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October 11, 2018

President Trump is under increasing pressure to find out if Saudi Arabia really murdered or abducted dissident Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during an Oct. 2 visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as Turkey says. A bipartisan group of 22 senators sent Trump a letter on Wednesday triggering a law that forces the administration to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance, leading to sanctions if Saudi Arabia is found responsible.

The White House insists Trump is taking the situation seriously. The Trump administration is "very engaged on this issue," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday. "Senior officials, diplomats are speaking to both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the government of Turkey, and we're using diplomatic channels." At the same time, Palladino tiptoed around the fact that the U.S. has no ambassador to either country, as Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pointed out:

Q: Who again — what's the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?

PALLADINO: I don't have that in front of me right now and I – Matt —

Q: What's the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?

PALLADINO: I see what you're getting at. Okay. We are confident in our diplomatic —

Q: The answer is that you don't have an ambassador in either place, right?

PALLADINO: We —

Q: And in fact, the charge in Riyadh has now been nominated to be the ambassador to Yemen. So just is it correct that you do not have ambassadors in place in either Ankara or Riyadh?

PALLADINO: But we have diplomatic staff, senior diplomatic officials —

Q: I'm sure you do. [State Department transcript]

Palladino went on to "reiterate our request for our colleagues in the Senate" to help the State Department "get its full team on the field," and Lee asked who Trump wanted the Senate to confirm to the vacant Saudi and Turkey ambassadorships. Palladino said he didn't "have that in front of me right now." "You're sure someone's been nominated for both positions?" Lee asked. Palladino said he'd have to check. According to the American Foreign Service Association, Trump has nominated nobody for either ambassadorship. Peter Weber

5:33p.m.

Indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is bringing in ex-White House strategist Stephen Bannon to help him stave off what could be a narrow loss this fall. In other words, his campaign isn't looking so good.

Since the congressman was indicted on insider trading charges in August, his formerly massive lead has nearly slipped to Democratic challenger Nate McMurray. His fundraising totals crumbled during the third quarter. And on Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially made the GOP-held district a top priority.

Collins, who was Trump's first public supporter in Congress, originally planned to suspend his campaign after being hit with criminal charges. The western New York Republican surprisingly revived his campaign in September, but his supporters didn't seem to get the message. Federal Election Commission filings released this week reveal Collins took in just $33,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter — a third of what he received in the quarter before that. Just about $750 of those dollars came from Collins' actual constituents.

In another blow, a Siena College/Spectrum News poll released Tuesday placed Collins a mere three points ahead of McMurray, well within the poll's 4.7 percent margin of error. The news led the DCCC to put New York's 27th Congressional District on its "Red to Blue" list on Wednesday, The Buffalo News reports. That likely means DCCC funding is headed McMurray's way.

Collins still has about $1 million to last the rest of the race, while McMurray has a little less than half that, per FEC filings. Collins also has Bannon slated to rally for him — and every other New York Republican — at a small-town fire hall in his district later this month. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:04p.m.

President Trump's confidence may leave him sorely disappointed.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that college-educated women "will be voting for me" because they "want safety, security, and health care protections," and only he can sufficiently "supply" those things.

College-educated women largely didn't vote for Trump in the 2016 election — CNN exit polls show that 52 percent of college graduates overall voted for Hillary Clinton, and 42 percent went for Trump. More overwhelmingly, 72 percent of non-white college graduates voted for Clinton, and just 22 percent voted for Trump. The president's approval ratings plummet if polls look at women or college-educated voters alone.

While 52 percent of white women overall voted for Trump, and white women support him and the GOP at higher rates than non-white women, that seems to be changing. The Washington Post found in July that white women with college degrees now prefer Democrats by a margin of 47 points. Age matters, too: "Young women hate Trump," concluded Vox. Trump may be feeling pretty good about his odds with women voters, but the data shows he may need to stop tweeting things like "Horseface" to persuade any of them back over to his side. Summer Meza

4:21p.m.

The FBI arrested a Treasury Department adviser on charges of leaking the financial records of several subjects of the Justice Department's probe into Russian election interference, the DOJ announced announced Wednesday.

The adviser, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, allegedly leaked confidential "Suspicious Activity Reports" regarding President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates, among others, the DOJ complaint says. The leaks seemed to have informed 12 BuzzFeed News articles detailing GOP operatives' payments to Russia "to finance election campaign of 2016," The Daily Beast reports.

Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was apparently "entrusted" with the Suspicious Activity Reports, which banks file confidentially to report "potentially illegal transactions," a DOJ press release says. The reports pertained to Manafort, Gates, alleged Russian spy Mariia Butina, the Russian Embassy, and others related to to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, per the release. Edwards allegedly saved these files on a flash drive and sent them to an unnamed reporter, whom The Washington Post presumes is from BuzzFeed News.

Edwards is now facing one count of "unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports," as well as one count of conspiracy to do the same, the DOJ said. BuzzFeed News has declined to comment. Her arrest comes days after another senior official pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during a leak investigation. Read the full Justice Department complaint here. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:08p.m.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn't giving up on repealing ObamaCare just yet.

The Senate majority leader said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday that the GOP might take another stab at repealing the Affordable Care Act after the midterm elections. "If we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it," McConnell said, adding that this depends "on what happens in a couple weeks."

Senate Republicans came quite close to repealing at least parts of ObamaCare in 2017, but their efforts were ultimately thwarted with a 49-51 vote. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and the late Sen. John McCain were the deciding votes in the rejected "skinny repeal" bill, which would have ended major aspects of ObamaCare without permanent replacements. Some Republicans reluctantly voted for the "skinny repeal" despite concerns, thinking it would open negotiations with lawmakers in the House to create an actual ObamaCare replacement, but McCain, Collins, and Murkowski defected.

McConnell told Reuters that this failed vote is the "one disappointment of this Congress," adding that Republicans are still "not satisfied with the way ObamaCare is working." The GOP is currently expected to keep its majority in the Senate this November, but pundits say Democrats could likely take control of the House, which would end any hope of ObamaCare being repealed for at least another two years. Brendan Morrow

1:56p.m.

President Trump's appeal to seniors may not be working out as well as he'd hoped.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey published Wednesday found that among voters whose number one concerns are Social Security and Medicare, 52 percent said they would vote for a Democratic candidate in a congressional election if it were held today, compared to 33 percent who said they'd vote for a Republican. No specific candidates were named; voters were just asked generally which party they'd favor.

The poll also found that among voters who prioritize Social Security and Medicare, 60 percent disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, while 37 percent approve. In the 2016 election, 53 percent of seniors voted for Trump. Additionally, the majority of these seniors' issues voters, 65 percent, say the country has gotten off on the wrong track. Overall, Social Security and Medicare was the second most prevalent issue — 17 percent consider it a top priority, coming in only behind the economy.

Respondents were polled in the days following a USA Today op-ed Trump wrote, in which he promised to defend Medicare and Social Security from "the radical socialist plans of the Democrats." The president argued Democrats would eviscerate the programs, disproportionately affecting seniors. Fact-checkers debunked many of Trump's claims, and it seems senior issue voters weren't buying it either. Seniors historically have skewed Republican, notes Morning Consult, but analysis suggests the demographic is coming around to Democrats' pledge to push Medicare-for-all.

The Morning Consult/Politico poll was conducted from Oct. 11-14 by speaking to 1,959 registered voters online. The margin of error is 2 percentage points. Brendan Morrow

1:32p.m.

Joe Arpaio lost his Senate bid earlier this year, and he blames The New York Times for ruining his chances of running again.

The former Maricopa County sheriff has accused the Times and a member of its editorial board of libel, Politico reports. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Arpaio says a Times opinion piece published after he lost Arizona's GOP Senate primary this year is full of "false, defamatory factual assertions" that could prove harmful when he runs for the Senate again in 2020.

Arpaio's 24-year stint as sheriff was marked by the opening of an outdoor tent jail he called a "concentration camp," federal lawsuits alleging he championed racial profiling, and a slew of other not-so-positive career highlights. He was convicted of contempt of court while fighting one of those racial profiling cases, and received a pardon from President Trump last year.

But apparently, a Times op-ed published after Arpaio lost the GOP primary for Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) seat is what actually made Arpaio look bad. In the piece, columnist Michelle Cottle writes that Arpaio's "24-year reign of terror was medieval in its brutality." The sheriff conducted "racial profiling on a mass scale," she wrote. In the suit, Arpaio contends these allegations were "carefully and maliciously calculated to damage and injure” his reputation within the law enforcement community, The Washington Post reports. Arpaio also worries the allegations will stymie donations as he runs for the late Sen. John McCain's seat, temporarily held by Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Arpaio is seeking $147.5 million in damages as well as legal fees from the Times and Cottle, Politico details. The Times "intend[s] to vigorously defend against the lawsuit," a spokeswoman told the Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:48p.m.

Even without its former leading lady, The Conners had a solid debut on ABC this week.

The first episode of the Roseanne spin-off drew about 10.46 million viewers on Tuesday night, writes The Hollywood Reporter, which is about the same audience size that Roseanne was maintaining when it ended last May. The finale of Roseanne, the last episode that actually had actress Roseanne Barr in it, drew 10.58 million viewers.

Roseanne was canceled after Barr sent a racist tweet calling a black woman an "ape," only for ABC to order a spin-off featuring everyone but Barr. In the debut, it's revealed that Barr's character died of a drug overdose off-screen.

The Conners' premiere did, however, attract a significantly smaller audience than the premiere of the Roseanne revival, as about 18.4 million people tuned into that last March. The initial boom dropped off as the tenth season went on, and the show began averaging about 10 million viewers per episode near the end of its run.

The real question, though, is how The Conners will continue to perform throughout the season. Are viewers satisfied with the new Roseanne-free lineup, or did they simply tune in to satisfy a morbid curiosity about how her firing would be addressed? Could this situation be like Kevin Can Wait, in which the episode with the female lead's death drew 10 million viewers, only for the ratings to immediately tank until the show was swiftly canceled? Or will it be more like Two and a Half Men, which continued for years after Charlie Sheen's firing? No matter which way it shakes out, viewers can presume that Barr will continue to tweet angrily about it. Brendan Morrow

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