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September 27, 2017

1 big thing: Trump against the world

In private, President Trump has taken to physically mocking M&M:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (slumped shoulders; lethargic body language) and Sen. John McCain (imitating the thumbs-down of his historic health-care vote).

Trump is venting about his frustration with what he considers failed leadership by Senate Republicans as he takes his lumps this week in wars with, well, everyone:

  • Steve Bannon beat him last night in the Alabama Senate primary, with the Breitbart-favored candidate thumping Trump's man by 10 points.
  • Moderate Republicans killed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — again.
  • NFL players lock arms in opposition to him. And Firehouse Strategies, a GOP firm, concludes from new polling: "[V]oters overwhelmingly (64%) say that the President should focus on other issues."
  • He's getting pounded in social and conventional media for a slow, cold response to the humanitarian tragedy in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
  • Bob Mueller is tightening the screws on Trump's staff, and is now getting data from the IRS about "key Trump campaign officials."
  • "Rocket Man" government says Trump has declared war on North Korea. WashPost: "North Korean government officials have been quietly trying to arrange talks with Republican-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump."

All this has left Trump isolated inside his White House at a time when he needs muscle with the Hill and juice with the public to try to pass tax reform.

  • Be smart: With his stoking of the culture war and bombastic style amid national and global turbulence, Trump continues to make every issue about himself — at the very time that he most needs friends.

2. McConnell meltdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, once viewed as the wiliest politician in Washington, is on an epic losing streak:

  • His candidate, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, got crushed by 10 points in last night's Republican primary in Alabama. So McConnell's narrow majority will now include someone he doesn't respect, and who doesn't like him. (WashPost lead headline on Roy Moore victory: "Ex-judge believes in God's power over Constitution.")
  • More incumbents are now likely to face primaries, including Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, making it vastly more expensive to preserve the majority.
  • Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday announced his retirement in "another blow to the Republican establishment" that will likely touch off "a highly contested, ideologically driven primary," per the WashPost.
  • Health care repeal died again yesterday, this time without a vote. (N.Y. Times lead headline: "REPUBLICANS DROP MEASURE TO UNDO HEALTH CARE LAW.")
  • McConnell is crossways with a president of his own party, who is fed up with what he considers the Senate leader's archaic style.
  • A poll back home in Kentucky last month gave McConnell an 18% favorability rating, making him one of the nation's least popular politicians.

A longtime McConnell adviser tells us last night's result "shows his colleagues he's willing to go to the mat for a guy who had only been there six months, despite taking on a huge amount of personal attacks."

  • "He has a strong point to make to holdouts within his conference that Luther Strange paid the price for their failure to play as a team on health care."
  • "No question the road will get tougher before it gets easier, but McConnell does better in adversity. He won't spend any time wringing his hands. He'll be focused on tax reform like nothing happened last night."

Be smart: The Republican establishment is so weak that even when it has Trump on its side, as it did in Alabama, is can't beat the Trumpers.

3. "Keys to the kingdom"

Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a decree allowing women to drive for the first time, beginning June 24. The Gulf kingdom is the only country in the world that bans women from driving, the BBC reports:

  • "[O]nly men were allowed licenses, and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined."
  • "The country's US ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman, confirmed that women would not have to get male permission to take driving lessons, and would be able to drive anywhere they liked."
  • "[S]ome women have been imprisoned for defying the rule."
  • N.Y. Times' Ben Hubbard: "Saudi leaders ... hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women's participation in the workplace. Many working Saudi women spend much of their salaries on drivers or must be driven to work by male relatives."
  • White House statement by Sarah Huckabee: "This is a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia."

Flashback ... Maureen Dowd vacations in the kingdom in 2010 ("A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia," for Vanity Fair):

  • "[A]t Budget Rent a Car, the man at the counter explained to me that women could rent cars only if they paid extra for a driver. ... When I said I could drive myself, the man's head fell back in helpless laughter."
  • Ashley Parker's slides from the trip, "Sex and the Saudis."

4. Most of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people lack water

"This is like in war: You work with what you have," said Dr. Carlos Gómez-Marcial, the emergency room director at Centro Medico in San Juan, the main hospital on the island, told the N.Y. Times.

"A week after the storm hit Puerto Rico, millions of Americans are struggling to survive," by CNN:

  • "With nearly all 1.6 million electricity customers in Puerto Rico without power, the lack of fuel is a key problem."
  • "Before sunrise every day, dozens of people hauling multiple red plastic gas cans begin lining up at gas stations.
  • "At [a] hospital in San Juan, two people died in an intensive care unit after it ran out of diesel."

President Trump, who will visit Tuesday, said in the Rose Garden:

"[T]he Governor of Puerto Rico is so thankful for the great job that we're doing. We did a great job in Texas, a great job in Florida, a great job in Louisiana. We hit little pieces of Georgia and Alabama. And frankly, we're doing — and it's the most difficult job because it's on the island. It's on an island in the middle of the ocean. It's out in the ocean. You can't just drive your trucks there from other states."

5. North Korea's reliance on China

As this animated visualization shows, North Korea is critically reliant on trade with China.

  • Why it matters: That's why experts hope that the latest round of sanctions, including a U.S. threat to block any company or bank that does business with North Korea from using the U.S. financial system, will kickstart negotiations.
  • Dive deeper with Axios' Chris Canipe and Chris Matthews.

6. Driving the day

Trump unveils the new Republican tax-reform plan this afternoon at the Farm Bureau Building in Indianapolis ... Axios' Jonathan Swan has the outline:

  • Top White House and GOP leaders have agreed to raise the lowest individual tax rate from 10 to 12 percent, paired with doubling the standard deduction, 5 senior Republicans tell us.
  • Why it matters: Trump intends to sell the proposal as a populist "tax cut." But Republicans on Capitol Hill were nervous as they got word that Trump wasn't entirely thrilled with the product that had been hashed out in immense secrecy for weeks (with two members of his administration, Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, working with GOP leaders).
  • Republicans plan to collapse the number of brackets from seven to three. The standard deduction would almost double to $12,000 for a single filer and $24,000 for married couples, meaning Trump can accurately argue that many more low income earners would pay no tax under his plan
  • The top tax bracket would fall from 39.6% to 35%.

7. Twitter testing longer tweets

Twitter is testing tweets that go beyond its signature 140 characters — doubling the limit to 280 in an experiment with 5% of users globally (all languages except Chinese, Japanese and Korean).

  • Why Twitter is doing this, from Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva: Twitter says that a lot of users are frustrated with the length limit. Last year, the company was said to be considering letting users tweet up to a staggering 10,000 characters. Twitter found that 9% of English tweets have 140 characters (most have around 34 characters).

8. Data du jour: Global Competitiveness Index

"Ten years on from the global financial crisis, economies remain at risk from further shock and are ill-prepared for the next wave of innovation and automation," according to the "Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018" from the World Economic Forum, best known for the Davos gathering.

This chart bases competitiveness on 12 factors, ranging from primary education to infrastructure, and higher education to technological readiness:

  1. Switzerland
  2. U.S.
  3. Singapore
  4. Netherlands
  5. Germany
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Sweden
  8. U.K.
  9. Japan
  10. Finland

China is 27th. India is 40th, the most competitive country in South Asia.

9. Coming attractions

Jennifer Palmieri — a White House official under Presidents Clinton and Obama, and communications director to the Hillary campaign — plans a book that begins Nov. 9. the day after the election.

  • "Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to a the Women Who Will Run the World" will be out March 27 from Grand Central Publishing. The deal was done by Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn of Javelin, who also represented Jim Comey.
  • Jen tells me: "This is not a book about the campaign ... Lays out lessons I learned from Hillary, Elizabeth Edwards and my sister, Dana, who passed this spring, on refusing to be defeated even when life tells you that you have lost."
  • "Funny thing about November 9th is that it was a clarifying and empowering moment for women. The old rules ain't working. We gotta make our own. Reimagine women as leaders in their own image, not female facsimiles of qualities we look for in men leaders. This book isn't just for political leaders. I am writing it for all the women who are tired of hearing they aren't interesting, they can't make a difference and know that's wrong."

10. 1 fun thing: Watergate movie opens Friday

"Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House," about the late FBI second-in-command who turned out to be Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat," opens Friday in New York and L.A.

The most famous phrase associated with Deep Throat (spoken to Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men," the movie, but doesn't appear in the book): "Follow the money."

  • The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin writes in "'Mark Felt,' the movie, and Donald Trump, the president": "Felt's sentiment, if not his exact words — about the central role that money often plays in political scandals — strikes a resonant chord at a time when the nation is confronting another crisis of political legitimacy."

From a review by The Atlantic's David Sims: "[I]n trying to find new resonance, Mark Felt comes across the most lamely, with Felt delivering robust speeches about the agency's crucial independence and his resolute distaste for Nixon's interference."

  • "It feels as annoyingly on-the-nose as Will Smith's exhortations that the NFL 'tell the truth!' in Concussion, and strangely lionizes Felt after earlier showing that he had helped Hoover operate extralegally for years."

See the trailer.