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December 21, 2017
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Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been a vocal critic of President Trump, but apparently the process of passing the Republican tax bill has made him see the president in a new light. Politico reported Thursday that Corker, like Trump, now believes that he's been subjected to unfair attacks by the media for supporting his party's tax reform bill.

Corker had initially vowed that he would not vote for a bill that added "one penny to the deficit." But in the Senate's vote Wednesday, he indeed approved the measure, which experts have estimated will add more than $1 trillion to the federal debt. Last Saturday, International Business Times reported that Corker voted in favor of tax reform only after an amendment was added to the bill that personally benefited him by creating a tax break for commercial real estate owners.

Corker has "significant real estate investments and would stand to benefit significantly from the new provision," Politico reported. Before the end of the weekend, the tax break had a name: "the Corker kickback."

Over the last week, Corker was forced to defend his sudden support of the bill against insinuations that the senator had demanded the amendment's inclusion in exchange for his vote. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) eventually admitted to being the amendment's author, but that didn't stop CNN's Wolf Blitzer from pressing a clearly bothered Corker on Tuesday about his motivations for voting for the Republican tax bill.

The whole kerfuffle apparently prompted Corker to tell Trump that he'd finally seen the light. On Thursday morning, Corker went on the president's favorite show, Fox & Friends, to discuss the tax bill. "I've never used in my life the word 'fake news' until today," he told the hosts. "I actually understand what it is the president has been dealing with." Kelly O'Meara Morales

3:41 p.m. ET
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Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer said on Thursday that it "is not possible" for Ford to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, reports CNN.

Ford is open to providing testimony regarding her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, but said Monday is too soon. In an email to lawmakers, obtained by The New York Times, Ford's attorneys said she "would be prepared to testify next week" if senators agreed to "terms that are fair," despite her previous request to delay testimony until after an FBI investigation into the matter.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has scheduled a hearing Monday, reports The Washington Post, and gave Ford until Friday morning to decide whether she'll testify. Ford's lawyers called the deadline and the push to schedule a hearing for Monday "arbitrary in any event," arguing that there's no reason lawmakers shouldn't take time to "ensure her safety" and thoroughly review the allegations. Kavanaugh, who has denied the accusation, has said he is willing to testify to refute Ford's claim. Summer Meza

2:55 p.m. ET
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After presumably running through a list of every item in existence that could conceivably be operated by Alexa, Amazon has come for the microwave.

The company on Thursday unveiled a whole slate of new Alexa-powered devices including its WiFi-connected, voice-activated microwave. Though the Amazon Basics Microwave, which will cost $60, does not have Alexa built into it, it uses Alexa by connecting to a nearby Echo device, per CNET.

Users will be able to tell their microwave, through Alexa, how long to cook their food for and which setting to use. For certain foods, simply telling Alexa what is being cooked will enable the microwave to punch in the right cook-time, as Amazon's David Limp helpfully demonstrated on stage by telling his machine to heat up a potato. The microwave comes with "dozens of quick-cook voice presents," Engadget reports, and it even comes equipped with a special Dash button that you can use to order popcorn.

You do need to press an Alexa button before issuing any commands, though, so the idyllic dream of a totally button-free microwave experience — alas — remains out of reach for now. Read more about Amazon's microwaves, as well as the larger slate of products the company unveiled Thursday, at CNET. Brendan Morrow

2:52 p.m. ET
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Paulette Jordan, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Idaho who is vying to become the nation's first Native American state leader, has been in coordination with a political action committee in ways that may violate campaign finance rules, the Idaho Statesman reported Thursday. Jordan's team has reportedly been advising and fundraising for the super PAC, and even secured a major donation for it this month.

The Strength and Progress federal super PAC, created in July "to accept donations from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe ... for spending on Federal First Nations' issues," is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but is not supposed to partner with any specific campaign. Jordan, formerly a representative in the Idaho state legislature, is a member of the Tribe. Her campaign was reportedly involved in creating the PAC, which could be a problem if expenditures show that the group contributed to her candidacy.

Jordan's campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, resigned last week, saying he would rather "have no part or complacency with this PAC," the Statesman reported based on internal emails. Rosenow, along with the campaign's communications director and event scheduler, resigned suddenly after just two months, raising eyebrows about whether the departures were really a simple "leadership transition," as Jordan's campaign said. Now, emails show that Rosenow resigned over a "lack of accountability in spending and acquiring campaign resources." He felt the team was "growing a PAC" instead of funding the campaign, calling it "detestable, loathsome, if not repulsive."

Strength and Progress, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and Jordan's campaign all say that there has been no improper coordination and that the groups are all operating independently. The Idaho Democratic Party says it is taking the potential violations "very seriously." Read more at the Idaho Statesman. Summer Meza

12:21 p.m. ET

That's the signpost up ahead. Jordan Peele's next stop: hosting The Twilight Zone.

CBS has announced that in addition to producing the forthcoming Twilight Zone revival, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele will also serve as its host, Variety reports. He has big shoes to fill, with Rod Serling having famously narrated the classic original series while also serving as its creator and writing most of the show's episodes. In a video posted to Twitter on Thursday, Peele showed off his take on the iconic opening title sequence.

Peele was announced as producer of the Twilight Zone reboot last year, but it was unclear at the time whether he would host as well. While speaking to Variety last month, Peele said he had "resisted" the idea because he was worried audiences wouldn't be able to take him seriously on screen after he spent five seasons on the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele. But perhaps he now feels that after writing and directing Get Out, which won him an Oscar for best original screenplay earlier this year, he has proved his horror chops to audiences.

The new Twilight Zone will premiere sometime in 2019 exclusively on CBS All Access, the network's streaming service. Watch a teaser for the series below. Brendan Morrow

12:02 p.m. ET
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Yale Law School professor Amy Chua told law students that it was "not an accident" that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks all "looked like models," The Guardian reported Thursday.

Chua, who has hailed Kavanaugh as a "mentor to women," played a key role in selecting and vetting clerks for the judge. She reportedly told female students that she could advise them on their physical appearance and how they dressed, in order to help give them a "model-like" look that she said would help boost their odds of working for Kavanaugh.

Another Yale professor, Jed Rubenfeld, who is Chua's husband, reportedly told a prospective clerk that she "should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look." Chua, who wrote the controversial 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, told the same student that she should dress in an "outgoing" way for an interview with Kavanaugh. Rubenfeld and Chua were not known to give similar advice to students seeking jobs with other judges, The Guardian reports.

"I have no reason to believe he was saying, 'Send me the pretty ones,'" said one student, "but rather that he was reporting back and saying, 'I really like so and so,' and the way he described them led [Chua and Rubenfeld] to form certain conclusions." When Chua said that Kavanaugh's clerks "looked like models," students noted that Chua's daughter was poised to work for Kavanaugh. Chua reportedly said that her daughter would not tolerate any inappropriate behavior.

Rubenfeld said in a statement that he has "reason to suspect" he is facing "false allegations," and Chua said that Kavanaugh "only hires those who are extraordinarily qualified." Yale said it would "look into these claims promptly." Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

10:45 a.m. ET
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are increasingly cracking down on noncriminal immigrants.

ICE arrests of people without criminal records has increased 66 percent this year, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Meanwhile, arrests of convicts rose less than 2 percent.

"Unshackling ICE has really allowed it to go after more individuals," Sarah Pierce, an analyst for the nonpartisan think tank Migration Policy Institute, told AP. She called the dramatic increase in noncriminal immigrant arrests "a defining characteristic of this administration's approach to immigration."

In 2017, there was a 174 percent increase in noncriminal immigrant deportations compared to the previous year, while the number of immigrants expelled who had convictions rose less than 13 percent.

The Trump administration has touted an ICE report that said 56 percent of its deportations in 2017 were among people with criminal convictions, but AP notes that President Trump's hard-line approach to immigration has led to a sharp uptick in deportations for people with lower-level infractions. The Bush administration deported even more noncriminal immigrants, ICE data shows, and the Obama administration deported record numbers of immigrants but decreased the number of noncriminal deportations.

Comparatively, ICE is more recently increasing the number of arrests among immigrants already living in the U.S. — often for many years — rather than focusing efforts on illegal border crossings. Experts say ICE will continue targeting "low-hanging fruit," like noncriminal immigrants involved in traffic violations, in order to keep increasing numbers. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

10:42 a.m. ET
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When Solo: A Star Wars Story severely underperformed at the box office this summer, fans everywhere debated what went wrong. Now, the CEO of Disney himself is taking the fall.

In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he made a "mistake" by scheduling so many Star Wars movies back-to-back, adding that he "made the timing decision." "I take the blame," he said. "[It] was a little too much, too fast." Going forward, Iger said Disney will be "a little bit more careful about volume and timing." Iger did not cite specific box office figures or even mention Solo by name, but he was responding directly to a question about whether Disney should "pump the brakes and not put out a Star Wars movie each year."

Solo only made $213 million domestically this past summer, per Box Office Mojo. Its predecessor, The Last Jedi, made $620 million. The film before that, Rogue One, made $532 million. Adjusting for inflation, Solo was the worst-performing Star Wars movie of all time. It was also the first movie in the long-running series to be released less than one year after the previous one, hitting theaters in May 2018, just five months after The Last Jedi.

Box office analysts have speculated this scheduling hurt Solo's chances of financial success, as moviegoers needed more time before wanting to see another Star Wars adventure in theaters. There has been a new installment of the iconic franchise every year since 2015.

It appears the man at the top agrees, if his conversation with The Hollywood Reporter is any indication. Fans can "expect some slowdown" in the Star Wars series going forward, Iger said. Read his full interview at The Hollywood Reporter. Brendan Morrow

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