May 5, 2014

With six months to go before the midterm elections, Americans would prefer that the Senate remain under Democratic control, according to a CNN poll released Monday afternoon.

In the survey, 45 percent of respondents said that, should Republicans maintain control of the House come November, the country would be "better off" if Democrats kept their majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, 42 percent said they hoped Republicans would take the Senate while holding the House.

Given that Democrats face an unfavorable political climate and a 30-plus seat disadvantage in the House, the likelihood of Republicans losing control of the lower chamber is somewhere close to nil.

That said, national polls like this one don't necessarily capture the mood within battleground states. So even if the nation as a whole would like a Democratic-controlled Senate, it will be the voters in a few key contests who decide if that comes to pass. Jon Terbush

1:12 p.m. ET
Screenshot/Youtube/Liberty Day Institute

President Trump's ex-ghost-hunting federal judicial nominee — deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association but nevertheless approved by Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote — will not ultimately "be moving forward" in the appointment process, NPR learned from a Trump administration official Wednesday. Brett Talley, 36, was in line for a lifetime appointment despite having never tried a case in his life, only practicing law for three years, and forgetting to mention his wife is the chief of staff to White House counsel Don McGahn and is apparently a person of interest in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

The head of the judiciary committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, urged President Trump not to proceed with the nomination of Talley on Tuesday, CNN reports. The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, weighed in, saying: "I would hope that Chairman Grassley's request that the White House pull these nominations leads him to reconsider the breakneck speed at which the Judiciary Committee has been considering nominees."

The next step in Talley's nomination process would have been a full Senate vote, where it was unclear he even had the support to be confirmed. Trump, on the other hand, had earlier directly praised Talley as being an "untold story" that "nobody wants to talk about." Jeva Lange

12:32 p.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Roll 'em up — in the name of science.

A new Michigan State University study recently found that a chemical present in marijuana may be able to slow mental decline in HIV patients. Nearly 50 percent of HIV patients experience a decrease in cognitive ability over time due to the fact that the virus attacks the human immune system, sometimes causing "chronic inflammation" in the brain, the researchers wrote.

The lead author of the study, Norbert Kaminski, and his co-author, Mike Rizzo, discovered that chemical compounds in THC — formally known as tetrahydrocannabinol — reduced the number of inflamed white blood cells present in HIV patients. "This decrease of cells could slow down, or maybe even stop, the inflammatory process, potentially helping patients maintain their cognitive function longer," Rizzo told MSU Today.

Kaminski and Rizzo came to their conclusion after taking blood samples from 40 HIV patients and analyzing the inflammation levels in white blood cells for smokers and non-smokers. The pot-smoking patients fared far better than their sober counterparts, the researchers found. The results were stark: "Those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV," Kaminski said.

The scientists did caution that marijuana consumption won't entirely prevent white blood cell inflammation, and they also had some good news for HIV patients who don't want to smoke pot. Knowing the medicinal benefits of THC could lead to alternate treatment methods, like "people taking a pill that has some of the key compounds found in the marijuana plant," Kaminski said.

Read the full study here. Kelly O'Meara Morales

12:16 p.m. ET
Al Drago/Getty Images

Republicans in the House and Senate have reportedly reached an agreement for the final version of their tax overhaul bill. Aides told The Associated Press that while certain details still need to be reviewed, the final legislation will likely be unveiled later this week.

Although specific details were not immediately available, lawmakers had been working on getting the bill to a final vote next week that would lower the corporate tax rate to 21 percent and the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent, The New York Times reports. The versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate lowered the corporate tax rate to 20 percent. The individual rate is being lowered due to the concerns of wealthy taxpayers, who are afraid that because the Republicans want to eliminate several individual deductions, their taxes will go up.

The Times adds that "it is not clear if Republican senators will roundly endorse the deal." Jeva Lange

12:11 p.m. ET
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Look to the skies tonight to catch one of the year's best and brightest meteor showers.

The annual Geminid meteor shower will peak Wednesday night, streaking across the night sky from sunset to sunrise, NASA says.

Sky & Telescope magazine called the Geminids "one of the two best meteor showers of the year." A thin moon means there won't be much light to distract from the show, and the brightest meteors should even peek through light pollution. Space.com suggests heading out around 10 p.m. local time to catch one or two meteors per minute.

Accuweather predicts the southern and western U.S. will get best view of the shower. If you're in the northeast or Midwest, snow clouds may block your view. So if you'd rather not freeze for little or no reward, catch NASA's Geminid livestream here, starting at sunset. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:25 a.m. ET
REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) has been tapped to replace resigning Sen. Al Franken (D), who announced last week that he would leave the Senate amid mounting allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced the decision Wednesday.

Smith will serve out the remainder of Franken's term after he finalizes his resignation from Congress, and in accepting Dayton's appointment Wednesday she announced she would also run in next year's election to retain the seat. "Though I never anticipated this moment, I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward," Smith said. Kimberly Alters

11:10 a.m. ET

Santa made some early stops across the country this week. But instead of sliding down chimneys, he quietly walked through Walmart's automatic doors.

Anonymous do-gooders paid off layaway tabs at Walmart and Toys R Us stores in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Arizona this week. The benefactors at Walmarts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, described by NBC New York as "Secret Santas," each picked up bills totaling $40,000 or more. At the Pennsylvania Walmart alone, the donor helped about 200 families, NBC New York reported.

Dec. 11 was the last day to pay off holiday layaways at the Millville, New Jersey Walmart. Its Santa arrived two days earlier — just in time for employee Shantay Jenkins, who told USA Today that she had $713 of merchandise on layaway:

People were coming in to cancel their layaways and come to find out it was paid off for them. Another customer called to see if we could hold the layaway a couple days longer because they didn't get their paycheck yet, and we were able to let them know it was paid off and to come and pick it up. [USA Today]

The New Jersey store's manager is the only one who knows that particular donor's identity. Pennsylvania and Arizona's donors remain a complete mystery — and put your office Secret Santa to shame. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:30 a.m. ET

Many Republicans in Washington are breathing a not-so-quiet sigh of relief after their party's candidate, Roy Moore, lost the Alabama Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday night. Had Moore been elected, it would have put many members in an awkward spot, as Moore has been accused of having pursued, molested, and assaulted teenage girls.

As recently as Tuesday night, Republicans had planned to gather Wednesday morning if Moore won the election to discuss the best course of action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly said himself that if Moore was elected, he would immediately need to undergo an ethics probe.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) admitted that while he's upset about having lost the Alabama seat to the rival party, he is "relieved we're not going to be dealing with all the mess that was headed our way." Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) agreed, saying he was "proud" of Alabama's choice and "relieved" to have dodged the Moore bullet. Or, as a senior Republican strategist put it to the Washington Examiner: "We didn't just dodge a bullet, we dodged a missile."

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) also expressed his satisfaction with the results of the election:

Ohio governor and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich summed it up: "Thankfully, today enough Republicans chose country over party," he tweeted. "Tomorrow we must redouble our efforts to support candidates worthy of the office they seek." Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads