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The silver lining of Donald Trump

If there's a small silver lining for the Republican Party in the bonanza of insanity that is Donald Trump's candidacy, it's this: He's single-handedly managed to make the rest of the GOP field look downright reasonable by comparison.

There's less talk of a "clown car" primary when the main attraction is the ringmaster of his own circus.

Each day, Trump seems to reach new heights of absurdity, offensiveness, and popularity among Republican poll respondents. On Tuesday, he called fellow candidate Lindsey Graham an "idiot" and handed out the South Carolina senator's cellphone number — a response to Graham referring to Trump as a "jackass."

Everyone knows Trump has a ceiling, and he's probably nearing it. Graham's frustration aside, some of Trump's rivals for the Republican nomination are seizing the opportunity to appear more mainstream by distancing themselves from his bizarre comments. In that way, Trump is quickly becoming the Sister Souljah of the 2016 GOP primary.

The problem for the GOP is what the selective repudiation of Trump reveals about the party's priorities. Fearful of a backlash among anti-immigrant grassroots voters, the candidates have been far harsher in attacking Trump for insulting Sen. John McCain than in castigating him for his fervidly anti-immigrant positions. Sen. Ted Cruz even applauded Trump after he said Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hit that nail fairly squarely Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

When Trump insulted the senator from Arizona, a member of his own party, Republicans couldn't denounce him fast enough. But when Trump called immigrants rapists, there was nothing but silence. Nothing but silence. There's an ugly truth behind that silence, and it's this: When it comes to immigration policy — and, frankly, most other policy — there is no meaningful difference between the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

In fairness, several Republicans did, to varying degrees, dump on Trump's comments on Mexican immigrants, but not nearly as vociferously as they jumped on him when he said he prefers service members who weren't captured by the enemy.

Republicans are worried about what all of this will look like in the first debate of the GOP primary next month in Cleveland. And there's good reason to be concerned that the spectacle could put the raucous 2012 debates to shame. But at a time when most Republicans are trying to prove their mettle for the presidency, Trump is offering one very useful service: He's showing exactly what it looks like to be unfit for the presidency. That might prove helpful to Republicans who want to demonstrate that they can pass the unofficial commander-in-chief test.

Here are 9 more things you should know before you start the day.

1) Obama: "I'm issuing a new executive order: that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show"

Jon Stewart and Obama

The Daily Show/Comedy Central

Vox's German Lopez wrote up a summary of President Barack Obama's Tuesday night interview on The Daily Show. "You know, I can't believe that you're leaving before me," Obama joked. "In fact, I'm issuing a new executive order: that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show." Other topics covered: The Donald, climate change, the media, and the Iran deal. You can read the summary, and watch the interview, here.

2) Money starting to flow in battle over Iran pact

The White House-run Twitter account @TheIranDeal began following me on Tuesday. A short time later, I got a notification that @TheIranBomb, which uses a nearly identical avatar but has an opposite goal, had also clicked to follow me.

For the next two months, as Republicans in Congress try to turn the American public and their Democratic counterparts against the nuclear nonproliferation pact, it will be hard to escape the barrage of points, counterpoints, fact sheets, fact checks, and, of course, television ads. Those have started up, too, as USA Today reports.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, United Against a Nuclear Iran and the Republican Jewish Coalition are among groups that will spend between $20 million and $40 million to blast the deal with TV commercials that began airing last Friday, social media ads and new websites that include alleged flaws in the agreement and contact information for members of Congress.

The opponents' effort dwarfs that of supporters. The liberal Jewish group J Street has raised $2 million to promote the deal, said spokesman Alan Elsner.

The betting in Washington is still that President Obama is likely to get what he wants. After all, he just needs 34 senators or 146 House members to sustain a veto if Congress passes a resolution disapproving of the deal. But politics aren't static, and this is a fight of nearly unimaginable consequence. No one on either side will leave anything to chance.

  • Aaron David Miller, a foreign policy expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, shares an interesting perspective on the pitfalls of Obama's salesmanship effort in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry's local paper, the Boston Globe, looks at the criticism he is getting from his former Senate colleagues.

3) GOP seizes on San Francisco "sanctuary city" killing

A large photo of Kathryn "Kate" Steinle, who was killed by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco, is shown while her dad Jim Steinle testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, July 21, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Republicans in Congress — and on the presidential campaign trail — are pushing new immigration crackdown bills in response to the shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco this month. Police say Steinle was killed by an unauthorized immigrant who had repeatedly been deported in the past and was in the custody of city police earlier this year on an unrelated matter.

The suspect, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was let go because San Francisco has chosen not to enforce federal immigration laws, making it one of many "sanctuary cities" in the US. While Republicans have been badly divided over broad immigration policy, the San Francisco case has given them an opening to propose legislative fixes that please grassroots conservatives without completely turning off moderates in both parties. Few would argue that, with a long rap sheet and several deportations, Lopez-Sanchez was an upstanding contributor to American society.

Steinle's father testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and, as the New York Times reports, Republicans in both the House and Senate are moving forward with new legislation.

The House is expected to vote this week on a bill that would bar the Justice Department from giving grants to cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration enforcement officials, a measure that Republicans hope can bridge the reopened chasm within the party over immigration as they try to avoid alienating Hispanic voters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday seized on renewed attention to the issue: Its members rushed to introduce their own proposals to crack down on noncompliant jurisdictions and heard testimony from relatives of victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is running for president, announced Tuesday that he and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) have written a bill that would create mandatory minimum sentences for immigrants who were deported and reentered the US, as well as increasing existing maximums. The bottom line: This is safe, even desirable political ground on a toxic topic for the GOP. Even Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has criticized San Francisco authorities for letting Lopez-Sanchez go in April instead of moving to deport him again.

4) Sandra Bland video shows how traffic stop turned into a fateful arrest

Police have released video of the traffic stop and arrest of Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who was found hanged in her Texas jail cell. Prosecutors are investigating her death, which was originally deemed a suicide, as a homicide, and Bland has become yet another tragic symbol for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The video shows an almost immediate confrontation between Bland and the arresting officer, Brian Encinia, that escalated quickly into him threatening to "light you up" with a Taser and apparently pushing her to the ground. From the New York Times:

"You seem very irritated," he said.

"I am, I really am," she said. She said she had pulled over to get out of his way and was now getting stopped and written up because of it.

"You mind putting out your cigarette?" he asked testily.

"I’m in my own car. I don’t have to put out my cigarette," she said.

When he ordered her out of the car, she refused.

"I’m going to yank you out," Trooper Encinia shouted. ...

In part of the encounter that occurred out of the camera’s view, a scuffle could be heard, and Ms. Bland indicated that she was on the ground. "You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground," she said. Addressing Trooper Encinia with an expletive, she said, "I got epilepsy."

Trooper Encinia responded, "Good."

The Los Angeles Times reports that the video looks like it has been doctored.

In the video, which is more than 52 minutes long, there are several spots where cars and people disappear and reappear. When it released the video, the department did not mention any editing. The audio ends more than a minute before the video images do.

One of the more conspicuous spots comes 25 minutes and 5 seconds into the video, when a man walks from a truck off screen and then reappears suddenly at the spot where he began walking. The image flutters for a moment before resuming.

5) Jeb Bush: Captain of the varsity sarcasm squad

Politico's Eli Stokols identifies a single characteristic that I think reveals Jeb Bush's intelligence, humor, and impatience with fools: He's really sarcastic.

Bush said he’d give John Kasich a shout-out from the debate stage if the Ohio governor doesn’t make the cut. He publicly lamented the media’s obsession with Donald Trump. He even mocked the notion that his family lineage means he’s been waiting his whole life to become president.

"It’s not like I’ve been kind of in some test tube waiting for my chance now, the third Bush," he quipped. "I’ve actually had a life."

It's one of the many ways in which Bush and Hillary Clinton resemble each other as candidates: They share a certain prickliness that manifests as sarcastic humor. The line between sarcasm and hostility is thin, and that's one reason a debate between them could be very fun to watch.

6) Speaking of HRC, she's spoiling for a fight on her gender

Politico's Annie Karni, a must-follow on the Hillary beat, reports on the latest escalation, a response to Sen. Mitch McConnell saying the "gender card" won't win her the election and other remarks from prominent Republicans.

The campaign followed up on on the Facebook chat Tuesday, releasing a slick video replaying McConnell’s remark and then featuring the records of some of the GOP candidates when it comes to issues that affect women: Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz voted against paid sick leave; Gov. Scott Walker repealed an equal pay law in his state; and Jeb Bush made a comment offensive to poor women back in 1994, saying, "women on welfare should get their life together and find a husband."

"There she goes again with the women’s issues," Clinton says in a clip featured in the video, pulled from an appearance in Iowa last week. "Well, I’m not going to stop, so get ready for a long campaign."

Shameless self-promotion alert: For more on why and how Clinton went from playing down her gender in 2008 to playing it up for 2016, you could pick up a copy of the book I wrote with Amie Parnes. And, if you missed it, I wrote a piece Tuesday on how Clinton — despite her flaws as a campaigner — is a damn fine candidate because of her mastery of coalition politics.

7) Rod Blagojevich is less of a crook than he used to be

A three-judge appellate panel on Tuesday threw out five of the criminal convictions of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is in prison for a variety of corruption-related offenses. Don't worry, he's not going anywhere anytime soon — most of the guilty verdicts still stand, as the Chicago Tribune reports.

The ruling left uncertain how Blagojevich's fate would ultimately be resolved. Prosecutors could opt against a third trial, throw out the five overturned counts and proceed to a resentencing on the remaining convictions.

If prosecutors elect to drop the counts that were thrown out on appeal, then U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who presided over two criminal trials for Blagojevich, should "proceed directly to resentencing," the opinion stated.

"It is not possible to call the 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich's crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence," Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in the unanimous opinion. In ordering a sentencing redo, the judges indicated that Blagojevich might not expect a more generous outcome from Zagel this time around.

The most interesting part of the ruling, which you can read in full here, is the portion that posits it was okay for Blagojevich to offer to appoint Valerie Jarrett to a Senate seat in exchange for Obama making him secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

8) Democrats try to use Confederate flag battle for voting rights

When South Carolina was removing the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds, it looked for a moment like Congress would follow suit by moving statues out of Statuary Hall and putting new restrictions on flags containing the battle flag symbol. That effort died amid Republican infighting. Now, Democrats are hoping the spirit that brought down South Carolina's flag can be used to make progress on policy, as the New York Times reports.

Frustrated House Democrats are now trying to leverage the issue to push new voting rights legislation, forcing Republican leaders to address an issue they had hoped to avoid as they head into the 2016 election cycle.

"We have made it clear that for people who view the Confederate battle flag as part of their heritage, that there is nothing more central to the heritage of African-Americans than the unfettered right to vote," said Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African-American member of Congress. Mr. Clyburn and several other Democrats, including the staff director for the committee charged with overseeing flags and symbols around the Capitol, said they had not heard from Republicans.

9) Tall Cotton: Arkansas senator's moves benefit old law firm

Roll Call reports that freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has a coincidence of interests when it comes to blocking Obama's appointments for an obscure court.

Cotton, ignoring a plea from the chief judge of the Court of Federal Claims, objected on the Senate floor last week to a Democratic request to allow confirmation votes for five nominees to that court. Those judges hear disputes about government contracts and tax refund suits.

Conservative law firm Cooper & Kirk, where Cotton worked in 2004, sells itself as the "go-to firm" to sue the government in the biggest of cases and is currently representing several clients in cases before the court. The firm's employees were contributors to Cotton in 2012 and in 2014, making about one third of their total campaign contributions in 2014 to Cotton.