16 DAYS UNTIL ELECTION DAY … NEW WSJ/NBC POLL … PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’s approval rating has jumped to 47% … DEMOCRATS hold a nine-point advantage on the preference of control of Congress …
— WSJ’S JANET HOOK: “Nearly two thirds of registered voters showed a high level of interest in the election—the highest ever recorded in a midterm election since the Journal/NBC poll began asking the question in 2006.” WSJ
NYT’S JONATHAN MARTIN in ANN ARBOR: “G.O.P. Candidates Struggling in Key Battlegrounds, With House at Stake”: “Republican leaders are increasingly worried that their candidates for governor and Senate are in political trouble across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and other states that the party prizes, and that the difficulties could spill into House races that the G.O.P. needs to win in November to keep control of the chamber.
“Their concerns also extend to Democratic-leaning states like California, Illinois and Virginia, where top-of-the-ticket Republicans are running well behind in polls — allowing Democrats to focus millions of dollars of spending as well as campaign time and turnout efforts in hotly contested House districts in hopes of knocking off G.O.P. incumbents.
“The Republican troubles in these states reflect a confluence of factors: outgoing governors with baggage and nominees with limited charisma and appeal; Democratic advantages in fund-raising and on the key issue of health care; voter intensity fueled by opposition to President Trump; and a rival slate of Democratic candidates, particularly for governor, who are closing the fall race in a strong position.
“With polls showing the top Democratic candidates leading in these states, the favorable conditions are important to the party given the Republican edge at the top of the ticket in places like Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts and their strong chances at winning Democratic-held Senate seats in Missouri and North Dakota, which could enable them to retain or even expand their majority in the Senate.” NYT
Good Sunday morning. THE WORLD SERIES between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox begins Tuesday night in Boston. First pitch is scheduled for 8:09 p.m.
SNEAK PEEK … TRUMP’S WEEK: Monday: THE PRESIDENT will have lunch with VP Mike Pence before heading to Houston for a roundtable and a rally. Tuesday: Trump will speak at the “White House State Leadership Day Conference” for officials from Alaska, California and Hawaii. He will then be briefed by senior military leaders and have dinner with those leaders. Wednesday: Trump will speak about the opioid crisis, and then will head to Mosinee, Wis., for a rally. Friday: The president will have lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and will travel to North Carolina for a political event.
A THOUGHT ABOUT THE KHASHOGGI SAGA … Lots of people are saying that the U.S. should hold back and not punish Saudi Arabia because they are such a close and important ally. If Saudi Arabia held the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the same esteem, maybe they wouldn’t have murdered a journalist who lived in America and worked for an American paper.
ABOVE THE FOLD of A1 in the NYT: All three stories are Saudi Arabia headlines. A1 PDF
TRUMP DIALS THE WASHINGTON POST … JOSH DAWSEY, JOHN HUDSON and ANNE GEARAN: “Trump doubts Saudi account of journalist’s death: ‘There’s been deception, and there’s been lies’”: “President Trump strongly criticized Saudi Arabia’s explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late Saturday, saying that ‘obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.’
“At the same time, Trump defended the oil-rich monarchy as an ‘incredible ally’ and kept open the possibility that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not order Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi. ‘Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We haven’t reached that point … I would love if he wasn’t responsible,’ Trump said in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
“The kingdom’s claim that Khashoggi was killed after a fistfight escalated inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul was met with a torrent of international skepticism Saturday over how a team of Saudi agents could fly to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi and eventually kill him without the knowledge or consent of the crown prince, the de facto leader.
“Trump had told reporters Friday that the Saudi explanation was credible, but U.S. officials said he has privately grimaced that his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s close relationship with the crown prince has become a liability and left the White House with no good options.
“In the interview, Trump defended Kushner as doing a ‘very good job’ but acknowledged that he and the crown prince, both in their 30s, are relatively young for the amount of power they wield. ‘They’re two young guys. Jared doesn’t know him well or anything. They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other, I believe,’ Trump said.” WaPo
— TRUMP to the Post on MBS: “‘He’s seen as a person who can keep things under check,’ he said. ‘I mean that in a positive way.’ The president said he does not prefer that another leader replace the 33-year old prince because he said he has read about others and Mohammed, known as MBS, is ‘considered by far the strongest person’ and ‘he truly loves his country.’” WaPo
SUNDAY BEST … SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TENN.) to JAKE TAPPER on CNN’S “STATE OF THE UNION”: “If he’s gone forth and murdered this journalist he’s now crossed the line and there has to be a punishment and a price paid for that. And, again, I’m not rushing to judgment. Do I think he did it? Yes, I think he did it. Let’s finish this investigation. We have the best in the world at being able to do that. We obviously have intercepts from the past that point to involvement at a very high level. So let’s let this play out. But my guess is at the end of the day, the United States and the rest of the world will believe fully that he did it. We’ll see.”
— SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY.) to CHRIS WALLACE on FOX NEWS SUNDAY: “I think it’s insulting to anyone who’s analyzing this with any kind of intelligent background to think that, ‘Oh, a fist fight led to a dismemberment with a bone saw.’”
MORE RAND ON MBS … “I feel certain that the crown prince was involved and that he directed this. And that’s why I think we cannot continue to have relations with him. And so I think he’s gonna have to be replaced frankly. But I think that sanctions don’t go far enough. I think we need to look at the arms sale because this is not just about this journalist being killed, it’s about the war in Yemen, where tens of thousands of civilians are being killed. It’s about them spreading hatred of Christians and Jews and Hindus throughout the world. I mean, thousands and thousands of madrassas teaching radical violence against the West. The Saudis have not acted as our friend and they need to change their behavior.”
CHUCK TODD spoke with SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) on NBC’S “MEET THE PRESS”: TODD: “Can you imagine us having a relationship with the Saudi government that’s positive if the crown prince is still there?” TILLIS: “No, I don’t think so. I think, again, if the facts lead to what we all suspect they will, I think it will be very problematic for our relationship going forward.”
— SENATE MINORITY WHIP DICK DURBIN (D-ILL.) told Chuck that the U.S. should formally expel the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
THE PRESIDENT said yesterday that he was looking to enact a “major tax cut for middle-income people” shortly before November. Congress is not in session until mid November and they will not come back into session.
NYT’S KATIE BENNER, MARK MAZZETTI, BEN HUBBARD and MIKE ISAAC: “Saudis’ Image Makers: A Troll Army and a Twitter Insider”: “Each morning, Jamal Khashoggi would check his phone to discover what fresh hell had been unleashed while he was sleeping. He would see the work of an army of Twitter trolls, ordered to attack him and other influential Saudis who had criticized the kingdom’s leaders.
“He sometimes took the attacks personally, so friends made a point of calling frequently to check on his mental state. ‘The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online,’ said Maggie Mitchell Salem, a friend of Mr. Khashoggi’s for more than 15 years.
“Mr. Khashoggi’s online attackers were part of a broad effort dictated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close advisers to silence critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad. Hundreds of people work at a so-called troll farm in Riyadh to smother the voices of dissidents like Mr. Khashoggi. The vigorous push also appears to include the grooming — not previously reported — of a Saudi employee at Twitter whom Western intelligence officials suspected of spying on user accounts to help the Saudi leadership.” NYT
BURGESS EVERETT in Martinsburg, W. Va.: “‘Campaign gold’: McConnell delivers election gift to Manchin and red-state Dems”: “Joe Manchin looked like a solid bet for reelection after he voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. But Mitch McConnell might have sealed the deal.
“Facing some of the toughest campaigns of their careers, the West Virginia Democrat and his moderate colleagues believe they’ve received an unexpected gift from the Senate GOP leader. In a triumphant post-Kavanaugh media tour last week, the Kentucky Republican waxed about his regret over the missed opportunity to repeal Obamacare and the need to reform entitlement programs to rein in the federal deficit.
“Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are vital to West Virginia. And in an interview on Saturday as he prepared for the annual Apple Harvest Parade, Manchin called McConnell’s comments ‘absolutely ridiculous’ and said his Republican opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, would vote to curtail benefits ‘in a heartbeat.’ Manchin also dredged up Morrisey’s support during a 2000 congressional race in New Jersey for partially privatizing Social Security funds.
“‘He’ll be a yes man, 1,000 percent, whatever they ask him to do,’ Manchin said of Morrisey and GOP leaders.” POLITICO
WAPO’S PAUL KANE: “Talkin’ about massive turnover no matter who wins the House”: “More than 70 lawmakers who took the oath in January 2017 have already either resigned from office, decided to not run for reelection, lost in primaries or are running for another office. Add 30 House incumbents running for reelection in toss-up races, and it potentially could be a historically large freshman class.
“The brain drain is most acute atop the House committees, where eight GOP chairmen have decided to retire and another is passing on the gavel because of term limits. If Democrats win the majority, their group of likely chairmen have plenty of experience on Capitol Hill, but very little in terms of wielding a gavel. Just three of the 21 ranking Democrats have ever served as a committee chairman.” WaPo
NEW … NYT’S ERICA GREEN, KATIE BENNER and ROBERT PEAR: “Trump Administration Eyes Defining Transgender Out of Existence”: “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.
“A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of sex in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing sex largely as an individual’s choice — and prompting fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept.
“Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed. Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times. … Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.” NYT
INCOMING … AP’S MARK STEVENSON in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico and SONIO PEREZ D. in Tecun Uman, Guatemala: “Migrant caravan re-forms in Mexico, members vow to reach U.S.”: “Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the border, about 2,000 Central American migrants swam or rafted across a river separating that country from Guatemala, re-formed their mass caravan in Mexico and vowed to resume their journey toward the United States.
“The migrants, who said they gave up trying to enter Mexico legally because the asylum application process was too slow, gathered Saturday at a park in the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo. They voted by a show of hands to continue north en masse, then marched to the bridge crossing the Suchiate River and urged those still on it to come join them.” AP
— STATEMENT FROM DHS SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: “While we closely monitor the caravan crisis, we must remain mindful of the transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that prey on the vulnerabilities of those undertaking the irregular migration journey. We shall work with our partners in the region to investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all who seek to encourage and profit from irregular migration. We fully support the efforts of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, as they seek to address this critical situation and ensure a safer and more secure region.”
SPOTTED on a crowded bus yesterday at the Middleburg Film Festival: Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio giving up his seat to German Ambassador Emily Haber … Wilbur Ross at DCA … Bill Shine jaywalking across P Street towards the Whole Foods … Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló yesterday at Le Diplomate.
SPOTTED at Stephanie Cutter’s 50th birthday party last night at Jack and Susanna Quinn’s house: other co-hosts Debra DeShong, Karen Finney, Kellie Meiman Hock, Penny Lee, Kathy McKiernan, Kiki McLean, Shailagh Murray, Nedra Pickler, Lois Romano, Julie Eddy Rokala, Dori Salcido, Liz Sidoti and Julianna Smoot.
… Also spotted: Vicki Kennedy, Mary Beth Cahill, Valerie Jarrett, Sara Fagen, Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff, Joel and Lisa Benenson, Linda Douglass, Carl Hulse, Neil King, Jen Psaki, Eric Schultz, Steve Elmendorf, Lon Johnson, Jonathan Martin and Betsy Fischer Martin, Carol Lee and many more. Special appearances via birthday video greetings included: Penny Pritzker, John Kerry and David Ortiz, aka Big Papi — 22-second video
DAVID SIDERS in BLOOMINGTON, IND.: “Sanders hints at reckoning with Warren over 2020 ambitions”: “Bernie Sanders says he speaks with Elizabeth Warren nearly every day — just not about 2020. But with the two progressive behemoths on a collision course in the presidential primary — and with some progressive activists alarmed that they might split the vote, allowing a more moderate Democrat to win the nomination — Sanders suggested Friday that a pre-2020 discussion among like-minded candidates could be forthcoming.
“Asked whether he and other progressive contenders should hold talks in an effort to ensure one of them prevails, Sanders told POLITICO, ‘I suspect that in the coming weeks and months, there will be discussions.’ Asked whether he has spoken already with Warren or Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) about the 2020 campaign, Sanders said, ‘No, not really.’” POLITICO
— CLIP AND SAVE … REP. BETO O’ROURKE (D-Texas) on ABC’S “THIS WEEK”: PAULA FARIS: “Everyone thinks you’re running for president. Is there a scenario where you run for president in 2020 or beyond?” O’ROURKE: “No.” FARIS: “No. Unequivocally you will never run for president?”
O’ROURKE: “No, punto. No, period. No. Sharing with you earlier, Amy is raising, with my help sometimes, Ulysses, who’s 11, Molly, who’s 10 and Henry who’s 7. They need us. We can’t be out on the road for another two years. Nor would I want that, nor do I think that’s right. I’m asking the people of Texas to put me in a position of trust in the Senate for six years, I want to be there every single day of those next six years. We’ve seen the consequence of a junior senator who leaves the state to pursue the presidency. Leaves our priorities, our opportunities, our needs behind. I want to make sure I’m there every single day for every single one of us.”
NYT’S SHANE GOLDMACHER in Concord, N.H.: “Gillibrand’s (Lack of) Spending in 2018 Offers Hints of 2020”
THE JUICE …
— AMERICA FIRST ACTION has approved a $1-million budget for Ohio’s 12th district, the red seat that GOP Rep. Troy Balderson won a few months ago. They plan to spend it on TV, digital and mail. The group — a Trump-linked super PAC — feels that the race has become increasingly competitive and Balderson is being outspent significantly — Danny O’Connor, the Democrat, has spent $3 million compared to Balderson’s $1.7 million. America First Action has $18 million on hand, per its October filing.
OOPS — “Missouri GOP sent 10,000 voters false absentee voting information,” by Kansas City Star’s Allison Kite: “The Missouri Republican Party sent mailers to 10,000 voters across the state with false information about when their absentee ballots are due, the party’s executive director acknowledged Friday. Ray Bozarth said the incorrect information was printed on postcards as the result of a miscommunication between the party and its vendor, which he declined to name. Bozarth also did not say how the miscommunication occurred.
“A photo of the mailer provided to the Star shows a red bar across the top that says ‘urgent notice’ in all capital letters and encourages voters to return their mail-in ballots ‘today.’ It also says, ballots must be returned by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30, which is not the case. Ballots are due on election day, Nov. 6, and requests for mail-in ballots aren’t due until Wednesday, Oct. 31.” KC Star
BONUS GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman, filing from Los Angeles:
— “Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?” by Julie Sedivy in Nautilus Magazine: “Between 1500 and 1700 it became common for characters to pause in the middle of the action, launching into monologues as they struggled with conflicting desires, contemplated the motives of others, or lost themselves in fantasy.” Nautilus (h/t TheBrowser.com)
— “Uber’s secret weapon is its team of economists,” by Quartz’s Alison Griswold: “Economists love Uber because it’s the closest you can get to taking pure economic theory and summoning it to life. Uber created a massive open market, governed first and foremost by the forces of supply and demand. It broke up the taxi monopoly, taught people to accept ‘surge’ pricing, and ushered concepts long confined to Econ 101 into the popular discourse. Uber is, in many ways, the embodiment of what the economists would like the economy to look like.” Quartz
— “Productivity,” by Sam Altman on his blog: “If you get 10% more done and 1% better every day, the compounded difference is massive. It doesn’t matter how fast you move if it’s in a worthless direction. Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored. The most impressive people have strong beliefs about the world, which is rare in the general population. I can’t be very productive working on things I don’t care about or don’t like. So I just try not to put myself in a position.”SamAltman.com
— “Music in China: The Inside Story: Behind the Great Wall of sound,” by Ed Peto in the Register in Nov. 2007: “Want to break into China? Ed Peto reports from the nation where goths adore boy bands, where the major labels created the black market, and where digital looks poised to leapfrog analogue.” The Register (h/t Longform.org)
— “A Step-by-Step Guide for Fixing Badly Planned American Cities,” by Jeff Speck in City Lab: “You are about five times as likely to be killed by a car going at 30mph as by a car going at 20mph, and five times again as likely to be killed by a car going at 40mph. This threshold zone of 20 to 40 miles per hour is where it all happen; and 20 to 40 is roughly the range of speeds that we find cars traveling on the best downtown streets. Keeping cars on the lower end of that range must be the central objective of urban street design.” City Lab
— “California’s almond harvest has created a golden opportunity for bee thieves,” by Byard Duncan in Reveal News: “The economics of stealing beehives is a lot like the economics of stealing any high-value item, with the main difference being accessibility. During the almond harvest, hives in California’s orchards rarely are protected by alarms or even fences, and equipping individual boxes with GPS trackers is prohibitively expensive. To ensure the best pollination results, beekeepers usually place their boxes just off remote roads, hidden by trees, miles from so much as a streetlight. It’s perfectly common for thousands of dollars’ worth of bees to sit largely unattended for weeks at a time.” Reveal News
— “A ‘Sugar Date’ Gone Sour,” by NYT’s Katherine Rosman: “In the fuzzy space between jobs and relationships, there’s a lot that can go wrong.” NYT
— “The Khashoggi I knew: mentor, guide, bridge between cultures,” by Katherine Roth in AP: “Almost 25 years ago, Jamal Khashoggi was my friend and mentor when I was a young reporter in Yemen on a fellowship studying Islamic movements. … He shared with me time and again the many ways that Yemen reminded him of the beloved Saudi Arabia of his childhood. I never met anyone who loved his homeland more than he did. … Before 9/11 and after, Jamal was a much-needed bridge between ever-evolving political Islam in all its iterations and the West.” AP
— “Saudi Arabia’s New Crown Prince Is a Bumbling Hothead. Trump Needs to Treat Him Like One,” by Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in June 2017 in POLITICO Magazine: “In two short years, as the deputy crown prince and defense minister, MBS has driven the Kingdom into a series of royal blunders in Yemen, Qatar and Iran, and he has likely overpromised what Saudi Arabia is able and willing to do on the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking front. Far from demonstrating judgment and experience, he’s proven to be reckless and impulsive, with little sense of how to link tactics and strategy.” POLITICO
— “A Woman Becomes a Nightingale” – Longreads: “Carolita Johnson reviews the ugly history of rape being weaponized — and politicized — as a means of silencing women.” Longreads
— “Eight Stories of Men’s Regret” – NYT: “The Times asked men to share stories of past bad behavior toward women. Here are their accounts of intimidation, coercion and complicity.” NYT
— “The opioid epidemic is tearing communities apart. Here’s how one city came together to fight it,” by Quartz’s Annabelle Timsit in Winchester, England: “Winchester’s story is not a tragedy, because even as the city grapples with addiction, it has earned a reputation for having created a uniquely strong community-led response to the opioid epidemic. … The answer … comes down to the vision of its community leaders—including dedicated doctors and nurses, a tireless public defender, a determined chief of police, a few frustrated judges, and an addict-turned-pastor devoted to helping his community recover.” Quartz
— “In conversation with John Kerry: ‘There’s no hope for the Trump administration,’” by Alexander Bisley in Macleans: “The former secretary of state and presidential candidate on the future of the Democratic Party, Trump’s record on Iran and climate, and defending Ted Kennedy’s complicated legacy.” Macleans
— “High-Speed Rail Could Transform Fresno’s Poorest Neighborhood. Will Trump Get on the Train?” by Center for Public Integrity’s Dave Levinthal: “Some residents fear the imperiled project is just another false promise.” CPI
BIRTHWEEK (was last Sunday): Jenna Schilit
BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Dafna Linzer, managing editor of politics for NBC News and MSNBC. Playbook Plus Q&A
BIRTHDAYS: Hope Hicks, the chief communications officer at Fox, is 3-0 (hat tip: Dina Powell) … Megan Smith, former U.S. C.T.O. (h/t Hilary Rosen) … Tina Andreadis … Ashley Gunn, principal at Miller Strategies and a Trump WH Cabinet Affairs alum … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is 69 … Edith Gregson (h/ts Erik Smith and Tim and Kiki Burger) … NYT’s Mikayla Bouchard … Cate Martel, national political reporter at the Hill … Brian Doory … Ron Litman … Axios managing editor Kim Hart … Lindsay Curren … Max Goetschel … Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is 47 (h/ts Andrew Bell and Jonathan Felts) … former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) is 56 … former Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) is 84 … Politico’s Ben Lefebvre, Hannah Edwards and Rachel Jongerius… Will Baldwin … CTV’s Will Dugan (h/t Tim Mak) … Allison Baker (h/t Jon Haber) …
… Taylor Lorenz, staff writer at the Atlantic … Alexandra Ritter … FEMA chief of staff Eric Heighberger (h/t Ed Cash) … Charlie Joughin … Mark Glaze … Jon Rawlson … Steve Odland, president and CEO of the Conference Board … Jason Czerwiec … Edelman’s Alex Abrahamson and Kia Seals … Charlotte Stewart … Perry Trethaway … Alyssa Fields … Alison Baker … Stavros Drakoularakos … Lauren Waldron … Sam Hiersteiner … Clare Pritchett Lorimer … Linda Nguyen … Whitey Ford … Mike Fazzino … Jamie Novogrod … Jonathan Poe … Lorraine Kuchmy … Gyan Parida … Mandy Fletcher Fraher … Courtney Lukitsch, principal at Gotham PR … Anna Schecter Zigler … David Brunton (h/t Teresa Vilmain)