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November 23, 2017

In 2015, after a sexually explicit, mainly online relationship with a woman ended, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) threatened to report the woman to the Capitol Police, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. Barton had reportedly sent the woman sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages over the course of their relationship, which began on Facebook in 2011.

The woman, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, recorded the 2015 conversation in which Barton confronted her about communications she had with other women connected to Barton. "I am ready if I have to, I don't want to, but I should take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation," he said, according to the recording.

On Wednesday, Barton apologized to his constituents after naked photos of him circulated on social media. In a statement, Barton, who is the longest-serving member of Congress from Texas, said he had sexual relationships "with other mature adult women" while separated from his second wife, before their divorce in 2015. "I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days," he said. But Barton, who has reportedly hired a crisis communications firm, also said that he had suffered a potential crime over the released lewd photos. In Texas, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally publicize images or videos of someone's genitals or sexual activity without consent. Barton said the Capitol Police may be launching an investigation. Lauren Hansen

3:50p.m.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' revamped campus sexual assault plans, more than a year in the making, are here.

DeVos has long sought to bolster the rights of college students accused of sexual assault, officially announcing her intent to revamp Obama-era rules last September. Those new rules, which Devos said "ensur[e] a fair grievance process," were unveiled Friday.

Under former President Barack Obama's administration, Title IX, the law that outlaws gender discrimination in schools, was implemented in a way that was meant to strengthen the power of sexual assault victims. But DeVos argued that premise in September 2017, saying Obama-era policies have "failed too many students" because the "rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another."

This new proposal reflects that same stance. Obama-era rules required colleges to investigate any "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," NPR notes. But the DeVos policy redefines sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" that it disrupts a student's learning environment, per Friday's statement. The new rules also rely heavily on "a presumption of innocence throughout the grievance process," and require schools hold "live hearing[s]" featuring "cross-examination."

Jess Davidson, executive director of End Rape on Campus, told Politico "this rule will return schools back to a time where rape, assault, and harassment were swept under the rug." A previous Education Department analysis showed these changes would cut sexual harassment inquiries by 39 percent, saving up to $400 million over the next decade. The publication of this proposal opens up a 60-day public comment period. Read the whole plan here. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:35p.m.

Three months out from the 2019 Academy Awards, and Oscar season is already in full swing.

Nominations for the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards were announced Friday, with Eighth Grade, First Reformed, If Beale Street Could Talk, Leave No Trace, and You Were Never Really Here nabbing spots in the Best Feature category. Over the past eight Independent Spirit Awards ceremonies, the winner of Best Feature has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars five times, and every winner has at least received a Best Picture nomination.

Meanwhile, the nominees for Best First Feature are Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, The Tale, We the Animals, and Wildlife.

The nominations for Best Female Lead went to Glenn Close (The Wife), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), Helena Howard (Madeline's Madeline), and Carey Mulligan (Wildlife), while the nominations for Best Male Lead went to John Cho (Searching), Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Christian Malheiros (Socrates), and Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here).

We the Animals scored five nominations total, the most of any film, although it's not actually up in Best Feature. Eighth Grade, First Reformed, and You Were Never Really Here took four, If Beale Street Could Talk and Leave No Trace scored three, and Hereditary earned two. Considering this ceremony is intended to recognize independent film, though, don't take the absence of movies backed by major studios, like A Star Is Born, as a bad omen.

The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards will be held on Feb. 23, 2019, one day before the 2019 Academy Awards. Read the full list of nominees at Deadline. Brendan Morrow

3:32p.m.

This weekend, retired Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer will marry Joshua Ross, making Rohrer the first known current or former National Football League player in a same-sex marriage, reports The New York Times.

Rohrer, 59, played football for Yale University and spent six seasons in the NFL. Before Rohrer, only seven NFL players who played in a regular season game had come out as gay. But none came out until after their playing days were over, according to Outsports.

Rohrer told the Times he would have been "cut immediately" if he'd told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that he was gay. "It was a different world back then, people didn't want to hear that," he said.

Many of Rohrer's close friends and family, including former Dallas Cowboys teammates, have been supportive, says the Times. Retired NFL Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Aiello said the NFL community has done a lot of work to develop tolerance and inclusion in the league.

Roher feels "revived," like he's "born again," he told Outsports. "I'm not going to change the world, but we can at least get the message out there that it's OK and I'm proud of where I am. I'm not ashamed," he said. Roher and Ross, 36, an aesthetician in West Hollywood, will be married Sunday in Los Angeles. Read more at The New York Times. Taylor Watson

2:18p.m.

A federal judge will allow veterans with mental illnesses who were denied Veterans Affairs benefits to file a class-action lawsuit against the military, The Associated Press reports.

This case concerns veterans of the Navy and Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and received less-than-honorable discharges, which prevents them from collecting VA benefits. They were unfairly discharged, they say, for minor violations related to their untreated mental illnesses, and now, they can't receive the medical care they need. Though they can apply to have their discharge designation upgraded, the Yale Law School students representing the veterans say the Navy only grants about 16 percent of these requests from veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 51 percent for the Army.

Now, a class action suit against Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer can move forward, having been certified by Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. Lead plaintiff Tyson Manker called this decision a "victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury)." Read more at The Associated Press. Brendan Morrow

1:53p.m.

As if evacuating northern California's Camp Fire wasn't enough, more than 140 survivors staying at nearby shelters are now facing norovirus symptoms.

The massive fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes north of Sacramento, leaving thousands relegated to shelters in Butte County. Across four of those shelters, 140 people have experienced norovirus symptoms, and "the number of sick people is increasing every day," Butte County's Public Health Department announced Thursday.

Norovirus is "very contagious" and "causes vomiting and diarrhea," per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So shelter workers are separating the sick from the healthy with separate bathrooms, a health department spokeswoman told The Sacramento Bee. Some people staying at the shelters have opted to stay in their cars. Still, 25 people have had to go to the hospital for "medical support," and some shelter workers have gotten sick, per the health department.

The Camp Fire is slowly being extinguished, and is 45 percent contained as of Friday morning, says the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire is California's deadliest in history with 63 confirmed fatalities and more than 600 people still missing. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:32p.m.

Could President Trump be looking to boot Vice President Mike Pence off his re-election ticket?

Trump in recent weeks has been asking his aides and advisers if they think Pence is loyal, raising this question so often that they are getting "alarmed," The New York Times reported Friday. While Trump has not explicitly told his advisers he wants to drop Pence in 2020, they reportedly see these conversations as evidence that he may be growing "irritated" with the vice president. According to the report, Trump still hasn't gotten over the fact that Pence in 2016 distanced himself from Trump's Access Hollywood comments about groping women.

For the most part, it seems Trump's advisers tend to tell him that Pence is, in fact, loyal. But some of them suggest he should still replace Pence as his running mate in 2020, instead choosing a woman in an attempt to appeal to female voters. One name that several outside advisers have mentioned is Nikki Haley, the outgoing ambassador to the United Nations.

Still, The New York Times reports that Trump's loyalty question doesn't necessarily mean he's definitely going to drop Pence; some have suggested it's more related to the fact that he's reportedly considering replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly with Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers. White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley pushed back on this report by saying Trump "absolutely supports the vice president." Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

1:03p.m.

It looks like Mira Ricardel, the former deputy national security adviser whose firing first lady Melania Trump publicly requested, was not interested in the other job the White House had lined up for her.

After Ricardel was forced out of her White House job, the Trump administration offered Ricardel the position of ambassador to Estonia, Bloomberg reported Friday. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had previously said that Ricardel would have a "new role in the administration, per The New York Times. Bloomberg reports that Ricardel turned down that ambassador job but that President Trump is interested in keeping her to the point that she has been "presented nearly a dozen jobs from which to choose."

The first lady had taken the extraordinary step of calling for Ricardel's firing on Tuesday right after Ricardel appeared at a White House event. This was reportedly after a series of run-ins between Ricardel and the office of the first lady, including one fight over plane seating on Melania Trump's recent trip to Africa. Ricardel said in a statement Friday that "it's been an honor to serve the president as deputy national security adviser," suggesting she hopes to stay on in some capacity by adding, "I look forward to working with them in the months ahead." Read more at Bloomberg. Brendan Morrow

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