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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don’t have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE has been pulled into yet another public investigation with reports that the intelligence community’s watchdog is probing a serious but still oblique whistleblower allegation. The claim involves a series of actions taken by the president, including a phone conversation with an unnamed world leader that may have involved an improper “promise.”
At least part of the allegation deals with Ukraine, according to reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post. Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky two and a half weeks before the intelligence official filed a formal complaint.
The newest controversy, which captured the attention of the House Intelligence Committee, prompted an appearance on Capitol Hill by the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, during a closed-door briefing on Thursday that raised new questions, according to lawmakers present.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGiuliani pens op-ed slamming ‘unprecedented’ impeachment inquiry Jim Jordan: Latest allegation of ignoring sexual misconduct is ‘ridiculous’ Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters after questioning Atkinson that he still did not know the contents of the concerns that triggered the whistleblower’s complaint and an internal investigation described by the intelligence community’s watchdog to be focused on an “urgent concern.” Schiff said he has been unable to determine whether the White House has been involved in withholding details from lawmakers, who have been unable to glean more specifics (The New York Times).
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire agreed to testify before Schiff’s panel on Sept. 26.
Schiff said he is exploring ways the committee could seek to force the release of the complaint to the legislative branch, including potentially suing for it in court (The Hill).
The president on Thursday defended his dealings with foreign leaders, including during telephone conversations, dismissing in a series of tweets information described in a Washington Post account he called “harassment” and “another Fake News story.”
The Washington Post: Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani admits during a live TV interview to asking Ukraine about Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats worry they don’t have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Giuliani pens op-ed slamming ‘unprecedented’ impeachment inquiry MORE 30 seconds after denying it.
The New York Times Editorial Board: There is an important principle at stake: Congress is supposed to have oversight of complaints like the whistleblower’s.
Another investigation dogging Trump, this one in New York City and focused on securing his tax returns, prompted the president’s attorneys to sue Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Thursday. They seek to void a subpoena issued for eight years of tax returns related to a criminal probe of Trump and his family business (Reuters). The complaint filed in Manhattan federal court by the president’s lawyers challenged a grand jury subpoena that Vance issued on Aug. 29 to Mazars USA, Trump’s longtime accounting firm, for personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018.
Trump’s lawyers also maintain the president cannot be criminally investigated while in office (The New York Times).
Meanwhile in California on Thursday, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against a state law that requires presidential and gubernatorial candidates to disclose at least five years of tax returns as a condition for inclusion on primary ballots (The Hill).
In other West Wing news: Trump is edging away from championing specific legislative action on guns in the near term. During a Fox News interview that aired on Thursday, Trump said no bipartisan legislative consensus appears imminent following mass shootings that killed more than 30 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, six weeks ago. “We’re going very slowly,” Trump said, adding that while he doesn’t want “bad people” to have weapons, he won’t allow any plan to move forward that takes guns away from law-abiding people or restricts Second Amendment rights (The Associated Press). …Trump met on Thursday with Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergThere are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook’s Libra Facebook announces new payment service Computer software pioneer John McAfee rips Facebook’s Libra project MORE at the White House, Axios reported and the company confirmed. The president tweeted a White House photo of the meeting. Facebook is under intense Washington scrutiny because of its business practices, handling of users’ privacy and global influence, and Zuckerberg has embarked on some high-level personal diplomacy up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Less than five months until voters cast their first ballots, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats worry they don’t have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union Krystal Ball credits Gabbard’s upswing in 2020 race to ‘feckless’ Democratic establishment MORE (I-Vt.) is attempting a reboot of his operations in Iowa and New Hampshire as allies of the Vermont senator worry that he is playing second fiddle to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats worry they don’t have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he’s ‘very much into climate’ | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard’s upswing in 2020 race to ‘feckless’ Democratic establishment MORE (D-Mass.) as she continues her rise in the 2020 Democratic primary.
As Jonathan Easley reports, Sanders has quietly replaced his state directors in the two first-in-the-nation states in recent weeks as he looks to jumpstart his bid. While Sanders has remained squarely in the top three of polling, he has seen Warren climb alongside him in surveys, with some showing that she has surpassed him.
Unlike his 2016 bid, Sanders is no longer the only progressive candidate vying for the nomination as Warren and others have crowded space he used to occupy and are pushing policies that were once viewed as extreme, but now have become mainstream stances.
A prime example cropped up this week when Warren won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a progressive group that backed Sanders last cycle, angering some allies of the Vermont senator. Additionally, some of Warren’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of supporters, something that became a staple of Sanders’s 2016 run.
“It does look like she’s starting to take over,” said one Sanders ally with close ties to the campaign. “Nobody is attacking us, and that’s probably because their internal polling says there’s no reason to attack us, for the same reason you don’t see people out there attacking Beto O’Rourke. Biden’s not out there attacking our electability. His allies are out there attacking Warren’s electability. Why do you think that is?”
On Thursday, Sanders’s campaign announced that they hit the 1 million individual donor mark, making him the first Democratic primary candidate to hit the milestone (The Hill).
The Washington Post: Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply MORE (D-Calif.), behind in the polls, pivots sharply to an Iowa-first strategy.
Bloomberg: Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerSteyer scores endorsement from key New Hampshire activist Excitement over Bloomberg’s trial balloon should concern Democrats New Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading in New Hampshire MORE invests in companies he says are part of the problem.
> Endorsements: Former Vice President Biden rolled out a series of new endorsements on Thursday as he looks to solidify his frontrunner status atop the 2020 Democratic field.
Biden secured the support of two former chairmen of the Congressional Black Caucus — Reps. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBlack leaders say African American support in presidential primary is fluid North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats Democrats see whistleblower report as smoking gun MORE (D-N.C.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) — along with Rep. Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump’s new controversy Florida Rep. Charlie Crist endorses Biden Pelosi says she’ll no longer address anything Barr says MORE (D-Fla.), with all three arguing that Biden is the best positioned candidate to win in toss-up states and defeat Trump next year (The Hill).
Butterfield told The Associated Press that he does not believe either Warren or Sanders have the ability to defeat the president in North Carolina, a state Trump won in 2016 over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don’t have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard’s upswing in 2020 race to ‘feckless’ Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE by nearly four percentage points.
“[Biden] can connect with the average American — black, white or brown. Warren and Sanders cannot win North Carolina.” Butterfield said. “I have great respect for both of them, but they cannot win North Carolina. Joe Biden can.”
As for Crist, the former GOP governor of Florida, he argued that Biden can attract “independent and disaffected Republicans” and shift their votes away from the president (The Hill).
Politico: Warren gets caught in Senate primary crossfire.
> North Carolina Senate: The warning signs are piling up for Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a ‘national security threat’ Trump rules out total rollback of Chinese tariffs MORE (R-N.C.) as he motors toward his reelection battle next year amid worries some conservatives view the first-term senator as not in lockstep with the president, despite earning his endorsement (The Hill).
Tillis, who was booed by some at the president’s rally last week in Fayetteville, N.C., recently unveiled a $2.2 million ad buy through the March primary touting his work with the president. Additionally, a Morning Consult poll released in July showed him with only a 33 percent approval rating – the lowest of any sitting senator, with some polls showing him trailing his potential Democratic challengers, including state Sen. Erica Smith and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
“The base is indifferent on him,” said one North Carolina GOP official. “They don’t love him, but they don’t hate him.”
The price tag for the ad buy accounts for more than half of the $4.3 million in cash on hand Tillis reported at the end of June, and Democrats smell blood in the water, both against Tillis and the state writ large.
“You don’t spend half your cash on hand this early on a primary challenger that you’ve been trying to dismiss as not a threat up to this point,” one Democratic official familiar with Senate races said.
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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: The House passed a stopgap spending measure on Thursday to avoid the second government shutdown of the year, funding the government until lawmakers leave for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The House passed the measure on a bipartisan basis, 301-123, and the Senate is expected to approve it when they return to Washington next week ahead of the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
As Niv Elis and Juliegrace Brufke report, the final House deal included provisions requiring the Department of Agriculture to provide state-by-state data on the effects of President Trump’s trade war, and extends funding for a slew of health programs including community health centers and Medicaid coverage in U.S. territories.
The legislation also extends the National Flood Insurance Program and authorizations for the Export-Import Bank.
The bill’s passage came as the Senate continued its spending battle after not passing any of its funding packages ahead of the August recess, unlike the House, as lawmakers negotiated a two-year budget and debt limit agreement.
Senate Democrats voted down a bill on Wednesday that would fund most of the government. The House-passed bill was expected to be the vehicle for any Senate funding action, but the measure did not garner the needed 60 votes due to Democratic objections over the president’s border wall.
The Associated Press: House OKs measure to prevent possible end-of-month shutdown.
The Washington Post: Trump officials considering plan to divert billions of dollars in additional funds for border barrier.
The Hill: Democrats press House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget ‘conventional wisdom’ What this ‘impeachment’ is really about — and it’s not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) to hold Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiDemocrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify Pence files paperwork for Trump to be on New Hampshire ballot MORE in contempt.
> Judges: Senate Republicans have showed they are unafraid to stand in the way of some of the president’s most important nominees: Judges.
As Jordain Carney writes, GOP leaders view passing the president’s judicial nominees as their top priority — smashing records for the pace of influential appeals court picks, with the Senate GOP on the brink of setting the fastest confirmation pace for judicial nominees overall.
However, Senate Republicans have heavily scrutinized a number of recent nominees, some of whom have either had their nominations torpedoed or had questions raised about their potential confirmation.
Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) became the latest member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to warn he could vote down one of Trump’s picks, arguing that Steven Menashi, nominated for the 2nd Circuit appeals court, could be “Oliver Wendell Scalia,” but that he couldn’t vote in favor of his nomination unless he got a clear picture of how Menashi thinks about legal issues.
“If someone gets mad at that, they need to call somebody who cares, because that is my job and I’m tired of them playing games,” Kennedy said responding to critics of his questions about the nominee.
The Washington Post: Senate panel delays confirmation hearing for ex-Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), citing FBI background check.
America’s newest comedy troupe: House GOP, by Albert Hunt, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2m5j9VR
Jerome Powell is right to stand up to Trump’s bullying, by Desmond Lachman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2m3AZsi
WHERE AND WHEN
Hill.TV’s “Rising” at 9 a.m. ET features the final portion of the three-part interview with presidential candidate and New York entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Is Andrew Yang’s pivot working? New Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading in New Hampshire MORE, who discusses comedian Shane Gillis, Cancel Culture, and Associate Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDivided Supreme Court leans toward allowing Trump to end DACA Hirono memoir due in 2021 The Hill’s Morning Report – Witness transcripts plow ground for public impeachment testimony MORE; former Massachusetts Gov. Bill WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify Pence files paperwork for Trump to be on New Hampshire ballot Trump primary challengers to be excluded from Minnesota ballot MORE, to talk about his primary campaign against the president; Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, to touch on the group’s endorsement of Warren; and Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackHill editor-in-chief: Hunter Biden investigation only a ‘matter of time’ Aviation chairmen cite safety, new tech among concerns for the future Hill editor-in-chief: ‘Hard to imagine’ House leadership without Cummings MORE, editor in chief of The Hill, for his weekly DeBrief segment. Find Hill.TV programming at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m.
The House meets in a pro forma session at 9 a.m.
The Senate will reconvene on Monday at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of Treasury Department counselor Brian McGuire to confirmed as a deputy under secretary of the department.
The president and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings The Hill’s Morning Report – Witness transcripts plow ground for public impeachment testimony The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Washington braces for public impeachment hearings MORE welcome Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife to the White House for a state visit (the second of Trump’s presidency), capped by a State Dinner this evening. In between, Trump has bilateral meetings with Morrison and a joint press conference at 11:45 a.m.
Vice President Pence participates in White House events with Morrison and the president today, and on Saturday travels to Michigan to speak at the Biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, followed by a roundtable discussion. He returns to Washington on Saturday evening.
The United Nations Climate Action Summit begins Saturday through Sept. 23.
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➔ Vaping illnesses: Cases in the United States of breathing sickness tied to e-cigarette vaping soared to 530 across 38 states and one territory, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cause or causes remain unknown (The Associated Press). Eight vaping-related deaths have been reported. The uptick in cases prompted the White House to cancel a planned Thursday meeting with proponents of vaping (Bloomberg).
➔ Israel: Governance in Israel following this week’s inconclusive second election this year suggested there could be an unprecedented third election on the country’s horizon. Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, on Thursday each called for the formation of a unity government. But with both men demanding to be prime minister, there were no signs a deadlock would be broken. The rival proposals, marked by deep differences, indicated Israel could be headed for a long and contentious period of uncertainty (The Associated Press).
➔ Iran: From the Pentagon today, Trump will receive a broad range of military options, including a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, as he considers how to respond to what the administration maintains was an attack nearly a week ago by Tehran on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry (The Associated Press). The United States continued working on Thursday to build an unspecified international coalition to respond to Iran’s aggression against Saudi Arabia, while Iran warned of war if the country is attacked. Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats warn State Dept against punishing individuals who testify in impeachment hearings Pompeo condemns ‘deplorable’ killings of Iraqi protesters MORE, traveling in the United Arab Emirates, said the president, who ordered more Iran sanctions, wants a peaceful solution to the crisis. Pompeo appeared to soften his tone on Thursday after talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, which is Saudi Arabia’s primary Arab ally. Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif today on Twitter questioned the U.S. coalition concept and said during a CNN interview on Thursday that his country “won’t blink” if it has to defend itself against any U.S. or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to “all-out war” (Reuters).
And finally … Congratulations to Morning Report quiz winners! Our editor thought this week’s quiz was tough, but we were confident The Hill’s readers would be up on their history about the Washington Monument (or manage some high quality Googling). The iconic obelisk reopened on Thursday after three years of renovations, including a ribbon-cutting by the first lady (The Hill).
Kudos to these quiz masters: Ki Harvey, Wade Lewis, Phil Kirstein, Donna Nackers, Carol Katz, Patrick Kavanagh, Barry Reich, Luther Berg, Renee Ellis, John Donato, Candi Cee, Virginia Norris/Pauline Grace, Marty Rhymes and Lorraine Lindberg.
They knew that the Eiffel Tower took over as the tallest free-standing structure in the world.
The Know-Nothing Party is the main political party that is considered responsible for its halt in construction of the monument from 1854 to 1877.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the tallest habitable building in Washington.
The Continental Congress voted in 1783 to create an “equestrian statue” of George Washington. But the nation’s first president nixed the statue because he objected to tapping public monies for the memorial.
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