January 18, 2017

Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced vocal skepticism from Democrats in her rare nighttime confirmation hearing before the Senate education committee on Tuesday, even as Republican senators hailed the advocate for taxpayer-funded vouchers and school choice as a needed reformer at the Education Department. DeVos, who conceded that her billionaire family had donated about $200 million to the Republican Party, parried questions about her family's prominent role in killing oversight of Michigan charter schools, her past disparaging remarks about public education and government, and her family's support for so-called gay conversion therapy, suggesting she herself never supported such therapy and believes every school should be "a safe and discrimination-free place to become educated."

DeVos declined to support Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) call for free college tuition, conceded to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that nobody in her family has ever taken out a student loan and said she would "review" rules requiring career colleges (like Trump University) to offer salable skills to students, and would not commit to keeping in place rules that require colleges and universities to more actively crack down on sexual assaults.

When Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked her if she believed guns belong in school, DeVos noted a story from rural Wyoming, saying, "I would imagine there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies." When Murphy pressed her on if she supported Trump's proposal to ban gun-free zones around schools, DeVos said she would support "what the president-elect does," but assured him: "My heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence." Murphy invited her to visit Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state, the site of an infamous mass shooting of young children in 2012.

DeVos also seemed unsure about some of the big discussions in public education — she and all her children attended only private schools. You can watch Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) explain to her the difference between proficiency testing and measuring student growth below. Peter Weber

2:26 p.m.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) suggested he isn't pleased with the current state of the Republican Party on Sunday, telling NBC News' Chuck Todd that it "bothers me" that Republicans have to "swear fealty" to former President Donald Trump "or you get kicked out." The GOP, he said, has become a "circular firing squad where we're just attacking members of our party instead of focusing on solving problems" or debating the Biden administration on policy.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another Republican who isn't afraid to criticize Trump, had a different analogy for his party: the Titanic. "We're ... in the middle of this slow sink," he told CBS News' John Dickerson, later arguing that many of his colleagues are trying to move on too quickly from reckoning with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Tim O'Donnell

1:52 p.m.

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari doesn't think people should "overreact" to the disappointing April jobs report, but he acknowledged the "bottom line" is that "we are still somewhere between 8 and 10 million jobs below where we were before" the coronavirus pandemic struck. "We still are in a deep hole," he told CBS News' John Dickerson on Sunday's edition of Face the Nation. "And we still need to do everything we can to put those folks back to work more quickly."

So how did economists' predictions miss by so much? Kashkari explained that the pandemic "is unlike any other shock in our lifetimes" because the economic recovery relies so heavily on individuals' assessments of personal safety. "It's very hard to model that out," Kashkari said, noting that people have spent so much time "conditioning" themselves to take precautions. Now, though, "we have to start to change what we've been telling people," he said, agreeing with an earlier point from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. "People feeling safe about the virus" will ultimately drive the economic recovery, Kashkari said. Tim O'Donnell

1:01 p.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made public the inevitable on Sunday, telling Fox News' Maria Bartiromo that he supports Rep. Elise Stefanik's (R-N.Y.) bid for GOP conference chair.

The No. 3 House position is currently held by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), but she appears to be on the way out after clashing with many of her colleagues over the future of the party, particularly regarding whether former President Donald Trump should play a role. Cheney is one of the most prominent Trump critics within the GOP, and while McCarthy maintained his support for her for a while, he has recently made it clear that he considers her stance to be a hindrance to party unity, which is why he's backing Stefanik, a Trump loyalist, albeit one with a much more mixed voting record than the consistently conservative Cheney.

Stefanik thanked McCarthy for his endorsement. The conference chair vote is expected to take place Wednesday. Tim O'Donnell

12:35 p.m.

What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday, trainer Bob Baffert was celebrating his record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby victory. Flash forward to Sunday, and he's been suspended from entering horses at Churchill Downs, which announced Sunday that Baffert's 2021 Derby-winning trainee, Medina Spirit, tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone. The steroid isn't completely banned in Kentucky horse racing, but Medina Spirit's post-race blood sample reportedly was found to have double the legal threshold, which is why Baffert received the punishment.

It appears Medina Spirit will be tested again, so the win is still valid, but if the findings are upheld the horse and Baffert will be stripped of their victory, and Mandaloun, the runner-up, will be crowned.

Baffert has denied involvement and said he's not sure how Medina Spirit could have tested positive. "This shouldn't have happened," he said. "There's a problem somewhere. It didn't come from us."

It's not the first time one of Baffert's horses has registered a positive drug test, however. The New York Times reported that his horses have failed at least 29 tests in his 40-decade career, including two last year. Read more at The Courier-Journal and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

11:10 a.m.

A bombing at a girls' school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday killed at least 50 people, many of them students between 11 and 15 years old, The Associated Press reports. Tariq Arian, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, said more than 100 people were wounded in the attack, but cautioned that casualty figures could still rise.

The Taliban denied responsibility for and condemned the attack, which took place as the U.S. continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan, although Arian blamed the group. The bombing occurred in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, where many residents are of the ethnic Hazara minority, a mostly Shiite group that has been targeted by Islamic State loyalists in the past.

Frustrated by what they consider inadequate government protection, Hazara leaders from Dasht-e-Barchi met Sunday and decided to create their own protection force, which would be deployed outside schools, mosques, and public facilities, AP reports. The force would cooperate with the government. Read more at The Associated Press and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

8:25 a.m.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk poked fun at himself during his Saturday Night Live monologue, joking about his lack of "intonational variation," his marijuana-themed appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast, the spelling of his son's name, and some of his odder tweets.

"Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things," Musk said, seemingly addressing the controversy surrounding the show's choice to have him host. "But that's just how my brain works. To anyone I've offended, I just want to say: I re-invented electric cars and I'm sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you also think I was gonna be a chill, normal dude?"

Musk also revealed he has Asperger's syndrome, reportedly marking the first time he has spoken publicly about the diagnosis. Watch the full monologue below. Tim O'Donnell

7:46 a.m.

China's Long March 5B rocket crashed back to Earth on Sunday morning, landing in the Indian Ocean just west of the Maldives, the China Manned Space Emergency Office announced. Most of the debris from the rocket, which was launched in April, reportedly burned up when it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

The risk of the rocket causing significant damage was considered low, but experts were concerned because the 40,000-pound Long March was out of control and traveling at a high speed, making it very difficult to predict where it would land.

While it appears the worst was avoided (it's unclear if any debris landed on the Maldives, CNN notes), NASA Administrator Bill Nelson still expressed displeasure with Beijing. "Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," he said. "China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris."

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracked the rocket, tweeted that regardless of the outcome, China was still "reckless." Read more at CNN and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

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