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December 15, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not think too highly of the U.S. Congress, The New York Times reports. During his annual national news conference on Thursday, Putin openly mocked American "spy hysteria" and the hypocrisy of wanting Moscow's help on issues like North Korea while simultaneously treating the Kremlin like the enemy.

Putin's comments followed a brief Thursday phone call with Trump. The White House said the pair talked about "how they can work together to resolve the situation involving North Korea's nuclear program," Politico writes.

"You are interesting guys," [Putin] said with a smirk. American lawmakers appear to be good-looking, well dressed, and smart, he said, but they "are placing us on the same shelf with D.P.R.K. and Iran while simultaneously pushing Trump toward solving the North Korean and Iran nuclear problems through joint efforts with us. Are you normal at all?" [The New York Times ]

The American public might wonder the same: In an average of polls between Nov. 29 and Dec. 12, RealClearPolitics found just 14 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Jeva Lange

December 12, 2017

During a rally for Doug Jones in Birmingham on Monday, Alabama native Charles Barkley urged voters in the state to support the former federal prosecutor in his bid to become the first Democratic senator to represent the state since the 1990s.

"At some point, we got to stop looking like idiots to the nation," the NBA and Auburn University legend said. "I love Alabama, but at some point we got to draw a line in the sand and show we're not a bunch of damn idiots." Jones' opponent, Republican Roy Moore, has espoused controversial views on many topics and been accused by several women of groping them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s, and Barkley said he's "embarrassed" that Moore is even on the ballot. "If somebody told you guys, 'Put this election in a movie script' … you would throw it in the trash," he added. "You'd say there's no way possible this other dude could be leading in any polls."

Jones made a gentler appeal, telling supporters the election is "going to be one of the most significant in our state's history, and we've gotta make sure that at this crossroads in Alabama's history, we take the right road." Catherine Garcia

December 11, 2017
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Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in 2011 gave an interview to a radio show called Aroostock Watchmen during which he agreed with the host's suggestion that it "would eliminate many problems" to void all the constitutional amendments passed after the first 10, aka the Bill of Rights. A clip of the conversation was uncovered and reported by CNN on Sunday.

"You know people don't understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended," Moore said after his initial assent, specifically citing his objection to the 17th Amendment, which instituted the direct election of senators, who were originally chosen by state legislatures.

"People also don't understand, and being from the South I bet you get it, the 14th Amendment was only approved at the point of the gun," the radio host said next. "Yeah, it had very serious problems with its approval by the states," Moore again agreed, going on to explain that the "danger in the 14th Amendment" is that it was used to restrict "the states from doing something that the federal government was restricted from doing and allowing the federal government to do something which the first 10 amendments prevented them from doing."

The 14th Amendment prohibits slavery and eliminates the Three-Fifths Compromise; it is also the basis for the doctrine of incorporation, which applies the restrictions of the Bill of Rights to state governments and which is central to Moore's argument here.

Moore does not specify in the audio provided by CNN whether he would exclude any post-Bill of Rights amendments, which include suffrage guarantees to women and minorities, from his condemnation. Listen to Moore's remarks in context here. Bonnie Kristian

December 11, 2017

Southern California is burning, just weeks after a sizable part of Northern California's wine country went up in flames. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) cites climate change as a significant contributing factor. "These fires are unprecedented, we've never seen anything like it," and "all hell's breaking loose," Brown said on Sunday night's 60 Minutes. "Scientists are telling us, this is the kind of stuff that's gonna happen," he said, and California is "not waiting for the deniers" to prepare for the new normal.

Brown said President Trump was wrong to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord, making America the only country in the world that isn't a signatory, and when reporter Bill Whitaker asked if he's scared, Brown got biblical. "I don't think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility," Brown said. "And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed."

Before running for office, Trump wasn't viewed as particularly religious, though now he is very popular among certain groups of Christians. Brown spent three years studying to be a Catholic priest before leaving the seminary, getting a law degree, and becoming a four-term governor of California. On Sunday, Brown also made the business case for battling climate change.

The 79-year-old governor said this is his last go at politics, and he plans to retire in 2019 and spend time on his ranch. Peter Weber

December 7, 2017
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On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) became the highest-ranking Republican to say publicly that the GOP plans to cut spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare programs next year. "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. House and Senate Republicans are in negotiations on a final tax bill that nonpartisan analysts say would add at least $1 trillion to the deficit, and they recently authorized $700 billion in 2018 spending for the Pentagon, but Medicare and Medicaid — which, along with Social Security, have their own dedicated payroll tax — are "the big drivers of debt," Ryan said.

President Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would not touch Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, but Ryan said he's been successfully selling Trump on the idea. "I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare," he said. Social Security will probably escape, Ryan added, because it can't be changed under Senate budget reconciliation rules, meaning Republicans would need some Democratic support.

In the last two weeks, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have also proposed cutting Medicare and Medicaid after the tax bill, to tame the national debt. Ryan added welfare programs to the mix, telling Kaminsky, "We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work." Peter Weber

December 5, 2017

President Trump's private assertions that it wasn't actually him bragging about groping women in 2005 on the Access Hollywood bus have been met with public reminders from both Access Hollywood and Billy Bush that yes, it was Trump on the bus. Bush spoke to Stephen Colbert on Monday's Late Show about the op-ed he wrote in The New York Times about the bus incident, his subsequent firing by NBC, Matt Lauer, and what Trump's odd brags mean. "By the way," Bush said to Trump, "I would also like to say that's not me on the bus. You don't get to say that, because I was there and the last 14 months of my life I have been dealing with it. You dealt with it for 14 minutes and went on to be the president."

Colbert said that Trump denying being on the bus was "the dumbest thing he could have done," because "no one would have printed" Bush's op-ed and "I couldn't show this footage of the bus unless he denied it again, too. I don't think CBS would let me." Trump's denial "infuriated me on the personal front, and then I ended up googling, and I read an article with all these women's accounts [of Trump harassment], because when that article first came out, it was 13 days after I'd been fired, so I was in my own personal shock," Bush said. "You're reopening wounds on them, too. Enough's enough. Stop playing around with people's lives."

Colbert played the Access Hollywood tape, and Bush called it a "gut punch" now, as it was the first time he heard it, three days before it leaked. In 2005, however, he said he assumed it was crass standup braggadocio. "If I had thought there was a man detailing a sexual assault strategy to me, I would have called the FBI, not just reported it to my executive producer," he said. Watch below. Peter Weber

December 2, 2017
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"What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion," President Trump told reporters Saturday morning in response to the Friday news that his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI about his contact with a former Russian ambassador. "There's been absolutely no collusion, so we're very happy," Trump reiterated, before changing the subject to the morning's passage of the Senate tax reform bill. "Frankly, last night was one of the big nights," he said.

Meanwhile, one of Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, told The New Yorker that even if collusion did occur between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it would not be a crime because there is no federal law against collusion itself. "For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated," Sekulow said. "There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion." Bonnie Kristian

November 29, 2017

The White House responded to reports that anti-Muslim videos retweeted by President Trump on Wednesday are fake by … shrugging. "Whether it's … a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press.

The videos were initially shared by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain's far-right, anti-immigrant Britain First group.

The videos purport to show Muslims killing a boy, beating up a Dutch youth on crutches, and destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary. There are questions about the legitimacy of the footage, though, with ThinkProgress writing:

…[T]he "Muslim migrant" assailant shown beating the Dutch boy in the first video is in fact neither a migrant or a Muslim. Meanwhile, the video showing a Muslim destroying the Virgin Mary statute is three years old and reportedly features an anti-Assad cleric that's part of a group that has been supported by the United States. And the third video of the boy being beaten to death was reportedly filmed in Egypt in 2013. [ThinkProgress]

Sanders' comments show a "chilling indifference to whether the president's statements are factual or not," tweeted author Max Boot. "Implicitly: If the president says it, it's not a lie." Jeva Lange

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