WE’RE 53 DAYS from Election Day, and a storm is barreling toward the East Coast. People will probably lose their lives and their belongings. The response to the storm already has some Republicans spooked. It’s always sensitive to talk about the political impact of a storm of this nature. But with utility companies predicting power outages for weeks, and roads already flooding, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S government will be under a microscope.

AND YESTERDAY — when he denied that 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria — the president showed he wasn’t exactly savvy in dealing with suffering. A top Hill Republican pointed out that North Carolina has several House seats up for grabs. If you combine government dysfunction with a dash of insensitivity, that has the potential to be a drag for the GOP.

THE PRESIDENT’S reaction to the travesty in Puerto Rico also might be instructive in predicting how he could react to an electoral calamity in November. There are a bunch of districts across the country where the president’s approval ratings are in the high teens. If Republicans lose the House, will he accept a scintilla of blame?

FLORENCE NEARS EAST COAST– AP: “‘Catastrophic’ freshwater flooding expected over Carolinas,” by Jonathan Drew in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hurricane Florence already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and forecasters say that ‘catastrophic’ freshwater flooding is expected over portions of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence inches closer to the U.S. East Coast.

“The National Hurricane Center said early Friday that Florence’s eyewall is beginning to approach the North Carolina coast bringing with it life-threatening storm surge. …

“Screaming winds bent trees toward the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence’s leading edge whipped the Carolina coast Thursday to begin an onslaught that could last for days, leaving a wide area under water from both heavy downpours and rising seas.” AP

— POST AND COURIER: “Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1, path down SC coast ‘cannot yet be ruled out’”: “At 11 p.m. Thursday, Hurricane Florence had weakened to Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds off the North Carolina coast.

“The storm continued creeping at 6 mph to the northwest. Federal forecasters expected it to turn overnight to move more westward then begin to crawl down the coast toward the South Carolina-North Carolina border, where earlier forecasts suggested it would move inland on Friday. But federal meteorologists couldn’t rule out that Florence might make landfall farther south. Three computer models still indicated the storm would straddle the South Carolina coastline before turning in closer to Charleston.” Post and Courier

WAPO’S PHIL RUCKER, BOB COSTA and JOSH DAWSEY: “Trump creates political storm with false claim on Puerto Rico hurricane death toll”

BEHIND THE SCENES — ANDREW RESTUCCIA, CHRIS CADELAGO and MATT CHOI: “West Wing aides perfect a Trump survival skill: Ignoring the tweets”: “President Donald Trump minimized the pain and suffering of more than 3 million American citizens in Puerto Rico in a pair of tweets Thursday morning – and White House aides acted like it wasn’t their problem.

“Trump’s broadside, in which he peddled a false conspiracy theory that ‘Democrats’ inflated the official death toll from Hurricane Maria to smear his image, was met largely with silence from his White House advisers. There were no efforts to walk back or explain Trump’s rage-tweets – no apologies or statements of support from the press office. Nobody resigned in protest. Officials refused to comment on the record.

“Three Republicans close to the White House said Trump’s tweets reflected his spiraling frustration with the media narrative that the federal government’s Maria response was a failure. They said that the president himself was the driving force behind the message, noting that it was not echoed by other White House officials or other Republican leaders.

“The disconnect reinforced the growing sense in the West Wing that, after 20 months of failed efforts to corral the president, it’s best to let the president – who has long viewed himself as his best spokesman, strategist and negotiator – say what he wants to say and move on.” POLITICO

— EASIER SAID THAN DONE: AP’S GARY FINEOUT in Tallahassee: “Trump tweets roil Florida GOP’s play for Puerto Rican voters”

Good Friday morning. TOMMY ANDREWS, SPEAKER PAUL RYAN’S director of member services, is heading to the White House’s legislative affairs shop. This is a big pickup for the White House, which has struggled — at times — in dealing with Congress, or being sensitive to its political concerns.

Andrews knows as much about the contemporary composition of the House of Representatives as any aide on Capitol Hill. Member services is a critical organ for the leadership, and requires daily contact — and deep relationships — with members from across the political spectrum. Andrews is a Boehner alum.

— SPOTTED at a going-away gathering for Tommy on the speaker’s balcony: Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), Jonathan Burks, Shahira Knight, Mollie Thorsen, Parker Poling, Brendan Buck, Mike Ricci, John Milne, Shannon McGahn, Jake Kastan, Jenna Sakwa, Kevin Seifert, Mark Isakowitz, David Hobbs, Danielle Burr, Will Kinzel, Tim McGivern, Derrick Dockery, Alyssa Farah, Doug Andres, AshLee Strong and Alex Moe.

SPOTTED: Michael Avenatti having lunch on Thursday at the Palm in D.C. with Susanna Quinn, Peter O’Keefe, Jackson Dunn, Adrienne Elrod, Erin McPike, Marsha Catron, Ankit Desai, Dan Turrentine, Nick Schmit, Alex Hornbrook, Ian Alberg and Patrick Hallahan.

KUSHNER’S WORLDVIEW, via NYT’s Mark Landler: “Three days after the Trump administration evicted the Palestine Liberation Organization from its offices in Washington, Jared Kushner defended the latest in a string of punitive actions against the Palestinians and insisted that none of them had diminished the chances of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Speaking on Thursday, 25 years to the day after the Oslo peace accords were signed on the White House lawn not far from his West Wing office, Mr. Kushner said President Trump had actually improved the chances for peace by stripping away the “false realities” that surround Middle East peacemaking.

“‘There were too many false realities that were created — that people worship — that I think needed to be changed,’ he said in an interview. ‘All we’re doing is dealing with things as we see them and not being scared out of doing the right thing. I think, as a result, you have a much higher chance of actually achieving a real peace.’” NYT

TRADE WARS — “Trump Plans to Rebrand Nafta, Warns Canada,” by WSJ’s Mike Bender: “President Trump revealed plans to rebrand the North American Free Trade Agreement as the ‘USMC’ pact—for the U.S., Mexico and Canada — telling Republican donors at a private fundraiser Wednesday that he will drop the ‘C’ if Canada doesn’t agree to changes he is seeking, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Mr. Trump groused about Canada during a private meeting with about a dozen supporters, complaining that officials from the U.S.’s northern neighbor describe themselves as good friends to America while imposing tariffs of more than 200% on some American dairy exports, these people said.” WSJ

2018 WATCH — “Gov. Andrew Cuomo Easily Defeats Cynthia Nixon in New York Primary,” by NYT’s Shane Goldmacher: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a decisive step toward a third term on Thursday, quelling a liberal rebellion by turning aside the insurgent challenge of Cynthia Nixon to claim the Democratic nomination in New York.

“Mr. Cuomo had marshaled the support of nearly all of the state and country’s most powerful Democratic brokers — elected officials, party leaders, labor unions and wealthy real estate interests — to defeat Ms. Nixon, beating her by 30 percentage points.” NYT

— “The biggest threat to the GOP majority no one’s talking about,” by Elena Schneider in Issaquah, Washington: “A glut of GOP retirements has House Republicans defending a record number of open seats this fall — further fueling the odds of a Democratic takeover. Of the 44 districts left open by incumbents who are retiring, resigning or seeking higher office, Democrats are targeting almost half of them. They need to gain 23 seats to win the House majority.

“The open seats may be an overlooked factor in an election season dominated by GOP angst over a potential voter backlash against President Donald Trump. Recent history explains why Republicans are so concerned: In the past six midterm elections, the president’s party has not retained a single open seat he failed to carry two years prior, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman.” POLITICO

OK THEN! … “FBI’s Wray: Americans ‘can have confidence’ in elections,” by Jesus Rodriguez: “FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday assured Americans that they could have confidence in the U.S. election system during the November midterm elections despite efforts from the Russian government to undermine it.

“Wray gave his pledge in a rare on-camera interview, the first since he took the helm of the federal law enforcement agency in August of last year. Wray confirmed that the Kremlin continued to try to influence democratic processes less than two months shy of the midterms by engaging in ‘information warfare.’

“‘I think Americans can have confidence in our election system,’ Wray told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell when asked whether voters could be sure the election will be fair. ‘What [the Russians] do is sow both inaccurate information, disinformation, it’s a kind of information warfare, and then propaganda: exaggerated half-truths, distortions.’” POLITICO

— JOSH MEYER, “Alleged Russian spy Butina tried to score Trump meeting a year before government claimed”: “In July 2015, a young Russian gun rights activist now alleged to be a Kremlin covert agent was trying to meet Donald Trump, nearly a year earlier than prosecutors have publicly claimed. The suspected spy, Mariia Butina, routed the previously undisclosed request through her friend and longtime Republican political operative, Paul Erickson, who reached out to Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg, Nunberg told POLITICO.

“Erickson described Butina as a Russian involved with the National Rifle Association, according to Nunberg, who was one of a handful of people tapped by Trump to start up his campaign at the time. When Butina wasn’t able to meet with Trump, she showed up at a campaign event several days later to ask Trump a question about Russian sanctions during the Q&A session.” POLITICO

BEZOS SPEAKS — “Bezos to Trump: It’s ‘dangerous to demonize the media’,” by Steven Overly: “Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos took aim at President Donald Trump over his criticism of journalists Thursday night, saying his rhetoric calling the media the ‘enemy of the people’ erodes the freedom of the press the nation cherishes.

“‘It is a mistake for any elected official in my opinion … to attack media and journalists. I believe that it’s an essential component of our democracy,’ Bezos said in an on-stage interview hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.

“‘What the president should say is, “This is right. This is good. I am glad I am getting scrutinized,”’ he said. ‘But it’s really dangerous to demonize the media. It’s dangerous to call the media lowlifes. It’s dangerous to say they’re the ‘enemy of the people.’” POLITICO

— SPOTTED at the Bezos dinner at the Washington Hilton: David Rubenstein, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Fred Ryan, Singapore Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Postmaster General Megan Brennan, Adrian Fenty, Jack Evans, Carol Melton, Gina Adams, Michael Avenatti chatting with Jack Quinn, Patrick Hillman, Miki King, Kris Coratti, Jonathan O’Connell, Mark Ein, Tammy Haddad, Juleanna Glover, Kyle Dropp, Shani George, Tim McBride, Steve Hadley and Niki Christoff.

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Netanyahu Aide Steps Aside After Sexual Assault Allegations,” by NYT’s David M. Halbfinger in Jerusalem: “A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel stepped aside Thursday after several women accused him of sexual assault, denouncing what they called his ‘predatory’ behavior.

“The official, David Keyes, Mr. Netanyahu’s English-language spokesman, was publicly accused of sexual misconduct on Tuesday by two women, Julia Salazar, a New York State Senate candidate, and Shayndi Raice, a Wall Street Journal reporter. …

“Ms. Raice, the Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that she … had ‘a terrible encounter’ with Mr. Keyes. … ‘I repeatedly said ‘no,’ multiple times,’ Ms. Raice said in an interview. ‘He repeatedly ignored me. He was basically trying to bully and pressure me into having sex with him.’” NYT

THE INVESTIGATIONS …

— JOSH GERSTEIN and DARREN SAMUELSOHN: “Manafort hearing delayed again amid reports plea deal is near”: “A federal judge on Thursday again delayed a key pretrial hearing for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, as news reports said he was close to an agreement to plead guilty in a foreign-lobbying and money-laundering case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson had originally set the hearing for Wednesday morning, then shifted it to Friday at 9:30 a.m. On Thursday, she delayed the hearing again, to later Friday morning.

“The unexplained delays came amid reports of ongoing discussions between Manafort’s defense lawyers and Mueller’s prosecutors about a potential deal to head off the looming trial. The high-profile legal showdown that Manafort has been facing in Washington in the coming weeks could be an embarrassing distraction for President Donald Trump and the White House in the lead-up to the November midterm elections.

“Jury selection for Manafort’s D.C. trial is, at this time, set to begin Monday, with opening arguments scheduled for a week later.” POLITICOABC News, “Paul Manafort and special counsel reach tentative plea deal: Sources”

— “Emails give new detail about Mercury, Podesta role in Manafort’s lobbying,” by Theo Meyer: “A letter released by the Justice Department Thursday appears to show that lobbyists associated with Paul Manafort knew he was working at the direction of the Ukrainian government, even though the lobbyists did not register with the U.S. government as foreign agents until years later.” POLITICO

— ANDREW PROKOP (@awprokop): “In @MajorCBS’s book ‘Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride’ (out next week), Ty Cobb says Stephen Miller is a key figure in Comey firing. Cobb says Mueller has ‘all the handwriting’ — lots of back and forth notes between Trump and Miller.” Two pages from the book

ON THE MARKET! … “Steven Mnuchin Asks $32.5 Million for Longtime Manhattan Home,” by WSJ’s Katherine Clarke: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has listed a Manhattan home that has been in his family for decades for $32.5 million. Located at 740 Park Avenue, the apartment has five bedrooms, according to a listing on the website of real estate agency Warburg Realty.

“The building is one of New York’s most exclusive; wealthy families like the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Bouviers, Kochs and Bronfmans have all lived there, according to the book ‘740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building,’ by Michael Gross. The building was built by James T. Lee, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s grandfather, and designed by architect Rosario Candela.” With a pic. WSJ

TRUMP’S FRIDAY — The president will get an emergency preparedness briefing at 2:30 p.m.

JOIN US — ANNA and JAKE are headed to Columbus Thursday for a special Playbook Elections event in Ohio with REP. JIM RENACCI (R-OHIO), who is running for Senate, and DEMOCRAT RICHARD CORDRAY, who is running for governor, to discuss how the 2018 midterm elections are shaping up. RSVP

— SPEAKING OF CORDRAY … DANIEL STRAUSS in Cleveland: “Obama to Ohio: Cordray as governor is ‘the kind of leadership we need’”

SUNDAY SO FAR …

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Panel: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Mary Katharine Ham, Marc Short and Karine Jean-Pierre

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”: Eliana Johnson, Lisa Lerer and Seung Min Kim

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press”: Bob Woodward. Panel: Yamiche Alcindor, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Rich Lowry and Peggy Noonan

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: Major Garrett. Political panel: Jamelle Bouie, Jeff Goldberg, Susan Page and Ramesh Ponnuru (guest host: John Dickerson)

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday”: Panel: Karl Rove, Julie Pace, Jason Chaffetz and Jane Harman

SCOOP — WAPO’S JOSH ROGIN, “Inside Steven Mnuchin’s ‘resistance’ to Trump’s Iran strategy”: “Banning Iran from SWIFT was a crucial plank of the pressure campaign that brought Tehran to the negotiating table earlier this decade. Iran rejoined SWIFT in 2016 as part of the nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from this year. Now, other top Trump administration officials and lawmakers want SWIFT to banish Iran again, but Mnuchin and his department are internally opposed to using pressure to force SWIFT to take action, three senior administration officials said.

“In interviews, the officials said Mnuchin has been slow-rolling the decision-making process to delay final consideration by the president. Following a July 26 Principals Committee meeting on Iran, the Treasury Department was tasked with producing an options memo laying out possible sanctions on SWIFT, its board members or their banks. Almost two months later, the document is missing in action — which prevents Trump from making a decision.” WaPo

AT THE PENTAGON — “McRaven, former SOCOM head, resigns from Pentagon board following Trump criticism,” by Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: “William McRaven, the retired four-star admiral who led U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, has resigned from the Pentagon’s technology advisory board following a public critique of President Donald Trump, Defense News has learned.

“McRaven resigned from the Defense Innovation Board, a group of technology leaders and innovators tasked with advising the secretary of defense on pertinent issues, on Aug. 20, four days after he posted a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post calling out Trump for revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan.” Defense News

SPY GAMES — “U.S. Spies Rush to Protect Defectors After Skripal Poisoning,” by NYT’s Adam Goldman, Julian E. Barnes, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo: “When a suspected hit man for Russian intelligence arrived in Florida about four years ago, F.B.I. surveillance teams were alarmed. The man approached the home of one of the C.I.A.’s most important informants, a fellow Russian, who had been secretly resettled along the sunny coast. The suspected hit man also traveled to another city where one of the informant’s relatives lived, raising even more concerns that the Kremlin had authorized revenge on American soil.

“At F.B.I. headquarters, some agents voiced concern that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, himself a former intelligence officer known to reserve scorn for defectors from their ranks, had sent an assassin to kill one he viewed as a turncoat. Others said he would not be so brazen as to kill a former Russian spy on American soil. Ultimately, the Russian defector and his family remained safe. But after the poisoning in March of Sergei V. Skripal … and his daughter, American intelligence officials have begun to reassess the danger facing former spies living in the United States, according to current and former American intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations.” NYT

DEMOCRATIC PARTY UPDATE …

— “Black Women Helped Build The Democratic Party. Now Those Leaders Say They’re Being Locked Out,” by BuzzFeed’s Darren Sands and Ruby Cramer: “Decades after they fought for a seat at the table inside the [DNC], black women political leaders say their allegiance to the institution they helped build is now critically imperiled, citing an exasperation with chairman Tom Perez and a widely shared feeling that the party’s central arm gives only superficial recognition to the voices that represent its longest-serving stewards and most loyal base of voters.

“From young officials to veteran operatives, black women in the party described the DNC of 2018 as ‘unrecognizable’ — less ‘open,’ they said, than in the era that ushered in the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign of 1984, made Ron Brown the first black Democratic chair in 1989, and installed a generation of black women at the highest levels of the party for the first time.” BuzzFeed

— IAN KULLGREN: “Union dispute threatens Ohio Democrats”

VALLEY TALK — FINALLY! “Facebook to Start Fact-Checking Photos, Videos,” by WSJ’s Micah Maidenberg: “Facebook Inc. will begin fact-checking photographs and videos posted on the social media platform, seeking to close a gap that allowed Russian propagandists to promote false news during the last U.S. presidential election. The company said Thursday it will use technology and human reviewers to try to staunch what it called in a statement ‘misinformation in these new visual formats.’ Previously, the company’s efforts had been focused on rooting out false articles and links.” WSJ

MEDIAWATCH — “Jim Nelson to Leave GQ After a 15-Year Run as Its Top Editor,” by NYT’s Jaclyn Peiser: “Earlier this year, GQ won two National Magazine Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. On Thursday, Condé Nast announced that it was replacing its editor in chief. Jim Nelson, who edited the men’s monthly for 15 years, will turn over the publication at the end of the year to Will Welch, GQ’s creative director and the editor of its quarterly fashion-focused spinoff, GQ Style.” NYT

TRANSITION — Nik Deogun is joining Brunswick Group as CEO of the Americas and U.S. senior partner. He most recently has been editor-in-chief and SVP of business news at CNBC.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: NYT reporter Matt Flegenheimer. How he got his start in journalism: “I was a Times intern on the metro desk out of college, where early assignments included asking Anthony Weiner’s constituents if they thought he should resign from Congress and a series of yarns about runaway zoo animals. It was useful prep for D.C.” Playbook Plus Q&A

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Lincoln Davis turned 75 (hat tip: John Barrow) … (was Wednesday): John Stanford, partner at Prism Group (h/t Kenny Cunningham) … (was Monday): John Corrigan.

BIRTHDAYS: Bloomberg’s Jen Jacobs … Kirsten Kukowski … Will Nichols … Alex Korson, executive producer of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” … Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is 53 … Russell Berman, staff writer at The Atlantic … Victoria Esser, managing director at GPG … Angela Grossfeld … CAP’s Ryan Collins … Jonathan Dimock … Nick Magallanes … Larry A. Mizel, CEO of MDC Holdings, is 76 … Richard Strauss, former Clinton WH radio director and president of Strauss Media Strategies … Tim Arango, NYT national correspondent based in LA … Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is 4-0 … Jolyn Marie Cikanek, government relations and PAC manager at Genworth Financial, is 31 (hubby tip: Zachary Cikanek) … Jim Angle is 72 … Courtney Flantzer … NBC News’ Scott Foster … Howlie Davis … Joyce Brayboy … Abigail Collazo … Edelman’s Luke Bolar and Joel Contreras … Elliot Berke, managing partner of Berke Farah (h/t Tim Burger) … Julia Savel … Jay Preciado, celebrating with Erin (h/t Jon Haber) … Rachel Ryan McKell of Qorvis Communications …

… Paula Dobriansky (h/t Matt Swift) … Naomi Karavani … Abigail Collazo, director of strategic communications on the Stacey Abrams for Governor campaign … Hans Nichols (h/t Ben Chang) … Jillian Hughes, producer for CBS’ “Face the Nation” (h/ts Jackie Alemany and Michele Perez Exner) … Jacob Bell … Julie Savel … Josh Gordon … Brittany Parker … Christina Gennet … Katie Boyce, managing editor for digital at Bloomberg … John Ladd … Kirstin Mende … Kelly Scott … Ethan Stackpole … Molly Fluet … Ben Merkel … Reynaldo Benitez … Brian Greer … Katie Smith … Kari Scott Abitbol … Carey Kluttz … Trent Duffy … Maria Dorfner … Amy Wren … Clay Chandler … Paul McCarthy … Eden Gordon … Julia Cohen … Melina Delkic … Dan Morris … Kathleen O’Connell … Ted Gup … Hope Warschaw … Dave Dogan … Ken Strasma