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September 20, 2018
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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sent Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a letter Thursday accepting his invitation to attend a hearing on Monday regarding a sexual assault accusation made against Kavanaugh.

"From the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it," Kavanaugh wrote in the letter. "I remain committed to defending my integrity." He also said he wanted the hearing to take place as soon as possible so "that I can clear my name."

Christine Blasey Ford, a professor living in California, accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers. Grassley announced the hearing on Monday, before Ford and Kavanaugh agreed to attend, and Ford's lawyers have been negotiating with the committee on whether she will appear. Her lawyer said Thursday that it's "not possible" for Ford to testify in front of the panel on Monday, and "the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary." That being said, if senators agree to "terms that are fair," Ford "would be prepared to testify next week." Ford had requested an FBI investigation before testifying. Catherine Garcia

8:42 a.m. ET

Congressional Republicans are once again distancing themselves from a shocking tweet made by President Trump.

After Trump referred to adult film star Stormy Daniels as "horseface" on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told CBS on Wednesday that there is "no place for that kind of language" and that Trump "should not have said that." Ryan conducted the interview alongside Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who called Trump's insult "unacceptable," adding she disagrees with the way the president addresses women.

Several other GOP members of Congress have also criticized Trump for this comment against Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responded to the tweet by saying, "that's not the way men act," while Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) said that the insult was "unbecoming of any man, let alone the POTUS." Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), typically an ardent Trump defender, felt the tweet went too far, saying that although Trump may be "a street fighter," he's "also the president." Watch Ryan's comments to CBS below. Brendan Morrow

8:18 a.m. ET
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "single biggest regret of my time in Congress," he told Bloomberg News on Tuesday, is "our failure to address the entitlement issue." McConnell said that the mushrooming federal deficit, which the Treasury Department just said grew to $779 billion last fiscal year — 77 percent higher than when McConnell became majority leader in 2015 — is "very disturbing," but he blamed Medicare and Social Security spending, not the $1.5 trillion tax cut he steered through last year.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government," McConnell said. Because cutting Social Security and Medicare are politically toxic, he added, it will be "very difficult to do entitlement reform, and we're talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid," while Republicans run everything. While top GOP lawmakers have recently proposed cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to shrink the deficit, Democrats reiterated Tuesday that they won't be on board if they win one or both houses of Congress.

When advocating for the tax cuts last December, McConnell predicted they would at least pay for themselves due to stronger growth. The White House blamed the ballooning deficits on stagnant tax revenue and higher spending. "Business tax revenue fell sharply in the first nine months of this year because tax rates were cut under last year's law," The Washington Post notes. "McConnell blamed the recent run-up in the deficit on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but there haven't been policy changes in those programs to explain the major run-up in the debt in the past two years. The bigger changes have instead been bipartisan agreements to remove spending caps on things such as the military, and last year's tax cut." Peter Weber

7:44 a.m. ET
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It seems Idris Elba has landed his next role. It's not James Bond, but for musical fanatics, it's equally iconic.

Elba is reportedly in talks to join the cast of Cats, the new movie adaptation of the popular (and incredibly bizarre) Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. He'd be playing Macavity, who is essentially the story's villain, per Deadline. In the long-running musical, a group of cats gathers together to decide which of them will be sent to a sort of cat heaven referred to as the "Heaviside Layer."

The Cats movie already had a fairly random lineup of cast members including Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, and James Corden. Tom Hooper, whose filmography includes the Oscar-nominated 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables, will direct, and Steven Spielberg will produce,Variety reports.

It's certainly a great time to be an Elba fan, as he's also currently filming the Fast & Furious spinoff Hobbs and Shaw. Both that and Cats come out in 2019, so be prepared for Elba to get furious and — ahem — furry-ous next year. Brendan Morrow

6:38 a.m. ET
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any involvement by the Trump campaign is still chugging along, quietly, but "Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation," Bloomberg News reported early Wednesday, citing two U.S. officials. "Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry," whether there is clear evidence of collusion, and whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

If Mueller does issue those reports, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may still prevent them from being sent to Congress or made public. Rosenstein has been privately pressuring Mueller to wrap up his investigation as quickly as possible, and President Trump has been doing so publicly, Bloomberg reports, but a lot could change after the Nov. 6 elections: Notably, Rosenstein and/or Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be gone, giving Mueller a new boss, and Democrats could win control of one or both houses of Congress, changing the political calculus in Washington.

"That suggests the days and weeks immediately after the Nov. 6 election may be the most pivotal time since Mueller took over the Russia investigation almost a year and a half ago," Bloomberg says. "So far, Mueller has secured more than two dozen indictments or guilty pleas. ... And because Mueller's investigation has been proceeding quietly, out of the public eye, it's possible there have been other major developments behind the scenes." Former federal prosecutors say Mueller appears in no hurry to close up shop and probably has several important leads he is still nailing down. You can read more about what Mueller may be up to Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

5:50 a.m. ET
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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has told his staff that Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at HUD, has been named acting inspector general of the Interior Department. The role of internal watchdog at federal agencies is traditionally nonpartisan, and the Interior Department's inspector general's office has several investigations ongoing into conduct by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, making the installation of a political appointee all the more unusual, The Washington Post reports.

That's not the only strange thing about Tufts' apparent appointment. The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said it "has received no official communication about any leadership changes," and an Interior Department spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, referred questions to the White House, noting that the inspector general "is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House." The White House has not announced Tufts' nomination and did not respond to the Post's request for comment. A HUD spokesman said Tufts was on temporary loan to Interior, but Carson described her departure as permanent.

Tufts is a lawyer from Queens with no experience in government oversight; when she was hired at HUD, she replaced a career official who had objected to Carson's costly office makeover, the Post reports. The current acting Interior inspector general, Mary Kendall, is a longtime government lawyer who has served as deputy inspector general since 1999. She took over as acting inspector general in 2009; President Barack Obama nominated her to serve as inspector general but the Senate never voted on it.

Kendall's investigations of Zinke include a Montana land-investment deal involving the chairman of Halliburton and a foundation tied to Zinke and his wife, Lola; Lola Zinke's government travel with her husband; a casino project blocked after Zinke met with MGM Resorts International lobbyists; and whether the shrunken boundaries for Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were drawn to benefit a Utah Republican state lawmaker. Peter Weber

4:34 a.m. ET

Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson just "went on a podcast and explained how the real victim of our divided nation is his dining options," Stephen Colbert said, unsympathetically, on Tuesday's Late Show, playing the audio of Carlson complaining about people yelling obscenities at him when he goes out to eat. "Come on, somebody yelling 'f--- you!' doesn't ruin a meal. In fact, I think it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it." But "good news, there's still one establishment Tucker frequents," Colbert said. "Naturally, I though it was Extremely White Castle, but I was wrong. Turns out, it's a restaurant that caters just to him." The Late Show has the commercial.

The Late Show also had a theory on what happened to a rabid raccoon that was terrorizing Washington. And you can watch that below. Peter Weber

4:01 a.m. ET

"It's been a huge month for Melania Trump — she just returned from a trip to Africa, which was her first solo trip overseas," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "While she was on her first trip without the president, Melania sat down with ABC News to do something she never does with her husband: Talk for an hour." Several of her comments made headlines, including her explanation for that "I Really Don't Care Do U?" jacket and her indifference to her husband's alleged infidelities.

"But is she really still deeply in 'yes we are fine, yes' with her husband?" Colbert asked. "Here to tell us, in her first exclusive interview since her first exclusive interview," Melania Trump (or at least her Late Show stand-in, Laura Benanti). It is a little surprising that her pronunciation of "focus" made it past the CBS censors. The Late Show Melania Trump had a lot to say about love, marriage, being bullied, sexual assault, whether the press should pay attention to her clothes or her words, and the rationale behind her perennially misunderstood #BeDressed initiative. Watch below. Peter Weber

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