January 22, 2018

On Sunday, during his shutdown-exempted trip to the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence criticized Democrats for the partial government shutdown, telling U.S. service members they "shouldn't have to worry about getting paid" — which would happen if the shutdown lasts past Feb. 1 and Congress doesn't act. "Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay," Pence said, explicitly telling NBC News that "it was the Democrat leadership and vast majority of Democrats in the Senate that decided to say no to government funding."

On CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney noted that "traditionally every single time there's a shutdown, Congress has voted to go and pay [troops] retroactively, and we support that." On Saturday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of five Senate Democrats who voted for the stopgap spending bill (five Republicans voted against it), proposed paying the troops now, as Congress did in 2013; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked the measure.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army veteran who lost both legs in Iraq in 2004, reminded Republicans later on Saturday that they had shot down the military pay measure, asked them to reconsider, and noted that President Trump was attacking Democrats on Twitter as "holding our Military hostage." "I spent my entire adult life looking out for the well-being, the training, the equipping of the troops for whom I was responsible," Duckworth said. "Sadly, this is something the current occupant of the Oval Office does not seem to care to do — and I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger."

Duckworth even coined a nickname for Trump, "Cadet Bone Spurs," that sounds almost, well, Trumpian. Peter Weber

1:30 p.m.

It looks like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is beginning to distance himself from his good friend Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) policy-wise.

The two Democratic presidential candidates have always gotten along well and are generally ideological allies, especially relative to many of their primary competitors. But Sanders was pretty clear in an interview that aired on Sunday's edition of ABC's This Week that Warren has a ways to go before she's at the same point on the political spectrum.

Sanders praised Warren's tenure as a senator and reaffirmed their friendship, but he said "there are differences" in their platforms, namely the fact that Warren has maintained she is a capitalist "through her bones." He said the country doesn't need more regulation, but rather a "political revolution" and he believes he's the only candidate who will stand up to the corporate elite in the U.S. and say "enough." He said thar Warren would speak for herself on the matter, but, for the moment, Sanders, who considers himself a democratic socialist, thinks her adherence to capitalism is reason enough to separate them.

The initial analysis Sanders' comments seems to be that Sanders recognizes he's falling behind Warren in the race, and understands he focusing on where they differ might be his best chance at getting back in contention. Tim O'Donnell

1:04 p.m.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had some mixed reviews for the Trump administration Sunday.

During an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, Cruz told host Margaret Brennan that he believes it was inappropriate for President Trump to have asked the Chinese government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Cruz said "elections in the United States should be decided by Americans and it's not the business of foreign countries to be interfering in our elections."

He did, however, praise the administration for agreeing to release the transcript of Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump is accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens. And the senator wasn't ready to let the Bidens off the hook, either, saying that if there's "credible evidence" of wrongdoing, he would support a Justice Department probe. He also had some advice for Biden — Cruz urged him to follow in Trump's footsteps and release the transcript of his own conversations with Ukraine from when he was vice president, so that the American people can judge for themselves. Tim O'Donnell

12:34 p.m.

One game is already under way in the NFL, but there's a lot more to come. Here are four Week 6 games to keep an eye on:

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET on CBS — This matchup between two potential playoff teams could be an offensive explosion. Kansas City and Houston feature two of the game's top young playmakers in quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, respectively. Houston was clicking on all cylinders last week when they torched the Atlanta Falcons for 53 points behind a stellar Watson performance. Kansas City and Mahomes, meanwhiel, played their worst game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts last week.

Miami Dolphins vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET on Fox — Full disclosure: this is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Miami and Washington are probably two of the worst teams in the league this year, but one of them will have to win this one. It's also Washington's first game since firing head coach Jay Gruden earlier this week. In the long run, though, this is about the race for the number one pick.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET on Fox — Alright, back to quality football. After a rough start to the season, the Eagles look formidable again, but a road game in Minnesota remains a tall task. Minnesota has had an up and down season, but they're coming off a strong performance against a weak New York Giants team. This should be a good litmus test for two 3-2 teams aiming for division crowns.

Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox — This promises to be an exciting divisional game. The Rams have been a bit of disappointment this year, but knocking off the 49ers, who remain the only undefeated team not called the New England Patriots, would be a great way to shake off some of their post-Super Bowl rustiness. The Niners, meanwhile, just destroyed the Cleveland Browns last Monday and look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Tim O'Donnell

12:14 p.m.

It might not satisfy the Trump administration, but Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, said in a statement Sunday that he's stepping down from his position on the board of a Chinese-backed private equity form.

The decision comes after the Bidens became entagled in President Trump's Ukraine-related impeachment sags. Members of the Trump administration, namely the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, accused the Bidens of corruption related to Hunter's foreign business ties, including in Ukraine and China. Although there's no evidence that either Hunter or Joe Biden did anything illegal, it looks like they aren't going to take any risks going forward.

"Under a Biden administration, Hunter will readily comply with any and all guidelines or standards a President Biden may issue to address purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, including any restrictions related to overseas business interests," Hunter Biden's attorney, George Misers, said in the statement. "In any event, Hunter will agree to not serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign owned companies." Read more at The Washington Post and CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

10:51 a.m.

Hundreds of people with suspected links to the Islamic State reportedly escaped from a camp for displaced people near a U.S.-coalition base in northern Syria on Sunday amid a Turkish military offensive and a simultaneous U.S. troop withdrawal from the region, Syrian Kurdish officials said.

The camp is home to around 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of ISIS fighters and their children. The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said in a statement that more than 700 ISIS supporters escaped as clashes broke out between Turkey-backed Syrian fighters and Kurdish forces, though news sources were not immediately able to confirm that number. The remaining inhabitants of the camp are reportedly being evacuated by U.S. forces to another area, The Guardian reports.

U.S. troops stationed at bases to the west of the camp said they came under Turkish artillery fire Friday night, in what some suspect was a deliberate attempt to drive them away from the bulk of U.S. forces further east. Read more at The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:33 a.m.

Saturday Night Live lampooned CNN's Equality Town Hall during the most recent episode's cold open on Saturday evening, as cast members and a handful of special guests portrayed a few of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Poses's Billy Porter dropped by to introduce the candidates, beginning with Chris Redd's Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who ran off the stage without answering a question about a controversial op-ed he wrote in 1992. Colin Jost then took on the role of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who wasn't sure what do with his arms on stage. He was followed Kate McKinnon's Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who was spraying zingers at anti-LGBTQ people.

The final two candidates — former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and former Vice President Joe Biden — were portrayed by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda and Woody Harrelson, respectively. Miranda's Castro apologized for not being gay himself, while Harrelson's Biden had everyone bracing themselves for an inappropriate story. Watch the full clip below. Tim O'Donnell

7:53 a.m.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will reportedly testify to Congress next week that President Trump assured him he was not withholding military aid to Ukraine until Kyiv investigated former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, a personal familiar with Sondland's testimony said.

Sondland will reportedly say that a text message he wrote denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine came after he spoke with Trump, who told him there was no such thing. Sondland will reportedly tell Congress he is unsure as to why the aid was held up.

At the same, Sondland will reportedly testify that he has no knowledge as to whether Trump may have changed his mind on the matter at some point, though he did believe Trump at the time and reportedly relied on the president's words in "good faith" when he relayed the information to William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, who had expressed concern about the ethics of withholding aid.

"It's only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth," the person familiar with the planned testimony told The Washington Post, referring to Trump's assurances about the aid. "Whether he's deciding it's getting too hot to handle and he backs off whatever his position really was a month earlier, I don't know."

Sondland plans to testify Thursday. Read more at The Washington Post and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

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