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March 15, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs Wednesday for a three-nation, four-day visit to Asia, starting in Japan, moving to South Korea, and finishing in China. The focus of all three stops is expected to be North Korea, which has ratcheted up tensions in the region by test-firing several medium-range ballistic missiles toward Japan.

In Tokyo, Tillerson will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, and will seek to reassure Japan that the Trump administration will stay engaged. He will carry similar assurances about North Korea to Seoul, which is in political upheaval after the impeachment and removal of President Park Geun-hye last week. Her successor after May 9 elections is expected to be a liberal candidate seeking a more conciliatory posture toward Pyongyang. In Beijing, Tillerson will lay the groundwork for President Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to Washington, and he's expected to urge China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear belligerence.

Breaking with 50 years of tradition, Tillerson isn't bringing the diplomatic press corps with him on his airplane, or even a few "pool" reporters, as he did on his first two official trips abroad. Originally, the State Department said that Tillerson, who has kept an unusually low profile, would travel with no reporters, citing his small plane and calling it a cost-saving measure — though reporters pay market price for their seats, costing taxpayers nothing. But now he is flying with one journalist, Erin McPike of the conservative Independent Journal Review. The State Department Correspondents' Association said Wednesday that it is "disappointed" Tillerson isn't bringing even a single pool reporter on his plane.

U.S. reporters will still cover Tillerson's three stops, flying commercially and meeting up with him in each capital. You can watch three of them, from CNN, offer a preview of Tillerson's Asia trip in the video below. Peter Weber

2:26 p.m. ET
Courtesy image

Fox News anchor Howard Kurtz's new book on the White House, Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War over the Truth, is already being compared to Michael Wolff's tell-all Fire and Fury — and now it even has the backlash to boot, CNN reports. In the book, which Politico describes as "[portraying] the news media … as excessively negative in its treatment of President Donald Trump," Kurtz alleges that New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin bashed Trump in a phone call with an RNC staffer.

"Donald Trump is racist and a fascist, we all know it, and you are complicit," Martin reportedly said. "By supporting him you're all culpable." The staffer supposedly called Martin later, prompting "another tirade," CNN writes, citing Kurtz' book. That conversation led to an "angry phone call from then-Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer to a Times editor to complain," CNN reports.

Martin, though, says the anecdote is not true — and what's more, that it doesn't even sound believable. "Of course I didn't yell 'you're a racist and a fascist' or 'you are complicit' or 'you're all culpable' at anybody," he told CNN. "Does that sound like me? More to that point, do those sound like real life lines any human being in the news business would use?" Backing up Martin's story, Politico Playbook comments that the quote attributed to him "doesn't sound like something JMart ever would've said."

Kurtz and the book's publisher, Regency, stand by the story, saying it is supported by "sources with direct knowledge of the conversations."

Martin added to Politico: "Howie paraphrased a vague, preposterous-sounding quote to me that I told him sounded ridiculous and not the kind of thing I'd say ... I still have no idea what he or Sean Spicer are talking about.” Jeva Lange

2:22 p.m. ET

Two students were killed and 17 students were injured Tuesday after a student opened fire at Marshall County High School in Kentucky, The Associated Press reports. Twelve of the injuries were caused by gunfire, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, while the other five were not gunshot wounds.

In a press conference, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) told reporters that two 15-year-old students died in the shooting, one at the scene and another in a hospital. Overall, 14 students were shot, including the two deceased.

The shooter, a 15-year-old male student, has not been publicly identified. He has been taken into custody and "will be charged with both murder and attempted murder," Bevin said. Watch a portion of his press conference below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

2:00 p.m. ET
David McNew/Getty Images

This November, citizens of Florida will vote on an amendment that would restore voting rights to certain felons. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the proposal — known as "Yes to 2nd Chances" — would reinstate the right to vote to convicted individuals who did not commit murder or felony sexual crimes. The amendment needed 766,220 signatures to go on the ballot in November and received nearly 800,000 signatures, AP reports.

Amendments need to earn 60 percent of the vote to become law in Florida. If the amendment were to pass, an estimated 1.5 million felons would have their voting rights restored.

Under current Florida law, felons can only get their voting rights back by petitioning Florida's Executive Clemency Board, which consists of the state's attorney general, the state's chief financial officer, the state commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Over six years, Scott has only re-granted voting rights to 2,500 felons, HuffPost reports. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:00 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) informed the White House on Monday that his offer of $1.6 billion in border wall funding is off the table after President Trump rejected the deal last Friday during a meeting aimed at averting a government shutdown, Politico reports. "He called the White House yesterday and said it's over," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Schumer had floated fully funding the wall in exchange for a deal to give Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients legal status, The New York Times reported, although Trump allegedly didn't think the concessions were conservative enough. "In my heart, I thought we might have a deal tonight," Schumer had claimed on the Senate floor.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) expressed doubts to Politico about what was negotiated in Schumer's meeting with Trump, which took place over cheeseburgers. The Democrats "claim that some crazy deal was made," Cotton said. "And then when we say no deal was made, they accuse Republicans and the president of reneging."

On Monday, Trump signed a bipartisan bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, and the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised that immigration legislation will be brought to a vote by Feb. 8 if the issue has not been resolved by then. Jeva Lange

12:46 p.m. ET
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Turns out the Chosen 1 is not actually a great choice — at least at the books.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, are a nightmare for casual gamblers this season. The Cavaliers have been awful at beating their predicted point spreads, ESPN explains: Despite compiling a winning 27-18 record, the team is only 11-33-1 relative to their predicted scores, "which is on pace to rank dead last among [any team] since 1990-91."

In point-spread betting, gamblers place money on the margin of the final score of any given game. Unlike the Golden State Warriors, who upend Vegas point spreads by winning games with unpredictable scores, the Cavaliers are fairly easy for Vegas to get a read on. They've regressed this year due to an aging roster plagued with with chemistry problems — but because the Cavs still employ James, arguably the best basketball player ever, casual bettors still throw their money at the team.

That means that despite the fact that the Cavs have lost 7 of their last 10 games and trot out the second-worst defense in the NBA, Vegas has yet to adjust its betting lines because it's still making money on fans' good will, even as the team continually underperforms. As NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman explained to ESPN: "It's just hard for the public to go away when you have a commodity like LeBron."

So if you've got a contrarian streak, you're in luck, because the smart bet is to bet against the 2016 champs. Read more at ESPN. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:10 a.m. ET

Look up. Somewhere out there — beyond the high-rises and the clouds and yes, even the airplanes — there are people. To be precise, there are two of them, and they are more than three-and-a-half hours into the first spacewalk of the year.

Astronauts Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei are expected to spend more than six hours Tuesday dangling off the side of the International Space Station, where they are installing a new gripper on the station's robotic arm. The mission is the ISS's 206th maintenance spacewalk since it was launched into orbit in 1998.

"This is going to be a lifetime memory for sure," Tingle told Space.com last week. "I'm looking forward to getting out there and fixing up the systems that we'll be working on."

One of the hardest parts of the spacewalk comes when Tingle has to get out of his boot restraint "and I have to go over to my partner's boot restraint, and I have to move him while he's holding a massive piece of equipment from the robotic arm, so there's a lot of mass there," Tingle said. "I think that will be tricky. I'll probably take that slow and be very cautious."

At least there is a payoff for all the trouble, Phys.org reports: "Make us proud out there," fellow Space Station astronaut Joe Acaba told Tingle and Vande Hei from inside. "We'll have hot chow for you when you get back."

Watch the spacewalk live at NASA. Jeva Lange

10:40 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp appeared on CNN's New Day and tried very hard to avoid talking about President Trump's alleged affair with an adult film star.

CNN's Alisyn Camerota began by asking Schlapp about a recent report that alleges that President Trump's campaign tried to cover up the tryst, which allegedly took place in 2006 when he was married to wife Melania, with campaign money. Schlapp responded: "I don't really have many thoughts on this, Alisyn. I don't even know what we know."

Schlapp then tried to claim that the report came out of "a gossip publication," referring to a lengthy interview the woman gave to InTouch Weekly. Camerota pointed out in response that the original story about the affair was published by The Wall Street Journal. "Do you think The Wall Street Journal is legit?" she asked.

Schlapp admitted that the Journal is credible, but spun back to referencing InTouch Weekly. "We're going to really talk about about an article by InTouch magazine on facts we don't even know to be true? We are all better than this," he said.

That's when Camerota struck: "Matt, so conservatives don't care anymore about extramarital affairs?" Watch a clip of the interview below, or watch the full segment at Mediaite. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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