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    Trump aides begin looking for the exits


    A fast-growing number of White House staffers are starting to look for the exits, even though the one-year mark of President Donald Trump’s first term is still months away.Many who joined the administration in January did so with the explicit idea that...

    A fast-growing number of White House staffers are starting to look for the exits, even though the one-year mark of President Donald Trump’s first term is still months away.

    Many who joined the administration in January did so with the explicit idea that they’d stay for at least a year, enough to credibly say they’d served. But in the aftermath of a wave of abrupt, high-profile departures over the summer that culminated with former chief strategist Steve Bannon’s ouster in August, aides up and down the chain are reaching out to headhunters, lobbyists, and GOP operatives for help finding their next job.

    Staffers from the National Economic Council — where director Gary Cohn is expected to be on his way out altogether after tax reform or onto a different role — as well as the communications shop and beyond are quietly exploring their next moves. They’re talking to headhunters about positions as in-house government affairs experts at major companies, or as executives at trade associations, universities, or consulting firms — ironically, jobs that run counter to Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra.

    Political appointees want to leave for myriad reasons, according to recruiters, Republican operatives and White House officials. Morale is low, the Russia investigations seem only to grow in scope and constant churn at the top has left some staffers without patrons in a workplace known for backbiting and a tribal-like attitude.


    “There will be an exodus from this administration in January,” said one Republican lobbyist, who alone has heard from five officials looking for new gigs. “Everyone says, ‘I just need to stay for one year.’ If you leave before a year, it looks like you are acknowledging that you made a mistake.”

    Staffers are already laying the groundwork through networking, lunches, and résumés sent to D.C.-based executive recruiters, so that they can a land new job by the start of 2018. Two headhunters confirmed that they had heard from multiple White House staffers.

    “There is no joy in Trumpworld right now,” said one adviser in frequent contact with several staffers. “Working in the White House is supposed to be the peak of your career, but everyone is unhappy, and everyone is fighting everyone else.”

    White House political positions are notorious burn-out jobs, with long hours and low pay in a high-stress, competitive environment, regardless of who is president.

    “There is always a shake-out period at the beginning with a few people not working out,” said Anita Dunn, former White House communications director for Obama and senior adviser to his presidential campaigns. “But typically, you tend to get turnover at the two-year marks like after a mid-term or election."

    President Barack Obama’s communications director, Ellen Moran, left after three months to join the Commerce Department as chief of staff, while two of Obama’s top budget and economic advisers, Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, resigned in the summer of 2010. President Bill Clinton’s first chief of staff and childhood friend Mack McLarty left that top role in June 1994 after a rocky run and was replaced by Leon Panetta.

    As Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly has brought order to the decision-making process, officials say, and that has boosted morale among many policy staffers who finally feel included in the West Wing’s work, according to one senior administration official. But his presence has also meant that staffers loyal to other former leaders like former chief of staff Reince Priebus or Bannon or those without a defined portfolio may no longer have the clout they once enjoyed. And some staffers just feel tired by the ever-shifting power map within the West Wing.

    “I would say about anybody looking to leave that they are probably having a hard time keeping up with President Trump. You sign on for this, and you’ve got to be ready to go,” said one senior White House official.


    The White House has already shed senior staff. Roughly 23 White House staffers have also resigned or been fired since January including high-profile departures such Priebus, , Bannon and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to lesser-known appointees such as Michael Short of the communications shop, Derek Harvey of the National Security Council, or former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh.

    This constant departures and changes in leadership could make it difficult for the administration to woo Republicans or top policy experts for new openings, said one executive recruiter — a problem compounded by the fact that the administration is still trying to fill vacant political positions in both the West Wing and federal agencies.

    So far, the Trump White House has nominated roughly 345 appointees for Senate-confirmed positions. By Sept. 22 in past administrations, Obama had nominated 459 people while President George W. Bush had nominated 588 and Clinton 407, according to historical data kept by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

    “The question ultimately is whether people face a reputational risk by serving in this administration. Will it hurt people?” added the recruiter, who hires for trade associations, companies, and firms, looking for a D.C. presence.

    But, this recruiter said, interest is always high in people coming out of the White House: “Our clients are always looking for people who have insights and perspectives from inside the administration, whether it is on tax reform or health care.”

    White House officials are required by the Office of Government Ethics to let their bosses and the ethics officer from the White House counsel’s office know if they do any job searching, even if they’re just sending out résumés, said Don Fox, the former general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics. Then, the official also needs to recuse himself or herself from any White House business or policy that relates to their job search in any way.

    “I can’t say this happens 100 percent of the time, but I worked with both the Bush 43 and Obama White House on this, and both administrations were very careful about it,” Fox said. “In terms of the public interest, you’re trying to preserve that by maintaining the objectivity of government officials.”

    It’s not clear whether controversy over Trump’s policy positions will make it harder for people to find work. Former press secretary Sean Spicer has struggled to land a role as a paid network or cable news contributor because of concerns about his credibility.

    And industries that have had tenuous relationships with the administration, so far, may be reluctant to hire well-known Trump appointees. Tech companies, for instance, have been among the more vocal critics of the administration’s travel ban and other immigration policies, which are anathema to many progressive workers in Silicon Valley.

    “Some people are a little nervous that corporations will hold their time in the Trump White House against them, particularly companies like Google or Uber or tech players,” said one GOP strategist, who has also been contacted by several White House staffers slyly on the hunt for new jobs.


    This operative said that White House staffers will call or email him out of the blue to try to schedule a lunch, or ask him to submit their names for a job. “I want to say, ‘Are you going to be serving a side of résumé with this lunch?” the strategist said.

    One additional hiccup may be that there are fewer job openings in Washington right now for political and policy operatives because the usual job-shuffling following an election year didn’t happen to the same degree after the 2016 election, said another executive recruiter.

    Usually, people leave D.C. government relations jobs or trade associations to take positions in the White House, but many people who might have gone into the administration under a different president instead “hunkered down” in 2017, the same recruiter added.

    “It is a little early in the game to leave,” the recruiter went on. “One White House staffer said to me, ‘I’ve accomplished a lot, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do.’ To myself, I was thinking: ‘But you’ve only been there since the spring.”


    He’s the Republican Dream Candidate. There’s Just One Problem ...


    GREENVILLE, Wis. — Kevin Nicholson has a confession to make, if only someone would listen. Standing on a makeshift stage inside a burgundy-colored barn rented by the Republican Party of Outagamie County—two hours north of Milwaukee, just west of...

    GREENVILLE, Wis. — Kevin Nicholson has a confession to make, if only someone would listen. Standing on a makeshift stage inside a burgundy-colored barn rented by the Republican Party of Outagamie County—two hours north of Milwaukee, just west of Green Bay—the U.S. Senate candidate and unlikely new object of conservative fascination has broken into a biographical speech. But many attendees don’t seem to care. He isn’t unique in receiving this treatment; the audience, buzzing off plates of barbecue and $2 cans of Miller Lite, was just as irreverent toward their own congressman, Mike Gallagher, as well as Leah Vukmir, a state senator and Nicholson’s rival in the Republican primary. With the barn’s metal gates flung upward to welcome August’s evening breath, and clusters of party loyalists chattering in buffet lines and around red-plastic-draped picnic tables, the acoustics are dreadful for a rookie politician hoping to be heard.

    But then it happens: Nicholson, a decorated combat veteran and business wunderkind with advanced degrees from Harvard and Dartmouth, begins taming the crowd, one expertly crafted anecdote at a time. He recalls his experience fighting and losing friends in Iraq, as Democrats “lied” about the gains his Marines made. He tells of adventures in academia, where he could “test the assumptions of the elites and the experts to find out what they really don’t know.” He mentions his time as a McKinsey consultant, engineering corporate restructurings around the world, as a segue to denouncing the “garbage” math in Washington on the sustainability of America’s debt. The longer he goes, the quieter his audience gets.

    Nicholson arrived here a virtual unknown; the strapping, clean-shaven 39-year-old, with light blue eyes and a wavy dark mane, lingered awkwardly near tables to present himself. But as he concludes his remarks, attendees begin approaching the podium. The first one there is Jack Voight, a former state treasurer who recently retired from local office and promised his wife he wouldn’t go near another campaign. Voight engages Nicholson in a passionate, minutelong dialogue, the two men gripping each others’ hands in an arm-wrestling stance. Voight gives the candidate his phone number and tells him to call tomorrow. “I know where all the bodies are buried,” Voight tells him, grinning. Just like that, Nicholson has gained an influential ally.

    This is becoming routine. Since declaring his candidacy in late July, Nicholson has won the endorsement of the Club for Growth, the influential and well-heeled conservative group; secured the backing of former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and his affiliated PAC; and assembled an impressive roster of wealthy Republicans to helm his campaign’s financial operation. Most important is the support Nicholson won before entering the race: Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, titans in the conservative donor universe, parked $3.5 million in a super PAC for him, baffling rivals in both parties and lending the little-known, first-time candidate instant viability.

    It’s rare—practically unheard of—for an established donor to spend that kind of money on an unproven commodity. Then again, candidates like Kevin Nicholson don’t come around every day. It should come as no shock that some Republicans have fallen for him: With his Hollywood looks, military pedigree, Ivy League smarts and private-sector proficiency, Nicholson could have been built in a GOP laboratory. He is hungry and confident and committed, having oriented much of his adult life around an eventual run for public office. His published writings on pension reform read like a product of the Heritage Foundation; his voluntary second tour overseas is the stuff ad-makers fantasize about. He is, for comparison’s sake, a wealthier, better-looking and more charming version of Senator Tom Cotton. “Kevin is even more impressive in person than he is on paper,” gushes David McIntosh, the former congressman and Club for Growth president.


    The spell Nicholson has cast over a number of influential Republicans is a source of wonder in Wisconsin these days. Yet people who know him say the explanation isn’t terribly complicated. “He’s a McKinsey consultant. His job is to walk in a room of powerful, wealthy people, blow them away, and get their money,” says one state official who is friendly with Nicholson but obligated to remain neutral in the race. “And he’s very, very good at it.” Another person who spoke on condition of anonymity—a longtime friend of Nicholson’s who is a Democrat, and therefore loath to either hurt or help him with an on-record statement—says none of Nicholson’s early success is surprising. “I’m guessing once he managed somehow to get in front of Dick Uihlein, he just impressed the shit out of him. I’m sure he laid out the case and convinced them he could make it happen,” the friend says. “I’ve seen it—the guy’s fucking incredible. Nobody knows him, and he’s arguably the front-runner for the nomination for U.S. Senate.”

    But there’s a glaring flaw in his otherwise immaculate résumé: Kevin Nicholson hasn’t always been a Republican. He was once an aspiring politician and rising star—in the Democratic Party.

    ***

    In 1999, Nicholson, a junior at the University of Minnesota, won an upset victory to become president of the College Democrats of America. The trappings included a full-time position at the Democratic National Committee in Washington and a speaking slot at the party’s 2000 convention. The archived C-SPAN clip of Nicholson’s nearly three-minute speech—in which he declares, “We care about a woman’s right to choose”—is emblematic of the minefield he must navigate en route to the Republican nomination, much less a general election victory. His high-profile stint as a Democrat, followed by what is better described as an evolution rather than a road-to-Damascus conversion, offers lip-licking openings for opponents to question his credibility, consistency and character. What has turned up so far—a laudatory letter he penned in 2000 to the pro-abortion group EMILY’s List; questions about his voting record in the 2008 primary; personal attacks from his former college roommate—are the political equivalent of body blows. Democrats, fearful of losing Tammy Baldwin’s seat in a state President Donald Trump carried last fall, are actively searching for a knockout, having built an atypically large opposition-research effort in hopes of derailing Nicholson before his campaign picks up steam.

    He understands the scope of the dirt-digging—with former friends, colleagues and even roommates teaming up to take him down—and therefore seizes every occasion to talk about his past. The goal is to inoculate his candidacy in the hopes that voters will view attacks on his college activism as old news. But his strategy is not merely a defensive one. Nicholson knows that Wisconsin’s Republican base is comprised of many white, working-class voters who were Democrats themselves not a generation ago; the objective in playing up his Democratic roots is to turn a potentially crippling liability into his campaign’s unlikeliest asset. “It’s something I’ve embraced,” he tells me, riding north on I-43 toward Greenville in the back row of his family’s black SUV. “I start every speech talking about how I was a Democrat, and what I saw and what I was involved in, and how it made me a conservative.”

    Just like Ronald Reagan,” Voight tells me. “He has seen the other side.”


    Sure enough, within the hour, Nicholson opens his remarks to the Outagamie County GOP by disclosing his collegiate party affiliation. It draws a few playful boos, but then again, most people aren’t listening yet. Jack Voight is. After his passionate exchange with Nicholson following the speech, I ask Voight to explain his enthusiasm for the GOP newcomer. “Just like Ronald Reagan,” Voight tells me. “He has seen the other side.”

    It’s not the first time I’ve heard Nicholson mentioned in the same breath as a president. Progressives that loathe (and fear) him claim there’s a master plan to pursue the White House, while conservatives he has courted describe someone who, to borrow from Bruce Springsteen, was born to run. “He is sort of the central-casting version of what a Republican candidate should look like, be like, sound like,” says Charlie Sykes, the once-dominant conservative talk-radio voice in Wisconsin who recently quit to write an anti-Trump book. Despite long being Vukmir’s biggest booster in the state’s conservative media scene, Sykes, who’s staying neutral for the time being, says of Nicholson, “If voters are looking for a fresh face, he would be the ideal.”

    Months of gossip percolating through Wisconsin’s political class have produced two distinct and diverging judgments of Nicholson, revolving around the sincerity of his conversion and the scope of his ambition. The generous view holds, more or less, that Nicholson quit politics because he felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, discovered his inner conservatism and re-emerged serendipitously back home just as Wisconsin’s GOP bench was growing a bit stale. The cynical view is essentially that Nicholson has wanted to be president since he was a teenager and has few core convictions; that he saw the demographic winds shift during his time in D.C. and decided the clearest path to public office as a straight, white man in Wisconsin would be as a Republican.


    After conversations with more than two dozen people who know Nicholson, I’ve concluded that there’s something to both of these narratives. Friend and foe alike testify in detail to his methodical preparation and deep-seated political aspirations, leaving no illusion that he finds himself running for federal office by happenstance. And yet it’s apparent that Nicholson, a moderate Democrat turned Marine officer, felt fundamentally betrayed by modern liberalism and went searching for something else. Neither of these broad conclusions would seem inherently harmful to Nicholson; it’s the details that could complicate his tightly crafted story of political self-discovery. Any date that proves inconsistent, any record that contradicts past statements, will fuel the perception of a candidate with something to hide. It’s a perception Nicholson, an intensely personal guy who is introverted by nature, plays into; his campaign would not tell me, for instance, what Nicholson’s parents do for a living. This is likely because he hails from a heavily Democratic family—his mother, Federal Election Commision records show, donated thousands of dollars to liberal candidates and causes in recent years—and wants to protect his parents from efforts to expose intrafamily tension. Yet his guarded nature adds to a shadowy aura surrounding his campaign, which, paired with imminent attacks on the discrepancies in his biography, could prove debilitating. The Republican Party’s next big star might not even pass his first test.

    It’s risky to start poking holes in a decorated veteran’s backstory, and Nicholson’s GOP adversaries have no need to get overly personal—at least, not yet. They believe, in a state where Republicans have radically transformed government through seven years of brutal party-line warfare, that Nicholson’s new-to-the-team routine won’t fly with voters. Wisconsin is one state where there is little daylight between the grass roots and establishment; outsider rhetoric can be ineffective bordering on counterproductive. Against that backdrop, Nicholson’s early traction has some Republicans concerned, if a bit annoyed.

    When Vukmir learns that I’m here to write about Nicholson, she rolls her eyes. “What do you know about him?” I ask. She shakes her head. “What you’ve heard him say. That’s about all I know.” Vukmir, who sits on the powerful Joint Finance Committee, was waiting for the state’s budget to pass before officially announcing her Senate campaign, but couldn’t afford to wait any longer and wound up launching in the first week of September. But I know, speaking to her in Greenville weeks earlier, she’s here for the same reason as Nicholson. During our interview, Voight comes around the corner—and Vukmir buttonholes him. They make a minute of small talk before Vukmir gets to the point: “I’ll be calling you.” Voight shoots me a glance, wondering if I’ve spilled the beans about his bromance with Nicholson. “OK,” he smiles guiltily.

    I can’t tell whether Vukmir sees through Voight. But it’s apparent, after another minute of prodding her about Nicholson, that she’s struggling to mask her irritation. “I don’t know what Kevin’s conservative record is, other than him saying he’s a conservative,” Vukmir says. “So he’ll have to get people to believe that.”

    ***

    The story of Nicholson’s transformation starts with Jessie Roos. They met at the University of Minnesota, and according to mutual friends, forged a relationship owing to equal parts romance, intellectual admiration and political drive. They were inseparable, with Roos pulling double-duty as Nicholson’s girlfriend and most trusted adviser. This arrangement caused uneasiness in College Democrat circles as Nicholson campaigned to lead the national organization. The reason: Roos was among the most prominent conservatives on campus. In 1998, she and four other students were plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the university; they objected, the Associated Press reported at the time, “to sending $1.04 per quarter in mandatory student fees to the Queer Student Cultural Center, La Raza Student Cultural Center and University-YW (Young Women), groups they say promote homosexuality, communism and abortion.”

    Despite their diverging politics, Roos was Nicholson’s “north star,” a phrase used by two separate college friends to describe her influence over him. The couple broke up and reconciled repeatedly, in part because Roos feared Nicholson might never acknowledge the truth about himself: that deep down, he was a conservative. The relationship nearly ended, permanently, when Nicholson advocated “a woman’s right to choose” in his convention speech. Reviewing the text with him by phone from Minnesota, Roos went ballistic when she heard the line and demanded Nicholson remove it. He refused. “We got in a fight. I knew at the time it was not something he had thought extensively about,” she recalls to me. “And that definitely was a piece of the conversation in terms of courtship and leading toward marriage, because that was a no-go zone for me.”


    Today they can claim a happy ending: Nicholson ultimately turned anti-abortion, the couple got married, had three children and are now simpatico in their worldviews. Jessie Roos is now Jessie Nicholson, herself a political pro with a communications background: She was a George W. Bush political appointee at the Department of Agriculture and previously worked for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as well as Republicans in the Statehouse. It takes five minutes around the Nicholsons to realize that Jessie, who led her husband’s conversion, will be guiding his Senate campaign more than any consultant or strategist. “We are partners, and we both have different roles to play,” she says, smiling. “I know how I think things should go.”

    She’ll have to help her husband craft sharper answers to questions about his background, including that convention speech. Before heading to Wisconsin, I heard Nicholson say on multiple radio shows that someone “put a piece of paper in front of me” containing the abortion rights language. As we ride together, I ask a simple question: Did you write that line, or was it written for you? “Um, let’s start with the most important thing,” he replies. “I’m responsible because I said it. So don’t think that I’m equivocating on this.” Sure, I say, but it’s important to nail down: Did you write it? “Yeah—so, no. The bottom line is ... ” Nicholson stops and swallows hard. His face is flushed. “Cognizant of the fact you’re going to write this out, I want to be clear: I own it, ‘cause I was a young person but I was an adult, and I should have known better. Period.” He continues: “I wrote a speech which was pretty innocuous. It was about generational differences. ... That was sent to the DNC, it was recut, and that particular phrase was inserted.” So, I ask him, you didn’t write that phrase about abortion? “Nope. Well it—don’t get me as a bullshitter here. I own it. I said it.”

    Unless the DNC is hanging on to 17-year-old emails containing Nicholson’s original draft, nobody can prove who wrote that line. But Nicholson’s convoluted story only invites further scrutiny of his record on abortion. Already, Democrats have released the EMILY’s List letter, as well as the College Democrats’ abortion rights platform that was adopted on Nicholson’s watch. I found something else, having heard from friends about his frequent appearances on MSNBC during the 2000 campaign: a transcript of “Equal Time,” on July 14, 2000, in which Nicholson debated Scott Stewart, then the chairman of the College Republicans. Discussing the Supreme Court, 22-year-old Nicholson said, “Obviously, the next president is going to have a huge impact on the court. And I personally believe, and the people in my organization, the College Democrats of America, believe that Al Gore needs to be elected in order to ensure that the simple issues, base issues like a woman’s right to choose, must be protected.”

    I couldn’t find the videotape. But Nicholson’s opponents probably will, and if they do, he can expect a bruising attack ad highlighting his abortion flip-flop. Whether voters care about what a candidate said in college remains to be seen—Trump called himself “very pro choice” on Meet the Press in 1999 and the GOP nominated him 18 years later—but Nicholson’s vulnerability speaks to the broader challenge he faces in running his first race as a Republican, with his only political experience coming as a Democrat.

    Two things are striking as it relates to Nicholson and abortion. First, it represents a rare policy area in which his opponents have discovered vulnerability; one Democrat familiar with the party’s opposition-research efforts tells me they are frustrated because of how careful he was in college to avoid taking polarizing positions. And second, Nicholson’s liberal friends—most of whom insisted they not be quoted in this story—agree that his change of heart on abortion comes across as the most authentic element of his entire conversion. “I have children, and they’re a hell of a lot more than a choice,” Nicholson tells me. “I also saw innocent lives of kids [taken] in combat. I say that and it’s not hyperbole, it’s not a joke. If anything makes you stop and think about how wasteful it all is, it’s watching life get blown to smithereens because they’re in the wrong place in the wrong time. It does change your perspective, and it does mature you.”

    ***

    Before he met his wife, Nicholson told me, his “greatest political influence” was his grandfather, a 50-year union worker and FDR devotee, who drilled into his grandson’s psyche the evils of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. Nicholson says those spirited discussions with the man he spent his childhood weekends with—and eulogized in early 2016—formed the core of his worldview as he headed off to college, and inspired him to become active in the Democratic Party.

    It certainly sounds improbable: a teenager stumbling into campus politics, informed by little more than his grandfather’s New Deal nostalgia, and within a few years ascending to lead the College Democrats of America. Hoping to better understand Nicholson’s background, I went to his hometown of Mequon, Wisconsin, and visited his alma mater, Homestead High School. To my surprise, few people there remembered him. He flashed serious wheels as a track-and-field standout, and earned good grades, but there was zero extracurricular activity to foreshadow a career in politics—no student government, honor society, study abroad. When I talked with two of the Social Studies department’s longest-tenured teachers—Ernie Millard and Steve O’Brien, both of whom taught when Nicholson was there—neither could muster a memory. Only after I showed Millard his photo did he remember coaching Nicholson on the freshman wrestling team. When I told them he’s running for U.S. Senate, O’Brien leaned forward. “You’re shitting me.”

    The portrait of young Nicholson, painted by the few who knew him then, is of a reserved kid who was both smart and standoffish. (“I like long walks,” reads the caption beneath his senior yearbook portrait, “especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”) His political activism was mostly limited to lunch-hour debates with friends. One such discussion was captured on video when Nicholson’s friend, Ryan Rudominer—who later became a Democratic operative in D.C.—won a C-SPAN scholarship as a high school senior. The footage opens with Nicholson arguing to friends that “Welfare is the only program designed to get people off of it,” adding, “You do not want generations on welfare.” (This was 1996, and Nicholson idolized Bill Clinton’s brand of center-left politics.) The biggest difference between Nicholson in high school and college may have been his surroundings; Rudominer says they were two of the only Democratic students in their staunchly conservative town, and that Nicholson hadn’t yet come out of his shell. “It didn’t surprise me to see Kevin running for national political office,” Rudominer tells me. “He’s always had the political skills and ambition for it.”


    Everything changed when Nicholson arrived on the ultraliberal Minnesota campus. Within a year he was elected to student government—he would eventually run, unsuccessfully, for student body president—and promising his new friends that some day he would win the White House. More than ever, Nicholson kept his guard up; he was careful, friends tell me, never to be seen drunk or heard cursing in public. But his ambition was obvious to all: Nicholson ordered a vanity plate that read “ARFS1” (short for “Air Force Once”) and, after establishing himself as the top Democrat on campus, set his sights on winning the presidency of the College Democrats of America.

    His closest ally was Mike Tate, who led the Wisconsin College Democrats and later served as chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party during Baldwin’s victorious Senate run in 2012. Nicholson enlisted Tate’s support when running in college and the two became fast friends, having grown up 12 miles apart in suburban Milwaukee. They roomed together at the 2000 convention and Tate often crashed at Nicholson’s place in D.C. “He had his whole life planned out. He was going to serve in the military, come back to Wisconsin and run for office,” Tate says. “My biggest disappointment is that he’s doing it as a Republican.” He tells me Nicholson “gets up every day with a mission” and “should absolutely be taken seriously” by Democrats, even if Tate still doesn’t understand why his friend switched parties. He recalls one late-night college conversation that he can’t shake. “I was once foolish enough to think I wanted to run for office, and he talked to me about how Humphrey and Mondale were partners in Minnesota politics for decades,” Tate says. “And he said, ‘Mike, that could be you and me in Wisconsin.’”

    He had his whole life planned out. He was going to serve in the military, come back to Wisconsin and run for office,” Tate says. “My biggest disappointment is that he’s doing it as a Republican.”


    Nicholson today is embarrassed by his former self, telling me three times that he was a “punk kid.” This is precisely how some fellow College Democrats remember him: as the cold, cocky, unpopular leader of their organization. “I did not like Kevin, and he would be the first person to tell you that,” says Alexandra Acker-Lyons, who was Nicholson’s vice president and is today a Democratic consultant. “Kevin is that guy—D.C. is crawling with them, summer interns and Hill stafferswho you know wants to run for office, and you know isn’t doing it for the right reasons.”

    Others followed him with a cult-like fervor. “He was very well liked and could really relate to people, talk to them on their level,” recalls Kevin Pomasl, an active Democrat on Minnesota’s campus who worked local races and became Nicholson’s close friend. Pomasl, who today runs a fire equipment company in northern Wisconsin and considers himself an independent, says Nicholson “sold himself” as a star-in-the-making, and people gravitated toward him accordingly. One such person was Adam Tillotson, who was a year behind Nicholson at Minnesota and met him through College Democrats. Drawn to his “powerful personality,” Tillotson says he became Nicholson’s friend and political disciple. “There were so many people who saw great things in him,” Tillotson tells me. The two rented an apartment together near campus, but soon had a falling out. Tillotson packed his bags. They never reconciled, and Tillotson—who today leads a teachers union and makes no bones about being a partisan—is now Nicholson’s fiercest critic, bombarding Wisconsin reporters with tales of the Senate hopeful’s zealous pursuit of the Oval Office. Among many other accusations, Tillotson says Nicholson was verbally and emotionally abusive toward people during college. Nicholson, visibly irritated by questions about his former roommate’s scattershot allegations, tells me through a clenched jaw, “He’s lying.” Notably, in interviews with five other people who knew Nicholson at Minnesota—including three Democrats who oppose his Senate candidacy—nobody corroborated those accusations.

    Nicholson took a semester off school to work at the DNC while leading the College Democrats, during which time he told everyone of his plan to join the Marines after graduation. In retrospect, Nicholson says, the wide-eyed reactions were an early indication that, “This wasn’t my crowd.” But there were other signs Nicholson didn’t belong; for a straight, white, centrist Democrat from Wisconsin, the party’s embrace of what he calls “identity politics”—and its leftward lurch on cultural issues at the turn of the century—made him uncomfortable.

    “He was struggling with it back then. I remember teasing him and joking that he was going to end up as a Republican,” says Stewart, the former college GOP chairman who was Nicholson’s frequent sparring partner on cable television. Stewart hadn’t spoken with Nicholson in years, but says he wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that his old adversary had switched sides. “We’d be in the green room, talking about our families, and as we talked he would reveal these misgivings about the Democratic Party,” Stewart recalls. “I always got the impression it was something he was dealing with.”

    When Nicholson returned to Minnesota in the fall of 2000, he slowly steered away from campus politics. He took over as president of the student newspaper, wanting to pad his résumé with business experience, and began closing in on graduation. But he grew restless and abruptly left school again—this time, to work as a ranch hand in rural Wyoming. He told friends he needed to “figure shit out,” which nobody except Jessie understood. “He had this weird, early life crisis,” Tate tells me. For the next year and change, Nicholson was off the grid, communicating only with Jessie and a few close friends via handwritten letters, telling them of books he was reading and things he was learning about himself. By the time he returned in late 2002 to finish up his coursework, something was different about Nicholson. The guy who once had it all figured out, only to begin drifting, now had it all figured out again. He graduated the next spring, married Jessie and joined the United States Marines Corps.

    ***

    Nobody at Camp Lejeune knew much about Nicholson in late 2005, except that he was the new guy joining the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion—and that a torn ACL in his left knee had delayed his arrival. (Nicholson has torn the same ACL three times.) It took nearly a year for Patrick Cleary, a fellow second lieutenant in the battalion who quickly became Nicholson’s closest buddy on the base, to discover a secret. During a discussion at the officers’ club of a new book, The Audacity of Hope, by Illinois senator and likely presidential candidate Barack Obama, Nicholson exploded. “What a bunch of bullshit. We’re just going to change the world with hope?” he said, according to Cleary. “Why don’t we just tell our Marines we’re going to war with hope?” Cleary says the officers exchanged puzzled looks. “‘Why are you so worked up?” Cleary asked. “He said, ‘I used to be the president of the College Democrats and I believed in this shit!’” Cleary recalls. He re-enacts his response, cocking his head to the side: “Whaaaat?”


    It was a similar story the next year during Nicholson’s 2007 deployment to Iraq. Leading 37 Marines in Anbar Province, on the heels of President Bush’s troop surge, Nicholson was “all business,” recalls Nate Flagg, who served in his unit. Nothing was known about the lieutenant’s politics. The tour was winding down when Nicholson offered a copy of his résumé to one of his Marines who was anxious about applying for work as a civilian. He spotted the bullet point reading “College Democrats,” and within hours the platoon was howling. “It was the biggest mistake he ever made,” Flagg tells me. “We were pretty ruthless about it.” How did Nicholson respond? “That was a long time ago,” Flagg recalls his superior saying. “Everyone is entitled to change their mind.”

    That wasn’t all Nicholson had changed. Gone was the arrogant, swaggering collegiate; people who knew Nicholson in the Marines describe a quiet, buttoned-down officer who was intensely devoted to his men. He and Jessie produced a regular newsletter for families in his platoon, and when he brought the entire unit home safely after more than 100 combat missions in Iraq, he was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal. By his telling, Nicholson had been moving rightward since his stint at the DNC in college, but it was the tour in Iraq when he had “given up on any shred of, ‘I’ll be a different kind of Democrat.’” The anti-war rhetoric from Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats proved to be the turning point. “There’s no other way to put this; I was livid,” Nicholson tells me. “I knew what we were doing there. We were stabilizing that country. We made incredible amounts of progress. And what I was hearing back home was a complete and absolute lie, as politicians were running around calling it a failure.”

    When he returned stateside in November 2007, Nicholson says, he and his wife went all-in for John McCain. They put up yard signs and made multiple donations to his campaign totaling $500; Nicholson attended a McCain rally and was photographed sitting behind the Republican candidate. As with so much else in Nicholson’s past, however, there is nothing simple about his official switch to Republicanism. He says he voted for Bush in 2004; yet he registered as a Democrat when he moved to North Carolina in 2005. This caused an even bigger headache: When he went to vote for McCain in the May 2008 presidential primary, state law disallowed same-day registration switching. So he says he voted “no preference” in the Democratic primary. The problem: records from Nicholson’s precinct that day suggest nobody voted “no preference.” This doesn’t mean he’s lying about backing McCain, and Nicholson can be excused for rolling his eyes at questions about “paper ballots in North Carolina 10 years ago.” But it’s another example of biographical vulnerability, even as his version of events is pretty convincing. “I would ask people to use common sense,” Nicholson tells me. “I was a Marine, and I was giving my vote, my money, my support and my time to ... the person who was going to be commanding me in a short period of time in combat.”

    Nicholson’s contract with the Marines was set to expire in 2008—until he unexpectedly volunteered for a second deployment with a different service branch. “Kevin and I are talking, we’re both getting out, we both want to go to business school,” Cleary recalls. “So the Army calls. ‘Hey, we’re short of lieutenants in Afghanistan’—you can read into what that means, you’ve got lieutenants there getting lit the fuck up—‘and we need unique route clearance capability. We need combat engineers that know how to lead route-clearing platoons to go to Helmand, the most dangerous province in Afghanistan, with an Army platoon.’” Cleary pauses. “Interservice rivalry is an understatement: totally different culture, totally different way of operating, totally different language. And Kevin’s like, ‘I think I’m gonna extend and go to Afghanistan.’ And I said, ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?’”

    I had never heard Nicholson discuss this; he mentions fighting in Afghanistan, but not the circumstances. Cleary, who like Nicholson attended Harvard upon leaving the Marines, feels obligated to emphasize and contextualize the decision his friend made. “He voluntarily extended to take on what I view—as a combat engineer who knew what that mission entailed—the most dangerous fucking mission available to a serviceman,” he says. “Basically, you go hunting for IEDs, and when you find them you blow them up. And it’s [the Taliban’s] most effective ambush tactic, so they really want to kill you.”


    Nicholson, a Marine captain by the time of his second deployment, was awarded the Bronze Star for leading the specialized counter-IED team in Afghanistan. He returned home in 2009 and left the military that summer, having been accepted into the dual MBA/MPA program put on by Dartmouth and Harvard. Nicholson was offered a full-time job by McKinsey after interning with the consulting behemoth in the summer of 2010, but deferred the position until he had finished the graduate program. When he did, in the summer of 2012, Nicholson and his young family moved back home to metropolitan Milwaukee.

    By this point, word of Nicholson’s political conversion had spread—thanks in part to Jessie sharing on Facebook her husband’s writings on pension reform—and many of their friends, regardless of political affiliation, assumed Nicholson was putting down roots to run for public office. They were right. Over the next several years, the Nicholsons worked systematically to cultivate relationships with activists, donors, elected officials and other political players in the state. That work paid off: Nicholson caught the attention of Jeff Harris, a major GOP donor, and Brett Healy, an influential conservative with deep relationships in Madison. Harris and Healy, according to numerous Wisconsin Republicans I spoke with, became Nicholson’s unofficial gatekeepers: making key introductions, promoting Nicholson to their allies as a once-in-a-generation political prospect, and grooming him for an eventual campaign. “His conservative bona fides were reinforced by the people who vouched for him,” says Matt Batzel, the Wisconsin-based executive director of the grass-roots-organizing group American Majority. “And when you meet him and talk to him, you have no doubt that he’s a conservative.”

    Nearly every Republican I spoke with says their introduction with Nicholson was brokered by either Harris or Healy, neither of whom would comment for this story. This is almost certainly how Nicholson got an audience with Dick and Liz Uihlein, the megadonor couple that gave more than $23 million to conservative candidates and causes in the 2016 cycle. (Nicholson tells me only that a “mutual friend” set up the meeting.) It’s known in GOP circles that Dick and Liz don’t always agree on politicians to support; it raised eyebrows, then, after the initial $3.5 million was pledged to Nicholson’s super PAC, when both joined the candidate’s finance committee. Uihlein is one of the Club for Growth’s biggest donors—which didn’t hurt Nicholson’s dogged pursuit of the group’s endorsement—and is poised to rally other Republican rainmakers to Nicholson’s cause.

    If financial might is fueling much of the hype surrounding Nicholson, there are reasons to suspect he won’t live up to it. His name identification in Wisconsin is all but nonexistent. Vukmir has her own deep-pocketed supporters, starting with Diane Hendricks, the richest Republican donor in the state. Eric Hovde, a self-funding businessman who finished a close second in the 2012 primary, is weighing another run. The pivotal endorsements in Wisconsin come not from national groups such as the Club for Growth (whose endorsed candidate in 2012 finished third in the GOP primary), but from conservative talk-radio in the southeast corner of the state, which is Vukmir’s territory. His biographical vulnerabilities aside, Nicholson is raw as a retail campaigner and can come across as programmed and mistake-averse. If he wins the nomination and squares off against Baldwin—who is certainly beatable, having run behind Obama in 2012—Nicholson will have to spend next fall tap-dancing around Trump (about whom he’s been advised not to utter a negative word). He’ll also have to show a better command of the issues: Nicholson is playing to a perceived strength by attacking Baldwin’s poor handling of a Veterans Affairs scandal in Wisconsin, but when I ask him about the VA accountability bill that Trump signed into law this summer, Nicholson admits to not knowing the details.

    All of that said, and given his manifest upside as a candidate, I was stunned at the degree to which the most prominent Wisconsin Republicans I spoke with—in particular, close allies of Speaker Paul Ryan, Governor Scott Walker and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus—were dismissive of Nicholson’s chances. Some of this skepticism, in both Madison and Washington, speaks to the pack mentality of veteran politicians trusting only one of their own. There’s also an element of jealousy: Out-of-nowhere phenoms like Nicholson aren’t often well received by members of the party who have spent years paying their dues. But above all, the rookie candidate must overcome a fundamental deficit of trust: In countless conversations, people who have met with Nicholson tell me they aren’t convinced he is truly a conservative.

    “I’m not buying it,” Scott Fitzgerald, the state Senate majority leader, tells me. Fitzgerald, who has announced his support of Vukmir, says Nicholson reached out to him earlier this year after Rep. Sean Duffy, a presumed challenger to Baldwin, opted not to run. They had a cup of coffee, and Fitzgerald saw the upside others are investing in. But it wasn’t enough. “I’ve met those types of candidates—sometimes they’re successful, but other times they turn out to be show horses instead of workhorses,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s a roll of the dice with Kevin, because you just don’t know enough about him. You don’t know who he really is.”


    Price traveled by private plane at least 24 times


    Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.The frequency of the trips...

    Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

    The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

    Price’s use of private jets represents a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially in the continental United States. HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.

    But many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.

    HHS spokespeople did not respond to questions about specific aspects of Price’s travels, including how many charter trips he has taken. Charmaine Yoest, the agency’s top spokesperson, said Price’s travel for official business "comes from the HHS budget.”

    In a statement, Yoest said, "The Secretary has taken commercial flights for official business after his confirmation. He has used charter aircraft for official business in order to accommodate his demanding schedule. The week of September 13 was one of those times, as the Secretary was directing the recovery effort for Irma, which had just devastated Florida, while simultaneously directing the ongoing recovery for Hurricane Harvey . . . Some believe the HHS Secretary should be Washington-focused. Dr. Price is focused on hearing from Americans across the country.”


    Nonetheless, POLITICO identified at least 17 charter flights that took place before the first storm — Hurricane Harvey — hit in late August, and included flights that did not appear to be for urgent HHS public health priorities.

    For example, Price took a Learjet-60 from San Diego to the Aspen Ideas Festival — a glamorous conference at the Colorado resort town — that arrived at 3:33 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, June 24, nearly 19 hours before his scheduled panel. That flight likely cost more than $7,100, according to one charter jet agency estimate.

    “If you’re going to a conference, you have some [advance] flexibility to book travel” and shouldn’t need last-minute charters, said Walter Shaub, who was the Barack Obama-appointed director of the United States Office of Government Ethics until July. “This shows a complete disregard for the expense to the taxpayer.”

    Since being confirmed in early February, Price has developed a reputation inside the agency for flying on private charters rather than taking other means of transportation, people inside and outside the Trump administration said.

    After a POLITICO investigation identified five private flights that Price took up and down the East Coast last week, Price took a charter jet to Oklahoma on Tuesday of this week, Sept. 19, where he met with Native American tribes and toured health care facilities by car — although HHS initially explored flying him by charter around the state, two people with knowledge of Price’s travels said. “There was a push from political [staff] at HHS to fly him and not drive him to these small communities,” said one of the people.

    Price’s staff cut short his news conference in Oklahoma on Wednesday when reporters raised questions about his use of taxpayer funds, an attendee said.


    Price’s frequent trips around the country have rankled staff inside the White House, with a senior official saying many trips aren’t related to priorities like Obamacare repeal and other items on the president’s agenda. While Price has flown to Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania since last Wednesday, President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have been frantically rallying support to pass an Obamacare repeal bill by Sept. 30. After that date, the GOP will need 60 Senate votes, not 50, to overturn the 2010 health law.

    "No one is quite sure what [Price] is doing,” a senior White House official said. “You look at this week, we're doing a last final push trying to get this over the finish line, and he's nowhere to be found."

    Many of Price’s trips have centered on making announcements related to the use of opioids and holding listening sessions about the epidemic, which Trump labeled a national emergency and continues to contribute to rising death rates from drug abuse. Price has labeled fighting the opioid epidemic one of his top priorities.

    But rather than fly commercially to these events, which are scheduled well in advance, Price tends to rent corporate-style jets. Sometimes, he ferries big-name guests along with him. In May, Price and Kellyanne Conway — the White House counselor and former Trump campaign manager who traveled with Price to Philadelphia last week to tour an addiction treatment center — made stops in four different states in the span of two days.


    The pair traveled to Lansing, Michigan, and Charleston, West Virginia, for opioid-related meetings in the morning and early afternoon on May 9. That happened to be the same day Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. On May 10, Conway and Price were in Augusta, Maine, and Concord, New Hampshire, for more opioid-related events.

    On July 6, Price again made an opioid-related visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he took a private plane, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. According to records, HHS signed a $14,570 charter plane contract for Washington to Tennessee travel with a July 6 effective date.

    In June, Price spoke at a physicians association conference in San Diego, where he vowed to wring out wasteful spending in the government’s health care programs. Getting “value” for spending “is incredibly important,” he said.

    Price took a private plane to get to the meeting, which was one stop on a five-state sprint of charter travel that cost $50,420.

    Josh Dawsey and Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.


    OIG: Investigation of Tom Price’s charter travel is 'underway'


    The inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing HHS Secretary Tom Price’s taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, a spokesperson told POLITICO.“We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose...

    The inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing HHS Secretary Tom Price’s taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, a spokesperson told POLITICO.

    “We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began assessing the issue,” the OIG spokesperson said. “I can confirm that work is underway and will be completed as soon as possible.”

    POLITICO first reported on Tuesday that Price had been taking private jets to conduct official business for months. Democrats on Wednesday formally requested an investigation.

    The review focuses on whether Price complied with Federal Travel Regulations but may address related issues, the spokesperson said. Those regulations expressly advise officials that “taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation.”

    Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, including a flight on a private jet to Oklahoma this week, POLITICO reported on Thursday.


    The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the former Georgia Republican congressman during his time atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

    A spokesperson for Price said that the HHS secretary began using charter jets after a delay of a commercial flight forced him to miss an official HHS event, but the spokesperson could not offer any details about the specific flight delay or missed event.

    Price’s use of private jets breaks with the practices of Obama administration HHS secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States and deliberately avoided taking charter jets. HHS staff last year scrapped a proposal for Burwell to take a multi-city tour linked to the kickoff of annual Obamacare enrollment because the trip would have required charter aircraft and cost about $60,000.


    McCain to oppose Graham-Cassidy, likely sinking Obamacare repeal


    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced Friday that he would oppose the latest Obamacare repeal measure, dealing a major blow to the legislation’s prospects of getting 50 votes on the Senate floor next week. “I cannot in good conscience vote for the...

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced Friday that he would oppose the latest Obamacare repeal measure, dealing a major blow to the legislation’s prospects of getting 50 votes on the Senate floor next week.

    “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried," McCain said in a statement.

    The legislation, drafted by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — McCain’s closest friend in the Senate — is the Senate GOP’s last best chance at passing a bill dismantling the Affordable Care Act before a Sept. 30 deadline. But conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill — shredding the plan to reporters, in op-eds and through Twitter. And moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is already viewed as a hard "no" on the measure, said at an event in her home state Friday that she is "leaning against" Graham-Cassidy , according to the Portland Press-Herald.

    Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-seat majority in the chamber, can only lose two votes and still pass the repeal measure. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also remained a key holdout on Graham-Cassidy, which is uniformly opposed by Senate Democrats.

    Aides to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he intends to hold a vote on Graham-Cassidy next week in the Senate. His office did not immediately respond to questions about whether he will hold the vote next week despite McCain’s opposition.

    The Senate Finance Committee, for now, has not changed plans to hold a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill on Monday.


    In a lengthy statement Friday, McCain reiterated concerns about the process in which the legislation was drafted that he laid out in July when he voted against another Obamacare repeal plan.

    McCain said he could not support the bill "without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”

    “I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it,” he continued. “The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.”

    The Arizona Republican pointed to bipartisan talks to stabilize the health care law led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). McCain expressed concern that pushing through a GOP-only repeal bill left the impression that those bipartisan negotiations couldn't succeed. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said earlier this week that he and Murray were unable to reach consensus on a bill.

    “John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. "I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process.”

    In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, Graham said he "respectfully" disagrees with McCain's decision to oppose his bill.

    "My friendship with [McCain] is not based on how he votes but respect for how he’s lived his life and the person he is," Graham said. "I know Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson is the best chance to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is collapsing in Arizona, South Carolina and across the nation — driving up premiums and reducing choices."

    Senate Republicans failed on their last Obamacare repeal attempt in July when McCain, Murkowski and Collins teamed up to tank the so-called "skinny repeal" plan.

    But unlike then, it’s not clear whether McConnell could even open debate on the bill this time. More than a half-dozen senators were not committal or non-responsive to inquiries Friday about how they would vote for the motion to proceed to the House-passed repeal bill.


    However, even though Paul opposes the Graham-Cassidy proposal, he is undecided on the procedural vote, an aide said. Paul wants to vote again on fully repealing Obamacare with no replacement. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is also undecided on both the procedural vote and the Graham-Cassidy product.

    Republicans had been scrambling to make good on their seven-year campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare by Sept. 30, when their fast-track legislative authority to pass a bill with only a simple majority votes will expire. After the end of the month, repeal legislation would need 60 votes.

    The GOP wants to use the procedure, called reconciliation, next year to pass tax reform. But the Obamacare failure could spur some in the party to try to revisit repeal.

    In the latest repeal effort, Republicans have tried desperately to win over Murkowski in particular.

    The Graham-Cassidy bill allowed Alaska and a handful of other states with low population density to potentially opt out of the law’s significant cuts to Medicaid until 2026. It’s unclear whether that provision would have been enough to address Murkowski’s concern that Alaskans would have less access to health care under the bill.


    Full statement: John McCain to vote no on Graham-Cassidy health care bill


    Here's Sen. John McCain's full statement on not supporting Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy's Obamacare repeal bill, issued Sept. 22, 2017. As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the...

    Here's Sen. John McCain's full statement on not supporting Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy's Obamacare repeal bill, issued Sept. 22, 2017.

    As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.

    I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.


    We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.

    Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare. But I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a partisan solution fail.

    I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to any of those questions.


    I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill's authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

    I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can.


    Trump publicly backs health care effort, privately harbors doubts


    In public, President Donald Trump is all-in on the Senate’s final chance to repeal Obamacare. But privately, there’s ambivalence in the White House about the bill’s contents and its chances of clearing the tightly divided chamber next week.Trump...

    In public, President Donald Trump is all-in on the Senate’s final chance to repeal Obamacare. But privately, there’s ambivalence in the White House about the bill’s contents and its chances of clearing the tightly divided chamber next week.

    Trump spent time between meetings at the United Nations calling senators and other senior White House officials about the Graham-Cassidy bill, asking for updated vote tallies and how to woo senators for the bill. White House officials have considered tweaking the state funding to win a vote from GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and others. Trump has also publicly excoriated Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for voting against the legislation, telling aides he would go after other senators.

    "Repeal and Replace!" he said. Trump also defended Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) from Jimmy Kimmel’s scathing criticisms of the bill, concluding that Cassidy is a “class act.”

    The public stance is coupled with a sense of doubt inside the White House, though, about the bill and deep concerns about whether it can pass the Senate or House, according to administration officials and congressional sources. These people say the president and his team have little sway with some key members, like GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Murkowski, the trio that tanked Republicans’ repeal attempt in July.

    In fact, many Republicans on Capitol Hill believe that Trump cost them Murkowski’s vote in a private phone call this summer. And the president has refrained from making as many calls this go-round, one person familiar with his whipping said.


    Several White House officials described the president as determined to sign something — anything, really. And they noted that the bill has drawn concerns from conservative groups for enshrining some parts of Obamacare and taking attention away from tax reform.

    “That’s not a very ringing endorsement, when people start out with it’s better than nothing,” Paul said when asked about the White House and leadership argument. “They think that people just want us to do something and do anything."

    Vice President Mike Pence's office is seen on the Hill as being more involved in the bid, though, led by legislative affairs head Marc Short. Seema Verma, the head of CMS, has also held a number of meetings with senators and their aides.

    The White House and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cassidy have received praise from some anti-abortion groups because the bill will allow states to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding, and the bill would end the subsidies they hate. But people in the White House privately admit it is nowhere near what they wanted.

    One official said the concerns from governors have alarmed some in the White House — and that "we really aren't sure what the impact will be” of passing the bill. They also fear that the bill could bring political blowback from the left and right.

    Trump has publicly expressed enthusiasm about the bill, tweeting about it repeatedly. But in conversations with aides, he has turned back to one topic: What can the White House do that is seen as "repeal and replace?" a phrase he likes to repeat.


    So far conservatives are hesitant to describe the bill in that way.

    "I don't think it is repeal or replace. We shouldn't tell people it is. It is a step toward repeal," said David McIntosh, who leads the influential Club for Growth.

    Yet in the Senate, the majority of the caucus’s 52 Republicans are excited about one last go-around, and many have bought into the binary argument that leaders and the president are making: That the bill to block grant federal health care funding to the states is far better than keeping the status quo.

    “Everybody speaks for themselves. But the more I learn about Graham-Cassidy, I think it’s a heck of an improvement over everything we’ve come up with,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “If you want to get rid of Obamacare, this is a great way to do it. But not just to do it: But to do something with a lot of potential.”

    But concern among the half-dozen or so undecided senators centers more on the massive transfer of federal spending from blue states to red states, the centerpiece of the Graham-Cassidy proposal. Several senators are still awaiting state-specific reports on the Graham-Cassidy bill and are uncomfortable voting for the legislation without a better idea of how it affects their states, according to Republican sources.

    Trump’s whipping operation is focused around Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been speaking to both Trump and Pence on a regular basis, according to a person briefed on the calls. Graham is updating Trump and the White House on the current state of play on the Senate, and has both publicly and privately urged Trump to “fight” for Obamacare repeal. Graham’s also triangulating the effort by speaking regularly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).


    And both GOP leaders and the White House seem to be relying on the idea that if they get Murkoswki and McCain, the rest of the party will fall in line. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) are still undecided, for example, but whipping efforts have been concentrated elsewhere.

    Trump has also spoken to Paul, but he has resisted the president’s entreaties and a tweet targeting him as a negative presence on Obamacare. He is the firmest “no” in the Senate, surpassing even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who is expected to oppose the bill.

    With that margin, the president and McConnell have no further room for error, even as their allies try to project a sunny mood.

    ““I’m from Texas so I’m an optimist,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. “You hear a lot of loud voices but I think we’ve got an opportunity to get things done.”


    Conservatives fear Obamacare repeal bill could open door to single-payer care


    Conservatives pressing for the repeal of Obamacare want to give states the right to enact whatever health care plan they want — as long as it's not government-run health care.The Graham-Cassidy health care bill would give states — instead of the...

    Conservatives pressing for the repeal of Obamacare want to give states the right to enact whatever health care plan they want — as long as it's not government-run health care.

    The Graham-Cassidy health care bill would give states — instead of the federal government — significant freedom over how they operate their health care programs, generally with much less money than they get today. In theory, that means a liberal-leaning state could pursue a single-payer system or government-run insurance plan.

    Heritage Action is urging congressional Republicans to block that possibility. The conservative policy advocacy group is asking the GOP to remove three provisions in Graham-Cassidy that would allow states to use their funding to pay medical providers directly, contract with managed care plans for specific groups of people and expand their Medicaid programs.

    The changes would “ensure states do not use the new block grant funding to force individuals into restrictive, government-run health care programs,” Heritage Action wrote in a memo.

    Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) this week expressed a similar concern.


    But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bill’s authors, says Republicans can’t laud states' rights while putting restrictions on federalism.

    “I can’t have it both ways,” he said. “I mean, if you want to have a single-payer health care system, be my guest.”

    Other conservatives, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have sent similar invitations to blue states.

    In recent years, several states with liberal governors and legislatures have raised the prospect of setting up a single-payer health care system. But so far, they’ve run into trouble with funding and other logistics.

    Under Graham-Cassidy, the secretary of Health and Human Services would have significant discretion to approve state waiver requests, meaning that a future Democratic administration could help approve a single-payer health system.


    Kimmel thanks McCain 'for being a hero again'


    Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel had two words for John McCain on Friday after the Arizona senator announced his opposition to Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, likely sinking the proposal: Thank you.“Thank you @SenJohnMcCain for...

    Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel had two words for John McCain on Friday after the Arizona senator announced his opposition to Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, likely sinking the proposal: Thank you.

    “Thank you @SenJohnMcCain for being a hero again and again and now AGAIN,” Kimmel tweeted Friday afternoon, shortly after McCain released a lengthy statement announcing his opposition.

    McCain, who helped sink a so-called “skinny repeal” proposal in July, cited lack of regular order on Friday for his latest opposition.

    “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” McCain said, referring to the bill co-authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, which would block-grant federal health care funding to the states.

    “I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment,” McCain added. “But that has not been the case.”

    With Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also a “no” and moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins leaning “no,” the Graham-Cassidy bill will likely lack the necessary votes to pass the chamber by a simple majority ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.

    Kimmel immersed himself into the national health care debate in May with a viral, emotional monologue about life-saving heart surgery for his newborn son.

    Cassidy, who appeared on Kimmel’s late-night show later that month, had promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions and began dubbing his package of reforms as “the Jimmy Kimmel test.”

    On Tuesday, Kimmel said Cassidy had “just lied right to my face.” He listed the four pledges Cassidy had made on his show. “The new bill does none of those things,” Kimmel told viewers on Tuesday.

    “Not only did Bill Cassidy fail the Jimmy Kimmel test, but he failed the Bill Cassidy test, too,” he said. And he issued a new “Jimmy Kimmel test” to Cassidy: “It’s called the lie detector test.”


    The Louisiana Republican told CNN on Wednesday morning that he was “sorry” Kimmel doesn’t understand the Graham-Cassidy bill. Health care analysts, however, told POLITICO this week that it’s Kimmel, not Cassidy, who has the better grasp of health care policy.

    Later Wednesday, Kimmel said Cassidy was “defending the indefensible” and called his bill “by many accounts the worst health care bill yet.”

    On Thursday, Kimmel lamented that he’s become the go-to guy “for information on health care” since Republican lawmakers won’t tell the truth about their bill.

    “We have until Sept. 30 to dodge this,” he told viewers, referring to the deadline the Senate has to pass a repeal measure by a simple majority instead of 60 votes.


    5 things Trump did this week while you weren't looking


    All eyes were on New York this week, as President Donald Trump took the podium at the United Nations and threatened war with North Korea. Back in Washington, the House was on recess and the Senate scrambled to find 50 Republican votes to pass their...

    All eyes were on New York this week, as President Donald Trump took the podium at the United Nations and threatened war with North Korea. Back in Washington, the House was on recess and the Senate scrambled to find 50 Republican votes to pass their back-from-the-dead health care bill, an effort likely to come up short once again after Sen. John McCain announced his opposition on Friday afternoon.

    More quietly, the Trump administration continues to target Obama-era environmental and workplace rules and forge ahead to implement a new conservative agenda. Perhaps most notably, the administration offered a sign this week that it might test a major Medicare reform long championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

    1. Trump administration hints at big Medicare experiments
    The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation, created in 2010 by Obamacare, can spend $1 billion a year on innovative ideas to reduce Medicare costs. Under Obama, the agency piloted a number of ideas, such as reducing Medicare payments for cancer drugs and changing how the government pays for hip surgery. Republicans complained of executive overreach and tried to scale back the agency’s powers, but now that Trump is in the White House, the GOP is looking to turn the agency to its advantage.

    This week, the Trump administration took the first step toward reforming CMMI when it released a nine-page notice asking for comments on a “new direction” for the agency. The notice is just a preliminary move—it doesn’t actually change any policy right now—but it sends a clear message about how Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Seema Verma, director of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, intend to use the agency. The notice emphasizes the need for a more “market-based” direction, saying consumers should be empowered “to drive change in the health system through their choices.” The notice doesn’t specify any policy changes but the language may signal that Price and Verma want to test Medicare premium support, an idea long favored by Ryan and Price. Instead of paying for health care, premium support would change Medicare into an insurance subsidy that recipients would use to purchase private insurance. The idea is extremely controversial and loathed by Democrats.

    A few days after the election, Price and Ryan suggested that transitioning Medicare to a premium support system would be on the agenda for the Republican Congress. Almost a year later, Republicans have struggled to repeal and replace Obamacare, much less undertake a comprehensive Medicare reform. But even if premium support isn’t on the table right now, Price and Verma could lay the groundwork for it through CMMI.

    2. Labor Department delays a rule on cancer-causing silica dust
    In March 2016, the Department of Labor issued a regulation lowering the workplace exposure standard for silica, a mineral that can cause lung cancer when ground into dust and inhaled. The final rule was heralded by workplace advocates as long overdue—it took more than four decades to finalize—and was set to be enforced on June 23.

    But in April, the Department of Labor announced it was delaying enforcement of the rule for three months until September 23. Technically, that date still stands. But this week, the agency issued a memo, saying that as long as employers show they have made a “good faith effort” to comply with the rule, the agency will give them a pass for any violations in the next 30 days. In other words, the silica rule is effectively delayed another month. The delay is a victory for industry groups, but it is likely to be short-lived: Unlike with some other rules, the Labor Department does not appear to be delaying the enforcement date of the silica rule to give itself additional time to repeal or rewrite it.

    3. Trump issues new executive order on North Korea
    Trump spent much of his time at the United Nations this week addressing North Korea’s nuclear program, vowing to “totally destroy” the country if necessary and discussing the topic in almost every meeting with foreign leaders. With each successive nuclear test, Washington tries to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, issuing new sanctions and pressuring China to cut off trade with North Korea.

    So it was this week when Trump announced an executive order that attempts to further cut off North Korea from the world. The sanctions are a step beyond anything that the U.S. has imposed on Pyongyang in the past, drawing praise from former Obama administration officials. The order allows the Treasury Department to sanction any individual who operates in major North Korean industries like textiles and manufacturing; who owns or operates North Korean ports; who imports or exports significant goods, services or technology to or from North Korea; or who generates revenue for the government. It also prohibits any foreign-owned aircraft or vessel from coming to the U.S. within 180 days of visiting North Korea.

    4. EPA delays its formaldehyde rule, again
    On Dec. 12, the Environmental Protection Bureau issued a rule on formaldehyde emissions for certain wood products, one of the last significant rules issued by the EPA during the Obama administration. The rule was set to take effect on Feb. 27, but Trump already delayed that date twice: first to March 21 and later until May 22. At that point, the rule took effect.

    But this week, the EPA announced that it was effectively delaying the formaldehyde rule another year by extending the rule’s compliance deadlines. In other words, even though the rule took effect, companies don’t yet actually have to comply with different pieces of the rule until sometime in the future. In some cases, the new compliance deadline is far in the future—in one case, not until 2024.

    5. A smaller move on immigration—and a big one coming soon
    This week, the Department of Homeland Security made one small move on immigration—and there are reports that a big policy change is coming soon.

    First, DHS extended a special immigration status for Sudanese and South Sudanese nationals that had been set to expire later this year. The status, known as Temporary Protected Status, allows foreign nationals whose home country is hit by a war or natural disaster to temporarily live and work in the U.S. Sudanese nationals can now stay until November 2018, while South Sudanese nationals can stay until May 2019. It’s a sign that despite Trump’s immigration crackdown, DHS isn’t just deporting all foreign nationals without considering their individual circumstances.

    Be that as it may, there’s more change afoot. The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to impose tighter vetting procedures on a broad list of countries, a replacement for Trump’s travel ban, which attempted to block people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The ban, which has been tied up in the courts, expires on September 24, so the Trump administration had to make a decision. Expect more on the new vetting program in the coming days.


    Alabama Senate debate erupts over whether McConnell is manipulating Trump


    MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The lone debate between Sen. Luther Strange and former state Chief Justice Roy Moore in the GOP Senate runoff here erupted into a heated argument Thursday evening over who has President Donald Trump’s ear and whether the president...

    MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The lone debate between Sen. Luther Strange and former state Chief Justice Roy Moore in the GOP Senate runoff here erupted into a heated argument Thursday evening over who has President Donald Trump’s ear and whether the president is being manipulated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Going into an hourlong debate, Strange made his strategy clear: Turn every topic, every argument into a reminder that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence support him. He said he spoke with Trump for nearly half an hour Wednesday night, and that the two leaders were both so supportive of him that they are each slated to campaign on his behalf going into the Tuesday runoff.

    “The president supports me,” Strange said in his opening remarks as he stressed how, in a short time, he has become close with Trump. “Why would he do that? Because we’ve developed a close personal friendship.”

    Moore, meanwhile, wanted to turn the debate into a referendum on Strange as a Washington-establishment aligned lobbyist and insider.

    “My entire political career has been serving the state of Alabama,” Moore said. “My opponent has been a professional lobbyist for over 20 years.”

    That’s how most of the debate went — until the final 15 minutes or so, when Moore linked Strange to McConnell. Moore referred to recent changes among Trump’s senior staff, including the departure of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (who supports Moore) and said Trump was being manipulated by the Senate majority leader (who supports Strange). After Bannon was fired, he returned to his old job running Breitbart News.

    The debate had an unusual rhythm from the beginning, with no moderator to guide Strange and Moore during their exchanges.


    “The problem is President Trump’s being cut off in his office,” Moore said. “He’s being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda. Who will not support his agenda in the future. I think we need to go back and look at these things. And look at what’s going on. This is the most unbelievable race I have ever been in.”

    That set off Strange. Every chance he got, Strange stressed that he and Trump were close friends and that he understood the president. He didn’t do the same with McConnell.

    “You just said that he was being manipulated by Mitch McConnell,” Strange said. “I met Mitch McConnell six or seven months ago. I’ve already stood up to him on many occasions. And to suggest that the president of the United States, the head of the free world, a man who is changing the free world, is being manipulated by Mitch McConnell is insulting to the president. It’s absolutely insulting to the president.”

    “That’s why he’s chosen me,” Strange continued. “He’s not being manipulated by anyone. In fact, many people that are supporting you look like the unemployment line at the White House. They were fired. They are not there.”

    The heated exchange between Strange and Moore underscored one of the deepest divisions in the special election for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general. Neither candidate would attack Trump, whose approval ratings in Alabama are sky-high. But both have frantically sought to cast themselves as outsiders who will help “drain the swamp” in Washington.

    That dynamic has escalated as Bannon has moved to boost Moore and as other conservative Republicans who like to bash the GOP leadership have lined up behind Moore. Among them are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; Rep. Mark Meadows of Carolina, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus; and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who ran for the Senate seat against Strange and Moore but didn’t make the runoff.

    Meanwhile, Strange has enjoyed the support of not only Trump and Pence, but also top GOP forces: McConnell himself, as well as the Senate Leadership Fund, the McConnell-aligned super PAC that has poured millions into the Alabama Senate primary to reelect Strange. Strange’s allies in the Senate worry that if elected, Moore would constantly buck party leadership and stall the chamber’s agenda.

    Throughout the debate, Moore repeatedly cast Strange as a pillar of the establishment — particularly of McConnell and the Senate Leadership Fund.

    “The people of Alabama see through this, they see what Washington is trying to do,” Moore said.


    Both public and private polls show a tightening race, though most have Moore leading slightly. But Moore’s debate performance didn’t suggest a sense that he had the runoff locked up.

    Thursday’s exchange was a study in contrasts. Strange was well rehearsed and prepared, while Moore frequently stumbled over his words. By the end of the forum, he was reading straight from his notes. Moore, who rose to national fame after defying a federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from a state judicial building, frequently highlighted his staunch social views — sometimes drawing calls of “amen” from the crowd.

    Near the end of the debate, Moore attacked Strange for how he was appointed to the Senate seat, arguing that there were still lingering questions over whether Strange, as Alabama attorney general, nixed an investigation of then-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to get the seat.

    “We’ve got to get to the truth in this matter,” Moore said at one point.

    Strange defended himself but was more interested in highlighting the president’s support.

    “I'm tired of being attacked,” Strange said, going on to say that he was glad to be Trump’s “friend” and that, like the president, “nobody influences me.”

    After the debate, during a gathering with reporters, Strange was asked about his appointment to the Senate seat. He refused to answer, even when a heckler asked him again. A Strange staffer then cut off the questioning and rushed the candidate out of the room.


    Trump: Strange has 'gained mightily' since my endorsement


    President Donald Trump predicted Friday that next week’s Alabama Republican Senate runoff “will be very close” thanks to his endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange.Strange (R-Ala.), appointed by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the seat left...

    President Donald Trump predicted Friday that next week’s Alabama Republican Senate runoff “will be very close” thanks to his endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange.

    Strange (R-Ala.), appointed by former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is running to win the seat outright in a special election but has trailed in the polls behind former state Chief Justice Roy Moore. Trump, who will campaign for Strange Friday night in Alabama, has backed the incumbent senator and Friday morning claimed that support has helped Strange narrow Moore’s lead.

    “Will be in Alabama tonight. Luther Strange has gained mightily since my endorsement, but will be very close. He loves Alabama, and so do I!” the president wrote on Twitter.

    While Trump claimed that his endorsement has brought Strange closer to Moore, the Real Clear Politics polling average of the race puts the former chief justice nearly 9 percentage points ahead of the senator. The most recent poll included in that average was completed Sept. 17, leaving open the possibility that Strange has surged in recent days as Trump has dialed up his own involvement in the race.


    Moore, too, is not without his own prominent backers. Former White House advisers Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Bannon are both Moore supporters, going against Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who will also campaign for Strange ahead of next week’s GOP runoff. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has also backed Moore in his race to unseat Strange.

    Strange made regular mention of his White House supporters Thursday night during his debate against Moore, who lambasted the incumbent as a creature of Washington linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Moore has railed against on the campaign trail.


    Palin, Gorka cast Alabama candidate Strange as too swampy for Senate


    Two avid Trump supporters on Thursday blasted the president’s preferred candidate in the Alabama runoff for U.S. Senate, Sen. Luther Strange, as too swampy for Washington while hailing his opponent, former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, as the outsider...

    Two avid Trump supporters on Thursday blasted the president’s preferred candidate in the Alabama runoff for U.S. Senate, Sen. Luther Strange, as too swampy for Washington while hailing his opponent, former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, as the outsider the state needs.

    Directly following a heated evening debate between the two candidates, former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska and Sebastian Gorka, a former assistant to President Donald Trump, used a pro-Moore rally in Montgomery, Alabama, to cast Strange as the “swamp” personified. The scathing assessment struck a sharp contrast to Trump, who has come out strongly in favor of Strange in recent weeks.

    Despite the president’s endorsement, Palin and Gorka characterized Moore’s bid for the Republican primary nomination in Alabama as part of the realization of Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

    They also repeatedly dinged Strange for using the support of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

    “The president needs support to keep the promises that elected him,” Palin told the rowdy crowd in Montgomery. “So we’re sending someone that has the back of the people, not McConnell’s.”

    She added: “Make no mistake, Big Luther is McConnell’s guy.”

    Palin cast the race in national terms, describing it as a battle between the movement that elected Trump and the GOP establishment that tried to stop him. “The swamp is trying to weaken the president,” she said.


    The former governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee did not criticize Trump for supporting Strange, but said the movement that elected him was behind Moore. “This is not a vote against the president,” Palin said. “It is a vote for the people’s movement that elected the president.”

    At a time when some Trump loyalists feel disappointed with how his first months in office have unfolded, Palin said the Alabama race gave them an opportunity. “Our movement isn’t over,” she said.

    At one point, Palin was interrupted by a small group of protesters who shouted, “No more Moore.”

    Praising Moore, Palin said he was “deplorable before deplorable was cool.” With Strange, she added, “the swamp is trying to hijack this presidency.”

    Gorka, who left the White House in August but continues to work for a pro-Trump group called the MAGA Coalition, similarly describe Moore’s candidacy as a rehashing of the 2016 election.

    “Tuesday you must send a signal to the swamp dwellers in D.C.," because on Nov. 8, "we did the same,” he said.

    Moore, he said, is following in Trump’s path.

    “We are not going to give up,” he said. “Tuesday is November the Eighth again.”

    Making no mention of Trump’s endorsement, Gorka went on to praise Moore for earning the backing of other hard-line conservatives, including Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.


    Palin was one of Trump’s earliest prominent campaign supporters, endorsing him over Sen. Ted Cruz during a fiery rally in January 2016 in the pivotal state of Iowa. Gorka served in the Trump White House as a national security aide until late August. Despite his departure, he has remained loyal to Trump, vowing to “help him from the outside” and assist in delivering his agenda.

    Just prior to the rally, Strange and Moore traded heavy blows during a contentious televised debate in which Strange frequently hailed the president’s endorsement throughout the evening.

    Trump’s support of Strange has stood in opposition to other pro-Trump figures, including Bannon, Palin and Gorka.

    The president endorsed Strange in the Senate race earlier this month, and has continued to voice his support for the candidate on social media since.

    “‘Big Luther’ is a great guy who gets things done!” Trump tweeted Saturday. He has since touted the National Rifle Association’s support of Strange, posting on Wednesday that “all gun owners should vote for Big Luther.”

    Last week, the Strange campaign released a new robocall in which the president urged Alabama residents to “go out and vote for Luther Strange for Senate.”

    President Trump is scheduled to make a campaign appearance at a Strange rally Friday in Huntsville, Alabama, just days before state voters go to the polls on Tuesday to decide which candidate will go on to face Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, in the December special election.

    Moore has been leading slightly in the polls against Strange, despite millions of dollars being poured into the race in favor of Strange by a the Senate Leadership Fund PAC.

    Cristiano Lima reporting from Washington, D.C. Alex Isenstadt reporting from Montgomery, Alabama.


    Sean Spicer Is Washington’s First Pariah


    Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer has achieved the impossible. Washington routinely forgives its philanderers, drug addicts and alcoholics, embezzlers, perjurers, bribers and bribees, liars, burglars and tax evaders, granting them the...

    Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer has achieved the impossible.

    Washington routinely forgives its philanderers, drug addicts and alcoholics, embezzlers, perjurers, bribers and bribees, liars, burglars and tax evaders, granting them the redemption of another term in office or a job in a lobbying shop or think tank after their scandal passes. It even absolved a drunk who killed a young lady, giving him a prince’s funeral when he died. The writer who said that there are no second acts in American life never lived here.

    But that iron law hasn’t helped Spicer. Since leaving the White House this summer, he has gained admittance to a circle of one: He has become a Washington pariah. Nobody wants to be anywhere near him, but everyone wants to talk smack about him. He’s not just a punchline. He’s become a national laughing stock ever since his cameo on the Emmy Awards this week, where he attempted a joke about his most famous White House lie.

    How did this happen? Where did Spicer screw up? Your average White House press secretary has little trouble converting his former status into a hot job, even if he or she leaves the job unloved by the masses. Josh Earnest gum-flaps for NBC News now, and Dana Perino does the same at Fox News Channel. George Stephanopoulos presides over oceans of airtime for ABC, including a Sunday morning show. Jay Carney left the White House to cash in with a gig at Amazon. Robert Gibbs took a similar path, taking a big job under the McDonald’s Golden Arches.

    Spicer’s inability to secure a TV contract from any of the news networks—especially when they’re desperate for somebody to take the counterpoint and defend President Donald Trump—speaks volumes of his contamination. Another measure of Spicer’s failure: He signed with Bob Barnett, the big macher among Washington talent representatives. If Barnett can’t sell him, who can?

    POLITICO's Tara Palmeri reckons that the media business’ resistance has much to do with Spicer’s low e-score, a measure of public opinion of celebrities. Spicer’s April e-score marks for “aggressiveness” and “creepiness” were relatively high, Palmeri reported, and respondents rated him more aggressive than the average politician. Spicer, it should be noted, hasn’t been an absolute media washout. He has turned down a slot on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. The show must have felt that it needed a villain in the competition.

    Spicer’s case isn’t hopeless. Washingtonians—and many Americans—tend not to hold long-term grudges against even the greatest transgressors, as Senator Ted Kennedy's case proves. John Dean was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate affair, then he slowly worked his way back to respectability, first as an investment banker and then as a memoirist. Now he’s a CNN contributor, passing legal judgment on the alleged crimes of President Trump! Jack Abramoff did his time for conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion before returning to lobbying. Former Bill Clinton aide Dick Morris sucked a prostitute’s toes and eventually made a comeback as a book author, consultant, commentator and columnist. This isn’t to say that every Washingtonian who falls rises again, but most can if they put the effort into it. Even Clinton, who lost his law license for lying under oath, has earned public admiration for his humanitarian and philanthropic actions.

    Where Spicer miscued was in leaping back into the spotlight too soon, before the unpleasant memories of his recent past had faded. (This is the same lesson the overexposed Hillary Clinton just learned.) Nobody in Washington objects that much to public servants like Spicer cashing in. Scratch a Washingtonian, you’ll find a gold-digger. What does rankle the populace are the blemished public servants who get too grabby. Spicer, it’s worth mentioning, was conspicuously shopping for a new job at the end of July, a month before his last day in the White House. Another Spicer rehabilitation error: Greater forgiveness goes to those who fall from high positions than those who take a lesser tumble, like Spicer, who was a midlevel cog in the Trump lying and dissembling operation. His fall didn’t have the sort of kinetic energy needed to give him the good dead-cat bounce of a Dean or Abramoff. If, hypothetically speaking, events were to cause the rapid descent of H.R. McMaster, James Mattis or John Kelly, they’d regain bankability much sooner than a Sean Spicer.

    Finally, Spicer erred by not fully factoring in his legal exposure from the Trump Tower scandal, something he seems to be realizing only now. This morning, Axios’ Mike Allen reported that Spicer flipped out when asked about his note-taking practices. “Please refrain from sending me unsolicited texts and emails,” Spicer emailed Allen. “Should you not do so I will contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment.” What sane news organization would employ a person, no matter how savvy, who might be called on soon to testify before the special counsel’s grand jury and who may possess notes documenting Trumpian wrongdoing? No wonder nobody is biting on his line. Spicer isn’t just contaminated for having been Trump’s liar. He might also be legally radioactive for knowing what went on in the Trump campaign and the Trump administration.

    This being America, Spicer can expect only a limited time in pariahdom—as long as he takes the time now to cool his jets. Once he writes his Trump book, he’ll gain his revenge on the man who treated him like a scullery maid. The networks will come calling, begging, pleading for his presence. They always do.

    ******

    If you send unsolicited emails to [email protected], I’ll report you, too! My email alerts beg your forgiveness, my Twitter feed has six more months in jail, and my RSS feed has been consigned to solitary confinement in a cold, wet, dark basement filled with broken glass and spiders.


    Protesters disrupt James Comey's Howard University convocation speech


    Former FBI director James Comey struggled on Friday to give the convocation address at Howard University, speaking over a group of about 20 students who sang and chanted continuously throughout the speech.Protesters seated near the back of Howard’s...

    Former FBI director James Comey struggled on Friday to give the convocation address at Howard University, speaking over a group of about 20 students who sang and chanted continuously throughout the speech.

    Protesters seated near the back of Howard’s auditorium stood with raised fists and began singing “We Shall not be Moved” as Comey stepped to the lectern and thanked the university’s president. The group ran through multiple other chants, including “no justice, no peace,” "f*** Jim Comey" and “get out Jim Comey, you’re not our homie,” prompting the former FBI chief to stand silently at the microphone, delaying the start of his remarks, hands folded in front of him.

    At one point, Comey sought to quiet the protesters by saying that “I hope you’ll stay to listen to what I have to say, and I just listened to you for five minutes.” The effort was unsuccessful, and after several more minutes of waiting out the protesters, and one administrator’s unsuccessful admonitions for the protesters to be seated, Comey offered his speech as the chants and slogans continued to pour from the back of the auditorium.

    No effort was made to remove the demonstrators.

    “I love the enthusiasm of the young folks, I just wish they would understand what a conversation is. A conversation is where you speak and I listen, and then I speak and you listen,” the former FBI director said. “And then we go back and forth and back and forth. And at the end of a conversation, we're both smarter. I am here at Howard to try to get smarter, to try to be useful, to try to have healthy conversations."


    Comey’s convocation remarks focused mostly on offering advice to Howard’s students and extolling the virtues of the historically black university. He did not speak to his former role as FBI director, his firing by President Donald Trump, or the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

    But he did push back against the common conservative critique that colleges are places separate and cloistered from the “real world.” A university, and particularly Howard, Comey said, offers a place to grow and challenge one’s beliefs.

    To often, Comey said, others "aren’t looking to learn anything about you”

    Much of the world is “a place where people are on sides rather than trying to understand are they still on the right side. They care mostly about their side winning.,” he said.

    “Howard University has always been different which is why I wanted to be a part of it,” Comey said, as the protesters continued to chant.

    He characterized Howard as an “island” that has managed to incubate itself from much of the conflict and frenzy of the real world. That separation affords Howard’s students a rare opportunity to learn and shape themselves, Comey said.

    “There is simply too little time taken in the rest of the real world to reflect, to think, to try to reshape the world and yourself. The rest of the real world is a place where its hard sometimes to find people who will listen with an attitude that they might actually be convinced of something,” he said. “Instead, what happens in the rest of the real world — and about four rows in this auditorium — is that people don’t listen at all, they just try to figure out what rebuttal they’re going to offer when you’re done speaking. Sometimes they will pause briefly before telling you you’re an idiot.”

    Comey’s remarks were the first of several he is scheduled to give at Howard, where he will deliver a series of lectures during the 2017-2018 school year.

    The crowd of about 1,500 in the auditorium — primarily students and faculty — seemed divided on the protest along generational lines. At one point much of the auditorium started their own chant: “Let him speak.”

    And one administrator sought to quell the demonstration.

    “You made your point now let our students discuss and debate the issue. Would you do that?” he said. “Let them discuss and debate the issue.”

    The demonstrators responded with a new chant: “White supremacy is not a debate!"
    Finally, with the audio adjusted, Comey delivered his address, over the chants. University administrators sat stone faced as Comey struggled, with some success, to be heard over the chants. When he finished, much of the auditorium rose to give him a standing ovation. But in the back, where the students were seated, there was little applause. As the demonstrators marched out after Comey’s speech, the student section burst into applause.

    “I think that the protesters are correct in not really wanting James Comey here because he’s not really done anything to represent us,” said Asim Williams, 18, an incoming freshman from Detroit. “He hasn’t done anything positive for us.”

    He said Comey perpetuates injustice in law enforcement, but said he was willing to hear him speak, particularly if he would address current issues like race relations and police killings of unarmed African Americans.

    “Tell us your stance on what’s happening,” Williams said, taking issue with Comey’s decision to speak more broadly about Howard.

    “It was him telling us things, generic things, sprinkling gold on nothing,” he said.

    Given the tone of the speech, he said, he was glad the protesters disrupted it in the way they did.

    “I think that this is necessary to make our voices heard,” he said. “The more uncomfortable it feels, and the stranger it feels, the more necessary it is.”

    Sade Johnson, a freshman from New York City, also expressed support for the demonstration. She slammed the administration for inviting Comey, describing him as anathema to what the university stands for.


    “This is a safe space and you’re going to invite someone just to shake things up?” she said. Asked her specific qualms with Comey, she said he had “criminalized” the Black Lives Matter movement and mentioned his impact on the 2016 election.

    A number of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, point to Comey’s decision days before the election to announce a re-opening of the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server as a primary version Trump won.

    Trump fired Comey in May, an explosive incident that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Justice Department's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump later admitted that he had the FBI's Russia investigation in mind when he fired Comey.

    Comey has since revealed that Trump asked him to back off the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in February and has come under intense scrutiny for his own Russia ties and his lobbying work on behalf of Turkey. Comey went into detail about his discomfort with Trump in public testimony to Congress in June, airing his concerns about Trump's honesty. Trump had asked Comey for his personal loyalty at a private dinner, Comey testified, though the White House denied this.

    The White House, with an assist from right-wing media outlets, have made Comey a target for withering criticism, with press secretary Sarah Sanders seeming to suggest that Comey should be a target of DOJ investigation himself. On Twitter, Trump has called Comey "cowardly," a "leaker" and accused him of leading a "witch hunt" against Trump.

    Comey has taken on the role as endowed chair in public policy at Howard for the 2017-18 school year, and will deliver a series of lectures.

    He is donating his $100,000 salary to a scholarship for students who came to the school from foster care. That gift is being used to support seven students at the university this year who have been in foster care.


    OIG: Investigation of Tom Price’s charter travel is 'underway'


    The inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing HHS Secretary Tom Price’s taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, a spokesperson told POLITICO.“We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose...

    The inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing HHS Secretary Tom Price’s taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, a spokesperson told POLITICO.

    “We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began assessing the issue,” the OIG spokesperson said. “I can confirm that work is underway and will be completed as soon as possible.”

    POLITICO first reported on Tuesday that Price had been taking private jets to conduct official business for months. Democrats on Wednesday formally requested an investigation.

    The review focuses on whether Price complied with Federal Travel Regulations but may address related issues, the spokesperson said. Those regulations expressly advise officials that “taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation.”

    Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, including a flight on a private jet to Oklahoma this week, POLITICO reported on Thursday.


    The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the former Georgia Republican congressman during his time atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

    A spokesperson for Price said that the HHS secretary began using charter jets after a delay of a commercial flight forced him to miss an official HHS event, but the spokesperson could not offer any details about the specific flight delay or missed event.

    Price’s use of private jets breaks with the practices of Obama administration HHS secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States and deliberately avoided taking charter jets. HHS staff last year scrapped a proposal for Burwell to take a multi-city tour linked to the kickoff of annual Obamacare enrollment because the trip would have required charter aircraft and cost about $60,000.


    Rand Paul to Trump: 'I won't be bribed or bullied' into supporting Graham-Cassidy bill


    Rand Paul, a definitive “no” on Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, “won’t be bribed or bullied” into supporting the bill, the Kentucky Republican said Friday.“Calling a bill that KEEPS most of Obamacare...

    Rand Paul, a definitive “no” on Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, “won’t be bribed or bullied” into supporting the bill, the Kentucky Republican said Friday.

    “Calling a bill that KEEPS most of Obamacare ‘repeal’ doesn't make it true. That’s what the swamp does,” Paul tweeted. “I won't be bribed or bullied.”

    Paul's tweets came after President Donald Trump singled him out in seeking to pressure GOP lawmakers via Twitter on Friday morning to back the bill.

    “Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as ‘the Republican who saved Obamacare,’” Trump warned.

    Paul responded in kind, tweeting that “no one is more opposed to Obamacare than I am” but asserting, “The current bill isn’t repeal.”

    “I won’t vote for Obamacare Lite that keeps 90% of the taxes & spending just so some people can claim credit for something that didn’t happen,” Paul said.


    Republicans have begun to rally behind legislation sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana that would block-grant federal health care funding to the states.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to bring the bill to the floor next week for a vote ahead of a crucial Sept. 30 deadline that will allow Republicans to pass the measure by a simple majority. It’s unclear, though, whether the legislation has the votes to pass.


    Trump cautions GOP to pass Obamacare repeal or face the consequences


    President Donald Trump warned Republicans Friday morning to fall in line behind last-ditch legislation in the Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare, writing online that any GOP lawmaker who votes against the bill will be remembered as "the Republican...

    President Donald Trump warned Republicans Friday morning to fall in line behind last-ditch legislation in the Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare, writing online that any GOP lawmaker who votes against the bill will be remembered as "the Republican who saved Obamacare."

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the repeal-and-replace bill’s loudest opponents in the Senate, was singled out by the president’s Friday morning warning.

    “Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as ‘the Republican who saved ObamaCare,’” Trump wrote on Twitter.

    Weeks after their initial effort to undo former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law stalled out in the Senate, Republicans have begun to throw their weight behind legislation written by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would block grant federal government spending on Obamacare to the states. Senate Republicans have until the end of the month to pass the legislation via a procedure called reconciliation, which would allow them to approve with as few as 50 votes instead of the typical 60 required by the chamber’s filibuster rules.

    With a thin majority in the Senate, the GOP can afford to lose just two Republican votes there and still pass the Graham-Cassidy legislation with the benefit of Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote. Paul has already expressed his opposition to the bill over concerns that it leaves in place too much of Obamacare’s taxes, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), perhaps the most moderate GOP member in the Senate, is also expected to vote no, although she has not yet stated a position on the bill.

    Other swing votes on the bill include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), both of whom voted along with Collins against their party’s previous repeal-and-replace efforts.


    Paul, in his own series of posts to Twitter, defended himself and his position Friday morning, doubling down on his sentiment that the Graham-Cassidy legislation falls short of the GOP promise to repeal Obamacare.

    "No one is more opposed to Obamacare than I am, and I've voted multiple times for repeal. The current bill isn't repeal," he wrote online, breaking his message up into multiple posts to accomodate Twitter's character limit. "I won't vote for Obamacare Lite that keeps 90% of the taxes & spending just so some people can claim credit for something that didn't happen. Calling a bill that KEEPS most of Obamacare 'repeal' doesn't make it true. That's what the swamp does. I won't be bribed or bullied."


    Clinton offers faint praise for de Blasio, declines comment on Weiner


    Hillary Clinton had only distant praise for Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, when asked whether the mayor, who held out on endorsing her in hopes of influencing her political platform, had achieved his desired effect. "Bill has been a friend of mine for a...

    Hillary Clinton had only distant praise for Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, when asked whether the mayor, who held out on endorsing her in hopes of influencing her political platform, had achieved his desired effect.

    "Bill has been a friend of mine for a long time," Clinton, the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, said on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show," adding, "We had a really productive conversation."

    Clinton hasn't had much to say about de Blasio, who managed her first run for U.S. Senate, since he rankled her top aides with his belated endorsement of her candidacy in 2015. Private correspondence released by Wikileaks last year showed Clinton's aides mocking de Blasio as a "terrorist" for his public flirtation with Sen. Bernie Sanders' platform.

    In the interview on Friday, to promote her new book "What Happened," Clinton said there were "a lot of people" who helped make last year's party platform "the most progressive in history."

    De Blasio does not merit a mention in Clinton's book, but on Friday she cited his work on universal pre-kindergarten as "especially important to me" and suggested New York City could be a model as Democrats look to cities and states as laboratories for progressive ideas.

    “Bill’s voice and his actions as mayor could be important,” she said.

    She had even less to say about former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is set to be sentenced on Monday for exchanging sexual messages online with an underage girl. The FBI investigation into those emails found other correspondence on his laptop belonging to his wife, Huma Abedin, one of Secretary Clinton's senior aides. That discovery led former FBI Director James Comey to announce he was re-opening an investigation into Clinton's emails, which Clinton has said contributed to her eventual defeat.

    Clinton's book describes the moment she and Abedin learned the sexting investigation had led to the re-opening of the investigation into her emails. Abedin was in tears, Clinton wrote.

    “Anthony had already caused so much heartache,” she wrote. “And now this.”

    Lehrer asked Friday whether Clinton thought Weiner deserved to spend time in jail.

    "I really don't have any comment on any of that," Clinton said. "The court system will work its will, whatever that may be."


    Obama-era school sexual assault policy rescinded


    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Friday she was rescinding Obama-era guidance on school sexual assault, effective immediately. The agency issued a question-and-answer document to help schools navigate the highly contentious issue while a formal...

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Friday she was rescinding Obama-era guidance on school sexual assault, effective immediately. The agency issued a question-and-answer document to help schools navigate the highly contentious issue while a formal review is conducted.

    The document allows schools to use a higher standard of proof in campus disciplinary proceedings related to sexual violence, altering one of the most hotly debated elements of the Obama-era guidance. Instead, schools can opt to use a higher standard of proof — known as “clear and convincing evidence.”

    Attorneys for the accused have said too often that the Obama-mandated standard, known as “preponderance of evidence," or “more likely than not,” undermined the due process rights of the accused. That standard is lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard common in criminal trials.

    In another new element, the new instructions will allow campuses to provide mediation in sexual assault cases if both sides agree to it — an option not permitted under the Obama-era guidance which pushed school leaders to combat sexual harassment, including sexual violence.

    Friday's announcement was unlikely to propel schools to immediately change their policies. Many college and university officials have said they would wait until rule-making is complete.

    But Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, said the new guidelines do “alleviate the pressure on schools to feel as though they need to stack the deck against those that are accused.”


    “Probably the biggest thing this does is take the pressure off schools to comply with the 2011 Dear Colleague letter,” she said, referring to the Obama-era guidance which applied to all colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

    DeVos’ guidelines also provide students accused of sexual assault with greater access to evidence and stress that the identity of their accusers and alleged conduct must be revealed before they’re questioned, Garrett said.

    “Often these students are brought in to be interrogated before they’re accused of anything,” she said.

    But Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said the effects of the change could be “devastating” to victims of sexual assault.

    “It will discourage students from reporting assaults, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law and make campuses less safe,” Graves said.

    One footnote, she said, is particularly confusing. That footnote says, “The standard of evidence for evaluating a claim of sexual misconduct should be consistent with the standard the school applies in other student misconduct cases.”

    Goss Graves said that seems to suggest the standard of evidence used for evaluating cases of sexual misconduct should be the same as the evidence used to evaluate cases of cheating or plagiarism. Colleges and universities should have different priorities when it comes to evaluating cases of sexual assault, she said.

    Alyssa Peterson, policy and advocacy coordinator for the victim’s advocacy organization Know Your IX, said the change on mediation is perhaps “the most frightening part of this for me.”

    “It’s very intimidating for a victim to participate in a mediation session with their rapist,” she said, and schools might not be the best ones to facilitate such a session.

    Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, accused the department of “continuing a pattern of undermining survivors’ rights.”

    Earlier this month, DeVos had said she would scrap the 2011 Obama-era directive and develop a replacement through a rulemaking process that she said would do a better job of balancing the rights of victims and the accused.


    "As I said earlier this month, the era of rule by letter is over. The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools," DeVos said in a statement Friday.

    The Q&A issued Friday said that schools that voluntarily entered into resolution agreements with the department's Office for Civil Rights based on the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter must adhere to those agreements. "Existing resolution agreements remain binding upon the schools that voluntarily entered into them," the document says. "Such agreements are fact-specific and do not bind other schools."

    Senior department officials said investigations of schools pertaining to violations spelled out in the rescinded Obama-era guidance would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but that the department would continue to open new investigations as the review process moves forward.

    The officials weren’t specific on the time frame for action, saying only that the department’s proposed rule could take several months.

    During the rulemaking process, the department said it would continue to rely on 2001 Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance, and a "Dear Colleague" letter from 2006.

    Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil rights group that brought a court challenge to the Obama 2011 guidance, said “the fight is certainly not over, but the Dear Colleague letter is certainly over, and it’s a really good day for fundamental fairness on campus.”

    He added that there’s still a lot of work to do to come up with a system that balances the rights of victims and the accused.

    Shibley said the guidelines released by the Trump administration shouldn’t be confusing for colleges and universities. If anything, the Obama administration’s 19-page directive on campus sexual assault and the subsequent 46-page question-and-answer document clarifying that directive were significantly more confusing, he said.

    DeVos’ guidelines also note that resolution agreements reached by schools under the Obama document don’t pertain to other schools. That’s important, Shibley said, because the Obama administration tried to push an overly broad definition of campus sexual assault through resolution agreements.


    Mueller requested phone records about Air Force One statement


    Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two...

    Special counsel Robert Mueller has sought phone records concerning the statement written aboard Air Force One defending a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians at Trump Tower last year that was set up by Donald Trump Jr., according to two people familiar with the investigation.

    Mueller has also asked the White House for documents and emails connected to a May 3 press briefing where Sean Spicer said the president had confidence in James Comey as FBI director, these people said. The request seeks to determine what White House officials – particularly Spicer – knew about the president’s plans to fire Comey in the days before it happened, according to one of the people familiar with it.

    The requests, first reported by the New York Times, are the latest indication that Mueller's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is expanding to include what has happened in the White House since Trump took office, including questions of obstruction of justice.

    Most of the requests, one of these people said, focus on what happened inside the White House after Jan. 20.

    White House officials are expected to be interviewed in upcoming weeks by Mueller’s office, but the interviews have not been set, according to one of the people with knowledge of the investigation.

    The special counsel’s office has also asked for documents related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his meetings with Russian officials, one of these people said.

    Investigators are particularly interested in what happened inside the White House after former deputy attorney general Sally Yates told White House lawyer Don McGahn of the Flynn meeting with Russians. Flynn was said to have misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

    A lawyer for Flynn couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.


    Mueller has also asked White House lawyers whether any documents related to Paul Manafort are in the White House, these people said. One White House official said there are few documents that even mention Manafort in the White House because he left the campaign in August.

    The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

    Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, declined to comment “out of respect” for Mueller’s team.

    He has told others in the White House he wants to speed up the investigation, and was recently heard by the New York Times telling other lawyers they needed to provide all documents, even though another White House lawyer is arguing otherwise.

    The statement about the Trump Tower meeting, written on the return from a European summit earlier this year, touched off a frenzy inside the White House, with dozens of phone calls from Air Force One and back in Washington and New York.

    It came as the New York Times was preparing to report about the meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and Russians at Trump Tower, which was arranged after one of the Russians had promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. None of the people who attended have been accused of wrongdoing.

    The statement sparked frustration from Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for the legal team, and Marc Kasowitz, a former lawyer, and partially led to Corallo’s resignation, because lawyers weren’t present and the president was involved.


    Mueller’s request for documents surrounding the May 3 briefing from Spicer suggest he is trying to establish who knew what – and when – around the firing, according to legal observers and others involved in the case. He has requested any documents that would show Trump’s thinking, and who was involved. Spicer's briefing followed Comey’s testimony earlier that day in which he said he was “mildly nauseous” at the thought of having influenced the outcome of the 2016 election.

    Trump fired Comey on May 9. White House officials say the decision was made at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey the weekend after Spicer’s news briefing.

    Spicer declined to comment.


    5 things Trump did this week while you weren't looking


    All eyes were on New York this week, as President Donald Trump took the podium at the United Nations and threatened war with North Korea. Back in Washington, the House was on recess and the Senate scrambled to find 50 Republican votes to pass their...

    All eyes were on New York this week, as President Donald Trump took the podium at the United Nations and threatened war with North Korea. Back in Washington, the House was on recess and the Senate scrambled to find 50 Republican votes to pass their back-from-the-dead health care bill, an effort likely to come up short once again after Sen. John McCain announced his opposition on Friday afternoon.

    More quietly, the Trump administration continues to target Obama-era environmental and workplace rules and forge ahead to implement a new conservative agenda. Perhaps most notably, the administration offered a sign this week that it might test a major Medicare reform long championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

    1. Trump administration hints at big Medicare experiments
    The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation, created in 2010 by Obamacare, can spend $1 billion a year on innovative ideas to reduce Medicare costs. Under Obama, the agency piloted a number of ideas, such as reducing Medicare payments for cancer drugs and changing how the government pays for hip surgery. Republicans complained of executive overreach and tried to scale back the agency’s powers, but now that Trump is in the White House, the GOP is looking to turn the agency to its advantage.

    This week, the Trump administration took the first step toward reforming CMMI when it released a nine-page notice asking for comments on a “new direction” for the agency. The notice is just a preliminary move—it doesn’t actually change any policy right now—but it sends a clear message about how Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Seema Verma, director of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, intend to use the agency. The notice emphasizes the need for a more “market-based” direction, saying consumers should be empowered “to drive change in the health system through their choices.” The notice doesn’t specify any policy changes but the language may signal that Price and Verma want to test Medicare premium support, an idea long favored by Ryan and Price. Instead of paying for health care, premium support would change Medicare into an insurance subsidy that recipients would use to purchase private insurance. The idea is extremely controversial and loathed by Democrats.

    A few days after the election, Price and Ryan suggested that transitioning Medicare to a premium support system would be on the agenda for the Republican Congress. Almost a year later, Republicans have struggled to repeal and replace Obamacare, much less undertake a comprehensive Medicare reform. But even if premium support isn’t on the table right now, Price and Verma could lay the groundwork for it through CMMI.

    2. Labor Department delays a rule on cancer-causing silica dust
    In March 2016, the Department of Labor issued a regulation lowering the workplace exposure standard for silica, a mineral that can cause lung cancer when ground into dust and inhaled. The final rule was heralded by workplace advocates as long overdue—it took more than four decades to finalize—and was set to be enforced on June 23.

    But in April, the Department of Labor announced it was delaying enforcement of the rule for three months until September 23. Technically, that date still stands. But this week, the agency issued a memo, saying that as long as employers show they have made a “good faith effort” to comply with the rule, the agency will give them a pass for any violations in the next 30 days. In other words, the silica rule is effectively delayed another month. The delay is a victory for industry groups, but it is likely to be short-lived: Unlike with some other rules, the Labor Department does not appear to be delaying the enforcement date of the silica rule to give itself additional time to repeal or rewrite it.

    3. Trump issues new executive order on North Korea
    Trump spent much of his time at the United Nations this week addressing North Korea’s nuclear program, vowing to “totally destroy” the country if necessary and discussing the topic in almost every meeting with foreign leaders. With each successive nuclear test, Washington tries to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, issuing new sanctions and pressuring China to cut off trade with North Korea.

    So it was this week when Trump announced an executive order that attempts to further cut off North Korea from the world. The sanctions are a step beyond anything that the U.S. has imposed on Pyongyang in the past, drawing praise from former Obama administration officials. The order allows the Treasury Department to sanction any individual who operates in major North Korean industries like textiles and manufacturing; who owns or operates North Korean ports; who imports or exports significant goods, services or technology to or from North Korea; or who generates revenue for the government. It also prohibits any foreign-owned aircraft or vessel from coming to the U.S. within 180 days of visiting North Korea.

    4. EPA delays its formaldehyde rule, again
    On Dec. 12, the Environmental Protection Bureau issued a rule on formaldehyde emissions for certain wood products, one of the last significant rules issued by the EPA during the Obama administration. The rule was set to take effect on Feb. 27, but Trump already delayed that date twice: first to March 21 and later until May 22. At that point, the rule took effect.

    But this week, the EPA announced that it was effectively delaying the formaldehyde rule another year by extending the rule’s compliance deadlines. In other words, even though the rule took effect, companies don’t yet actually have to comply with different pieces of the rule until sometime in the future. In some cases, the new compliance deadline is far in the future—in one case, not until 2024.

    5. A smaller move on immigration—and a big one coming soon
    This week, the Department of Homeland Security made one small move on immigration—and there are reports that a big policy change is coming soon.

    First, DHS extended a special immigration status for Sudanese and South Sudanese nationals that had been set to expire later this year. The status, known as Temporary Protected Status, allows foreign nationals whose home country is hit by a war or natural disaster to temporarily live and work in the U.S. Sudanese nationals can now stay until November 2018, while South Sudanese nationals can stay until May 2019. It’s a sign that despite Trump’s immigration crackdown, DHS isn’t just deporting all foreign nationals without considering their individual circumstances.

    Be that as it may, there’s more change afoot. The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to impose tighter vetting procedures on a broad list of countries, a replacement for Trump’s travel ban, which attempted to block people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The ban, which has been tied up in the courts, expires on September 24, so the Trump administration had to make a decision. Expect more on the new vetting program in the coming days.


    Report: Travel ban to be replaced with broader vetting


    The Trump administration is preparing to replace the president’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim nations with more targeted screening of visitors from a broader list of nations, according to a news report Friday.The six-nation ban will expire...

    The Trump administration is preparing to replace the president’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim nations with more targeted screening of visitors from a broader list of nations, according to a news report Friday.

    The six-nation ban will expire Sept. 24, leaving the administration a small window in which to replace the policy or let it fade away.

    “The Trump administration will ensure we only admit those who can be properly vetted and will not pose a threat to national security or public safety,” a White House official told POLITICO.

    The Homeland Security Department submitted a report to the White House late last week that listed countries that failed to provide detailed vetting information requested by the administration.


    The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that 17 countries had initially been flagged for inclusion on the list, but that roughly half of those nations were able to comply with the vetting standards. Those countries would not be subject to a blanket travel ban, according to the Journal.

    One former DHS official with knowledge of the changes told POLITICO the new policy could impose additional interviews, screening and background checks from the enumerated nations. The vetting measures could also include social-media screening.


    The Nuclear Deal Is Iran’s Legal Path to the Bomb


    President Donald Trump has sensibly insisted that the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—has to be revised. The reaction in some quarters, mainly among many of the former Obama administration officials who...

    President Donald Trump has sensibly insisted that the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—has to be revised. The reaction in some quarters, mainly among many of the former Obama administration officials who negotiated this bad deal, has been horror. Unfortunately, the media have uncritically swallowed many of the false assumptions and naive arguments of the deal’s supporters, and the elite consensus is that the agreement must be preserved lest the White House bumble us into a crisis—or worse, another war in the Middle East.

    Please. The accord is riddled with problematic provisions that essentially put Iran on a legal glide path to the bomb. The agreement’s various sunset clauses, its leaky inspection regime and Iran’s growing missile arsenal have all been subject of much discussion. Yet, one of the most dangerous aspects of the JCPOA that allows Iran to design and construct advanced centrifuges has largely escaped notice. Given the JCPOA’s permissive research and design provisions, Iran can effectively modernize its nuclear infrastructure while adhering to the agreement.

    The Islamic Republic will most likely not build a bomb in one of its declared facilities, for such a move would expose it to immediate military retribution. More likely, Iran will sneak out by covertly enriching uranium at a hidden, undisclosed facility—after all, they’ve done it before. This option, however, requires the development of advanced centrifuges that can operate with efficiency at high velocity. A small cascade of the so-called IR-8 centrifuges can quickly enrich vast quantities of uranium to weapons-grade quality. Because so few of these centrifuges would be required to complete the task, they can be housed in small facilities that may evade detection in a timely manner. Iran is a vast country, and should the clerical oligarchs choose to litter their territory with numerous such small installations, they can effectively conceal their activities from prying inspectors. All this becomes even more alarming as the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program fade with time.

    The key architect of the JCPOA was not Secretary of State John Kerry or his European counterparts but Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s most reliable bomb maker, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, and his team of technicians and diplomats, for one simple reason: He knows more than we do about the program he has devoted his life to developing.

    Salehi, a fluent English speaker with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT, realized the folly of his predecessors. He understood that merely adding primitive IR-1 centrifuges to Iran’s stock might marginally expand its nuclear capacity, but could not be the foundation of a state-of-art atomic apparatus. For Iran to have a viable nuclear energy program and a sneak-out weapons option, it had to phase out the clunky IR-1s and replace them with more advanced IR-8s. As Pezhman Rahimian, a technical member of the Iran negotiating team, stipulated in an interview in Khorasan newspaper on August 13, 2015: “The current manager of the organization [Salehi] believes that we should not have produced and installed this number of IR-1s since plans were made to replace these old centrifuges with new ones.” Thus, Iran had no problem disassembling many of its outdated centrifuges and giving the Westerners the illusion that it was circumscribing its nuclear activities. At the height of negotiations in 2015, Iran’s leaders were grappling with the question of how long they would need to design and operate the new generation of centrifuges. Another member of Iran’s negotiating team, Hamid Baidinezhad, stressed in an interview with Iranian daily E’temad on August 23, 2015: “Finally, we came to the conclusion that the transition period that would take us to the industrial stage would start at the beginning of eight years. … After the completion of that transitional period, Iran’s nuclear program would witness an industrial leap and Iran would enter the state of complete industrial enrichment.” And this was precisely the research and development plan Iran negotiated as part of the JCPOA: The agreement stipulates that “Iran will continue to conduct enrichment R & D [Research and Development] … including IR-4, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges.” An American negotiating team that was so concerned about stages of sanctions relief and inspections seemed to have conceded this point as part of the negotiating trade-offs.

    Salehi has touted this achievement, declaring in an interview with Islamic Student News Agency on September 8, 2015, “According to the JCPOA, we have kept our nuclear program in accordance with our needs and requirements for [carrying out] research and development.” In a clever move, Salehi preserved Iran’s nuclear modernization efforts while trading away IR-1s that Iran would phase out even if the JCPOA had not come along.

    Indeed, we’d do well to listen to what the Iranians themselves say about the nuclear deal. The Iranian government routinely celebrates its achievement at the negotiating table. And though the arcane details of the agreement are rarely discussed by Western leaders, President Hassan Rouhani has not shied away from delving into minute technical matters. The issue he often focuses on is Iran’s right to develop advance centrifuge models. In December 2016, Rouhani insisted in a speech cited by Islamic Republic News Agency: “Before, only IR-1 centrifuges were active, now we are operating IR-8 centrifuges, the most modern and advanced ones Iran has obtained.” Rouhani appreciates the hard bargaining of his diplomats and the tactics of his bomb maker, Salehi.

    How did the U.S. allow this? The cascade of American concessions began in Obama’s second term. Free from seeking another election, Obama and Kerry, his new secretary of state, went abroad looking for a legacy project. During its first term, the administration had insisted that Iran was entitled to only a small nuclear program relying on primitive centrifuges. This was a face-saving gesture whereby Iranians would proclaim that they had mastered enrichment, but the international community would be confident that their small-scale program offered little proliferation threat. In its second term, however, the administration conceded many of its own red lines as Iran was granted the right to eventually industrialize its program using the most advanced technologies. The Obamians may have justified such concessions to themselves by assuring one another that after the expiration of the sunset clauses, a different Iran would emerge, a moderate regime valuing international acceptability more than nuclear arms. In their conception, Iran would become another Japan. The Islamic Republic’s conduct since the advent of the JCPOA demonstrates the fallacy of such conceptions, as the regime continues to reject international norms, abuse its citizens and menace its neighbors. Not for the first-time they misunderstood the theocracy and how the hard men of Iran were imbued by an ideological animus toward the West that necessitated not just isolation but nuclear weapons.

    Despite the howls of the Democratic Party Resistance, Trump is right that the Iran deal is “an embarrassment to the United States.” In fact, it’s the most deficient accord in the history of American arms control diplomacy. Many aspects of it require reconsideration, and none more essential than its research and development provisions. To realistically obstruct Iran’s path to nuclear arms, Washington must first deny it the technology most essential for production of such weapons. No renegotiation will be complete without first undoing Salehi’s ingenious achievement.


    The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics


    Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are...

    Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are hundreds of cartoons that entertain and enrage readers of all political stripes. Here's an offering of the best of this week's crop, picked fresh off the Toonosphere. Edited by Matt Wuerker.

    Trump dings media in criticism of Facebook ads in 'Russia hoax'


    President Donald Trump objected Friday morning to the fresh attention being paid to the ongoing investigation into Russia’s effort to interfere in last year’s presidential election after Facebook announced it would hand over details of...

    President Donald Trump objected Friday morning to the fresh attention being paid to the ongoing investigation into Russia’s effort to interfere in last year’s presidential election after Facebook announced it would hand over details of Russian-purchased advertisements linked to the 2016 election.

    The Kremlin’s meddling into last year’s election returned to the spotlight this week following news that Facebook accounts with ties to Russia had purchased about $150,000 worth of ads on the social media site at key points during the 2016 campaign. Facebook has agreed to turn over the details of those ad purchases to congressional investigators examining last year’s race and Russia’s influence on it.

    “The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook,” Trump wrote on Twitter, renewing his characterization of the Russia investigations as a “hoax.” “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

    He followed that tweet with a second post, writing, "The greatest influence over our election was the Fake News Media 'screaming' for Crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate!"


    Clinton, too, has been back in the news in recent weeks, engaging in an array of interviews to promote her new book, a memoir of the 2016 election entitled, “What Happened.” The former secretary of state has been roundly critical of Trump in those interviews and wrote extensively in her book about Russia’s efforts to hinder her campaign, stopping just short of accusing the Trump campaign of colluding with the Kremlin in those efforts.

    The Russian government, for its part, has denied any involvement in the Facebook ads. “We do not know ... how to place an advert on Facebook. We have never done this, and the Russian side has never been involved in it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, according to a Reuters report.


    Storm-battered Puerto Rico looks to Washington for help


    As Puerto Rico reels from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration and Congress are pledging to provide more aid to the commonwealth, which is already suffering from a historic debt crisis.Tax breaks and more Medicaid funding could be...

    As Puerto Rico reels from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration and Congress are pledging to provide more aid to the commonwealth, which is already suffering from a historic debt crisis.

    Tax breaks and more Medicaid funding could be a part of a recovery package, and activists would like to see debt relief for the U.S. Virgin Islands attached as well. Though damage assessments have only begun, the post-Katrina and Sandy relief bills likely will serve as guideposts for Congress.

    “This is a natural disaster in Puerto Rico like we haven’t seen ever,” said Carlos Mercader, executive director of the commonwealth's Federal Affairs Administration. “Think about Katrina but even worse because this is the whole island.”

    President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to visit Puerto Rico, which lost 100 percent of its electrical power in the Category 4 storm, and House Speaker Paul Ryan promised a second recovery bill in Congress after the House and Senate passed a disaster relief package after Hurricane Harvey.

    Maria’s crippling impact will also force Puerto Rico and the federal board that Congress created last year to oversee its finances to reassess how to bring the territory out of its debt crunch and decade-long recession.

    Hurricanes Maria and Irma greatly complicate the tangled debt web that has ensnared Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The storms come just months after Puerto Rico entered a court-supervised restructuring process for its $70 billion debt — in what amounted to the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. And with a population of 100,000, the U.S. Virgin Islands owes even more money per resident on the $6.5 billion held by creditors than does Puerto Rico.


    Before Maria hit, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and the federal oversight board were locked in a battle over furloughs and pension cuts that the board said were necessary to balance the budget. The seven-member, bipartisan board had also approved a fiscal plan submitted by Rosselló that could face significant revisions after the storms.

    “There’s no way they’ll make budget. There’s just no way,” said Luis Fortuño, who was governor of Puerto Rico from 2009 to 2013, and now a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. “Both the government and the oversight board had certain assumptions that are out the window now.”

    That fiscal plan affects every decision made by Puerto Rico's government and charts a course for the commonwealth for the next 10 years. The oversight board has final say over revenue and spending decisions, so it must approve any changes.

    Late Thursday, the board essentially gave Rosselló a pass on that budget, allowing him to re-allocate up to $1 billion at his discretion for emergency response efforts. The board also said it would help lobby federal agencies for further assistance.

    “Furthermore, if the Government determines increases to the Territory Budget are needed to respond to Hurricane Maria, we stand ready to expeditiously approve such requests, in anticipation of much needed federal funding,” the board wrote to Rosselló. “To that end, we will join the Government of Puerto Rico in actively seeking FEMA and any other potential sources of federal funds for the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico.”

    This month’s storms may also temporarily align groups of creditors that have fought the board, the commonwealth government and each other for years over the billions owed to them by Puerto Rico. Though lobbyists for creditors contacted by POLITICO had not yet made specific plans, they may be willing to cooperate because Puerto Rico will be able to pay its debts quicker if there’s a robust recovery.

    Ryan also offered words of sympathy and support.

    "To our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, they are front and center in our thoughts and we want them to know the federal response will be there," the House speaker said during a visit to sections of Florida damaged by Hurricane Irma.

    Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which is likely to write the aid package, said he would reach out to its chair and ranking member over the weekend to urge funding to the territories affected by the storms. He also wants to see a panel set up for Puerto Rico similar to the one established for New York after Superstorm Sandy to guide reconstruction.

    “I’m asking President Trump to do the same thing for Puerto Rico [as after Sandy], that looks at the needs they have now and the needs they have in the future,” Serrano said.

    Trump said yesterday that the U.S. is starting the process of helping Puerto Rico and will work with Rosselló. Mercader, the point person for Puerto Rico with the federal government, said the level of commitment and response from the Trump administration pleasantly surprised him.

    “It’s been more than what I expected,” he said. The commonwealth and federal responders also hoped to bring online a joint operations center in San Juan’s convention center by the end of the day Friday.

    So far the government has confirmed six storm-related deaths, though the tally could climb much higher. Mercader’s office in Washington was deputized to field emergency calls from Puerto Rico as most of the commonwealth’s communications went offline.

    Entire sections of the island have yet to be heard from, and even local government agencies were having a hard time reaching one another to coordinate, creating a “cloud of uncertainty,” Mercader said. Mudslides and flooding continued in areas, and FEMA will send helicopters to try to reach towns that have become inaccessible by road.

    In the longer term, the fallout from the recent hurricanes could also bring more attention to the debt crisis in the Virgin Islands.

    Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious-affiliated organization that lobbied on behalf of debt restructuring for Puerto Rico last year, said his group would push for the Virgin Islands to be treated as Puerto Rico was in disaster relief legislation.

    “Congress is going to have to step in in some new ways,” said LeCompte. “At this point, no one’s going to get paid anyways.”

    Jubilee, which has ties to about 650 faith-based groups and organizations, would also push for the U.S. to lead the charge on a temporary debt moratorium on money owed to the International Monetary Fund by non-U.S. Caribbean islands affected by the storms. The U.S. holds more votes than any other country in the IMF.

    “We’re just looking at delaying payments for six months to a year,” during the disaster recovery, LeCompte said.

    Puerto Rico’s government praised Trump and the Department of Homeland Security for their response efforts. But the territories, used to receiving less attention than states despite their own U.S. citizenship, remain concerned that Congress and the White House will forget them after floodwaters recede and the winds die down.

    “There ought not to be a difference” between the response to Harvey’s flooding of Texas and Irma and Maria’s buffeting of the U.S. Caribbean, Fortuno said.


    Melania Trump embraces Michelle Obama's vegetable garden


    It's harvest time for Melania Trump.The first lady, more at home in Manhattan than among rows of crops, hosted local schoolchildren at the White House on Friday to harvest and replant the vegetable garden Michelle Obama rooted in the South Lawn —...

    It's harvest time for Melania Trump.

    The first lady, more at home in Manhattan than among rows of crops, hosted local schoolchildren at the White House on Friday to harvest and replant the vegetable garden Michelle Obama rooted in the South Lawn — carrying on a symbolic piece of the Obamas' food policy legacy.

    Many in food circles had been concerned that Melania Trump and her fast-food-loving husband would not carry on Michelle Obama's expansive kitchen garden, which has become an internationally recognized symbol of local food and the Obama administration's push to promote healthy eating.

    "I'm a big believer in healthy eating because it reflects on your mind and your body," said Melania Trump, surrounded by about a dozen children in the garden on Friday afternoon. "I encourage you to continue to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, so you grow up healthy and take care of yourself."

    After brief remarks, the first lady, dressed in a red plaid shirt, black pants and sneakers, joined the children in harvesting lettuce and kale, peas, radishes, Swiss chard and mustard. They also planted cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, spinach and kale, the White House said.


    Melania Trump's decision to continue the tradition of hosting children at the garden to aid in the harvest surprised some food advocates, especially after the Trump administration in May said it would relax elements of the school nutrition standards Michelle Obama had championed.

    The Trump administration also recently stalled two other policies that were central to the Obamas' efforts to promote healthier eating habits: It delayed a nationwide regulation to require restaurants to post calorie counts on menus, and pushed back the deadline for food companies to update the Nutrition Facts label on their products to list added sugars and present more realistic serving sizes.

    "For Michelle Obama, the garden was paired with concrete improvements to federal policy and pro-health cultural shifts in America," said Eric Kessler, senior managing director of Arabella Advisors, which advises major foundations involved in food policy. "When this White House holds a garden event, you have to assume it's meant as a distraction from some policy shift that will make good food less accessible to families that need it most."

    During Barack Obama's two terms in the White House, Michelle Obama held dozens of photo ops at the garden to promote its symbolic meaning, and regularly invited school children to assist her in planting and harvesting. While Michelle Obama was known to break a sweat during harvest, prying sweet potatoes out of the ground using a shovel or a garden hoe, the National Park Service maintained the garden on a daily basis. The park service, which maintains the White House grounds, continues to tend to the garden under the Trump administration.

    Last fall, just weeks before the 2016 election, Michelle Obama made headlines by addingimprovements to the garden to make it a more permanent fixture, giving it an archway, a seating area and stone-laden pathways.

    “I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes and dreams we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children,” she said in a speech before dozens of advocates, food industry leaders and others who had helped with Let’s Move!, her signature campaign to combat childhood obesity.


    "I am hopeful that future first families will cherish this garden like we have," she added.

    Despite the worrying from advocates, the Trump White House made it clear early on that the first lady had no intention of doing away with the garden.

    "As a mother and as the first lady of this country, Mrs. Trump is committed to the preservation and continuation of the White House Gardens, specifically the first lady's Kitchen Garden and the Rose Garden," Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a senior adviser to Melania Trump, told CNN in February.

    The White House chefs continue to cook with vegetables, herbs and fruit harvested from the garden, and donate fresh produce to local charities, a spokeswoman confirmed.

    The White House beehive, also started by the Obamas, is still buzzing under the Trump administration.

    The first lady sent the children home on Friday with gardening kits and honey from the hive to share with their families. "I hope you like it," she said.


    Trade panel puts solar tariff decision in Trump's hands


    A federal trade panel declared Friday that surging imports of solar panels have hurt U.S. manufacturers — a decision that will allow President Donald Trump to penalize Chinese companies but could also choke off the fast-growing green energy industry in...

    A federal trade panel declared Friday that surging imports of solar panels have hurt U.S. manufacturers — a decision that will allow President Donald Trump to penalize Chinese companies but could also choke off the fast-growing green energy industry in the U.S.

    The U.S. International Trade Commission voted to uphold a complaint brought by two domestic solar manufacturers that complained that the low-cost imports had damaged their businesses. The decision was opposed by the much larger U.S. solar installation industry, which has seen the influx of the cheap panels spark a boom in construction of giant solar farms and rooftop systems around the country.

    The issue will give Trump the opportunity to erect trade barriers he has hailed as key to his strategy to revive domestic manufacturing, and at the same time hit the Chinese companies that have largely evaded previous U.S. import penalties to become the leading suppliers of solar cells and panels. Administration officials say the trade case hasn't been a central one for the president, but they are increasingly confident Trump will favor tariffs when the commission sends the White House its recommendations in the next couple of months.

    In a statement, the White House said Trump would make a decision that "reflects the best interests of the United States," and it praised the solar-makers, saying the domestic "solar manufacturing sector contributes to our energy security and economic prosperity.”

    The case could also give Trump a platform to advance his “America First” agenda and tout his effort to revive the ailing coal sector. Coal companies have complained that the Obama administration waged a regulation-heavy “war on coal” while tilting federal tax incentives and loans to renewable energy sources in order to advance climate change policies.

    “[Trump] could easily reward his buddies in the coal industry who would really like to see high-priced solar panels competing with coal for space on the grid,” said Clark Packard, a policy analyst and trade lawyer with the conservative think tank R Street Institute, which opposes tariffs. He added: “He may just want to stick it to people — your coastal elites who never would have voted for him who are more likely to use solar panels. He’s looking for any circumstance to impose tariffs, it doesn't seem he cares what they are.”

    Trump has not weighed in on the case so far, though his administration has reopened the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and China, and he has regularly blasted China and other countries for what he calls unfair trade with the U.S.

    "He’s a protectionist, there’s no doubt about it, and he’s not very sympathetic to the renewable energy," Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow for the Peterson Institute of International Economics. “As much as you can predict any president, I think his conclusion is foregone.”

    The complaint brought by Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld USA has brought sharp opposition from most of the U.S. solar industry, which has seen its growth skyrocket as costs for the technology fell to a fraction of what they were a decade ago. Aided by federal tax incentives and state-level programs, large solar power installations have sprung up across the country, driving down costs for those plants to levels that are now competitive with coal and natural gas power power stations. That's lifted employment in the sector to 260,000 even as the number of U.S. companies that make solar cells and panels sinks.


    The solar industry has warned that high tariffs would eliminate 88,000 U.S. jobs by boosting costs and making many projects uneconomic just as the industry, which generates $29 billion in revenue, was starting to stand on its own.

    "If companies are going to be injured, we're going to be bringing in employees who will lose their jobs, mayors and governors and senators and representatives," said Abigail Ross Hopper, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "We're going to be making sure folks understand the impact, and putting a human face to it."

    The four members of the ITC will now begin to formulate a remedy to address the injury suffered by the U.S. manufacturers, and they will take recommendations from solar companies. Any remedies taken by the U.S. will not apply to imports from Canada.

    Suniva brought the case under Section 201 of the Trade Act, a rarely used but powerful tool that gives the president the ultimate authority to take or discard the recommendations of the commission. Most trade complaints — including two solar cases acted upon by the Obama administration — are limited to imports from specific countries, but Section 201 allows the president to impose tariffs on all imports of a product. The authority was last used by President George W. Bush in 2002 to implemented a tariff on imported steel, but it was withdrawn 15 months later.

    The commission will hold hearings on potential remedies on Oct. 3 and send its recommendations to the White House by Nov. 13.

    Unlike trade complaints that allege foreign companies had unfair advantages because of subsidies in their home countries or that companies were “dumping” products at below-market prices to squeeze out competitors, a case brought under Section 201 needs only to show that imports were harming the domestic industry. That lower standard appears to have been met by data showing imports from Asian countries surging as some 30 companies in the U.S. shuttered their manufacturing plants.

    While solar manufacturers in China ship about 20 percent of the equipment that is imported in the U.S., many Chinese companies have moved production to countries like Malaysia or Vietnam to avoid trade penalties imposed during the Obama administration.

    Suniva, which lodged the original complaint and filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, has said that putting tariffs or setting a floor price for imported solar equipment would generate new manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

    “President Trump can remedy the industry’s injury with relief that ensures U.S. energy dominance that includes a healthy U.S. solar ecosystem and prevents China and its proxies from owning the sun,” Suniva, which is itself majority owned by a Chinese company, Shunfeng International, said ahead of Friday’s decision.

    The company has recommended a remedy that would set a price floor of 78 cents per watt, as well as a tariff that starts at 40 cents per watt and declines over four years — proposals that would more than double the current panel costs. Analysts have said that could erase five years of cost declines made by the industry.


    "We are confident there is a way to strengthen and save U.S. solar manufacturing without harming the strong growth that has made America such a powerful market for solar products," said Timothy Brightbill, an attorney at Wiley Rein who is representing SolarWorld. That company is a unit of Germany’s SolarWorld Industries GMBH, which has also filed for bankruptcy in its home country.

    Several lawmakers and governors had urged the commission to reject the trade complaint, including in a letter sent Thursday by Govs. Brian Sandoval of Nevada; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Charles Baker of Massachusetts; and Roy Cooper of North Carolina.

    “At a time when our citizens are demanding more clean energy, the tariff could cause America to lose out on 47 gigawatts of solar installations, representing billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in our states," they wrote to ITC Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein.

    A bipartisan group of 16 senators sent a letter last month to the ITC asking it to "carefully consider the negative impact" of an injury finding. Those lawmakers included Sens. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jerry Moran of Kansas, both Republicans, along with coastal Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey.

    Conservative groups that support free trade have also opposed erecting the trade barriers. Earlier this month, a group of six conservative organizations, including the R Street Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Taxpayers Union, published an open letter arguing against tariffs. The conservative Heritage Foundation, which was not on the letter, also opposes a policy of tariffs and has been tracking the Suniva case closely.

    "We believe that policies that pick winners and losers by imposing tariffs are bad, pretty much no matter what they are," said Tori Whiting, a research associate at the Center for International Trade and Economics at Heritage.

    Suniva and SolarWorld are not without their own defenders: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and two members of the Washington House delegation sent a letter of their own in favor of the tariffs, and House members from Georgia and Michigan have both backed the petition. The groups have also been backed by steel manufacturers.


    Group Therapy Is Saving Lives in Chicago


    CHICAGO—A few days before the beginning of the school year, eight boys from one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city gathered in a sunny room to share their anxieties and hopes. The seniors were worried about applying to college and finding jobs...

    CHICAGO—A few days before the beginning of the school year, eight boys from one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city gathered in a sunny room to share their anxieties and hopes. The seniors were worried about applying to college and finding jobs to earn spending money. The one rising freshman among them was nervous about fitting in to his new school. All of them were amped up about football season, which started that night. But living near Garfield Park on the city’s West Side, the boys also had problems that sounded unlike those of high school students in most other parts of the country.

    “My older brother was shot in the shoulder yesterday,” said Jarrell, a football player. “He’s 23.” Another boy spent two weeks in the hospital last year after gang members attacked him. His offense, in their eyes, was going to a restaurant with a childhood friend who’s in a rival gang.

    Demarco, an 18-year-old senior, was 6 when he saw someone stab his mother. She survived the assault, and today she’s a single mom, working two jobs to support her kids. But Demarco’s dad was murdered seven years ago. “When my daddy got killed, he got shot 16 times,” he said. In the last year, Demarco also lost his cousin and some friends to shootings. “I felt like I had nobody,” he says.

    In Chicago, stories like these too often are followed by similar stories of revenge, a pattern that has helped drive the city’s spiraling homicide rate. Last year, almost one in five of the city’s 764 murder victims was 19 or younger. The purpose of the meeting was to interrupt that cycle. The eight boys are part of a program called Becoming a Man, a 16-year-old group therapy and mentoring program operating in dozens of Chicago schools. It aims to help young men like these learn impulse control—to think more slowly as a way of avoiding the reflexive anger that has led to the deaths of so many young people in Chicago—and learn skills and values that will guide them to productive lives after they graduate.

    Demarco joined BAM through his high school a year ago. “I got bad anger problems,” he says. His counselor, Dar’tavous Dorsey, has helped him learn better self-control. “He’s helping me think smarter,” says Demarco. “He’s helping me hold my actions. If something says something wrong to me, usually I’d just spazz out. Now, I just look at you like, ‘I don’t got to talk to you.’ I just stay in my own lane. I became a better person than I was last year.”


    BAM and its sister program, Working on Womanhood, are part of a larger national trend. Urban schools from Oakland and San Francisco to Philadelphia are adopting social and emotional learning based on mounting evidence that kids in high-crime, poor neighborhoods need help coping with the after-effects of witnessing traumatic violence. While officials at the federal level talk about more muscular law enforcement as the solution to urban crime, these programs present a more affordable alternative that’s preventive, not punitive. And studies show they might be more effective as well. Research by the University of Chicago Crime Lab attest to BAM’s effectiveness: the program reduced boys’ violent crime arrests by 50 percent and increased their high school graduation rates by 19 percent.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been a BAM supporter since 2013, when he first sat in on a BAM session. “The counselors stepped into a pair of shoes that hadn’t been filled for these young men,” Emanuel told POLITICO. “It’s something I take for granted, because I still talk to my father every day. You don’t realize how important it is, because it’s more implicit than explicit, until you see how young men thirst for it and the void that gets filled for them.”

    Emanuel convinced President Obama, his former boss, to visit a BAM group in 2013. Obama later invited that BAM group to the White House, and a BAM participant introduced Obama at the 2014 launch of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young men and boys of color.

    Now, BAM and WOW are scaling up in Chicago public schools, with funding from Emanuel’s administration—$3.6 million for BAM and $1.1 million for WOW in the 2016-2017 budget—and $10 million in private donations the mayor helped raise. BAM aims to serve an estimated 6,000 boys this school year, up from 4,100 in 2016-17. It just launched in a second city, Boston. WOW is expanding too, from serving 1,080 girls last school year to about 1,750 this fall. It’s newer, smaller, and less proven than BAM, but internal testing shows it lowers depression rates in girls. That’s an important measurement because girls react to trauma differently: Boys are more likely to lash out, while girls are more likely to take their pain out on themselves.


    “You can really expect, in schools in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, that all the students are coping with something very traumatic,” says Micere Keels, a University of Chicago human development professor working on a trauma-responsive curriculum for the Chicago Public Schools. “There’s a growing awareness that [those] kids are coming to school struggling with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disregulation because of stress.”

    That can make it very difficult for kids to succeed in school, or in life – unless they learn to cope by thinking slower and smarter.

    ***

    The program that became BAM started in 1999 when a young counselor named Anthony Di Vittorio was hired by the Chicago nonprofit Youth Guidance to work with kids who were kicked out of class.

    Di Vittorio, who goes by Tony D., knew something about this kind of behavior. Growing up on Chicago’s southwest side, the son of a violent alcoholic father, and surrounded by older siblings who had their own addiction issues, Di Vittorio experimented with drugs and tagged along to watch his peers break windows and steal cars. His home, he said, was “chaos,” devoid of any positive male role models. He channeled his anger into break dancing and managed to get himself through high school, college and, by the age of 30, he had earned a master’s in psychology. That’s where he learned the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy that he introduced to the angry young men he was now being asked to help.


    Di Vittorio started using conventional therapy techniques, including group counseling sessions and reflective listening. He challenged the kids to respond to their own negative thought patterns with positive, constructive thoughts. He also started a break-dancing club after school and showed movie clips to start discussion. And perhaps most important, he told the kids about his own past.

    “I would talk about being traumatized,” Di Vittorio, 49, says, “and what it’s like to not have integrity, and what it’s like to feel anger inside and want to destroy the world.” He broke down the usual barriers between counselors and clients, and the boys responded. “They’d talk about how they’re lacking integrity, how they abuse people, how they have pain and trauma,” he says. Then he’d challenge them. “So now—cognitive behaviorally—what choice do we make? How do we live our life with purpose and mission? How do you have integrity as a young man out there?”

    “The boys would leave the group and say, ‘Can we come back tomorrow?’” Di Vittorio recalls. “They were starving to identify with manhood.”

    For a decade, Di Vittorio refined his program, merging clinical therapy, mentoring and rites of passage. He started the boys’ one-hour group sessions with “check-ins,” where he and the boys reported on how they felt physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He introduced exercises, modeled off eighth-graders’ recess games, that taught slower thinking and impulse control. He related the curriculum to six core values: integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression, visionary goal-setting, and respect for womanhood.

    By 2009, BAM was operating in Di Vittorio’s high school and a few Chicago elementary schools. Word spread about the changes BAM seemed to inspire in young men who’d struggled in school, many of whom had also been arrested. That year, the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, which tests and designs programs meant to reduce violent crime, decided to study its effects.

    Earlier research by the lab on Chicago’s gun violence epidemic suggested that a lot of youth were getting shot during “impulsive, high-stakes situations that went out of control because a gun was ready at hand,” says the crime lab’s associate director, Julia Quinn. Researchers were intrigued by how BAM used cognitive behavioral therapy to change the way kids in violent neighborhoods think. Instead of fighting back aggressively when challenged, kids in the BAM program were given techniques to help them manage their reactions to others.

    As part of the study, BAM expanded to 19 new schools in high-crime, impoverished, segregated West Side and South Side neighborhoods. Boys in the BAM groups were at risk of dropping out of high school and ending up in jail or prison. They had missed an average of eight weeks of school—almost an entire semester—and many had been arrested before.


    The study, completed in 2010, found that boys participating in BAM were arrested for violent crimes 45 percent less often than classmates who weren’t in the program; arrests on all charges were 28 percent lower. The effect on arrest rates didn’t persist after the boys left BAM, but another effect did: the boys were 19 percent more likely to graduate from high school. A second randomized study by Crime Lab researchers and the National Bureau of Economic Research, finished in 2015, confirmed the earlier results, finding that BAM reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent and overall arrests by 35 percent.

    “We were surprised by the impacts and how large they were,” says Roseanna Ander, executive director of the crime lab, “especially for a program that’s not super-super-intensive and expensive.” Among programs meant to reduce crime and dropout rates among poor kids, BAM’s results stand out. “Unfortunately, there’s not a long list of programs that have generated really rigorous evidence of impact,” says Ander.

    The results are clear, but there’s still some disagreement about component of the programs makes them so effective. Is it the therapy, the mentoring, the rites of passage idea or all of the above? Interestingly, there’s disagreement between the researchers and the program’s founder on what the most important ingredient is.

    For the researchers it’s the behavioral therapy, learning new ways of thinking. “It’s necessary but not sufficient to have positive, adult relationships,” says Quinn. Studies of other programs that also have adults engage with young people don’t produce results as dramatic as BAM’s, she says.

    The 2015 study seems to back up this theory. Crime lab researchers had BAM kids and a control group from their schools go through a decision-making exercise that made them think a classmate had provoked them and gave them a chance to retaliate. “The kids in the BAM program were physically slowing down, taking time to make decisions about how to respond,” says Quinn. Another crime lab study, of a different CBT program in Chicago’s Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago, found that their participants have acquired slow-thinking skills; so did a study of a CBT program for former child soldiers in Liberia. “We think CBT is helping with meta-cognition, thinking about thinking,” says Quinn.


    Di Vittorio thinks BAM’s effectiveness actually lies in something more culturally driven. “I knew the secret sauce which really makes this program work,” BAM’s founder says. “It’s the men’s work, the rites of passage work.”

    A typical mentor might tell a 15-year-old boy to stop verbally abusing a teacher, Di Vittorio explains, but a counselor in the role of a rites of passage elder wouldn’t tell him what to do. Instead, he might ask the boy probing emotional questions about how his mother feels when he’s kicked out of class. “‘What’s it like knowing your mom’s terrified, worried about you?’” Di Vittorio says. “Now that boy starts to go there and starts to feel that pain – and we say, ‘Now you’re doing real work.’ It’s therapy, but it’s done from an elder perspective. We’re de-mystifying that machoism, that bravado.”

    Di Vittorio thinks the reduced arrest rate among BAM youth is a sign that they’re internalizing the program’s values, which come to mind in provocative situations. In other words, BAM develops a young man’s conscience. “There’s something in their gut saying, ‘Man, don’t do this, this ain’t right,’” says Di Vittorio. “That’s a head thing about choice, but deeper than the head thing, the slow thinking, is a gut thing. It’s an intuitive, visceral process of, ‘I don’t think this is right. This isn’t who I want to be right now.’”

    ***

    The eight BAM kids from the West Side left their meeting to go on a mission. Lined up by height, the shortest at the front, they walked around a block of homes, single file. It was a trust walk: Only the two leaders, at the front and back, were permitted to look around and give commands. The others had to look straight ahead and follow their lead. Miles from their neighborhood—they had come to Chicago’s South Side for their summer meeting outside school—the kids walked with brisk energy, showing no self-consciousness about doing something so conspicuously uncool in public.


    Halfway around the block, rain started coming down hard. “Jarrell! Turn around!” shouted the boys’ counselor, Dar’tavous Dorsey, to the boy in the lead. But he couldn’t hear Dorsey over the raindrops peppering the street. The four kids in the back of the line broke off, but the four in front kept going. Dorsey ran forward, still shouting, until the last boys got the word and head back, laughing and running through the storm.

    Back inside, everyone’s black BAM T-shirts was soaked, and the boys chattered about how they had decided when to make a run for it.

    “In my head I’m thinking, no distractions at all!” Jarrell said.

    Dorsey ended their circle session with a quick survey—a “check-out” in BAM terminology—asking each boy to describe how he was feeling in one word. He got a mix: Happy. Successful. Energetic. Complete. Spontaneous.

    It was a carefree moment, full of camaraderie, and an example of the fun side of BAM, the brotherhood that keeps the boys coming back once every week during the school year. (Chicago schools allow BAM kids to skip one non-core class, such as art of music, for their weekly group sessions.) But the stakes for the boys in this group couldn’t be higher. Eight of Dorsey’s 140 BAM kids were murdered in the past year, he said. Police and Youth Guidance records partially confirm this: Eight students at the school where Dorsey works were murdered in the past two years, according to the mayor’s office. In the scheme of things, the BAM groups’ one-hour weekly meetings are a small amount of time for the counselors to try to overcome the powerful influences acting on the boys when they’re not in school.

    “In our neighborhood, it’s mostly killing and gang banging,” said Demarco, the 18-year-old who lost his father to gun violence. “You don’t see no kids want to be successful. Everybody want to be in the streets. They want to kill somebody.

    “A lot of people in the ’hood, their dreams get broken,” Demarco said. “Your mom could be strung out on crack. Your dad could be in jail.” BAM, Demarco says, helps kids become successful despite what’s around them through everyday advice and trips outside the neighborhood, including college tours. “To be a better man, that’s what BAM’s here for. To see different colleges, see something instead of what’s in Chiraq. We call [Chicago] Chiraq, ‘cause there’s too many killings. It’s killing kids now.”


    “BAM saves kids’ lives,” said Jarrell. “During spring break, in the neighborhood I’m from, a couple people died.” Jarrell was on a BAM college tour that week, visiting seven states. “If I wasn’t on that truck, that could’ve been me. They pull you from the hood, they take you different places to see different things. They want your mind somewhere else.”

    Jarrell has traveled to 17 states in the many college tours Dorsey organizes for the 140 boys and young men he counsels at a West Side high school. (That’s twice as many kids as most BAM counselors, a workload he took on after another BAM counselor left the job.) In Dorsey’s first year as a BAM counselor, about two out of five seniors in BAM went on to college. This past school year, his second in the job, he stepped up the college visits—and all 38 of his graduating seniors went on to higher education.

    Dorsey, 31, has a master’s degree in social work and a gift for getting kids to open up to him. His skills as a mentor may be more important than his degree. Though many BAM counselors are psychologists, therapists, or social workers, some are hired for their potential as role models. “They’re men who just have the ‘it’ factor—they’re cool as hell,” said Di Vittorio, the program’s founder. “We knew the youth will imprint upon them, and we can give them some clinical training.” BAM also requires all counselors to go on a weekend retreat put on by the ManKind Project, a Chicago-based organization that dates back to the men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s. The retreat is a key part of BAM counselors’ “rites-of-passage work,” an ongoing examination of their challenges and character. Men who won’t make themselves vulnerable, Di Vittorio says, won’t inspire boys to do the same.

    Dorsey says he doesn’t present himself as a therapist.

    “What I’ve learned that’s successful for me,” he says, “is not, ‘I’m your therapist. I’m your counselor.’ They don’t want to hear that. They shut down.” Many kids say they see him as a father figure. “They want guidance or advice. They don’t want it in a brotherly way.” He gives the guys his work and personal cell numbers and email addresses. The night before the group circle, he talks Jarrell through his anger about his older brother being shot.

    But Dorsey does use a basic tool of cognitive behavioral therapy: probing questions that get them to examine the choices they have made—like joining a gang—and the impact those choices have on others.


    “I ask them, why do you feel that because someone eyed you the wrong way, you have to retaliate?” he said. “Is that acceptable? How would you feel if the shoe was on other foot and that were you?” Sometimes the kids think and respond that it’s not acceptable, but they’re upset. Dorsey keeps up the questions. “Do you have the discipline to bottle it up? To say I’m going to continue to do what I’m doing because I’m here for a reason?”

    In June, a graduating senior burst into Dorsey’s office, cursing. A teacher had asked him to put away his phone. He’d resisted, and the confrontation blew up into an argument with two teachers and a dean, who were trying to find a security officer to arrest him. Seeing his rage, Dorsey handed the senior a pair of boxing gloves, then put on mitts himself to absorb the blows. They sparred, the senior still cursing at the teachers who’d challenged him. Dorsey kept asking him who he was angry at.

    Finally, Dorsey recalled, the senior said: “My dad showed up yesterday. I haven’t seen him in six years. He was trying to tell me what to do.”

    “He didn’t realize,” Dorsey said, “that was therapy right there.”

    ***

    Chicago’s gun violence has become a national fixation, from Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq to President Trump’s frequent tweets about the “carnage” in the city. Though the country’s third-largest city isn’t its most dangerous (several smaller cities, such as New Orleans, St. Louis and Detroit, have higher murder rates), more total murders happen in Chicago than in any other American city: 764 in 2016, up sharply from 485 in 2015.

    That puts tremendous pressure on Emanuel to do something to stem the violence. Crime and policing issues have dogged the mayor—his popularity tanked in 2015 over his handling of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video—and he hasn’t yet announced if he’ll seek re-election in early 2019. Critics also argue that Emanuel’s closing of 50 elementary schools in 2012 and six of the city’s 12 community mental health clinics in 2011 may have contributed to social breakdown. (The mayor replies that crime didn’t spike until years later.) Emanuel argues Chicago needs smarter responses to the violence, including highly professional policing, not the aggressive stop-and-frisk police tactics Trump promotes.

    BAM and WOW, Emanuel said, are part of his strategy to reduce youth violence by giving kids more opportunities; he said he has also doubled the city’s funding for summer and after-school jobs for teens. “It provides young men somebody they can turn to, to ask questions, seek guidance, and know their own strengths to say no to certain things,” Emanuel told POLITICO. “It creates their own sense of family, and network of friends, who will help them make right choices, not bad choices.” This January, Emanuel announced a new mentoring initiative to serve 7,200 boys. A projected 75 percent of them will get their mentors through BAM.

    With city funding and Emanuel’s help with fund-raising, BAM and WOW are growing. BAM and WOW now make up most of Youth Guidance’s $27 million budget: BAM is growing to $13 million this school year, WOW to $4 million. About 60 percent of private donations to Youth Guidance are earmarked for BAM or WOW.

    Inside and outside school, adults are noticing BAM’s influence. Chicago police commander Kevin Johnson said BAM members in South Side neighborhoods such as Roseland have also joined block clubs, anti-violence marches and peace circles where teens and police officers meet to talk about police encounters. “They seem like a different sort of kid,” Johnson said, “more respectful, more engaged in the community, more positive and outgoing.”

    In school, BAM and WOW kids are doing better. “I do know from the principals that their attendance in school is up, their graduation is up,” Emanuel said. They’re also less likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system, the principals tell him.


    The two programs are an “integral part” of the Chicago Public Schools’ safety strategy, which has moved away from zero-tolerance discipline policies and toward de-escalating conflict and problem-solving instead of punishment. It’s working: Chicago’s schools are seeing year-to-year reductions in suspensions, expulsions, and referrals of students to police. “We attribute a lot of that to programs like BAM,” says Jadine Chao, the school district’s chief of safety and security.

    BAM and WOW are also part of a national trend toward social-emotional learning and trauma-sensitive education. In Chicago, the district’s Office of Social and Emotional Learning, founded in 2010, works with Youth Guidance to decide which schools to include in expansions of BAM and WOW. Its 30 staffers train teachers and administrators to adjust their approaches to discipline to consider that kids acting out may be trauma victims who need mental-health support. The office also helps schools set up lessons in classes or homerooms on empathy, decision-making, and conflict resolution.

    Schools across the nation are also embracing social and emotional education for kids who’ve grown up in violent neighborhoods. San Francisco schools that adopted a meditation program for teens, Quiet Time, have seen fewer suspensions, better attendance and better academic performance. Mindful Schools, a Bay Area nonprofit, offers a meditation curriculum for kids who struggle with self-control, which it says has impacted 1.5 million students worldwide. The University of Chicago Crime Lab is currently studying a similar meditation program, also called Quiet Time, developed by the filmmaker David Lynch’s charitable foundation. Schools from Philadelphia to Boston to Seattle have adopted Second Step, a social and emotional education program for elementary and middle school students.

    Micere Keels, a human development professor at the University of Chicago, is trying to help the Chicago schools go further. She’s designing a trauma-responsive curriculum for teachers to give them new ways to manage classrooms in the toughest parts of town.“You can really expect, in schools in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, that all the students coping with something very traumatic,” Keels said. “There’s a growing awareness that [those] kids are coming to school and really struggling with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disregulation just because of stress.”

    Some brain-science studies have found that many teens exposed to violence experience post-traumatic stress disorder, Keels said. “A kid staring out the window who seems disengaged in classroom activities might actually be having flashbacks of incidents they’ve seen in the neighborhood. Sometimes in a minor interaction with another student, they overreact very aggressively, [because it] triggers feelings of being unsafe.”

    ***

    In 2010, as BAM expanded, Youth Guidance decided to found a similar program for girls. Like BAM, Working On Womanhood is a mix of therapy and mentoring based on core values. Girls are less likely to be the perpetrators of the violence that grabs headlines, but they are nonetheless deeply affected by the violence they encounter.

    Gail Day, WOW’s program director, said 84 percent of the nearly 1,100 girls in the program have experienced five or more traumatic events—most of which are acts of violence, ranging widely from being slapped to witnessing a murder. About 30 percent of WOW girls have seen someone else shot or shot at.


    “Our girls internalize a lot of those stressors that are associated with trauma,” Day says. “Instead of going out and getting a gun, and shooting someone, they repress it, they internalize it. And then when something triggers it, it comes out in aggressive behavior, depression, and social anxiety.”

    Trauma can create a vicious cycle: Victims or witnesses can become more likely to act impulsively and aggressively themselves. If you’ve seen someone shot, or someone close to you has been shot, Day said, you can develop anxiety, a lack of trust and hypervigilance.

    Last year, WOW had counselors in 21 Chicago-area schools, compared to BAM’s 62. WOW is newer than BAM, and less proven. No outside researchers have evaluated it yet, though the University of Chicago Crime Lab is in talks with Youth Guidance about conducting a study. But WOW’s self-testing has found that the program improves girls’ mental health. Girls who enter WOW with severe depression were markedly less depressed once they went through the program, while girls with mild or moderate depression improved slightly. That reflects WOW’s focus on girls’ emotional health. Unlike in BAM, all WOW counselors are therapists with master’s degrees.

    On the third day of school, 10 girls gathered in a converted classroom at their high school in the near-west suburbs of the city. It was the first time they’d been together since last June. Dressed in purple shirts with Working on Womanhood written on them, the girls played what seemed like a simple concentration game—a girl would say the name of another girl and toss her a ball across the table in between them. Then a second and third ball would be added. Anytime someone dropped a ball, the whole group had to start again. The girls giggled excitedly as the balls flew around the room; they cheered when they completed a full round.

    As the buzz subsided, their counselor, Nicole Lemon, got them talking. “What do you remember from last year’s group that relates to the group juggle?”


    “No matter what’s going on,” says Dasia, a senior, “you’ve always got to stay focused on the task at hand.”

    “Does anybody remember what CBT is?” Lemon asks.

    “I know!” says one girl. “You gotta think through what you’re going to do before you do it.”

    “Say you’re in the hallway and someone bumps you,” says Lemon. “It might be an accident! What are you thinking?”

    “Maybe that girl ain’t even thinking about you!” says a student.

    “That’s the idea,” says Lemon. “It’s to start to change those negative thoughts.”

    Girls who’ve gone through WOW say they’ve gotten better at self-control, are doing better in school, and have come to see their counselor as a role model for smart decision-making in stressful situations. Ciana, a 17-year-old senior, jokes that she’s going to get a bracelet that reads, “What would Miss Lemon Do?” Her freshman year, she fought often with her mother and often ended up in the dean’s office for misbehavior. Thanks to WOW, she now talks back to herself rather than acting on impulse.“I’m not that get-in-trouble girl anymore,” she said

    This summer, Ciana was working at a movie theater, trying to help a woman who’d bought the wrong ticket when the woman started cursing at her. “I thought in my head, ‘What would Miss Lemon do?’” She walked away, calmed down, and started working with her manager. But the same woman, along with her family this time, found her again. “She’s literally threatening to kill me, jump me, all of that,” Ciana recalled. She told herself to keep a smile on her face: “Calm down. It’s not that serious. Guests do this all the time. They’re always mad.” Her general manager later complimented her for keeping her cool, and said she would’ve been written up for discipline had she gotten into an argument with the customers. “I walked in the next day with a smile on face,” she said. “I was proud of myself.”

    Ciana’s plans for the next two years include keeping her grades up, as she did last year, and heading off to college—Miami University in Ohio is her dream school. She raves about the effect her WOW counselor has had on her. “Miss Lemon doesn’t care what you did in your past,” she said. “She just wants to make sure your future is secure.”

    BAM and WOW’s values and self-discipline lessons are built to last beyond high school. Jodeci, now 20, joined BAM in his freshman year in high school. Now a graduate, he said he enrolled in one of Youth Guidance’s workforce development programs. BAM’s lessons still help him stay in his “highest mind,” he said, focused on his goals and career path.

    Jodeci said he repeats lessons from BAM to friends and others in his neighborhood. “You’ve got a better choice than this,” he said. “You don’t have to sell drugs to make it, to get a job. Who are you trying to impress? The only person to try to impress is yourself.”


    Did Trump Just Do ‘Rocket Man’ a Favor?


    When President George H. W. Bush was staring down Saddam Hussein after the Iraq dictator’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the former diplomat spoke in grand terms about international order and rule of law.But Bush also made the conflict personal. In...

    When President George H. W. Bush was staring down Saddam Hussein after the Iraq dictator’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the former diplomat spoke in grand terms about international order and rule of law.

    But Bush also made the conflict personal. In public speeches, he referred to the Iraqi tyrant only by his first name, as “Saddam”—a pointed discourtesy that drew global attention. For good measure, he mispronounced it—“Sad-um” instead of “Sa-dam”—in a way that sounded like the Arabic word for a barefoot beggar.

    The ensuing conflict went America’s way: Iraq was quickly ejected from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War, a lightning-fast defeat that left the dictator humbled. But in hindsight, some Bush officials consider the way the president had talked about it—particularly his decision to personalize the conflict with man-to-man taunts—to have been a mistake. American troops stopped well short of reaching Baghdad, Hussein clung to power, and the result was a clean victory that didn’t quite feel like one.

    “All the emphasis on Saddam made it harder for [Bush] to justify ending the war with Saddam still in power,” said Richard Haass, a top Bush White House national security official at the time.

    More than 25 years later, Donald Trump has quickly found himself in his own standoff with a blowhard dictator across the world and has personalized it far more than Bush ever did. Twice in the past week, on Twitter on Sunday and in his Tuesday address to the United Nations, Trump has dubbed North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man,” an apparent reference to a 1972 Elton John ballad that Trump often played at his campaign rallies—an exercise in high-level name-calling with little modern precedent.

    Whether any larger strategy lies behind Trump’s mockery is unclear. Trump has long used nicknames to belittle and intimidate opponents, from Atlantic City business rivals to his 2016 challengers—including “Low Energy Jeb” Bush, “Little Marco” Rubio and “Crooked Hillary” Clinton. But experts and former U.S. officials warn that what worked in the Iowa primaries is liable to backfire on the larger and more complicated global stage, especially when it comes to nuclear diplomacy with millions of lives on the line.

    For a dictator accustomed to honorifics like “Brilliant Leader” and “Guiding Sun Ray,” the nickname “will be perceived as an embarrassment of the highest order” in North Korea, said Ken Gause, an Asia analyst with the nonprofit research organization CNA.

    “The relationship is already so bad that I’m not sure how much worse it could get,” added Joel Wit, a Korea expert at Columbia University and the Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies. “But if there’s something guaranteed to make it worse, it’s hurling personal insults at their leader.”

    Human psychology is an undeniable element of high-stakes international conflict, as any student of the Cuban Missile Crisis can explain, and world leaders can successfully unnerve one another. But the strategy can also backfire. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan branded the Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi “the mad dog of the Middle East,” prompting the North African strongman to retort that he would not bend to the “insults” of an “old man.” (Reagan wound up bombing Qadhafi into submission.)

    President Barack Obama considered it a mistake to personalize foreign policy, though he couldn’t resist saying in 2013 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “slouch” during their meetings made the Russian look like “the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” Putin was reportedly infuriated by the remark, which did nothing to improve faltering U.S.-Russia relations.

    And as Bush discovered, it can be hard to close the door on a foreign policy problem once you’ve turned it into a man-to-man fight. With North Korea, a successful diplomatic solution might leave Kim in power—and Trump in much the same position as Bush: as a leader claiming a win even as critics cast him as a guy who couldn’t finish the shoving match he started.

    It remains unclear whether Trump’s remark is intended to unnerve Kim, whom he has previously both insulted (“a maniac”) and complimented (“a smart cookie”)—or whether it’s just to look tough to his domestic political base. Whatever the motive, there’s little sign it came from—or even ran through—key administration officials crafting North Korea policy.

    Trump’s own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, seemed caught off guard after Trump sent a tweet Sunday morning in which he described talking to South Korea’s leader about an unnamed “Rocket Man.” On an a Sunday interview with ABC News, host George Stephanopoulos asked McMaster, “I assume ‘Rocket Man’ is Kim Jong Un?”

    “Well, it's—it appears to be so,” McMaster said haltingly. “That is where the rockets and missiles are coming from, is North Korea.”

    Since then, Trump officials have embraced the moniker more enthusiastically—even if they offer few particulars about how it aids America’s strategic position. A “President Trump original,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday. “As you know, he’s a master in branding.”

    “Look, this is a way of, like, you know, getting people to talk about him,” Trump’s United Nations Ambassador, Nikki Haley, told ABC on Wednesday.

    A National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked how Trump’s advisers feel about the nickname, and what effect Trump hopes it will have. Several Asia analysts said there would be no confusion about the name’s hostile intent among North Korea’s leaders. The insular county’s population is a different story. Even the few North Koreans familiar with Elton John wouldn’t likely have heard about Trump’s crack: The nation’s state media has yet to report the line, according to Adam Cathcart, an Asia historian at the University of Leeds.

    Cathcart added that the country’s propaganda machine might even turn the line to Kim’s advantage, at least domestically, in a nation whose missile program is a point of pride.

    “Insults like that generally don't translate well,” he said, “and if anything the [North Korean] state media has made a habit of rephrasing things in a way that they want their people to hear them. So we might ultimately see some reference to Trump's publicly stated fear of the 'intercontinental missile capability advancing at extreme speed' or something along those lines."

    Kim and his inner circle will have a clearer understanding of Trump’s intended meaning. But experts doubt that a North Korean leader whose family has defied the West for decades under threat of carpet bombing will be rattled by a reference to a 1970s pop hit. Some even worry that by focusing on Kim personally—something Obama avoided doing—Trump could elevate the North Korean leader’s stature and inflate his ego.

    “This kind of bluster will not only not deter North Korea, but Kim will call Trump's bluff and conduct more weapons tests,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

    Moreover, Lee added, name-calling is typically the hallmark of the North Korean regime itself. Pyongyang’s blustery propaganda machine has branded George W. Bush “human scum,” Obama a “wicked black monkey” and Trump himself “a psychopath.”

    “For the U.S. to descend to North Korea's level is demeaning,” Lee said.


    The Strange Authenticity of Hillary Clinton


    By now, you know the news nuggets from Hillary Clinton’s new campaign memoir, What Happened. You know that she blames herself for the most shocking upset in American political history, while indicting (in varying degrees of anger and exasperation)...

    By now, you know the news nuggets from Hillary Clinton’s new campaign memoir, What Happened. You know that she blames herself for the most shocking upset in American political history, while indicting (in varying degrees of anger and exasperation) Bernie Sanders, James Comey, the New York Times, racism, cable news, sexism and Russia as co-conspirators.

    You know that she was shellshocked for weeks after Election Day, turning to friends, yoga, inspirational homilies, her family and chardonnay, to ease herself back into the world.

    But the real headline to come out of this book—a far more engaging read than the pablum-rich account of her years as secretary of state, Hard Choices—is that she has definitively answered the question that has been asked about her for more than a quarter-century: Who is she?

    All through her public life, Clinton has been hobbled by the label “inauthentic.” Her changing hairstyles, her choice of baseball teams, her circle-the-wagons approach to the press—they’ve all felt, to the public, like symptoms of the lack of a core. It’s almost as if Winston Churchill was anticipating her public persona when he proclaimed at a dinner table, “this pudding has no theme.” Her own loyal army of campaign aides seem to have been wrestling with this dilemma; the best-seller Shattered, the post-mortem of her presidential campaign, is filled with accounts of desperate attempts to find a slogan, a stump speech, a campaign ad, that could communicate the essential Hillary. And her primal fear of being distorted—a fear with some rational basis—has led her to approach every public utterance as if she was at the edge of a cliff. Longtime aide Patti Solis Doyle said last year, “You can see her think about the words coming out of her mouth, knowing she knows, ‘I have to be careful about what I say.'”

    Her book suggests, though, that the person we’ve seen over the past quarter-century, and the person we watched seek the presidency twice, is the authentic Hillary. In fact, to judge by her book, she may have been the most authentic person in the race. The lengthy analysis of why voters behaved as they did, the detailed accounts of the programs she intended to pursue as president, the ways in which racism and misogyny played out in blatant and subtle forms, all paint the picture of a very smart, deeply engaged self-described “policy wonk,” who is consumed by the need to conquer problems with an army of data-driven policies, and whose instinctive resistance to visionary politics proved to be one of her biggest handicaps in her (presumably) last run.

    And if she seemed out of touch and unable to connect to voters in a changed America—unable to understand why a significant majority of voters saw her as untrustworthy—well, in a sense, What Happened suggests that that was “authentic” too, the flaw of a person who still retains blind spots in trying to understand the limits of her appeal.

    Clinton has been trying to tell us who she is through much of her public life. In her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, she acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy. “Through all these years of public service,” she said, “the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part. I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”

    Her book strikes the same note of understanding and puzzlement: "What makes me such a lightning rod for fury? I'm really asking. I'm at a loss.”

    In telling her campaign story, Clinton—like almost every other politician—tries to put a human face on her politics by recounting stories of the men and women she has met along the way. But the temperature of the book really rises on two fronts: when she recounts, with specificity unlike any political memoir I’ve read, precisely how and why she believes she was wronged, and when she revisits the ideas she had intended to offer as president.

    Her account of the email story that consumed her campaign (“It was like quicksand: the more you struggle, the deeper you sink.”) illustrates the point. She calls it a “boneheaded mistake” that she and her staff used a private server as secretary of state and deleted more than 30,000 emails before handing her files over to State Department record-keepers. But she also devotes page after page to arguing that there was nothing unprecedented about what she did, that there was no threat to national security, and that the New York Times’ front-page story about her email was seriously inaccurate. Her fury at former FBI Director Comey for his public statement in July is unabated, as is her conviction that his late October reopening of the email investigation cost her the election; she cites polls from battleground states, Nate Silver’s analysis and anecdotal accounts from her campaign aides to argue that this led to her defeat. (See Jack Shafer’s recent piece here making a different case.)

    Similarly, her account of Russia’s interference in the election reads like a prosecutor's brief (and along the way offers a highly useful guide to any reader who is confused by the avalanche of allegations), and she takes a seriously deep dive into the impact of sexism and racism on her campaign, reaching beyond political polls into social psychology as well.

    What drives her just as powerfully as her (understandable) anger is her conviction that she knew how to address the country’s ills. She is clearly frustrated by the argument—offered by ex-Vice President Biden among others—that she failed to connect with the white working class. You and the media weren’t listening, she says in effect. Here are the speeches I made in coal country; here’s what I said in Ohio and Michigan; here are my ideas to bring new businesses to the Rust Belt; here are my plans to make it easier for displaced workers to move to where the jobs are. Here’s my massive infrastructure agenda, with higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for it. And the media were too consumed by the email story, too dazzled by Donald Trump’s reality-TV skills, to pay attention.

    The arguments in her book have real weight, and for what it’s worth, PolitiFact has given her high marks for accuracy.

    But here’s what’s not in the book: Any understanding of what else, other than sexism and “fake news,” might have made her the second most unpopular presidential candidate in polling history.

    At root, Clinton seems to see herself—both personally and as a political figure—as she was a quarter-century ago, not as she was as of 2016. To understand this, look at the root contrast between the Clintons who ran for office in 1992 and the Clintons who ran last year.

    Bill, in 1992, was still very much a son of small-town Arkansas (Georgetown, Yale Law and Oxford notwithstanding); Hillary, by 2016, was a creature of Washington and New York, with stops in Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons along the way.

    Bill was the lowest-paid governor of any state in the union, making $35,000 a year, while his wife practiced law to pay the bills. Hillary, when she ran, was part of a couple with a net worth well over $100 million, with a life of privilege ranging from private jets to vacations with the Oscar de la Rentas to bestowing similar bounty to the next generation. (Her book is filled with genuinely warm accounts of her life as a mother and grandmother, but never mentions that Chelsea Clinton existed in a world of five-figure speeches, six-figure jobs and a seven-figure home).

    Bill campaigned at a time when his centrist impulses fit the desires of a Democratic Party that had been shut out of the White House for a dozen years, and was willing, if not eager, to endorse a candidate who condemned the “brain-dead” politics of his own party—and who was at pains to demonstrate his toughness on crime, embracing the death penalty, appearing in front of a “wall in blue.” Hillary campaigned at a time when those same centrist impulses were in conflict with a party that had moved steadily to the left, that had become far more reliant on minority votes, and that was drawn to the siren songs of Bernie Sanders. (Her frustration as she pushed back against Sanders’ grandiose promises with her own carefully structured arguments on health care and college education jumps off the page.)

    Perhaps most fundamentally, Clinton still seems trapped by one central failure of vision: Because (like Bill) she knows she is on the side of the angels, how could anyone impute bad motives to her or her husband?

    Her husband’s walk across the tarmac to say hello to Attorney General Loretta Lynch when she was under investigation? “Bad optics,” but they simply exchanged pleasantries. Her speeches to Goldman Sachs and other financial giants? “Bad optics,” but “like other former government officials,” she was simply sharing her views with paying audiences. And when Trump brought to a debate three women who had accused Bill Clinton of various degrees of sexually predatory behavior? This was all about issues “litigated decades ago,” she writes—apparently unwilling to see how Bill’s behavior, painfully aired out during his own presidency, would now help protect Trump from the consequences of his own egregious, possibly criminal, behavior.

    In What Happened, Clinton notes that some of her oldest and closest friends and advisers urged her not to run in 2016. She does not say so, but it may be that those members of her inner circle saw the “authentic” Clinton, and grasped that her significant authentic strengths—her intelligence, her preference for practical, data-driven policies over sweeping promises—would not be enough to overcome the authentic weaknesses of a candidate who would find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Even for someone who saw her as a deeply flawed candidate, to read What Happened is to feel a genuine pang of regret that a person with Hillary Clinton’s impressive set of policy skills will never get to use them in the Oval Office. But it is also to recognize that if she is looking at the forces that kept her from the job she was well prepared to do, she is also looking into a mirror.


    The Electoral College Is a National Security Threat


    In Federalist No. 68, his pseudonymous essay on “The Mode of Electing the President,” Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College could shield the United States “from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our...

    In Federalist No. 68, his pseudonymous essay on “The Mode of Electing the President,” Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College could shield the United States “from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Because of the “transient existence” and dispersed makeup of the electors, he argued, hostile countries would find it too expensive and time-consuming to inject “sinister bias” into the process of choosing a president. At the time, the new American leaders feared meddling from Great Britain, their former colonial master, or perhaps from other powers such as France, and they designed a system to minimize the prospect that Europe’s aging monarchies could seize control of their young democracy.

    Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

    In Hamilton’s day, as he argued, it would have been nearly impossible for a hostile power to co-opt dozens of briefly chosen electors flung across 13 states with primitive roads. But in the social media age, the Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections via information and disinformation campaigns, as well as by hacking our voting infrastructure. One reason is that citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states, such as Texas and California. This makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts.

    But what if the national popular vote determined the president instead of the Electoral College? No voter would be more electorally powerful than another. It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states. And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts, which could alter an election’s outcome. Yes, a foreign entity could disseminate messages to major cities across the entire country or try to carry out a broad-based cyberattack, but widespread actions of this sort would be not only more resource-intensive, but also more easily noticed, exposed and addressed.

    Congressional investigators are currently examining Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has publicly called out Russian microtargeting in 2016 swing states. In March, Warner highlighted reports of “upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect, taking over series of computers, which is then called a botnet,” and he raised the question of whether these trolls targeted voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Donald Trump, of course, won those three states by a combined total of fewer than 80,000 votes, securing him an Electoral College victory and a four-year trip to the Oval Office, despite losing the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

    Facebook has already acknowledged that fake users linked to Russia spent $100,000 running political ads on its platform, on polarizing topics such as gay rights, gun control, immigration and race. Some of these ads were aimed at specific geographic areas. But we don’t yet know the full extent of Russia’s microtargeting efforts or whether they involved any cooperation with Trump’s campaign. And definitive answers to these questions may not emerge until Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller complete their investigations.

    Apart from Russia’s disinformation campaign during the election, there also is reason to be alarmed about Russian cyberattacks on voting systems, including voter databases and electronic poll books used to verify voters’ identities and registration status. Recent reports indicate that Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states, and that the scope of these attacks exceeded what had been previously disclosed. These revelations are consistent with prior findings of intelligence agencies that Russian spies have been conducting reconnaissance on U.S. election processes and technology.

    But setting aside for now worries about what happened in 2016, it is equally—if not more—important to consider the startling potential for interference in future presidential elections. As Clint Watts, a counterterrorism expert and former FBI agent, testified in a March hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Today, you can create content, gain the audience, build the bots, pick out the election and even the voters that are valued the most in swing states and actually insert the right content in a deliberate period.” Furthermore, he explained that outside actors are capable of cleverly disguising bots as human beings with local flavor:

    “If you do appropriate target audience analysis on social media, you can actually identify an audience in a foreign country or in the United States [and] parse out all of their preferences … If you inhale all of the accounts of people in Wisconsin, you identify the most common terms in it, you just recreate accounts that look exactly like people from Wisconsin.”


    And choosing the right voters to target is not a task that requires domestic assistance. As Issie Lapowsky of Wired recently explained, “there’s nothing preventing a Russian actor or anyone else from reading the news and understanding the American electorate, and thanks to readily available digital tools, targeting that electorate is simple.”

    There are additional ways to help combat foreign interference in presidential elections. These include hardening our voting systems through better cybersecurity, making public the false narratives that adversaries push through fake news stories and encouraging social media companies to identify and block fake accounts and bogus ad campaigns designed to tilt our elections. These methods should be fully considered and, if appropriate, implemented. But ending the Electoral College should be central to the discussion.

    Democrats may currently be more sympathetic to this cause given the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, but this should not be a partisan issue. Protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference is a legitimate national security concern that all Americans should be able to embrace. Both state and nonstate actors may have an interest in influencing our future elections, and there’s no telling right now which presidential candidates they will prefer. In addition, although Russia clearly favored Trump in the 2016 election, it also demonstrated its willingness to gather ammunition on Republicans. According to the intelligence community’s unclassified report on Russia’s interference, “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign.” If it were in Moscow’s interest to promote a Democrat’s bid for the White House or damage a Republican’s, it would not hesitate to do so. “Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio stated in an October 2016 warning to his fellow Republicans against exploiting information hacked by Russia and disclosed by WikiLeaks.

    There are, of course, other arguments against the Electoral College: that an individual’s voting power should not be diluted or strengthened by virtue of geographic location, especially for an office that is supposed to represent every citizen equally; that it does not fulfill one of the original intentions of our framers—to exercise discretion and buffer the whims of the masses; that it has a dark history involving pro-slavery sentiments; that it often gives white, rural voters more voting power than minorities living in cities; that despite this, it still does not encourage candidates to campaign in rural areas but rather focuses their attention on cities in a smattering of swing states; and that swing states receive more federal funds than other states. But now, it’s time to also examine the Electoral College through a national security lens.

    Hamilton certainly deserves his towering reputation as “the most important Founding Father who never became president,” but at least on the supposed national security benefits of the Electoral College, his argument no longer holds. To help protect our elections from foreign interference, we should change the way we choose our presidents.


    For Alabama Voters, a ‘Choice as Clear as Mud’


    As the political class in Washington debates the future of the Republican Party—buzzing about whether the GOP will hold fast to its traditional, core ideals or embrace the Trump-style populism that put a Republican back in the White House—voters in...

    As the political class in Washington debates the future of the Republican Party—buzzing about whether the GOP will hold fast to its traditional, core ideals or embrace the Trump-style populism that put a Republican back in the White House—voters in Alabama will make a defining decision in the U.S. Senate special election on September 26. And Alabamians’ choice is as clear as mud.

    In the two-man runoff to pick the Republican Party’s nominee to fill Jeff Sessions’ former seat, one choice, Luther Strange, is from the GOP’s traditional wing; the other, Roy Moore, is from its rebellious populist faction. The traditional candidate is a former state attorney general. The populist candidate is an on-again, off-again state Supreme Court justice. The traditional candidate has the support of President Donald Trump, who defeated virtually the entire traditional wing of the GOP in his 2016 run. The populist candidate has the support of many of Trump’s most ardent backers, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

    It’s an election that will be held up nationally as a definitive sign of the direction the Republican Party is heading, even as its reality doesn’t nicely fit a preconceived narrative.

    In 2014, I was deeply involved in a similar election that also garnered national attention—the U.S. Senate race held next door, in Mississippi. Like the Alabama runoff, it was a race that would affect other key statewide votes, and one that tea-leaf readers would point to as a sign of the GOP’s direction. In that race, I was a senior adviser to the incumbent, Thad Cochran, as he fended off a primary challenge.

    My experiences in that race tell me that this election is anyone’s for the taking, and that, unique as the Strange-Moore race is, both candidates have a relatively clear path to victory. They just need to look at what worked—and didn’t—in the state next door.

    ***

    Senator Cochran was and is a legend in my home state. He had not sniffed a serious electoral challenge since I was a young boy growing up in Yazoo City. As he prepared for reelection to a seventh term in the Senate, no one expected the battle brought forth by Chris McDaniel—a young, conservative state senator from Mississippi’s Pine Belt.

    McDaniel channeled a message that was anti-Washington, anti-establishment and light on details about policy and governing. He had boundless confidence and a genuine knack for convincing his audience that when he went to Washington, he would shake things up. His campaign was a potent combination of Ted Cruz’s tea-party style platform and Donald Trump’s political base in the South, and it worked: Whether they believed they would ever end up in this position or not, McDaniel and his team found themselves late on the night of June 3, 2014 as the lead vote-getter in the first round of the GOP Senate primary.

    Mississippi, like Alabama, has a runoff primary system. A candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win the party’s nomination. On June 3, McDaniel won 49.5 percent of the vote to Cochran’s 49 percent. We lived to fight another day, and immediately turned our attention to the runoff vote on June 24.

    For all of us involved in the Cochran campaign, it took months to truly realize the mistakes we had made in the primary. During a very long meeting the night of our first-round loss, we laid the groundwork for how we would turn around the campaign over the next three weeks. We decided to focus all our energy on a few key priorities: establishing the most thorough voter-identification program in the history of Mississippi; motivating the thousands of likely Cochran voters who hadn’t voted during the primary because they thought Thad would win easily; finding new voters who would vote for Thad during the runoff; having our candidate outwork his much younger opponent; doing away with polling (we knew what we had to talk about and knew we were behind on the ballot) and re-targeting the money we’d save; and lastly, pushing a targeted message that was optimistic and focused on what Thad would do for Mississippi during the next six years.

    In many ways, for the next three weeks, we ran a general election campaign.

    Senator Cochran’s energy was contagious—not only to the staff, but to those around the state who were now ready to go organize their local precincts on his behalf. The day after what I imagine was one of the longest nights in his life, Thad was shaking hands at the Chick-fil-A restaurants in Madison and Flowood—centrally located in two of Mississippi’s most-important GOP counties.

    While Thad was campaigning, our opponent went dark. All of a sudden, the underdog outsider candidate so full of energy and bluster found himself as the favorite in the race. When you’re ahead, you want to avoid doing anything to rock the boat in the precious few days leading up to an election. Days went by, and there was no movement from the McDaniel campaign—no rallies, no speeches, no nothing. This was a critical mistake, allowing Cochran to gain precious momentum.

    Many election-watchers thought the race was over. Although we had great help from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-Cochran Super PAC and our friends and allies in Mississippi, McDaniel had the political and financial support of a wide array of national groups. They all saw a major victory in their future—and the ability to brag that they took down a key member of the Senate GOP establishment.

    We knew a vast majority of Washington had written off Thad’s chances, but we were thankful Mississippi voters hadn’t. I assume my peers involved with Strange’s campaign feel now like we did: No one thinks we can win, but we are gonna prove them wrong. When the ballots were counted, Cochran had won the runoff, 51 percent to 49 percent. The Washington Post likened the improbability of that win to “someone pitching a perfect game; you’ll not see a victory like this one any time soon.”

    If I was giving free advice to the Strange campaign, I’d recommend they follow one specific approach from our playbook: Run the runoff like it’s a general election. Explain to voters that the winner on September 26 will be the next senator from Alabama. Highlight the seriousness of this primary choice and the finality of the outcome. Don’t just depend on negative ads from D.C.-based groups to get you over the finish line—have your candidate promote an optimistic message, with less anger and more reason and promise. Luther Strange cannot out-Roy Moore Roy Moore.

    The Strange campaign also has to find new voters. Alabama, like Mississippi, doesn’t have party registration and as long as you didn’t vote in the Democratic primary, you are eligible to vote in the Republican runoff. There are thousands of voters in Alabama who fall into this category.

    We focused our runoff campaign on four key target groups we knew we could turn out for the runoff, bringing out tens of thousands of new Cochran votes: African-American voters who had historically supported Thad in a greater way than any other Mississippi Republican; middle-class white voters in the Delta who are surrounded by an agricultural economy that Senator Cochran had fought for over decades in Congress; college-educated voters who viewed Thad as more optimistic and reasoned than his opponent; and voters who felt their community needed Cochran’s support and the influence that came from his powerful role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Strange doesn’t have the same deep history of serving his state in the U.S. Senate. So in the remaining few days before the runoff, his campaign will have to find its own unique ways to win over new voters. I’d look for people who might be swayed by President Trump’s endorsement but who didn’t vote in the primary’s first round; those who prefer the more thoughtful and less-controversial approach of a senator in the mode of a Richard Shelby or a Jeff Sessions; or those who simply don’t like Roy Moore and his brand of populism.

    As for Moore, my advice for his campaign is pretty simple: Keep your base motivated, turn them out in the most organized way you can muster, stay hungry and keep working hard. Protect your candidate down the stretch and maintain a low profile by seeking out less earned media, holding smaller events and avoiding the temptation to answer every question the press throws your way. To use an old Southern saying, “keep it between the ditches” in the final days, and you’ll give your candidate a great chance to win.

    In political campaigns, days are like weeks and weeks are like months. One week out, there’s still time to change the race. And for my pundit friends in Washington, a word of advice: Don’t read too much into the polls: This thing could easily go either way.


    Is Chuck Schumer Having Too Much Fun With Trump?


    Negotiating with President Donald Trump may be a job requirement for Chuck Schumer. But does he have to enjoy it so much?“He likes us! He likes me, anyway,” the Senate minority leader blurted out on a hot mic last week, with barely restrained glee....

    Negotiating with President Donald Trump may be a job requirement for Chuck Schumer. But does he have to enjoy it so much?

    “He likes us! He likes me, anyway,” the Senate minority leader blurted out on a hot mic last week, with barely restrained glee. He went on to brag to an unnamed senator that he had greased the recent burst of bipartisan deal-making by giving Trump political counsel: “Here’s what I told him. I said, ‘Mr. President, you are much better off if you can sometimes step right and sometimes step left. If you have to step in just one direction, you’re boxed.’” The advice was apparently taken. A relieved Schumer added, “He gets that.”

    Schumer even suggested to his mysterious colleague that the bipartisan thaw would continue. “Oh, it’s going to work out,” he predicted, “and it will make us more productive, too.”

    More productive? Why would the minority party want more congressional productivity? From the Democratic perspective, the only redeeming feature of Trump is his legislative incompetence. Not only is the damage to liberal policy priorities limited, the political stars are aligned for a 2018 midterm referendum on the “do-nothing Congress.” A productive Capitol Hill might warm voters to the current Washington arrangement and squelch a Democratic takeover.

    This is not to say the agreements produced to date by Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have been ill-advised. Six months ago in POLITICO Magazine, humbly expecting just such a moment, I offered a guide for when it’s “OK for Democrats to Work With Trump,” and so far, the Democratic duo are following the criteria. When it comes to keeping the government open and paying our debt obligations, “don’t make government dysfunctional,” I warned. Schumer and Pelosi wisely determined that relatively short extensions of the debt limit—creating additional deadlines for further negotiating opportunities, to the chagrin of House Speaker Paul Ryan—are superior to crude shutdown threats.

    “If you can get Trump to break a major promise, do it,” I also wrote. Desperate presidents sometimes lunge at deals that ultimately rupture their bond with their base, such as when President George H.W. Bush raised taxes despite his signature “read my lips, no new taxes” campaign pledge. And an agreement for a DREAM Act—replacing President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with a law that provides (let’s be honest) “amnesty” for the participating undocumented immigrants—could well provide that wedge between Trump and the #MAGA crowd.

    But wait a second. We don’t have that deal for a DREAM Act yet. All we have are inflated expectations of a deal because Schumer and Pelosi, after a dinner meeting with Trump, rushed out a statement declaring, “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall.” After some White House pushback, they clarified with a follow-up statement: “[T]here was no final deal, but there was agreement” to work toward one. The belated elaboration raises the question why Schumer and Pelosi spiked the ball so soon.

    Granted, there’s value for Democrats in pinning down Trump and sowing division among Republicans. But Trump is the kind of person who’s just as happy holding a Rose Garden ceremony for a bill that cleared only one house of Congress as he is hosting one for an actual law. Prematurely announcing a “deal to make a deal” has given Trump the veneer of bipartisanship without him actually earning it.

    One might more easily excuse a little excess exuberance if not for Schumer’s hot mic comments, which display an eagerness to portray Trump as a willing negotiating partner and pursue a wider range of legislative compromises. That attitude could send Democrats down a slippery slope.

    Take the issue looming largest on Trump’s agenda: tax reform. Unlike keeping the government open and saving 690,000 DREAMers from deportation, a tax code rewrite carries no occupational necessity or moral urgency. Not a single Democratic politician, or working-class swing voter, will suffer if Trump can’t follow through on his pledge to cut the corporate tax rate and allow multinational corporations to “repatriate” offshore cash at a discount.

    Yet Democrats and Trump seem to be moving, however gingerly, toward a tax compromise. Part of Schumer’s pitch to Trump for a bipartisan immigration deal was that it would improve the chances of a bipartisan tax deal. (Pelosi reportedly backed Schumer up on that point.) Trump had already been moving to peel off Democrats on taxes, holding meetings last week with Democratic moderates from the House and Senate. He even dangled the possibility of making the tax code more progressive, saying, “I think the wealthy will be pretty much where they are … If they have to go higher, they’ll go higher, frankly.”

    This is sloppy negotiating in public by Trump (his legislative affairs director had to clean up and signal to horrified Republicans that Trump is “not looking to raise rates” on the wealthy). Yet it is also an enticement for Democrats to come to the table. After all, who knows what he might do if you catch him at the right moment.

    Meanwhile Schumer, by insisting Trump really is open for business, is encouraging Democrats to go to table and see what they can get. He’s reducing the political cost for Democrats of being seen in public with Trump. And that might make it harder to replicate the impenetrable wall he and Pelosi built to stymie Obamacare repeal.

    Democrats in redder areas of the country, under constant pressure to show independence from the party line, will be attracted to the prospect of a Reagan-style tax reform in which both parties can claim victories (even if the results, like those from 1986, prove to be far short of sweeping). A balanced compromise, depending on the details, might not amount to a clear-cut case of capitulation by Democrats. But it would certainly be a victory for Trump. If there’s no real urgency, why give the president the ability to burnish his reputation as Mr. Art of the Deal? If the status quo inflicts no harm on the public, why not let Trump flop?

    Schumer and Pelosi deserve our sympathies. They have caucus members who represent pro-Trump and pro-impeachment parts of the country. They answer to Democratic activists and donors who vividly remember how Republicans reaped the benefits of maximum obstruction of the Obama presidency, but tend to forget that those same Republicans occasionally cooperated with Obama out of necessity. They are constantly torn between resistance and responsibility. And even when they make progress toward saving 690,000 DREAMers from deportation, they get brickbats from fellow Democrats such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, who are complaining that trading the DREAM Act for increased border security is a raw deal.

    These critics fail to appreciate that when lives hang in the balance, obstruction works politically only if the offer on the table is perceived as unreasonable. A symbolically grotesque wall is rejected by most voters, so Democrats can oppose that to the hilt. But the basic concept of “border security” is not. Voters would see 690,000 all-but-Americans getting ripped from their homes because Democrats wouldn’t accept compromise measures to stem illegal border crossings. They would see Democrats playing politics with people’s lives—even if it was Trump who first turned their lives into bargaining chips.

    Trump clearly sees political danger in being blamed for deporting DREAMers, which is why he’s willing to deal. Schumer and Pelosi appear to grasp that the blame could be shifted to the Democrats if they are not careful.

    However, once Congress takes care of essential business, Democrats have zero obligation to throw Trump a lifeline and salvage his pet agenda. A robust bipartisanship should not be expected to resolve long-standing problems; more likely it would produce limp legislation that mainly makes Trump look good.

    Schumer and Pelosi are legislators at heart, and they understandably prefer being on the field to warming the bench. But Schumer’s dream of a more “productive” Congress is a potential nightmare for Democrats, threatening caucus unity and enraging progressive voters. Two New Yorkers cutting deals and talking politics over Chinese food may seem like fun for Schumer, but there’s little upside for a Democrat in being liked by Donald Trump.


    When Obama and I Upset the Whole Country of Kenya


    As President Obama’s second term began, many top advisers, their personal legacies cemented and a second term secure, were finally ready to leave. David Plouffe, the electoral mastermind. Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, who stewarded the...

    As President Obama’s second term began, many top advisers, their personal legacies cemented and a second term secure, were finally ready to leave. David Plouffe, the electoral mastermind. Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, who stewarded the president’s health care law. David Axelrod, who shaped the Obama vision more than anyone except Obama himself. And Favs. At just 31 years old, Jon Favreau was already an accomplished speechwriter. With no new rhetorical worlds to conquer, he left in early 2013. I was sad to see Favs go. He was a good boss and a remarkable talent.

    But President Obama’s loss was my gain—the chief wordsmith’s departure left an opening at the bottom of the speechwriting totem pole. When I returned to the White House in March 2013 after writing speeches for the re-election campaign, my days of professional promiscuity (writing for senior advisor Valerie Jarett, and also the chief of staff, and also the other senior staff, and also sometimes POTUS) were over.

    At the top of the totem pole, Favs’s spot was filled by his deputy, Cody Keenan. It was a smooth transition: Cody had been writing speeches for POTUS since the first campaign, and knew the president well.

    I was especially grateful for this during a POTUS meeting my first week back. The subject was the Gridiron Club Dinner, which, together with the Correspondents’ Dinner and the Alfalfa, makes up the Holy Trinity of presidential comedy events. As the token White House funny person, I was expected to take the lead on the speech. I told myself I wasn’t nervous. But when I reached the doorway I froze, terrified of doing something dumb.

    Fortunately, Cody was completely comfortable. President Obama was seated behind his desk, an unread draft of the Gridiron remarks in his hand. My new boss sauntered toward him like a detective about to crack a case. I tiptoed cautiously behind.

    “So,” POTUS asked, “are we funny?”

    This was less a question than an invitation to make small talk. Cody didn’t miss a beat.

    “Well, Litt’s pretty funny,” he said, nodding generously in my direction.

    A brief hint of confusion crossed the president’s face. He clearly wasn’t sure he’d heard right. But after a moment’s pause, he decided to keep going.

    “Yeah,” POTUS said. “Lips is funny.”

    As you might imagine, I have replayed this moment frequently in my head. Perhaps I simply misheard the president. Perhaps time has warped my memory. But I don’t think so. I’m fairly certain Barack Obama called me Lips.

    Here’s why I’m so sure. Number one, POTUS enjoyed banter. Going out of his way to extend pre-meeting small talk is exactly the sort of thing he would do. Second, while I wish I could say otherwise, President Obama had no reason to know my name. I’d written scripts for tapings. I’d helped him with the 2012 Correspondents’ Dinner. But lots of people pop in and out of a president’s orbit each year. At most I was a familiar face, the barista at your local Starbucks, the robber who wasn’t Joe Pesci in Home Alone. And there was no way I was going to correct the leader of the free world as something as unimportant as what to call me.

    So Lips it was. And to be honest, as I settled onto the couch in the Oval, I wasn’t embarrassed. I was thrilled. The president of the United States had referred to me by name! True, it wasn’t my name, but no need to get nitpicky. Besides, I liked having an alter ego. Litt was shy. Litt was timid. But Lips? Lips could be bold. Lips could be daring.

    Lips didn’t give a fuck.

    And now, Lips was discussing the Gridiron Dinner. In 1885, when the Gridiron Club was founded, most of its members were grouchy old print journalists. Today, they still are. At their annual spring meeting, guests wear white tie. Reporters don costumes and perform parody songs about the politicians they cover. Petits fours are eaten. The evening ends with a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a four-hour homage to what people did before TV.

    While nothing compares to journalists in Elvis wigs singing “Block Barack Around the Clock” (this actually happened, in 2011), the evening’s real highlights are the guest speakers. By tradition there’s a Republican, a Democrat and, if the invitation is accepted, the president of the United States.

    Like the rest of the program, these monologues are a throwback to a simpler time. Even the Gridiron’s motto—Singe, but Never Burn—is an artifact of a happier, pre-Internet age. The draft I had discussed with POTUS included such scintillating topics as “Budget Cuts,” “Press Conferences” and “Guys Named Gene.” I can’t say he laughed uproariously at any of the jokes. But he understood his audience. Pronouncing himself satisfied, he showed us to the door.

    Even as Lips, my cockiness had limits. I never dreamed of executing the ultimate White House power move—grabbing an apple from the Oval Office coffee table on my way out the door. Still, as I left the meeting, there was brashness in my step. After leaving in 2012 for the re-election campaign, I had been back at the White House less than a week. Already, I was meeting with the president himself!

    By the middle of the week the jokes were almost finished, and I turned to what we called “the serious close.” These are staples of humor speeches, two or three paragraphs of sincerity at the end of otherwise lighthearted remarks. Since the audience was full of reporters, I took the occasion to praise journalists who embodied the best of the free press.

    “They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya,” I wrote, “stories that need to be told.”

    For a moment, I wondered if I should run this line by a foreign-policy expert. That’s what Litt would have done. But then I thought better of it. Lips didn’t need some egghead to tell him how to craft a sentence. You lump the countries ending in yuh sounds together. Everything flows perfectly. The crowd goes wild. The end.

    On Saturday night, my confidence was rewarded. Dressed in a tailcoat, wing-collared shirt and white bow tie, I descended the escalator to a ballroom in the Renaissance Hotel. Just feet from the stage, I watched costumed reporters sing “My Gun” to the tune of “My Girl.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar delivered monologues in front of a giant, glowing spatula I can only assume was the club’s namesake Gridiron.

    Then, just before “Auld Lang Syne,” POTUS spoke. The laughter was consistent and chummy. The jokes singed, but never burned. During his serious close, President Obama praised reporters for risking everything in places like Syria and Kenya. Everything flowed perfectly. The crowd went wild. Lips was fucking crushing it.

    On Monday, back in the office, I was a paragon of false humility. Other speechwriters told me the remarks had been great, and I replied that it was all in the delivery. At 26 years old, I dispensed wisdom to the staffers fresh out of college. “When you think about it,” I intoned, “Credit belongs to our entire team.”

    I was on top of the world, wondering if I might actually be the best wordsmith in history, when I heard from one of the president’s longest-serving speechwriters, a soft-spoken Massachusetts native named Terry. He wanted to know if I’d seen an article in the Daily Nation, a newspaper published in Nairobi.

    KENYA NOT SAFE FOR FOREIGN JOURNALISTS, SAYS OBAMA

    It took some frantic googling, but I pieced together what had happened. The White House press office had released the full transcript of POTUS’s Gridiron speech. When Kenyan officials read it, they noticed their country featured in the same sentence as one of the world’s most despised regimes.

    They were not happy at all.

    Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s permanent secretary for information and communications, released an official statement calling the president’s words “not only inaccurate, but exceedingly disturbing.” A group called KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) created a brand-new hashtag to channel their rage.

    If you’ve never angered a country of more than 45 million people before, it might seem like a power trip. It’s not. Sitting in my office, typing Kenya angry at Obama into the search bar over and over, I felt more helpless than ever. What I wanted more than anything was someone I could talk to—a Kenyan I could call. “You think your entire country is mad at my entire country,” I would explain, chuckling at the mix-up, “when really it’s just little ol’ me.”

    But no such Kenyan existed.

    Instead, senior staff were forced to busy themselves playing cleanup. These were people with serious responsibilities, global priorities on their plate. Now they had to take time away from far more worthy objectives to deal with my mess. Even then, it took an official apology on America’s behalf to put the controversy behind us. “We recognize and commend the press freedoms enshrined in Kenya’s constitution,” said an unnamed White House official. “Obviously, the situations in Syria and Kenya are quite different.”

    Perhaps Lips was not crushing it after all.

    ***

    I spent the rest of the day wondering if antagonizing a mid-size African nation was considered a fireable offense. But in the White House, I learned, it’s not so cut-and-dried. I wasn’t the first young staffer to find their smallest screw-up magnified to national scale. I wasn’t even the first speechwriter to piss off another country by mistake.

    In the weeks that followed I continued trying to put myself back in my team’s good graces. It didn’t go well. My big chance, a draft of a speech about infrastructure finance, got “blown up,” a word that described both the condition of the speech and the ego of the speechwriter responsible. Watching the president deliver the remarks Cody had rewritten, I was struck by just how much better they were than my original attempt. In the two years since I’d first been hired by the White House, I had never felt so utterly like a fraud.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The 2013 Correspondents’ Dinner was approaching. I was more responsible than ever for the speech. But instead of relishing my new role, I was living the exact opposite of a superhero’s life. By day, I was a mild-mannered speechwriter. By night, I was a mess.

    Joke writing—as opposed to most White House speechwriting—was a group effort. For three weeks, about a dozen people sent in submissions. Former wordsmiths (and future Pod Save America hosts) Favs and Jon Lovett pitched jokes from Los Angeles. From Chicago, David Axelrod sent in submissions and initiated long email chains full of puns. A handful of professional comedians offered their services pro bono as well.

    Knowing that so many people were hard at work took a little bit of the pressure off, but not much. When people asked me what my role was with the Dinner, I told them that if things went poorly, it would be my fault—and I had no desire to find out if I was right.

    But it was too late to back down. I curated the jokes that came in from around the country. I contributed my own. With about a week before the dinner, we had cut our additional list of hundreds down to about forty, and it was time to present them to POTUS. Once again, Cody strolled confidently into the Oval. Once again, I tiptoed behind.

    The joke that most worried me involved the political landscape post-campaign. (This was during the brief period when the GOP hoped to expand beyond its base.) “One thing Republicans can all agree on after 2012 is that they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities,” the script read. “Call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with.”

    It was the kind of line we never would have written in the first term. No one could remember POTUS referring to himself as a “minority” before. But with the reelect behind him, President Obama was eager to push the envelope.

    “That’s pretty good,” he chuckled. He even promised a personal touch. “I might add a little wave there. Maybe a ‘hello,’ or something.” How strange. There I was, sick with nervousness, and POTUS was having fun.

    The rest of the meeting passed without incident. President Obama approved some jokes, told us to make others edgier and sent us on our way. But surviving 10 minutes in the Oval couldn’t erase my feelings of fraudulence. The days of proudly strutting back to my office were over. The days of dark, harrowed circles under my eyes had begun.

    POTUS often challenged us to write material that was “sharper” and “edgier,” and 2013 was no exception. A few days before the dinner, a second meeting gave him a chance to review our latest attempt. (“A book burning with Michele Bachmann. I like that!”)

    It also gave us the opportunity to show him slides. Not everyone approved of displaying silly, photoshopped pictures in the middle of the president’s monologue. Compared to well-delivered setups and punch lines it felt like cheating, and to some extent it was. But if years of writing have taught me anything, it’s that people hate words and love pictures. Why not give them at least some of what they want?

    Besides, POTUS liked the slides almost as much as the audience did. He laughed when he saw his face on a cover of Senior Living Magazine. He appreciated our putting a “Blame Bush Library” next to the real thing.

    Most of all, he enjoyed a series of three pictures photoshopping the first lady’s new hairdo—eyebrow-length bangs—onto his head. POTUS with bangs, in front of an American flag. POTUS with bangs, relaxing alongside his wife. POTUS with bangs, walking side by side with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. In the edited images, President Obama looked like Moe from the Three Stooges. It was hard not to laugh.

    In fact, there was only one slide the president felt the need to change. A few weeks earlier, the White House had released a photograph of the president shooting clay pigeons at Camp David, and his critics accused him of doctoring the image. Obama, they insisted, was a gun grabber. His only reason for holding a firearm would be to melt it into a solar panel, or stuff the barrel with a gay pride flag. Their accusation was ludicrous, of course, utterly bananas. Naturally, it spread like wildfire on right-wing blogs.

    Now, at Cody’s suggestion, we were going to present an “undoctored” image to the world. In our picture of what had “really” happened, POTUS was still firing a gun. But in the background, we added a lightning storm, a monster truck and a kitten the size of a black bear shooting lasers from its eyes. As we prepared to leave the Oval, POTUS held us back. He had an edit to request.

    “Can we get a NASCAR in there?”

    “We can do that,” I said.

    President Obama smiled contentedly. Then he perked up, struck by a sudden insight.

    “Can Biden be driving the NASCAR?”

    By now, even I had to admit that I seemed not to be screwing up too badly. By Friday afternoon, just 24 hours before the dinner, I even began to consider the possibility that everything would go as planned.

    And then, sitting in my office, I got a phone call. It was Terry. He had a question.

    “So I’m looking through these pictures of the president with the First Lady’s bangs, and I’m just wondering. Is the joke supposed to be that POTUS looks like Hitler?”

    I immediately opened the slides in question. The first photo was harmless. So was the second. Then I reached the third slide, the one with the president and the Israeli prime minister.

    “Oh,” I said.

    “Yeah,” he said.

    It was shocking. These were the olden days when the president’s opinion of Nazis, neo or otherwise, was not in question, and I stared in horror at the image on the screen. The president didn’t ordinarily look like Hitler in photographs. He certainly didn’t look Hitler-y in person. But at that exact angle, with that specific haircut, there was no mistaking it. Even without the mustache, the resemblance was uncanny.

    Just a month earlier, I might have tried to keep the slide in the script anyway. It was funny. Besides, would anyone think we were trying to make POTUS look Hitler in a slide? But I wasn’t risking another international incident. I was done listening to Lips. Thanking Terry profusely, I hurried to save my speech.

    On April 27, the day of the dinner, Cody was at a wedding. But Favs and Lovett were in town for the occasion, and they joined our day-of meeting instead.

    These final run-throughs were always casual. Instead of sitting at his desk or in his armchair, the president plopped down on a couch. As usual, the meeting began with small talk. POTUS asked Favs about his new speechwriting business. He teased Lovett about his life in L.A. Meanwhile, I sat there stunned. I couldn’t believe how casually my former colleagues charmed the president. What better proof that hiring me at the White House was a mistake?

    I was so busy wallowing that I barely heard POTUS ask a question.

    “What happened to that picture of me and Bibi? I liked that one.”

    Favs jumped in. “We had to cut it.”

    “Well, why?”


    Suddenly, the Oval Office fell completely silent. Plenty of people have compared the president to Hitler. But in all of American history, no one had ever compared the president to Hitler to the president. And none of us wanted to become the first.

    It turns out that time slows down when you’re trying not to insult the commander in chief. I remember considering, in surprising detail, just how doomed we were. Favs wasn’t saying anything. Lovett wasn’t saying anything. I wasn’t saying anything. There was no way out.

    There must be someone in this room who can tell the president the truth, I thought. But I couldn’t begin to imagine who it might be. We needed someone bold. We needed someone daring.

    We needed someone who didn’t give a fuck.

    In that moment, out of nowhere, I heard a voice. And it was Lips.

    “I’m sorry, Mr. President,” I heard myself say, “we just couldn’t use that picture. You kind of look like Hitler in it.”

    The moment the words left my mouth, my out-of-body experience ended. What had I just done? All eyes were on POTUS. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

    And then, President Obama began to laugh. Not his ordinary laugh, a self-aware one that was an act of thoughtful consideration as much as reflex. This was an expression of something visceral inside him, a place beyond even his formidable self-control. He clasped his hands together. His feet kicked off the floor. He rocked back into the couch cushions. For just a fraction of a moment, I even think he forgot which person was the president. I had never seen him laugh so hard, and would never see him laugh so hard again.

    Eventually the meeting returned to normal. Favs and Lovett resumed their confident banter, and I went back to sitting quietly on the couch. But I realized something. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid.

    The president finished his read-through not long after. We stood to leave, clutching our copies of the script. Before I could reach the door, however, POTUS looked right at me.

    “Thanks, Litt,” he said.

    From Thanks, Obama by David Litt. Copyright 2017 David Litt. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


    House GOP pushes to loosen gun rules


    House GOP leaders are moving forward with plans to vote on two gun-related measures in the coming weeks, the first time Congress has taken up the controversial issue since Donald Trump became president.A bill easing regulations on the purchases of gun...

    House GOP leaders are moving forward with plans to vote on two gun-related measures in the coming weeks, the first time Congress has taken up the controversial issue since Donald Trump became president.

    A bill easing regulations on the purchases of gun silencers — also known as suppressors — could reach the House floor as early as next week.

    Another measure allowing concealed carry permit holders to take their weapons to other states is also expected to move through the House Judiciary Committee and onto the floor this fall, possibly in October, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.

    Both proposals are almost certain to pass the House, despite intense opposition from gun-control groups. In the Senate, Democrats will likely block the measures. Trump would almost certainly sign such bills if they ever got to his desk.

    Nearly five years after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children dead and spurred an impassioned debate over expanding background checks for gun sales, the GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration are clearly moving in the opposite direction. Republican congressional leaders and Trump administration officials — at the urging of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups — are looking to roll back restrictions on guns imposed during the Obama era.

    The push for looser gun rules comes as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) is still recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered at a congressional baseball practice in June.


    Gun-control groups — including those tied to Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and publishing billionaire — claim that the NRA and its allies on Capitol Hill and inside the Trump administration are really looking to help the gun industry, which has seen its sales slump since President Barack Obama left office and Trump was sworn in.

    The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), may come up for a House vote as early as next week.

    The Duncan legislation includes language revising federal regulations on silencers, which currently have tougher purchasing requirements than guns. Democrats contend that Duncan’s bill would make it possible to obtain a silencer without going through a background check, although Republicans insist that’s not true.

    Another provision makes it more difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to classify certain ammunition as “armor piercing.” Regulations on interstate transportation of weapons would be revised as well.

    Duncan and other proponents of his bill say silencers are popular with recreational shooters and hunters. The South Carolina Republican points out 40 states allow hunters to use such devices.

    Duncan’s bill has already been approved by the Natural Resources Committee. The Judiciary Committee, which also has jurisdiction, apparently is not going to act on the legislation but will allow it instead to go straight to the floor.

    “Sportsmen are the foundation of the conservation movement in the United States, yet some radical organizations seek to limit access to this pastime by restricting the Second Amendment, as well as land and game management,” Duncan said in a statement.

    While some law-enforcement officials and organizations oppose any effort to loosen the restrictions on silencers, Jim Pasco, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, says his group has no objections to the proposal. The FOP claims to be the nation's largest police union.


    "With respect to the silencer provision, we have taken a position that we do not object to that provision," said Pasco. "The reasoning is because silencers are not — and have not been in the recent past — a law enforcement problem."

    Pasco said his organization has pushed for language allowing silencers to be traceable, which has been added to the bill.

    The NRA has thrown its considerable political muscle behind the Duncan bill as well.

    "Allowing law-abiding citizens to purchase suppressors without paying a $200 government tax and submitting extensive paperwork, but while undergoing an instant background check, will have a positive impact on the public health issue of hearing loss," said Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokeswoman. "The fact that the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers expresses zero opposition to the bill debunks the gun lobby's false claims the bill poses a public safety risk."

    But Peter Ambler, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), said the "vast majority" of gun owners don't support any move to loosen silencer regulations, according to polls.

    "The NRA poured unprecedented amounts of political money into the 2016 elections," Ambler said. "They're trying to ram this through when the country is distracted by the health-care debate. Most Americans oppose this bill, most major law-enforcement organizations oppose the bill."

    Ambler said Duncan's bill could potentially allow purchases of silencers without any background check at guns shows or through private transactions.

    Just as controversial is a bill by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons with them to another state, as long as that state also allows concealed carry.


    Concealed-carry permit holders would also be allowed to take their weapons onto some federal land, such as national parks.

    Hudson’s bill currently has 212 co-sponsors, including several Democrats, and it is expected to easily clear the House once it reaches the floor. A Judiciary Committee mark-up could come in October or early November, with a vote by the full House shortly thereafter.

    Hudson insists his bill would not override any other state, municipal or local regulations on concealed carry. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

    In a statement, Hudson said his bill “would allow law-abiding citizens with a state-issued concealed carry license or permit to conceal a handgun in any other state that allows concealed carry. It also allows law-abiding residents of Constitutional carry states the ability to carry in other states that recognize their own residents’ right to concealed carry.”

    But ARS’ Ambler said Hudson’s bill would essentially create a “50 state” gun license, arguing that if someone received a concealed carry permit in one state, they would be allowed to carry their weapon into every state.

    A number of states also have stricter permitting for a concealed-carry holder than is required to pass a federal background check. For instance, more than half the states prevent someone with a domestic violence or stalking conviction from obtaining such permits. Ambler said Hudson’s bill would essentially pre-empt those restrictions.

    Ambler added that gun purchasers could “permit shop,” meaning obtain a concealed carry permit from a state that issues permits to nonresidents, as Florida and nine other states do.

    “Even if your state has stronger laws and does not allow concealed carry, you would still be able to bring your gun into that state,” Ambler insisted. “It undermines the way we permit firearms in this country.”


    Democrats request inspector general investigate Price's use of charter planes


    House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday formally requested that the HHS inspector general investigate HHS Secretary Tom Price's use of private planes for government business.Five Democrats asked the inspector general to review Price's adherence to...

    House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday formally requested that the HHS inspector general investigate HHS Secretary Tom Price's use of private planes for government business.

    Five Democrats asked the inspector general to review Price's adherence to federal regulations on traveling by government employees, following a POLITICO investigation that found Price used charter planes to conduct official business within the United States. The request — sent by Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal and Sens. Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and Gary Peters — asks the office to probe how many times Price used government or charter aircraft, the costs of the trips and whether HHS personnel raised internal concerns about Price's use of private planes.

    "American taxpayers deserve assurances that their tax dollars are not wasted by the government's highest officials, and we are committed to holding Secretary Price to his stated pledges to reduce waste throughout the department," they wrote.

    Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel. The destinations included Maine, New Hampshire and the Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania. It was a sharp departure from his predecessors, who flew commercial.

    HHS on Wednesday defended Price's travel, with the department's top spokesperson saying "commercial travel is not always feasible."

    “Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13-plus hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS’s missions," said Charmaine Yoest, HHS' assistant secretary for public affairs.


    Yoest later confirmed to POLITICO that if Price travels "for official business, that comes from the HHS budget.”

    Earlier on Wednesday, Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, said Price's use of charter planes shows "a clear willingness to skirt basic ethics rules" and invites a "greater conversation" about his conduct in public office. During Price's confirmation process to be HHS secretary, Democratic lawmakers and ethics experts scrutinized his investments in health care companies that could have benefited from legislation he supported.

    The former Republican congressman from Georgia frequently called for fiscal responsibility, and as HHS Secretary has backed massive spending cuts to the health agencies he oversees.

    “There could not be a clearer statement of the Trump administration’s priorities,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said in a statement.


    Backlash throws last-ditch Obamacare repeal effort into doubt


    Republicans hoping to jam a last-minute Obamacare repeal plan through the Senate are confronting a rising tide of opposition as health care groups, patient advocates and even some red-state governors join forces against a bill they worry would upend the...

    Republicans hoping to jam a last-minute Obamacare repeal plan through the Senate are confronting a rising tide of opposition as health care groups, patient advocates and even some red-state governors join forces against a bill they worry would upend the nation’s health care system.

    The wide-ranging backlash threw the GOP’s repeal push into fresh doubt on Tuesday, even as White House officials and Senate Republican leaders insist they are on the verge of winning the 50 votes needed to dismantle Obamacare under a reconciliation bill that expires in two weeks.

    Opponents of the proposal co-authored by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seized on its plan to overhaul Obamacare’s subsidized insurance and Medicaid expansion and replace those with block grants to the states — a mass restructuring they warned would sow chaos in insurance markets. They panned its new regulatory flexibilities as a backdoor route to undermining key patient protections — including safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions.

    And in the biggest blow, several Republican governors urged the GOP to abandon a plan that would force states to swallow potentially billions in funding cuts — and instead to focus on stabilizing Obamacare.

    “The Graham-Cassidy bill is not a solution that works for Maryland,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the half-dozen GOP governors to come out against the bill so far. “We need common-sense, bipartisan solutions that will stabilize markets and actually expand affordable coverage.”

    The criticism from Republican governors adds another complication to an already fraught process for Senate Republicans facing a tight deadline to repeal Obamacare. GOP leaders — once skeptical of the Graham-Cassidy plan’s chances — are now all in on a bid to speed it through the Senate.


    In a clear bid to boost the bill’s prospects Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House came out in opposition to a bipartisan plan to stabilize Obamacare being written by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash). The intention was to put pressure on Republican senators to back the last-ditch effort to gut Obamacare.

    Alexander later announced he’d abandoned work on that effort after failing to find consensus. He has said he’d “like to” be able to support Graham-Cassidy and is still reviewing the bill.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also backed the approach Tuesday, although he declined to commit to bring it to the floor.

    “We’re in the process of discussing all of this,” McConnell said. “Everybody knows that the opportunity expires at the end of the month.”

    All of which has amped up the pressure on GOP lawmakers who are eager to fulfill their seven-year repeal vow but who remain puzzled about what the bill would actually mean for their home states — especially since the Congressional Budget Office said it will not have details about the practical implications of the bill, including how many people could lose coverage and the impact on insurance premiums, "for at least several weeks."

    “The kind of status quo on money, or more money to states and more control to states — that’s very appealing, very simple,” said Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who added that he’s still poring over the bill’s effects. “What I’m very focused on as we speak is figuring out the dollar amounts, frankly, and the formula and how it impacts my state.”

    Cassidy — the chief architect of the bill’s proposal to take Obamacare’s federal funding and redistribute it to states in equal amounts — has spent the past several days reassuring senators that their states wouldn’t see major funding cuts under the block grant plan.

    But that rosy view has met with increasingly harsh pushback from policy analysts, industry groups and state officials — including some in the Louisiana Republican’s own state.


    “The legislation you’ve introduced this past week gravely threatens health care access and coverage for our state and its people,” Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee wrote in a letter to Cassidy, estimating that the bill’s block grant system would slash $3.2 billion in health funding for the state over a decade.

    That figure tracks with early estimates published by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, showing that only 15 states would end up better off financially under Graham-Cassidy compared with the current law — while those that have been most successful at enrolling residents in coverage would face tens of billions in cuts.

    Another state-by-state analysis, set to be released Wednesday by health care consultancy Avalere, will similarly show most states losing federal funds through the bill.

    “That is definitely the case,” Avalere Vice President for Policy and Strategy Caroline Pearson said. “The vast majority of states will get less money.”

    The projected financial hit to states has pitted some Republican governors against their own Senate delegation. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — in a break with bill co-sponsor Dean Heller — and Ohio Gov. John Kasich both signed onto a 10-governor letter urging the GOP to abandon Graham-Cassidy in favor of propping up Obamacare. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, opposed the bill too.

    The state-level objections echoed the message from across the health community — a diverse group of industry, patient and public health advocates that have nevertheless remained largely united against the GOP’s repeated repeal efforts.

    Sixteen patient and provider groups, from the American Heart Association to the March of Dimes, slammed the bill in a joint letter over worries it would gut Medicaid and undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions. A raft of other powerful health lobbies, including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians, piled on throughout the day on Tuesday, each urging the GOP to abandon repeal in favor of bipartisan fixes.


    Hospitals and insurers — until this week largely convinced the repeal fight was over — sprang back into action as well, criticizing the prospect of creating 50 wildly different state health care systems as unworkable and irresponsible, with minimal vetting of the bill’s merits ahead of time.

    “Could you have imagined any other Senate in our modern history that would even consider this process?” one health care lobbyist vented, calling it the worst GOP proposal yet. “We’re talking about such a tremendous portion of the United States economy. Real people’s lives. The reverberations are just so huge.”

    To date, not one major health care industry or advocacy group has expressed support for the Graham-Cassidy plan.

    The hits are going to keep coming. Activist groups that Democrats credited for helping derail the last repeal bill are ramping up their efforts, targeting holdouts like Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine.

    And comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who lauded Cassidy in May for his promise to vote against any bill that undermined protections for people with pre-existing conditions, is expected to go after the senator Tuesday night for breaking his promise. Graham-Cassidy would let states obtain waivers that allow plans to charge higher premiums based on individuals’ health status.

    Cassidy has defended the provision by noting that states would be required to ensure “affordable and adequate” coverage options for sick enrollees.

    The sudden scrutiny has heightened tensions in a Senate that last week seemed resigned to simply shoring up Obamacare for the short term.

    “I have nothing to say,” McCain, a key swing vote, retorted Tuesday when asked about his position on the bill. “I have nothing to say, OK? Did you hear me?”


    Inside the new battle against Google


    One of the biggest, most embarrassing divorces in the normally quiet world of Washington think tanks blew into the open earlier this month, when writer Barry Lynn and nine others defected from New America. Lynn said they were pushed out of the...

    One of the biggest, most embarrassing divorces in the normally quiet world of Washington think tanks blew into the open earlier this month, when writer Barry Lynn and nine others defected from New America. Lynn said they were pushed out of the influential Democratic think tank after he wrote a post this summer criticizing Google, one of its key funders. Anne-Marie Slaughter, who heads the foundation, called the story reporting the news "false"—then wrote a long Medium post walking her charge back.

    Whatever the final trigger for the split, its roots lay far deeper than this summer's scuffle. The Google controversy marked the most public emergence of an intellectually combative group jostling for a role as the new economic brain of the Democratic Party.

    Lynn's group, called Open Markets, has spent six years arguing that the Democrats have become too comfortable with corporate money and power, and need to rally around a new principle: breaking up monopolies. As the party remains locked in a struggle to reboot itself, unable to craft a unifying vision in the Trump era, Lynn and his group are trying to push it into a new fight against global corporate titans, targeting big companies like Google by name, and arguing that it’s time to use federal antitrust law to chip away at their influence. They see the fight as both a boon to democracy and a political framework that could excite voters in a new, more energized populist moment.

    Slaughter acknowledged the goal in her Medium post, where she described the split from New America as "the opening salvo of one group of Democrats versus another group of Democrats in the run-up to the 2020 election."

    Lynn and his team weren't exactly caught out by their separation from New America: By the time the Times story came out, they were ready with a whole new website depicting Google as an evil octopus, with headshots of the whole team promising to take on corporate monopolies. They’re launching a new think tank, called the Open Markets Institute, which will have a staff of 20 to 25 people, including a group of lawyers planning to work with state attorneys general to push antitrust cases at the state level.

    Lynn, a former journalist, has spent years building a public case that corporate monopoly is a growing threat, hiring like-minded thinkers and writers to advance the cause. The rest of his team has become increasingly high-profile, including Lina Khan, who earlier this year wrote an influential law-journal article attacking Amazon as the new shape of anticompetitive corporate behavior; Matt Stoller, a prolific Twitter warrior who communicates weekly with lawmakers like Ro Khanna, the Silicon Valley-based congressman. Zephyr Teachout, the New York law professor and darling of the progressive left, will chair the board of the Open Markets Institute.

    Open war with a powerhouse like Google, risky as it sounds, is typical of Lynn’s team, which is making a name for itself going after the largest possible targets in the Democratic universe. Khan’s article spent 40,000 words targeting one of the biggest names in the Democrat-friendly tech industry. Stoller, who frequently trades barbs with leaders of the Democratic establishment, is known for frequent attacks on Barack Obama himself, who he has called a “bad president” who is “ideologically averse to democracy” and whose policies “entrenched fraud and monopoly as the guiding principles in our commercial system.” At a time when Obama might be the only figure with some unifying power among Democrats, that amounts to something of a frontal attack on the very identity of the national party.

    “[Barry has] been fearless and persistent in pushing these issues,” said Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust lawyer at Paul Weiss. “It’s hard to think of somebody more central to the discussion than Barry and Open Markets.”

    Lynn and his team argue that the concentration of money and power in a small number of companies is a huge danger to our economy and politics, and that Washington's main weapon to combat it, antitrust law, has become rusty from lack of use. They want to revive the New Deal antitrust regime that prioritized competition and worried about the political power of large companies—a reform that would represent a reboot of antitrust thinking for the new tech age and the kind of new political rallying point that Democrats have been looking for.

    Politically, it's novel territory: A populist philosophy that rejects both the technocratic approach of the Obama and Clinton administrations and the centralization at the heart of Bernie Sanders-style democratic socialism. Lynn and his team see themselves as essentially pro-competition and pro-business, creating new openings for smaller companies being boxed out by giants. At a time when the new Bernie-bro energy seems to be pulling the party toward its left fringe, they see this philosophy as offering a middle way, a populist agenda that can bring in independent—maybe even Republican—voters, appealing to a farmer in Des Moines, a small businessman in Dallas and a single mother in Detroit.

    “I give them a lot of credit for being visionaries on this and driving it and speaking about it when they were voices in the wilderness,” said Andy Green, managing director for economic policy at the Center for American Progress, who supports stronger antitrust enforcement.

    This new antitrust movement is gaining some real traction, with a recent wave of coverage in BuzzFeed, POLITICO and elsewhere about how the tech giants are no longer sacred cows in D.C. The Democrats adopted stronger antitrust language in their platform in 2016 and, more recently, in their “Better Deal” agenda.

    But for all the Democratic Party’s renewed interest in antitrust, it has still not adopted the more ambitious and controversial aspects of Open Markets’ broader political philosophy. Notably, none of the new plans target Amazon, Google, Facebook or the other big tech firms that Open Markets believes are becoming the biggest threats to commercial freedom—but are big political allies of the Democrats.

    To Lynn, that’s not exactly a surprise. “Most people don’t understand how really different this philosophy is,” he said. But he’s thrilled at the progress that has been made in just the past few years. What started from some uninformed thoughts after a hurricane hit Taiwan almost 20 years ago has now become a leading plank in the Democratic Party. “This is moving very rapidly,” he said hopefully. “People are coming to understand this.”

    The scandal over Google and New America is, if anything, the best evidence that Open Markets is starting to matter, and attract attention, in Washington. But it’s far from certain that the Democratic Party is willing to swallow it wholesale. It may amount to a bet on the future of the party that the party’s leaders are not willing to make.

    LYNN DATES HIS own awakening to a specific day: September 21, 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Jiji, Taiwan, killing almost 2,500 people and causing billions in damage. At the time, Lynn was the executive editor of Global Business, a magazine for business executives with stories about NAFTA and the WTO. But he quickly found himself fixated on the Taiwan earthquake—not on the natural disaster itself but on its effect on businesses in America, thousands of miles away.

    Soon after the earthquake, the stock prices of major U.S. tech companies, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, plunged. He wondered why, and discovered that the earthquake had temporarily shut down an industrial park that made a significant percentage of computer components. The industry had become so concentrated that American companies half a world away were paralyzed by the lack of a crucial part. For Lynn, it was a warning shot. Corporate concentration had made the global industrial economy much more fragile than it looked. He called it the first “modern industrial crash” and wondered what might happen if the earthquake were bigger, or if China attacked Taiwan.

    “I assumed initially that someone understood this,” Lynn said. But after talking with business leaders and policymakers, he realized no one had really thought it through.

    He joined New America in 2001 and four years later, he published a book, called End of the Line, about the dangers of America’s complex supply chains. The book garnered real interest—he briefed senior officials at the Treasury Department, CIA and Department of Defense—but Washington quickly united around a different interpretation: Far from a threat to America’s national and economic security, the new globalized economy raised the costs of war, effectively guaranteeing peace.

    Disappointed but undeterred, Lynn focused on what he believed had made America’s supply chains so fragile: corporate concentration. Lynn came to see concentration not just as a supply-chain problem, but as an economic and political problem—one that posed threats to both American prosperity and democracy itself.

    In theory, Washington had a tool to deal with this problem in the form of antitrust law, which was once used to break up immense monopolies like Standard Oil. But in practice, that no longer happened. In 2006, in a much-discussed article for Harper’s, he called for the break-up of Walmart, saying that the retail giant had too much power over its suppliers and workers. That eventually turned into his second book, "Cornered," which came out in 2010 and traces the rise of modern-day antitrust policy. Since the New Deal, policymakers had looked skeptically on large firms, preventing mergers that would create huge corporations and breaking up companies that grew too big. But in 1978, the conservative legal scholar Robert Bork published “The Antitrust Paradox,” a nearly 500-page book that argued that antitrust policy should be concerned only with “consumer welfare,” generally measured by consumer prices, and should not concern itself with the structure of markets. If prices were low, he argued, the market was working. Bork’s consumer-focused approach gained the support of prominent liberal economists like John Kenneth Galbraith, and under President Ronald Reagan it became national policy. The "consumer welfare" framework has driven antitrust policy under both Democratic and Republican administrations ever since.

    Lynn argued that this approach was far too narrow and that it left the government powerless to fight some of the most damaging effects of corporate concentration. A monopolist can keep prices down and still cause harm—by underpaying workers, for example, or influencing the political system. Lynn considers himself a deep believer in free market competition, a difference between the new antitrust movement and leftists, but he believes the government needs to play an active role in keeping those markets competitive. This philosophy dates back to the country’s founding, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that the government must protect individual citizens from monopolies; it was later reinvigorated by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. (For that reason, the new antitrust movement is sometimes called the “New Brandeis” movement; Stoller prefers Jeffersonian Democrats.)

    If that sounds grandly historical, Lynn has never been shy about the import of what he's doing. “We are resurrecting a lost language of political economics,” said Lynn. “The word 'political' has been lopped off from the word economics. We’ve been taught to see economics as an entirely technical sphere. We have these experts who study problems, like doctors studying a body, and they tell us what to do. The traditional political economics is all about the engineering of power.” In this view, the shape of markets is inherently a political decision, but for decades it has been depoliticized under the guise of economics. “When the technocrats tell you it’s science, that’s bunk.”

    “It is the extension of checks and balances into the political economy,” he added. “Competition policy determines how individual citizens compete with one another. It is the way that we make our society. It touches on absolutely everything.”

    The Open Markets view is that government should use its antitrust powers broadly, to structure industries to meet societal goals. That structure would look different depending on the industry; industries that mass manufacture goods—chemicals, cars, metals, for instance—should be allowed to vertically integrate as long as they have real competitors, said Lynn. For farming, retail and services, antitrust would promote individual ownership, so that “people who want to be an independent farmer or insurance agent or restaurateur, if they had the wherewithal to do so, could run their business without facing giant, super-capitalized predators.”

    In 2011, Lynn launched the Open Markets program at New America, an effort to take the ideas he developed in “Cornered” and bring them to a wider, more influential audience. Lynn’s first hire, Lina Khan, spent significant time out West, interviewing farmers and telling stories about their run-ins with the big meatpackers, like Tyson and Perdue. But more recently, Open Markets has become especially focused on the tech industry. The Silicon Valley behemoths, in this view, pose something of an existential threat not just to the economy but to democracy itself. “We see these institutions as incredible, powerful and very useful,” said Stoller, “but as concentrations of power that are dangerous.”

    The argument runs like this: By exerting such near-total dominance of their own channels—Google in search, Amazon in e-commerce, Facebook in social sharing—the tech firms have become 21st century informational gatekeepers, controlling unprecedented quantities of data and building giant—if unseen—entry barriers that make it impossible for anyone to challenge them. But because these dangers are posed by companies offering consumers totally free services, or very low prices, they fly under the radar of current antitrust policy.

    Asked about Lynn's theory that they constitute new monopolies, Amazon and Facebook declined to comment for this story. Google did not comment on that issue, but on the topic of the New America departure said: “We support hundreds of organizations that promote a free and open Internet, greater access to information, and increased opportunity. We don't agree with every group 100% of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions, and policy perspectives.”

    IT WOULD BE an understatement to say that this view is unpopular among antitrust lawyers. On both sides of the aisle, support for the Bork consumer welfare framework remains almost unanimous. Even those who favor stronger antitrust enforcement simply say the consumer welfare framework has been misapplied. It shouldn’t be trashed altogether.

    “The consumer welfare standard is a much more encompassing standard than some people realize,” said Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, who has long advocated tougher enforcement. “It isn’t just about price. We just need rigorous, creative, proactive enforcement.”

    For this story I called a number of former officials at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, the two agencies chiefly responsible for antitrust enforcement. Nearly all declined to speak to me on the record but were happy to privately criticize the new antitrust movement. In part, their concerns are pragmatic: Many critics believe the Bork revolution created a predictable enforcement regime on which both regulators and corporations could rely; by not overregulating, it unlocked efficiency-enhancing corporate deals that would have previously been blocked. They expressed skepticism about how the FTC or DOJ would actually evaluate merger proposals under the looser framework favored by the new antitrust movement. Empowering unelected staff attorneys to recommend enforcement actions for political reasons, critics say, is dangerous. And even if regulators adopted such a system, they would get laughed out of court.

    As for the big tech firms, antitrust lawyers argue that “competition is just a click away” for online firms; unlike launching a new airline or railroad, it requires little capital or physical infrastructure to create a new search engine or social media platform. "At a moment when there are actual harms creating pocketbook issues for consumers across the economy,” said Abigail Slater, general counsel of the Internet Association and a former FTC attorney, “it is disappointing that so much time and attention is being paid to the internet, which has a storied track record of lowering transaction costs for consumers and providing people with high-quality services for free."

    Lynn, Stoller and their allies have even acquired the disparaging nickname “hipster antitrust,” which was coined on Twitter by law professor Joshua Wright and was used by Senator Orrin Hatch on the Senate floor in late July in a speech critical of the new antitrust movement. “Nobody would mistake me for a hipster,” Hatch concluded.

    There is some evidence that antitrust enforcement has been too lax in recent decades. Academic papers have found growing concentration across industries and have linked that concentration to increased markups, increased corporate profits and decreased investment, leading even some Republicans to support tougher enforcement, most prominently Senator Mike Lee. But when I asked his office about the new antitrust movement, a senior Lee aide pushed back. “There's momentum in some quarters on the left to revise how we do antitrust and to use it to shape markets to better fit certain people's aesthetic preferences,” the aide said. “If we follow through on those ideas, it will hurt consumers and will hurt American businesses.”

    Lynn and his team respond that the problem with the current antitrust regime has less to do with its processes and more to do with its goals. Before the Bork revolution, Stoller explained, the government used a range of tools to measure and combat monopolies, and the system worked perfectly well. “Antitrust is complicated,” he said, “but there’s no magic here.”

    More to the point, Lynn doesn’t care that much whether antitrust lawyers are convinced of their ideas. “Our goal is to change the way policymakers see the world,” he said. “Once policymakers signal they want policy to go in a different direction, the technocrats will learn the new ways. Or they will leave and go back to their farms.”

    OVER THE PAST two years, Open Markets’ influence has grown quickly: The Obama administration warned last year about corporate concentration; Hillary Clinton issued a fact sheet calling for aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws; Democrats adopted an antitrust plank in their 2016 platform; and Democrats prioritized antitrust in their “Better Deal” agenda. Open Markets has been involved in all these plans.

    Open Markets doesn’t operate like a typical Washington think tank, spitting out an endless supply of white papers and policy memos and jamming them into the hands of congressional aides. In fact, it publishes very few papers at all. Instead, it focuses on conducting original research and writing articles for mainstream publications (including POLITICO, where Khan argued for significant reforms to the FTC). “With a few exceptions, there’s no reason to write up a policy paper and then convince a journalist to mention it someplace,” Lynn said. “We can vertically integrate and do the writing ourselves.” The Washington Monthly, a left-leaning magazine founded in 1969, has become a frequent place to find work by Open Markets scholars; recent stories have focused on concentration in the airline and poultry industries and blamed monopolies for the decline in black-owned businesses and the rise in regional inequality.

    Lynn has also proven adept at managing and developing outside relationships, building a movement that extends beyond Washington. Joe Maxwell, a former lieutenant governor of Missouri and executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, which focuses on antitrust and trade policy in the agricultural industry, first met Lynn a decade ago at the OCM’s annual convention. Antitrust looms large in the agricultural world, in which many industries are dominated by a couple of major companies. Lynn has worked hard at building relationships with farmers like Maxwell and, importantly, bringing them together to form a more powerful political force. “The central conduit was Barry Lynn,” said Maxwell. “We discovered that there were more and more of us who thought the same way.”

    In early 2016, Lynn and a few colleagues had dinner with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had read some stories by Open Markets scholars and wanted to learn more about rising corporate concentration and the new antitrust movement. Soon after, a Warren aide contacted Lynn to say that the Massachusetts senator wanted to give a speech on antitrust. That speech, held in June and sponsored by Open Markets, marked a pivotal moment for the antitrust movement. “I love markets,” Warren exclaimed to a packed room. “Strong, healthy markets are the key to a strong, healthy America.” She went on to refute the Bork framework on antitrust and lamented that “competition is dying.”

    In a speech in October, Hillary Clinton delivered her own criticism of rising concentration and released a fact sheet on antitrust. Amid the numerous distractions in the presidential election, Clinton’s commitment to stronger antitrust enforcement went largely unnoticed. But to the Open Markets team the message was clear: Mainstream Democrats had finally awoken to the problems of rising corporate concentration. It had been nearly two decades since the earthquake struck Taiwan and launched Lynn’s interest in antitrust, but finally Washington was listening.

    But as Open Markets has begun to name names and push the envelope on what kinds of companies should count as a monopoly, it has run into some of the most powerful groups in Washington. During the drafting of the antitrust plank of the Democratic platform, Lynn and his colleagues pushed for language that would have directly targeted major technology companies, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. But each time they added that language to the platform, it would get removed; ultimately, it was dropped altogether. Likewise, the Democrats’ “Better Deal” agenda called out the airline, beer and eyeglasses industries—but it doesn’t mention the tech industry.

    Lynn is still thrilled with the platform and “Better Deal” agenda; that antitrust policy has become a top priority for the Democrats is clearly a big victory for him. But the refusal to target the big tech firms is the clearest signal that Democrats aren't ready to jettison the consumer welfare framework and haven’t yet totally bought into Open Markets’ philosophy.

    “They’ve made a major step forward,” Lynn said. “[But] the difference is bigger than they realize.”

    “We’ve seen that academic thinking can filter into policymaking. That’s what Bork did,” said Representative Khanna. “My hope is that Lina Khan’s work will reorient antitrust to a concern on jobs and communities and concentration of power and move away from an absolutism about consumer prices.”

    To the new antitrust movement, the tech firms are something of a litmus test for the Democratic Party’s commitment to the Brandeis and Jeffersonian vision of antitrust policy. To Stoller and Lynn, Obama clearly failed that test. The Obama administration largely embraced the tech companies, with a revolving door to the industry: Numerous tech workers, especially from Google, temporarily joined the administration. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe left politics to become Uber’s top lobbyist, and now has a senior role at the private foundation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. More broadly, Democrats draw on Silicon Valley both for money and expertise. If Democrats were really to target these firms—by calling for utility-like regulation, for instance—the political consequences could be severe.

    Philosophically, it’s hard for the Democrats to let go of the centrist dream of the 1990s, one that Bill Clinton rode to such success—that good technocratic governance is perfectly compatible with staying friendly to big global corporations. That technocratic approach achieved a lot of good, Democrats argue, and blowing it up—whether for the sake of principle, or to chase a new populist coalition—is unnecessarily risky. And it may not be a turnkey solution to today’s economic problems and the party’s political issues. “Antitrust is a critical part of this,” said Neera Tanden, the former Obama adviser who now runs the Center for American Progress. “It’s not the only issue that progressives need to address.”

    For Open Markets, this philosophy is not just about antitrust. It’s about structuring markets to promote competition. Stoller draws a direct line from the Bork revolution to the election of Donald Trump. Rising concentration, in this view, has led to a litany of economic and social ills, enabling corporations to amass huge amounts of power over working Americans and fostering a deep-seated anger at the political establishment. “The New Dealers were very worried about autocracy and financial autocracy,” he said. “They would’ve understood that Trump is a result of a society that has lost control of its ability to manage its commercial institutions.”

    He added, “We’re trying to bring this tradition back."


    5 things Trump did this week while you weren't looking


    President Donald Trump’s unexpected dalliance with the other party continued this week as he appeared—maybe—to agree with the Democratic leadership over the so-called Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children. He also met with moderate Democrats...

    President Donald Trump’s unexpected dalliance with the other party continued this week as he appeared—maybe—to agree with the Democratic leadership over the so-called Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children. He also met with moderate Democrats about tax reform, even saying the rich won’t benefit “at all” from his plan.

    But despite all the news attention, nothing actually happened on those fronts. What did happen took place in the background—and despite the ideological anxiety Republicans may be feeling toward those headline meetings, there’s not much doubt about the direction his administration is taking on real-world policy. This week, the push to roll back Obama-era rules continued—from new business-friendly guidelines on driverless cars to regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Bureau and Department of Labor. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

    1. DHS suspends some visas for four countries
    When the government orders someone deported from the U.S., that deportation doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires approval from the receiving country; the U.S. generally can’t just leave people in other countries. Most countries routinely approve such removal orders, but about a dozen countries are uncooperative, preventing the U.S. from actually deporting those individuals.

    On Wednesday, the Trump administration took its first step to force greater cooperation when it imposed visa sanctions on four especially recalcitrant countries—Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone. “These four countries have not established reliable processes for issuing travel documents to their nationals ordered removed from the United States,” the Department of Homeland Security said. According to DHS numbers, the government has been unable to remove around 700 Eritrean, 1,900 Cambodian, 2,100 Guinean and 800 Sierra Leone nationals. The sanctions vary for each country. For instance, senior Cambodian diplomatic officials and their families will be unable to get a B visa, which allows temporary entry into the U.S. for business or pleasure. In Eritrea, no one can get a B visa.

    The move is just the latest front of Trump’s immigration crackdown, and follows on his January executive order in which he directed DHS and the State Department to enter negotiations with such “recalcitrant countries”—and, if those negotiations fail, enforce sanctions.

    2. The first Trump-era guidelines on driverless cars
    Last September, the Obama administration issued the first guidelines on driverless cars, recommending industrywide standards to support the growth of the burgeoning industry. The guidelines, which were nonbinding, requested that automakers submit to a 15-point “safety assessment,” touching on everything from the testing of driverless vehicles to the prevention of vehicle hacking.

    On Tuesday, the Trump administration issued the first update to those guidelines, replacing the 15-point safety assessment with 12 “safety elements” that touch on many of the same issues. Consumer groups and industry officials said the plan was more industry-friendly, with significant emphasis on the voluntary nature of the guidelines. (The word “voluntary” appears 57 times in the 36-page document, compared with just five times in the original 116-page guidelines.) Critics said that the plan effectively imposes no rules on automakers, while industry officials said the light regulatory touch is essential to continued technological improvement.

    This is just the beginning of what’s likely to be a long drama over federal driverless-car policy; both the House and Senate are considering legislation that would enable greater federal oversight over the industry, which, in some instances, actually wants the rules to avoid a patchwork of state laws. Expect more in the months and years ahead.

    3. EPA’s regulatory roll back continues
    Another week brought more regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency.

    On Wednesday, the EPA delayed for two years parts of an Obama-era rule limiting the dumping of toxic metals, like mercury, from coal-fired water plants. The delay affects two provisions of the 2015 rule, relating to specific waste products, while allowing the remainder of the rule to take effect as planned. The news wasn’t exactly a surprise, as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has previously said the agency intended to change parts of the rule. He now has plenty of time to do so.

    Also on Wednesday, Pruitt sent a letter to industry officials—released on Thursday by the environmental group Earthjustice—saying that the EPA would “reconsider” another Obama-era rule, issued in 2015, that set standards for the disposal of “coal ash,” which is a byproduct from burning coal. That rule was the first national standard on coal ash disposal and also imposed new inspection rules to prevent leaks or spills. A formal reconsideration process doesn’t necessarily mean that the agency will change the coal ash rule, but it gives them the opportunity to do so. Any changes would have to go through the full rule-making process, including notice and comment.

    4. Trump blocks the Chinese purchase of a U.S. company
    For years, Chinese companies have been on a buying spree in America, investing around $45 billion in U.S. companies in 2016, according to one estimate. The surge in investment has raised questions about Beijing’s ultimate aim and has focused renewed attention on the agency that reviews foreign investments for national security risks, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

    On Wednesday, the Trump administration made its first big statement about Chinese investment when it blocked the acquisition of a U.S.-based semiconductor company, Lattice Semiconductor Corp., by a Chinese venture capital fund. The move came after CFIUS, which is chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, recommended that the administration block the sale. The White House immediately blasted out a statement on the deal, using its bully pulpit to gain extra attention. It’s a sign that Trump intends to be vigilant about Chinese investment in American companies, which should delight experts who have called for a more comprehensive and wide-ranging approach to U.S. policy on China.

    5. Labor Department makes two moves
    This week, the Department of Labor took two moves, one that actually continued to uphold an Obama-era rule and another that pushed one back.

    The first was Obama’s 2014 executive order that established a minimum wage for federal contractors. Under that order, federal contractors and subcontractors were required to pay their workers $10.10 per hour, starting in 2015. Trump could rescind that order with the stroke of a pen—but he hasn’t. That was made clear this week when the Labor Department issued a notice that the contractor minimum wage would rise to $10.35 next year, an annual inflation update required under the order. It’s unclear how many contractors are affected by the order; in fact, there isn’t an exact estimate for how many federal contractors are used by the government. But the Obama administration estimated it was hundreds of thousands.

    Also this week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, within the DOL, delayed a rule regarding workplace examinations of metal and nonmetal mines. MSHA had already delayed the rule, which was finalized on Jan. 23 and initially set to take effect on May 23. It was first delayed until Oct. 2; the new proposed rule would extend that deadline until March 2, 2018. The agency also proposed changes to the rule regarding when daily inspections must take place and exempting from the examination record any safety or health problems that are quickly corrected.


    The great nutrient collapse


    Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass...

    Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass containers glowing with bright green algae, a biologist told Loladze and a half-dozen other graduate students that scientists had discovered something mysterious about zooplankton.

    Zooplankton are microscopic animals that float in the world’s oceans and lakes, and for food they rely on algae, which are essentially tiny plants. Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn’t work out that way. When the researchers shined more light on the algae, the algae grew faster, and the tiny animals had lots and lots to eat—but at a certain point they started struggling to survive. This was a paradox. More food should lead to more growth. How could more algae be a problem?

    Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn’t stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

    Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic. He and his colleagues devised a model that captured the relationship between a food source and a grazer that depends on the food. They published that first paper in 2000. But Loladze was also captivated by a much larger question raised by the experiment: Just how far this problem might extend.

    “What struck me is that its application is wider,” Loladze recalled in an interview. Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? “It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition,” he said.

    In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

    What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

    He published those findings just a few years ago, adding to the concerns of a small but increasingly worried group of researchers who are raising unsettling questions about the future of our food supply. Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes—and along the way, it has steered Loladze and other scientists, directly into some of the thorniest questions in their profession, including just how hard it is to do research in a field that doesn’t quite exist yet.

    IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, it’s been understood for some time that many of our most important foods have been getting less nutritious. Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years. Researchers have generally assumed the reason is fairly straightforward: We’ve been breeding and choosing crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition, and higher-yielding crops—whether broccoli, tomatoes, or wheat—tend to be less nutrient-packed.

    In 2004, a landmark study of fruits and vegetables found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops since 1950. The researchers concluded this could mostly be explained by the varieties we were choosing to grow.

    Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live like humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth’s atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century—essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

    If you’re someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn’t be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it’s good for plants, and what’s good for plants is good for us.

    “A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth,” the Texas Republican wrote. “This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food.”

    But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

    In 2002, while a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Loladze published a seminal research paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, a leading journal, arguing that rising CO2 and human nutrition were inextricably linked through a global shift in the quality of plants. In the paper, Loladze complained about the dearth of data: Among thousands of publications he had reviewed on plants and rising CO2, he found only one that looked specifically at how it affected the balance of nutrients in rice, a crop that billions of people rely on. (The paper, published in 1997, found a drop in zinc and iron.)


    Loladze’s paper was first to tie the impact of CO2 on plant quality to human nutrition. But he also raised more questions than he answered, arguing that there were fundamental holes in the research. If these nutritional shifts were happening up and down the food chain, the phenomenon needed to be measured and understood.

    Part of the problem, Loladze was finding, lay in the research world itself. Answering the question required an understanding of plant physiology, agriculture and nutrition―as well as a healthy dollop of math. He could do the math, but he was a young academic trying to establish himself, and math departments weren't especially interested in solving problems in farming and human health. Loladze struggled to get funding to generate new data and continued to obsessively collect published data from researchers across the globe. He headed to the heartland to take an assistant professor position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was a major agricultural school, which seemed like a good sign, but Loladze was still a math professor. He was told he could pursue his research interests as long as he brought in funding, but he struggled. Biology grant makers said his proposals were too math-heavy; math grant makers said his proposals contained too much biology.

    “It was year after year, rejection after rejection,” he said. “It was so frustrating. I don’t think people grasp the scale of this.”

    It’s not just in the fields of math and biology that this issue has fallen through the cracks. To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement. It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health or nutrition communities. At all.

    When POLITICO contacted top nutrition experts about the growing body of research on the topic, they were almost universally perplexed and asked to see the research. One leading nutrition scientist at Johns Hopkins University said it was interesting, but admitted he didn’t know anything about it. He referred me to another expert. She said they didn’t know about the subject, either. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an association representing an army of nutrition experts across the country, connected me with Robin Foroutan, an integrative medicine nutritionist who was also not familiar with the research.

    “It’s really interesting, and you’re right, it’s not on many people’s radar,” wrote Foroutan, in an email, after being sent some papers on the topic. Foroutan said she would like to see a whole lot more data, particularly on how a subtle shift toward more carbohydrates in plants could affect public health.

    "We don't know what a minor shift in the carbohydrate ratio in the diet is ultimately going to do,” she said, noting that the overall trend toward more starch and carbohydrate consumption has been associated with an increase in diet-related disease like obesity and diabetes. "To what degree would a shift in the food system contribute to that? We can't really say.”

    Asked to comment for this story, Marion Nestle, a nutrition policy professor at New York University who’s one of the best-known nutrition experts in the country, initially expressed skepticism about the whole concept but offered to dig into a file she keeps on climate issues.

    After reviewing the evidence, she changed her tune. “I’m convinced,” she said, in an email, while also urging caution: It wasn’t clear whether CO2-driven nutrient depletion would have a meaningful impact on public health. We need to know a whole lot more, she said.

    Kristie Ebi, a researcher at the University of Washington who’s studied the intersection of climate change and global health for two decades, is one of a handful of scientists in the U.S. who is keyed into the potentially sweeping consequences of the CO2-nutrition dynamic, and brings it up in every talk she gives.

    "It's a hidden issue,” Ebi said. “The fact that my bread doesn't have the micronutrients it did 20 years ago―how would you know?"

    As Ebi sees it, the CO2-nutrition link has been slow to break through, much as it took the academic community a long time to start seriously looking at the intersection of climate and human health in general. “This is before the change,” she said. “This is what it looks like before the change."


    LOLADZE'S EARLY PAPER raised some big questions that are difficult, but not impossible, to answer. How does rising atmospheric CO2 change how plants grow? How much of the long-term nutrient drop is caused by the atmosphere, and how much by other factors, like breeding?

    It’s also difficult, but not impossible, to run farm-scale experiments on how CO2 affects plants. Researchers use a technique that essentially turns an entire field into a lab. The current gold standard for this type of research is called a FACE experiment (for “free-air carbon dioxide enrichment”), in which researchers create large open-air structures that blow CO2 onto the plants in a given area. Small sensors keep track of the CO2 levels. When too much CO2 escapes the perimeter, the contraption puffs more into the air to keep the levels stable. Scientists can then compare those plants directly to others growing in normal air nearby.

    These experiments and others like them have shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they’re grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as “C3”―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

    Earlier this summer, a group of researchers published the first studies attempting to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

    There aren’t any projections for the United States, where we for the most part enjoy a diverse diet with no shortage of protein, but some researchers look at the growing proportion of sugars in plants and hypothesize that a systemic shift in plants could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

    Another new and important strain of research on CO2 and plant nutrition is now coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, is drilling down on some of the questions that Loladze first raised 15 years ago with a number of new studies that focus on nutrition.


    Ziska devised an experiment that eliminated the complicating factor of plant breeding: He decided to look at bee food.

    Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

    They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

    Ziska worries we’re not studying all the ways CO2 affects the plants we depend on with enough urgency, especially considering the fact that retooling crops takes a long time.

    “We’re falling behind in our ability to intercede and begin to use the traditional agricultural tools, like breeding, to compensate,” he said. “Right now it can take 15 to 20 years before we get from the laboratory to the field.”

    AS LOLADZE AND others have found, tackling globe-spanning new questions that cross the boundaries of scientific fields can be difficult. There are plenty of plant physiologists researching crops, but most are dedicated to studying factors like yield and pest resistance—qualities that have nothing to do with nutrition. Math departments, as Loladze discovered, don’t exactly prioritize food research. And studying living things can be costly and slow: It takes several years and huge sums of money to get a FACE experiment to generate enough data to draw any conclusions.

    Despite these challenges, researchers are increasingly studying these questions, which means we may have more answers in the coming years. Ziska and Loladze, who now teaches math at Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Nebraska, are collaborating with a coalition of researchers in China, Japan, Australia and elsewhere in the U.S. on a large study looking at rising CO2 and the nutritional profile of rice, one of humankind’s most important crops. Their study also includes vitamins, an important nutritional component, that to date has almost not been studied at all.

    USDA researchers also recently dug up varieties of rice, wheat and soy that USDA had saved from the 1950s and 1960s and planted them in plots around the U.S. where previous researchers had grown the same cultivars decades ago, with the aim of better understanding how today’s higher levels of CO2 affect them.


    In a USDA research field in Maryland, researchers are running experiments on bell peppers to measure how vitamin C changes under elevated CO2. They’re also looking at coffee to see whether caffeine declines. “There are lots of questions,” Ziska said as he showed me around his research campus in Beltsville. “We’re just putting our toe in the water.”

    Ziska is part of a small band of researchers now trying to measure these changes and figure out what it means for humans. Another key figure studying this nexus is Samuel Myers, a doctor turned climate researcher at Harvard University who leads the Planetary Health Alliance, a new global effort to connect the dots between climate science and human health.

    Myers is also concerned that the research community is not more focused on understanding the CO2-nutrition dynamic, since it’s a crucial piece of a much larger picture of how such changes might ripple through ecosystems. "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Myers. "It's been hard for us to get people to understand how many questions they should have."

    In 2014, Myers and a team of other scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States that also found rising CO2 led to a drop in protein, iron and zinc. It was the first time the issue had attracted any real media attention.

    “The public health implications of global climate change are difficult to predict, and we expect many surprises,” the researchers wrote. “The finding that raising atmospheric CO2 lowers the nutritional value of C3 crops is one such surprise that we can now better predict and prepare for.”

    The same year―in fact, on the same day―Loladze, then teaching math at the The Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea, published his own paper, the result of more than 15 years of gathering data on the same subject. It was the largest study in the world on rising CO2 and its impact on plant nutrients. Loladze likes to describe plant science as ““noisy”―research-speak for cluttered with complicating data, through which it can be difficult to detect the signal you’re looking for. His new data set was finally big enough to see the signal through the noise, to detect the “hidden shift,” as he put it.


    What he found is that his 2002 theory—or, rather, the strong suspicion he had articulated back then—appeared to be borne out. Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

    What that means for humans―whose main food intake is plants―is only just starting to be investigated. Researchers who dive into it will have to surmount obstacles like its low profile and slow pace, and a political environment where the word “climate” is enough to derail a funding conversation. It will also require entirely new bridges to be built in the world of science―a problem that Loladze himself wryly acknowledges in his own research. When his paper was finally published in 2014, Loladze listed his grant rejections in the acknowledgements.

    Helena Bottemiller Evich is a senior food and agriculture reporter for POLITICO Pro.