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On the roster: Biden wins the bigger debate on party’s direction - Poll shows Bernie bounce in New Hampshire - McCarthy says debt reduction top goal for House GOP - Court says Trump must answer suit claiming corruption - It’s a long way to the top if you want to block a road


Finally, a real Democratic debate.

After two rounds of two-night bean bag competitions we got some tough questions, sharp distinctions and a real sense of what this race looks like.

Much of the credit does go to ABC News which, for the most part, offered challenging questions centered on the issues that matter most to Democrats who are considering their choices for next year.

But some of the credit belongs to happenstance since the Democratic National Committee’s balky, participation-trophy rules meant that the first two debates were actually glorified candidate forums featuring various odd lots.

What Democrats saw Thursday should generally be encouraging for their hopes in 2020. There were multiple credible-sounding voices, most of whom were capable of a degree of debate that seemed if not quite presidential yet, was at least in that vein.

There were exceptions. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro sounded like he was delivering sick burns in a dorm room argument. His fellow Texan, Beto O’Rourke, was not much better. They both brought with them the anger and resentment of candidates who feel they have been unfairly overlooked for their wondrous gifts.

California Sen. Kamala Harris had a different struggle. You could almost hear the shouts of her advisers telling her to be warm, relatable and personal, damnit. It got cringey and then it just got stale. Harris is a personality in search of a platform and she did not find it on Thursday night.

Speaking of performative candidates, Andrew Yang probably added to his cult following, enough so that he will be around next month and maybe even the month after that. But he also made it clear he’s not really running for president. We imagine he will have to wear a suit made out of $100 bills for the next go around.

Cory Booker may or may not be in the running for president, but he most certainly cut a fine figure as a running mate in Houston. Gone were his tears of rage, replaced with a beatific smile and an encouragement to unity. It was easy to see him as the wingman for one of the older, whiter candidates at the center of the stage.

It would be too much to say that South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg seemed presidential, but it would not be too much to say that he seemed normal, reasonable and ready. After a series of setbacks this summer, Buttigieg seemed to stabilize. He too might make a fine veep pick.

We wince at tropes like “breakout performance,” but if anyone on the stage shouldered their way into the discussion it was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She has improved during her mostly under-the-radar campaign and seemed more at ease and more purposeful on Thursday than she had before.

Heading the other direction is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, not that it matters. Sanders’ support seems mostly to be an article of faith at this point rather than a candidate preference, so as long as he feels the Bern, his fans will too. Sounding like a bible-beating preacher (with a Brooklyn accent) a red-faced Sanders thundered at the evils of the world.

Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts, was sure-footed in most of her answers and continued her strategy of not directly engaging her rivals, an approach that has served her well to this point. But she also revealed the liabilities for a candidate who has charmed reporters by delivering reams of policy papers. Her proposals are complex, costly and packed with controversial positions. 

Warren wanted you to see her as a girl of modest means who grew into a school teacher who now can bring her simple, home-spun wisdom to bear on the confounding problems of a complicated world. That didn’t quite hold up. Warren can expect additional scrutiny not just on her proposals but also on the tidy biographical picture she has painted.

And what to say about Joe Biden? The Democrats’ front-runner certainly didn’t do himself any harm, and in fact, managed to put the quietus on questions about his age and alleged incapacity. There were no major gaffes and he even managed a couple of spin moves, even if his footwork was gingerly.

Biden’s greatest success of the summer was revealed on Thursday. Democrats had been considering the question of whether an Obamian restoration was a good enough policy goal. Castro, O’Rourke and Sanders were clear that Barack Obama’s legacy is not a worthy summit for Democrats to seek. Echoing the language of long-shot ideologues throughout history, they assured listeners that anyone on the stage would win next fall and that the real issue was getting someone elected who is sufficiently radical. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul would have been proud.

But that’s not where Democrats’ heads are. Whether it is moderation for the sake of electability or for its own sake, the party’s voters have made it clear that they are not interested in what’s new or what’s radical. And no one could say that Biden is either of those things. Just ask him what’s in his record collection.

That admission on the parts of other candidates on the stage is a boon to Biden who has draped himself in the regalia of the 44th president. In 2008 it was “hope and change” for 2020 it’s fear and nostalgia.

As long as Biden can keep taking punches and remember his footwork, he will be hard to knock out.


“The just imputations on our own faith, in respect to the same treaty, ought first to be removed.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 15


History: “On September 13, 1990, the drama series Law & Order premieres on NBC; it will go on to become one of the longest-running primetime dramas in TV history and spawn several popular spin-offs. According to the now-famous Law & Order formula, the first half of the hour-long program, which is set in New York City, focuses on the police as they investigate a crime–often inspired by real-life news stories–while the second part of the show centers on the prosecution of those accused of that crime. Each episode opens with a narrator stating: ‘In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.’  … On September 20, 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, starring Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni as a pair of New York City detectives who investigate sex-related crimes, premiered.”


Biden: 29 points 
Warren: 18.6 points
Sanders: 15 points
Harris: 6.8 points
Buttigieg: 5.2 points
[Averages include: CNN, ABC News/WaPo, IBD, Quinnipiac University and USA Today/Suffolk University.]


Average approval: 40 percent
Average disapproval: 54.8 percent
Net Score: -14.8 percent
Change from one week ago: no change in points
[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; CNN: 42% approve - 54% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 56% disapprove.]


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Boston Herald: “Former Vice President Joe Biden has lost his lead in New Hampshire with U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders jumping ahead in what is now clearly a three-person race for the Democratic primary, a new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll shows. Sanders tops the poll at 29% of likely Democratic primary voters. Biden comes in second with 21% of the vote and Massachusetts U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren is third in the poll with 17%. … The poll shows that the top tier of 2020 Democratic primary candidates is far ahead of the pack, with California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris landing a distant fourth with 6% of the primary vote, the FPU-Herald polls shows. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg are tied at 5%.”

Yang seeks a legal loophole for campaign gimmick - NYT: “Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who has promised to provide every American adult with $1,000 a month if he is elected president, announced at the Democratic debate on Thursday that he would distribute such payments to 10 people for the next year. … But unlike earlier in his campaign, when Mr. Yang paid what he calls ‘freedom dividends’ out of his own pocket to three families, his advisers said the money for the latest round of payments would be funded by campaign donations, raising questions about whether such a giveaway violates federal election law. …To differentiate legitimate campaign expenses from personal expenses, regulators must determine whether the expense would exist even if the candidate were not running for office. Mr. Yang’s campaign said late Thursday that the planned payments would pass legal muster because they would not exist if not for the campaign.”


Roll Call: “As House Republicans kicked off a 48-hour retreat here Thursday afternoon to plot their path back to the majority, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters the GOP’s top priority if it retakes the chamber in 2020 would be to address the national debt. ‘First thing we would do is make sure our debt is taken care of,’ the California Republican said. ‘This is continuing to grow.’ ‘We’ve got a majority that just has taken over, the Democrats — the first thing they did was not pass a budget. We’d pass a budget just as we did before that put us on a path to balance,’ McCarthy added. ‘We’d make sure that our entitlements are protected for our future generation because it comes into question today. Every great society has collapsed when they overextended themselves.’”

Lewis cagy on impeachment - Politico: “Rep. John Lewis has called Donald Trump an illegitimate leader and boycotted his inauguration, but he's remained conspicuously silent on demands for the president's impeachment. Despite his silence, advocates for Trump's removal see the civil rights icon — a man Democrats describe as the conscience of their caucus — as a singularly powerful potential ally, one of the last publicly undecided lawmakers who could change the calculus inside the Democratic caucus. And Lewis himself says an announcement on impeachment is almost at hand. … Lewis has been closely allied with Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the years. An impeachment endorsement from Lewis would intensify questions for Pelosi, who has so far resisted calls to endorse proceedings. That's why multiple senior lawmakers privately suggested Lewis is unlikely to back impeachment proceedings without her blessing -- rendering such an endorsement unlikely.”


Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump was ordered by a federal appeals court to defend a lawsuit accusing him of profiting from his presidency, a potential blow to his efforts to keep his finances secret. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York on Friday reinstated the case brought by a restaurant group that accuses the president of violating the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clauses. The decision intensifies a legal threat to Trump over the mixing of his business interests with his authority as president. Unless an expanded panel of judges or the Supreme Court reverses the decision, Trump will be forced to defend his actions and open his business and personal finances to scrutiny. … He attracted fresh criticism last month when he suggested that next year’s meeting of Group of 7 leaders, to be hosted by the U.S., should be held at his resort in southern Florida.”


Politico: “Venture capitalist Peter Thiel and conservative author Ann Coulter are slated to host a fundraising reception for Kansas Republican Kris Kobach’s Senate campaign next week. The event — to be held on Sept. 18 in New York City, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO — will provide a fundraising boost for Kobach as the former Kansas secretary of state and immigration hard-liner faces strong opposition from the Republican Party establishment. … But many GOP officials fear the controversial Kobach proved himself unelectable when he lost the governor’s race in 2018, and they are concerned that he could hand what is normally a safe Republican seat to Democrats in 2020, when Republicans are trying to protect a three-seat Senate majority. Senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been trying to recruit Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, into the contest.”


A loquacious Booker got the third-most talking time in debate - WaPo

Cruz says he’s preparing for another presidential run in 2024 - Christian Science Monitor  

Pergram: Democrats aren’t actually impeaching the President yet, but they are digging deep - Fox News

Trump denies rumors of naming Pompeo next national security adviser - Politico

Liz Cheney and Rand Paul get into Twitter squabble - The Hill

Hillary Clinton reads emails in performance art installation at Italian museum (really) - The Hill


“I always look orange, and so do you.” – President Trump delivering a speech to House Republicans complaining about the quality of the light cast by newer lightbulbs.


This weekend Bill Hemmer will fill in for Mr. Sunday. He’ll sit down with Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. 


“As far as I’ve been able to determine, the only legal firearms sales that don’t require a background check are intrastate sales between individuals. Private citizens are prohibited from selling guns to people who aren’t residents of their state under Federal law. Private citizens can’t ship firearms across state lines. Since this is intrastate commerce, wouldn’t this be a state issue rather than a Federal issue?” – Keith Tolk, Albuquerque, N.M.

[Ed. note: Over time, Mr. Tolk the federal government has asserted and been affirmed in some authority over firearms. You may not purchase a machine gun, a bazooka or a howitzer under federal law though, apparently, flame throwers are legit. Similarly to your point, I suppose that most firearms purchases that take place at licensed gun dealers are made by in-state residents. But the Feds don’t base their authority on the regulation of interstate commerce, but rather law-enforcement concerns. The effect of requiring background checks for all sales would basically be imposing the same requirements for gun dealers on individual citizens in these transactions. I’m sure there are people who argue that federal regulations around, say, automatic weapons are unconstitutional. Perhaps there’s even a case to be made. But so far courts have upheld limited federal regulation even as judges have become more adamant about individuals’ personal rights to keep and bear arms.]

“We are expats living in Peru. We are homeschooling our youngest son and daughter, ages 16 and 8. Mr. Stirewalt, what books would you recommend to help instill in our children a love for America, an appreciation of the miracle of our founding and founders?” – Erin Madsen, Peru

[Ed. note: What an adventure your family is on, Ms. Madsen! And kudos to you for wanting to educate your children in the miracle of their native country’s founding. I just finished George Will’s latest book, “The Conservative Sensibility.” Some of it is devoted to Will’s prescription for our current politics, but the overwhelming majority is about our founding and the intellectual history of the modern conservative and progressive movements. Your teenager might enjoy it. David McCullough’s “1776” is one of my favorites. It grew out of McCullough’s masterful biography of John Adams but expands out to take in the scope of that moment in time and the remarkable men and women who populated it. But what about a third grader? She may already be too old for the wonderful series Childhoods of Famous Americans. My third grader loved them and they certainly work to make the subject accessible. I’m not sure which history books you use, but I have been endlessly impressed by “The Story of the World.” I have enjoyed it along with my sons in their studies at school. Please stay in touch and tell us how your adventure in living – and in education – is going.]

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WSOC-TV: “Sheriff's deputies in Montana sometimes have to coax stubborn bison off roads in an unusual way... by blasting AC/DC music. The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office posted about the practice on Tuesday. ‘Being a deputy around West Yellowstone comes with unusual duties, including herding bison off the highway so no one gets hurt. When deputies respond to a bison on the road, they turn on lights and siren and encourage the animal to leave the road with an air horn. With a reluctant bison, they’ve been known to play AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells over the speakers – that usually seems to work,’ the post said.”


“And because we remain so imperfect a nation, we are in no position to dictate our professed values to others around the world.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in The Weekly Standard on Oct. 19, 2009.

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.