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

2:34 p.m.

A bipartisan bill proposal could help end what its sponsors consider a "perpetual state" of probation and parole violations that keeps many formerly incarcerated citizens trapped within the correctional system, The Hill reports.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris (D) teamed up with colleague Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R), as well as rapper Meek Mill's Reform Alliance, which initially proposed the bill, last month to introduce the bill. If passed and signed, it would eliminate consecutive probation sentences and prohibit probation extensions over the nonpayment of fines and costs. Harris told The Hill that judges can currently extend probation parole times indefinitely, leading to the aforementioned perpetual state.

"Probation and parole is like the quicksand of the criminal justice system," he said. "The moment that you get in, it's hard to get out."

Delozier, the bill's lead sponsor, added that the bill would also allow former inmates more flexibility, mentioning, for example, that a parolee would be able to work with his or her parole officer to reschedule parole meetings for things like job interviews. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences if someone does break the rules of their probation, Delozier said, but "the flexibility does need to be there."

Pennsylvania has the second-highest rate of citizens on probation or parole in the U.S. Read more at The Hill. Tim O'Donnell

1:41 p.m.

Nicholas Sparks has issued an apology after a report showing he expressed opposition to an LGBTQ club at his school.

A report from The Daily Beast last week detailed how the bestselling author of The Notebook is in the middle of a legal battle with the former headmaster of his North Carolina prep school, the Epiphany School of Global Studies. Emails that came to light as part of this court case showed Sparks pushing for an LGBTQ club at the school to be banned, writing that "not allowing them to have a club is NOT discrimination" and that "there will be no club" like this at the school. In another, he tells the headmaster that he has "what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted."

In a statement on Monday, Sparks said that "I regret and apologize" over the fact that his words have "potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community." Sparks goes on to say that he is "an unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights" and that "when in one of my emails I used language such as 'there will never be an LGBT club' at Epiphany, l was responding heatedly to how the headmaster had gone about initiating this club."

One of the emails in question had included Sparks saying that "we've had gay students before" and that the previous headmaster "handled it quietly and wonderfully." Sparks said he meant that the headmaster "supported them in a straightforward, unambiguous way."

While leaving some of the quotes from his emails unaddressed, Sparks said he regrets failing "to be more unequivocal about my support for the students in question." The author in a previous statement had dismissed the Daily Beast article as "not news." Brendan Morrow

1:01 p.m.

Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi collapsed during a court hearing on Monday and later died, Egyptian state media reports.

Morsi, who once was a top member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was in a court hearing facing espionage charges when he collapsed, BBC reports via Egyptian state media. He soon died and his body was taken to a hospital, The Associated Press continues.

While appearing in court Monday, Morsi "was speaking before the judge for 20 minutes then became very animated and fainted," a judicial source tells Al Jazeera. "He was quickly rushed to the hospital where he later died," the source continued. AP and BBC, citing state TV, say Morsi died before he reached the hospital.

Morsi was Egypt's first democratically elected president, taking office in 2012 after the end of the Arab Spring uprising and President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. He served just a year of his 4-year term before a military coup unseated him, and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took his place. Morsi had been in jail ever since, along with several other Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The Islamist group was outlawed following Morsi's ouster, and he and its leaders were soon hit with a variety of charges and tried by the new military-backed government. Morsi was previously sentenced to death, but it was overturned in 2016. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:39 p.m.

The Supreme Court split in what The Washington Post called an "unusual alignment" on Monday to dismiss a challenge to a lower court's findings on a Virginia gerrymandering issue.

Virginia's House Republicans were attempting to fight a ruling that said some of Virginia's legislative districts were racially gerrymandered, but the Supreme Court ruled they had no legal standing to continue doing so in a 5-4 split.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion, backed up by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.

Ginsburg argued that the House Republicans don't represent all of Virginia. "One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process," she wrote.

The decision could give an advantage to Virginia's Democrats, the Post reports, as they look to take control of the state legislature for the first time since 1995. Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring has opted not to appeal the ruling. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

12:27 p.m.

Jon Stewart doesn't need his own show to continue lambasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — and McConnell now has a response.

Stewart last week delivered a fiery speech in a House Judiciary Committee hearing, urging Congress to permanently authorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. During the hearing, he blasted Congress for the hearing's low attendance, saying the sight of a "nearly empty Congress" is an "embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution," also saying that those who weren't there should be "ashamed of yourselves."

McConnell dismissed that complaint in a Fox & Friends interview on Monday. "That frequently happens because members have a lot of things going on at the same time," McConnell said. "It sounds to me like he's looking for some way to take offense."

The Senate majority leader also responded to an interview with Stewart on Sunday in which the former Daily Show host complained that McConnell has never dealt with this issue "compassionately" and has "always held out until the very last minute" and only moved on the issue after "intense lobbying and public shaming."

"Many things in Congress happen at the last minute," McConnell said in response, promising the issue will be addressed and wondering why Stewart is "so bent out of shape." If this public feud continues, it may not be long before Stewart begins dusting off the turtle comparisons. Brendan Morrow

11:59 a.m.

There's an actual chance Texas will go blue in 2020.

Half of registered Texas voters said they "definitely" or "probably" will not reelect President Trump next year, per a University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tribune poll published Monday. The other half answered that they "definitely" or "probably" will, lending more credence to Texas' designation as a 2020 swing state.

In the poll of 1,200 registered voters, a solid 39 percent said they definitely would vote to reelect Trump next year. But a greater portion, 43 percent, said they would definitely not. Another 11 percent said they would probably opt for Trump in 2020, while nine percent said they would probably not.

Much of that Trump fallout comes from independents, seeing as 45 percent said they will definitely not reelect Trump, per the UT/TT poll. Just 26 percent said they would definitely reelect him. Dissent is also strong among Democrats, with 85 percent saying they definitely won't vote for Trump. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Republicans say they definitely will reelect him.

Daron Shaw, professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll, was careful to point out that it didn't match up Trump with any "flesh-and-blood Democrat." But an April Emerson College poll and a June Quinnipiac University poll did just that, and they both showed former Vice President Joe Biden beating Trump. The Quinnipiac poll also put several other Democrats within a few points' striking distance of Trump.

UT surveyed 1,200 registered voters online from May 31 to June 9, with a margin of error of 2.83 percent. The Week Staff

11:58 a.m.

It's been a big week for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The presidential candidate is gaining momentum, even surpassing her good friend Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in some recent polls, putting her in second place behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries. The Trump re-election campaign is starting to take notice, as well, after dismissing her in the past.

A profile in The New York Times Magazine, pointed out how Warren's penchant for churning out detailed policy plans has helped her appeal to voters. The Times notes that Warren represents an interesting combination — she is, the piece suggests, both a policy wonk and a "force and a symbol." But as a longtime professor, her academic approach is something some voters say she needs to work on in order to create the right balance between those two personas. "It's like teaching class," said Warren, "'Is everybody in here getting this?'"

While Warren has shot up the polls, Biden and Sanders both perform better with non-college-educated white voters. David Axelrod, former President Barack Obama's chief strategist, said that while Warren's ideas may resonate with people, her approach could stand to change. "She's lecturing," Axelrod said. "There's a lot of resistance because people feel like she's talking down to them."

Lola Sewell, a community organizer in Selma, Alabama, agreed. "Maybe she could bring it down a level," Sewell said. "A lot of us aren't involved with Wall Street and those places." Warren, who has only been a politician since 2011, is aware of the issue. "That's what I just struggle with all the time," she said. "How do I do more of this in a way that lets people see it, hear it, and say, 'Oh yeah'." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

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