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January 12, 2017

Early Thursday, after voting down dozens of amendments from Democrats over seven hours, Senate Republicans approved a budget resolution measure officially beginning the process to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with no replacement yet proposed. The resolution, which passed on a partisan 51-48 vote — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined all Democrats present in voting nay — instructs relevant committees to draft ObamaCare-repeal legislation by Jan. 27. The House plans to vote on the resolution Friday.

In his press conference on Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump appeared to back the "repeal and replace" strategy being pushed by Paul rather than the "repeal and delay" tactic GOP leaders in Congress appear to be pursuing. The health care law can be replaced "essentially simultaneously" with its repeal, Trump said, "probably the same day" if not within the "same hour." He did not offer any policy ideas or lay out a timetable. The budget resolution maneuver allows Senate Republicans to excise large parts of the law with a simple majority, but any laws to replace ObamaCare will likely need at least 60 votes. Peter Weber

12:06 p.m.

Instagram, not Facebook, may be Russia's most effective tool for spreading propaganda.

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that posts from the Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, received 187 million interactions on Instagram from 2015 through 2018, and only 77 million interactions on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter, reports Bloomberg.

This suggests Instagram has been a much more significant factor in Russia's attempt to manipulate American politics through social media than previously thought, and the report notes that this is "something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in congressional testimony." The researchers also say that Instagram could be "more ideal" for spreading propaganda through memes than other platforms and that it is "likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis."

Additionally, the report says that not only did Russian trolls seek to promote President Trump's campaign and damage Hillary Clinton's, but the "most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities," The New York Times reports. While the Russian troll farm targeted some other specific groups with a handful of accounts and pages, "the black community was targeted extensively with dozens," researchers conclude. On Facebook, for instance, among 81 Facebook pages the IRA created, 30 targeted black Americans. Efforts to encourage people to skip voting or vote against Clinton targeted both black Americans and supporters of Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

11:32 a.m.

Just four in 10 Americans — 38 percent — said they'd vote re-elect President Trump in new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll results published Monday.

But those numbers sound like good news for the president with a little historical context, NBC reports: They're quite close to the support former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pulled after their party suffered midterm defeats in 1994 and 2010, respectively. Both went on to win re-election handily.

Still, the survey found a key difference between Trump's standing now and Obama's position eight years ago. Only 10 percent of respondents said "President Trump has gotten the message from the elections and is making the necessary adjustments" to his governing agenda. Fully 35 percent said the same of Obama in 2010.

Some, but not all, of that difference may be attributed to a larger proportion (31 percent in 2018 to 15 percent in 2010) claiming the midterms were not a message to the president at all. That was Trump's own argument after the midterms; before the election, he said he was on the ballot in a "certain way," but after GOP losses in the House Trump noted he "wasn't on the ballot." Bonnie Kristian

11:23 a.m.

Catholic priests accused of abusing Native people in Alaska weren't just quietly dismissed or transferred to a new location, like so many others across the U.S. and world. They were sent to retire on Gonzaga University's campus, an investigation from Reveal News and the Northwest News Network found.

The Jesuit-owned Cardinal Bea House, nestled right next to Gonzaga's business school, has been home to at least 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct, internal correspondence obtained by Reveal shows. This location, on campus but not officially part of the university, allowed priests to be "monitored" so they didn't abuse more people, a former church leader said.

Of the 20 men who lived at Cardinal Bea House, most were accused of "sexual misconduct that predominantly took place in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the northwest," Reveal writes. One of the worst alleged offenders, Father James Poole, reportedly "abused at least 20 women and girls," impregnating one 16-year-old and abusing another who was just 6, court documents and testimonies show. His conduct "was well-known to his superiors," and he was shuffled from community to community before being forced into retirement, Reveal says.

Poole then ended up on Gonzaga's private college campus, staying there from 2003 until his death in 2015. If he lived "without church oversight, he surely would have abused more people," the Jesuit leader who ordered Poole to live at Cardinal Bea told Reveal. This arrangement allowed aging priests like Poole to receive medical care and be monitored, while simultaneously "protect[ing] the perpetrators from prosecution," Reveal writes.

No abusive priests are known to have lived at Cardinal Bea House after 2016, having mostly been moved to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California, Reveal reports. Gonzaga administrators didn't respond to requests for an interview. Read more at Reveal News. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:03 a.m.

Another round of U.S.-Taliban peace talks began Monday with the participation of delegates from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the negotiations' host, the United Arab Emirates. Their aim is further progress toward ending the United States' 17-year war in Afghanistan, America's longest conflict.

Officials representing the Afghan government are in the UAE but will not join in the talks, as the Taliban has to date insisted on negotiations with Washington alone. The Saudi and Emirati representatives are expected to help push the Taliban toward new concessions, potentially including future inclusion of Afghan state officials.

Diplomatic contact between the United States and the Taliban has increased since the appointment of Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad earlier this year. Among the issues under consideration are prisoner release and the extent of long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after hostilities have ceased. Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m.

The Senate voted Thursday to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition intervention in Yemen's civil war and to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Riyadh responded early Monday by complaining of American meddling in Saudi affairs.

"The Kingdom categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs, any and all accusations, in any manner, that disrespect its leadership ... and any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or diminish its stature," said a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry. The document pledges Saudi Arabia to continued intervention in Yemen and closes with an expression of eagerness to "preserv[e] its relations with the United States," an "allied and friendly government."

Rebukes of this sort from Riyadh are typically reserved for foreign criticism of Saudi Arabia's domestic human rights abuses. Far from initiating new "interference" this past week, the United States has provided material and intelligence support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen since 2015, maintaining involvement even as the Saudi coalition blockade and airstrikes foster the world's most acute humanitarian crisis.

Bonnie Kristian

9:54 a.m.

As he gears up for a possible 2020 run, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) hasn't changed his mind: He still loves President Trump.

Booker in an interview with The Atlantic explained why he has continuously expressed love toward the president who he opposes on countless policy issues and who has attacked him publicly on Twitter. "My faith tradition is love your enemies," he said. "It's not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American." This is not the same thing as being "complicit in oppression" or "tolerant of hatred," Booker said.

The New Jersey senator also explained that he loves Trump voters. "Millions and millions of good Americans, good decent Americans, voted for Donald Trump," he said.

"If we become a party that is about what we're against, I don't think that's a winning strategy," Booker said more broadly about the Democratic Party. "I think if we give all of our energy— psychic, mental — toward Donald Trump, it makes him powerful." Besides, "there's common pain in this country," Booker observed, and if Democrats "make Donald Trump your central focus, then it's going to be much harder to get to a sense of common purpose."

Booker also decried the polarization of the country, pointing to his experience getting "pilloried on Twitter" for hugging the late Sen. John McCain after he was diagnosed with cancer. "We are heading toward a point in my lifetime where I haven't seen a level of tribalism like this," Booker said. Read the full interview at The Atlantic. Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

Congress has just five days to reach an agreement with President Trump and stop the federal government from shutting down. And that's not even the only challenge.

Even if Republicans led by Trump reach an agreement with Democrats over border wall funding, GOP leaders worry there won't be enough Republicans in attendance to pass it. That's because many of the 40 House Republicans that Democrats unseated have left the Capitol, and likely for good, The New York Times reports.

Congress hasn't yet reached a budget agreement with Trump, who wants $5 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats won't concede more than $1.6 billion for border security. Jeopardizing budget talks further is the fact that Congress adjourned until Wednesday with no agreement in sight, and that Trump is scheduled for a 16-day visit to Mar-a-Lago as soon as the week ends, per Politico.

On top of that, ousted and retiring House Republicans are "don't want to show up anymore to vote," the Times writes. That's partly because newcomer Democrats have moved into their old offices, leaving them to work out of cubicles. It's also because they're simply "sick and tired of Washington," per the Times. So even if the two branches do somehow work out an agreement, "House Republican leaders do not know whether they will have the votes to pass it," the Times writes. Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

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