First Read Flash: Monkey courting around

New York Times: “Federal officials did not fully test the online health insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress on Thursday. While individual components of the system were tested earlier, they said, the government did not conduct ‘end-to-end-testing’ of the system until late September.”

MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm: “Some questions were serious. Others were pure political theater.  Things even got so heated before the House Energy and Commerce hearing that Rep. Frank Pallone shouted out, ‘I will not yield to this monkey court!’”

Arizona Republic: “ As a congressional panel probed her agency’s oversight of the federal health care website, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday during a visit to Arizona that a team of government and private-sector technology experts are working around the clock to fix the problem-filled website.”

New York Times: “Just days before HealthCare.gov went live with disastrous results, top White House officials were excitedly briefing lawmakers, reporters, Capitol Hill staff members and Washington pundits on their expectations for the government’s new health care Web site….In fact, the rosy presentations set President Obama up for even more criticism when the portal was swamped by millions of people who quickly found out they could not log on. The technical problems that emerged have raised questions — still not entirely answered — about how much the president’s aides knew, or should have known, about the site’s troubles.”

Politico:The problems with the Obamacare website have transformed the president from a man who seemed to have gotten a sudden infusion of political capital to a man who’s been pushed back on his heels. He was firm, and he was setting the agenda. Now he’s back to trying to beating back the latest frame Republicans have forced on him, inadvertently providing evidence to support the doubts they’ve been trying to sow from the beginning. He spent last week against the backdrop of a shutdown that made people appreciate all the things government can do for them. Now he has a website which shows how little it can.”

Roll Call: “Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that he expected little more from the formal House-Senate budget conference than some relief from automatic spending cuts under sequestration. The Nevada Democrat called the suggestion of a “grand bargain” including an overhaul of entitlement programs “happy talk.’”

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein: “One reason a serious budget negotiation seems unlikely this fall is that any meaningful assault on the federal deficit would require each party to confront the contradictions between its fiscal agenda and its electoral coalition. Two long-term trends are creating this tension. One is an electoral reshuffling: Republicans increasingly depend on support from older whites, even as Democrats rely more on the youthful-tilting minority population. The second is the federal budget’s shift in focus from children (almost half of whom are now nonwhite) to seniors (about four-fifths of whom remain white). The intersection of these dynamics has left each party advancing budget blueprints that collide with the self-interest of their core supporters.”

Michael Gerson writes that ” Republicans have proved themselves divided and incapable of adopting a coherent strategy, with a significant minority determined to light the way with an auto-da-fé. Meanwhile, an administration that seeks to transform U.S. health care cannot run a Web sit— a breathtaking gap between ambition and competence. And its responses to failure — denial, defensiveness and secrecy — have been as discrediting to Obamacare as any technical breakdown.….But there is a serious danger here for the GOP as well. Republicans who believe that their only political task is to reflect — to exactly mirror — public distrust for government have drawn the wrong lesson. Those who ride such purely negative populism to power will merely become newer objects of public disdain. Americans do not want public officials who share their contempt for government; they want public officials who no longer justify it.”

NBC’s Carrie Dann:President Barack Obama tried to refocus attention on the incomplete comprehensive immigration reform push Thursday, saying that ‘this is the moment we should be able to finally get the job done.’ ‘Let’s not wait,’ Obama said during a statement at the White House. ‘It doesn’t get easier to just put it off. Let’s do it now. Let’s not delay. Let’s get this done and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion.’”

Politico: “A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers and aides are intensely skeptical that any of the party’s preferred piecemeal immigration bills can garner the support 217 Republicans — they would need that if Democrats didn’t lend their votes. Republican leadership doesn’t see anyone coalescing around a single plan, according to sources across GOP leadership. Leadership also says skepticism of President Barack Obama within the House Republican Conference is at a high, and that’s fueled a desire to stay out of a negotiating process with the Senate. Republicans fear getting jammed.”

AP: “Two Western diplomats say U.S. officials have briefed them on documents obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that might expose the intelligence operations of their respective countries and their level of cooperation with the U.S.”

MSNBC’s Adam Serwer:Former Bush National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden learned the hard way Thursday afternoon that you never know who’s listening. Hayden was on an Amtrak Acela train reportedly attempting to give an anonymous quote to a newspaper reporter disparaging the Obama administration’s handling of the fallout from revelations that the NSA spied on U.S. allies, when a former liberal activist named Tom Matzzie began live-tweeting Hayden’s phone conversation.”

Wall Street Journal:Hillary Clinton suggested the government shutdown grew out of ‘scorched-earth’ tactics employed by politicians living in an ‘evidence-free zone,’ with painful consequences for everyday families. Mrs. Clinton, speaking at a party Thursday night for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank,  said progress in the U.S. is stalled by elected officials who are ‘ideologically motivated’ and uninterested in finding ‘common ground.’”

Washington Post: “Billionaire investor George Soros has signed on to be a co-chairman of the national finance council for Ready for Hillary, a super PAC mobilizing support for a possible White House bid by Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Des Moines Register: “National tea party heavyweight Ted Cruz isn’t saying whether he’d be willing to take the government into a shutdown again as leverage for a Republican cause….Cruz, who is coming to Iowa on Friday for the third time in less than three months, probably couldn’t have picked a more provocative time to stoke 2016 presidential speculation in the first-in-the-nation voting state.”

AP:In Iowa, a state where people are as well-known for their politeness as conservatives are for their convictions, Cruz is likely to be warmly received. But that will belie the sharp divisions among Republicans in the state.”

MARYLAND: Baltimore Sun: Democratic gubernatorial candidate “Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Thursday that showing up at a “beach week” party of teenagers and not investigating whether there was underage drinking was ‘a mistake that I made.’ ‘Perhaps I should have assumed there was drinking going on, and I got that wrong,’ Gansler said….’There could be Kool-Aid in the red cups, but there’s probably beer in the red cups,’ he told reporters.

VIRGINIA: NBC’s Jessica Taylor:Trailing in polls for weeks, Republican Ken Cuccinelli pinned his waning hopes in the Virginia governor’s race to Obamacare’s woes, warning of the ‘big government’ he claimed will envelop the state should the GOP lose control of the statehouse.  But a last-ditch effort in the final debate of the campaign may not be enough to overcome his steady deficit to the Democratic nominee, Terry McAuliffe.”

AP: “Cuccinelli defended the rights of gun owners during Thursday’s gubernatorial debate with” McAuliffe, “saying tougher laws would not have prevented the massacre on the Virginia Tech campus that left 33 dead. McAuliffe, who has seen his lead grow over Cuccinelli in polls, said government has a role in keeping people safe and tougher laws, such as expanded background checks, could help. ‘Some people should not own guns,’ McAuliffe said.”

New York Times:Mr. Cuccinelli said Mr. McAuliffe spun out many policy goals but had no way to pay. A McAuliffe plan to add $500 million by expanding Medicaid was ‘magic money,’ he said. ‘like education,’ Mr. Cuccinelli said, mocking the other man’s talking point. ‘I like puppies. But I don’t bring a puppy home if I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to deal with that puppy. He’s all puppy and no plan.’ It may have been the best zinger of the night. But in fact the negative tone, and especially the deluge of television attack ads, have driven up Mr. Cuccinelli’s unfavorable ratings more than Mr. McAuliffe’s and seem the chief reason for the Democrat’s advantage.”

Washington Post: “Libertarian Robert Sarvis is getting some late financial help in his uphill fight for Virginia governor…Purple PAC — a group devoted to backing candidates who are “‘red’ when it comes to economic policy, ‘blue’ when it comes to social policy” — launched a six-figure television ad buy Thursday designed to boost Sarvis’s campaign by painting him as a more appealing choice than Cuccinelli (R) or McAuliffe (D).”

Richmond Times Dispatch: “Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Thursday urged Virginia Republicans supporting” Sarvis “to come home to the GOP and vote for” Cuccinelli. 

NBC’s Domenico Montanaro points out that “ss polls have shown McAuliffe opening a lead in the race for Virginia governor, he has increased ad spending. Cuccinelli’s spending, on the other hand, appears to be flatlining….while McAuliffe is maintaining a pace of about $1 million a week for the past month, Cuccinelli hasn’t spent $1 million on ads in any single week the entire campaign.”

First Read Flash: Monkey courting around