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Essential Politics: It could be a quiet week in politics. Then again …

The week begins with a rare quiet moment in politics, with President Trump on vacation, Congress on recess and lawmakers taking a break from session in Sacramento.

I’m Christina Bellantoni. Welcome to the Monday edition of Essential Politics.

You may have noticed some recent changes to the newsletter. Let me know what you think of our new, shorter format.

LIGHTNING ROUND

What Vice President Pence’s sensitivity to stories about 2020 suggests about the White House.

Trump focuses — obsessively — on these seven topics and people.

Vladimir Putin was a more “pleasant call,” and other choice bits from leaked transcripts between Trump and foreign leaders.

Even more people have left the White House. We’re tracking the departures.

The 17-day getaway begins, never mind what Trump’s said before about vacations.

Trump is reportedly considering appointing two major GOP donors from Southern California as ambassadors to Mexico and Slovenia.

A mystery Trump mural in the little town called Bethlehem.

There’s a showdown in Arizona between two Republicans.

Get the latest about what’s happening in the nation’s capital on Essential Washington.

A PARTY ELDER

California Gov. Jerry Brown was on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, and NBC’s Chuck Todd hit him with some questions about a proposal that would increase limits on California law enforcement’s ability to work with federal immigration authorities. The governor’s response was characteristically cautious, and he suggested there were still some kinks to work out in the legislation authored by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

It’s been nearly five decades since Brown first won statewide elected office (he became California’s secretary of state in 1971), and the four-term governor ruminated about the status of the Democratic Party during the interview. He said Democrats “haven’t been able to deliver” for working people in the midst of global economic uncertainty, and he brushed off any suggestions the party should make abortion rights a litmus test for candidates.

HOLLYWOOD MAKES ITS 2018 PICK

Antonio Villaraigosa forged deep ties with the entertainment industry during his eight years as mayor of Los Angeles. But in the governor’s race, entertainment industry and art world donors have contributed nearly twice as much to rival Gavin Newsom, report Seema Mehta and Maloy Moore.

The governor’s race isn’t until next year, but donations to the candidates vying to lead California have already topped $30 million. See who is giving, and getting.

And on this week’s California Politics Podcast, John Myers and Melanie Mason discuss the challenges for the Democrats vying to replace Brown when it comes to convincing donors and voters that they’re the one to back.

ROHRABACHER’S RUSSIA CONNECTIONS

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has never tried to hide his friendliness toward Russia, and has long said the United States needs a better relationship with the country.

But links between the Costa Mesa Republican and the country toward which he extends a hand have raised eyebrows because of the investigations into Russia’s attempts to undermine the 2016 election. Sarah Wire took a look at what we know about his connections to those being investigated.

‘TOWN HALLS’ STARRING EMPTY CHAIRS

It’s August, which means Congress is on recess and lawmakers have headed back to their districts to attend events and, in some cases, hold town hall meetings.

But in California, all of the Republican members who have been identified as top candidates for Democrats to oust in 2018 are avoiding in-person town halls with constituents this month. So Democratic members have stepped in to neighboring districts, fielding questions from their colleagues’ constituents at activist-organized “empty chair” town halls.

Rep. Ted Lieu of Torrance got a hero’s welcome when he showed up at one such event in Aliso Viejo, Rohrabacher’s turf. And Rep. Linda Sanchez fielded questions and talked 2018 strategy with activists hoping to unseat GOP Rep. Ed Royce in Fullerton. According to one source, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been quietly encouraging her caucus members to participate in these activist-organized events, which serve more as a rally for liberal groups hoping to win back control of the House next year.

“It is your job to make sure people are excited next November as they are right now,” Lieu told the crowd in Orange County. “With your help, what we are going to see when Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address in January of 2019, we are going to see him and behind him we going to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi looking down on him.”

Questions over Russia, healthcare dominated Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell’s town hall in Northern California.

A reminder you can keep up with these races and what California’s delegation is up to in the moment via our Essential Politics news feed on California politics.

SCHWARZENEGGER PUSHES GREEN PLANS

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to provide what one advisor calls “one-stop shopping” for environmental legislation. He’s started a new website for state lawmakers to share ideas for ways to reduce pollution and fight climate change, even without support from the federal government. “You don’t need them to babysit you,” Schwarzenegger told the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Cambridge, Mass. “You can do it yourself.”

HOW THE STATE WANTS TO PREVENT RACIAL PROFILING BY POLICE

Soon police departments across California will begin tracking race and other demographic data every time officers pull someone over or otherwise detain them. State officials want to use the information to help prevent racial profiling by police.

Exactly how officers are supposed to collect the data, though, has taken a long time to figure out, Liam Dillon reports.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: GOVERNMENT LOBBYING GOVERNMENT

New reports on the big bucks spent lobbying in Sacramento confirm one of the most consistent, but unknown, truths about the effort to influence state government: Local and regional governments spend more than any other sector.

In his weekly column, Myers offers a reminder that it’s lobbying largely paid out of taxpayer dollars.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Money from the construction industry rolled into Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Léon’s campaign account after California’s $52-billion road repair plan was signed into law. The money was donated to a political committee De Léon set up for a 2018 campaign for California lieutenant governor. De León has said he hasn’t made a decision about whether he’ll run.

— A conservative group is talking up tax reform in Spanish in three California congressional districts.

— Republicans are targeting California Democrats over single-payer healthcare.

— California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra says he’s ready for court, after a U.S. appeals court said he and other state attorneys general can join the legal fight to defend Obamacare subsidies that may be under threat by the Trump administration.

— Advocacy groups are ramping up their efforts to reverse a California housing rule they say uproots farmworkers’ children from schools.

— A former congressional staffer for Janice Hahn was indicted in an alleged shakedown of a Compton marijuana shop.

— Is the Republican Party dead? That’s the topic of a panel I’ll be moderating this week in downtown Los Angeles.

OTHER VOICES

Roll Call’s Simone Pathé introduces readers to the first Democratic candidate for president in 2020.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet details how former Rep. Aaron Schock’s sex life has become a line of inquiry in his pending case.

Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev, Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink have the White House chief of staff’s new rules for talking to the president.

Jennifer Kahn illuminates the world of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in California Sunday Magazine

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day for the latest and greatest. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Miss Friday’s newsletter? Here you go.

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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