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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

4:14p.m.

In what could be the biggest tempt of fate in history, an exact replica of the Titanic will set sail in 2022.

The Titanic II will carry 2,400 passengers and 900 crew members, nearly the same number the original held, reports USA Today. Its interior will mimic the first ship, right down to the grand staircase. And for its second voyage, the Titanic II will sail the same route from England to America that doomed the original boat. It all makes for a journey that looks a lot like Jack and Rose's fateful last venture, save for the whole crashing into an iceberg thing.

Australian company Blue Star Line first started drafting the Titanic reboot in 2012, but the project was suspended due to financial issues. Now, building has commenced again, with Blue Star Line assuring that modern navigation and safety features are in the blueprints. The Titanic II's first voyage will sail from Delhi to Southampton in England — a safe distance away from this mysterious square iceberg spotted by NASA last week. Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn Krawczyk

3:33p.m.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has lost quite a bit of ground in his race to become Minnesota's attorney general.

A Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota poll published Tuesday found that Ellison's Republican opponent, attorney Doug Wardlow, is now in the lead among likely voters, with 43 percent support to Ellison's 36 percent. This is a major 12-point shift from a poll conducted last month, in which Ellison led Wardlow by five points.

In recent weeks, Ellison's campaign has largely been overtaken by talk of abuse allegations. Ellison's ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan, has accused him of emotional and physical abuse, including once screaming at her while trying to drag her off a bed, reports The New York Times. In 2005, Ellison's ex-girlfriend, Amy Alexander, sought a restraining order against him and alleged he pushed her and verbally abused her, the Star Tribune reports. Ellison has denied both allegations. An investigation conducted by the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party could not substantiate Monahan's claims because she would not provide video evidence that she says she has, reports Time. Monahan says she misplaced the video, CNN reports.

This new poll found that about 50 percent of respondents aren't sure whether to believe Ellison or Monahan. But more voters believe her now than in September: 30 percent believe her allegations, compared to 21 percent last month.

The Star Tribune/MPR News poll interviewed 800 likely voters in Minnesota Oct. 15-17. The margin of error is 3 percentage points. Brendan Morrow

3:12p.m.

White people calling the police on black people for living their everyday lives has inspired viral video after viral video in recent months. Apparently, the greater community is at risk when black people barbeque in the park, study in college libraries, and enter their own apartments. That's why The New York Times came up with 1-844-WYT-Fear, a hotline for white people to call when they're alarmed by the presence of black people.

The hotline may not be real, but its message still stands. Taige Jensen and Jenn Lyon of the Times created a satirical infomercial for the hotline, featuring actress Niecy Nash, pointing out that white people overreacting to black people doing normal things can be especially worrisome considering the state of police brutality in America.

Curious about what happens if you actually call the number? An operator instructs you how to proceed if you're a white person scared of a black person and in need of advice regarding your prejudices. But no matter what option you choose, the outcome is still the same: "Based on your menu selection, we have determined that you are not in danger and are probably just racist." Watch the infomercial below and try calling the number yourself. Amari Pollard

2:21p.m.

NBC host Megyn Kelly has set off yet another firestorm.

During a Tuesday morning segment about Halloween costumes, Kelly wondered why wearing blackface on Halloween is so frowned upon. "You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface," she said. "Back when I was a kid, that was okay as long as you were dressing up as a character."

She cited the time that a Real Housewives of New York City star faced criticism for donning blackface to dress as Diana Ross for Halloween. Kelly seemed stunned that anyone would consider this racist, arguing that it should be acceptable because "she wants to look like Diana Ross for one day, and I don't know how that got racist on Halloween."

All three of Kelly's guests seemed to disagree, with one arguing that the Diana Ross costume she described actually "sounds a little racist to me." Kelly didn't concede. "I can't keep up with the number of people we're offending just by being, like, normal people," she said, wrapping up the segment.

Kelly's take on this issue was poorly received among many viewers. Television host and activist Padma Lakshmi responded to Kelly's comments on Twitter. "I cannot believe the ignorance on this in 2018," wrote Lakshmi. "You have a responsibility to educate yourself on social issues." Watch the segment below. Brendan Morrow

Update 3:50 p.m. ET: Megyn Kelly has now apologized and retracted her comments in an email to colleagues, saying that "listening carefully to other points of view" has caused her to change her opinion, per The Hollywood Reporter. "I realize now that such behavior is indeed wrong, and I am sorry," she adds.

2:03p.m.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman briefly gave their condolences to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi's family in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Saudi state media reports that Khashoggi's son Salah "expressed their great thanks" to the leaders during the meeting. But state-sanctioned photos suggest otherwise.

Khashoggi's son has reportedly spent a year banned from leaving Saudi Arabia, a friend of the family told The Associated Press. His siblings are U.S. citizens, and one received a condolence call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Istanbul-based news site Daily Sabah reports.

Khashoggi was likely killed in Turkey's Saudi consulate earlier this month, and Turkish officials believe bin Salman ordered the hit. Bin Salman has denied involvement, saying "rogue" operatives killed Khashoggi. The U.S., Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are all currently investigating the matter. Watch a video of Tuesday's quick meeting below. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:32p.m.

President Trump is going after Puerto Rico once again, this time with another unfounded claim.

The president on Tuesday claimed that the "inept politicians" of Puerto Rico are trying to use the "massive and ridiculously high amounts" of disaster relief funding they have received to "pay off other obligations." He didn't provide any evidence to back up his statement, but did make sure to note that the people of Puerto Rico in general are actually "wonderful."

Just hours earlier, a federal board approved a new financial reform plan for Puerto Rico, which is $70 billion in debt; the plan recommends spending cuts that some Puerto Rican officials find too strict, reports Reuters. The plan also projects a $30 billion surplus over the next 15 years, thanks to the proposed reforms and the $80 billion coming in for disaster relief following the destruction of Hurricane Maria. Although this recovery should help Puerto Rico's ailing economy, politicians have not suggested using the federal aid to help pay off "other obligations" like Trump claimed, Bloomberg reports. Neither the island's leaders nor members of the federal board have proposed spending the $80 billion on anything other than recovery efforts. Brendan Morrow

12:18p.m.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is stepping away from public life due to progressing dementia.

In a Tuesday statement, the 88-year-old O'Connor said she was diagnosed "some time ago" with "the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease." This "condition has progressed," and now O'Connor says she is "no longer able to participate in public life." Still, she had some thoughts to share "while I am still able," she said.

O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981. "As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert," she wrote, "I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice." She retired from the court in 2005 at age 75, citing her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis. Still, she remained devoted to "advanc[ing] civic learning and engagement," even founding a free online learning platform called iCivics — an organization that she said now reaches half the middle school and high school students in the country.

She recently left the office she kept at the Supreme Court and hasn't made a public appearance in the past two years, The Associated Press reported Monday. O'Connor said she would remain at home in Phoenix, Arizona. "While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying," she wrote, "nothing has diminished my gratitude." Read her full statement below. Kathryn Krawczyk

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