1:13 p.m. ET

Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) questioned if the GOP "has lost its soul" during grave comments Thursday ahead of a vote on the $1.3 trillion budget bill. "For the Republican Party to have the presidency, and for the Republican Party to have the Senate, the Republican Party to have the House of Representatives, and for us to be passing a bill today — obviously it couldn't happen without us, we control the agenda here — for us to be in a situation where we're getting ready to pass a bill that adds $2 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years … does have to be a wakeup call to people as to whether that's the case," he said.

Corker added: "[If] we had a Democratic president and [Republicans] controlled the House and Senate, I can't imagine us being in a situation where we would vote tonight or tomorrow for a bill that's going to add $2 trillion in debt without offsets. Matter of fact, I can just tell you, that would not be the case." Watch his sobering speech on the Senate floor below. Jeva Lange

11:07 a.m. ET

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) delivered blistering opening remarks during Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's hearing Thursday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. "I voted to confirm you," Brown said at one point. "I'm not sure I made the right decision."

After citing a litany of controversies in the department, Brown told Carson: "Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Secretary, you seem to want to blame others" — a reference to a Carson's numerous excuses for using the HUD budget to order a $31,000 dining table. "Your wife picked out the furniture without knowing the price," Brown counted off. "Your spokesman said something, but not you. You shouldn't be blamed for not listening to your ethics lawyers. The press is unfair — it goes on and on and on and on."

Brown then added bluntly: "I think you need to take responsibility and get things right."

He wasn't finished yet. The furniture came up again as Brown said: "There's no funding for capital spending, for public housing, despite a backlog of needed repairs of tens of billions of dollars. Under your leadership, Secretary Carson, HUD has decided a wobbly chair in a private D.C. dining room requires the urgent attention of no fewer than 16 staffers and thousands — thousands — of taxpayer dollars."

To further make his point, Brown said: "Unsafe and unsanitary conditions in public housing that put working families and children at risk? Not our problem, you say. Let them use vouchers. Sounds rather [18th century], doesn't it?" Watch the entire scolding here, via CSPAN. Jeva Lange

March 21, 2018

Tuesday's House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Housing and Urban Development Department's budget ended up largely being about HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office furniture budget — specifically, the $31,000 mahogany dining set Carson's office ordered. Carson "offered a rambling, at times contradictory, explanation of the purchase of the table, chairs, and hutch," The New York Times notes, pinning the blame variously on safety considerations; his wife, Candy Carson; and staff members.

In his telling, Carson was blameless and ignorant of the cost, despite emails showing that his top aides were aware of the price tag and discussed how to get around the $5,000 office redecoration cap. "It's my understanding that the facilities people felt that the dining room table was actually dangerous," Carson said. "People are being stuck by nails, a chair collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it's 50 years old." It wasn't clear when those things happened, or if Carson was even being literal.

Claiming he's "not big into redecorating," Carson said he "invited my wife to come and help" pick out the new furniture he was told he was entitled to. "I left it to my wife, you know, to choose something. I dismissed myself from the issues," Carson said, and his wife "selected the color and style ... with the caveat that we were both not happy about the price." Candy Carson, he added, is "the most frugal person in the world," and "if anybody knew my wife, they would realize how ridiculous this was."

American Oversight, the watchdog group that requested the emails linking the Carsons to the purchase, found Carson's explanation a little ridiculous. "Setting aside the issue of whether it is appropriate for Secretary Carson to delegate decisions regarding the use of taxpayer funds to his wife, this is now at least the third version of Carson's story about the furniture," said American Oversight's Clark Pettig. HUD says Carson has tried to cancel the order. Peter Weber

March 17, 2018
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President Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, said Saturday it is time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling to end.

"I pray that Acting Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by [fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast.

Dowd first stated he was officially speaking on the president's behalf, but then reversed himself, saying he was only giving his personal view. President Trump reportedly attempted to fire Mueller last summer before he was talked out of the plan, and Mueller reportedly has obtained memos about that decision. Bonnie Kristian

March 15, 2018
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If the Republican donors at Wednesday's fundraiser in Missouri for Senate candidate Josh Hawley paid to hear President Trump complain bitterly about close allies, discuss Japan dropping bowling balls on cars, brag about his presidency, and take credit for a Democratic win in Pennsylvania, they got their money's worth, according to audio of the closed-door event obtained by The Washington Post. If they wanted to hear Trump talk about Hawley, tough luck.

Trump reportedly focused on trade for much of the 30-minute speech, going full protectionist. He mocked politicians who support NAFTA, arguing that Mexico is "spoiled," Canada was outsmarting the U.S., and "the best deal is to terminate it and make a new deal." Trump said if countries want exemptions from his trade tariffs, they have to negotiate directly with him, then he told this story of negotiating with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

"Trudeau came to see me. He's a good guy, Justin. He said, 'No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,'" Trump said, mimicking Trudeau. ... "So he's proud. I said, 'Wrong Justin, you do.' I didn't even know. ... I had no idea. I just said 'You're wrong.' You know why? Because we're so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, 'You're wrong Justin.' He said, 'Nope we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Well in that case I feel differently,' I said 'but I don't believe it.' I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said 'check because I can't believe it.' 'Well, sir, you're actually right. We have no deficit but that doesn't include energy and timber … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.' It's incredible." [The Washington Post]

"The United States trade representative office says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada," the Post notes. Read more about Trump's speech at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

March 11, 2018
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Former White House strategist Stephen Bannon spoke to France's far-right National Front party Saturday in Lille, France. "Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor," he told party members. "You're part of a worldwide movement bigger than France," Bannon said, arguing that history will side with the nationalists.

National Front is the party of Marine Le Pen, who lost last year's election to French President Emmanuel Macron. She was re-elected as party president at the meeting Bannon attended, while her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, was removed from his role as party president for life. He was previously expelled from the party for anti-Semitic comments but had retained the honorary title. Bonnie Kristian

March 10, 2018

In an interview with NBC's Megyn Kelly that aired Friday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the significance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 election.

The nationality of the troll farm workers Mueller singled out is irrelevant, Putin argued, because they were not acting on Moscow's behalf. "So what if they're Russians?" he said of the indictment targets. "There are 146 million Russians. So what? ... I don't care. I couldn't care less. ... They do not represent the interests of the Russian state."

"Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this? This is some sort of nonsense," Putin maintained over Kelly's protests. "We don't encourage them, and we don't order them, but what I'm saying is that individuals could have used certain tools in other countries," he continued, "but they're not government officials."

Putin has repeatedly denied responsibility for election interference in conversations with President Trump, who has made conflicting statements about his assessment of the matter. Watch excerpts of the NBC interview below. Bonnie Kristian

March 5, 2018

On Sunday's Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked Denis McDonough, former President Barack Obama's second-term chief of staff, about comments former Vice President Joe Biden made accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of preventing Obama from issuing a robust warning about Russian election interference in 2016 for political reasons. McDonough did not go as far as Biden had, but he said that McConnell, and only McConnell, had "dramatically watered down" a statement Obama had drafted to urge states to work with the feds to protect their election systems.

"The lack of urgency that we saw from the Republican leadership in 2016, we continue to see to this day," McDonough said. "It's beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go. This is not a game."

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart responded, "Give me a break," pointing to a Washington Post op-ed McDonough had written in July 2017 laying out why Obama had sought bipartisan imprimatur on the appeal to states and saying that while "this bipartisan outreach was harder and more time-consuming than it needed to be," it "was ultimately successful," convincing 33 states to use "Homeland Security tools to scan or strengthen their systems." McConnell had questioned the intelligence assessment that Russia was meddling in the election and insisted that references to Russia be changed to "malefactors," The New York Times reported last year. Peter Weber

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