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April 22, 2014

In what is sadly just the latest in a long tradition of pop stars appropriating other cultures, Avril Lavigne has decided to swap out her "sk8r girl" vibe for a new, artificial, and totally "kawaii" one.

Avril's latest single, "Hello Kitty," is a pop-dubstep nightmare of nonsense in which the 29-year-old channels her inner Ke$ha and sing-talks about slumber parties and spin the bottle. In the video, the Canadian singer shouts random Japanese words, eats sushi, and roams the streets of Tokyo with her crew of all-Japanese backup dancers. The whole thing is a nauseating blend of juvenile lyrics and candy-colored visuals, with more than a dash of casual cultural appropriation thrown in. Watch it and decide for yourself. --Samantha Rollins

4:25 p.m. ET

Life after the White House has been kind to Keith Schiller, President Trump's former bodyguard and close confidante.

CNBC reported Wednesday that the Republican National Committee is paying Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, a handsome $15,000 a month. CNBC noted that Schiller's pay is apparently coming from the RNC's convention fund, rather than its campaign coffers, though former special counsel for the Federal Election Commission Stephen Spaulding warned that such accounts "are notorious for being operated as slush funds."

The RNC's most recent financial disclosure reveals that Schiller's firm has received $75,000 from the party since October, CNBC reported, which is apparently for "consulting on the site selection process" for the 2020 Republican convention. Spaulding said the sum was more akin to "a fat payout from the RNC and its deep-pocketed donors."

KS Global Group got its gig with the RNC only a few weeks after Schiller left the White House in September, CNBC said. The firm is apparently providing the RNC with "security services" in addition to its purported assistance with the 2020 convention. Read more about Schiller's cushy gig at CNBC. Kelly O'Meara Morales

3:47 p.m. ET
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's in-laws may have benefited from one of his least favorite immigration policies.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Melania Trump's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, are green card-holders with legal permanent resident status, which they very possibly received through their daughter's sponsorship. The sponsorship policy is known as family reunification — but the president prefers to call it "chain migration."

Under current U.S. immigration law, U.S. citizens can sponsor close relatives like their parents or siblings for green cards. President Trump, however, wants to restrict green card sponsorship to only the spouses and non-adult children of U.S. citizens. "Chain migration," the president recently tweeted, is an "outdated [program] that [hurts] our economic and national security."

Although the Knavses could have been sponsored for permanent residence by an employer, this is "unlikely," the Post reported, given that the first lady's father, 73, and mother, 71, are thought to be retired. Immigration lawyer David Leopold told the Post that sponsorship through Melania Trump, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, would have been "possibly the only way" to get the Knavses their green cards.

Neither the White House nor a spokesperson for the first lady commented to the Post. An attorney for the first lady and her family confirmed to the Post that the Knavses had obtained permanent legal status, but declined to elaborate on how that status was obtained, citing privacy concerns. Kelly O'Meara Morales

3:10 p.m. ET
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's administration apparently sees political opportunity in the deaths of Russian mercenaries.

Bloomberg Politics reported Wednesday that the White House is thinking about touting the deaths of "scores" of Russian fighters, who were recently killed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, as proof that the president is, in fact, hard on Russia. The U.S.-backed forces reportedly killed the Russian troops in self-defense in an encounter on Feb. 7, after they were attacked by a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars."

However, the attack by the Russians "may have been a rogue operation," Bloomberg reports, and the U.S. apparently believes that this attack was not done with the permission or prior knowledge of the Russian military. It is also "unclear when the White House learned of the attack," Bloomberg notes — all of which could make it difficult to claim the counterattack as proof of the president's tough stance towards Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced a vague "incident" in her Tuesday press briefing that was "another way that this president was tough on Russia," but she did not offer details.

The strategy reportedly stems from the fact that the Trump administration is feeling the squeeze to stand up to Russia after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians last week for meddling in the 2016 election. The president has long called the idea of Russian meddling "a hoax" and has been reluctant to criticize Russia. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:30 p.m. ET

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has seemingly embraced our robot overlords.

Apparently skewering the people who acknowledge that Russian bots have spread disinformation on Twitter, Nunes implored the mighty Russian technology to make one of his own tweets take off. While retweeting an article by The Federalist about the ongoing investigations into Russian election meddling, Nunes quipped: "PS-if you are a Russian Bot please make this go viral."

For good measure, there was a post-postscript: "PSS-if you're not a Russian Bot you will become one if you retweet."

The Federalist article that Nunes retweeted asserts that the "mainstream press" is overhyping the prominence of Russian bots on Twitter in order to belittle conservative arguments. In sharing the post, Nunes promised his followers they could "[catch] up on mainstream media Russian conspiracy theories."

Unfortunately, Russian bots have not taken Nunes' request to heart: At time of writing, his tweet had only been retweeted 1,900 times. Kelly O'Meara Morales

12:39 p.m. ET

Hundreds of people arrived at Florida's Capitol Building on Wednesday to demand gun control reform in the wake of the shooting last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead. The rally was led by teen survivors, while parents chanted "no more guns, save our daughters, save our sons," WCTV reports.

Florida police estimated the crowd in Tallahassee could swell to as many as 2,500 people by noon, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

A tandem protest, at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., also saw students march in demand of action on gun control, with one student telling Mother Jones' Kara Voght, "I feel unsafe at school."

President Trump will meet with survivors of shootings including Parkland, Newtown, and Columbine for a "listening session" Wednesday afternoon. Jeva Lange

12:30 p.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want Congress to break open the piggy bank.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Democratic leaders demand increased funds to protect U.S. election infrastructure from Russian interference, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, specifically request lawmakers appropriate $300 million to the FBI to fight potential meddling in the midterms later this fall.

The minority leaders cite Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recent indictment of 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 election, warning that "the most essential elements of America's democracy are under attack by a foreign adversary." The FBI needs "the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors ... especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms," the Democrats argue, proposing the $300 million boost be included in the budget bill that is due March 23.

The Democratic leaders also note that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers breached state and local election systems during the 2016 cycle. In order to prevent that from happening again, Pelosi and Schumer say that "state and local governments [need] to enhance their defenses against cyber-attacks," calling for boosted funds to the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission.

The letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post, is also signed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) Read more about it at The Washington Post. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:10 a.m. ET
iStock.

President Trump and the GOP have been riding an approval rating wave ever since they passed their tax overhaul legislation in December, but a new poll released Wednesday appears to indicate that it won't be smooth sailing from here on out. Just 25 percent of voters say they have seen an increase in their paychecks since the legislation passed, a new Politico/Morning Consult poll found, while 51 percent say they've noticed nothing.

Even Republican voters aren't reporting a noticeable increase in their paychecks, with 43 percent saying any potential change has gone unobserved. Republicans do note changes more than the voter pool overall, though, at 32 percent.

"Our polling shows high-income earners are more likely to have noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the tax bill," said Morning Consult's chief research officer, Kyle Dropp. "For example, 40 percent of voters who earn more than $100,000 said they have noticed a pay increase in the past several weeks. In contrast, 33 percent of voters who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 and 16 percent of voters who earn under $50,000 said the same."

Overall, 45 percent of voters approve of the tax plan while 35 percent oppose it. The poll reached 1,989 registered voters between Feb. 15 and 19, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 points. Read the full results here. Jeva Lange

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