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POLITICO Playbook: Republicans stick by Kavanaugh as Thursday looms

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Brett Kavanaugh and Ashley Estes Kavanaugh are pictured. | AP Photo

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are sticking firmly behind Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

DRIVING THE DAY

AT THE MOMENT, there is no plan for legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s investigation. Several Hill insiders told us yesterday that, despite the latest Rod Rosenstein hubbub, they still believe PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP will not dump Mueller.

— YESTERDAY, we pondered whether SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY.) would see the price of defending BRETT KAVANAUGH as too high. Question answered: McConnell is sticking firmly behind the Supreme Court nominee. In a speech on the floor yesterday, McConnell called him a “man of strong character and tremendous integrity.”

WHERE TRUMP IS … @realDonaldTrump at 10:50 p.m.: “The Democrats are working hard to destroy a wonderful man, and a man who has the potential to be one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices ever, with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!”

42 DAYS until Election Day.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: THE SENATE LEADERSHIP FUND is launching a $ 7 million ad blitz on TV, cable and digital across five states. The ads hit incumbent Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.). They also are targeting challengers Jacky Rosen in Nevada and Phil Bredesen in Tennessee. SLF has spent $ 30 million this cycle. Its affiliated issue advocacy group One Nation has spent $ 40 million. The ads — Indiana … Missouri … Nevada … Tennessee … West Virginia

BIG CASH HAUL — NANCY PELOSI hosted a pair of fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles Monday, bringing in nearly $ 5 million for the DCCC and its “Red to Blue” candidates at a lunch and dinner. Roughly 800 people attended Pelosi’s annual “Ultimate Women Power Luncheon” at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel featuring Hillary Clinton. The event raised $ 2 million.

THE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRAT raked in $ 3 million last night at a dinner with Jeffrey Katzenberg. More than 200 people attended, including the evening’s emcees, “Will & Grace” stars Debra Messing and Eric McCormack, and it included a performance by James Taylor.

— WORTH NOTING: The DCCC announced it raised $ 15.4 million in August, nearly $ 10 million more than the NRCC’s $ 5.8 million over the same period.

— ABOUT THOSE RED TO BLUE CANDIDATES — “Bloomberg-founded gun control group launches ads to flip 15 GOP House districts,” by Elena Schneider: “Everytown for Gun Safety, the group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is rolling out a $ 5 million digital ad campaign targeting 15 House races, as the group continues heavy investment in the midterm elections. …

“The full list of targeted Republican incumbents include: Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.); Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Karen Handel (R-Ga.), Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Erik Philip Paulsen (R-Minn.), Mike Bishop (R-Mich.), Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). The group is also going after seven open, Republican-controlled seats that include suburbs in metro areas from Seattle to New York City.” POLITICO

AMERICA FIRST POLICIES, the Trump-aligned super PAC, says it’s going to spend $ 1.5 million on Montana’s Senate race. It says most will be spent on television.

Good Tuesday morning. SPOTTED: Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on a flight from Texas to D.C. yesterday morning looking at a page with what appears to be a photo of Rep. Beto O’Rourke — picpic … Former Speaker John Boehner standing outside the arrivals at DCA … Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in coach on the United flight from ORD to DCA … Michigan AG Bill Schuette, the GOP candidate for governor, near baggage claim in DCA last night — pic

REMINDER: The government shuts down Friday, absent congressional action.

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THE LATEST ON BRETT KAVANAUGH …

— KAVANAUGH on FOX NEWS to MARTHA MACCALLUM: “I had never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever. I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect. … I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I was not at the party described. I was not anywhere at any place resembling that in the summer of 1982. The other people alleged to be there don’t say anything like that. And the woman who’s alleged to be there, who’s her friend, says that she doesn’t know me and doesn’t recall ever being at a party with me in her life.” Video of the interview

— BURGESS EVERETT and JOHN BRESNAHAN: “Kavanaugh drama rattles GOP support”: “Senate Republicans have gone from confidently predicting the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to a new message: It all comes down to Thursday.

“The GOP is staking Kavanaugh’s prospects to his hearing later this week, when he and Christine Blasey Ford will testify publicly about her allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school more than 30 years ago. It’s a shift that puts some of the onus on Kavanaugh to convince a growing number of wary senators whether his word is more credible than hers in the battle over the high court seat.” POLITICO

— “White House, GOP spin latest Kavanaugh charge as calculated smear by ‘the resistance,’” by Chris Cadelago and Andrew Restuccia: “At first, the Sunday night publication of a New Yorker article detailing a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh looked like a disaster for the White House.

“But by Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump’s aides and allies argued it was not only survivable, but that they could turn an alleged ‘smear’ into a political winner that might help rescue Kavanaugh’s nomination. The judge’s accusers had overplayed their hand, they insisted of the mounting charges, and revealed the coordinated partisan attack on an honorable man. …

“Undergirding the firm response was the White House’s belief that surrender in the face of what Republican loyalists consider a liberal assault would cost Trump dearly with conservative voters, a view drawn from internal White House polling. Some key Trump officials and allies also believe the allegations are not true, or that Kavanaugh is being unfairly condemned without the benefit of due process, and are fighting to save a good man’s honor.” POLITICO

— THE BIG PICTURE: “‘It’s the culture war on steroids.’ Kavanaugh fight takes on symbolism in divided era,” by WaPo’s Jenna Johnson and Bob Costa: “The battle over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh has inflamed the culture wars, with conservatives casting their support for the nominee as a stand against the forces of political correctness and liberals striking back with a passionate mantra: ‘Believe women.’

“On social media and in protests that swarmed the Capitol on Monday, liberal and conservative activists have used apocalyptic terms to describe the stakes and have rallied behind the two key figures, who have taken on larger-than-life roles: Kavanaugh, a federal judge, and Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.

“Kavanaugh has become a stand-in for Republicans, Christians and self-identified ‘deplorables’ who feel bullied and smeared by liberals, while Ford has come to symbolize the many women who have been victimized with impunity by powerful men.” WaPo

— ANNIE KARNI: “Kavanaugh’s wife tests standing by your man in the #MeToo era”: “Ashley Estes Kavanaugh did not have to be convinced to sit by her husband’s side and vouch for the character of the man she married. The high-profile role that she filled on Monday night, speaking publicly on behalf of her husband in a primetime Fox News interview, made her the latest in a long line of political spouses who have chosen to speak up on behalf of their scandal-tarred men.

“But it also made her perhaps the most consequential of the #MeToo era, and a test of whether that playbook still works in a world where women are increasingly primed to believe the women accusers. Mrs. Kavanaugh has been thinking about her role more in survival terms, according to one person close to the couple.

“For the past week, the wife of the man chosen by President Donald Trump to sit on the Supreme Court has been an equal partner in Brett Kavanaugh’s growing frustration, as he has remained silent in the face of multiple allegations of sexual assault that took place when he was in high school and college. ‘She’s been frustrated by his frustration in being unable to come out and swing back,’ said the person, who is involved in the confirmation process.” POLITICO

— “Kavanaugh’s Yearbook Page Is ‘Horrible, Hurtful’ to a Woman It Named,” by NYT’s Kate Kelly and David Enrich: “Brett Kavanaugh’s page in his high school yearbook offers a glimpse of the teenage years of the man who is now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee: lots of football, plenty of drinking, parties at the beach. Among the reminiscences about sports and booze is a mysterious entry: ‘Renate Alumnius.’ The word ‘Renate’ appears at least 14 times in Georgetown Preparatory School’s 1983 yearbook, on individuals’ pages and in a group photo of nine football players, including Judge Kavanaugh, who were described as the ‘Renate Alumni.’ It is a reference to Renate Schroeder, then a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school.

“Two of Judge Kavanaugh’s classmates say the mentions of Renate were part of the football players’ unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests. ‘They were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate,’ said Sean Hagan, a Georgetown Prep student at the time, referring to Judge Kavanaugh and his teammates. ‘I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.’ … Alexandra Walsh, a lawyer for Judge Kavanaugh, said in a statement: ‘Judge Kavanaugh was friends with Renate Dolphin in high school. He admired her very much then, and he admires her to this day. Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Dolphin attended one high school event together and shared a brief kiss good night following that event,’ the statement continued.

“‘They had no other such encounter. The language from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook refers to the fact that he and Ms. Dolphin attended that one high school event together and nothing else.’ Ms. Dolphin said she had never kissed Judge Kavanaugh. ‘I think Brett must have me confused with someone else, because I never kissed him,’ she said through her lawyer.” NYT

— ELANA SCHOR and RACHAEL BADE: “Democrats believe Ramirez but stiff-arm Avenatti”: “Democratic senators who have rallied behind Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh are doing the same for a second woman who accused the Supreme Court nominee — though they acknowledge she came forward with doubts about her memory. Multiple Democrats told POLITICO on Monday that they see Deborah Ramirez’s account in The New Yorker as credible — if not airtight — evidence for a case that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has a pattern of untoward behavior toward women.

“They want the Judiciary Committee to postpone Thursday’s planned hearing where Ford and Kavanaugh are set to testify to allow more time to look into Ramirez as well as Ford’s claims. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) called for an FBI investigation of Ramirez’s allegation, which dates to when she and Kavanaugh attended Yale.” POLITICO

POLITICO NEWS: CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN and PAUL VOLPE announced several changes to POLITICO’s White House team. MICHAEL CROWLEY, who has directed POLITICO’s national security coverage, is adding the White House to his editing portfolio. CORY BENNETT will join Crowley taking on a larger role on the team. And BEN SCHRECKINGER, who has been serving as a national political correspondent, will take on the West Wing beat. The moves comes as GABBY MORRONGIELLO of the Washington Examiner will join the team early next month.

— ALEX THOMPSON is also joining POLITICO as a national political reporter to cover the 2020 presidential campaign. Thompson joins from Vice News, where he has been covering politics and Washington.

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TRUMP’S TUESDAY — The president will address the U.N. General Assembly at 10:15 a.m. He will participate in bilateral meetings with Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Trump will participate in a working lunch hosted by Guterres. The president will participate in a bilateral meeting with María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador, the president of the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly. In the evening, Trump will participate in a Security Council presidency reception.

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PLAYBOOK READS

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is pictured. | AP Photo

PHOTO DU JOUR: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose rumored resignation or firing captivated Washington but did not yet come to pass, departs the White House on Monday. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

AS THE WORLD TURNS … “Justice Department drafted exit statement for Rod Rosenstein,” by Axios’ Jonathan Swan: “Shortly after Axios published its story this morning, saying that Rod Rosenstein had ‘verbally resigned’ to John Kelly, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores drafted a statement that would announce Rosenstein’s departure, written in the voice of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. … The White House received the statement within an hour of the Axios story being published online, according to a source close to the White House. Flores would not comment on the record about her statement. …

“The statement does not include the word ‘resignation.’ Sources close to both Kelly and Rosenstein have told Axios that Rosenstein had told Kelly in their conversations over the past several days that he was willing to resign and that the two men were discussing the terms of the departure. Sources close to Trump have told Axios, for months, that the President wanted to find an excuse to get rid of Rosenstein.

“The draft statement from Sessions says: ‘Rod Rosenstein has served the Department of Justice with dedication and skill for 28 years. His contributions are many and significant. We all appreciate his service and wish him well.’” Axios

— NYT’S MIKE SHEAR, KATIE BENNER, MAGGIE HABERMAN and MIKE SCHMIDT: “Rod Rosenstein’s Job Is Safe, for Now: Inside His Dramatic Day”: “By Friday evening, concerned about testifying to Congress over the revelations that he discussed wearing a wire to the Oval Office and invoking the constitutional trigger to remove Mr. Trump from office, Mr. Rosenstein had become convinced that he should resign, according to people close to him. He offered during a late-day visit to the White House to quit, according to one person familiar with the encounter, but John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, demurred.

“Aides began planning over the weekend for his departure, going in to the Justice Department to determine how to recalibrate in the aftermath of it. …

“The president had already planned to clean house at the Justice Department — but not until after the elections, according to one person who had discussed Mr. Rosenstein with Mr. Trump before last week’s Times article. Monday’s drama about an imminent resignation created an unwanted headache, the person said.” NYT

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VALLEY TALK — “Big Tech’s Business Model Is Broken, Report Says,” by WSJ’s Deepa Seetharaman: “Silicon Valley tech giants can’t be trusted to police themselves and should be subject to tougher regulation, including around their pattern of acquiring competitors to accumulate ever-larger stores of user data, according to a critical new report released Monday.

“The business models powering digital advertising platforms like Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google still undermine user privacy and incentivize disinformation campaigns despite recent efforts by tech companies to prevent abuse, says the report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and New America, a left-leaning Washington-based think tank.” WSJ … The report

— “Google CEO Sundar Pichai to Meet With Top GOP Lawmakers,” by WSJ’s John D. McKinnon and Douglas MacMillan: “Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai plans to appear at a private meeting of top GOP lawmakers on Friday and again at a public hearing this year, responding to new scrutiny of the company’s work with China, its market power and alleged bias against conservatives in its search results.

“The move comes amid growing regulatory concerns for the Alphabet Inc. unit and other big internet services such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., as bipartisan worries grow about the companies’ size and influence, as well as the potential for abuses.” WSJ

MEDIAWATCH — “Newspaper apologizes for cartoon that depicted Christine Blasey Ford demanding M&Ms and roses,” by WaPo’s Eli Rosenberg: “The Indianapolis Star issued an apology to its readers for an editorial cartoon that skewered Christine Blasey Ford ahead of her upcoming hearing after an outcry from readers. The cartoon, which was published in the newspaper’s print edition on Sunday, depicted Ford sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee with her back to the reader. ‘Here are my demands,’ she is depicted telling the panel. ‘No questions from lawyers, dim the lights, I want roses, sparkling water, a bowl of green M&Ms.’” WaPo

PLAYBOOKERS

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Josh Tyrangiel, SVP of news at Vice Media, is 46. He’s celebrating with his daughters and his significant other, Sarah Feinberg. What he’s been reading recently: “John Lanchester is one of the few things in life that never disappoints, and his Times of London essay on the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis is almost worth navigating their bear trap of a pay-wall for. Rachel Kushner’s ‘The Mars Room’ is superb. I also just finished a 1970s National Geographic monograph on canyons. It’s crafted in a way that books just aren’t anymore—beautiful photography, great art direction, essays by good writers on paper stock that somehow smells like a national park.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, now at RiceHadleyGates, is 75 (hat tip: Geoff Morrell) … Avis Cotton … April Greener, research director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (h/t Shana Mansbach) … Jack Howard, SVP of congressional and public affairs at the Chamber … Jake Suski is 35 … Tim Reynolds … Evan Berland, director of corporate communications at GSK … Danny Yadron … NY Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is 51 … Liz Margolis … HuffPost senior justice reporter Ryan Reilly is 32 … Brian Beutler … Harrison Taylor Godfrey … Emily Threadgill … Gary Carpentier, president of Public Policy Research … Emily Keech … POLITICO’s Bob King and John Lauinger … Jack Zahora … George Hornedo (h/t Kam Mumtaz) … Monica Wagner … Shivonne Foster … Kiley Smith … Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard … Missy Owens of Coca Cola (h/ts Ben Chang) … Christine Harbin Hanson … Lila Shapiro …

… Ed Newberry, global managing partner at Squire Patton Boggs … Tyler Kusma … Will Bergstrom … John Elias … Vivyan Tran, audience development for WSJ … Rachel Chaney (h/t fiancé Chris Hayden) … Garlin Gilchrist II … Lauren Loftus … Dori Rutherford … Sophie Reagan … Justin Ward … Pat Hart … Steve Wozencraft (h/t Tomicah Tillemann) … Marco De León (h/t Ben Schreckinger) … George Sallas … Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is 57 … Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) is 74 … Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) is 65 … former Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) is 69 … Dena Kozanas … Kirsten Hartman, who recently started at the National Restaurant Association … Nathaniel Ennis … Mallory Ward … Seth Bopp … Amalia Halikias … Carmiel Arbit … Amber Pfau … Mimi Hall … Jose Guardia … Dave Peluso … Rob Ritchie … Shawn Burke … Phil Dufour … Tim Connolly … Jeannie Doherty (h/ts Teresa Vilmain)

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