June 8, 2017

At his hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey expanded on comments detailed in his opening statement, published Wednesday, about President Trump's request for "loyalty."

As Comey wrote in his opening statement:

A few moments later, the president said, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner. At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some presidents have decided that because "problems" come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work. [James Comey, via CNN]

During the hearing, Comey explained that Trump's question about his loyalty came "in context of asking me to stay" on as FBI director. Comey added he'd never before had a request for loyalty due to the fact that the position of FBI director — which enjoys a 10-year term — was established to prevent an individual from feeling like he owed loyalty to a specific president.

Watch Comey explain why the question made him uncomfortable below. Jeva Lange

September 18, 2020

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says she won't vote on a Supreme Court nomination until after the election. Or at least that's what she said in an interview with Alaska Public Media only hours before the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing was reported late Friday.

"I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election," she reportedly said, referencing the 2016 case of Merrick Garland, when Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), blocked President Obama's nomination to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after he died that February. "That was too close to an election, and the people needed to decide."

McConnell, for his part, has already said he has no problem moving forward right away. "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate," he said in a statement Friday night. With that stance, tremendous pressure will fall on Murkowski and other moderate Republican senators like Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah) to stick to Murkowski's stated position.

Republicans could attempt to have it both ways and wait for the lame duck session after the election. Of course, confirming a Trump nominee at that point could be even more fraught if Joe Biden wins the presidency or if Democrats win the Senate. Bryan Maygers

September 18, 2020

After news of the passing of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted no time making it clear where he stood on the timeline to confirm a successor. "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate," he said in a statement.

That position seemingly contradicts the stance McConnell took in February 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died, nearly nine months prior to that year's presidential election. That time around, the Republican leader blocked President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, saying "the American people should have a say in the court's direction." President Trump won in November, and Neil Gorsuch was eventually confirmed to replace Scalia more than a year after he died.

In his Friday statement, McConnell drew a distinction between this year and 2016, saying this time is different because the president and the Senate majority are of the same party. He did not specify, however, whether the Senate vote on a Trump nominee would come prior to Election Day or during a potential lame duck session. Bryan Maygers

September 18, 2020

When news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died Friday after battling pancreatic cancer, tributes from politicians and Americans all over the country came pouring in within minutes.

One voice conspicuously missing? President Trump's.

Trump was speaking at a rally in Minnesota when the Supreme Court announced Ginsburg's death. And while he certainly can't be blamed for failing to check Twitter while giving one of his signature rambling speeches, as the hour wore on, it became increasingly strange that the president was seemingly one of the few top lawmakers who hadn't heard the major update.

As NBC News' Garrett Haake put it, the "political earth has shifted under his feet" during the course of his rally, and he was seemingly without a clue.

Ginsburg's death constitutes "political earth," of course, because with a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Trump and the Republican-majority Senate are now likely to push forward with a conservative nominee to replace her before the November presidential election. With a new Trump-picked justice, the court's conservative majority would be further solidified for years to come.

Trump told the crowd about his belief that Sean Hannity should win a Pulitzer Prize, called Joe Biden "Sleepy Joe," and discussed the latest poll numbers, all while pundits and Americans everywhere were meanwhile considering the sudden change to the 2020 race. When he started ruminating on the power of the president to influence decades of judicial balance on the Supreme Court, attendees began yelling "Ginsburg is dead," video shows.

At last, after Trump exited the stage nearly two hours after the court's announcement, reporters seemingly informed Trump of Ginsburg's passing. "She just died? Wow. I didn't know that," he responded. He said he was "sad to hear" the news and praised her as an "amazing woman." Summer Meza

September 18, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have been the most prominent member of the liberal wing of the court, but she had admirers of all political persuasions.

Ginsburg died on Friday at age 87 after fighting pancreatic cancer, the court announced. As soon as the news was made public, tributes began rolling in from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who would oversee the nomination process for any judge who may be tapped to fill Ginsburg's seat, praised Ginsburg as a "trailblazer." "While I had many differences with her on legal philosophy, I appreciate her service to our nation," he wrote on Twitter.

Former President George W. Bush hailed Ginsburg for her "remarkable" pursuit of justice.

But perhaps no one will miss Ginsburg more than her legions of loyal feminist fans, who lovingly dubbed her "Notorious R.B.G." in recent years. Ginsburg, the second-ever female justice, was well known for championing gender equality, abortion rights, affirmative action, and other progressive causes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) paid tribute to Ginsburg's legacy among women in a Twitter thread noting the "millions of young women who saw her as a role model."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that sentiment. Summer Meza

September 18, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at 87.

Ginsburg's death was announced in a statement from the Supreme Court, which said she died on Friday at her home in Washington, D.C. from metastatic pancreatic cancer complications.

Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court since 1993, when she was appointed by former President Bill Clinton after previously serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In July, she announced she was being treated following a "recurrence of cancer." She previously beat cancer four times.

Ginsburg was a part of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court; with her seat vacant, President Trump will have the opportunity to further solidify the court's conservative majority. According to NPR, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter days before her death, which reads, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on Friday, "Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice." Brendan Morrow

September 18, 2020

It's time to break out the Greek alphabet.

The 21th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Friday, meaning forecasters have officially run out of planned names for storms this season. This is only the second time in recorded history that the Atlantic season has made it through the alphabet, and it's the earliest it has happened, as well.

The World Meteorological Organization lists 21 names for hurricanes and tropical storms at the start of each season, working its way through the alphabet but skipping Q, U, X, Y, and Z. Usually the hurricane season doesn't see enough intense storms to make it through that list, but the formation of Tropical Storm Wilfred on Friday marked the end of the line. Now, meteorologists will turn to the Greek alphabet. Subtropical storm Alpha already formed Friday and drifted into Portugal, and Tropical Storm Beta is currently swirling in the Gulf of Mexico. Wilfred, Alpha, and Beta also set a record by marking the first time three storms had formed in just six hours, Tomer Burg, a PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma, told The Weather Channel.

The WMO has been naming storms since 1953, and it ran out of names for the first time in 2005. Wilma finished off the alphabet when it formed October 16, 2005, and eventually became a Category 5 storm. Five more storms followed it over the next two months. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 18, 2020

Even in a year with an overwhelming number of excess deaths, the mortality rate of Black Americans stands out.

Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 this year, and data has shown the disease has disproportionately affected Black Americans. But the mortality rate for Black Americans is already so high that even if their coronavirus deaths weren't counted, Black mortality would be higher than white, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a demographer focused on mortality, racial inequality, and historical infectious disease, writes for Slate.

Black mortality was at its lowest in 2014, at a level of 1,061 deaths per 100,000 Black people in the country when adjusted for age, Wrigley-Field notes. But even with the coronavirus pandemic, white Americans' mortality in 2020 was far lower than that. Another 400,000 white people would have to die this year just to reach that lowest-ever year rate for Black Americans. From there, Wrigley-Field drew another conclusion: "If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality."

"In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest," Wrigley-Field writes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicated Black Americans were 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Americans, were 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and were 2.1 times more likely to die of it. But Wrigley-Field notes these hypotheticals help point out one outstanding fact: "Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID." Read more at Slate. Kathryn Krawczyk

See More Speed Reads