Haley’s surprise kicks off cabinet speculation

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On the roster: Haley’s surprise kicks off cabinet speculation - Backlash to a backlash? Poll shows Dems riled - Trump to boost struggling Iowa GOP with more ethanol - Florida Dems want registration delay for hurricane - O-tis! O-tis! O-tis!

We don’t know if whether we’ll have to wait for the next Bob Woodward book to figure out why in the heck one of the best liked and most successful members of President Trump’s cabinet chose a random Tuesday, four weeks before a crucial midterm election to announce her departure.

The backstory here may be intriguing or just plain dull – It was about to leak and the administration wanted to get ahead of the story, the door was closing on the cabinet member’s next opportunity, etc. But whatever the reason, the announced departure of Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations has got everybody talking.

That’s partly because Haley is a star player for the GOP. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could go from vehement opposition to Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 primaries to the gushy sendoff Haley got Tuesday from the president, and that alone is testament of her political skills.

And the timing is so weird. The announcement stepped on the ongoing coverage of the president’s successful Supreme Court nomination and other recent successes for the administration. The backstory had better be pretty important to merit a move like this one. And with the president saying he will make a pick for her replacement before voters go to the polls, there’s another disruption ahead.

But the other reason Haley’s early arrival in the departure lounge has generated so much attention is that it has forced people to think about other big changes ahead for Trump’s cabinet after Election Day.

In a new administration there are a couple of decorous times to exit. The first is after one year but before midterm’s heat up, while the other is during the lame-duck period after the primaries.

We expect Haley will hardly be alone in her December farewell. But who else?

The biggie here is Defense Secretary James Mattis, and to a lesser degree White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

On the one hand it’s hard to imagine Mattis persisting in a post so grueling for a commander in chief who is pretty much his polar opposite. On the other hand, this is a guy who led the first Marine division in Fallujah, so maybe his definition of hardship duty is different than most.

Mattis’ departure would be a monumental change for an administration that had relied on “Chaos” to keep order in the Republican ranks in Congress. As long as Mattis has kept his cool and Trump has referred to the retired general, lawmakers have breathed easier. Finding a replacement would not be so easy.

Kelly has filled a somewhat similar role in ensuring congressional leaders that good practices are being followed and that the mercurial president has a sobersided voice in his inner circle. But given the degree to which Trump has diminished Kelly and without the need for a confirmation vote, a change there would be less fraught.

Then there’s Jeff Sessions. Poor Jeff Sessions.

Sessions has been an invaluable asset to Trump in a couple of ways. Aside from executing top priorities for the administration on immigration, drugs and more, the former Alabama senator has made a convenient punching bag for the president to vent his anger over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to aid Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Given what would happen if Trump actually fired Sessions and how difficult confirming a replacement would have been under the circumstances, Sessions’ willingness to accept the indignity of working for Trump has been quite helpful.

While Sessions seems determined not to quit, his fate substantially depends on how Republicans do in Senate races next month. If Republicans gain seats, making confirmation fights easier, Trump would have a freer hand to move against his top cop. Conversely, if Republicans maintain their narrow majority or lose ground, Sessions’ hand will be strengthened.

“If the nation happens, on any emergency, to be more united by the necessity of self-defense, its situation is still deplorable.” – Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Federalist No. 19

The Atlantic: “‘All puppies are cute,’ explains Clive Wynne, the head of Arizona State University’s canine-science laboratory. ‘But not all puppies are equally cute.’ Indeed, breeders have long found that puppies become their cutest selves at the eight-week mark; any older, and some breeders offer a discount to bolster would-be owners’ weakened desire. Such fine-tuned preferences might seem arbitrary, even cruel. But recent research indicates that peak puppy cuteness serves important purposes—and might play a fundamental role in binding dog and owner together. In a study published this spring, Wynne and his colleagues sought to pin down, scientifically, the timeline of puppy cuteness. Their finding largely matched that of breeders: People consistently rated dogs most attractive when they were six to eight weeks old. This age, Wynne says, coincides with a crucial developmental milestone: Mother dogs stop nursing their young around the eighth week, after which pups rely on humans for survival. … Peak cuteness, then, is no accident—at exactly the moment when our intervention matters most, puppies become irresistible to us.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 42 percent
Average disapproval: 53 percent
Net Score: -11 points
Change from one week ago: down 1.6 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 43% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; IBD: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 53% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
42 percent
Democratic average: 49.6 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 7.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.6 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 54% Dems - 41% GOP; IBD: 45% Dems - 43% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 48% Dems - 42% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems - 42% GOP; Pew Research Center: 52% Dems - 42% GOP.]

CNN: “Four weeks out from Election Day, Democrats remain well ahead of Republicans in a generic ballot matchup, with 54% of likely voters saying they support the Democrat in their district and 41% backing a Republican, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS. This is the widest margin of support for Democrats in a midterm cycle since 2006, when at this point, the party held a whopping 21-point lead over Republicans among likely voters. … This year, Democrats' enthusiasm about their congressional vote has increased and 62% now say they're extremely or very enthusiastic to vote, up seven points since September among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Among Republicans and Republican leaning independents, enthusiasm has remained relatively steady, going from 50% in September to 52% in the most recent poll.”

Greatest intensity among anti-Kavanaugh voters - WaPo: “A NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist survey released last week indicated that [Mitch McConnell’s] excitement might be warranted: After trailing Democrats in enthusiasm during the summer, Republican enthusiasm for voting has caught up. But that is only half the picture. More important is how those energized voters plan to cast their ballots — and a new CNN-SSRS poll suggests that the most enthusiastic voters are not those Americans most interested in rising to [Brett Kavanaugh’s] defense. Consider, for example, the responses to questions about how President Trump’s doing in his job or whether Kavanaugh should have been confirmed. Disapproval of Trump is higher among those who are more enthusiastic to vote, as is opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”

CNBC: “With his latest energy policy move, President Donald Trump aims in part to boost Iowa Republicans fighting to hold critical offices next month. On Tuesday afternoon, the president is expected to order his administration to end a summertime ban on sales of E15, a higher ethanol blend of gasoline. Iowa corn growers and the politicians who represent them have pushed for the change, arguing it will stabilize the state's farm industry amid trade uncertainty. Trump's change could help the two vulnerable Iowa Republicans expected to join him at a Tuesday night rally: Rep. David Young and Gov. Kim Reynolds. The ethanol action could also aid Rep. Rod Blum, one of the House incumbents considered most likely to lose a seat in this year's midterm elections.”

Donnelly touts centrism despite ‘no’ vote on Kavanaugh - AP: “Democratic Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican businessman Mike Braun don’t agree on much. But both conceded one point Monday night, during their first debate: they support President Donald Trump. ‘I go against my party all the time,’ Donnelly said from the debate state in Westville. … Unlike many Democratic campaigns across the U.S. that have been galvanized by Trump opposition, Donnelly touted his support for Trump’s priorities. … But Donnelly has cast several high-profile votes against Trump and in line with Democrats, including his ‘no’ vote this weekend on Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh and the GOP led tax cut bill. That gave Braun an opening to attack. … Donnelly entered the debate wanting to sow doubts about Braun’s trustworthiness, while raising concern that, as a Republican, he would try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Obamacare.’”

Ohio House grudge match no nicer the second time - Fox News: “History is filled with great rematches. … Now, there's Troy Balderson against Danny O’Connor. Perhaps it doesn't stack up against those other grudge matches, but the rematch between these rivals for a fiercely contested Ohio House seat is one of the hottest tickets in November's midterm elections. The two political pugilists went head-to-head back in August for a special election, with Republican Balderson narrowly defeating Democrat O’Connor to finish the term of former GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. The race took nearly three weeks to call and ultimately was decided by a margin of less than 1 percent. But with Tiberi’s original term ending in January, the newly sworn-in Rep. Balderson must once again face O’Connor for control of the 12th District seat.”

Oregon governor can’t quite shake GOP challenger - KGW8: “With one week to go before ballots get sent to most Oregon voters, the governor’s race appears to be a close contest between Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and her challenger, Republican lawmaker Knute Buehler. A new poll shows Brown with a slight lead over Buehler, 49 to 45 percent, with other candidates dividing up the remainder. The poll was conducted between Sept. 24 and Oct. 7 here by Riley Research Associates for KGW Media Group and The Oregonian/OregonLive. The two Portland media organizations are sponsoring a debate between the two gubernatorial candidates on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at KGW’s studios. The debate will air at 7 p.m. on KGW-TV Channel 8, and live-streamed to digital audiences at KGW.com, KGW’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and the KGW News app.”

AP: “A partisan brushfire blew up Tuesday amid the threat of Hurricane Michael over voter registration deadlines in the battleground state of Florida. The Florida Democratic Party sued in federal court on Tuesday, asking a judge to extend the state's registration deadline by at least a week. Florida's deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, 29 days ahead of the Nov. 6 election. … Shortly before midnight on Monday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who works for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, told local election supervisors that if their offices were closed on Tuesday, then they could accept paper applications on the day their offices reopen. … Democrats are contending in their lawsuit that Detzner's solution is inadequate and not equally available to all Floridians. The lawsuit asks what happens to people who evacuate and can't make it back to their local elections offices on the day they reopen.”

Registration closes today in key battlegrounds - ABC News: “There are 18 states with midterm registration deadlines Tuesday, including states that could prove pivotal in the midterms. All states, with the exception of North Dakota, require registration before voters can hit the polls. … Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Utah all have deadlines today.”

AP: “Sen. Bernie Sanders is embarking on a nine-state battleground tour on behalf of Democratic candidates competing in the November elections, returning to the campaign trail ahead of a decision on another White House bid. The packed October schedule marks the Vermont independent’s most extensive stretch of campaigning since the 2016 presidential race. It will include stops in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, home to crucial early contests on the 2020 primary calendar. Sanders is expected to make a decision on whether to launch another campaign in the coming months and the tour could inform his decision. It will allow him to test the durability of the left-leaning coalition he assembled in 2016 and build relationships with elected officials who could serve as allies should he run again. ‘He wanted to go where he thinks he can be helpful in energizing the base and bringing in young people and independent voters and working-class voters who supported him,’ said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager and longtime political adviser.”

Democratic staffer accused of doxxing GOP senators denied bail - Fox News

Cuomo v. Molinaro: This is what a $9 million fundraising deficit looks like - NYT

What’s on the docket for Kavanaugh? - Fox News 

Chad Pergram: “Trump administration plows through Kavanaugh chaos” - Fox News

Kanye and Taylor, round two USA Today

Ryan warns of looming fight over border wall funding after midterms - WaPo

“People on the left say, ‘What happened to Lindsey Graham?’ Not a damn thing.” –Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in an interview with WYFF. 

“While usually I am in concert with much of what you write/say, I take issue with your comment [in Friday’s Halftime Report] regarding ‘purer distillation of Washington hypocrisy than the sudden rediscovery of the great virtue of the FBI in the Trump White House…’ The White House has had challenges with the previous FBI leadership political bias, and perhaps a few residual leaders there, they have always had the greatest respect for the field agents professional abilities. Agree the Dem leadership swings in the wind with their regard for any agency or individual that thwarts their political agenda or narrative.” – Sonny Fletcher, Horn Lake, Miss.

[Ed. note: Now that is a miiiiiighty nuanced way to state what the president has been saying about the FBI! Just last month, he lambasted his own leadership team because there was “nothing being done” about corruption at the agency. And I have certainly had mail from readers – though some was too nasty to repeat – that suggested that the agency was shot through with corruption from top to bottom and that Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the whole Trump administration team was in on the act. I was mostly pointing out how lots of the positions you hear so strongly taken by partisans are almost entirely situational. That’s why we do our best to ignore them!]    

“[We saw] two photos of Justice Kavanaugh being sworn into office--one is with Chief Justice John Roberts and the other is with his predecessor Anthony Kennedy. So who did the actual swearing in, Roberts or Kennedy, or did they each do part of it? If you know, please clarify. Thanks.” – Lou Banas, Brea, Calif.

[Ed. note: Let’s let Brianna handle this one, eh? “Great question, Mr. Banas! They each played a part in the swearing in of now Justice Kavanaugh. New Justices are required to take two oaths, one by the Constitution and the other by federal law. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the “Constitutional Oath,” which is required of all federal employees. So that includes members of Congress, top members of the executive branch and judicial officers. Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the “Judicial Oath,” which is mandated in the Judiciary Act of 1789. This oath is required by all federal judges.”]

“Chris, You frequently cite results of various polls, taken by various organizations, but I wonder how many folks understand how these are conducted.  I’m nearly 69 years old and have voted in most elections since I attained legal voting age, but never in those years have I ever received a phone call (I assume all these frequent polls are done by phone since they’re so numerous and are constantly referred to in the media) from any of these polling entities. …  I’m always leery of these poll results because it seems like they’re so very often wrong when compared with the predictions they make. There are lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics. Go figure. Keep up the good work!” –Curtis Green, Garland, Texas 

[Ed. note: Thanks, Mr. Green! About 135 million people voted in 2016. There were another 90 million or so who were eligible but who did not vote. So at first blush, as one out of a universe of 225 million potential survey participants is considerably worse than your chances of being struck by lightning in a given year (1 in 700,000) or being in a plane crash (1 in 5.4 million). But your odds are even longer than some Americans’, Mr. Green. Living in Texas and in what had been for decades until this cycle a reliably Republican House district, you have not had the probability boosts that your fellow citizens in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania or other swing states have experienced. If you lived in a swing district in a swing state, your chances would be considerably higher, but even then, still low. So you can either count yourself lucky or unlucky depending on whether you’d trade an interrupted dinner for the chance to tell pollsters what you think.]   

“I enjoy the Halftime Report immensely.  In addition to being able to hear the voice of reason and having things politely explained, I truly enjoy hearing Charles Krauthammer’s wisdom.  I miss him so much and never more so than in this past two years where our country has apparently lost leave of their senses. Chris, I think Charles was always my favorite, but you and Dana are very close seconds.  My husband and I watch Fox News exclusively (PLUS watching my Houston Astros in baseball).  Here’s hoping the Astros do a World Series repeat and I rather think Charles would have been happy for them! In any case, THANK YOU.” – Susan Charba, Houston

[Ed. note: We are grateful for all the encouragement we’ve gotten about keeping Charles in the note each day. It’s nice just to be reminded. And with the Cardinals out and my youngest son having adopted the Astros for the series, I say: Have at it!”]

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Outside: “For one week every fall, Alaska's Katmai National Park celebrates the survival skills and ample rolls of the happiest bears in the world. But there's more to their reigning champion than meets the eye. Our champion, Otis, is 22 years old, with blondish brown hair, a straight, narrow nose, and deep scars on his neck and above his right eye. When he’s at the top of his game, fans describe his neck as ‘relatively thick,’ his body ‘walrus-shaped.’ Otis, also known by his ID number, 480, is a brown bear who lives in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Otis is fat. So fat that he’s been king of the park’s Fat Bear Week two of the past three years. He’s become the face of a tradition that started in 2014 as a fun way to teach people about ursine health and now attracts devoted fans who’ve created a Real World–style experience out of watching the tubbiest bears on the planet.”

“Trump relishes such a cat-and-mouse game and, by playing it so openly, reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on July 27, 2017.  

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.