Before Mike Pence became vice president and before Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced his retirement from the upper chamber of Congress, the two men referred to each other as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." But now that Pence has allied himself with President Trump, a once thriving friendship is on the fritz, Politico Magazine reported Wednesday.
Flake and Pence became friends early on in their congressional careers, and Politico pointed out that the two "ideological soulmates" made a habit of sitting next to one another during presidential addresses. But Flake told Politico that he was in "shock" when his close friend Pence — then the Republican governor of Indiana — accepted Trump's offer of the vice presidency in July 2016.
The friendship began to fray after Flake could not bring himself to attend the Republican National Convention last summer, a decision that "stung" Pence, Politico reported. At one point, Pence was campaigning near Flake's Arizona home during the presidential campaign and reached out to his old friend, but even their light-hearted banter was tinged with the tension of their diverging alliances:
"Can you help me trim some hedges?" Flake asked. Pence replied: "As long as we can carve in 'Trump-Pence' in the hedge." Flake says he texted him back: "Small hedge. Only have room for 'Pence.'" How did Pence respond? "Ha, ha." [Politico Magazine]
Pence reportedly tried to assuage his friend's concerns about Trump, but could not, and Flake became a vocal critic of — and subsequently, preferred target of — the president. He eventually announced in October that he would leave the Senate at the end of his term.
One of the red-state Democrats thought to have been a potential "yes" vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has come out against his nomination, though it's not because of the recent sexual assault allegation made against him.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a news release Wednesday that although the "recent allegations against [Kavanaugh] are troubling," she's voting "no" because of his positions on a few important issues, namely campaign finance. McCaskill expressed her disagreement with what she called Kavanaugh's "bias against limits on campaign donations," saying she thinks he'll "give free reign to anonymous donors and foreign governments" to influence elections.
While specifying that Christine Blasey Ford's recent allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school is not the reason she's voting no, the senator did say this claim should receive a "fair examination by the Senate Judiciary Committee." Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
McCaskill's opposition to Kavanaugh is noteworthy because she's up for re-election this November in a state that President Trump won in 2016, so there was some speculation she would vote to confirm the president's pick, as Talking Points Memo points out. Still, Republicans have a 51-seat majority in the Senate, so if all of them stick together, Kavanaugh will still be confirmed without needing any Democratic support. Brendan Morrow
After returning to Seoul from North Korea on Thursday evening, South Korean President Moon Jae-in gave some new details about his three-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and said he will personally deliver a private message from Kim to President Trump next week in New York and also discuss a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim wants U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit Pyongyang for nuclear talks and a second summit with Trump as soon as possible, Moon said. He added that Kim had agreed to allow international experts to watch North Korea's "permanent" dismantling of a missile engine test site and launch pad and, if the U.S. reciprocated with undisclosed actions, the "permanent" dismantling of his main Yongbyon nuclear facility.
"Experts say the destruction of the missile engine test site and launch pad wouldn't represent a material step in denuclearization of North Korea," The Associated Press notes. And "even if North Korea were to shut down Yongbyon, officials and experts believe it has other secret nuclear facilities," Reuters adds.
Pompeo welcomed the announcement and said he had invited North Korea's foreign minister to meet in New York next week to further a goal to complete denuclearization of North Korea by January 2021. Trump called the results of the summit "very good news," adding of Kim, "He's calm, I'm calm — so we'll see what happens." China welcomed the resumption of nuclear diplomacy.
"There is nothing the North has offered so far that would constitute irreversible movement toward denuclearization, however you define that, by January 2021 or any other time, or even a reduction of the military threat it poses to the South and the region," a U.S. intelligence official tells Reuters. "Everything that's out there now is conditional on U.S. actions that would reduce the pressure on the North to cooperate or (is) filled with loopholes and exit ramps." Peter Weber
After some behind-the-scenes drama, the next James Bond movie is back on track with a new director at the helm.
Director Danny Boyle departed the forthcoming Bond film in August due to creative differences, but now, Cary Fukunaga has been brought in to replace him, per The Hollywood Reporter. Fukunaga directed every episode of True Detective's first season, as well as the film Beasts of No Nation and the Netflix miniseries Maniac, which premieres Friday.
Production for the film is now set to begin in March 2019, and a release date of Feb. 14,
Boyle reportedly left the project following a disagreement over who to cast as the film's villain, The Telegraph reported, although one wild rumor suggested that it was because he did not want to kill off Bond, as the producers demanded. This is expected to be Daniel Craig's final performance as the character. He said in 2015 he would rather "slash [his] wrists" than play Bond one more time. Brendan Morrow
Publicly, Republicans and the White House are increasingly confident they can win confirmation for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, despite the allegations from Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh tried to rape her in high school. "But privately, discussions about the political fallout gripped the party, with Republican lawmakers and strategists unnerved by the charged, gender-infused debates that have upended this campaign season," Robert Costa reports at The Washington Post.
At the same time, The Wall Street Journal reports, "it wasn't clear how committed Mr. Trump is to the nomination. A person close to Mr. Trump said the president views Judge Kavanaugh as the pick of outgoing White House Counsel Don McGahn and 'won't lose any sleep if he has to choose someone else.'" One reason "Trump hasn't gone to the mat for Kavanaugh is that he's said to be suspicious of Kavanaugh's establishment pedigree," and "one source says Ivanka Trump has told her father to 'cut bait' and drop Kavanaugh," Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair, adding:
"'He's a Bush guy, why would I put myself out there defending him?'" Trump told people. ... "Trump wants this guy on the court, but Trump knows there are five other people he could put on the court if this falls apart," a former official said. [Vanity Fair]
Senate Republicans want to seat Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 for the beginning of the Supreme Court's term, and also to hedge against losing the Senate. But "the real Brett Kavanaugh question facing Senate Republicans is this: Do they really need this nominee, given that he hasn't fired up their base for the midterms?" asks David Weigel at The Washington Post. "Social conservatives wanted an antiabortion female nominee," Amy Coney Barrett, not Kavanaugh, and "the most realistic way to turn this into a motivating Republican issue, ironically, would come if Kavanaugh dropped out and yet another court seat hung on the results of an election." Peter Weber
Willie Nelson tells Stephen Colbert his concert for Democrat Beto O'Rouke isn't his first political rodeo
Stephen Colbert interviewed Willie Nelson on Nelson's tour bus for Wednesday's Late Show, and after talking about why Willie doesn't like barber shops and other niceties, Colbert brought up politics. "You've been an activist for years, but you're doing your first free public concert for a candidate, and it's for Beto O'Rourke," the Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Colbert said. Nelson corrected him, saying he's done free concerts for candidates for decades, naming Dennis Kucinich, Ross Perot, and singing cowboy Tex Ritter. "So you always back the winners," Colbert deadpanned.
Poor track record notwithstanding, not everyone is happy about Nelson's Beto concert, Colbert pointed out. "Some Texans were saying, Let's boycott Willie. A, I don't think that's real, I think that's just people talking. And B, I really like your response to those people." Nelson laughed at the photo of him flipping the bird in a Beto shirt, then said it doesn't really bother him when people threaten to boycott his music. "It's their prerogative," he said. "I may not like their music either, you know, so I don't hold any grudges against people."
Colbert brought up Nelson's new album, My Way, and asked why he wanted to do a Frank Sinatra album. "He's my favorite singer, and I read somewhere a couple of years ago that I was his favorite singer," Nelson said. Colbert had a clip from a commercial Nelson and Sinatra did in 1980, then he showed Nelson some photos of famous people and asked if he'd like to smoke weed with each of them. (The answer was yes.)
Nelson performed the Sinatra favorite "Summer Wind" on The Late Show, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber
Stephen Colbert shudders over Stormy Daniels' 'mind searing' new Trump disclosures, shrugs about Bert and Ernie
"Since I started hosting this show, I've had to cover some unfortunate topics — for example, everything, all the time," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. But "yesterday, the news hacked up a truly memorable hairball. So I have to warn you, the following story is unsuitable for viewers under the age of dead." He was talking, of course, about President Trump's genitals, as described in "mind-searing" and "harrowing detail" by Stormy Daniels in her new book, Full Disclosure. If you don't know them, Colbert had the specifics.
If Colbert seemed less than thrilled to spend a few minutes on Trump's sexual organs, Mario Kart's Toad was devastated — at least in this darkly comic Late Show cold open.
To lighten the mood, Colbert rolled his eyes at Trump's statement that Hurricane Florence is "one of the wettest we've ever seen, from the standpoint of water" — "That statement right there is one of the dumbest we've ever heard, from the standpoint of stupid," he deadpanned — and also the new controversy over Bert and Ernie's relationship.
"So, are Bert and Ernie a gay couple or are they simply two adult asexual men with no outside relationships living together to dull the pain of their loveless existence?" Colbert asked. "In any case, it's 2018 and this whole argument feels a little dated. The question we should be asking is: Are the Ninja Turtles a pansexual polyamorous quartet?" Watch below. Peter Weber
Texas Republicans ask Indian-Americans celebrating festival of Ganesh if they'd 'worship a donkey or an elephant?'
The Republican Party in Fort Bend County, Texas, is apologizing for an ad it ran in an Indian-American newspaper during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, celebrating the birth of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesaha. "Would you worship a donkey or an elephant?" the ad asked. "The choice is yours." The suburban Houston county is home to a competitive congressional race between incumbent GOP Rep. Pete Olson and Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni; about a fifth of the 22nd Congressional District is, like Kulkarni, Asian American.
"While we appreciate the Fort Bend County GOP's attempt to reach out to Hindus on an important Hindu festival, its ad — equating Hindus' veneration of the Lord Ganesha with choosing a political party based on its animal symbol — is problematic and offensive," said Rishi Bhutada at the Hindu American Foundation. The foundation asked that the Fort Bend Republican Party "apologize for the offensive and inaccurate reference" and "not run the ad again."
"Pete agrees" that the ad "should have been more respectful," said Olson campaign manager Craig Lewellyn. "The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way," the Fort Bend GOP said in a statement. "This ad was created with input from those of Hindu faith so that we could properly pay respect to the sacred festival. ... We offer our sincerest apologies to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent." Peter Weber