February 24, 2016

Senate Republicans took the pretty brazen step on Tuesday of officially declaring they won't even hold hearings on President Obama's coming nominee to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. "We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). But Republicans have also been citing precedent. On Monday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (Iowa) said that not confirming justices during an election year was simply following "the Biden rules," referring to a recently unearthed clip of Vice President Joe Biden in June 1992.

At the time, Biden was Senate judiciary chairman, and his speech reiterates the so-called Thurmond Rule (which, incidentally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said "doesn't exist" in 2008). In Biden's speech, highlights of which you can watch below, Biden urged then-President George H.W. Bush not to nominate a Supreme Court justice if a member of the court resigned in the summer or late fall, saying that if he did, "the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over."

On its surface, that's pretty good gotcha politics. But the liberal site ThinkProgress went back and looked at the rest of the speech, and it turns out that 10 minutes after the part of the speech highlighted by conservatives, Biden called for a compromise candidate: "If the president consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices [Anthony] Kennedy and [David] Souter." There were no Supreme Court vacancies that year, but Biden's committee approved 11 federal appellate judges in 1992.

Members of both parties have flip-flopped pretty shamelessly on Supreme Court nominations during election years, but as Jonathan Chait notes at New York, the GOP argument that they are "merely following historical precedent... is demonstrably false." And Biden's 1992 floor speech doesn't change that. Peter Weber

12:20 a.m. ET
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On Thursday night, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a stay of execution for Arkansas death row inmate Kenneth Williams, 38, clearing the way for his execution before midnight. Williams is the fourth and apparently final inmate Arkansas will put to death before its supply of one of three lethal-injection drugs expires at the end of April. Originally, Gov. Asa Hutchinson had scheduled eight executions, two at a time, over 11 days; courts have stayed four of them. Williams had been scheduled for execution at 7 p.m., but Arkansas had postponed it pending word from the Supreme Court.

(UPDATE: Williams was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. local time, after the lethal injection regime was administered starting at 10:52 p.m., according to prison officials.)

Lawyers for Williams and Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project had appealed his execution by arguing that the previous executions had been flawed and left the inmates suffering as they died, and also that Williams is developmentally disabled. Lawyers for the state told the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that while Williams has "low average" intelligence, he did not cooperate with the doctors testing his mental capacity. Williams was convicted of murdering two people and later confessed to a third murder, and when he escaped from prison, he killed a fourth person when his getaway car slammed into a water truck. Peter Weber

April 27, 2017
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If Congress is unable to pass a bill to fund the government by a Saturday morning deadline, it won't be that big of a deal, President Trump told Reuters in an interview Thursday.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "If there's a shutdown, there's a shutdown." Unless a bill is passed by 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday, the government will have to temporarily lay off hundreds of thousands of federal workers, which Trump admits would be a "very negative thing."

On Wednesday, the GOP introduced a bill that keeps the government afloat for another week, which would give Republicans and Democrats more time to negotiate a plan that funds the government through Sept. 30. Trump told Reuters his administration is prepared for a shutdown, and if it does take place, it will be the Democrats' fault. Catherine Garcia

April 27, 2017
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Experts in financial crime from the United States Postal Inspection Service are now involved in the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News, several people with information on the matter told CNN Thursday.

The USPIS looks into mail fraud and wire fraud cases, and over the past few weeks, investigators have been interviewing former Fox News staffers, inquiring about managers and their business practices, CNN's Brian Stelter reports. In February, it was reported that the Justice Department was investigating Fox News, and at the time, they were said to be focusing on the settlements made with women who accused former Fox News boss Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, and whether shareholders needed to know about the agreements.

Now, CNN reports, investigators are also examining possible misconduct by Fox News personnel, specifically asking about people known as "friends of Roger," who were loyal to Ailes. They were employed by Fox News as consultants for unknown purposes, and one sent Fox News a monthly invoice for $10,000, CNN reports. 21st Century Fox declined to comment. Catherine Garcia

April 27, 2017
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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Thursday that there will not be a vote on health care legislation this week, as Republicans are "still educating members."

Politico reports the vote is now delayed until next week at the earliest. A vote was slated to be held on the GOP's American Health Care Act last month, but after several members of the conservative Freedom Caucus said they didn't support it, the bill was yanked from the floor by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). A revised bill was written by Freedom Caucus and centrist Tuesday Group members this week, but more than 15 Republican lawmakers have publicly said they will not vote for this new version of the AHCA. President Trump, nearing his 100th day in office, had said he would immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare once president. Catherine Garcia

April 27, 2017
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In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, President Trump said "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea," but he is hopeful that the U.S. can find other ways to work with the country regarding its nuclear and missile programs.

"We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult," Trump said. The Trump administration has called North Korea an "urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority," and on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to urge the U.N. Security Council to enact more sanctions against Pyongyang. When asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump noted that he was 27 when his father died and he took over as ruler. "So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age," Trump said. "I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit. I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational."

Trump also had kind words for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his attempts to keep North Korea in check. "I believe he is trying very hard," he told Reuters. "He certainly doesn't want to see turmoil and death. He doesn't want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well." Catherine Garcia

April 27, 2017
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On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns selected Myles Garrett as the first overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Garrett, a 6-foot-4, 272 pound defensive lineman at Texas A&M, is the first player from the university to be the top overall pick. An All-American, he recorded 31 sacks over three years, and is the fourth defensive player since 2000 to be the draft's first selection. The 21-year-old was with friends and family at the Tierra Verde Golf Club in Arlington, Texas, when he heard the news. Catherine Garcia

April 27, 2017

Traveling at a speed of 77,000 mph, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its first dive inside Saturn's rings, transmitting back to Earth on Thursday the closest-ever images of the planet.

Cassini has been exploring Saturn for 13 years, and on Wednesday, became the first spacecraft to enter the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring. "Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," NASA planetary sciences chief Jim Green said in a statement. The pictures it sent back showed a hurricane, clouds, and a six-sided vortex weather system, Reuters reports.

Having been in space since 2004, Cassini is running low on fuel, and is expected to make 22 trips in the territory between Saturn's cloud tops and rings before it destroys itself on Sept. 15 by flying directly into Saturn's atmosphere (NASA is doing this so Cassini doesn't accidentally hit a moon that could support microbial life). Scientists are hoping Cassini will survive all of these dives, and that the information it collects on Saturn's inner moons, winds, clouds, and auroras can explain the source of Saturn's magnetic field and how fast the planet rotates. Catherine Garcia

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