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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
For the White House, it's Brett Kavanaugh or bust. They have no Plan B and there's not even discussion of one, according to five sources with direct knowledge of the sensitive internal White House talks.
Why this matters: When Trump spoke to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday afternoon, he told them, "I don't need a backup plan," in case Kavanaugh's nomination collapses.
Between the lines: That's just as well, because the small team working to confirm Kavanaugh has not been looking for a backup candidate, let alone vetting one.
The bottom line: As of this weekend, sources close to Kavanaugh seemed optimistic the limited weeklong FBI investigation would give the three wavering Republican senators — Jeff Flake, Collins and Murkowski — the confidence they need to vote yes. But a week is an eternity in this political environment. And if Kavanaugh's nomination collapses, there are no easy alternatives.
The US Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
This scenario seemed unthinkable a month ago, but it's now being privately discussed by sources involved in Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation: If Kavanaugh falls after the FBI investigation this week and Democrats flip the Senate in November, will Trump nominate a compromise Supreme Court justice who's acceptable to Senate Democrats?
The answer: No way, according to sources with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking, both inside and outside the White House.
"If Kavanaugh doesn't make it, it all depends on the midterms," said one of those sources.
"Politically, I think they would rather keep it 4-4 rather than put somebody acceptable on the court," the source added. "He [Trump] needs to run on polarization and the court in 2020."
Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27. Photo: Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images
After watching Brett Kavanaugh evade Sen. Dick Durbin's question about why he wouldn't publicly call for an FBI investigation, I asked sources close to him the same question.
The question became more urgent after Republicans eventually asked President Trump to order a "limited" one-week FBI probe into the sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh.
Here's what I've learned from sources with direct knowledge, and from conversations in real time as the events unfolded:
But, but: Sources close to Kavanaugh told me that while they obviously would've preferred a quick vote without a last-minute demand from Flake for an investigation, things may still work out.
Republicans have already voted Kavanaugh out of committee and they've only agreed to an investigation limited in time and scope. It could provide the assurances the wavering senators say they need to vote for him. And given Kavanaugh's friend and alleged witness Mark Judge has already said he doesn't recall any attack, it may be impossible for the FBI to gather evidence corroborating Ford's story.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
On Saturday afternoon, I asked Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif whether he believes that Iran's enemy, the state of Israel, will exist for a long time to come.
Later in the conversation, a reporter asked Zarif whether he could acknowledge any mistakes Iran has made. He said no government would answer that question, and instead he described his ideal future for the region.
"What about Israel?" I asked. Does it have a place in his vision of the region?
Why this matters: Zarif’s comments came after the UN General Assembly exposed a growing split between America and Europe over the question of Iran.
Zarif said he was weaving together a global coalition to resist U.S. sanctions and secure a market for Iranian oil, batting off questions about Hezbollah and human rights in Iran. He also said Netanyahu’s “secret atomic warehouse” was actually a laundromat for Persian rugs.
What's next? Zarif said Iran could pull out of the nuclear deal if the Europeans don’t fulfill their commitments. And he didn't close the door to a meeting, one day, with Trump. But he didn't seem bullish about that prospect, adding that the Iranians had not requested a meeting with him and don't consider him reliable.
Midnight tonight brings what has proven to be a fake NAFTA deadline.
Trump's negotiating team was working under the theory that they had to sign the new NAFTA agreement on Nov. 30 because the incoming Mexican leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office in December, would not sign NAFTA 2.0. Trade Promotion Authority rules dictate that the U.S. government must release text of any new agreement 60 days before signing — and that's midnight tonight.
Bottom line: A new NAFTA deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico seems close, even imminent. But it's unclear, as of 4 p.m. today, the extent to which these disagreements are substantive or of a technical nature.
All that talk of a government shutdown evaporated last week, as Trump honored his promise to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to avoid a shutdown fight over the wall.
Today is the end of the fiscal year, and not only will the government remain open, but the Republican-controlled Congress has sent more spending bills to the president's desk than in any year for a couple of decades.
Trump has signed the following spending bills into law: Defense, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, Energy and Water, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies.
The House is on recess until the midterm elections.
The Senate waits to vote on Brett Kavanaugh while the FBI conducts its limited, weeklong investigation.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: