June 21, 2018

In a deep-red congressional district like Texas' 31st, Democrats would need a miracle to beat longtime Republican incumbents. The first ad from Air Force veteran and Purple Heart recipient MJ Hegar seems up to the challenge.

Hegar is running as a Democrat against incumbent GOP Rep. John Carter this fall, and she uses her life story to break the mold of a traditional campaign ad. The video is deeply personal, chronicling Hegar's childhood dreams of being a pilot, her harrowing three tours in Afghanistan, her fight against discrimination once she left the military, and all the doors she had to break down on the way. She even name-checks Carter — who apparently turned down a meeting with her during her anti-discrimination fight because she wasn't a donor.

It's an inspiring story, and Hegar's qualifications likely have Democrats thrilled. But the district, which covers northern Austin and its suburbs, is strongly Republican; the GOP has a 10-point advantage there, per The Cook Political Report. Still, the day Hegar's ad dropped, Cook shifted Texas' 31st District from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican" — and cracked the door a little bit wider for Hegar. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:32 p.m.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is a little nervous that President Trump soon might feel untouchable.

Coons on Sunday appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, where he voiced to host Chuck Todd a major concern he has about the House's decision to move forward and vote on two articles of impeachment next week.

The senator made it clear that he agrees with House Democrats that what Trump has been accused of (inviting a foreign nation to interfere in domestic elections) is worthy of impeachment, and that there is proper evidence to support the allegation. But he is also wary of what might come after a likely acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate. Coons think it's possible that letting Trump off the hook will only encourage him to keep pushing the limits going forward.

In other words, be careful what you wish for. Tim O'Donnell

1:15 p.m.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on the FBI's 2016 investigation into Russian election interference was a popular topic on Sunday.

House Intelligence Committee Chair (D-Calif.) Adam Schiff said Sunday he understands the report revealed things he wasn't aware of two years ago. And while he agrees with Horowitz's conclusion that the investigation's numerous mishaps signaled the FISA process needed "significant" changes, he still defended the origins of the probe.

Schiff told Chris Wallace on Sunday during an appearance on Fox News Sunday that Horowitz "debunked" Trump's claims that the investigation was political in nature and that the bureau was spying on his campaign staffers.

Former FBI Director James Comey also spoke with Wallace, admitting he was "overconfident" in the agency's procedures, and slightly walked back some comments he made about the report vindicated the FBI. But — like Schiff — he maintained the report proved the probe wasn't tainted from the start.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), meanwhile, was more critical of the FBI during an appearance on CNN's State of the Union. The former CIA officer isn't sure why more people aren't upset about what the inspector general's report revealed. Tim O'Donnell

12:32 p.m.

The Tennessee Titans — yes, you heard that right — are the hottest team in football that doesn't employ Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Despite a 2-4 start to the season, the team has a shot to establish itself as the team to beat in the AFC South with a win over their division rival, the Houston Texans on Sunday. But it may be time to start wondering if the Titans have the legs to make an even deeper run come January as they seek their fifth straight victory.

First off, though, the Texans should not be taken lightly (The Ringer pegged this game as "the best football of the day.") Sure, Houston is coming off a surprising blowout loss to the out-of-contention Denver Broncos, but they're just two weeks removed from handling the New England Patriots, and sit atop the division alongside Tennessee at 8-5. So the Titans have a long way to go before they start thinking about the postseason.

But a win might prove that the performances during the win-streak from Tennessee's entire roster and especially quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose insertion into the starting lineup was the spark the team needed, haven't been flukes. Like a few other playoff contenders, the Titans haven't beaten too many teams of note this year. But in recent weeks they did knock off the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs, as well as the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders both of whom not too long ago looked like they could sneak into the postseason. This team, it seems, is for real, and it might be time to pay attention. The Titans and Texans will square off at 1 p.m. E.T. on CBS. Tim O'Donnell

12:01 p.m.

Most Democratic voters in Super Tuesday states don't want to do any dreaming this election. Instead they want some a candidate with some old-fashioned practicality, a new CBS News/YouGov poll shows.

Among the Democrats, or Democrat-leaning, voters polled, 59 percent said they prefer a practical nominee compared to just 19 percent who said they want a realistic. That's apparently a good thing for former Vice President Joe Biden who led among those surveyed who prefer a practical candidate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the favorite among the idealistic crowd, while the other top contender at the moment, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held steady in both groups.

Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers are pretty consistent across demographics. Men and women prefer practicality at the same rate, as do millennials and baby boomers. And those who consider themselves to be more liberal in ideology are actually more in favor of practicality than conservative-leaning Democratic voters, who appreciate idealism at a higher clip. Black voters have one of the lowest rates favoring practicality at just 44 percent, but there's not much variation when it comes to idealism, which hovers at 22 percent. The difference, therefore, comes from the 34 percent who aren't sure which they prefer.

The CBS Survey was conducted by YouGov between Dec. 3 and Dec. 11. The sample includes 10,379 self-identified Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters in 14 states expected to hold primaries on Super Tuesday. The margin of error is 1.3 percentage points. Read the full results here. Tim O'Donnell

10:32 a.m.

Welcome to the new Cold War.

For the first time in more than 30 years, the United States secretly expelled two Chinese embassy officials on suspicion of espionage after they drove on to a sensitive military base in Norfolk, Virginia, in September, The New York Times reports. The State Department declined to comment and the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese Embassy didn't reply to requests for comment, but six people with knowledge of the expulsions spoke to the Times about the incident.

The officials, who were with their wives, were reportedly told to go through the gate and turn around after they were denied access at the base's checkpoint, but they continued driving before being stopped. The officials reportedly said they didn't understand the English instructions and got lost, but American officials reportedly believe at least one of the officials was a Chinese intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover.

The Trump administration reportedly fears China is ramping up its espionage in the U.S. as economic and geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing continue to simmer. The Times notes that so far China hasn't retaliated by expelling American diplomats or intelligence officers from Beijing, so it's possible the government understands the officials overstepped their boundaries in this case. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

7:56 a.m.

NBC's Saturday Night Live gave viewers a possible preview of their own upcoming holiday season family dinners during last night's cold open.

Three families in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Charleston, South Carolina, discussed President Trump's impeachment. The San Francisco family, led by Cecily Strong, was excited by the House moving forward with a vote, while Beck Bennett's more conservative Charleston family expressed dismay. Kenan Thompson, meanwhile, probably spoke for millions when he tried to steer his family away from impeachment and discuss the upcoming film Bad Boys for Life, instead.

As The New York Times pointed out, it was a rare cold open that relied solely on SNL's cast members, rather than attempting to wow its audience with a celebrity cameo. But the skit wasn't lacking surprise, as Kate McKinnon appeared at the end as climate activist Greta Thunberg with some dour news about the future of the planet. Watch the full clip below. Tim O'Donnell

7:30 a.m.

The Trump administration is expected to announce the withdrawal of around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, multiple current and former U.S. officials said. The drawdown — which would reportedly be done in phases over a few months — would ultimately leave between 8,000 and 9,000 U.S. forces in place.

The intended announcement is reportedly part of Washington's negotiations with the Taliban in the hopes that the 18-year conflict in the country will finally wind down, one former defense official told NBC News. The withdrawal is viewed as a concession that could possibly sway the Taliban to promise a cease-fire in return, while still leaving enough troops in the country in case things go sour once again.

"This takes us to the minimum that you have to keep in the country to remain credible negotiating with the Taliban," the former defense official said.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad just rejoined talks with the Taliban this week after they broke down in September; he said Washington will take a "brief pause" from the discussions after the Taliban launched a deadly attack Wednesday near Bagram airfield, but it sounds as if the negotiations will eventually continue.

President Trump has been pushing for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan for some time. The announcement could come as early as next week, but officials said the timing is not set. Read more at NBC News and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

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