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May 31, 2018
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President Trump met with Kim Kardashian West on Wednesday to discuss prison reform, and the reality star highlighted the appalling case of 62-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, who is serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense. Kardashian West has become a champion of Johnson's cause, saying she will do "whatever it takes" to get the grandmother out of prison.

But Trump apparently intends to go in a different direction, instead applying the prison reform message to famous people he likes. While Johnson remains an inmate, Trump said Thursday he is considering commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and issuing a presidential pardon to Martha Stewart.

Blagojevich is six years into a 14-year sentence for corruption charges mostly focused on his attempt to sell the Senate seat previously held by Barack Obama. Stewart was convicted of charges related to insider trading in 2004 and sentenced two five months in prison plus two years of supervised release.

Trump previously issued a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, who was arrested in 1912 for driving his white girlfriend over state lines. Earlier Thursday, he announced he will pardon right-wing provocateur Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to felony charges related to campaign finance violations in 2014 and was sentenced to a fine, probation, and eight months in a halfway house. Bonnie Kristian

10:08 a.m. ET
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More Democratic women are running for House seats this fall than ever before, but the money they've raised doesn't exactly show it.

Cook Political Report shows 67 House races that are hovering near toss-up territory as the midterms approach. Yet the 34 Democratic women facing off in those races have raised an average of $500,000 less than the 33 Democratic men, NPR analysis has revealed.

Democratic women have so far raised an average of $1.59 million in each of their House races, while men have raked in an average of $2.15 million, per NPR. Women are securing a bit more funding from political action committees than men, but PAC money makes up a far narrower percentage of fundraising than small money and out-of-state donations. And with Democratic women falling behind in those categories, it's no surprise there's such a wide fundraising gender gap.

Still, these numbers are nothing new. Women have always pulled in less fundraising dollars than men, and we're only noticing now because there are more women candidates than ever, liberal consultant Taryn Rosenkranz tells NPR. Men earn more money than women, and they have traditionally made campaign donations more of a priority, contributing to the historical gap. But now, with Democratic women vying for half the seats on the verge of turning blue this fall, donors may have to acknowledge the obvious before Democrats can actually make their House-flipping dreams come true.

Read more about the political gender gap at NPR. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:07 a.m. ET

The second woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct is also ready to testify.

Deborah Ramirez has alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken dorm party while they were both students at Yale University. On Wednesday, her attorney John Clune told Today that he would "not be surprised" if Ramirez agreed to testify before the Senate about the matter, even before an FBI investigation takes place.

Clune had previously suggested that Ramirez might refuse to testify if the FBI did not first examine her claim. But on Today, host Savannah Guthrie pointed out that Christine Blasey Ford, who earlier this month accused Kavanaugh of forcibly groping her at a high school party, also requested an FBI investigation before her testimony — only to agree to speak before the Senate without one. Clune explained that while Ramirez would strongly prefer an investigation take place before she testifies, she may eventually decide to speak under oath anyway. He also told CBS This Morning on Wednesday that Ramirez is ready to "have a conversation" about "what this is going to look like" and "if there's going to be an FBI investigation."

Kavanaugh has denied both allegations. Watch a portion of Clune's interview with Today below. Brendan Morrow

9:51 a.m. ET

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh says he "never sexually assaulted anyone," and says he's got calendars to prove it.

Two women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years. Late Tuesday, Kavanaugh sent the Senate Judiciary Committee pages from his 1982 calendar, saying that he'd use them to testify Thursday that he wasn't at the high school party where Christine Blasey Ford alleges he forcibly groped her, reports USA Today.

Kavanaugh has for some reason kept the ancient artifact in his possession since his senior year of high school, and now he hopes it will come in handy. The calendar includes vestiges of suburban teenage life, with entries like "go to Timmy's" and "grounded." The pages also show that Kavanaugh appreciated fine films such as Rocky III and Grease II, which he saw in the same week in June.

More importantly, Kavanaugh listed parties he attended, even noting at least some of the attendees. Kavanaugh will use the agenda to show that there's no evidence he ever attended the party described by Ford. "He could have attended a party that he did not list," Kavanaugh's team acknowledged.

Check out the calendar pages below, via USA Today, if you've always wondered on which day in 1982 Kavanaugh mowed the lawn. Summer Meza

9:45 a.m. ET
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As Christine Blasey Ford prepares to testify this week that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, a new poll suggests many Republicans don't care whether she's telling the truth or not.

The poll, released Wednesday by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, asked Americans if Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court even "if the charge of sexual assault during a party in high school by Christine Blasey Ford" is true. Among Republicans surveyed, 54 percent said he should still be confirmed. Only 32 percent of Republicans said Kavanaugh should not be confirmed if Ford's allegation is true. This was not the case among adults overall, as 59 percent of the poll's respondents said if Ford is telling the truth, Kavanaugh shouldn't be confirmed. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

Earlier this week, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) suggested that Kavanaugh doing "something really bad 36 years ago" may not disqualify him from serving as a Supreme Court justice. The poll suggests many Republicans agree.

This poll was conducted by speaking to 997 adults over the phone from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, partially before and partially after a second allegation against Kavanaugh came to light on Sept. 23. The margin of error is +/- 3.9 percent. Read the full results at NPR. Brendan Morrow

8:17 a.m. ET
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's job may be safe for at least a few more weeks.

The Washington Post reports that ahead of Thursday's meeting between Rosenstein and President Trump, the general consensus among administration officials is that the deputy attorney general will stick around until after the midterms.

This was not always the case, as reports emerged Monday that Rosenstein had offered to resign but was expected to be fired. This followed a report from The New York Times that said Rosenstein had talked about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. The White House subsequently said that Trump and Rosenstein would meet Thursday, declining to comment on whether he was about to lose his job.

The new report says Rosenstein did indeed tell the White House over the weekend he was willing to resign, and his departure seemed like such a sure thing that a succession plan was in place on Monday, leaving officials surprised when his ouster went unannounced. The officials who spoke with the Post didn't rule out the possibility that Rosenstein will be fired this week, but they don't think it's likely, as his ouster could adversely affect Republicans in November's midterm elections.

Instead, officials now expect Rosenstein to depart after the midterms, and they think Attorney General Jeff Sessions will go with him. Brendan Morrow

7:24 a.m. ET

There was some liberal Sturm und Drang when The New York Times hired conservative Wall Street Journal editorialist Bret Stephens for its op-ed stable. But it would be hard to find a liberal columnist with a more damning indictment of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) than the one Stephens meted out Tuesday. Stephens said he shared colleague Gail Collins' enthusiasm for the Texas Senate race for a couple of reasons: "Small reasons: I like Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic challenger, and I like the idea that Texas can turn a bit purple if you have a candidate with energy, wit, and a human touch."

"The big reason," Stephens added, "is that I despise Ted Cruz. That is 'D-e-s-p-i-s-e.'" He explained why, savagely:

Because he's like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining. Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because "New York values." Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that's just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he's conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he's the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that's what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected. [Bret Stephens, The New York Times]

For what it's worth, Cruz seems kind of obsessed with the race, too. Read more of Stephens' musings at The New York Times. Peter Weber

6:29 a.m. ET
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In about five years, the U.S. federal government could starting spending more in interest on its debt than on the military — which accounts for more than half of discretionary spending — or domestic programs like Medicaid, The New York Times reports, citing Congressional Budget Office projections. "The run-up in borrowing costs is a one-two punch brought on by the need to finance a fast-growing budget deficit, worsened by tax cuts and steadily rising interest rates that will make the debt more expensive," the Times explains.

Years of record low interest rates have "allowed the government to take on more debt without paying more interest," says Marc Goldwein at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "That party is ending," and "by 2020, we will spend more on interest than we do on kids, including education, food stamps, and aid to families." Within 10 years, the U.S. will face more than $900 billion a year in interest payments, the CBO projects. Next year, when the federal deficit is forecast to top $1 trillion, interest costs will hit $390 billion, 50 percent more than in 2017.

Interest payments were already going to grow without the massive tax cut Republicans pushed through in December and higher spending approved by both parties in February. But the combination of the tax cuts, spending hikes, and rising interest rates puts the U.S. in the largely uncharted territory of stimulating an already booming economy, giving the government fewer tools for when a recession hits. "There's no guarantee that these forecasts will prove accurate," the Times cautions. "If the economy weakens, rates might fall or rise only slightly, reducing interest payments. But rates could also overshoot the budget office forecast." You can read more, and see some helpful charts, at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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