March 8, 2018
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Pennsylvania holds a special congressional election next Tuesday, and Republicans aren't sure their candidate, Rick Saccone, can win the conservative district President Trump took by 20 percentage points. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both came up to campaign with Saccone, but internal polling shows him barely trailing Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former prosecutor and Marine veteran who has spent his nearly $4 million war chest on professional ads and a 16-person full-time campaign team, Politico reports. Saccone has four full-time staffers and is a lackluster fundraiser; the national party has pumped millions into the race to rescue him.

"Candidate quality matters, and when one candidate outraises the other 5-to-1, that creates real challenges for outside groups trying to win a race," says Corry Bliss, who runs the main super PAC tied to House Republicans. As of Tuesday, Republican groups had spent nearly $7.5 million on TV ads alone, Politico says, but that infusion — "much of it highlighting the GOP tax cuts and attempting to tie Lamb to [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi — has failed to move the needle." White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is scheduled to campaign with Saccone on Thursday and Trump has another rally planned with him on Saturday.

As the election nears, "the national GOP is increasingly pinning the blame on Saccone," but "with so much attention trained on the race, House GOP leaders determined they had little choice but to spend whatever is needed to pull Saccone over the finish line," Politico says. "A loss would be wholly embarrassing, many Republicans privately acknowledge, given that it would take place in a state that Trump made a cornerstone of his 2016 victory. And the themes that the GOP has highlighted in the special election ... are the centerpieces of the party’s 2018 campaign plan." You can read more about the race at Politico. Peter Weber

2:25 p.m. ET

President Trump announced plans to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities during his signing of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Friday, pledging to create the "most powerful nuclear force on Earth."

The president leaned heavily on his praise of increased military and defense funds within the federal spending bill, which he said he signed reluctantly after threatening a veto earlier Friday.

"We're spending a lot of money on nuclear, our nuclear systems, to upgrade and in some cases brand new, whether it's submarines, nuclear submarines, and others," he said.

Trump claimed that building up the U.S. nuclear arsenal would mean that no other country would "come even close" in capability.

"We'll have by far the most powerful nuclear force on Earth and it will be absolutely in perfect shape and condition and hopefully, praise be to God we don't ever have to use it," he said. Watch his remarks below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

2:15 p.m. ET
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In his usual disappointing fashion, Punxsutawney Phil spotted his shadow on Groundhog Day and promised six more weeks of winter.

That was seven weeks ago. So with the Northeast freshly coated by another massive storm, a Pennsylvania sheriff is coming after the dishonest rodent.

The Monroe County Sheriff's office put up a wanted poster accusing a brown-haired, 20-pound suspect of "deception," WBRE reported.

The groundhog is still at large, but the public is encouraged to phone in tips on the fugitive's whereabouts. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:04 p.m. ET

President Trump addressed recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program during his signing of the omnibus spending package Friday, telling young immigrants brought into America illegally as children: "The Republicans are with you."

Trump further insisted: "The Democrats fought us. They just fought every single inch of the way. They did not want DACA in this bill." He added that he wants "the Hispanic community to know and DACA recipients to know that Republicans are much more on your side than the Democrats, who are using you for their own purposes."

Trump announced in September that he would end DACA earlier this month, but a number of court rulings have blocked the president from successfully terminating the Obama-era protections. Jeva Lange

1:45 p.m. ET

President Trump on Friday reluctantly signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress, after writing on Twitter earlier in the morning that he was "considering a VETO." With his tweet, Trump had built up the hopes of some critics who are angry about a resulting budget deficit of more than $800 billion this year, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who urged Trump to "please do" veto the measure.

Trump said he signed the bill "to take care of our military," but vowed, "I will never sign another bill like this again." He called for Congress to give him the power of a line-item veto for spending bills and to kill the legislative filibuster in the Senate. "Nobody read it," he said of the legislation he signed. "It's only hours old. Some people don't even know what's in it."

The omnibus provides $1.6 billion for the border wall, far short of what the White House wanted, but it also increases spending on the military and border protection. It does not address the DACA program, which provides protections for young undocumented immigrants. Jeva Lange

12:32 p.m. ET

In an idea that makes bringing knives to a gunfight sound like a prudent decision, the superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District in Pennsylvania has suggested equipping classrooms with "five-gallon bucket[s] of river stone" so that "if an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full [of] students armed with rocks and they will be stoned."

The idea, first reported by Pennsylvania's ABC 16, came to Dr. David Helsel, who announced it at the House Education Committee meeting in Harrisburg. He stressed that the rocks ought to be "the right size for hands" and that they need to be thrown "very hard" in order to fend off a potential attacker who could be armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

One student, a senior at Blue Mountain High School, said he liked the idea because "anything helps, rocks are better than books and pencils." A college student in Schuylkill Haven dismissed the idea as "rather comical."

President Trump has controversially suggested arming teachers, an idea that perhaps could be a little more effective than rocks, although it has widely been criticized by school officials.

Maybe everyone just needs to take a deep breath and go back to the drawing board. Has anyone considered sling shots? Spitballs? Jeva Lange

12:02 p.m. ET

Sparring partners Chris Cuomo and Kellyanne Conway were at it again on CNN's New Day on Friday morning, debating the hypothetical fist-fight between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Cuomo blasted Trump for focusing on such distractions, wondering "how difficult is it to get the job done there," while the White House counselor waved off his complaints.

Trump "doesn't spend much time on that," Conway insisted, claiming that it is Biden and "that woman who lost the election whose name I don't say on your network anymore" that "seem pretty obsessed."

Cuomo said that "only one" of the people engaged in the debate is the president, although Conway countered that Biden "was vice president for eight years" and Hillary Clinton was "a former secretary of state and [a] twice failed presidential candidate." Conway asked: "They have considerable platforms, why aren't they using them for more good?"

Cuomo shut her down: "Don't take us down that road," he said. "I don't care what she's doing. She's not in charge of keeping my kids safe ... You guys are. You're in power." Watch the heated exchange below. Jeva Lange

11:41 a.m. ET

The Department of Justice has charged nine Iranians in a major hacking conspiracy that targeted American universities and government agencies. The Trump administration on Friday announced criminal indictments against the alleged hackers, who were involved in "massive, coordinated cyberintrusions" at the behest of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an intelligence-gathering arm of the Iranian government.

Also Friday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 10 Iranians, in tandem with the DOJ's indictments. Nine of the sanctioned individuals were the nine indicted Friday, who are "leaders, contractors, associates hackers-for-hire or affiliates" of the Mabna Institute, an Iranian company accused of working with Tehran to steal more than 31 terabytes of intellectual property and data in what officials called a "significant, malicious" attack. The 10th individual was indicted in November for involvement in hacking HBO computer servers.

The stolen data was "one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns" ever, officials said, affecting at least 300 universities worldwide, 144 of which were in the United States. The Department of Labor, the United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana were also targeted, a DOJ announcement stated.

The revealed cyberattacks "should send a message around the world about Iran's continued deceptive practices," said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, "but it should come as no surprise."

Those sanctioned will have American assets frozen and will be blocked from traveling to more than 100 countries at risk of being extradited to the U.S. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

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