Welcome to the Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1959, Nikita Khruschev became the first Soviet head of state to visit the United States. Khruschev arrived at what was then called Andrews Air Force Base, home to Air Force One. President Dwight D. Eisenhower hosted him for a state dinner at the White House not quite two weeks later. 

During his stay, Khruschev visited New York, California and Iowa, but a planned stop at Disneyland fell apart when U.S. authorities declared they could not guarantee his safety. The premier expressed anger and asked whether the happiest place on earth was suffering from a cholera outbreak or had been taken over by gangsters.

The big idea

Gen. Milley's Sept. 28 appearance before the Senate is suddenly must-see TV

It was always going to be interesting, but Gen. Mark A. Milley’s planned testimony at a Sept. 28 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan has suddenly become must-see TV.

That’s because the country’s top uniformed military officer plays a central role in “Peril,” a new chronicle of former president Donald Trump’s chaotic final days in office by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and political reporter Robert Costa.

And while we may see Milley take questions in other settings, the hearing will most likely be the first time members of Congress get to grill him under oath, notably on the unusual steps the book says he took to avoid a potential military conflict with China.

In a statement from his office, Milley denied acting improperly, confirming he reached out to China in October and January but saying the calls were not secret and only meant to convey “reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.” He did not detail the content of the talks.

“All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency,” his spokesman, Col. David Butler, said.

The discussion of nuclear weapons, Butler said, “was to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long-established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject.”

Republicans see blood in the water

Trump has already accused Milley of “TREASON.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants him “immediately” fired. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants him court-martialed. Republican Josh Mandel, running for Senate from Ohio, echoed the former president’s accusation. Other people who shrugged off (or even actively encouraged) the Jan. 6 insurrection to overturn the 2020 election will surely come out against Milley.

Excerpts of the Woodward/Costa book in The Washington Post and CNN make the Trump administration’s operations in January 2021 sound like a bewildering blend of King Lear, The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, Dr. Strangelove and Veep.

They also largely back up prior reporting about Milley’s fears, actions, and attitude toward Trump, whether in “I Alone Can Fix It” by The Post’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, or this account from The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser, or “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender

It’s unclear whether any of it will dent Trump’s political clout, at least among Republicans, or water down prospects he might run again in 2024, even as he continues to spread the falsehood he was cheated out of a second term.

From the book: Trump’s handpicked CIA director thought he might be planning “a right-wing coup.” Vice President Mike Pence, trying to please his volatile boss, vainly hunted for constitutional ways to overturn President Biden’s election (there weren’t any).

And Milley, who agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that Trump was “crazy,” took the astonishing step of promising Beijing a heads-up if the soon-to-be former commander in chief ordered strikes against China. He also convened top military brass to ensure Trump couldn’t “go rogue” with nuclear weapons.

The book says Milley placed two phone calls on Oct. 30, 2020 and Jan. 8, 2021 to his Chinese counterpart his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, my colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reported yesterday.

“ ‘General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,’ Milley told him. ‘We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.’ ”

“In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. ‘General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.’”

At CNN, Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, and Elizabeth Stuart report on Milley’s fears Trump could “go rogue” and a secret Jan. 8 meeting at which he instructed top military officials not to take orders for military action including nuclear strikes unless he was involved.

"No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley told the officers, according to the book.

(There is no legal requirement the joint chiefs chairman be involved in the process of launching nuclear weapons as long as the order is lawful but in theory the president is supposed to discuss a potential launch with top national security aides before proceeding. The joint chiefs chairman doesn’t get to veto the commander in chief, however.)

Isaac highlighted the authors’ recounting of how “[i]n discussions about Iran’s nuclear program, Trump declined to rule out striking the country, at times even displaying curiosity about the prospect, according to the book. [CIA director Gina] Haspel was so alarmed after a meeting in November that she called Milley to say, ‘This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?’”

Dan Quayle makes a surprise cameo

As for Pence, the former vice president hunted for a way to refuse to certify Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, the book recounts. He phoned former vice president Dan Quayle, a fellow Indiana Republican.

“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him. Pence ultimately agreed, leading to a Jan. 5 standoff with Trump in the Oval Office.

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this,” Trump replied, according to the book, “You’ve betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”

Back in July, Milley publicly defended himself when the other accounts surfaced including some in which he compared Trump to Hitler.

“The military did not, and will not, and should not ever get involved in domestic politics,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that top military leaders observed “the tradition of civilian control of the military,” and insisted “we did that without fail.”

“We did that then, we do that now, and we’ll do that forever,” Milley said.

What's happening now

Gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and other survivors are testifying about Larry Nassar's abuse before the Senate. “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,'” Biles said, Devlin Barrett reports

The FBI fired Michael Langeman, the agent who failed to properly investigate Nassar, Barrett reports

Stunning Statistic: One in 500 Americans have died of covid-19, Dan Keating and Akilah Johnson report in a special Post investigation. Native American, Black and Hispanic Americans were the groups hardest hit.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Both Koreas test-fired ballistic missiles hours apart from each other this morning, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports, the latest sign of the intensifying arms race on the peninsula. The North Korean missiles are believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese officials said.
  • The government helped Tesla conquer the electric car market. But now that the Biden administration said it will help Detroit. Elon Musk isn’t happy. Biden’s ambitious goal to make half of new passenger vehicle sales electric, plug-in hybrid or fuel-cell electric vehicles by 2030 might have signaled the end of Tesla’s honeymoon period with the government, when the company was bolstered by federal tax incentives, Faiz Siddiqui reports. The blows continued when Democrats unveiled a proposal that would allow extra consumer incentives to buy a new electric vehicle provided it was union made in the United States. Tesla is the only major American automaker that is not unionized. In recent days, Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has complained about the moves.

… and beyond

  • Democrats are losing Texas Latinos. “The party assumes people of color will turn the state blue. But most Tejanos consider themselves white. And more are voting Republican,” writes Texas Monthly’s Jack Herrera.
  • “Anti-filibuster advocates are preparing a last stand to gut the Senate’s supermajority requirement by spotlighting a sweeping Democratic election reform bill. Their chances aren’t looking good,” Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report. “I’m not talking about that at all," Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said of potential Senate rules changes. He said he’s focused on finding 10 Republican votes for a new elections compromise he helped shape.
  • Biden will meet with Manchin this evening and has already met with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), two key votes on Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget package, per our colleague Seung Min Kim.

The California recall

Takeaways from the California recall

Trump’s false voter fraud claims found new life in California’s recall election 

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) prevailed handily, avoiding the fate of former California governor Gray Davis (D), who was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a similar 2003 vote. However, before the results were official, conservative radio host Larry Elder  the top Republican in the race echoed Trump and said the results should not be trusted. There’s no evidence for these claims, “but their arrival in the country’s largest blue state offered proof of their currency within the Republican Party,” Elise Viebeck and Tom Hamburger report.
  • The concession: Elder did concede last night, telling supporters to “stay tuned” and promising he may have lost the battle “but we are going to win the war,” the AP’s Michael Blood reports.
  • The future: Newsom will run for reelection next year, and there’s speculation Elder will challenge him again, the Los Angeles Times’s James Rainey writes. “I have now become a political force here in California in general and particularly within the Republican party. And I’m not going to leave the stage,” Elder said.
  • Lessons learned: Newsom’s anti-Trump recall strategy “offers Republicans a warning sign for 2022,” writes the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin. “The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office, at least when the strategy is executed with unrelenting discipline, an avalanche of money and an opponent who plays to type.”
  • How: The New York Times reported the pandemic was the No. 1 issue to many voters, helping Newsom.
  • Recall the recall? “In a state famous for its acts of direct democracy, whether banning affirmative action or legalizing cannabis, detractors of this year’s special election say the recall process is democracy gone off the rails, a distraction from crises that require the government’s attention, and a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Times’s Thomas Fuller, Maggie Astor and Conor Dougherty report. “
  • And now, the price tag: The cost of the recall “could be” more than $300 million, the secretary of state said, per ABC 7.
  • The bottom line: “There’s no upside for the GOP from the California recall,” writes Philip Bump. “Actually, that’s not true. One upside for Republicans is that very few places are California.”
  • Let’s now turn our attention toward Ohio: Dennis Kucinich, a former Ohio Democratic congressman and a twice-failed presidential candidate, came up short yesterday in a bid to return to Cleveland’s mayor’s office, John Wagner reports.

The sun is shining for Newsom:

Meanwhile, another governor facing the ballot box this year is taking a page from his colleague's playbook:

California recall election results, visualized

California voters were asked two questions: Do you want to recall Newsom? And if the governor is recalled, who should replace him? Explore the results in our election page.

At the table

Today we’re lunching with Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a Navy veteran and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Alfaro: What role do you think social media and misinformation played in the fact that one in five defendants in cases connected to the Jan. 6 riot appear to have a military history, a disproportionately high number? 

Luria: There’s evidence showing that a lot of groups that were trying to promote a political message that later morphed into the "Big Lie” were essentially targeting people who are veterans, military, military background. It became a concern of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, looking into how social media specifically targets veterans to kind of exploit them. This has happened in other areas as well veterans and people with military benefits can be victims of financial crimes or exploitation too, so I think this is a whole new element of that targeting. 

Alfaro: Is there a connection, then, between the work the House VA committee is doing and the Jan. 6 House investigation, centering on social media? 

Luria: I think it’s one of the tasks of the committee to look at social media broadly and how that was used to spread information, to recruit people, to participate in events or further the spread of information that led to Jan. 6. The fact that shows that it’s an important element to look at is that there was a disproportionately high number of people who have been charged on Jan. 6 higher than the population who are either veterans, active duty, or reservists, or some connection to the military.

Alfaro: As one of the two veterans on the Jan. 6 commission, how do you hope your experience will aid the committee? 

Luria: The oath that one takes in the military and I was 17 when I first went to the Naval Academy and was there for two decades and then again in Congress, I think that oath to support what's in the Constitution is very important. And I think that this work is a continuation of that. I feel that the events of Jan. 6, the political violence that we saw, it shows that our democracy is fragile and that we need to identify and address threats or particular disruptions to that, so the work of the committee is to figure out what happened, why it happened and how we stop it from happening again. As I said in the first hearing, I don't want to look back 20 years from now and have to explain to my daughter that we saw the warning signs but we didn't do anything.

Hot on the left

The White House said about 2.8 million people signed up for Affordable Care Act health plans during an unprecedented, six-month special enrollment period that Biden ordered, Amy Goldstein reports. “The additional enrollees push the reliance on ACA health plans to a record level of 12.2 million since the insurance marketplaces that were created under the law first offered health plans in 2014. The enrollment tally — along with a raft of figures illustrating that such health plans are affordable for many people — comes as the president is pressing Congress to make permanent a temporary upgrade in federal subsidies for ACA health plans that began early in the spring through a pandemic relief law.”

Hot on the right

“Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has pledged to block all of Biden’s nominations to the State Department and the Pentagon unless the top official at both departments resign in the wake of the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan. Hawley called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to take responsibility for the administration’s Afghanistan policy,” Andrew Jeong reports. “Hawley can effectively only delay nominations, but his move will force Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to go through procedural hurdles on the Senate floor.”  

Today in Washington

Biden will meet with business leaders to discuss vaccine requirements at 1:30 p.m. He will deliver remarks at 5 p.m. on a national security initiative. 

In closing

Stephen Colbert, referring to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new revelations, said we probably weren’t anxious enough during the last days of the Trump administration: 

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.