Reacting to criticism about his broad, chaotically rolled-out executive order indefinitely banning refugees and immigrants from Syria, suspending entry of all refugees for 120 days, and putting a 90-day stop to all travelers from six other majority-Muslim countries, President Trump protested that former President Barack Obama did it first. "My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months," Trump wrote. "The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror."
There is some truth to that. But as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler said in awarding Trump two "Pinocchios" for the Obama comparison, the comparison is "facile" and misleading. If you don't remember Obama's 2011 executive order — the administration did not publicize it — it involved slowing down the approval of new visas for Iraqi nationals, following investigative findings that two Iraqi refugees were implicated in making improvised bombs targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. The policy also included re-vetting 58,000 Iraqi refugees already settled in the U.S., as then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained to Congress in September 2011.
The slowdown in approving Iraqi visas did prompt negative news stories and complaints from civil liberties and refugee advocacy groups at the time, and did appear to result in many fewer Iraqi refugees arriving in the U.S. in 2011, though the numbers rebounded in 2012. It did not stop all visitors from Iraq from traveling to the U.S. or halt refugee or visa applications, and unlike Trump's order, it was tied to a specific threat.
Trump identified only Syria by name in his executive order, and the other six nations covered in the ban — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen — did come from a list of countries "of concern" identified by the Obama administration under a visa-related law enacted in December 2015, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. The list did not affect nationals of those seven countries, though; it meant that some citizens of the 38 allied (mostly Western) countries eligible for a special visa waiver program who had spent time in the seven "countries of concern" had to "obtain a visa for travel to the United States, which generally includes an in-person interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate," as U.S. Customs and Border Patrol explained.
The last major difference between the Trump and Obama actions are that Trump's small group of advisers, led by Stephen Bannon, reportedly did not consult or prepare any officials at the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and State when writing the executive order, and DHS Secretary John Kelly learned about the major policy shift he was supposed to enact on a briefing call as Trump was signing it, The New York Times reports. CBP officials are still figuring out what the policy covers. Obama, meanwhile, "ran executive orders through a painstaking weeks-long process of soliciting feedback from agencies and briefing lawmakers," a "former official" tells Politico. "Sometimes it even asked expert lawyers in the private sector to check its work." Peter Weber
President Biden has continued to focus his first days in office on the COVID-19 pandemic, signing another wave of executive orders Thursday aimed at both the virus and its economic toll.
One of Biden's 10 new orders is focused on increasing coronavirus vaccine distribution, after his team reportedly found former President Donald Trump had no distribution plan in place. The order centralizes the federal government in distribution by creating vaccination centers in schools and government buildings, and also brings in thousands of federal workers to staff those sites. Biden said 100 of those centers should be open next month.
Another order signed Thursday expands on Biden's Wednesday order mandating mask wearing on federal properties, also moving to require them on interstate travel including "planes, trains, and busses." People coming to the U.S. via plane will have to wear masks and test negative for COVID-19 before boarding as a way to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants emerging worldwide, Biden also announced. Other orders are aimed at increasing the number of COVID-19 testing sites throughout the U.S. and reopening schools and businesses.
Biden closed out the event by recommitting to his promise of distributing 100 million coronavirus vaccines in his first 100 days in office — something he denied was too low of a goal, at least for now. Kathryn Krawczyk
Reporter: You set the goal at 100 million vaccines in your first 100 days? Is that bar high enough?
President Biden: “When I announced it, you all said it's not possible. C'mon, give me a break, man. It's a good start, one hundred million.” pic.twitter.com/xAp5yaPEfH
It seems just one Game of Thrones prequel still won't be enough for HBO.
The network already has a prequel of the hit series in the works for 2022 called House of the Dragon, but Entertainment Weekly reports HBO wants to order "several" more.
Among them may be a series based on George R.R. Martin's Tales of Dunk and Egg, as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter report an adaptation of these novellas, which follow Ser Duncan the Tall and Aegon V Targaryen nine decades before A Song of Ice and Fire, is in early development.
That would be the second Thrones prequel after House of the Dragon, an upcoming series about the Targaryens. But that may not be all, as Entertainment Weekly writes "the idea is for HBO to go big on Thrones for HBO and HBO Max, not entirely unlike how Disney has done with Star Wars and Disney+." At a recent investor presentation, Disney laid out an avalanche of new Star Wars shows coming to its streaming service, including spinoffs of The Mandalorian.
A Thrones prequel about Robert's Rebellion, a war frequently referred to in Thrones, is one concept being explored, EW says, adding that all of the ideas currently being considered would be prequels rather than sequels or direct spinoffs. At one point, there were five Thrones scripts at "various stages of development" at HBO, as Martin revealed in 2017, though it wasn't clear whether more than one of them would actually end up on the air. House of the Dragon ended up moving forward, but another Thrones spinoff was scrapped in 2019 after already filming a pilot episode.
But it sounds like HBO is still interested in the idea of multiple Thrones series, as it evidently looks to go all in on the franchise and bet viewers disappointed by the original show's finale will return. Brendan Morrow
When former President Donald Trump occupied the Oval Office, he quite literally had a button on his desk that ordered a Diet Coke to the room whenever it was pressed. But as a glimpse at President Biden's desk just hours after his inauguration shows, the soda-summoning button is gone.
President Biden has removed the Diet Coke button. When @ShippersUnbound and I interviewed Donald Trump in 2019, we became fascinated by what the little red button did. Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter. It's gone now. pic.twitter.com/rFzhPaHYjk
While it may have sounded just too weird to be true, Trump's Diet Coke obsession and his button to match were absolutely real. No word on if Biden will install some kind of ice cream-ordering alternative. Kathryn Krawczyk
Facebook announced Thursday it has referred its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Donald Trump's account to the Facebook independent Oversight Board, which has accepted the case.
"We believe our decision was necessary and right," Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs and communications, said. "Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld. While we await the board's decision, Mr. Trump's access will remain suspended indefinitely."
Facebook suspended Trump's account in the wake of the deadly riot at the Capitol building by his supporters, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the "risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great" as he attempted to "undermine the peaceful and lawful transfer of power." Facebook said the suspension would continue "indefinitely" and "at least" until he was out of office.
The oversight board pledged to offer a "thorough and independent assessment" of the case and provide "policy recommendations from the board on suspensions when the user is a political leader." Facebook noted that whatever decision the board reaches will be binding and can't be overruled by the company's executives. A decision will come within 90 days.
Twitter also took action against Trump over the Capitol riot by permanently banning his account. But NBC News' Dylan Byers notes that referring the case to the oversight board allows Facebook to "outsource" this final decision. Brendan Morrow
The evenly split Senate is having a hard time agreeing who's in charge.
Georgia's two new Democratic senators were sworn in Wednesday, giving Republicans and Democrats 50 senators each, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a Democratic tiebreaker. The two parties are now working out a power-sharing agreement, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) commitment to the filibuster is standing in the way.
McConnell on Thursday formally acknowledged Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the chamber's new majority leader. But as he has been for days, McConnell again implored Democrats to preserve the filibuster that lets a senator extend debate and block a timely vote on a bill if there aren't 60 votes to stop it. Democrats "have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they're about to govern," Politico reports; More progressive senators do want to remove the option completely.
If his filibuster demands aren't met, McConnell has threatened to block the Senate power-sharing agreement that would put Democrats in charge of the body's committees. But Democrats already seem confident in their newfound power, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) telling Politico that "Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader." Giving in to McConnell "would be exactly the wrong way to begin,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed.
Other Democrats shared their resistance to McConnell's demands in tweets. Kathryn Krawczyk
McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee Chair positions. It’s an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels.
So after Mitch McConnell changed the Senate rules at a blistering pace during his 6 years in charge, he is threatening to filibuster the Senate's organizing resolution unless the Democratic majority agrees to never change the rules again.
In the latest news story that's improbably not a 30 Rock episode description, Jenna Maroney actress Jane Krakowski has denied secretly dating the MyPillow guy for nine months.
A report from the Daily Mail on Thursday claimed controversial MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has recently made headlines for his false election fraud claims in support of former President Donald Trump, had a "secret nine month romance" with Krakowski until the "passionate" relationship ended last summer.
Lindell, the report claimed, supposedly "wooed the actress for close to a year, showering her with gifts and flowers." An anonymous source told the outlet, "She said she had known him for about eight years and that they had been friends but then they started a relationship about a year ago." The source also claimed, "They would fight and Jane would throw all of the gifts that he had given her away. Then they would make up and there would be more gifts again." The alleged romance reportedly baffled Krakowski's friends just as much as it did social media on Thursday when the article was published.
Both Krakowski and Lindell are denying the report — and claiming they never even met at all. "I've never met the man," Krakowski told the Daily Mail, while Lindell went a step further, saying, "I have never even heard of Jane Krakowski???"
Still, should NBC ever decide to reboot 30 Rock, we've got some good news for Tina Fey: the Daily Mail has already provided the first script. Brendan Morrow
Congress' new Democratic majority is ready to press forward with impeachment charges against former President Donald Trump.
Last week, a bipartisan House majority voted to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month. Trump has since left office with the inauguration of President Biden, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday she doesn't believe that's any reason to drop Trump's charges.
Pelosi said she wasn't convinced by arguments that an impeachment trial could further stoke partisan division. "I don't think it's very unifying to say, 'Oh, let's just forget it and move on.' That's not how you unify," she explained. Pelosi then said it's Congress' "responsibility" to "protect and defend the Constitution," because you can't just "say to a president, 'Do whatever you want in the last months of your administration.'"
Speaker Pelosi says she's not concerned about a second impeachment trial impacting unity nationwide.
"The president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection," she says, "I don't think it's very unifying to say, 'Oh, let's just forget it and move on.'" pic.twitter.com/VGfWJF8RdV
Pelosi wouldn't give a specific timeframe for when the House impeachment managers would bring the articles to the Senate. Initially there was a delay because the Senate went on a recess, but it returned Tuesday and has since sworn in three new Democratic senators. Kathryn Krawczyk