January 30, 2017

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

4:27 a.m.

At this point in the 2020 presidential race, you'd probably rather be Democratic nominee Joe Biden than President Trump. "Polls are getting worse and worse for Trump," showing him tied in Texas and drowning in must-win Pennsylvania, John Harris and Daniel Lippman write at Politico. "Still, journalists just can't bring themselves to count him out." That's one reason Trump's advisers still see "gleams of hope," Annie Karni reports at The New York Times.

Trump's "internal numbers over the past three weeks have stabilized after the double whammy of the first presidential debate" and his "subsequent hospitalization for the coronavirus," Karni reports. And Biden isn't "breaking decisively into a double-digit lead" in places like Wisconsin and Arizona, "leaving open the possibility that the race will tighten on Election Day, when in-person ballots come in." Thursday's debate also gives Trump one last chance to reset the race. And, of course, Trump proved everyone wrong in 2016.

Despite Trump's constant feuding with the press, including individuals like CBS's Lesley Stahl and Thursday's moderator Kristen Welker, "by historical standards, Trump's press coverage is actually favorable," Politico's Harris and Lippman argue. Thanks to the ghosts of 2016, self-doubting journalists and political professionals are "giving generous allowance for the possibility that things aren't as bad as they seem for the incumbent, and that he may yet have another surprise in store for anyone who thinks that conventional dynamics of politics apply to him."

That's a big gift, says veteran GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg. It "helps Trump because he can hold out a sliver of hope for his supporters so they don't give up the ship. Nobody likes a loser; you're not going to admit you're a loser."

A comeback isn't impossible, "but if Trump loses, the biggest factor won't be COVID-19 or the economic meltdown or the social unrest," Tim Alberta argues at Politico Magazine. "It will be his unlikability." Pollsters and journalists have long "fixated on the question of which candidate voters would rather have a beer with — a window into how personality translates into political success," he explains. But Trump is "like the drunk at the bar, he won't shut up. Whatever appeal his unfiltered thoughts once held has now worn off. Americans are tired of having beers with Trump. His own supporters are tired of having beers with Trump," and it's probably too late to change that. Peter Weber

2:51 a.m.

President Trump's performance in the first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden was described as an "avalanche of lying." But not everybody saw that as a negative. To preview Thursday's final Trump-Biden debate, The Daily Show's Michael Kosta held an online panel discussion with three professional liars: Brett Johnson, a con man once on the FBI's most-wanted list; hypnotist Timon Kruase; and Alexis Conran, a magician and deception expert.

"In the first debate, I thought Trump was a mess," Kosta said on Wednesday's show. "But these guys liked his aggressive style." Some of Trump's voters evidently agree, and they might not care if he's being straight with them. "We have this perception that the people that are followers of Donald Trump or that fall for scams are idiots or stupid or ignorant," Johnson said. "They're not. It's just that they're looking to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense." Watch below to see a card trick gone bad, find out about "prison debates," and learn if any of these con men were impressed enough by Trump's moves they would vote for him themselves. Peter Weber

1:58 a.m.

The Supreme Court late Wednesday lifted an injunction put in place by a federal judge, allowing Alabama to ban curbside voting in counties that wanted to allow it this election. The court's five conservative justices did not give a reason for their decision, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in a dissent she would have left the injunction in place to allow people with disabilities or other risk factors to vote from their cars during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court's two other liberal justices signed on to her dissent.

"The Alabama dispute is the latest in a flurry of election-related fights to reach the justices in recent weeks," including a 4-4 deadlocked decision Monday that allowed Pennsylvania to count mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day for three days after the election, Politico reports. "The series of decisions suggests the high court, in its current configuration after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, is poised to block election-related changes ordered by federal courts, while allowing state officials to make adjustments even without clear buy-in from the state legislature."

Democrats lost another voting rights battle on Wednesday when the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a state law that makes it harder for county officials to process absentee ballot requests with information missing, Reuters notes. "Opinion polls suggest a larger share of Democrats will cast absentee ballots — which include those returned by mail — than will Republicans." Peter Weber

1:13 a.m.

Before President Trump abruptly ended an interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes on Tuesday, his aides handed the veteran CBS journalist a large hardcover book that White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said contained Trump's health care accomplishments.

When Trump tweeted out more photos of Stahl and the book, what was "supposed to be a cheeky illustration of an administration hard at work" turned into "a tidal wave of online snark," Rob Crilly writes at The Washington Examiner. That's mostly because the book appeared to be full of blank pages.

Well, "The Washington Examiner has obtained a PDF of the contents, which shows its 512 pages contain 13 executive orders and 11 other pieces of health care legislation enacted under Trump," Crilly writes. The legislation includes the part of Trump's 2017 tax overhaul that reduced the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate to zero, several executive orders, and "pages of another document, entitled 'America First Healthcare Plan.'" Is this the long-promised, never-delivered Trump health care plan? Crilly doesn't say.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on MSNBC Wednesday night that the bigger point for him is that the American people want "a president who is not going to create hysteria every single day, not gonna be firing people, not gonna be attacking people, not going to be arguing with Lesley Stahl or with Dr. Fauci," but rather "would focus on their needs: How do we get health care for all? How do we deal with the pandemic?" Peter Weber

12:25 a.m.

"President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray after Election Day," less than four years into his 10-year term, The Washington Post reports. "Trump often complains about members of his Cabinet and contemplates dismissing them, without doing so," the Post concedes, but he is "increasingly frustrated" that "federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016."

Specifically, the Post says, Trump is agitated that neither Wray nor Attorney General William Barr has announced that "Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, or other Biden associates are under investigation," as then-FBI Director James Comey did with Hillary Clinton 11 days before the last presidential election, sending Clinton's poll numbers sliding.

Comey's decision to publicly disclose a reopened, ultimately fruitless investigation of Clinton's emails so close to the election was sharply criticized by Democrats and the Justice Department inspector general. It was also the official reason Trump fired Comey four years into his 10-year term.

Trump hasn't exactly kept his feelings secret. As his poll numbers remain dire weeks before Election Day, Trump "has intensified public calls for jailing his challenger, much as he did for Hillary Clinton," the Post notes. "Trump has called Biden a 'criminal' without articulating what laws he believes the former vice president has broken."

"Trump considers Wray one of his worst personnel picks," the Post reports, and many of his top aides and conservative media allies are similarly critical. Trump has also publicly floated the idea of firing Attorney General Barr, citing the lack of a pre-election report on the Russian investigation from U.S. Attorney John Durham.

"Trump was so focused on the Durham report that he would turn up the television volume when segments would air about it," the Post reports. "Trump has told allies that he once believed Barr would deliver 'scalps' in the form of Durham's findings, according to an adviser who recently spoke to Trump about it. 'But they aren't doing s---,' the president said, according to this person." Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

October 21, 2020

Vivian "Millie" Bailey has had a lot of adventures during her 102 years of life, and over the weekend, she made another memory when she fulfilled her dream of going skydiving.

Bailey said said was inspired by former President George H.W. Bush, who celebrated his 75th, 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays by jumping out of a plane. "I just always thought it would be a thrill," Bailey told WJZ.

The Howard County, Maryland, resident is a World War II veteran; in 1942, she joined the U.S. Women's Army Auxiliary. Bailey received the American Theater Medal, Women's Army Corps Medal, and World War II Victory Medal, and after being honorably discharged in 1946 as a first lieutenant, she worked for nearly three decades with Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

Bailey has spent her retirement giving back — since the Vietnam War, she has sent care packages to troops, and she raises on average $10,000 a year to donate to local schools. "I try every day to do something for someone else," Bailey said. In 2018, the Howard County Police Department celebrated her 100th birthday by renaming its annual Making a Difference Award in her honor.

"There are a lot of things that I can look back on," Bailey told WJZ. "I am thoroughly happy and feel blessed that I've been able to do whatever I've been able to do." There's still one more thing she wants to cross off her bucket list: meeting former first lady Michelle Obama. Catherine Garcia

October 21, 2020

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday said dealing with the coronavirus pandemic "would have been challenging for any president, but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up is just not true."

Obama made his remarks in Philadelphia during a drive-up rally for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Obama said that South Korea recorded its first COVID-19 case at the same time as the United States, "and its per capita death toll is just 1.3 percent of what ours is. Canada is just 39 percent of what ours is. Other countries are struggling with the pandemic, but they're not doing as bad as we are because they've got a government that's actually been paying attention."

Comparing Biden to President Trump, Obama declared that "Joe's not going to screw up testing, he's not going to call scientists idiots, he's not going to host a superspreader event at the White House." The United States is eight months into the pandemic, and cases are again on the rise across the country, but "Donald Trump isn't suddenly going to protect all of us," Obama said. "He can't even take the basic steps to protect himself."

Trump can't say Obama didn't try to warn him — before leaving office, his administration passed along a 70-page document on how to fight pandemics, the former president stated, with information included on novel coronaviruses. "We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook," Obama said. "They probably used it to prop up a wobbly table somewhere."

Obama didn't just focus on the pandemic. He also made the pitch for Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), promising voters they "are going to fight for you every day. They care about you and they care about this democracy. ... They believe that no one, especially the president, is above the law. They understand that protests on behalf of social justice isn't un-American, that's the most American thing there is. That's how this country was founded: protesting injustice." Catherine Garcia

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