THE TAKE with ABC News’ Rick Klein
President Trump declared that he saw “tremendous solidarity” on the sidelines of NFL games – bringing full circle a debate he inflamed for little good discernible reason. Don’t discount the meaning, though: Trump picks fights that he wants, and he picks fights that he needs. His feud with pro athletes and sports leagues may be both of those things. It’s a distraction, yes – redirecting attention from the health care bill, the Mueller probe, North Korea, and a special election that may not go his way. But it’s more than that: Trump seeks power by seeking divisions. The image of a great divider has gotten through. In the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 66 percent of Americans say the president has done more to divide than unite; 29 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents agree. In urging owners to fire players who choose a particular forum for political protest – protests that, until now, weren’t even about Trump – the president is lining up against the First Amendment. He put himself on the side of the flag, and against spoiled, wealthy, and – yes – mostly black athletes. That “solidarity” he saw, of course, was united in opposition to the president and what he had to say. Trump likes winning, but he also likes it when people take sides. That’s happening anyway in Trump’s America. The president is urging it along, in words and deeds.
THE PATH AMERICANS WANT LAWMAKERS TO TAKE ON HEALTH CARE
Sen. Tim Kaine Sunday night referred to Sen. John McCain’s decision to oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill as a “victory,” but cautioned that Democrats were not “taking anything for granted.” Kaine, a member of the Senate Health and Education Committee, told ABC News the committee was actually close to a bipartisan deal earlier this month to stabilize insurance markets, and that committee leadership only “shelved” the plans when this last Republican attempt at repeal gained stream. Kaine and other Democrats think a modest bipartisan deal could be dusted off and revisited if Republicans miss the Sept. 30 deadline for their party-line Obamacare overhaul. Polls suggest that’s the direction Americans want lawmakers to go. A Kaiser poll out last week found that 69 percent of Americans say it is very important or extremely important for Congress to work on passing legislation to stabilize the Affordable Care Act marketplaces now. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, not only did respondents overall prefer Obamacare to Graham-Cassidy, nearly a quarter of Republicans said they did, too. Another indicator of the country’s interest in bipartisan work: The president scored praise in the poll for his journey across the aisle on immigration, ABC News’ MaryAlice Parks notes.
ALL EYES STILL ON ALABAMA
If you want a reason to forget NFL protests soon enough, Alabama presents itself. Vice President Mike Pence will campaign for Sen. Luther Strange in Birmingham tonight, while Roy Moore’s campaign holds a rally featuring Steve Bannon, “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and “special guest” Nigel Farage, the Brexit architect who has previously appeared at rallies with President Trump. While the president did his best to tamp down talk of the Alabama race as a proxy war between the establishment and populist wings of the GOP, the dueling rallies in the GOP primary’s final hours sure seems to support that narrative. (Trump even allowed Friday night that he “might have made a mistake” by getting involved.) Many Republicans have resisted calls for unification in Alabama, but they’ll need to regroup quickly following tomorrow’s primary run-off. The Democrats have fielded a legit challenger in former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who has former Vice President Joe Biden heading down to the state next month to headline a rally. Depending on the outcome, a squabbling party could endanger a deep red seat for Republicans, ABC News’ John Verhovek writes.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.” — President Trump on calling for NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the national anthem
NEED TO READ
ABC News/Washington Post poll: Trump seen by most Americans as doing more to divide than unite country. More than half of respondents said President Trump has done more to divide than to unite the country, considerably worse than the highest “divide” scores for his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both 55 percent. Even as a record number of Americans see North Korea as a threat, the public, by a wide 62-37 percent margin, does not trust Trump to act responsibly in handling the situation. http://abcn.ws/2xx5pqh
NFL players can have “free speech on their own time”: Mnuchin. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended President Donald Trump’s comments calling for NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to be fired, saying players “have the right to have the First Amendment off the field.” “This isn’t about Democrats. It’s not about Republicans. It’s not about race, it’s not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time,” the Treasury secretary said Sunday on “This Week.” http://abcn.ws/2xCcXIK
Ted Cruz: “Right now they don’t have my vote” on health care bill. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Sunday that he does not yet support the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, which appears to put the Republicans’ latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy. Another Republican leaning “no” on the Graham-Cassidy bill, Sen. Susan Collins, said it is “very difficult” to envision herself voting for the legislation. http://abcn.ws/2fKz2eG
Mnuchin defends use of costly government jet. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his use of a costly government jet to make the short journey from New York City to Washington, D.C., following an August meeting in Trump Tower. “There are times when I need secure communications to be in touch with the president and National Security Council,” Mnuchin said on “This Week.” “I had a secure call that day that was critical and set up. It needed to be done at that time, and that’s why I used it.” http://abcn.ws/2xxQaNL
Sen. Lindsey Graham to Sen. Rand Paul: Health care bill will “save a lot of money.” “Rand Paul objects to the taxes, but when you look at the bill, Rand, we save a lot of money over time for Medicaid,” Graham said in an interview on “This Week” Sunday. “We’ve put a cap on Obamacare growth to make it more sustainable, more affordable, more flexible.” http://abcn.ws/2hrTocB
Trump: “Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable.” ABC News
NFL players who protested during the national anthem in Week 3. ESPN
Trump warns North Korea ‘won’t be around much longer’ if threats continue to escalate. ABC News
Graham, Cassidy revise Obamacare repeal bill, appealing to holdouts. Politico
#Takeaknee trending hashtag reveals sharp debate over NFL players’ kneeling. ABC News
Sen. Rand Paul lays out demands on health care as talks continue. The Washington Post
HHS Secretary Price will stop using private planes until internal review is completed. Fox News
Weiner faces sentencing in latest chapter of sexting drama. The Associated Press