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March 31, 2016

Donald Trump likes to brag that polls show him beating Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, even though the opposite is true in most surveys. But polls this early out aren't particularly useful for predicting what will happen in November, not least because neither Clinton nor Trump has secured their party's nomination. More to the point, polls reflect the popular vote. "Here at Crystal Ball," note political prognosticator Larry Sabato and his colleagues, "we are going to cling to one central fact about presidential elections: The only thing that matters is accumulating a majority of 270 votes in the Electoral College."

Last May, Sabato and his team at the University of Virginia created a generic Democrat-versus-Republican map that predicted a close election, but now that Clinton and Trump are the likely nominees, they adjusted the map accordingly. The new map "does not show a close and competitive general election," write Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley.

Sabato's team leaves a healthy amount of wiggle room for the "unexpected twists and turns" sure to come, including "the shape of the economy or terrorism, or the precise job approval rating of President Obama in the autumn, or the gaffes and scandals that may yet unfold," calling their electoral map an "extra-early, ridiculously premature projection." (You can read more about their methodology and assumptions at Sabato's Crystal Ball.) But they aren't going out on the Clinton-landslide limb alone:

Or who knows? If Trump's unfavorable ratings among women keep on their current trajectory, Nate Silver's slightly facetious alternate map starts to look almost plausible. Peter Weber

5:01 p.m. ET

There are discussions underway for Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit President Trump in Washington, D.C. in the fall, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.

The White House has so far been short on details regarding any specific deals or commitments that were made when Trump met with Putin on Monday, but Sanders said that Trump had asked National Security Advisor John Bolton to invite Putin to the U.S. in the coming months.

A visit in the fall would coincide with the midterm elections, which intelligence officials say Russia is attempting to manipulate with ongoing cyberattacks. While Sanders did not say whether Putin had accepted, she noted that Trump had agreed to "ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs." Summer Meza

4:23 p.m. ET
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

In the first official rebuke of President Trump's controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, the Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a measure to prevent Russia from interrogating U.S. officials, reports Bloomberg.

The White House had revealed Wednesday that Trump was "working with his team" to consider whether to turn over American citizens, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, to the Kremlin for questioning, only to walk back the idea on Thursday. Trump originally called it an "incredible offer" because Putin had suggested allowing the U.S. to question Russians accused of interfering in the 2016 election in exchange.

The resolution against the "offer" was passed 98-0, with all Democrats and most Republicans voting to approve it. "Let this resolution be a warning to the administration that Congress will not allow this to happen," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Read more at Bloomberg. Summer Meza

3:47 p.m. ET
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Papa John's has had a tough time lately, but a few decades ago, when things were looking up, founder John Schnatter wanted employees to think of his thriving pizza empire when they literally looked up.

Forbes reported Thursday that Schnatter commissioned a ceiling fresco of his own face when he was building the company's new headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, in the late 1990s.

Immortalizing his mug onto a company ceiling wasn't Schnatter's only eccentric behavior at the time, employees told Forbes. He would also conduct company meetings while atop his exercise bike, and insisted on knowing what was going on at the headquarters even after he moved to an office 20 minutes away. Many of the other recollections of Schnatter's leadership isn't so pleasant — former employees allege that Schnatter was vindictive, controlling, and often made inappropriate comments toward women.

Schnatter has denied any wrongdoing, and reportedly regrets stepping down as chairman after using the n-word in a company conference call, saying his reputation is being "unfairly tainted."

Even though the pizza mogul reportedly "bristled" at the idea of appearing in fewer advertisements now that he's embroiled in a couple of very-public scandals, the company is slowly moving on without him, taking him out of ads and possibly looking for a new John to crown as Papa. It's probably safe to guess that his fresco has been painted over by now, too. Read more at Forbes. Summer Meza

3:37 p.m. ET

The world asked, and Egypt answered.

Archaeologists opened the creepy black sarcophagus they uncovered last week, the country's ministry of antiquities announced Thursday. There's no sign of a curse, but the contents are still revolting.

The sealed coffin was the largest ever found in Alexandria, Egypt, and looters somehow never cracked its lid during its 2,000 years in the ground. That job was left to archaeologists, who granted Twitter users' wishes and unsealed the tomb Thursday.

Inside, archaeologists found the remains of what appear to be three warriors, as one skeleton looks like it was struck with an arrow. There's also a lot of nasty red sewage that leaked in over the millenia. The sarcophagus, sans sewage, will be restored and transferred to an Alexandria museum, per the ministry.

If you haven't eaten in the past few hours, take a peek inside with these pictures. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:34 p.m. ET

Salsa is supposed to bring the heat to a chip-and-dip combination. But at a Texas factory, it's the tortilla chips that are on fire.

Earlier this month, firefighters responded to the "spontaneous combustion of tortilla chips" twice in three days at an Austin factory, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The factory was trying a new waste management method which "suffice it to say, didn't work out so well," the fire department said on Facebook. (The newspaper dryly notes that "officials were unclear about how the new process could have led to the fire.") When responding to the first blaze, firefighters watched as boxes of discarded chips kept lighting up. Three days later, it happened again.

Luckily, no chips were toasted inside the factory — this all happened outside. And fear not: Firefighters doused the remaining boxes to make sure the blaze didn't triple dip. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:18 p.m. ET
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is "not happy" with rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve.

CNBC reported Thursday that Trump is frustrated with the central bank and concerned that interest rate hikes could disrupt the economic growth that he so often touts.

"I'm not thrilled," he told CNBC in an interview that the network will air on Friday. "Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I am not happy about it. But at the same time I'm letting them do what they feel is best." Trump claimed that the rate hikes were damaging his administration's efforts, saying he doesn't "like all of this work that we're putting into the economy and then I see rates going up."

It's essentially unprecedented for a president to criticize the Fed this way, but Trump's comments are also unusual given his past views on interest rates. Previously, Trump said that low interest rates were creating a "false economy" under the Obama administration, but he also called the Fed's decisions part of a partisan plot to help Democrats look good.

Former Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said that "no president should interfere with the workings of the Fed," citing the "hallmark" independence of the central bank. Trump acknowledged that most officials wouldn't publicly criticize the Fed, but shrugged off any negativity. "So somebody would say, 'Oh, maybe you shouldn't say that as president,'" he said. "I couldn't care less what they say," he continued, because "I'm just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen." Read more at CNBC. Summer Meza

2:00 p.m. ET

When Mariia Butina was indicted on conspiracy charges Monday, her name wasn't new to the House Intelligence Committee.

In fact, committee Democrats tried to question Butina, but the Republican majority apparently shut it down so she wouldn't "tarnish" the National Rifle Association, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday on CNN's New Day.

"We didn't know whether she was an agent of a foreign power, but certainly had deep concerns over her activities," Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said of Butina, who's charged with conspiracy against the U.S. as an unregistered Russian agent. The intelligence committee also suspected Russian agents were funneling money through the NRA, Schiff continued, leading members to suggest questioning Butina.

"But like many other things, when it got too hot, the Republican reaction was 'we don't want to know,'" Schiff said. So Republicans have told and are still telling witnesses "'do not come in'" to intelligence committee hearings and "'don't tell the Democrats anything,'" Schiff alleged. "That's the action of a majority that's burying its head in the sand and acting to protect the president rather than to protect the public interest."

Schiff tweeted a similar accusation after Butina's indictment was unsealed Monday, saying "no wonder GOP members" of the House Intelligence Committee "refused our request to bring her and others in." The "others" likely refers to Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative with alleged ties to Butina. Intelligence committee Democrats similarly tried to bring Erickson in for questioning, Schiff said on New Day, but Republicans refused. Kathryn Krawczyk

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