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February 16, 2017
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On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on legislation to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act, part of a push by Republicans to roll back environmental regulations and protections. The Republicans on the committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and three of the five witnesses at the hearing argued that the 1973 law to keep animal species from extinction impedes oil drilling, mining, and farming, and infringes on the rights of states and private landowners. The proposed legislation would make it harder to list animals on the endangered species list and limit legal action under the 1973 law, among other changes.

Barrassso painted the bill as a way to cut "red tape," while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the Endangered Species Act makes it too hard to take animals off the list, arguing that only 50 of the 1,600 species listed as endangered or threatened have been removed. Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the conservation nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, testified that the Obama administration removed 29 species from the endangered list in eight years, in a sign that the law is working. "For more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction," she said. "Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction."

There's a parallel push to scale back the Endangered Species Act in the House — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wants to repeal it entirely, arguing that "it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species" but instead has "been used to control the land." On Wednesday night's Full Frontal, Samantha Bee was puzzled at the constituency for killing the Endangered Species Act. "The vast majority of Americans support wildlife protection," she said, citing a Defenders of Wildlife poll showing 84 percent support for the law (an American Farm Bureau Federation poll was more nuanced.) "'Animals are awesome' is the only safe topic of conversation most American families have left. Left-right, old-young, black-white, Americans agree: Four legs, good."

President Trump, who has already delayed adding an endangered bumblebee to the endangered species list, is expected to sign any legislation that comes to his desk. Peter Weber

4:31 p.m. ET
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A Pennsylvania high school valedictorian had his microphone cut off in the middle of his speech when he began criticizing the school's "authoritative nature." Peter Butera received a standing ovation from fellow students when the principal ordered him off the stage for saying that administrators suppressed student expression. "Cutting the microphone," Butera said, "proved my point to be true." The Week Staff

4:21 p.m. ET
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At a dinner during the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference last month, former Vice President Joe Biden reportedly ripped into financier Bill Ackman in a way that only Biden can. The scuffle between Biden and the man known for his losing bets on Herbalife stock apparently started after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) asked Biden why he didn't run for president in 2016, Fox Business reported:

Biden explained that part of the decision stemmed from the death of his son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. The room grew quiet as Biden became emotional, and said: "I'm sorry ... I've said enough."

That's when Ackman blurted out, "Why? That's never stopped you before."

The formal, and understated, dinner conversation suddenly turned tense, according three people who were present and confirmed both the substance and the wording of Biden's responses.

Biden, these people say, turned to someone seated near him, and asked, "Who is this asshole?," a reference to Ackman.

Then he turned directly to Ackman and stated: "Look, I don't know who you are, wiseass, but never disrespect the memory of my dead son!" these people say.

Ackman attempted what was described as an apology, to which Biden said, "Just shut the hell up." [Fox Business]

Attendees — including talk show host Steve Harvey, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan, and former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou — were apparently "stunned" by the exchange. "Biden was in rare form," a person with "direct knowledge" of the incident told Fox Business.

Biden's spokeswoman declined to comment, though she did not deny the incident. Ackman's spokesman denied there was an argument between Biden and Ackman, though he did not dispute the words that were reportedly exchanged. Becca Stanek

3:44 p.m. ET

CNN has a new weapon in the ongoing war between the media and the White House: a court room sketch artist.

On Friday, the press was banned from bringing cameras into the daily briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, so CNN sent its sketch artist, Bill Hennessy, to illustrate the scene. "Some conservative media voices dismissed it as a stunt," CNN writes, "but CNN argued that the sketch session did serve a journalistic purpose, in the same way that courtroom sketches do. CNN equated the briefing to a Supreme Court argument — an on-the-record event at which cameras are banned."

The White House hasn't been clear about why it is increasingly banning cameras from the briefings — Spicer said it's because he doesn't want reporters using the briefings to become YouTube stars (?), while White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon alleged it's because Spicer "got fatter" (??).

While you won't get to enjoy any of Spicer's signature irritation or moans of "Seaaaaan" from the reporters, this will have to do. Jeva Lange

3:33 p.m. ET
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A Pennsylvania radio host resigned after his bosses ordered him to stop criticizing President Trump. WTPA's Bruce Bond said his general manager told him "it is not permissible on WTPA airwaves to talk disrespectfully of the president," and that angry listeners had threatened "advertiser boycotts." Bond chose to quit, saying he couldn't "walk on eggshells" every time politics or Trump came up. The Week Staff

3:20 p.m. ET
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On Friday, a fifth Republican came out against the Senate's version of the GOP health-care bill. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said that "in this form," he would "not support" the Senate plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare. "There isn't anything in this bill that would lower premiums," Heller said, calling claims otherwise a "lie."

Four other Republicans — Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Ron Johnson (Wis.) — announced they would not support the bill shortly after it was unveiled Thursday. The bill, dubbed the "Better Care Reconciliation Act," proposes slashing Medicaid, eliminates ObamaCare's individual mandate, and allows states to waive some previously required benefits.

The GOP can only withstand two defections and still pass the bill. A vote is expected next week. Becca Stanek

3:12 p.m. ET
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The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Friday that it is expanding its probe into Russia's influence over the 2016 election to include an investigation of the firing of FBI Director James Comey and, by extension, former President Barack Obama's attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and her "alleged political interference," CBS News reports.

The committee is interested in a New York Times article from April that cited a hacked Russian intelligence memo that quoted a Democratic operative as "express[ing] confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the [investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server] from going too far." Many U.S. intelligence officials, including the FBI, believe the memo is unreliable or an outright fake.

"Still, the document, according to The Washington Post, factored into then-FBI Director James Comey's controversial decision to publicly announce the end of the Clinton email investigation — without discussing it in advance with Lynch," CBS News writes. And in his letter to President Trump recommending the firing of Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote that Comey "was wrong to usurp [Lynch's] authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement."

The Senate Judiciary Committee letter announcing the new probe was signed by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Jeva Lange

2:58 p.m. ET
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Americans are twice as likely to believe former FBI Director James Comey over President Trump, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday found. Forty-five percent of Americans say they are likelier to believe Comey's version of his encounters with Trump regarding the Russia probe, while 22 percent said they're more likely to believe Trump's. Another 21 percent said they believed neither Trump nor Comey, and 8 percent said they believed both men.

Trump has vehemently denied details of Comey's testimony under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Comey's claims that Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty and pushed Comey to drop the investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Opinions about who to believe were starkly divided along party lines. A mere 2 percent of Democrats said they'd believe Trump over Comey, while 76 percent said they'd believe Comey over Trump. While Trump earned significantly more trust than Comey from his fellow Republicans, only 50 percent said they were more likely to believe the president's version of events. Just 10 percent of Republicans said they'd be more likely to believe Comey.

The poll was taken from June 17-20 among 900 adults, and its margin of error is plus or minus 3.3. percentage points. Becca Stanek

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