March 27, 2014

The Supreme Court is deciding whether or not craft emporium Hobby Lobby and other private companies founded on religious principles can be compelled to offer their employees health care plans that cover contraception. After oral arguments this week, it appears a narrow majority of the court may well side with Hobby Lobby — and Jon Stewart has some questions.

The main one he asked on Wednesday night's Daily Show is why a for-profit corporation should be allowed to claim the religious rights of an individual, espeically based on scientifically faulty views about contraception and abortion. "Let me get this straight," he said. "Corporations aren't just people, they're ill-informed people whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them anyway?"

The answer, as always, lies in the hands of Justice Anthony Kennedy. But in this case, the asking is all that matters — Stewart doesn't get a vote at the high court, and neither do you — and The Daily Show does a fine job of finding a lighter side to a thorny question. Certainly watch the part with Senior Legal Analyst Jordan Klepper; there's a nice little borrow from Annie Hall. --Peter Weber


Saudi Arabia's upcoming investment conference is continuing to fall apart.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday that he will no longer be attending the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia as originally planned.

In recent days, a number of key companies and government officials have also pulled out of the event in reaction to concerns that Saudi Arabia's government murdered Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who went missing earlier this month. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement, but Turkey says it has evidence that a top Saudi diplomat was in the room while Khashoggi was tortured and beheaded at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As recently as Monday, Mnuchin still planned to attend the conference, which was scheduled as a stop on his trip focused on fighting terrorist financing in the Middle East, The New York Times reports. But now, Mnuchin has changed his tune. The treasury secretary provided no further details about what went into his decision, but he said it came after he met with both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, who met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss Khashoggi's disappearance, said that he and Trump will give Saudi Arabia "a few more days" to complete an investigation into the matter, which the kingdom has assured will be "complete" and "thorough." Pompeo also emphasized that Saudi Arabia remains an "important counter-terrorism partner." Brendan Morrow


Fox & Friends often feels eerily similar to President Trump's rallies these days, but Thursday's broadcast was even more openly aligned with Republican talking points than usual.

During a segment Thursday morning, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy suggested viewers have "got to vote for Republicans" if they don't want open borders, Mediaite reports. He said that "it's clear" that in the midterms, you should only support Democrats "if you think that our southern border should be open," but you should support Republicans "if you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly." At the last minute, he added "...the Republicans say" to suggest he was technically paraphrasing the Republican Party's message, but not before his fellow hosts had already moved on.

Doocy's comments came during a segment about a caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S. with hopes of crossing the border. Doocy suggested Fox & Friends might sway voters this November, forcing them to think, “did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?” The Democratic Party also calls for improving border security.

Other segments on Thursday's Fox & Friends included a friendly interview with Eric Trump, who similarly warned of chaos at the hands of the Democrats. To really drive the point home, the show aired a clip of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich characterizing the midterms as a "life and death struggle" with "radicalized" Democrats. Watch Doocy's warning below, via Fox News. Brendan Morrow


President Trump is taking his immigration rhetoric up to eleven.

Trump on Thursday urged Mexico "in the strongest of terms" to stop what he called an "onslaught" of illegal immigration into the United States. About 4,000 Central American migrants are heading toward the U.S. in hopes of crossing the border, NBC News reports, and the State Department wants Mexico to stop this caravan when it reaches the border with Guatemala. Mexico has dispatched about 500 officers to confront the caravan, but has said they will treat these migrants the same as any others, reports The Washington Post.

Now, the president is warning that if Mexico is unable to stop the group of migrants, which he said includes "MANY CRIMINALS," he will "call up the U.S. military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" He also suggested this could damage the recently-signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, as this "assault on our country" is "far more important" than trade.

Trump sought to place blame on Democrats, accusing them, without evidence, of wanting open borders and faulting them for "weak laws" on immigration. Based on his tweetstorm and recent USA Today op-ed, in which he claimed Democrats wanted "open-borders socialism," it seems Trump has found a new favorite talking point for the weeks leading up to the midterms. Brendan Morrow


When President Trump referred to Stormy Daniels as "horseface" on Twitter this week, one might have assumed he was acting on impulse. But amazingly, it seems he may have actually given the tweet some thought.

Trump workshopped the "horseface" nickname among White House aides and friends before firing it off, The Daily Beast reports, and he thought the tweet would be "politically advantageous." Some at the White House reportedly told him that going after Daniels would be unwise, but Trump disagreed, apparently feeling that hitting back at her would fire up his conservative base. Daniels has alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006, an allegation Trump denies.

West Wing officials were still "caught off-guard" when Trump's tweet actually went live Tuesday, The Daily Beast reports. Many congressional Republicans pushed back against the remark, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) saying there's "no place for that kind of language" and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) saying that Trump is "a street fighter, but he's also the president." Still, many Trump supporters lapped it up, and Fox News host Jesse Watters said Trump's critics were "clutching their pearls." Brendan Morrow


The Midwest is posing a challenge for Democrats' hopes of taking the Senate, but the party's prospects are a lot brighter in the gubernatorial races, according to projections from Politico on Thursday. Democratic candidates are expected to win in Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, all currently run by Republican governors. Races in GOP-held Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa are tossups, as are contests in Republican states Florida, Georgia, and Nevada. There are seven states that could tip either way, Politico reports, while Republicans are projected to win 17 races and Democrats are projected to win 12. Currently, Republicans hold the governorships in 33 states.

The Democrats' three best shots to flip Republican states are Illinois, where Democrat J.B. Pritzker is significantly ahead of incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner; New Mexico, where Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) leads Rep. Steve Pearce (R) to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Susana Martinez; and Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is term-limited and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is leading state Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) and just won endorsement from the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce's PAC, the first Democrat to get the regional business group's backing since 1990.

Democrats even have a shot at winning the governorships of deep-red Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, though Republicans are within striking distance of unseating Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D). You can read more about the races and projections at Politico. Peter Weber


Former Vice President Joe Biden is coming out swinging against President Trump, saying his handling of the mounting diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia is hurting the U.S. internationally.

Biden told CBS Thursday that while we don't yet know for sure whether Saudi Arabia was responsible for the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the allegations are "not inconsistent" with the kingdom's behavior, and it's worrying that Trump "seems to have a love affair with autocrats."

Trump has repeatedly floated the idea that the Saudi government may not be behind the killing of the Washington Post columnist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He has emphasized the Saudi kingdom's denial of responsibility, and even suggested "rogue killers" could be to blame. But U.S. intelligence officials are growing more convinced that the Saudi crown prince himself is culpable, per The New York Times.

Biden went on to say that Trump is "already making excuses" for Saudi Arabia "before the facts are known," and this "hurts us internationally." He added that there "absolutely positively" should be consequences if the Saudi government truly was involved, suggesting canceling arms sales to the country could be an option. "The idea that we would not take retaliation against them is ridiculous," Biden said. Watch his comments below. Brendan Morrow


The Llano River in central Texas receded on Wednesday, after hitting near-record levels on Tuesday after days of heavy rains. The Llano River, which rose to 30 feet above flood stage, feeds into the Colorado River, and the deluge caused flooding all the way from Llano to Austin. One woman's body was found at a low-water crossing on Wednesday after floodwaters receded, and another person was found dead on the banks of Lake LBJ on Tuesday. At least one bridge, on RM 2900, was washed out completely by the swollen Llano River.

The break in the rains and opened floodgates on dams controlled by the Lower Colorado River Authority helped reduce river levels to just above flood stage on Wednesday, but more rains are expected over the weekend, and with the ground already saturated, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for several counties in central Texas. "We really are not sure if this disaster has fully unfolded," said Llano County emergency management coordinator Ron Anderson. "We could see another rise of the Llano River. Whether or not it will be of historic value or not, we do not know yet."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster declaration for 18 counties affected by the flooding on Wednesday. The Austin American Statesman has more photos and numbers in the video below. Peter Weber

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