February 18, 2018

President Trump on Twitter Sunday denied questioning whether Russia attempted to meddle in the 2016 election:

The president was referring to comments he made in the first general election debate saying interference efforts "could be Russia. But it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?"

However, Trump also said in November of 2017 he is convinced by Russian President Vladimir Putin's denial of election interference. "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump said of Putin, "and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it."

In other tweets Saturday and Sunday, Trump complained about press coverage of Friday's indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. He also argued it was Moscow's goal "to create discord, disruption, and chaos within the U.S.," and he pushed back on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's Saturday remark that evidence of Russian meddling "is now incontrovertible."

One Sunday tweet on the subject ended on a plaintive note: "But," Trump asked, "wasn't I a great candidate?" Bonnie Kristian

12:50 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial appears on track to begin within days, with an article of impeachment against him headed to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to transmit an article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement of insurrection to the Senate on Monday, and Pelosi subsequently confirmed this timing.

"Make no mistake: a trial will be held in the United States Senate, and there will be a vote on whether to convict," Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested the trial should be delayed until the middle of February, adding that Trump deserves a "full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense," NBC News reports. But Axios notes that "the Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is transmitted." The trial would, therefore, be set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 26, though as Politico writes, this is assuming Schumer and McConnell don't "agree to a different timetable" before then.

The House impeached Trump again for "incitement of insurrection" after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building in a deadly riot. His forthcoming second impeachment trial will be the first to ever take place against a former president. Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

Some members of the National Guard stationed near the Capitol after Inauguration Day were forced to use a parking garage for a rest area last night, and it's unclear who is to blame.

Politico first reported that the soldiers were pushed out from the Capitol and congressional office buildings Thursday night, with one Guard member saying they were told to set up new command centers outside or in hotels. Breaks after Guard members completed their 12-hour shifts were supposed to be taken outside or in a nearby parking garage, another member said. Photos soon showed dozens of troops huddled in the garage.

The incident prompted outrage and finger pointing from both lawmakers on sides of the aisle. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) his scapegoats, while Schumer promised he would "get to the bottom of this." By Friday morning, the troops were allowed back into the Capitol.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) implied in a Thursday tweet that the Capitol Police were the ones who'd ordered the Guard out of the Capitol, and the D.C. National Guard confirmed to Military Times in a statement that the police had made the call. But two soldiers told Military Times that the police shouldn't be blamed. "I hate that senators are blaming this on the Capitol Police,” one said, recounting how the force has done "nothing but act like coworkers to us." Another Guard soldier said it's the senators who "keep increasing the Guard force and decreasing the space we are allowed to rest in."

State governors are the commanders in chief of their individual Guard forces. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered his Guard members home Friday morning after the incident. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:07 p.m.

Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron — thought by many to be Major League Baseball's "legitimate" home-run king — has died at 86, his daughter said on Friday. Aaron, who played from 1954 to 1976, mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, finished his career with 755 home runs — a record that stood until 2006, when he was surpassed by the steroid-assisted Barry Bonds.

Aaron still holds major-league records for RBI, extra-base hits, and total bases, and won his lone MVP award in leading Milwaukee to the 1957 World Series title. But Aaron is also revered for his fortitude in facing down racism as he chased Babe Ruth's career home run record in the early 1970's. "When people finally realized I was climbing up Ruth's back, the 'Dear N----r' letters started showing up with alarming regularity," he wrote in his 1991 memoir. "There's no way to measure the effect those letters had on me, but I like to think every one of them added another home run to my total." The Associated Press reports Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. Jacob Lambert

11:09 a.m.

Vaccinated health care workers are headed to next month's Super Bowl.

The National Football League said Friday it will allow a total of 22,000 fans to attend Super Bowl LV, which will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, CNN reports. The league said it made this decision following "discussions with public health officials, including the CDC, the Florida Department of Health, and area hospitals and health care systems."

Approximately 7,500 health care workers who have received their COVID-19 vaccine are scoring free tickets to the game from the NFL. The league posted a video Friday showing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sharing the news with one group of health care workers.

"We can't thank you enough, and we hope this program will be a small way to celebrate you, honor you, and most importantly, thank you," Goodell says in the video.

The NFL says health officials have "reviewed and provided feedback on the NFL's comprehensive plans that will enable the league to host fans and the vaccinated health care workers in a safe and responsible way," and it plans to "enhance the already rigorous COVID-19 protocols" it has been using, including mandating mask-wearing. The Raymond James Stadium "has a capacity of around 65,000," the "plan is that for each pod of non-vaccinated fans, a group of vaccinated health care workers would be seated in the row behind, staggered to the side, throughout the stadium," The Washington Post writes.

Super Bowl LV is scheduled for Feb. 7. Brendan Morrow

10:29 a.m.

House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is facing an internal resistance after splitting from her party on former President Donald Trump's impeachment.

Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, was one of only a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the Capitol riot. More than a majority of GOP House members have since indicated they'd support ousting Cheney from her leadership spot, while at least two other Republicans have lined up to replace her, Politico reports.

At least 107 House members — more than half the caucus — privately support removing Cheney from power, multiple GOP sources involved in the effort told Politico. Meanwhile New York Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, who defended Trump during both of his impeachments, are reportedly looking to replace her.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have said they don't intend to remove Cheney. But McCarthy also echoed Republicans' reported anger that Cheney voiced her support of impeachment the day before the House vote, giving Democrats time to use her views in their own arguments. "Questions need to be answered," such as the "style in which things were delivered," McCarthy told reporters Thursday.

Many other Republicans, including some who voted against impeachment, meanwhile don't want Cheney removed just for "vot[ing] her conscience," as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) put it. Others argue removing Cheney would fly in the face of the party's unification message in the post-Trump era — something Cheney herself is trying to counter by making "making calls to all corners of the conference to hear lawmakers out," Politico reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:57 a.m.

After admitting to feeling "uncomfortable" about unscientific statements made under former President Donald Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci says a lack of candor and facts during the previous administration "likely" cost lives in the pandemic.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Biden, spoke with CNN on Friday after pledging in a White House briefing that the new administration will make all of its decisions on the pandemic "based on science and evidence." He implied this is a change from Trump's administration, and when CNN host John Berman asked if a previous "lack of candor" and "lack of facts" in 2020 cost lives, Fauci said he believes so.

"It very likely did," Fauci said. "I don't want that, John, to be a sound bite, but I think if you just look at that, you can see that when you're starting to go down paths that are not based on any science at all, and we've been there before — I don't want to rehash it — that is not helpful at all."

At Thursday's White House briefing, Fauci said it's a "liberating feeling" to be able to now "let the science speak" without "repercussions" under the new president. He also said he felt "uncomfortable" by certain baseless assertions that were made about COVID-19 during the previous administration. In addition to sometimes contradicting Trump himself, Fauci was known to clash with controversial former COVID-19 adviser Scott Atlas.

"It was very clear that there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact," Fauci said at the briefing. Brendan Morrow

9:10 a.m.

Fifteen minutes after President Biden was sworn in Wednesday, the Vatican released the text of the warm congratulatory telegram Pope Francis had sent the second Catholic U.S. president, after John F. Kennedy. Such telegrams are traditional for the pope — he sent one to former President Donald Trump at his inauguration, too. But Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), also published a letter to Biden, and it was less warm and evidently unprecedented.

"By Wednesday afternoon, a flurry of statements from some bishops seemed to take sides between the USCCB statement from Archbishop Gomez and the pope's statement," the Jesuit magazine America reported.

Gomez, in his letter, insisted that "Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation's politics," but said he felt obliged to "point out that our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender," but also "the liberty of the church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences."

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, a key U.S. ally of Pope Francis, issued a rare public rebuke of a fellow bishop, saying the USCCB's "ill-considered statement" for Biden's inauguration "came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released," and bypassed the "collegial consultation" process normally used for "statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops." He added that the USCCB must address this "internal institutional failure."

The Vatican was also reportedly displeased with Gomez's letter. A senior Vatican official told America the statement was "most unfortunate" and could "create even greater divisions within the church in the United States."

The odd thing about Gomez's "tone deaf" and "churlish statement," Michael Sean Winters argues in a National Catholic Reporter column, is that Biden had "the most Catholic inauguration in history." A priest gave the invocation, Lady Gaga and poet Amanda Gorman — both Catholic — stole the show, and Biden, who started the day at mass, gave an inaugural address that "was a better articulation of Catholic ideas about governance than any recent document from the conference," Winters said. "And Biden quoted St. Augustine!"

Read the pope's message to Biden, Gomez's letter, and Winters' critique. Peter Weber

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