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July 9, 2018

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defended Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Monday, claiming Jordan is "under attack" because he "threatens the elite." Jordan has come under criticism over his repeated denials of knowing anything about allegations of rampant sexual abuse by Ohio State University's team doctor when Jordan was serving as an assistant wrestling coach at the school.

President Trump has told reporters that he doesn't believe the wrestlers, who say they told Jordan about the abuse and that it was an open secret at the school. In a legal filing, one wrester claims the doctor sexually assaulted or raped "a minimum of 1,500/2,000 athletes at OSU from 1978 through 1998."

While many have observed that the wife of a Supreme Court justice is perhaps not the best positioned individual to be bashing "the elite," her husband also notably faced a sexual harassment scandal of his own during his confirmation hearings in 1991. Jeva Lange

10:01 a.m.

We regret to inform you that people actually like Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) newly formed beard.

The "universally despised" senator returned to Washington, D.C. after Thanksgiving sporting a patchy something that some people called a beard. Now, it's been a few weeks, Cruz's facial hair is for real, and the world is reacting in an absurdly positive manner.

When Cruz first cracked a smile surrounded by some hair last month, The Cut speculated it might be a celebration of #NoShaveNovember. But November has ended and regrettably, the beard has not. Cruz's Friday appearance on the Senate floor prompted Slate to say his beard "looks great" and makes him "semi-hot." And a Fox News appearance Wednesday led CNN's Andrew Kaczynski to tweet "If Ted Cruz had this beard in 2016 he would have won" the presidential election. Even Chrissy Teigen conceded in Cruz's favor.

While it's nowhere near the improvement that hipster glasses brought to Energy Secretary Rick Perry's face, even the harshest of skeptics must admit Cruz's beard does disrupt a face a neurologist described as naturally unlikeable. The bigger question is why Cruz sprouted a beard now, after winning his surprisingly challenging Senate race with Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas). Perhaps it's because the Texas GOP's reminder that O'Rourke once had a goatee famously backfired, and Cruz has been studying O'Rourke's face on plane rides ever since. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:52 a.m.

After her Oval Office meeting with President Trump, CNN's Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo were in agreement: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nailed it.

Lemon and Cuomo spoke on Tuesday night after Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sat down in meeting with President Trump and argued in front of cameras about border funding, with Pelosi later calling the wall a "manhood thing" for Trump. Lemon was absolutely effusive in his praise. "Just objectively speaking," he says he thought while watching it, "oh my gosh, Nancy Pelosi is a boss," per Mediaite.

Lemon went on to say that Pelosi handled herself "amazingly" and that Democrats are likely thanking God for her leadership. He also said that by trying to dismiss the cameras, Pelosi had been trying to save Trump "the embarrassment" of telling him he doesn't know what he's talking about on television. Cuomo, meanwhile, agreed, arguing that Pelosi "really held her own" against Trump and applauding her for not being "too nasty," adding that Trump "got NanChucked by the two of them."

Responding to conservative media, Lemon also said that "no matter how much they spin it, I'm telling you, [Trump] got outflanked today." But Lemon may be surprised to learn that even Fox News' Brian Kilmeade kind of agreed with him, saying on Fox & Friends on Wednesday that Pelosi had the "same brawling tactics" as Trump but had a "better way of doing it." Brendan Morrow

9:20 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was grilled Wednesday morning about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — on Fox & Friends, of all places.

Pompeo repeatedly dodged questions about the murder of the Washington Post columnist by Saudi officials, which the CIA has reportedly concluded was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Trump administration, however, has insisted there is no "direct evidence" tying bin Salman to the murder. Pompeo repeated that assertion on Wednesday morning while noting that Saudi Arabia is an "important ally," per Mediaite.

But host Brian Kilmeade wasn't satisfied with that explanation, telling Pompeo that the Saudis are the ones who have damaged the relationship with the U.S. and that even people like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are convinced bin Salman was involved. "We know the prince knows, right?" Kilmeade asked. "You know that he knows." Pompeo didn't really answer, so Kilmeade followed up with, "When you looked him in the eye and he denied it, did you believe him?" Pompeo again wouldn't answer, instead saying, "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who's running the country."

Host Ainsley Earhardt challenged Pompeo again by bringing up the CIA's conclusion, to which he responded that some of that reporting is inaccurate. But when the hosts followed up to ask if he means the reporting about the CIA's conclusion is inaccurate, he wouldn't directly answer that, either. "They're still working on it," he said. Watch Fox & Friends' confrontation with Pompeo below. Brendan Morrow

8:32 a.m.

Outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley swears that when it comes to foreign policy, Trump's unpredictable nature is a feature, not a bug.

Haley spoke with Today on Wednesday morning as she prepares to exit the Trump administration after two years on the job. She told NBC's Craig Melvin that there were scenarios in which the president's bombastic rhetoric actually helped her maneuver behind-the-scenes.

"He would ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I'd go back to the ambassadors and say, 'You know, he's pretty upset. I can't promise you what he's going to do or not, but I can tell you if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far,'" she said.

When Melvin observed that it sounded like they were playing good cop, bad cop, Haley simply said she was "trying to get the job done." She went on to say, "I got the job done by being truthful, but also by letting him be unpredictable and not showing our cards."

This is the first interview Haley has given since announcing her departure from the administration, and while her October announcement set off a firestorm of speculation about her eying a possible White House bid, she swore to Today that she and her husband have "never talked" about the possibility of her running for president. Watch Haley's interview with Today below. Brendan Morrow

8:23 a.m.

The few people who actually want to become the next White House chief of staff may need to go through the president's daughter and son-in-law first.

Politico reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are playing a major role in President Trump's chief of staff search; they're looking for a "political ally" and are "using their unrivaled influence to ensure they get one," the report states, noting that the process is being "carefully regulated" by the president's family.

Trump's daughter and son-in-law are so crucial in this decision, in fact, that their disapproval of some candidates makes their hiring seem unlikely. According to Politico, this includes David Bossie, Trump's former deputy campaign manager who he specifically cited as a potential candidate in a Tuesday interview with Reuters. A former White House official told Politico that Ivanka Trump and Kushner have to "sign off" on the pick, also noting that Chief of Staff John Kelly was one of their last political rivals in the White House.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Kushner is reaching out to candidates about the job, as is Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff who himself declined the role and was reportedly Trump's only real choice; he was also Ivanka Trump and Kushner's preferred choice. Kelly, however, is "not playing a role" in finding his successor. Brendan Morrow

7:59 a.m.

While President Trump sparred with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over funding his proposed border wall on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence sat there silently for the entire 17 minutes, occasionally nodding or blinking. His stoicism amid the new onslaught of divided government did not go unnoticed online or on late-night television. The Daily Show's Trevor Noah compared him to "a guy whose edibles just kicked in," imagining him daydreaming about handmaids.

Stephen Colbert's Late Show imagined a longer internal monologue, with Pence meditating in a strange drawl: "I'm a manila envelope taped to a beige wall. No one can see me."

The Washington Post rounded up some other late-night quips about Pence.

Social media had a ball, too, comparing Pence to an Elf on the Shelf and an armadillo, giving his blank face a soundtrack, and imagining him silently plotting, patiently suffering the end of Trump's presidency so he could change the Oval Office carpet. You can watch CNN's Jeanne Moos wrap-up some of this fantasia below. Peter Weber

7:04 a.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) got all the snappy one-liners after her contentious meeting Tuesday with President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), but Trump was "mostly aggravated with Schumer," a White House staffer told Los Angeles Times reporter Eli Stokols, frustrated that Schumer kept mugging to the cameras Trump had called in at the last minute. An administration official told Stokols that after the meeting, Trump stormed into a side office and flicked a briefing folder, scattering paper around the room.

Trump told reporters "it was a very good meeting," and he didn't regret taking ownership of any government shutdown, but a staffer told the L.A. Times that after Schumer and Pelosi left, the West Wing sprang into "damage-control mode," adding, "The aftermath of that meeting was not pretty."

There were differing accounts of the closed-door portion of the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi meeting — sources told The New York Times that Trump suggested the next Congress could be the "greatest Congress in the history of Congress," filled with deal-making; The Washington Post says Trump tried to convince the Democrats that Mexico actually will pay for the wall through higher prices under his NAFTA replacement agreement; and a staffer told the L.A. Times that very little of substance happened because "once the president has been aggravated to that level, there's no coming back from that and re-focusing."

Regardless, "several White House advisers and GOP congressional aides said they believed Trump damaged himself by agreeing to own a possible shutdown and so vividly saying he would not blame it on Schumer," the Post reports. "For months, Trump's aides have told him he is unlikely to get $5 billion for the border wall in December, but he wants to show his supporters that he is fighting for the funding." Winning, perhaps, is optional. Peter Weber

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