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On the roster: Stop questioning each other’s patriotism – I’ll Tell you What: There’s a hole… –  On taxes, now the hard part – Mattis vows results on Niger ambush probe – What’s Russian for ‘do it for the Insta?’

STOP QUESTIONING EACH OTHER’S PATRIOTISM 

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” – A. Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pa., Nov. 19, 1863

“James, earn this… earn it.” – Capt. John Miller, a character in the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan,” in his dying words to Pvt. James Ryan, the infantryman Miller and most of his unit died to save. 

The history of Christianity is marked by a number of regrettable moments in which human beings sought to measure the devotion of others. 

Through inquisitions, witch trials and all manner of public and private means, those who thought themselves holier than thou wanted to get to the bottom of exactly what thou really believed.

The conclusion of history has taken Christians mostly back to the beginning, when a group of new believers evidently inquired of their teacher how they would know the quality and quantity of the faith of their fellows. He instructed them simply to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” 

Paul’s message in modern terms: You have enough to worry about with your own relationship with the Almighty to be worrying about judging the faith of another.   

It’s good advice, wherever you hang your spiritual hat. And it also happens to be an important concept when it comes to civic life. 

Samuel Johnson’s saying goes that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” but if you want to find the real scoundrels, look instead for those questioning the patriotism of others.

Like most kinds of misconduct, the problem here isn’t so much about the individuals involved, but rather what it does do the rest of us. And even a cursory survey of our current discourse will show you how true that is. 

At whatever point in the past 20 years that it began to be so much more acceptable to accuse your political rivals of dispatriotism – the Iraq war was probably an inflection point – our ability to reason together, debate and address major issues has gotten worse. 

Take this week’s spectacle. Does the fight between Rep. Frederica Wilson and President Trump do any good for our dialogue? Of course not. Does it help explain how we lost four of our countrymen in Niger? Quite the opposite. Can the dispute ever be definitively resolved? Never. 

There’s little debate over what Trump said to the widow of Staff Sgt. La David Johnson. What Trump and Wilson are fighting about, now through a growing number of proxies, was what was in Trump’s heart when he made his call of condolence. Talk about a pointless endeavor, and one in which both sides claim the moral high ground by assuming the cynicism of the other.   

The same goes for the now weeks-long debate over protests during the national anthem at professional football games. Both sides feel free to claim that their patriotic expressions are of a finer, better nature than those arranged on the opposite side. Science may have found a way to call balls and strikes on a baseball diamond, but it will never be able to measure the qualities of the human spirit.

At issue in both of these debates, just as it was in similar confrontations during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama are questions of motive and love of country. 

Both Bush and Obama touched on this sentiment in speeches this week, and both are in positions to know from whence they speak. To varying degrees, both employed divisive measures to obtain and maintain power, and both were depicted by their opponent as enemies of the American people. 

It wasn’t enough to say that Bush wrongly executed the war in Iraq, it had to be that he lied to start a war for his own profit. It couldn’t just be that Obama misjudged the character of the “Arab Spring,” it had to be that he was a fellow traveler of the murderous mobs. 

In all of these disputes, both sides claim to be on the side of our war dead. But we know that’s not so. We know that the finest way to honor those who died in service of the country is to help build and maintain a nation worthy of their sacrifices, and in that way we are all falling down on the job to varying degrees.

The place to begin and end on questions of the qualities and quantities of faith and love is usually within the confines of one’s own heart, with a little humility if not fear and trembling.

THE RULEBOOK: TRUE DAT
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” – Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 51

TIME OUT: SLEEPING GIANT
Time: “Shortly after World War I broke out in 1914, two French artists could already predict that the conflict would take place on a scale unlike anything ever seen at that point. …shortly before the armistice in 1918, more than 100 French artists — mostly older men who were not able to fight themselves — had worked on it. Dubbed Panthéon de la Guerre, the painting measured a whopping 402 feet around and 45 feet tall, and depicted approximately 6,000 heroes of the Allied war effort. It was billed as the world’s largest painting. … After the painting was initially displayed in a dedicated structure in Paris, it went on tour. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, a special building was constructed to display the massive mural. …it wound up by 1940 sitting in a crate outside a Baltimore warehouse, forgotten. A local restaurateur named William H. Haussner … purchased the painting at an auction for $3,400.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -20.8 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.2 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: THERE’S A HOLE…
The duo are together in person! This week Dana Perino joins Chris Stirewalt in Washington D.C. to talk budget reconciliation, taxation and Dana’s bag of food (please recycle). And is the hole in the bucket or at the bottom of the sea? Plus, Chris plays a game of “Name That Presidential Resume.” LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

ON TAXES, NOW THE HARD PART 
Business Insider: “The House now has to approve the Senate budget. The resolution adopted Thursday included key concessions to House conservatives that should avoid a conference committee in which the Senate and House would have to hash out any differences in the two budgets. Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, said avoiding a conference would be a significant step since it would be so time consuming. … By simply agreeing to the Senate deal, House Republicans would fast-track the tax reform process. Rep. Kevin Brady, the chair of the House Ways and Means committee that will oversee the tax reform legislation, said he plans to debut the bill sometime in early November. … At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee will likely work on their own version of a tax bill that will have to appease all sides of their slim 52-seat majority. Already, a handful of senators have expressed misgivings about various aspects of the tax bill.”

Ryan holds the line on taxes for top earners –
 Bloomberg: “House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday that Republicans will include a fourth income tax bracket in their tax-overhaul plan so that top earners ‘do not see a big rate cut.’ ‘This is about the people, about half of which in this country are living paycheck to paycheck, and giving them a break on their taxes,’ Ryan said on ‘CBS This Morning.’ The speaker said he disagreed with White House economic adviser Gary Cohn’s statement that he can’t guarantee some middle-class Americans won’t pay more taxes under the plan. The tax framework Republicans issued last month called for collapsing the current seven income tax brackets into three — 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — while leaving open the possibility of a fourth rate for the highest earners. He said it hasn’t been decided if the fourth bracket will remain at the current top rate of 39.6 percent.” 

Paul drops opposition, ‘all in’ for tax cuts – Reuters: “Republican Senator Rand Paul on Friday appeared to back the Trump administration’s sweeping tax cut plan, saying he was ‘all in’ for massive tax cuts even as the Senate passed a key budget measure without his support one day earlier.”

Donors create warning ads to GOP senators on tax reform – Roll Call: “Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold are bankrolling a new lobbying effort aimed at leading lawmakers away from the temptation of a tax overhaul that would increase deficits. Citizens for Responsible Tax Reform launched print advertisements targeting Republicans in 20 states Thursday, including Kentucky, the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul. The group plans additional television and online ad buys as Congress and the White House debate an overhaul of the nation’s tax code, spokesman Blake Gober said.”

Could Congress cap 401(k) contributions at $2,400? – Wall Street Journal: “Proposals floating around Washington to cap the amount that Americans can contribute before taxes to 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts are unsettling professionals in the retirement industry. Republicans are looking for ways to generate revenue to support broad reductions in individual tax rates. One idea is to limit the amount of pretax money households can sock away for retirement saving. Such a move would likely generate significant political blowback but it hasn’t been explicitly ruled out, stirring worry among industry lobbyists.”

MATTIS VOWS RESULTS ON NIGER AMBUSH PROBE
Politico: “In the face of growing scrutiny, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday said the type of attack that killed four U.S. troops in Niger earlier this month was ‘considered unlikely’ and pledged to release the findings of a Pentagon investigation ‘as rapidly’ as possible. ‘I would just tell you that in this specific case contact was considered unlikely,’ Mattis said of the ambush against members of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group, which is advising local anti-terror units in the region. ‘But there’s a reason we have U.S. Army soldiers there and not the Peace Corps, because we carry guns and so it’s a reality,’ he added. ‘It’s part of the danger that our troops face in these counterterror campaigns.’”

McCain threatens subpoena – WaPo: “The Senate’s top Republican on military matters threatened Thursday to subpoena the Trump administration if officials are not more forthcoming about the Niger attack that left four American service members dead — just one of the steps lawmakers are taking to insist that Congress be read in on military operations before tragedies occur. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing the Trump administration to brief key members of Congress about the existence of ongoing operations — something he said the Obama administration was far better about doing than the Trump team. ‘There’s a mind-set over there that they’re a unicameral government,’ McCain said on Thursday…”

TRUMP PUSHES BACK ON BANNON
Politico: “President Donald Trump called three Republican senators this week and expressed support for their 2018 re-election bids, aligning with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the senator’s intra-party feud with Steve Bannon. Trump dialed GOP Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, according to five people familiar with the calls. He promised to help the three senators against any insurgent challengers, one of these people said, and said he hoped they would be reelected. The calls are expected to eventually be followed by formal endorsements, GOP senators said. Wicker, Barrasso and Fischer declined to comment on private discussions with the president. Wicker wasn’t available for comment. Bannon has criticized both Fischer and Barrasso and has told people he would like state Sen. Chris McDaniel to beat Wicker. … A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and a representative for Bannon declined to comment.”

Bannon’s ‘open revolt’ includes primaries for Dem-held seats – Real Clear Politics:“Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is increasingly expanding his proclaimed “season of war” against establishment Senate Republicans to include primary races in states with Democratic incumbents, hoping to sway GOP challengers toward his nationalist/populist movement and against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. … ‘It’s an open revolt, and it should be,’ Bannon said, later adding, ‘We’re building a grassroots army. It’s going to be their money versus your muscle.’”

Kevin Williamson: ‘Unity Is Overrated’ – National Review: “All this talk of ‘unity’ — by which Bannon et al. mean obedience to a mere politician — is creepy. It is also distinctly un-American, as indeed is the alt-right at large, which turns its eyes not to Plymouth Rock or Philadelphia but to nationalist figures and fascist movements in Europe. ‘Support the president!’ has become a moral imperative for some Republicans, who have descended into the classical error of conflating loyalty to the nation and loyalty to its political leader. That isn’t patriotism — it is cultism, and a creed of serfdom.”

Enten: ‘Calm down about those Virginia polls, folks’ – Five Thirty Eight: “So what the heck is going on in the Virginia governor’s race? Nothing. The split between the Monmouth and Quinnipiac results is big, but it’s not unnatural. In fact, it’s a sign that pollsters are doing their job. Polling averages work best when pollsters are working independently. You have different pollsters using different methods and making different estimates of the electorate, and you get a more accurate picture of the race by averaging their results together than by looking at any individual poll.”

REPORT: TRUMP GOT PERSONAL IN N.Y. PROSECUTOR PICKS
Politico: “President Donald Trump has personally interviewed at least two potential candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York, according to two sources familiar with the matter — a move that critics say raises questions about whether they can be sufficiently independent from the president. Trump has interviewed Geoffrey Berman, who is currently at the law firm Greenberg Traurig for the job of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ed McNally of the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres for the Eastern District post, according to the sources. It was unclear when the discussions took place. Trump has not announced nominees for those positions. Neither Berman nor McNally responded to calls or emails requesting comment.”

Meet the frontrunner to replace Janet Yellen – Politico: “Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell is the leading candidate to become the chair of the U.S. central bank after President Donald Trump concluded a series of meetings with five finalists Thursday, three administration officials said. The officials cautioned that Trump, who met with current Chair Janet Yellen for about half an hour on Thursday, has not made a final decision. Powell, known as Jay, has been heavily favored by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading the Fed chair search for Trump.”

Cornyn blockades Trump appointee over hurricane relief – Axios: “Texas Sen. John Cornyn is frustrating both administration officials and conservative movement leaders by holding up the confirmation of Russ Vought to be Mick Mulvaney’s right hand man at the Office of Management and Budget. Cornyn … has made it clear that Vought will be held up until he gets more funding for Texas’ hurricane relief, according to three sources close to the situation. It’s unclear how Cornyn has phrased his demand or how much extra money, exactly, he’s asking for, but his message has been heard loud and clear by top Trump administration officials.”

LYNCH TALKS TO HOUSE INTEL ABOUT CLINTON PROBE 
Fox News: “Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday as part of the probe looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Lynch is one of several former Obama officials who have been called to Congress for closed-door questioning over the Russia accusations. But sources close to the investigation told Fox News that questions over her infamous tarmac meeting with President Bill Clinton also may have been on the agenda. That June 27, 2016 meeting with Clinton on an airport tarmac in Phoenix raised questions about whether Lynch – or the Justice Department – could be impartial in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Days after the tarmac meeting, then-FBI director James Comey called Hillary Clinton’s actions ‘extremely careless’ but did not seek criminal charges. Lynch ignored three questions from Fox News’ Catherine Herridge Friday morning on Capitol Hill, in reference to those issues.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
First look at prototypes of trump’s border wall – Fox News

Officials scramble to create opioid plan – Politico

Several Trump nominees working without senate approval – Politico
 
Senate introduces bipartisan bill to help prevent Western wildfires
 – AP

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This Sunday, Dana Perino guest anchors for Mr. Sunday. She will sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra. 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.

AUDIBLE: THE MORE YOU KNOW…
“Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God he’s learned his lesson.” – House Speaker Paul Ryan at the annual Al Smith charity dinner in New York, joking about the response to now-President Trump’s sharp-elbowed gags at the event in 2016. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, there’s a vast difference between a state having a Republican governor and it’s being ‘governed’ by Republicans. That’s certainly not the case here in Illinois where Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has faced Democratic legislative majorities for all of his incumbency and Democratic super-majorities for much of it. The real governor of Illinois is House Speaker Mike Madigan, the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in the entire 241 year history of the United States. He’s been the Speaker for all but two years since 1983; he’s the chairman of the state Democratic Party; and as a special bonus his daughter, Lisa, has been the Illinois Attorney General for the past fourteen years, during which she’s taken very little interest in prosecuting the state’s pervasive political corruption.” – Bob Foys, Chicago

[Ed. note: Duly noted, Mr. Foys! Being a Republican in a Democrat-controlled state isn’t the same thing as having a cooperative legislature, but, I would point out that Gov. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland have had considerably more success despite similar partisan obstacles. I have begun to wonder whether Illinois can really make it. My father and many generations before him came from the southern end of the state, a very different place in the world from your hometown. I understand that finding political balance between Chicago and the rest of the state has created unique tensions throughout Illinois’ history. But it seems now that something is fundamentally broken and that after 20 years of scandal, mismanagement and declining governance, if the Land of Lincoln is going to have to face even more serious consequences before voters are willing to break the cycle of regional political violence.]

“Since ‘We need to follow Fox News’ concern trolling advice post haste!’ was said by no Democrat ever, making the lede in today’s Halftime Report dead weight space filler, is now the time to talk about gun control? Following Las Vegas you criticized Hillary Clinton for seeking to bring the national discussion to gun control at that time. Time has now passed, and you obviously have nothing of any value to add to the national conversation today, so why didn’t you write about your views on gun control instead of saying absolutely nothing about VA? And when you do start talking about gun control, since I’m oh so sure you’re just waiting for exactly the right moment to broach the subject, and not trying desperately to avoid a debate you can’t win, can you please explain how 2A guarantees Americans’ rights to ‘have’ guns without using any form of the word ‘own’ or ‘ownership’ in the actual language.
People own guns, but the military (militia) keeps and bears arms, how ‘bout that, a subtle but undeniable distinction! In all fairness, I do want to thank you for always being an accurate barometer of what morons are thinking – reading your columns, I get to learn things I never knew about dotards.” – Andy Link, North Hollywood, Calif.

[Ed. note: Gracious sakes, Mr. Link! I will have to take you at your word about regularly reading these notes, but I will have to point out that you have not been paying very close attention. Not only did we discuss the issues you mentioned at length in the aftermath of the shooting, but had quite robust debates with readers about the purpose of the Second Amendment. These have been among the most edifying, thoughtful conversations we have had. And as for Clinton being bad at politics, I would think that even her staunchest defenders would have to acknowledge at this point that she has struggled to capitalize on her advantages and only too often failed to take appropriate steps to control for her disadvantages. But I think the thing I find most troubling about the mindset expressed in your note is that you are reading for an “accurate barometer for what morons are thinking.” Hey, you’re free to spend your time however you like. But I would submit you would be advantaged by taking a more humane view of your fellow Americans. We certainly welcome your readership, but I hope that you are able to look beyond partisan labels and think about the country as a whole, rather than a collection of your intellectual inferiors. Plus, a person who spends his time hate reading might be intelligent, but surely not wise.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

WHAT’S RUSSIAN FOR ‘DO IT FOR THE INSTA?’ 
The Telegraph [U.K.]: “If you can’t actually afford to fly on a private jet, then a company in Russia will help you fake it instead. Moscow-based company, the Private Jet Studio, has created a unique business by renting out a private jet for Instagram photoshoots, but there’s a catch. Russians can experience what stepping onto a luxury private jet feels like, however they won’t actually be travelling anywhere, with the plane remaining firmly on the ground during the experience. But that hasn’t stopped people from paying to rent out the Gulfstream 65 aeroplane to capture photos for Instagram bragging. A two-hour shoot with a professional photographer costs [$244] or [$191] without. A videographer is also available for [$435]. Photos posted on the company’s Instagram account show customers pretending to be thousands of feet in the air by looking longingly out of the plane’s windows.”

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.