May 13, 2014

On Monday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tried to light a fire under Congress, reminding the gridlocked national legislature that if they don't find $18 billion in spare change by the end of August, the Highway Trust Fund could run out of money. This is bad news: An empty trust fund could stall more than 112,000 already ongoing infrastructure projects and unhelpfully affect almost 700,000 jobs, according to a White House economic analysis.

And that's just the ongoing projects. The U.S. needs more infrastructure projects, not fewer. "We have an infrastructure deficit in this country," Foxx said Monday. "We cannot meet the needs of a growing country and a growing economy by simply maintaining our current level of effort." He's right.

So what's the good news? The Highway Trust Fund — which pays for a lot of not just highway projects but bridge repairs and public transportation needs — is financed almost entirely through a dedicated federal gas tax. And thanks to more efficient cars (hybrids + federal mileage standards) and fewer Americans driving, U.S. motorists are buying less gas — with results this chart from The Washington Post demonstrates:

As Slate's Josh Voorhees notes, there's a simple, obvious solution to the funding shortfall — raising the gas tax, stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1994 — and Washington won't touch it. Congress will have to do something, probably foolish. But let's take a moment to admire the silver lining: Using less gas is something every side of the political spectrum can celebrate. Peter Weber

January 18, 2018
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President Trump isn't going to let a looming government shutdown get in the way of his $100,000-per-couple inauguration anniversary extravaganza.

The celebration is set for Saturday at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, and the ticket covers dinner and a photograph with Trump. To have the chance to take part in a roundtable with Trump and talk about who knows what, the price bumps up to $250,000 a pair. The event is hosted by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and casino owner and RNC finance chairman Steve Wynn, and it will benefit Trump's re-election campaign and the RNC. (The invitation left off the Romney part of McDaniel's name, Bloomberg notes, the part she shares with uncle and Trump critic Mitt.)

While workers rush to get Mar-a-Lago ready for the jubilee, Washington is struggling to pass a short-term spending bill that keeps the government open past Friday. The House passed a stopgap measure, but the bill's fate in the Senate remains uncertain, and senators won't gather to vote until 11 a.m. Friday. A person close to Trump told Bloomberg his advisers think the Senate will pass a bill and Trump won't be needed in D.C. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP

Their guests were strangers and the wedding feast was airplane food, but when Pope Francis offers to marry you while flying 36,000 feet above Chile, you work with what you've got.

Carlos Ciuffardi and Paula Podest are flight attendants with LATAM, Chile's flagship airline, and they were aboard the pontiff's Thursday flight from Santiago to Iquique. They were married in a civil ceremony in 2010 and had a church ceremony planned, but an earthquake toppled their church's bell tower and their wedding was canceled. Life and the birth of two children got in the way, and the couple never rescheduled. They asked Pope Francis for a blessing, and when he heard their story, he immediately asked if they would like him to marry them right there and then.

"He told me it's historic, that there has never before been a pope who married someone aboard a plane," Ciuffardi told reporters. A Vatican official scrambled to put together a marriage certificate for the stunned couple, while Francis gave the second-time-around newlyweds some tips on wedded bliss, including making sure "the wedding rings shouldn't be too tight, because they'll torture you," Podest said. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
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It was President Trump's decision to limit former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's testimony this Tuesday in front of the House Intelligence Committee, based on legal advice he received from a key aide to White House Counsel Don McGahn, two people with knowledge of the matter told Foreign Policy on Thursday.

Deputy White House Counsel Uttam Dhillon concluded that there might be legitimate executive privilege claims to curb the testimony of former and current Trump aides, Foreign Policy reports, but the claims don't extend to providing information or testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Throughout his closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, Bannon refused to answer most questions about what happened during the transition and his time in the White House. His lawyer was on the phone with the White House counsel's office during much of the session, asking which questions Bannon should answer and which to avoid. Bannon has reportedly agreed to be interviewed by Mueller, with a person close to him telling The Daily Beast earlier this week that he's ready to tell all. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
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FBI counterintelligence investigators are looking into whether Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, illegally funneled funds to the National Rifle Association in order to help candidate Donald Trump win the election, two people familiar with the matter told McClatchy.

Torshin is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and also a lifetime member of the NRA, and during the organization's 2016 gala in Kentucky, he met with Donald Trump Jr. Spanish authorities believe Torshin helped mobsters launder money through Spanish properties and banks, Bloomberg News reported in 2016, and had he not been tipped off by a Russian prosecutor, he would have been arrested while in Spain for a friend's birthday party.

The NRA said it spent a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, with $30 million going to help Trump, triple the amount the NRA used to back Mitt Romney in 2012. Torshin has hosted the NRA's top leaders in Moscow, and in 2016, he tried and failed to broker a meeting between Putin and Trump, The New York Times reported. Neither the NRA or Torshin responded to McClatchy's requests for comment. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
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The House on Thursday night voted 230-197 on a bill that keeps the government funded for less than a month, but it's uncertain if the measure will pass the Senate.

The bill finally got enough votes to pass after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made concessions to the far-right Freedom Caucus, including promising a vote on a conservative immigration bill. The bill would keep the government funded through Feb. 16, plus authorize six years of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Plan.

It won't be easy to pass the bill in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed and Democrats are refusing to vote for a measure that does not include a deal on DACA. Three Republican senators — Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), and Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) — have said they won't vote for the measure, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is at his home, recovering from cancer treatment. Current government funding expires at midnight Friday. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
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Prosecutors say the parents of 13 siblings held captive in a Perris, California, house gave their children only one small meal a day, let them shower just once a year, left them chained to furniture, and routinely prepared food in front of them that they were not allowed to eat.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said the siblings, between the age of two and 29, rarely saw the sun, and were beaten, choked, and shackled to their beds. The parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louisa Anna Turpin, 49, accused their kids of "playing with water" while washing their hands, and they would go months without access to the bathroom. Hestrin said in his 20-year career, this is one of the most disturbing cases he's seen. "This is severe emotional and physical abuse," he said. "There is no way around that. This is depraved conduct."

The Turpins were charged Thursday with several counts of torture, abuse on a dependent adult, child abuse, and false imprisonment, with David Turpin also charged with committing a lewd act on a child by force. Both pleaded not guilty. Hestrin said the charges only cover the eight years they have lived in Riverside County; they moved to California from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2010, and Hestrin said what started as "neglect" became child abuse. He also said the siblings rarely saw doctors and never visited dentists, slept all day after staying awake until 4 or 5 a.m., and while one of the older siblings was allowed to attend classes outside the home, he was always accompanied by his mother. Catherine Garcia

January 18, 2018
Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images

Meet the presidential dendrologist.

In an effort to dissect President Trump's conversational character, The Wall Street Journal interviewed more than 50 sources about what it's like to gab with the commander in chief. But beyond the more conventional analyses of Trump's chatter — he can "be blunt," the Journal reported, but he also "isn't beyond using chocolate to win someone over" — comes a gem of a revelation from Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mulvaney, who the Journal noted is a "frequent golf companion" of Trump's, told the paper that Trump is very aware of "which trees have died" on his golf course. Not only that, but the president is also invested in landscaping decisions, Mulvaney said, often opining on "which trees to cut down." He's apparently a caring gardener, too, as Mulvaney said Trump will note from a distance "what greens are struggling with what fungus."

Among Trump's other tics, the Journal found, is that he will often change topic — like when he noted suddenly during an infrastructure discussion that he fears he'll get "speared" by the guardrails on the side of the road, should he ever get in a car crash. Read more about Trump's conversational whims at The Wall Street Journal. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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