July 24, 2018

Democrats' dreams of winning the House this November are inching closer to reality.

Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan analyst group at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, tilted 17 House races toward Democrats on Tuesday. Democrats now have an advantage this November — the first time this election cycle that Crystal Ball put either party in the lead.

Most of those 17 spots probably won't end up going to Democrats, Crystal Ball shows. Five have moved from "safe Republican" to "likely Republican" seats, and three moved from "likely Republican" to "leans Republican." But eight formerly Republican-leaning districts are now a toss-up. And in Florida's 13th District, Democratic incumbent and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's seat has been deemed "safe."

Up until this point, Crystal Ball has given both parties a 50-50 chance of controlling the House, but these switches give Democrats a slight advantage. It's especially notable because Crystal Ball projections tend to favor conservatives, Axios says.

One notable switch to watch is in Ohio's 12th District, where a seat vacated by a Republican is up for grabs in an Aug. 7 special election. Crystal Ball moved the race into toss-up territory, and Cook Political Report also labels the race a toss-up.

Check out which races made a move at Sabato's Crystal Ball. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:32 p.m.

It's still a little unclear exactly where Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) stands on Medicare-for-all.

At a fundraiser in the Hamptons this weekend, Harris told a crowd of wealthy donors that she isn't "comfortable" with the health care plan espoused by her Democratic presidential primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), which Harris once co-sponsored. She did maintain, however, that she is still supportive of Medicare-for-all at large, adding a little more confusion to her policy position.

"I think almost every member of the United States Senate who's running for president and many others, have signed on to a variety of plans in the Senate," she reportedly said at the fundraiser. "And I have done the same. [A]ll of them are good ideas, which is why I support them. And I support for Medicare-for-all. But as you may have noticed, over the course, I've not been comfortable with Bernie's plan, the Medicare-for-all plan."

As recently as April of this year, Harris' office sent a press release saying she had joined Sanders in introducing the Medicare-for-All Act of 2019. So, considering the audience Harris had over the weekend, it might have seemed as if she was backtracking as a result of "political convenience," but her campaign assured The Daily Beast that she reached her current conclusion after having worked on the issue more. Harris does have her own formal health care plan now which aims to phase in Medicare-for-all over the course of a decade and seeks to avoid middle-class tax hikes as a method for funding.

Sanders, though, doesn't seem to be taking too kindly to reports of Harris' remarks. Tim O'Donnell

3:31 p.m.

Twitter on Monday announced it has suspended nearly 1,000 accounts after discovering a "state-backed" campaign to "sow political discord" in Hong Kong, with Facebook finding similar behavior on its platform as well.

Twitter said that 936 accounts originating in the People's Republic of China were "deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground." The platform goes on to say that it has "reliable evidence" that this was part of a "coordinated state-backed" operation.

"Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service," Twitter says in its announcement. An example tweet associated with this alleged state-back campaign calls the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong "violent" and "radical." About 200,000 accounts were "proactively" suspended before being "substantially active," Twitter also said.

At the same time, Facebook on Monday also said that it was removing multiple pages, groups, and accounts that were engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" and posting about the Hong Kong protests, and like Twitter, it said that that "our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government." Facebook discovered these fake accounts "based on a tip shared by Twitter," according to the announcement.

BuzzFeed News had previously reported on Monday that Chinese state-run media outlets have been buying ads on both platforms painting the protesters as the "public enemy." Twitter is now updating its policies and will no longer accept advertising from state-controlled news media. Brendan Morrow

3:20 p.m.

No surprises here.

Clemson University, college football's defending champions, will roll into the 2019 season as the nation's no. 1 ranked team, as revealed by The Associated Press preseason Top 25. It's the first time the school has ever opened the season in the top spot, but the fact that it happened this year is anything but a shocker. The loaded Tigers are led by head coach Dabo Swinney, who has turned the once-solid program into a dominant force, and sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who became the first freshman signal caller to helm the offense of a title-winning team in more than three decades last season.

The University of Alabama, whom Clemson defeated 44-16 in the College Football Playoff championship last year and serves as a constant presence at the top of the college football world, follows suit at no. 2 in the poll. The Crimson Tide have flip-flopped with Clemson over the last four years, with the Tigers winning the national title in 2016 and 2018, and the Tide taking the crown in 2015 and 2017. They played each other every year in the College Football Playoff during that stretch, including three times in the title game. It looks like they'll have a decent shot to make that happen again this season.

University of Georgia, Oklahoma University, and The Ohio State University round out the top five of the preseason poll, in order. Tim O'Donnell

2:37 p.m.

Michael Bennet, the nation turns its lonely eyes to you. At least, the Des Moines Register wants it to.

Iowa's largest paper published a flattering editorial centered around the Democratic senator from Colorado, who's running an under-the-radar presidential campaign, after he sat down with the paper for an interview.

The Register did not endorse Bennet, but the paper implored Iowa caucusgoers to give him more attention, arguing that he "offers a much-needed reality check on the promises candidates are offering and what it will take to accomplish meaningful change." One of the editorial board members called Bennet a "truth-teller" who doesn't "mince words about why everything is screwed up."

The editorial board did, however, acknowledge that Bennet "spends far more time talking about the problems than how he would solve them as president," but overall their impression appears to be positive.

CNN's Chris Cillizza, apparently, sees their point.

The recommendation feels like a nice bonus for Bennet, but his campaign is lagging and he has yet to qualify for the September debate, which could make it difficult for him to raise his profile. Even still, he might not bow out of the race, which could give Iowans some more time to consider him in February. Tim O'Donnell

2:27 p.m.

The fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives now supports opening an impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the assistant speaker of the House, on Monday announced he is in favor of "moving forward" with an impeachment inquiry, in a statement saying, "This is not a position I've reached lightly."

Luján went on to say that he was "alarmed" that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report stated that President Trump's campaign welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as the report's outlining of instances of potential obstruction. Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and made no determination about whether Trump criminally obstructed justice.

Luján is currently running for Senate to replace Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Politico's Burgess Everett notes that he had been facing criticism in his Democratic primary on the issue of impeachment. Luján is the highest-ranking Democrat in the House to back an impeachment inquiry, Politico reports, and the 127th House Democrat to do so.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has continuously resisted calls for an impeachment inquiry, saying in July, "We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed — not one day sooner," NBC News reports. Even so, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said that an impeachment inquiry is "in effect" already ongoing. Brendan Morrow

1:51 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday removed the Federal Bureau of Prisons' acting director a week after saying he was "appalled" and "angry" over the death of Jeffrey Epstein.

Hugh Hurwitz has been reassigned after taking over as the acting director of prisons in May 2018, reports The Associated Press. Barr did not mention the Epstein case in his announcement, in which he thanked Hurwitz for his "dedication and service." Kathleen Hawk Sawyer is to take over Hurwitz's position, which she previously held from 1992 through 2003.

This comes after Epstein, the convicted sex offender who was facing federal sex trafficking charges, was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 10, with reports later emerging that he was not checked on for hours prior to his death and that two guards fell asleep on the job and falsified paperwork. The warden of the jail was later reassigned, with the guards being placed on leave. "Additional actions may be taken as the circumstances warrant," the Justice Department said last week. An autopsy has since confirmed that Epstein died by suicide.

Barr in a speech following Epstein's death blasted the "serious irregularities" at the prison, saying they are "deeply concerning" and "demand a thorough investigation." Brendan Morrow

1:29 p.m.

Virtual reality could be the drug-free pain medicine of the future.

A study published this month in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the effectiveness of VR intervention on hospital patients experiencing pain, and found that the technology had "benefits across conditions."

Tom Norris, a 70-year-old Los Angeles resident with chronic pain throughout his body, told NPR that when he uses his VR headset, he gets a "strong feeling of pleasure, relaxation and peace." His attention is diverted, making his pain manageable.

The study analyzed 61 patients in a VR group, who were given a library of 21 different VR experiences, ranging from a guided relaxation to playing basketball to an animated Rube Goldberg machine. The 59-person control group watched television programming centered on health and wellness. Results showed that 65 percent of the VR patients had a clinically significant pain response, compared to 40 percent of the control group.

VR is being analyzed for more targeted types of pain as well: A hospital in Wales is testing the effects on reducing labor pain, reports BBC.

The study in PLOS ONE received some funding from a VR software company, but they played no role in the study, lead author Brennan Spiegel told NPR.

The authors of the study noted that they aren't sure how VR reduces pain, but distraction is a possibility: "By overwhelming the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses, VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the brain from processing pain." Read more at NPR. Taylor Watson

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