January 3, 2018

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders valiantly tried to begin her press briefing Wednesday by talking about the budget debate, as a possible government shutdown looms over Congress. But the White House press corps immediately began questioning her about some ... other matters.

Of particular interest was President Trump's fiery Tuesday night tweet, where he claimed to possess a "nuclear button" that was "bigger and more powerful" than the one owned by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. When a reporter asked if Trump's tweet was a sign of mental instability, Sanders insisted that it is Kim's "mental fitness" that is a more pressing matter:

Another reporter quickly pushed back on Sanders, asking then whether goading someone who is mentally unstable is really a good idea. "I don't think it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country," Sanders replied:

Sanders eventually ended Wednesday's briefing with a perhaps unintentionally ironic quip, which you can watch below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

9:18 a.m.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Republicans are making some adjustments to their August convention.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel on Thursday announced the Republican Party's convention next month, which is set to take place in Jacksonville, Florida, will be scaled back, The Washington Post reports. According to the report, Republicans will limit admittance for the first three days of the convention to just regular delegates, which is roughly 2,500 people, though this will be expanded to around 6,000 to 7,000 people for the last day when delegates can bring a guest and alternate delegates can come as well.

Additionally, McDaniel said the convention will "utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues," including the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, and Politico reports that "Republicans expect the president to deliver his acceptance speech outdoors, but those plans have not been finalized." Most of the convention had already been moved to Florida from its original location in North Carolina.

"When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed," McDaniel said. "However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines."

Florida has been shattering records for its number of new COVID-19 cases, and numerous Republicans have said they won't attend the convention due to the pandemic. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) earlier this week recommended that Floridians avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and "areas where large numbers of people congregate." Brendan Morrow

8:41 a.m.

You can apparently count Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) among the solid majority of Americans who are unimpressed with President Trump's COVID-19 response. In a brutal Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, for example, 62 percent of registered voters said Trump is hurting the effort to fight COVID-19, while 67 percent said they don't trust the information he shares about the disease. Unlike most Americans, though, Hogan has a front-row seat to Trump's response, both as a governor and chairman of the National Governors Association.

Hogan published a detailed, withering critique of Trump's response in an op-ed Thursday in Trump's least-favorite newspaper, The Washington Post. He started with the extraordinary effort he and his Korean-born wife, Yumi Hogan, made to fly 500,000 COVID-19 tests in from South Korea in April, sending them into safe hiding under armed guard because "the federal government had recently seized 3 million N95 masks purchased by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker."

This airlift from Seoul "shouldn't have been necessary," Hogan writes, but "I'd watched as the president downplayed the outbreak's severity and as the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50-state strategy, or dispatch medical gear or lifesaving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals. Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation's response was hopeless."

Dr. Anthony Fauci and other federal health experts gave a dire, "unfiltered," and prescient briefing to Americans governors in early February, Hogan writes, and "it was jarring, the huge contrast between the experts' warnings and the president's public dismissals" He detailed things Trump did and said, and more importantly, the things he did not do.

"Governors always do the hard work, make the tough decisions and take the political heat," Hogan writes. "But an undertaking as large as a national testing program required Washington's help. We expected something more than constant heckling from the man who was supposed to be our leader. Trump soon disabused us of that expectation." Read the essay at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

8:13 a.m.

Kanye West's alleged presidential campaign may or may not have already come to an end, but he's now set to actually appear on one state's ballot.

West, who claimed in a tweet earlier this month he was running for president in the 2020 election despite having not yet taken any steps toward doing so, will appear on the ballot in Oklahoma, USA Today reports. His representative paid the $35,000 fee and filed the paperwork required by the Wednesday deadline, according to The Associated Press.

"Kanye West is now qualified as an independent candidate for president of the United States in Oklahoma and will appear on the general election ballot," a Oklahoma State Election Board spokesperson said in a statement, per Fox News.

This is despite the fact that reports emerged this week suggesting West was exiting the race entirely, if he ever actually entered it. In a recent New York magazine report, Steve Kramer, who West had apparently hired to get him on the ballot in Florida and South Carolina, said, "He's out." Entertainment Tonight also quotes a source as saying, "Kanye isn't planning to run in the 2020 election after careful consideration," consideration that apparently wasn't taken prior to his tweet.

Still, West seemingly did recently file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, TMZ reports, although he hasn't yet filed the Statement of Candidacy form that actually "triggers candidacy status under federal campaign finance law," the report notes. Either way, by the time West had tweeted out his supposed plans to run for president, the deadline to appear on the November ballot had passed in multiple states, meaning West's grand plans to run the White House like Wakanda will probably have to wait another four years. Brendan Morrow

7:18 a.m.

Brad Parscale, President Trump's campaign manager since February 2018, did not find out he was being replaced by his deputy, Bill Stepien, until right before the news became public Wednesday evening — hours earlier than planned, The New York Times reports. Parscale will stay on as senior adviser for data and digital operations, similar to the role he played in Trump's 2016 campaign, but it's not clear how much Trump's campaign shakeup will actually shake up the campaign.

"Trump is often described as his own campaign manager, and his political operation, which is overseen by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and a senior White House adviser, has been tailored to his desires," the Times reports. In fact, according to several people involved in the campaign, "Kushner has served as the de facto campaign manager" throughout the 2020 re-election effort, and he was "a key figure in replacing" Parscale, whom he handpicked in 2016.

"Jared Kushner was the campaign manager yesterday, is the campaign manager today, and will be the campaign manager tomorrow," a source close to the White House told NBC News. "Brad took the bullet for Jared."

On the other hand, Parscale's ouster has been rumored for a while, thanks to his unusually high profile — including appearing in Trump's campaign ads — and newly lavish lifestyle. Trump is also dropping to double-digit deficits in national polls, and Parscale "suffered something of a mortal wound" after only 6,000 people showed up to Trump's Tulsa rally three weeks ago, an embarrassment "Trump could not let go of," the Times reports.

Parscale is close with Trump's adult children, though, and his company is the conduit to paying Eric Trump's wife and Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend. Several campaign aides emphasized to the Times that "Parscale was being asked to stay on, unlike others who have been let go from the Trump orbit." Peter Weber

6:04 a.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the U.S., Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "Now, the CDC reporting all this coronavirus hospital data is making the Trump administration look terrible, but the Trump administration has finally come up with a solution to the crisis," he said: Sending the data to the Trump administration, not the CDC. President Trump "knows he's failed," Colbert said. "He's just like a kid grabbing his report card out of the mailbox before anyone can see it."

Colbert cringed at Trump's bizarre Rose Garden campaign rally and compounded Tuesday's "stunning" and "truly pathetic" political fall of Jeff Sessions by dunking him in a glass of milk and eating him.

Trump's press conference "went pretty off-the-rails," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show, showing some highlights. "Instead of a press conference, people said it was more like a campaign rally in front of 20 people — in other words, it was just like Tulsa." Meanwhile, "Ivanka Trump decided to show her support" for boycott-threatened Goya with a photo of her and canned beans, Fallon said. "Sadly, after Ivanka tweeted in Spanish, Trump immediately had her deported."

The Late Show went with Ivanka Trump-Goya fart gags.

Ivanka's bean tweet violated ethics laws, so "Donald Trump responded by doing an even more elaborate Goya ad of his own," Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "The dude doesn't look like a president, he looks like a local athlete who retired 15 years ago and is desperate for money," or "the end of The Shining if the movie was sponsored by bodegas."

"Speaking of going insane, the president and his political allies are telling you to suck it up and deal with the out-of-control coronavirus outbreak," Seth Meyers said at Late Night. "Scared of getting sick? The White House says too bad, 'We need to live with it.' Lost your job amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? The only advice they have is 'find something new,' courtesy of the new ad campaign rolled out by Ivanka Trump, who famously has found many jobs on her own with no help from her father!" And Rush Limbaugh seriously "cited the Donner Party — you know, the cannibals — as an example of how we should adapt to the pandemic," Meyers said. "Finally, the Republicans have found a message to run on — 'Trump 2020: Your Neighbors Are Delicious.'" Watch below. Peter Weber

3:35 a.m.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 early Thursday to clear the way for the execution of Wesley Ira Purkey, lifting two injunctions that had temporarily halted the second federal execution in 17 years. Purkey was convicted of the grisly rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1998, and his lawyers had argued his dementia was so advanced now he "no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him." The same five conservative justices who had allowed the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee on Tuesday did not find that argument persuasive.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent that "proceeding with Purkey's execution now, despite the grave questions and factual findings regarding his mental competency, casts a shroud of constitutional doubt over the most irrevocable of injuries." Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer joined her dissent. Lee had been strapped to the execution gurney for several hours while the high court weighed his appeal, and when the Supreme Court gave the green light, he was quickly injected with pentobarbital. Purkey's execution will likely take place in a similarly expedited fashion. Peter Weber

3:06 a.m.

President Trump joined his daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump on Thursday by posting a photo of himself hawking Goya products. Chris Cuomo wondered on CNN Thursday night how "a president in the middle of a pandemic has got time for this bulls--t."

"Are you kidding me?" Cuomo asked repeatedly. "On your dime, in the middle of a pandemic, they're selling beans?" His opening statement wrapped that protestation in with Trump's failed war on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the red state governors "who followed Trump's trail of denial to their own detriment," the White House cutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out of COVID-19 data collection, and Trump's demotion of campaign manager Brad Parscale. You can watch below. Peter Weber

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