April 22, 2014

A Louisiana lawmaker is giving up his effort to make the Bible his state's official book after critics dubbed the effort a pointless distraction.

Republican Rep. Thomas Carmody introduced legislation earlier this year that would have designated the Christian text as the Bayou State's official tome, saying it "would be appropriate" given that the state motto already references God. And Carmody insisted his goal was neither to promote Christianity nor to create a backdoor to to establish a state religion; the bill said nothing about biblical teachings or dogma.

Still, some critics remained skeptical that the bill could truly be religiously impartial. Others worried the particular Bible Carmody picked would not be inclusive enough of various branches of Christianity.

So with the Bible debate trumping more important legislative matters, Carmody said Monday he was scrapping the bill so lawmakers could "concentrate our efforts on those things that are much more important." Jon Terbush

8:18 a.m. ET
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for EJAF

Elton John is recovering from a "rare and potentially deadly" infection after becoming extremely ill while flying home from Chile, Time reports. John was discharged from a U.K. intensive care unit Saturday, but has canceled a number of shows in Las Vegas in April and May due to the infection.

"I am so fortunate to have the most incredible and loyal fans and apologize for disappointing them," John said. "I am extremely grateful to the medical team for their excellence in looking after me so well."

The "harmful and unusual bacterial infection" was identified "quickly and treated … successfully," a statement said. "[John] is expected to make a full and complete recovery." Jeva Lange

7:41 a.m. ET
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President Trump has summoned all 100 Senators to the White House on Wednesday for a rare briefing on the topic of North Korea, Reuters reports. The meeting will be led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.

Experts are increasingly worried by the speed of North Korea's technological advancements, with intelligence indicating the nation is able to produce a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks, The New York Times reports. As soon as 2020, many experts believe North Korea will be able to make an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach Seattle or Los Angeles, and one day, New York.

President Trump personally suggested the meeting take place in the White House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accepted, puzzling some Senators since, of course, they have their own building they are able to meet in. Some wondered to The Washington Post if the administration intends to use the moment as a photo-op to bolster Trump's 100-day image. "These briefings are always, always, always done in the SCIF up here," a Senate aide told The Washington Post. "Does it mean classified information is going to be shared in an unsecured setting? Or that we're not hearing about classified material?"

Others expressed relief they are hearing from the administration at all. "I hope that we hear their policy as to what their objectives are, and how we can accomplish that hopefully without dropping bomb," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Jeva Lange

7:05 a.m. ET
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President Trump said Monday evening that he is open to postponing his demand for Congress to finance his border wall with Mexico, journalists for conservative news outlets said after a White House reception. The White House confirmed Trump's comments. The president's insistence that Congress include $1.5 billion for the wall in a spending bill this week threatened to upend negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and lead to a government shutdown on Saturday.

The emerging deal is now expected to include money for border security, like smart technology and new border agents, but not the wall. Trump said he will still insist on wall funding in the fall, in the next budget showdown. It's not clear the politics will get any easier for Trump in the fall, with Democrats and many Republicans opposed to a coast-to-gulf wall. "There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "I think it's become symbolic of better border security. It's a code word for better border security. If you make it about actually building a 2,200-mile wall, that's a bridge too far — but I'm mixing my metaphors." Peter Weber

6:26 a.m. ET
William Morrow via AP

Robert Pirsig, who wrote the unexpected bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) and just one other novel, 1991's Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, died at his home in Maine on Monday, after a period of failing health, his publisher, William Morrow, announced. He was 88. Pirsig's 1974 cult classic, subtitled "An Inquiry Into Values," is a lightly fictionalized recounting of a 17-day motorcycle trip he took with his young son Chris and two other people in 1968, mixed with his philosophical musings on the tension between culture and counterculture, humans and machines, mind and body, and his own experience with schizophrenia.

Prisig was born in Minneapolis in 1928, and despite high intelligence, he was expelled from the University of Minnesota due to failing grades before serving in the Army before the Korean War. During a visit to Japan, he became interested, and then a lifelong adherent of, Zen Buddhism — though he said his novel should not be viewed as a guide to Zen, or motorcycles. He returned and earned degrees in journalism, studied philosophy, and traveled to India and elsewhere before teaching writing at Montana State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was turned down by 121 publishing houses before William Morrow took it.

The book made him wealthy, but he was so unnerved by the mostly young people showing up at his house in search of wisdom — his neighbors outside Minneapolis called them "Pirsig's Pilgrims" — that he hit the road with his wife and family, eventually settling down in Maine. He struggled to understand why his novel hit such a nerve. "I was just telling my own story," he said. "I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts," he added, "and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else." Pirsig is survived by his wife, Wendy, son Ted, daughter Nell Peiken and her husband, Matthew Peiken, and three grandchildren; his son Chris died after being stabbed in a mugging in 1979. Peter Weber

5:16 a.m. ET
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The U.S. and its NATO allies have been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan since soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, though the mission officially changed to training the Afghan army and police a few years ago. On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to assess the situation as President Trump decides whether to send more troops to help quash a resurgent Taliban. Mattis and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, strongly suggested that Russia is behind a flood of arms to the Taliban.

The U.S. will have to "confront Russia" over "denying the sovereignty of other countries," including Afghanistan, Mattis said at a news conference in Kabul on Monday. "For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law." When asked if he wanted to refute reports that Russia is arming the Taliban, Nicholson said, "Oh no, I'm not refuting that," adding that the U.S. has continued to receive such reports of Russian assistance to the Islamist insurgents.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. covertly supplied arms to the Afghan mujahideen resistance, which eventually caused enough loss of Russian blood and treasure that Soviet Russia pulled out in 1988. The loss in Afghanistan has been credited as a significant cause of the Soviet Union's fall in 1991. Peter Weber

4:30 a.m. ET

This Saturday, President Trump will reach 100 days in office, "and boy, it sure seems longer," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show. Trump hasn't accomplished any of his big goals, "but — and it's a big but — he did sign a law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns and for hibernating bears to be hunted," Colbert noted. "So he took care of his base: insane people who want to murder Yogi." Trump dismissed the 100 days frame in a tweet, taking credit for "S.C." — which might refer to a Supreme Court confirmation, or, Colbert noted, Stephen Colbert. "I gotta say, Donald Trump has done a lot for me in the first 100 days. Thank you for your service, Mr. President."

In wide-ranging and often "unintelligible" interview with The Associated Press — "Sixteen times it's just unintelligible," Colbert said. "Are they not allowed follow-up questions — for instance: 'Huh?'" — Trump also "crowed about what he believes his biggest accomplishment has been so far," TV ratings, in granular detail. Seriously, "nothing matters to Trump more than ratings," Colbert said. He's even said he won't fire Press Secretary Sean Spicer because he gets as many viewers as a soap opera and everyone tunes in. "It's true: You can't tear your eyes away from Sean Spicer; it's like watching a car crash that knows nothing about the Holocaust," Colbert said. And "clearly, Sean Spicer is a soap opera — that explains why his character is constantly getting amnesia."

There's one more thing Trump may accomplish by Day 100 of his administration: a government shutdown on Day 99. Trump has been insisting that Congress include money for his Mexico border wall in a must-pass spending bill, "which may kill the bill and make the United States financially insolvent — so, Trump really is running the country like one of his businesses," Colbert said. Trump appears to know the risks, because he tweeted about the importance of the wall — with a sizable time gap in the middle of his sentence. "How is he going to #BuildTheWall when it takes him three hours to #BuildASentence?" Colbert asked. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:46 a.m. ET

On Monday, the U.S. State Department took down an article published earlier in April that read like promotional material for Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club in Florida. "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders," said the State Department's ShareAmerica site, where the article was posted April 4 before making its way onto the official websites of American embassies abroad. The U.S. government seemingly promoting the president's private business did not sit well with Democrats, government ethicists, and many other Americans, but former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a Trump backer, found a way to blame former President Barack Obama on CNN Monday night.

Van Jones started things off, calling the post "outright kleptocracy, as far as I can tell." Conservatives should be outraged, he added. "This is an ad. I mean, you would pay a billion dollars for this ad, it's on the State Department's thing." Kingston said he was "outraged," too, adding, "I also want to point out, this is actually part of a $72 million clickbait campaign that the State Department had previous engaged in, it was not done under the Trump administration, and it's part of what they're trying to ferret out, the waste in government." Political analyst Ana Navarro pointed out how ridiculous he was sounding, and that the Mar-a-Lago post was clearly done under Trump, and Kingston replied: "You forced me into reminding you, this was left over from the Obama administration — I tried not to say that."

After pushback from CNN's Jake Tapper, Jones, Navarro, and political analysts Rebecca Berg and David Gergen, Kingston shifted to blaming a "low-level blogger" and the bureaucracy. "Look, I'm going to agree with Van — it sounded like a real estate ad, it was stupid, it was taken down immediately for that reason, I don't think it should be up, I'm in agreement with you on that," he said. "But I'm saying the bureaucracy does all kinds of silly and stupid things." Gergen shot that down.

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