July 4, 2017

When the Supreme Court approved a modified version of President Trump's much-challenged travel ban last week, it provided the order could not be used to exclude visitors from the affected Muslim-majority countries if they have "bona fide relationships" with people already in the United States. Now at issue is what counts as "bona fide relationships," a category SCOTUS did not specifically define and which the White House says does not include grandparents, aunts, and uncles of American citizens and residents.

The Department of Justice was in court Monday fighting to maintain that delineation, arguing the SCOTUS ruling should not be interpreted to allow "the broader, free-hand rules" of letting in grandparents. Pointing to established immigration law, the DOJ says close family relations that meet the Supreme Court's exemption are limited to "parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, fiancé, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling (whether whole or half), and step relationships." Not on the list: grandparents.

How that definition will fare in court remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it is under fire on social media.

A #GrandparentsNotTerrorists hashtag sees U.S. residents with family ties in the six banned countries posting photos of their unthreatening grandparents in a plea for change. Bonnie Kristian

8:25 a.m.

Saturday Night Live once again tackled the presidential debates during the show's latest cold open, parodying the most recent and final showdown between President Trump and the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, who were, as usual, portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey, respectively. Maya Rudolph returned to the stage as well, this time portraying the debate's moderator, NBC News' Kristen Welker, who was armed with a mute button, a shot glass, and a "Biden Bingo" board.

As was the case in reality, the SNL version was relatively tame, at least compared to the previous one. The most chaotic moment during the skit occurred when Kate McKinnon showed up as Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to accuse Biden's son, Hunter, of corruption. But Carrey's Biden, after a strenuous inner monologue, opted not to retaliate, and the debate resumed as planned. Watch the full sketch below. Tim O'Donnell

7:53 a.m.

Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Marc Short tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, Pence spokesman Devin O'Malley confirmed, adding that Pence and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the coronavirus.

The vice president is considered a close contact of Short, but O'Malley said he won't go into quarantine and will "maintain his schedule in accordance with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for essential personnel."

It appears there is a larger outbreak in Pence's circle, although O'Malley only formally acknowledged Short's diagnosis, and two people briefed on the matter told The New York Times that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to keep the news from reaching the public. But another source reportedly told the Times that three additional Pence staffers tested positive for the virus, while Bloomberg reports that Marty Obst, a Pence adviser, also recently tested positive. Per Bloomberg, both Obst and Short are experiencing minor COVID-19 symptoms. Read more at The New York Times and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

At least 18 people were killed and 57 injured Saturday during a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, the interior ministry said. The casualty toll may rise as family members continue searching hospitals where the wounded are being treated.

The explosion occurred outside an education center in Dasht-e-Barchi, a heavily Shiite neighborhood in the western section of the capital, per The Associated Press. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban — which has begun peace talks with the Afghan government amid an ongoing, decades-long conflict that has seen a recent surge in violence — rejected any involvement. The Islamic State said it was behind a similar attack that killed 34 students at an education center in 2018, but there has been no word from the militant group regarding the most recent incident.

Also on Saturday, one roadside bomb killed nine people in eastern Afghanistan, and a second killed two policemen after it struck their vehicle en route to the site of the first explosion. Again, no one claimed responsibility, although a spokesman for the provincial police claimed the Taliban had placed the explosives, AP reports. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

In the latest episode of Pod Save America — a podcast hosted by several former Obama administration staffers — the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, laid out what Politico described as "the most in-depth statement of priorities we've heard from" the candidate.

Biden, responding to the Republican Party's agenda for a second Trump administration term (which includes items focused on space exploration and a national high speed wireless network), said that, first and foremost, he's determined to "get control" of the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, though, he said he wants to invest in "real infrastructure," with a heavy focus on science and technology. "We used to invest a little over 2.6 percent of our GDP in research and science," Biden said. "It's now down to 0.6 percent ... We're going to make sure that we can compete with the rest of the world and lead the rest of the world."

The former vice president predicted that, through these renewed efforts, "we're going to cure cancer" while making strides in research on Alzheimer's and diabetes, among other diseases. He also described an aspect of his agriculture policy plan, which he said could make the industry the first in the U.S. to reach the net zero carbon emission threshold. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

The State Department on Friday temporarily halted "all training programs related to diversity and inclusion," Reuters reports.

Reuters obtained an internal cable detailing the decision, which was made in response to an executive order issued by President Trump in September forbidding federal agencies to teach "divisive concepts" such as the idea that the United States is "fundamentally racist or sexist." Before that, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo telling government officials they couldn't use taxpayer money to fund sessions focused on subjects like critical race theory or white privilege. The Trump administration's efforts to cut back on such programs comes amid a nationwide debate about racial injustice in the U.S. — both contemporarily and historically — which was fueled in large part by protests against police brutality earlier this year.

The State Department cable said the pause will allow the OMB "to review program content." Per Reuters, a report from an independent federal watchdog released this year said "longstanding diversity issues exist" in the State Department, particularly in senior ranks. The report noted that the overall proportion of racial or ethnic minorities working at the agency has increased, but the proportions of Black and female employees have declined. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

Coronavirus vaccine trials conducted by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are preparing to resume, the pharmaceutical companies said Friday.

Both studies were put on hold after two volunteers who enrolled in AstraZeneca's vaccine trial developed a possible neurological side effect, and another person enrolled in J&J's study reportedly suffered a stroke. AstraZeneca, which had already restarted its trial in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, said independent monitoring committees and international regulators agreed it was safe to resume the trial in the U.S, as well. The Food and Drug Administration reportedly did not find the vaccine candidate to be responsible for the neurological symptoms, but the agency was also unable to definitively rule out a link.

Similarly, investigators concluded the J&J volunteer's illness did not appear to be related to the vaccine candidate, although there was "no clear cause" of the incident. Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer at J&J, told Stat News the company could begin enrolling patients for the vaccine study — the only major one to test just a single dose — again early next week. Read more at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

October 24, 2020

President Trump on Saturday joined the more than 50 million Americans who have already cast their ballots ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. The president, who spent Friday evening at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, voted in person early in the morning before getting ready to depart the Sunshine State for three campaign rallies in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all crucial battlegrounds.

After exiting the booth, Trump told reporters he was very impressed with how secure the voting process was, especially compared to mail-in voting, which has become a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats due to the increase in absentee ballots nationwide in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but Trump has continually reiterated his belief that the system is vulnerable to it. "When you send in your ballot, it could never be secure like that," Trump said Saturday. (Observers pointed out that the president mailed in his Florida primary ballot in August amid his criticism.)

Trump ended his quick exchange with the press on a lighter note, declaring that he voted "for a guy named Trump." Tim O'Donnell

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