The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images
September 25, 2015 8:08 AM EDT

It may not be the beginning of the end for Donald Trump, but it’s the end of the beginning. The GOP front-runner’s act appears to be showing signs of wearing thin as his poll numbers glide back to Earth, and his wars with the news media and rival candidates have found less press coverage than he’s used to. Trump still holds a clear lead in the race, but to a lesser extent than just weeks ago. It remains to be seen how Trump will adapt to this new environment and whether his efforts to professionalize his campaign by hiring staff will pay off.

Marco Rubio deviated from his cautious campaign script Thursday to fire back at Trump, in what was either a misstep or a strategy shift for dealing with the Trump phenomenon. One of the few in the field who has resisted all opportunities to engage in intra-party fighting, the pushback to the Trump criticism could be a sign that Rubio’s campaign is preparing to emerge from fundraising-focused hibernation.

Pope Francis’ exhortation to congressional lawmakers to avoid partisanship came at an…interesting…time for the lawmakers, who must act to avert a shutdown in the next five days. Fresh off hosting the pope, Speaker of the House John Boehner may also find his job on the line in the coming weeks.

President Obama is hosting Chinese Premier Xi Jinping for a state visit. A virtual reality debate. And Kanye talks politics.

Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Pope Francis Calls for U.S. Congress to Be Better
TIME’s Michael Scherer and Elizabeth Dias on the pontiff’s warning against polarization

Joe Biden to Speak to Gay Rights Group Next Weekend
Biden gets top billing over Clinton, TIME’s Philip Elliott reports

House Speaker John Boehner’s Survival Could Give a Win to Democrats
TIME’s Jay Newton-Small on the upcoming House GOP crisis

Hillary Approved Special Status for Aide Huma Abedin
Weeks after saying she was not directly involved [Politico]

China’s Xi to Get a Pomp-Heavy U.S. Welcome Friday, But Maybe Not a Warm One
Distrust overshadows state visit [Washington Post]

Sound Off

“I hate politics. I’m not a politician at all. I care about the truth and I just care about human beings. I just want everyone to win, that’s all I can say, and I think we can.” — Possible 2020 presidential candidate Kanye West to Vanity Fair

“I don’t think people are inherently racist in this country. In fact, I think that we have a pretty noble tradition of the opposite. But people are deeply disaffected right now. So rather than prey on their angst and fears, I’m taking a risk of trying to appeal to their hopes and dreams.” — Jeb Bush to CNBC’s John Harwood

Bits and Bites

You Will Be Able to Watch the CNN Democratic Debate in Virtual Reality [TIME]

Congress Tries Its Hand at Appearing Unified Before Pope Francis [TIME]

With Ultrasound as Backdrop, Carly Fiorina Presses Attack on Planned Parenthood [New York Times]

Rubio Calls Trump ‘Touchy and Insecure’ [Associated Press]

Republican Leaders Hatch Plan to Avoid Shutdown [Washington Post]

Syrian Crisis Forcing a New York Meeting Between Obama and Putin [Washington Post]

Trump Lashes Out at AP Photographer Who Snapped Empty Chairs [Politico]

Why Pope Francis Cited Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton [TIME]

Donald Trump and Roger Ailes to Meet to Discuss ‘Differences of Opinion’ [New York Times]

Inside the House Speaker’s Office with Pope Francis [People]

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