March 18, 2014

The New York Knicks on Tuesday introduced legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson as the team's new president, and the reason behind the move is obvious: The Knicks stink, they've stunk for quite a while, and Jackson is, in terms of titles and winning percentage, the most successful coach in NBA history. Or, to put it visually:

Oh, and those two lonesome Knicks titles? Both came while Jackson played for the team in the 1970s. Jon Terbush

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

10:11 a.m. ET

The morning after Democrat Doug Jones' stunning victory over Republican Roy Moore in the special election for Alabama's Senate seat, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) came out swinging against Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News and former White House chief strategist. Bannon stumped hard for Moore, especially in the campaign's waning days, as part of his "war" on the GOP establishment.

"This guy does not belong on the national stage. He looks like some disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage," King said of Bannon, speaking to CNN's Chris Cuomo. A blinking Cuomo sat in silence as King ripped into Bannon before finally interjecting: "Peter King, I know where you're from and I know you like to knuckle up every now and then, but did you just call Steve Bannon a disheveled drunk?" King replied, "No, very precise — I said he looks like one."

Aesthetics aside, King said that he didn't take nearly as much of an issue with Bannon's politics as he did his morals — or lack thereof. "He's not representing what I stand for," King said. He also claimed that Tuesday's election results were "a revulsion by people at [Bannon's] style, at his type of divisive views," adding that Bannon "encourages racial division." In a tweet earlier Wednesday, King again ripped Bannon as "morally vacuous":

While Bannon may the scapegoat de jour for Republicans like King — who were reluctant to support a candidate accused of sexually assaulting teenagers — people in the White House apparently blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y) for Moore's loss. Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:07 a.m. ET

Former Apprentice villain Omarosa Manigault Newman will reportedly leave her role as President Trump's director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison next month to "pursue other opportunities," the White House said Wednesday.

Manigault Newman's role in the White House has always been a bit befuddling, even to insiders. Formerly the Trump campaign's director of African-American outreach, Manigault Newman's White House tenure was most famously marked by when she brought "members of her 39-person bridal party to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for an extended wedding photo shoot," Politico reports. (She was banned from posting the photos.)

While unconfirmed, April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, reported Manigault Newman left in true former-reality-TV-star fashion:

The Office of the Public Liaison — which works to promote the president's agenda — had "no organization, no calendar, nothing," as one staffer told Politico. Even White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has admitted that "it's pretty safe to say the early months were not as smooth as they could have been." The Associated Press adds that "Manigault Newman's decision comes at the start of what's expected to be a round of departures heading into the new year." Jeva Lange

9:40 a.m. ET

Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama's special Senate election Tuesday night, becoming the first Democrat to win an upper-chamber seat in the Yellowhammer State in 25 years. Jones' triumph came as a shocker in the solidly red state, where the national Democratic Party deployed a massive turnout operation to squeeze out the diverse voters necessary to propel the former prosecutor to office.

For those waking up in Alabama on Wednesday morning, local papers had a variety of stark reactions to the state's newest senator. Take a tour of a few front pages below — or see more via the Newseum here. Kimberly Alters

8:56 a.m. ET

Democrat Doug Jones' victory in Alabama on Tuesday night represents a stunning blow to President Trump, who won the state by nearly 28 points last November. Trump's favorite television program, though, is giving Republican Roy Moore's bruising loss in the Yellowhammer State the kind of spin that could give you whiplash: "This was not a referendum on Trump," one host suggested Wednesday morning. "I feel like it was a referendum on Harvey Weinstein."

Nobody else did:

It all goes to show that not everyone can be Kellyanne Conway. Watch the clip below. Jeva Lange

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