By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: In the first debate over debates of 2016, we have a winner: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. (And enjoy the win, Mr. Chairman, because you're not likely to have many others before this long cycle is through.) With a unanimous, if largely symbolic, vote last week, the Republican National Committee managed to beat up on the Clintons, two mainstream media organizations, and the proliferation of presidential debates. In reality, Priebus' organization has little actual formal say about any of those things. But the chairman managed to unite a fractured party behind him, at least for one meeting. Candidates will still show up for whichever debates suit their candidacies in 2015 and 2016. But Priebus has put down a marker about the party leadership's willingness to manage the process - and the calendar, too - at the only phase in the cycle where people are looking to the party for this kind of leadership.
ABC's MATTHEW DOWD: Republicans can be faulted or criticized for many things (and I have!). And they certainly need to have a bigger tent, allowing more diversity of opinion and values, if they want to win national elections. And if governing and winning elections is their goal, then they definitely need to see America as it exists in the 21st century and not be a party that feels like the 1950s. As I have said before, they are a "Mad Men" party in a "Modern Family" country right now. But criticizing the RNC for this debate decision seems a bit off base. No media outlet has some inalienable right to conduct a debate - it is actually a privilege in this democracy. And if we understand many Republicans' fears, and their main goals of debates in the primaries as laid out above, then it does make some sense of why they made the decision they did. I don't necessarily believe in threats, but I do believe people have a right to try and preserve their own integrity, to be able to draw boundaries so they can live according to their own deeply held values, and to associate with folks they think will respect those boundaries and that integrity. If that is what motivated the RNC, then bravo to them. If it was some rationale of a more base nature, then trust me, the world always catches up to our motivations and it will be discovered. http://abcn.ws/1bKgvVO
ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ: Former Sen. Scott Brown just might be setting a record for the number of offices someone's considering run for at once - including the White House. During a trip to Iowa this weekend, Brown floated the idea of a potential 2016 bid, telling news outlets "I am curious" and he's "exploring a possible run" in the next presidential contest. Brown, who lost his Senate seat in November after serving just two years, even made a stop at the Iowa State Fair, a rite of passage for any presidential contender. Meanwhile, Brown is still toying around with the possibility of running for governor in Massachusetts or senator in two states - Massachusetts or New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home but currently is not a resident. Brown seems to be casting a wide net to try to keep his name alive in politics, but it's unclear at this time how serious he is about actually running for any of these posts.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
HIGH HEELS IN NORTH KOREA: GLIMPSES OF A MODERN WORLD IN RECLUSIVE NATION? Over the past decade, ABC News has traveled to the reclusive nation of North Korea just shy of a dozen times. Over the years, more and more fellow journalists have been "invited" by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - the DPRK, for short, as the North officially refers to itself - mostly to cover events that the government has deemed worthy of international coverage. It is a tenuous line for the press corps. On the one hand, because of North Korea's reclusiveness, news organizations scramble to accept or apply to get in. On the other hand, there is a wariness about our part in carefully orchestrated events designed to promote the leadership's "juche" (roughly translated as "self reliance") and "songgun" ("military first") philosophies. Those dual ideologies define a government - led by the young Kim Jong Un - at odds with the international community. We decided that, on balance, it was worth going and threading the journalistic needle. On a sweltering July afternoon, the Air Koryo desk (North Korea's official airline) at Beijing International Airport was jammed with tripods, cameras and suitcases bearing stickers of their respective news organizations. ABC's BOB WOODRUFF and MARGARET DAWSON were part of the group invited to Pyongyang to cover what North Korea was billing as its "Victory Day" - marking the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. Warm greetings were exchanged between journalists who found themselves invited on their second or third trips, wondering aloud what state of déjà vu this one would bring. For many, it was their first trip to the DPRK, and the obligatory "Inside North Korea" stories ensued - a natural and obvious one to file, as we did, ourselves, several trips ago. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1cTs559
CHRIS CHRISTIE TO SIGN GAY CONVERSION THERAPY BAN. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will announce today that he plans on signing a bill banning gay conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy which is the practice of trying to convert gay children to straight, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. He has previously said that while he doesn't agree in gay conversion therapy, he did not want the government to interfere with parents' own decisions about how to take care of their children and he had not said whether he would sign the bill passed by the state legislature in June. "At the outset of this debate, I expressed my concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children. I still have those concerns," Christie said in a statement. "Government should tread carefully into this area, and I do so here reluctantly. I have scrutinized this piece of legislation with that concern in mind." Christie will also note that the American Psychological Association has found efforts to change a person's sexual orientation can pose "critical health risks including, but not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate. " New Jersey becomes only the second state in the country that bans this practice. It became an issue in the 2012 presidential race when Michele Bachmann's husband Marcus, was accused of practicing gay conversion therapy at a counseling center he owned. Previously, Christie has said he believes people are born gay and it is not a sin. Something that could possibly put him at odds with Christian conservatives, especially in an early state like Iowa, who believe the opposite.
-THE CONTEXT: This is the third major legislative decision Christie has made over the last few days, WALSHE notes. On Friday he agreed to expand the state's medical marijuana program allowing the state's dispensaries to provide edible marijuana to sick children. He vetoed part of the legislation that would allow children, like adults, to be prescribed marijuana by a doctor registered in the state. Instead, parents must have a letter of support from a psychiatrist, as well as a pediatrician, and a doctor registered in the program. Late on Friday, Christie also vetoed a bill that would have banned a powerful type of assault weapon, the Barrett. 50 long-range rifle. After the Sandy Hook School shooting, Christie initially expressed support for banning the weapon, but on Friday said the bill went too far making owners of the weapon get rid of theirs.
-IN OTHER NEWS: Gov. Christie will be endorsing and campaigning with his old rival Tuesday, formally backing former mayor of Bogota, NJ and conservative activist Steve Lonegan in the New Jersey special U.S Senate election (where he is running against Newark mayor Cory Booker). According to both camps, Christie and Lonegan will have an event together at the Hunterdon County GOP headquarters in Flemington, New Jersey Tuesday afternoon. The two faced off against each other in 2009 when running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the Garden State. Christie, of course, beat Lonegan and then went on to beat Gov. Jon Corzine.
OBAMA'S VACATION BY THE NUMBERS. After a week of R&R, President Obama and the first family are on their way back to Washington. So, how did the Leader of the Free World unwind? Here's a look at how the president spent his time in Martha's Vineyard from ABC's MARY BRUCE: President Obama played SIX rounds of golf with TWELVE different partners, spending TWENTY-SEVEN and a HALF hours on THREE different courses. He made FIVE outings to local restaurants, including TWO dinners with friends, ONE intimate night out with the first lady, ONE family dinner and ONE run for fried-food pick up. He made FOUR different visits to friends' homes nearby. He made ONE on-camera statement to the press on the crisis in Egypt and his administration's response. And he played ONE game of basketball with friends, went for ONE family bike ride, and soaked up some sun during ONE family trip to a local beach. http://abcn.ws/14ZFAKx
RNC CHAIR: 'A HEALTHY FAMILY DEBATE IS NOT A BAD THING AT ALL'. The rifts within the Republican Party that have generated headlines in recent weeks don't concern the party's chairman. "A healthy family debate is not a bad thing at all. And I really believe that," RNC Chair Reince Priebus, told GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on ABC's "This Week." "I don't think at a time when we just came off of a presidential election that having a party that is just dull and boring is something that is good for not just our party, but for this country. So I think that these debates are good," Priebus said. Priebus, who led his party through the 2012 election and will serve as chairman of the RNC through the upcoming midterm cycle, defended the resolution passed unanimously by Republicans last week at their summer meeting in Boston which barred NBC and CNN from pairing with the GOP in presidential primary debates if the networks do not pull their planned projects Hillary Clinton. "I'm trying to get a hold of a primary process and a debate debacle that, as you know, I've called a traveling circus," Priebus said. "The fact of the matter is I've got to protect this party and our nominees. We don't want a whole lot of 23 debate rounds like we've had before. And I would just say that entities like NBC and CNN that are moving forward with four-part miniseries about Hillary Clinton are not going to take part in our debates." http://abcn.ws/16zyGy3
-FRIENDLY FIRE: Chairman Priebus also took a swipe at one of Mitt Romney's top 2012 advisers, Eric Ferhnstrom, in response to criticism fired by Ferhnstrom on Twitter about the GOP's debate resolution, ABC's ELIZABETH HARTFIELD notes. Last week, Fehrnstrom tweeted "it's bad optics for the RNC to block CNN and NBC from sponsoring presidential debates. Attacking the media is a loser's game." "Well, I don't know if his Etch a Sketch is on tilt, George," Priebus said in response- a reference to a gaffe Ferhnstrom made during the 2012 campaign cycle. "I'm not really taking advice from Eric Fehrnstrom right now."
BILL KRISTOL: HOW SARAH PALIN COULD POSSIBLY 'REHABILITATE'. During an exclusive web interview with "This Week's" BEN BELL, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said Sarah Palin - after having hastily stepped down as Alaska's governor in 2009 - might be able to rehabilitate her political career by winning a Senate race in her home state next year. "I think the way Palin would possibly resurrect herself, if that's the right word, or rehabilitate herself I guess a better way of putting it, [is] run for Senate in Alaska in 2014," Kristol said. "I'm not urging that, I'm just saying if I were her adviser I would say 'take on the incumbent, you have to win a primary, then you have to beat an incumbent Democrat. It's not easy.' But if she did that, suddenly if she can imagine that, you know, 'Sarah Palin, freshman senator, January 15, in Washington having beaten an incumbent,' that would be pretty interesting," he said. Kristol said that Palin's having left in the middle of her first term as governor had created a "big problem" for the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. http://abcn.ws/15YyhPw
SEN. BOB CORKER: 'NO DOUBT' EGYPT CRACKDOWN IS GOING TO 'CAUSE US TO SUSPEND AID'. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Sunday on "This Week" that the Egyptian military's violent crackdown on protesters will "no doubt" cause the U.S. to suspend aid, with Corker calling for the U.S. to "recalibrate" aid to Egypt long-term. "I think the actions of the last week no doubt are going to cause us to suspend aid, and I think it's, at the same time, a time for us to recalibrate and look at what is our national interest," Corker told ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has opposed efforts to suspend aid to Egypt, calling such action "terrible public policy" last month on the Senate floor. Corker said on "This Week" that while most aid to Egypt this year has "already gone out the door," the U.S. Senate should debate this fall the "tiers" of aid provided to Egypt, ensuring that national interests such as passage through the Suez Canal are protected. The U.S. provides $1.3 billion in aid annually to Egypt, the majority in military assistance. http://abcn.ws/17WhzBO
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID THIS SUMMER: CONGRESSIONAL RECESS EDITION. Congress has been on recess for a few weeks, and members have been staying busy on their vacations. But it hasn't all been work. There have been scorpion bites, wine-making contests, and a couple of butter cow visits. ABC's ALISA WIERSEMA takes a look at what some Washington politicians have been doing on their summer break: http://abcn.ws/14RkAZf
WHAT WE'RE READING
"MANCHIN UNAPOLOGETIC ON GUNS (BUT STILL PLAYING DEFENSE)," by the National Journal's Chris Frates. "Fifteen minutes late, Sen. Joe Manchin burst into the county library here and began working a conference room full of local business leaders and elected officials, many of whom he knew by name. The crowd gathered last week for an event billed as an economic roundtable, but their junior senator opened with a laundry list of issues: coal, Obamacare, taxes and spending, student loans, immigration and then, dead last, perhaps the toughest issue he's faced in his young tenure. 'Guns, I don't need to tell you about guns,' Manchin said, getting a knowing laugh from the friendly crowd of about three dozen. Manchin's push earlier this year to expand background checks on gun sales was widely known, thanks in part to the National Rifle Association. In June, the NRA spent $100,000 airing an ad slamming Manchin for working with President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on their 'gun-control agenda.' Manchin, a lifelong NRA member, punched back, with his own $100,000 ad buy defending his position. … So it's no surprise that Manchin took a few minutes to defend his failed attempt to expand background checks. … Everywhere he goes, Manchin paints his proposal as a simple fix to close loopholes that allow some some gun-show and Internet buyers to avoid background checks. It's an attempt to better keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. It's not a government gun grab. In fact, he argues, his plan would strengthen gun rights. Still, Manchin knew, in a culture as steeped in guns as the Mountain State, he was going to pay a price for pushing any increased gun control." http://bit.ly/14rBIyB
@mviser: While roaming IA State Fair, Scott Brown gets a call from…John Kerry. "Alright, man, I miss you, as well," he says. http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2013/08/18/scott-brown-does-the-iowa-state-fair/article …
@mkraju: Pryor says Obama has "hard-left" agenda, much of which he doesn't back, but calls Obamacare "a success" http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/mark-pryor-lone-arkansas-democrat-hangs-on-95650.html …
@PhilipRucker: Great take WaPo's @billykenber, from Times of London, on POTUS "cult of celebrity" & covering Obama's golf games http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/in-marthas-vineyard-obama-takes-some-randr-and-we-all-take-a-look/2013/08/18/2f80a2ea-0853-11e3-9941-6711ed662e71_story.html …