With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA: Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama and Bob Corker’s retirement in Tennessee on Tuesday sent shock waves across the Capitol and shivers down the spines of institutionalists in both parties. The dual developments are fueling concerns about the long-term health of the world’s greatest deliberative body and heightening fears that the center may not hold in American politics.
President Trump’s chosen candidate lost by 9 points in a GOP runoff. Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general, is the first incumbent to lose a primary in five years.
Moore, who brandished a revolver during a rally on the eve of the runoff, has promised that he will never compromise. He has twice been suspended as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In 2003, Moore disobeyed a federal judge’s order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. Then last year, after getting elected back to the court, he was removed again after urging state judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Moore believes in the supremacy of the Bible over the Constitution, and he compares homosexuality to bestiality. Karl Rove has been calling him this year’s Todd Akin.
Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced he won’t seek a third term in 2018 after it became abundantly clear that he would face a well-funded primary challenge from his right.
– This is part of a bigger trend: There are fewer dealmakers interested in the finer points of governing. John McCain, a giant of the Senate, is battling brain cancer and said this week that his prognosis is not good.
Strange’s loss may prompt additional retirements and will undoubtedly embolden potential primary challengers next year. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake has already been in trouble. Now Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee last cycle, both have fresh cause for concern.
A handful of the Senate’s most moderate Democrats might also lose next year. Even though Trump is unpopular nationally, Republicans might pick up seats in the 2018 midterms because of the nature of the map. Several Democratic incumbents are up for reelection in ruby red states, from West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. If they lose, they’d almost certainly be replaced by much more ideologically rigid lawmakers who have less incentive to reach across the aisle.
– A similar dynamic is at play in the House, where several moderate Republicans have recently announced their retirements. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) lamented how hard it is to be “a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party” when he called it quits three weeks ago. “I’ve fought to fulfill the basic functions of government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default,” he explained. “Regrettably, that has not been easy given the disruptive outside influences that profit from increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos.”
– Mitch McConnell was yesterday’s biggest loser. His last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare before the end of the month failed. Corker has been one of his most reliable allies. And outside groups tied to the Kentucky senator just spent about $10 million trying to beat Moore. The judge is openly antagonistic of McConnell’s leadership and, assuming he wins the general election, will undoubtedly become a pain in his caucus.
– For the first time since 2006, Republicans have full control of the federal government: both chambers of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. But GOP leaders have mostly been unable to capitalize on this immense power.
For seven years, Republican politicians promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. Yesterday, once again, they failed to follow through.
The conservative grass roots are understandably angry. They are so angry that $10 million from McConnell-aligned outside groups and rescue missions from both Trump and Vice President Pence couldn’t pull Strange across the finish line. “He ran a spirited campaign centered around a dissatisfaction with the progress made in Washington,” McConnell said in a statement congratulating Moore last night. “I share that frustration…”
– This has happened before: Angry that the Senate is dysfunctional, voters elect new members who prefer to pour more sand into the gears than fix them. “Unburdened by a sense of responsibility or institutional tradition, Moore will have an opportunity to use the considerable powers that individual senators possess to mangle the process of government,” writes Stephen Stromberg, a Post editorial writer. “When votes will be needed to keep the government open, pass a budget or respond to a natural disaster, Moore is likely to join bomb-throwers such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in threatening counterproductive disruption if the country refuses to bend to his views. Once in the Senate, Moore is likely to remain there for many years, posing a unique challenge to whoever may run the chamber, Democrat or Republican, in the future.”
Strange tried to make that argument in the closing days of the campaign, but to no avail. He warned that the race had become “all about Mitch McConnell and the national agenda — power between competing groups.” “I actually had a conservative leader say, ‘Luther, this has nothing to do with you. This is all about Mitch McConnell,’” Strange said Saturday on Fox News, “which is what my grandmother used to say was a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. … My opponent would be an obstructionist and not advance the president’s agenda.”
– In some ways, this is a redux of 2010. Republican dealmakers have been on the defensive since the tea party movement emerged. McConnell masterminded the strategy of total obstruction from the start of Barack Obama’s presidency. Now he’s the victim of “the party of no” mentality that he forced his conference to embrace. The well is poisoned.
Democrats, of course, do not have clean noses. Harry Reid’s legacy will forever be tainted by his myopic decision to go nuclear on lower-court judges in 2013. That gave McConnell a pretext to change the rules this spring to allow Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed to the Supreme Court with a simple majority.
Now blue slips, one of the most cherished prerogatives of senators in the minority, are in grave danger. Gorsuch has demonstrated with his early decisions that he is likely to be the most conservative justice on the high court. The next Democratic president will almost certainly nominate someone who is as far to the left as Gorsuch is to the right. The judiciary will continue to become more politicized, and the country will continue its descent into tribalism.
– The Senate has lost much of its luster over the past several years as it became an increasingly majoritarian body. Trump, who is not steeped in constitutional jurisprudence and does not seem to know the difference between articles and amendments, has pushed hard to blow up the Senate by changing the rules to pass legislation with a simple majority.
James Madison, the brains behind the Constitution, intended the Senate to be “anchor” of the federal government. Madison explained to Thomas Jefferson, who was abroad during the Constitutional Convention, that he designed the Senate to be a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” of the American people and their more uncouth representatives in the House. George Washington believed the Senate’s purpose was to “cool” House legislation like a saucer cools hot tea. Remember, we didn’t even start directly electing senators until 1913.
– All this dysfunction plays into Trump’s hands. The president feels burned by Republican congressional leaders, who he feels made a strategic error by convincing him to focus on repealing Obamacare before overhauling the tax code. He is frustrated that he waded into Alabama’s Senate race and got behind a losing horse at McConnell’s request.
– This explains why so many senators in both parties mourned Corker’s departure as very bad news for the body.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Corker “a friend” and “a fine, conscientious, and hard-working senator.” “His thoughtfulness and dedication to the job make him a model senator,” Schumer said. “We all regret him leaving.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) partnered with Corker to craft some of the financial rules that were included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill, and the two have spent the past few years pushing for an overhaul of the housing finance system in the face of heavy industry lobbying. “No matter the challenge, you can always count on Senator Corker to bring a reasoned, thoughtful approach, and to make decisions based not on partisanship but on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people,” the Democrat said. “I hope this is a wake-up call to all of us in the Senate that we need to recommit ourselves to creating an environment where reasonable, thoughtful people of both parties can come together to solve problems.”
Tennessee’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander, is a practitioner of consensus politics, like Corker, in the tradition of the great Howard Baker. He praised Corker last night for trying to tackle intractable problems like the federal debt when there wasn’t a political upside. “He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues,” the Republican said. “His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate.”
– “Corker’s departure will be felt perhaps most acutely in the area of foreign relations,” Paul Kane and Karoun Demirjian explain. “He established his chops early in his Senate career when lawmakers ratified the New START treaty, a strategic arms-control pact that regulates the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Corker was one of the key GOP players who negotiated changes that made it possible to bring more conservative votes on board. … Corker also tackled nuclear security, joining with ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) to design a bill that gave Congress an opportunity to weigh in on a multilateral deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions before it could go into effect. More recently, Corker has been the chief go-between for the White House and Congress when it comes to whether the president will certify Iran’s compliance with the deal next month.”
– The tensions between congressional Republicans and the White House were also certainly a factor in Corker’s thinking. Trump considered him for vice president last summer and secretary of state last fall. But the Tennessean has grown increasingly frustrated with the president’s inability to lead. He snapped after Trump responded to the violence in Charlottesville with false moral equivalency.
“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker told reporters last month.
Trump, who carried Tennessee by 26 points last November, fired back:
Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2017
The two men met in the Oval Office the Friday before last, and Corker urged Trump to travel to Alabama to campaign for Strange. “You’ve got to go,” he told Trump. “We need you there.”
– To the winner goes the spoils?
Politics in a constitutional republic is not supposed to be a zero-sum game, but that’s increasingly becoming the mentality in the Senate. “Political fights from health care to climate change in the Trump era increasingly look like the election itself: a raw battle for resources and advantage between red and blue states,” John Wagner explained in a smart piece over the weekend. “Since gaining control of Washington, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have pushed an array of policies that tend to punish states that voted Democratic in last year’s presidential election.”
The authors of the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill used the fact that blue states would lose federal funding compared to red states as a selling point to woo conservative senators. “Blue states would also take a disproportionate hit under a prominent provision in Trump’s tax plan,” John notes. “The vast majority of ‘sanctuary cities’ threatened with loss of federal funding are in Democratic-leaning states, as are the majority of young undocumented immigrants who could lose protection from deportation. The administration has signaled its intent to significantly scale back mass-transit funding traditionally favored by more liberal and urban states. And all but one of the handful of states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use are blue. They are now watching nervously to see whether Trump’s Justice Department reverses course and launches a crackdown on those states and the District of Columbia.”
“Since taking office, Trump has held campaign-style rallies exclusively in states he won last year, and most of the events he has staged as part of his official travel have been in red states. … ‘What we’re witnessing is war between the red and the blue,’ said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. ‘This is hardball, and it’s distinctive from what we’ve seen before.’”
MORE FROM ALABAMA:
– Get used to Roy Moore: “Senator Richard Shelby, a pillar of Alabama politics for over 45 years, dispensed with his usual caution to support a longtime friend. But he saw how the political winds were blowing well before Tuesday,” Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns write on the front page of the New York Times. “On a get-out-the-vote conference call with Mr. Strange’s supporters this month, he recounted an anecdote about the 1970 Democratic governor’s race here between Albert Brewer, a racial moderate, and the segregationist George C. Wallace, a divisive figure in his time. After it became clear that Mr. Wallace had won, the University of Alabama’s young, progressive president, F. David Mathews, mournfully turned to his family and said they would have to ‘get used to living with George Wallace.’ Now, Mr. Shelby said, they may have to get used to living with Mr. Moore in the Senate, where he could be just as divisive.”
– “Luther who? Trump tweets backing the losing candidate in Alabama get deep-sixed,” by Philip Bump: “Trump had pledged to endorse Moore should he win, and the president did so quickly. … Trump also deleted a number of tweets that he’d sent endorsing Strange in the first place.”
– “Regrets? In Alabama Senate race, Trump had a few,” by Politico’s Josh Dawsey: “Trump told conservative activists who visited the White House [on Monday] that he’d underestimated the political power of Roy Moore[.] … Attendees said the president asked questions that suggested he harbored doubts about his endorsement.”
– “Neither Money Nor Trump Worked In Alabama,” by Buzzfeed’s Henry J. Gomez, Alexis Levinson and Tarini Parti: “There is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster dynamic for Trump: The right-wing populist coalition he created a year ago was nontransferable to Strange.”
– “Winners and losers from the Alabama special election,” by The Fix’s Aaron Blake: “The president chose sides, and he chose wrong. And not only that, but his support for Strange didn’t seem to have any positive impact — even in a state that loves Trump.”
– “Trumpism rolls over Trump in Alabama Senate race,” by ABC News political director Rick Klein: “Fundamentally, though [Moore] praises Trump effusively, he may not be a reliable vote for Trump’s agenda. Moore has developed a reputation as an ideologue, whereas the president by nature is a dealmaker.”
– “Democrats suddenly wonder: Can they compete in Alabama?” by McClatchy’s Alex Roarty and Katie Glueck: “[K]ey party groups and allied outside groups say they plan to monitor the race in the coming weeks, unsure if the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, has a realistic path to victory. But that Democrats are even considering competing in a deep-red state like Alabama is a testament to the vulnerability they see in Moore[.]”
– “Doug Jones ‘ready to roll’ against Moore,” by CBS WIAT’s Conan Gasque: “‘We’re ready to roll, we’re rip-roaring. It’s time,’ Jones said. ‘We’ve been building, we’ve been working. We’ve seen so much energy come our way over the last couple of weeks, and I think now it’s going to be even more.’”
WHO WILL REPLACE CORKER?
– “Intrigue starts with Haslam, Blackburn,” by the Nashville Tennessean: “For years, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, has been seen as a leading contender if a U.S. Senate seat were to open. But Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — whose favorability ratings are strong in Tennessee — is set to depart the governor’s office in 2018. It would provide an easy segue to a Senate race if he chooses.”
– “Blackburn says she’s interested in Corker’s seat,” by the Hill’s Scott Wong: “Minutes after learning that [Corker] won’t seek reelection, [Blackburn] told The Hill on Tuesday she’s considering running …”
– “Corker may trigger gold rush of GOP hopefuls,” by the Chattanooga Times Free Press: “[Corker] already faced a Republican primary challenge from Andy Ogles, former state executive director of the billionaire Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity- Tennessee. … But Ogles could find himself vying with one or more heavyweight contenders.”
– “Peyton Manning floated as contender for Corker’s Senate seat,” by the Washington Examiner’s Daniel Chaitin: “Former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning is already being talked about as a possible Republican contender … Manning was spotted with Corker at the White House in June, wearing golf attire and spent the day playing golf with President Trump.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MCCONNELL?
– “McConnell’s inner circle did not even try to sugarcoat the failures and what they meant for Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm elections,” Paul Kane reports. “On Tuesday, before the election results were official, most Senate Republicans remained staunchly behind McConnell — who, next June, is slated to become the longest serving GOP leader in Senate history. He has won eight straight leadership elections by acclamation, with no challenger, and none appears on the horizon in the near term. His colleagues say McConnell is willing to absorb the criticism that conservative activists fire at him, particularly if it keeps the friendly fire away from rank-and-file Republicans. … But one thing that could hamper McConnell’s long-term standing would be if he became a real albatross to his own incumbents in primary elections ahead. Two years ago this week John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his resignation as House speaker because even close supporters feared voting for him because conservative activists had grown to despise Boehner.”
– Some knives are coming out for the leader. Republican consultant Jordan Gehrke argues in a new Medium post that “McConnell is now a dead weight around the necks of GOP Senators who have to face an angry GOP base in 2018.” His firm worked for Rep. Roy Moore (R-Ala.) in the first round of the primary, and McConnell’s Super PAC spent about $4 million to beat him. He then helped a PAC that was helping Moore during the runoff. The Brooks campaign began attacking McConnell after an internal poll of Alabama Republicans found that it was a potent line of attack. Asked about McConnell’s endorsement, 11 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Strange, 56 percent said it made them less likely to support him and 32 percent said it made no difference.
– The best thing going for McConnell is that there’s no obvious replacement for him.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
– The acting head of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, told staff on Tuesday that he will resign at the end of the week. Law enforcement officials said the Obama-era holdover had become “dismayed” over Trump’s behavior and his disregard for the rule of law. Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report: “Rosenberg, who had been running the agency in an acting capacity since 2015, had earned a reputation as someone willing to put himself at odds with his bosses in the White House and the Justice Department. A former U.S. attorney and senior counselor to then-FBI Director James B. Comey, Rosenberg garnered attention in July when he wrote an email to DEA personnel rejecting Trump’s comments suggesting criminal suspects might be treated roughly when being put into police vehicles. “We have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong,’’ he wrote in the email. According to two officials … [Rod Rosenstein] had previously asked Rosenberg if he would be interested in serving as the presidentially appointed head of the DEA, and Rosenberg declined. Because Rosenberg was considered a career Justice Department employee, one of the officials said, Rosenstein then asked if he would be interested in another Justice Department job, and Rosenberg said he would not.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Saudi Arabia issued a new royal decree permitting women to drive in the kingdom by next June. The change overturns one of the most widely criticized human rights restrictions and aligns Saudi Arabia with virtually every other country in the world. (Karen DeYoung)
- Equifax CEO Richard Smith is stepping down, the company announced Tuesday, seeking to stem the fallout from a massive hacking scandal that has impacted the credit histories of up to 143 million Americans. Equifax’s board of directors said it has appointed Mark Feidler to serve as the company’s nonexecutive chairman. (Hamza Shaban)
- The Justice Department unsealed indictments on Tuesday charging four Division I assistant basketball coaches with accepting bribes in exchange for steering athletes toward business managers, financial advisers and Adidas representatives. In total, 10 people were charged in the wide-ranging corruption case, which focused on what prosecutors called “the dark underbelly of college basketball,” and involved coaches from Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Southern California. (Will Hobson and Matt Bonesteel)
- The Commerce Department on Tuesday moved to impose tariffs of as much as 219 percent on Canadian jet maker Bombardier, after it sided with Boeing in a complaint claiming its rival received unfair government subsidies. The action threatens to further inflame trade tensions between Canada and the United States. (Aaron Gregg)
The SEC is hiring more cybersecurity personnel in the wake of a 2016 security breach. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told the Senate Banking Committee that he only learned of the hack last month. (Renae Merle)
- The conviction of New York State Senate majority leader Dean Skelos on charges of bribery and extortion was overturned. Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s (R) case, a federal appeals court asserted that jurors in Skelos’s case were wrongly instructed. (Matt Zapotosky)
- The United States is now the world’s second most “competitive” economy, according to a new World Economic Forum analysis, climbing to an eight-year high on the rankings list and sitting just behind Switzerland. (Danielle Paquette)
- Police in San Francisco said most traffic tickets in the city go to Uber and Lyft drivers, with nearly two-thirds of citations issued to them. (Fredrick Kunkle)
Twitter is testing out a 280-character limit for its tweets. The social media company said that a “single-digit percentage” of users would be “randomly chosen” for the expanded character count. (Hayley Tsukayama)
CAN TRUMP GET A WIN ON TAXES?:
– Desperate for a legislative victory, Republicans will today unveil their plan to cut taxes by more than $5 trillion over 10 years, but they won’t reveal how to pay for it. The “pay-fors,” in Washington jargon, are always the hardest part of a tax code rewrite as there’s a constituency for every tax break that will mobilize against it. Damian Paletta, Mike DeBonis and Carolyn Y. Johnson report: “By refusing to specify on Wednesday which tax breaks could be jettisoned, GOP leaders make a calculated effort to try to postpone any backlash while they try to build a coalition[.] … But they plan to lean heavily into promising Americans that the tax changes will lead to a wave of economic growth that will spur new jobs and better wages if the tax blueprint is passed into law.”
Here are the details we know:
- “The White House and Republican leaders will propose slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and call for lowering the rate many high-income businesses pay through the individual income tax code to 25 percent.”
- “In addition, they will call for lowering the top tax bracket for individuals and families from the current 39.6 percent to 35 percent, but they will also ask lawmakers to consider imposing a new, higher rate to ensure that the wealthy don’t end up receiving a disproportionate tax cut compared to the middle class and low-income families.”
- “There are currently seven individual income tax brackets, and the GOP plan would collapse those into three tax brackets; one at 12 percent of income, one at 25 percent of income, and one at 35 percent of income.”
- “They will also propose nearly doubling the standard deduction, which allows people to lower their taxable income without specifying things like charitable contributions or the interest paid on their mortgages.”
- “The GOP plan will additionally call for eliminating the estate tax[.]”
– Trump will sell the plan later today in Indianapolis, but some in Republican leadership fear that he will misrepresent the fragile compromise they have struck. Politico’s Nancy Cook and Ben White report: “Trump has a habit of going off-script at public events, editorializing and extemporizing. That’s exacerbating fears that the president could upend months of behind-the-scenes negotiations by the so-called Big Six — a group of White House officials, Hill Republican leaders, and committee heads — over the blueprint document Trump will introduce to the greater public in Indiana.”
– Something like that happened with his infrastructure plan after the president told a group of Democratic lawmakers at the White House yesterday that he is abandoning plans for a public-private effort. From Tory Newmyer and Damian Paletta: “Now the administration wants to force states and localities to foot most of the bill. The previous strategy — a push that has taken a back seat to other Republican priorities in Washington — was aimed at luring private investors with promises of federal backing. Some of that thinking appears to be changing.”
NEW WORLD ORDER:
– North Korean government officials are reaching out to GOP-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent effort to make sense of Trump’s confusing messages toward the Kim regime. Anna Fifield reports from Bern: “The outreach began before the current eruption of threats between the two leaders, but will likely become only more urgent … “Their No. 1 concern is Trump. They can’t figure him out,” said one [source]. There is no suggestion that the North Koreans are interested in negotiations about their nuclear program … and the Trump administration has made clear it is not interested in talking right now. … But to get a better understanding of American intentions, in the absence official diplomatic talks with the U.S. government, North Korea’s mission to the United Nations invited Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst who is now the Heritage Foundation’s top expert on North Korea, to visit Pyongyang for meetings.”
“They’re on a new binge of reaching out to American scholars and ex-officials,” Klingner said. Intermediaries from the rogue nation also approached Asia expert and former NSC staffer Douglas Paal to help arrange talks between North Korean officials and GOP-linked U.S. experts in a neutral location like Switzerland. Both declined their requests.
– Trump seemed to somewhat cool his harsh rhetoric against Pyongyang yesterday, writes Anne Gearan. “Although the president repeated a threat of military action, his language was mild by comparison to his branding of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as ‘a madman’ and his vow last week to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if necessary to protect the United States or its allies. Trump also expressed confidence he could solve a decades-long impasse that has bedeviled his predecessors. ‘North Korea is a situation that should have been handled 25 years ago, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and five years ago, and it could have been handled much more easily,’ Trump said. ‘Yet various administrations, many administrations — which left me a mess. But I’ll fix the mess.’”
– The parents of Otto Warmbier, a U-Va. student who was detained in Pyongyang for 17 months before dying shortly after his release, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday to demand North Korea be listed as a state sponsor of terror. During the interview, Fred and Cindy Warmbier vehemently denied North Korea’s claims that their son had slipped into a coma after contracting botulism and described the horror and grief they felt after being reunited with Otto at the airport. “When we got halfway up the steps, we heard this howling, involuntary, inhuman sound,” Fred Warmbier said. Otto was blind, deaf and jerking violently, and it “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth,” they said. (Amy B Wang and Susan Svrluga)
“[Now] we see North Korea claiming to be a victim and that the world is picking on them, and we’re here to tell you: North Korea is not a victim,” Fred Warmbier said. “They’re terrorists. They kidnapped Otto. They tortured him. They intentionally injured him. They are not victims.”
– During his news conference yesterday with the president of Spain, Trump came out against Catalonia’s independence movement. Anne Gearan reports: “‘I think Spain is a great country, and it should remain united,’ Trump said during a news conference with the visiting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The president’s remarks mark a departure from the official position of the United States, which, as recently as Monday, was that a planned nonbinding Catalonia referendum Sunday to separate from Spain was an internal matter.”
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
– The IRS is now sharing information with Robert Mueller about key Trump campaign officials, including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. The agreement comes after they clashed this summer over the scope of the Russia probe. CNN’s Manu Raju, Pamela Brown and Evan Perez report: “In the case of Manafort, Mueller’s investigators are reaching back 11 years[.] … After several months of being at odds, one source said, the IRS Criminal Investigation division is now sharing information about campaign associates[.] The sharing happened after the two camps reached an agreement following consultation with officials at the Treasury Department. [The] IRS Criminal Investigation agents had been working with the FBI to investigate Manafort since before the election in a similar probe that centered on possible money laundering and tax fraud issues[.] … It’s unclear if Flynn is now or was previously under investigation by the IRS … [though] Mueller’s team is examining Flynn’s payments from Turkey and Russia.”
“A former high-level Justice Department official says the information shared would include anything tax return-related such as real estate and banking records. The former official added the IRS is very restricted in what information it can share under Title 26 US Code and would normally need a specific grand jury subpoena in order to share tax returns with another agency.”
– The Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed to subpoena documents from Paul Manafort as part of its ongoing Russia probe, according to the panel’s top Democrat. Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Sen. Dianne Feinstein] told reporters Tuesday the committee had decided to subpoena documents, but a spokesman … would not detail what documents the committee is seeking. The senator added the panel ‘will certainly use the subpoena power,’ if necessary, to get Manafort to testify as well. Committee Chairman [Chuck] Grassley also refused to disclose details, noting while ‘in principle a lot of things have been agreed to,’ certain matters ‘still have to be worked out, and we’ll wait until details are worked out till we make a final announcement.’”
– Roger Stone told reporters that Manafort had informed him through their attorneys that he is expecting to be indicted by federal prosecutors. “Neither Stone nor Manafort knows on what charge Manafort might be indicted, Stone said. ‘The special counsel will try to manufacture a crime and then say ‘look Manafort, we won’t prosecute this if you say you were colluding with the Russians,’ Stone said. ‘[Manafort] is not going to lie and that would be a lie.’”
- Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters Tuesday that he is “about 99 percent sure there will be some criminal charges from this investigation.” Manafort and MFlynn “are the most prominent,” he said, “but there may well be others.” (Politico)
– Earlier Tuesday, Stone testified for nearly three hours before a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee. The former Trump adviser denied all allegations of collusion with Russia, but refused to answer questions about his contact with a WikiLeaks intermediary — prompting Democrats on the panel to threaten subpoenas. Karoun has the story: “Stone … said he mainly answered questions about his contacts with a hacker believed to be behind breaches of [Democratic email accounts.] … But he declined to answer members’ questions about the identity of his intermediary with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, explaining that the person ‘is a journalist and our conversation was off the record.’ In an opening statement to the committee, Stone sharply denied having any Russian clients or contacts … [and] protested to reporters Tuesday that collusion would have been impossible ‘unless I owned a time machine, which I do not.’” Stone said the House Intelligence panel is the only investigating body currently asking him questions.
– Sean Spicer has lawyered up in the Russia investigation, retaining the services of high-powered criminal defense attorney Chris Mead. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reports: “According to his bio page at the firm London & Mead, Mead specializes in white collar criminal defense and Congressional investigations, as well as issues related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act——a law that bars Americans from bribing foreign government officials.” News of Mead’s hire comes just days after reports that Spicer took “detailed notes” throughout the presidential campaign.
– Facebook ads purchased by Russian operatives during the 2016 election promoted candidates including Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports: “Other advertisements paid for by shadowy Russian buyers criticized Hillary Clinton and promoted [Trump]. Some backed Bernie Sanders and his platform even after his presidential campaign had ended … The pro-Stein ad came late in the political campaign and pushed her candidacy for president, this person said. ‘Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,’ the ad reads. “Trust me. It’s not a wasted vote. … The only way to take our country back is to stop voting for the corporations and banks that own us. #GrowaSpineVoteJillStein.’”
– Jared Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell was duped on Monday by an “email prankster” posing as Jared Kushner, telling him in one message he needed to see “all emails” sent and received from a private account Kushner created in December. Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reports: “On Monday, the prankster wrote to Lowell from the address firstname.lastname@example.org asking what he should do with ‘some correspondence on my private email … featuring adult content.’ ‘Can I remove these?’ the prankster asked. ‘Forwarded or received from WH officials?’ Lowell responded. [He added]: ‘I need to see I think all emails between you and WH (just for me and us) …’ Lowell’s suggestion that he needs to see all emails sent or received from Kushner’s private account raises questions about whether he has fully examined the messages and what kind of information they contained.” Earlier this month, White House special counsel Ty Cobb was also fooled into corresponding with the prankster.
THE ‘VERY BIG OCEAN':
– Trump rejected critics who say he hasn’t paid enough attention to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following its pummeling by Hurricane Maria. He cited the “very big ocean” as an obstacle to delivering the services island residents need. From Phillip Bump: “’It’s very tough, because it’s an island,’ Trump said during a meeting with members of the House. ‘In Texas, we can ship the trucks right out there. And you know, we’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico. But the difference is, this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.’”
– But the president will visit next week as residents struggle with a lack of potable water and electricity. John Wagner and Sandhya Somashekhar report: “‘Everybody has said it’s amazing the job that we’ve done in Puerto Rico,’ Trump said during a Rose Garden news conference. ‘We’re very proud of it … This was a place that was destroyed. I think we’ve done a very good job.’ The president’s rosy assessment came amid mounting criticism that he has appeared far less engaged in the recovery efforts of a U.S. territory with a long history of unequal treatment than in those in Texas and Florida after the recent hurricanes in those states.”
– Amid many logistical nightmares, the failing Guajataca Dam that triggered evacuations of thousands from Puerto Rico had not been inspected since 2013, which is unusual for a dam that is potentially highly hazardous. (Steven Mufson)
– Maria also collapsed a bridge in a coastal mountain region outside San Juan, forcing families to trudge through waist-deep water to retrieve vital supplies. Samantha Schmidt reports: “The storm’s devastation here in the central mountains outside San Juan was among Puerto Rico’s worst, and the bridge collapse was an added insult. Now thousands of residents are sequestered in their toppled town, away from local officials, federal help, food, fuel, water and medicine.”
BEHIND THE HEALTH-CARE COLLAPSE:
– Cassidy-Graham met a spectacular defeat yesterday — without even a floor vote to seal its fate. But Senate Republicans are still not jumping to shore up the ACA, leaving insurers and consumers in a dangerous state of limbo. Juliet Eilperin, Sean Sullivan and Amy Goldstein report on The Post’s front page: “The most pressing unresolved aspect of the 2010 health-care law is the future of subsidies known as cost-sharing reductions, which provide discounts to roughly 7 million lower-income customers[.] … President Trump has repeatedly threatened to stop the payments to insurers to offset those discounts, and both the Cassidy-Graham bill and recent bipartisan Senate negotiations would have guaranteed those payments for another year or two. … Some GOP lawmakers expect that consumers could experience major problems in the months ahead — and predict that those would backfire on Democrats and build momentum for the law’s eventual repeal.”
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — leaders of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — both expressed interest in once again taking up bipartisan negotiations to ensure continued payments to insurers. “But it is unclear how much appetite there is for a stabilization bill among Republicans in the Senate, let alone in the House. Aides to House leaders said they do not see a bill providing billions in ACA subsidies as viable in the lower chamber — a point House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has conveyed to GOP senators.”
– At the urging of GOP leadership, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared to table his suggestion that health care be tied to a tax overhaul in the upcoming budget bill, which could have give Republicans more time to pass it. Kelsey Snell and David Weigel report: “Graham said Tuesday that he supports turning full attention to passing a Republican tax plan and delaying any further health bill until next year. … Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said that any attempt to combine health care and taxes on the next budget risks tainting tax discussions with old divisions over health care. … The argument appeared to sway most Senate Republicans even as the idea gained support among members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.”
– Graham stressed that he considered repealing Obamacare to be a matter of if, not when, for Republicans. He added at yesterday’s news conference, “With a new process, with more hearings, with regular order … we’re going to get 50 votes.”
– REALITY CHECK: The Senate has now failed multiple times to repeal Obamacare, and negotiations over taxes could stretch on for months. Securing 50 votes is not likely to become easier as next year’s midterms approach. For now, the ACA is here to stay.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
– Ryan Zinke told the National Petroleum Council in a speech on Monday that nearly a third of his staff is disloyal to Trump and promised “huge” changes. Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report: “Zinke promised a ‘huge’ change by restructuring staff positions and possibly shifting decision-making positions in the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation from Washington to points out West … ‘I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,’ the secretary said … Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, invoked military and seafaring jargon to describe his approach to running the department. He compared his experience taking over Interior to capturing a pirate ship where ‘only the captain and the first mate row over’ to take over the vessel. Zinke explained that he wanted to ensure Interior officials accelerated federal permitting for drilling and mining activities on federal land, saying it’s necessary to relocate some of the department’s major divisions to ‘push the generals where the fight is.’ The speech reflected a broader effort by Zinke to shake up the department.”
– The EPA is spending nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt in his office. Brady Dennis reports: “The agency signed a $24,570 contract earlier this summer with [Acoustical Solutions] for a ‘privacy booth for the administrator.’ … Typically, such soundproof booths are used to conduct hearing tests. But the EPA sought a customized version — one that eventually would cost several times more than a typical model — that Pruitt can use to communicate privately. … No previous EPA administrators had such a setup … [and according to] former agency employees, the EPA has long maintained a SCIF on a separate floor from the administrator’s office, where officials with proper clearances can go to share information classified as secret.”
– Tom Price’s private-jet travels sometimes combined official HHS travel and meetings with friends and family, according to a review — including flying early to a Georgia resort where he and his wife own property. Politico’s Dan Diamond and Rachana Pradhan report. “The St. Simons Island trip was one of two taxpayer-funded flights on private jets in which Price traveled to places where he owns property, and paired official visits with meetings with longtime colleagues and family members. On June 6, HHS chartered a jet to fly Price to Nashville … where he owns a condominium and where his son resides. Price toured a medicine dispensary and spoke to a local health summit organized by a longtime friend. He also had lunch with his son, an HHS official confirmed.”
– Now Pruitt is also facing scrutiny of his travel arrangements. CBS News’s Julianna Goldman and Laura Strickler report: “For [Pruitt], June 7 was a busy day. First, he had a trip to Cincinnati with President Trump. Then, he went on to New York’s JFK Airport on an Air Force jet, leaving behind $350 commercial flights and sticking taxpayers with a bill for at least $20,000. He then flew to Italy for an international summit that didn’t start until three days later, and he left that meeting a day early. It’s unclear why he was in a rush. Separately, Pruitt’s frequent flights to his home state of Oklahoma have attracted the attention of the EPA’s inspector general.”
A DIVIDED AMERICA:
– In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center, Jeff Sessions declared that, “Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack.” Sari Horwitz, Debbie Truong and Sarah Larimer report: “Underscoring his intention to bring action to his words, Sessions said the Justice Department is filing a ‘statement of interest’ in a campus free-speech lawsuit filed by students at Georgia Gwinnett College. Students at the public school are challenging a policy that limits students’ expressive activity to two small free-speech zones, requires students to obtain approval from campus officials and restricts their activity to a specific date and time, Justice officials said. ‘We will be filing more in the weeks and months to come,’ Sessions said.”
But Sessions also invoked free speech to defend the president’s right to call for the firing of professional athletes who peacefully protest the national anthem: “‘Well, the president has free speech rights, too,’ Sessions said. ‘He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem and the unity that those symbols call on us to adhere to.’ ‘So, I agree that it’s a big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens the commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom,’ Sessions said.”
– Roughly 100 Georgetown University showed up to protest the AG’s speech. Debbie Truong, Sarah Larimer and Susan Svrluga report: “The students were joined by faculty members who initially took a knee and later linked arms. They took turns speaking into a bullhorn, decrying Sessions, the process the university used to bring him to campus and posing questions they would have asked the attorney general had they been allowed into the event. ‘We, the disinvited, find it extraordinarily hypocritical that AG Sessions would lecture future attorneys about free speech on campus while excluding the wider student body,’ third-year law student Ambur Smith said into the bullhorn. Some … wore duct tape over their mouths [and] held signs that proclaimed, ‘DEPORT HATE,’ FREE SPEECH IS NOT HATE SPEECH,’ and ‘Sessions is afraid of questions.’”
– Sports Illustrated tackles the relationship between sports and politics in its latest cover, with the headline: “A Nation Divided. Sports United.” Charles P. Pierce writes: “The inclusion of a national anthem — any national anthem — in a sporting event necessarily politicizes that event. … The protests of today are not about the anthem or the flag or the troops, or even about Donald Trump. The protesters are high-profile African American athletes raising awareness of how lower-profile African Americans are often mistreated by police officers. … In short, if you’re going to perform national anthems, you’re going to have politics. And if you have politics, you’re going to have political statements and, this being the United States of America, those statements are not always going to make everyone comfortable.”
– Chuck Culpepper explains how one Texas town thoroughly in Trump country reacted to the Dallas Cowboys’ decision Monday to kneel before the national anthem: “At first, when Jones and the Cowboys knelt on most of the 12 screens in Duke’s, a sole boo did boom from the bar, and faces did seem startled. Then, when Jones and the Cowboys stood with interlocking arms for the entirety of Jordin Sparks’ rendition of the anthem derived from Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem, the place went wordless. At the end of the bar, Jimi Deckard, a vice president of an electrical company and a non-hippie named by his hippie father for Jimi Hendrix, said, ‘It was a shock to see them kneel before, but then to see them stand was pretty empowering.’”
– DirecTV is allowing some customers to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Ticket package of NFL games and receive refunds if they cite the recent protests as the reason for canceling. (The Wall Street Journal)
– A new Reuters-Ipsos poll found that a 57 percent majority of adults disagree with Trump’s assertion that athletes who kneel during the anthem should be fired, including 61 percent of NFL fans who said they watch “at least a few games” per season. Results were predictably split on party lines, however, with 82 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans saying they disagreed with Trump.
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Trump continued his feud with the NFL:
The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
This Trump tweet from exactly five years ago took on new relevance:
Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2012
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) had this to say after the health-care fail:
8 months in. No border wall. No trickle down tax cut. No health care repeal.
KEEP. IT. UP. https://t.co/DPNel9kBqt
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 26, 2017
From Hillary Clinton’s former spokesperson:
Sad! day for every House GOPer who voted for this disastrous repeal bill and thought they’d at least get to tout getting something done.
— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) September 26, 2017
A New York Times reporter pointed out what a bad day it was for Mitch McConnell on all fronts:
When McConnell writes his *real* memoir, this day will live in infamy:
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) September 26, 2017
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called for an improved process after Cassidy-Graham’s failure:
Jimmy Kimmel and his son rejoiced over the death of the bill:
A New York Times reporter shared these haunting photos of Puerto Rico:
One America, the coalition of former presidents fundraising for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, turned to Puerto Rico:
An NBC reporter imagined this celebrity scenario for the midterms:
Twitter’s founder explained the platform’s testing of 280-character limits:
From the New York Times’s television critic:
The 280-character limit is a terrible idea. The whole beauty of Twitter is that it forces you to express your ideas concisely (1/47)
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) September 26, 2017
From a Republican strategist:
With 280 characters, North Korea doesn’t stand a chance.
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) September 26, 2017
And Wolf Blitzer met his doppelganger:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
– New York Times Magazine, “How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down,” by Caitlin Dickerson: “At the height of the 2016 election, exaggerated reports of a juvenile sex crime brought a media maelstrom to Twin Falls — one the Idaho city still hasn’t recovered from.”
– Time Magazine, “‘They tell me a demon lives inside me,” by Simon Shuster: “One night in late November, three men walked up to Room 503 at the refugee shelter in [Germany], and started hammering on the door with their fists. They called out the name of the asylum seeker inside, Movsar Eskarkhanov, a 28-year-old [who fled to Germany from Chechnya] to escape the persecution he faced back home for being gay. By the time he agreed to tell his story in July, the cycle of attacks had not only chased him out of Russia, it also followed him to Germany, suggesting that the violence has reached deep into the European countries now offering protection to the victims. As Western governments and human rights groups have tried to resettle these men, they have run into a problem few of them expected: Chechen immigrants inside Europe were often ready to continue the purge[.] … ‘It’s getting worse here,’ [Eskarkhanov said from a shelter in Berlin]. ‘Before somebody kills me, I want to tell my story to the world.’”
Trump will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before traveling to Indianapolis for a speech on overhauling the tax code.
Pence has two meetings on rewriting the tax code with House Republicans and conservative leaders. He will later travel to Michigan for a state GOP fundraising dinner.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
– D.C. may have its last brush with summer weather today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “As Maria continues to spin off the Mid-Atlantic coast, we continue to see little to no impact locally, other than partly cloudy skies. The humidity remains way too high for late September, with dew points in the upper 60s to near 70. And highs head for the mid-80s to near 90[.]”
– The Nationals lost to the Phillies 4-1, in Bryce Harper’s first appearance after missing 42 games for injuries. (Jorge Castillo)
– Confederate flag posters with cotton attached to them were found on American University’s campus. The incident follows the school’s May controversy, in which bananas were found hanging from strings in the shape of nooses. (Sarah Larimer)
– A new survey found that over 40 percent of voters in Virginia’s gubernatorial race consider Trump to be a factor in their decision between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. Laura Vozzella reports: “For 28 percent of voters, the president is a major factor. The ‘Trump effect’ is more pronounced among Northam voters, who are much more likely to disapprove of the president and to say their vote is meant to send a message to Trump and congressional Republicans. … Trump has a 35 percent overall approval rating in the commonwealth, but Northam and Gillespie supporters have sharply different assessments of him. Northam voters almost universally take a dim view of the president, with 96 percent disapproving of his job performance. Gillespie voters are split, with 75 percent approving of Trump and 16 percent disapproving.”
– Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) returned to Capitol Hill after nearly three months away due to a heart surgery and prolonged recovery period. (Jenna Portnoy)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Jimmy Kimmel thanked those who helped to kill Cassidy-Graham:
The mayor of San Juan teared up describing the devastation her city faces:
The Post’s Aaron Blake explains the differences between Jared Kushner’s use of a private email address and Hillary Clinton:
Virginia statehouse candidate Danica Roem (D), who would be the first openly transgender politician elected in the state, released this ad:
And Chicago Cub Addison Russell bought nachos for a baseball fan who lost his when Russell dove for a foul ball: