The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.
The Presidential Option to Ignore Polls
If President Obama decides to mount a military strike in Syria, he will be bucking public opinion, which is overwhelmingly against intervention. He's doing the same by moving ahead with the Affordable Care Act, which only 37 percent viewed favorably in a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll. On the other hand, 57 percent in the same poll say they oppose de-funding the health law, part of a three-year jumble of conflicting findings that may not settle until long after most of the law takes effect next year.
Presidents are often criticized for governing by poll, but Obama and George W. Bush emphatically have not. Bush pursued the Iraq war, a Medicare prescription drug plan, and a bank bailout in the face of public disfavor. Obama followed suit when he bailed out the auto industry and muscled through a stimulus package. Both presidents have been at least partially vindicated. The economy is recovering, people like the prescription benefit, and the auto industry is booming.
Iraq is a different and more tragic story. But whether you agree with these presidents' policies or not, it's a tribute to them that they do what they believe they must and should, regardless of what the polls say in the moment.
AS U.K. MAKES CASE, MOMENTUM FOR SYRIA STRIKE COULD BE SLOWING. Britain published an intelligence assessment Thursday levying blame against the Syrian government for the deadly chemical attack on civilians that left hundreds dead in a suburb outside Damascus, The New York Times reports. United Nations chemical-weapons experts spent a third day investigating the site for evidence of the attacks, but "momentum for Western military strikes against Syria appeared to slow," TheTimes notes. U.S. officials conceded Thursday there was "no smoking gun" or "slam dunk" yet proving President Bashar al-Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons even as President Obama attempted Wednesday to rally support for a potential military involvement while cautioning that he has yet to make a decision. Read more
Syrian rebel forces have been asking the Obama administration for gas masks and other chemical-weapons protection gear for more than a year, but the requests were repeatedly ignored, The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin reports. Read more
U.S. SPY NETWORK'S SECRET 'BLACK BUDGET' REVEALED. A $52.6 billion secret government "black budget" for fiscal year 2013, published Thursday via leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, details the successes, failures, and objectives of the U.S. intelligence community spanning over a dozen agencies, The Washington Post reports. The "intelligence-gathering colossus" built after Sept. 11, 2001, is still unable to provide important information to the president on important national security threats, according to the budget. "Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities, and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in response to Post inquiries. Read more
ThePost also published a detailed interactive graphic breaking down the black budget by agency, spending categories, types of expenses, and mission objectives. See it here
BROTHERHOOD CALLS FOR MORE PROTESTS, SIT-INS ON FRIDAY. Egypt's embattled Muslim Brotherhood is again calling for nationwide demonstrations opposing the military-backed government even as more of its top leadership was arrested Thursday, the Associated Press reports. The last such demonstrations ended with a bloody crackdown by security forces that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people, most of whom opposed former President Mohamed Morsi's ouster on July 3, and concerns are mounting that tomorrow's protests could prompt another explosion of violence. The Interior Ministry said it would respond with "firmness" against acts threatening national security. The once-powerful Brotherhood in Egypt has been weakened by the mass arrests of hundreds of its top and mid-level leaders.
With the Muslim Brotherhood becoming increasingly marginalized, Egypt's old order is once again shaping the nation's future, Reuters' Tom Perry and Lin Noueihed write. Read more
OBAMA'S AFFORDABLE CARE ACT LOOKING A BIT UNAFFORDABLE. Republicans have long blamed President Obama's signature health care initiative for increasing insurance costs, dubbing it the "Unaffordable Care Act." Turns out, they might be right, National Journal's Clara Ritger reports. For the vast majority of Americans, premium prices will be higher in the individual exchange than what they're currently paying for employer-sponsored benefits, according to a NJ analysis of news coverage and cost data. Adding even more out-of-pocket expenses to consumers' monthly insurance bills is a swell in deductibles under the Affordable Care Act. Health law proponents have excused the rate hikes by saying the prices in the exchange won't apply to the millions receiving coverage from their employers. But that's only if employers continue to offer that coverage--something that's looking increasingly uncertain. Read more
DOJ WILL NOT CHALLENGE POT LEGALIZATION IN COLORADO, WASHINGTON. The Justice Department said today it will not attempt to block recently passed state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize marijuana, CNN reports. The Justice Department also issued less stringent enforcement guidelines for federal prosecutors that intend to shift the focus toward the most serious trafficking offenses. Nationally, marijuana will remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Colorado and Washington voters legalized marijuana last fall via ballot measures. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow some marijuana use, usually for medicinal purposes. The new guidelines, outlined by Attorney General Eric Holder in a call to the Washington and Colorado governors, will not change federal money-laundering rules. Read more
OBAMA UNVEILS NEW GUN-CONTROL MEASURES. The Obama administration announced new regulations today intended to curb gun violence through steps limiting imports of certain military-style weapons and closing a loophole letting some purchasers evade background checks, The Wall Street Journal reports. One proposal would block imports of weapons that the U.S. sells, and the other would limit the ability of felons to bypass background checks. The efforts follow a failed push by Obama to have Congress pass sweeping changes to the nation's gun laws after a wave of major incidents of gun violence last year. Obama and Vice President Biden have said they will continue working with Congress to pass gun-control legislation. Read more
A local recall election--called for two state senators who voted for new gun restrictions earlier this year--could be a bellwether for the future of gun control, The New Republic's Alec MacGillis writes. Read more
TREASURY, IRS TO RECOGNIZE ALL GAY MARRIAGES. Prompted by the Supreme Court ruling in June striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said today that all same-sex couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes even if their state does not recognize the marriage, The New York Times reports. "Today's ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax-filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. "This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change." The ruling applies to all legal marriages in the U.S. or foreign countries. Read more
STRONG SECOND-QUARTER GDP SOARS PAST EXPECTATIONS. The U.S. gross-domestic product grew by a 2.5 percent annual rate from April to June, revealing an economy that accelerated sharply in the second quarter due in large part to a surge in exports, Reuters reports. The economic data released today is being widely seen as strengthening a case for the Federal Reserve to begin tapering its $85 billion monthly bond-purchasing stimulus program. "We are likely now moving past the peak of fiscal drag and, as we do, improving underlying private demand should support a pickup in GDP growth," said Ted Wieseman, an economist at Morgan Stanley. The government had originally estimated a GDP growth of 1.7 percent in the quarter. Read more
FAST-FOOD WORKERS NATIONWIDE STRIKE FOR INCREASED WAGES. Workers at fast-food restaurants in 60 cities around the country staged strikes today, the latest big push in a nearly year-long campaign for higher wages, Reuters reports. Restaurants in many cities, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Seattle, have shut down because of the demonstrations, and fast-food employees were hopeful they would be joined by retail workers from stores owned by Macy's, Sears, and Dollar Tree. The workers are protesting for retaliation-free ability to form unions, they right to bargain for wages, and a minimum pay of $15 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Read more
Despite the inspiring scenes of workers uniting behind a common and sympathetic cause, their goals are doomed to fail without some sort of third-party intervention, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson writes. Read more
BANKS, UTILITIES COULD BE NEXT TARGETS OF SYRIAN CYBERATTACK. The U.S. is preparing for a potential wave of computer attacks against banks and utilities by Syria-affiliated hackers as part of an expected retaliation for any military strike against the country, Bloomberg reports. The National Security Agency has tapped into hackers' computers to learn about their capabilities for disrupting power grids, financial systems and other critical infrastructure, preparation that has taken on added urgency following the Syrian Electronic Army's hacking of The New York Times' website earlier this week. "Welcome to the new world," Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said. "The line between national security and private security is eroding." Read more
WOMEN'S GROUPS HOPE TO BOOST YELLEN'S FED HOPES BY DERAILING SUMMERS. Several women's groups, worried about her status as an underdog, are stepping up their support for Janet Yellen to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Politico reports. Part of the strategy to buoy Yellen, the central bank's current vice chairwoman, involves intensifying criticism of potential pick Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary. And if that fails, these groups, including the National Organization for Women, intend to make a confirmation process for Summers tense and uncomfortable for Democratic senators. "President Obama doesn't need to be reelected but quite a few Democrats in Congress do," NOW President Terry O'Neill said. Read more
When Summers was president of Harvard in 2004, he approved a method of financing a $2.3 billion project to build a new campus in Boston that fizzled out and ultimately failed in 2008, costing the school more than $900 million to unwind, Bloomberg reports. Read more
"I haven't been out there touting my Obama thing. It's there." -- Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, on his standing with black voters in the Illinois gubernatorial race (Chicago Tribune)
JUSTICE DELAYED, AND NEARLY DENIED. In 2001, Daniel Taylor, serving a life sentence for a double murder, wrote to Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills protesting his innocence, former Tribune reporter Maurice Possley writes in The Atlantic. Despite their initial skepticism, the reporters uncovered considerable evidence that Taylor had been wrongly convicted. "I had never been so confident of a convicted defendant's innocence," Possley writes. A 2003 review of the case by Cook County prosecutors was "a sham re-investigation," and a state court rejected Taylor's 2008 petition for a retrial. An attorney from Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions filed a federal writ of habeas corpus on Taylor's behalf, and by 2012 the Illinois Attorney General's office had discovered additional evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. After prosecutors agreed to vacate his conviction and dismiss the case against him, Taylor was finally released from prison on June 28, 2013, after spending more than 20 years—over half his life—behind bars. "Air is air, you know?" he said following his release. "But the air I breathed in when I walked out that door was totally different. Really, I lack the vocabulary to explain it. I am really out. I am really free." Read more
@ethanklapper: Obama is buttering up progressives today before he bombs Syria
@GrahamDavidA: Thursday news dump, amirite?
@SenJohnMcCain: Thanks for the birthday wishes! In the words of Casey Stengel, "If I had known I'd live so long, I would have taken better care of myself"
CHART OF THE DAY
TRACING CALIFORNIA'S RIM FIRE. As a massive California wildfire continues to burn near Yosemite National Park, the media is doing its best to track its progress. The Atlantic's Rebecca Rosen created an interactive map charting the changing geography of the blaze, and Time has produced a timelapse video showing the destruction since the fire began on August 19 in northern California's Stanislaus National Forest. The latest reports indicate that about 30 percent of the wildfire has been contained, though almost 200,000 acres have already been charred, making this the sixth largest in California history.