending bill, even something short-term, that includes money for the group. Democrats, including the White House, are adamant that they won’t cave and stress that federal law already prevents Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer money for abortions.

Republican leadership desperately wants to avoid a shutdown. They’re mindful of the lessons from the 2013 fight to defund Obamacare and this past winter’s failed gambit to defund the Homeland Security Department. Back home in Kentucky last week, Mitch McConnell reiterated that Republicans “just don’t have the votes” to defund Planned Parenthood.

That said, the base is angry enough that McConnell and Boehner may still need to engage in some degree of brinkmanship. From the right, the Senate Majority Leader faces 2016 GOP candidates — from Cruz to Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham —  eager to impress social conservatives in the early states. From the center, McConnell must grapple with how to protect incumbent senators up for reelection next year in blue states who would seemingly want to avoid this battle as much as possible, such as Illinois’ Mark Kirk, Ohio’s Rob Portman or New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Keep in mind there will be several days this month on which no legislating gets done: Rosh Hashanah is Sept. 14-15. Yom Kippur is Sept. 23. Pope Francis speaks to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24, a day that will be full of fanfare and seems likely to become politicized.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) grills Julia Pierson, director of the U.S. Secret Service, during a Hearing by the House Oversight Committee on the flaws and errors by the U.S. Secret Service in protecting the White House held at the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday, September 30 , 2014, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Mark Meadows’ bid to unseat House Speaker John Boehner may have gained steam during the recess because of the same anti-establishment forces propelling Donald Trump. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

— Boehner’s future as speaker in doubt. That’s the banner headline on Politico this morning. “Figures in his close-knit circle of allies are starting to privately wonder whether he can survive an all-but-certain floor vote this fall to remain speaker of the House,” Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report. “And, for the first time, many top aides and lawmakers in the House do not believe he will run for another term as House leader in 2017.” The reporters interviewed more than a dozen lawmakers and aides in direct contact with Boehner: “Uniformly they sympathized with his plight … But they also questioned Boehner’s viability in the near- and long-term.”

The success of Donald Trump will embolden the right to challenge leadership more aggressively. “Mark Meadows looks like a much bigger deal than he did in July,” Post reporter Mike DeBonis reports this morning, looking at the unexpected challenge by the North Carolina congressman to Boehner just before recess. It does not currently have the votes to succeed, but the threat of a vote to oust Boehner – in which Democrats could meddle – will hang like a storm cloud over the remaining months of 2015.

Many, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), now refer to the Meadows motion as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over Boehner. “If they haven’t gotten the message that they need to change the direction of our leadership, it could be a very ugly fall for our party,” said Mulvaney. “The people who are for Donald Trump are against John Boehner, and John needs to accept that and figure out what to do about it.”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

Trump in New York last week (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

A new biography of Donald Trump comes out on Sept. 22 and The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro has an advance copy with some choice tidbits. In “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” by former Newsday reporter Michael D’Antonio, Trump, who never served in the military, says attending New York Military Academy gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.” Perhaps the book’s juiciest nuggets come from interviews with The Donald’s ex-wives. Marla Maples remembers “the little boy that still wants attention.” And “Ivana Trump recalled sending [Trump] into a fit of rage by skiing past him on a hill in Aspen, Colo. Mr. Trump stopped, took off his skis and walked off the trail. ‘He could not take it, that I could do something better than he did,’ she said.” D’Antonio spent six hours interviewing the businessman but “the sessions abruptly ended, he writes, after Mr. Trump learned that Mr. D’Antonio had spoken with a longtime Trump enemy.” Trump tells the author he feels his essential temperament hasn’t changed since 1st grade.

Hillary downplayed the email scandal in an interview with the AP in Cedar Rapids, saying it has not really affected her “very much.” Asked why she won’t directly apologize, Clinton said: “What I did was allowed. It was allowed by the State Department.” She added, “It is not a criminal investigation, it is a security review.” Asked for an example of how she differs with Sanders on policy, Clinton demurred. “I’m very much looking forward to the debates that we’re going to have and we’ll have plenty of time to draw those contrasts,” she said. Asked when she might start, Clinton said: “I don’t have any timing.”

A refugee from Syria prays after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy Monday. He crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Greece sent troops and police reinforcements to Lesbos after renewed clashes between police and migrants, while Syrian refugees on the island were targeted with Molotov cocktail attacks. More than 230,000 people have landed on Greek shores this year. (AFP Photo)

GET SMART FAST:

  1. Britain and France pledged to take in tens of thousands more asylum seekers. Expecting 800,000 refugees by year’s end, Germany said it will hire 3,000 more police officers and spend another $6.7 billion to address the crisis, including emergency housing for 150,000 people. Pressure is mounting on Germany to scale back its generous policies welcoming refugees, with fears growing across Europe that this is enticing more asylum seekers to leave the Middle East. Denmark, for instance, ran an ad in Lebanese newspapers suggesting that migrants should not try to come there.
  2. The White House said it is actively examining its 700,000 person annual refugee policy in light of the European migrant crisis but offered no specifics or details.
  3. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier held prisoner for years by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan (until he was traded), has been charged with both desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy,” a much rarer offense that carries a potential life sentence. (AP)
  4. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron suffered “an embarrassing defeat in parliament over how the referendum he has called on leaving the European Union will be conducted,” AFP reports from London. It’s his first defeat in the Commons since his May reelection.
  5. France will begin surveillance flights over Syria with an eye toward air strikes against ISIS targets in the country.
  6. Italy’s top criminal court explained that it threw out the murder convictions of Amanda Knox earlier this year because of “glaring errors” and a hit-and-miss hunt for a scapegoat to satisfy public opinion, NBC reports.
  7. Near Britain’s Stonehenge, researchers say they have found an even larger Neolithic monument, with 90 enormous stone monoliths hidden in the ground. The formation is believed to be 4,500 years old. (BuzzFeed)
  8. Scientists say it’s significant that Iran agreed to stop producing plutonium as part of the nuclear deal. In producing nuclear bombs, plutonium “packs a far greater punch than uranium.” (NYT)
  9. Serena and Venus Williams will face off against each other in the U.S. open today. “Serena is 15-11 against her older sister, including a 6-1 mark over their last seven matches,” Sports Illustrated notes.

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Mike Huckabee will today hold an #I’mwithKim rally outside of the Kentucky jail where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is being held in contempt for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
  2. Marco Rubio visited the Charleston church where nine were shot to death earlier this year. He didn’t announce in advance but, last night during a town hall meeting, praised the “extraordinary forgiveness” shown by some relatives of the slain at the first court appearance of accused shooter Dylann Roof. (AP)
  3. Hillary Clinton will propose a federal matching program for small donors to dilute the influence of big money in the political process. She wants to lower the federal contribution limit for presidential and congressional donors who participate in the program, though she hasn’t said to what amount. (Ann Gearan and Matea Gold)
  4. Americans for Tax Reform will launch a digital campaign against Hillary today for backing a 25 percent sales tax on guns during a 1993 Senate hearing.
  5. In Pittsburgh for Labor Day, Joe Biden got plenty of support from union workers. When someone told him he should run for president, he replied: “You’ve gotta talk to my wife about that.” (Karoun Demirjian)
  6. Chris Sununu, the son of the former governor and brother of the ex-senator, announced he’ll run  New Hampshire governor. He’s currently serving his third term as executive councilor, representing one-fifth of the Granite State.
  7. A lawyer who works for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Carey Gabay, was “not doing well” after being shot in the head while attending a West Indian American Day celebration in Brooklyn. The governor suggested Gabay was a bystander and not a target in the shooting.

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Conservative dissent is brewing inside the Vatican,” by Anthony Faiola: Wisconsin-born Cardinal Raymond Burke’s “words belied a growing sense of alarm among strict conservatives, exposing what is fast emerging as a culture war over Francis’s papacy and the powerful hierarchy that governs the Roman Catholic Church…as he upends church convention, Francis also is grappling with a conservative backlash to the liberal momentum building inside the church. In more than a dozen interviews, including with seven senior church officials, insiders say the change has left the hierarchy more polarized over the direction of the church than at any point since the great papal reformers of the 1960s.”

Campaigns start too early? Well, not Jim Gilmore’s,” by David Fahrenthold: “Jim Gilmore is running for president. He’s just not campaigningfor president. That’s what sets him apart…Meet the hermit candidate of 2015. In every election, there are hopeless cases. In this year’s huge Republican field, there are more than usual…But strangest of them all might be Gilmore — a man desperately in need of voters, but in no apparent hurry to meet them. Right now, Gilmore is so far behind that CNN might not even let him debate the other long shots.” CNN says candidates need 1 percent to break into the kid’s table debate but the ex-Virginia governor calls that unfair: “I’m just going to tell you straight up, okay? I think that these standards of poll numbers are ridiculous,” he said. “This early in the race, he said, polls don’t capture which candidates are truly substantive: “It’s about flamboyance and name identification.”

— “In Sanders vs. Clinton, New Hampshire replays past splits,” by Dan Balz: “The political headlines out of New Hampshire this weekend bear an eerie resemblance to those of September 1999: an underdog senator overtaking a prohibitive front-runner in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. In that case it was then-Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.) surging ahead of then-Vice President Al Gore. Today it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) making life difficult for former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sixteen years ago, Bradley could not hold his lead. He lost to Gore in Iowa and then narrowly in New Hampshire, which washed away his hopes of winning the nomination. The challenge for Sanders as summer turns to fall is to try to avoid the same fate in 2016…Bradley moved ahead of Gore at almost exactly this same time in 1999.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: Joe Biden getting way more attention from pundits on TV than the grassroots on Twitter. Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs flag a persisting discrepancy between how much the vice president’s trial balloon is getting covered by the mainstream media vis-a-vis generating buzz among real people. While Bernie Sanders has caught fire on social medial (the #FeelTheBern hashtag has broken through in popular culture), Biden is still a Twitter afterthought. Here is a chart of total mentions over the Labor Day weekend for all the 2016 Democrats:

bidentwittersept8

Here’s how the race looked on TV over the same three days:

bidentvsept8

This is the word cloud showing what the people who were talking about Biden had to say:

bidenwordcloudsept8

–Pictures of the day:

Hugh Hewitt, who questioned Trump’s knowledge of foreign policy last Thursday, visited D.C. and the Old Post Office Building over the weekend, which Trump’s family is redeveloping into a hotel. “My old office building when I was [general counsel] of [the National Endowment for the Humanities] in [the] Reagan administration,” he tweeted:

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) wished Beyonce a happy birthday by posting this grainy photograph:

–Tweets of the day:

Hillary Clinton praised President Obama’s executive order to extend paid sick leave:

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) snapped a selfie on Air Force One after President Obama’s trip to Boston:

In honor of Labor Day, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) remembered the seven years that he worked at Pizza Hut. “Working at @PizzaHut taught me the value of hard work and dedication, and helped put me in the position to be where I am today,” he tweeted:

–Instagrams of the day:

President Obama eyed the oysters at Union Oyster House in Boston (see the four bags of food he took with him here):

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), thinking about her 2018 reelect, undertook her third annual pig roast with family. “Pork rules! It’s delicious. Crispy skin!” she wrote:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— New York Times, “Apple and other tech companies tangle with U.S. over access to data,” by Matt Apuzzo, David E. Sanger and Michael S. Schmidt: “In an investigation involving guns and drugs, the Justice Department obtained a court order this summer demanding that Apple turn over, in real time, text messages between suspects using iPhones. Apple’s response: Its iMessage system was encrypted and the company could not comply…The conflicts with Apple and Microsoft reflect heightened corporate resistance, in the post-Edward J. Snowden era, by American technology companies intent on demonstrating that they are trying to protect customer information…Some Justice and F.B.I. officials have been frustrated that the White House has not moved more quickly or been more outspoken in the public relations fight that the tech companies appear to be winning.”

— Politico, “GOP to attack climate pact at home and abroad,” by Andrews Restuccia: “Top Republican lawmakers are planning a wide-ranging offensive — including outreach to foreign officials by McConnell’s office — to undermine Obama’s hopes of reaching an international climate change agreement that would cement his environmental legacy…A top policy aide to McConnell (R-Ky.) has had conversations with a select group of representatives from foreign embassies to make it clear that Republicans intend to fight Obama’s climate agenda at every turn, sources familiar with the efforts say. Sources say the aide, Neil Chatterjee, hasn’t tried to persuade other countries to oppose a climate deal, though he is informing them about the GOP’s options for undercutting it.”

New York Times, “Chosen by Mississippi Democrats, shy trucker is at a crossroad,” by Campbell Robertson: “Only three people who had ever met this man, Robert Gray, knew that he was running in the primary for governor of Mississippi…Mr. Gray beat two other candidates, who unlike him spent money and campaigned. Democratic Party officials were stunned. The news media was stunned…The party that was once the alpha and omega of Southern politics is now having to explain that its headline candidate in Mississippi was elected on the following grounds: ‘He was the first name on the ballot, and he was a man,’ said Jacqueline Amos, the executive field director for the state Democratic Party.” The other two Democratic candidates were women and the Republican incumbent is expected to prevail.

HOT ON THE LEFT

Paul Krugman: Trump is ‘right’ on economic issues. From Talking Points Memo: The New York Times columnist wrote in a Monday column that, “although he believes Trump’s positions on immigration are inexcusable, he thinks Trump has the best economic policy ideas in the GOP presidential field. Krugman argued that Jeb Bush should be attacking Trump’s racist comments rather than going after Trump’s remarks on taxes.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

‘Hillary’ replaces ‘Jesus’ in campaign rally song. From the American Mirror: “Move over Jesus, Hillary Clinton is running for president. An all-women’s choir called ‘Voices From the Heart’ performed at Clinton’s Portsmouth, New Hampshire, rally Saturday … There, they serenaded the former Secretary of State with an old gospel tune, ‘Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus).’ Except in this version, from the self-dubbed ‘woman’s alternative chorus,’ ‘Jesus’ is replaced with ‘Hillary.’”

DAYBOOK:

–What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Jeb Bush appears on the premiere episode of CBS’s “Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Ben Carson speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Mike Huckabee holds a rally in support of Kim Davis in Grayson, Ky. Lindsey Graham speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In New Hampshire, John Kasich campaigns in Portsmouth, Concord and Brookline; Chris Christie attends private meetings and a house party in Rye hosted by former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

–On the Hill: The House meets at 2 p.m. for legislative business. Members votes on five suspension bills at 6:30 p.m. The Senate votes on a judicial nomination at 5:30 p.m.

–At the White House: President Obama welcomes the NCAA Champion Duke Blue Devils to the White House. Vice President Biden drops by the White House Apprenticeship Summit. Obama and Biden attend a meeting with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Let’s get some joy going,” Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire when asked by reporters whether she considers herself a joyful candidate. After a rocky summer, Clinton intends to show “humor and heart” on the campaign trail.

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

“Just like last year, we’re getting a decent last-minute surge of summertime heat deeper into the first part of September. We’ll be aiming for more 90s today and tomorrow with moderate to high humidity levels to keep the air conditioning working hard. Then we’ll watch a big cold front approach later tomorrow and Thursday with the potential for widespread showers and storms that we haven’t seen much lately,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts.

— The Nationals suffered a “crushing” loss to the New York Mets, 8-5. The game was painful to watch as a fan. A grand slam in the fourth inning from Wilson Ramos highlighted the team’s real potential, but then the game just slipped away on a sweaty afternoon, primarily because of tepid pitching. And this series is just so crucial. The Nats now trail the Mets by five gaves in the NL East. There are two games left in this series and 25 left in the season.

— Loudoun County Supervisor Shawn M. Williams, who resigned this weekend after being arrested on assault charges, apologized and admitted to an alcohol problem: “It has become painfully clear I need help with my alcohol abuse and I am getting professional help,” Williams said in a Facebook statement.

In D.C., seven people were shot and wounded within an hour late last night as gunfire punctuated an already deadly holiday weekend. Additionally, a street robbery and another attempted robbery in Upper Northwest is stirring fresh concern about the spike in violent crime in the city.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

What food does Hillary Clinton crave most? Find out in this video from MSNBC:

Watch the latest magic trick from Rep. Mark Pocan’s (D-Wis.) YouTube series, “Magic Mondays:”

Watch a women’s choir serenade Hillary Clinton in Portsmouth, N.H. (our “Hot on the Right” item):