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September 11, 2018

Russia is flexing its military muscles.

On Tuesday, Russia mobilized 300,000 troops in a military display, reports Reuters. The country also plans to include members of the Chinese army for joint drills.

The war games are the biggest since the Soviet Union fell in 1991, with the Russian defense minister saying they're unmatched since a 1981 exercise. The two nations are joining together near the Chinese border, with Moscow also "sending an unspoken reminder to Beijing" that it is able to defend its eastern region, Reuters notes. Armored military trucks, tanks, combat helicopters, aircraft, and warships took off toward the eastern border in the first stage of the week-long exercise, Russia's Ministry of Defense said.

Moscow wants to test its ability to deploy eastward into the less-populated areas of Russia, rehearsing various scenarios and ensuring troop coordination. China will join the exercise later this week, reports Reuters. The Kremlin likely invited China and Mongolia so that the two neighbors wouldn't see the games as a threat, experts say. Other analysts say the exercises, which are taking place during a meeting between the two nations' leaders, could be seen as a message to the U.S. that Moscow sees Beijing, not Washington, as an ally.

The exercises will likely be closely watched by Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. North Korea held its own military parade over the weekend, displaying its might but opting not to brandish ballistic missiles. President Trump wanted to hold a similar parade this fall, but canceled the plans last month. Read more at Reuters. Summer Meza

10:41 a.m.

Retail giant Walmart withdrew its support from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Tuesday morning in a tweeted response to actress Debra Messing. The company said it is requesting Hyde-Smith return all funds Walmart donated to her campaign.

Hyde-Smith finds herself in a competitive run-off after she said she'd "be on the front row" if a supporter invited her to "a public hanging." The senator has defended her remark as "an exaggerated expression of regard" with no negative meaning, but it has been widely linked to Mississippi's history of lynching.

Later, Hyde-Smith said making it difficult for "liberal folks" to vote sounded like a "great idea." Her campaign said it was a joke unconnected to the state's record of black voter suppression. Hyde-Smith's campaign rival is Democratic former congressman and agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who is black.

Walmart contributed $2,000 to Hyde-Smith's campaign on Nov. 18, after both comments became public. The runoff election is Nov. 27. Bonnie Kristian

10:18 a.m.

President Trump's daughter and senior White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, reportedly used her personal email account for government business last year — which wouldn't be such a big deal had her father not made endless political hay out of his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, doing the same thing.

But former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) argued on CNN Tuesday it's not the same at all.

"To ignore the obvious differences here is, I think, a little hypocritical," Santorum told host Chris Cuomo. "Hillary Clinton went out and established her own server in full knowledge that what she was doing was wrong." Trump used her personal email account after Clinton's actions had been analyzed and debated in detail for months on end.

Furthermore, Santorum continued, Clinton "was a political person who had political aspirations, who was doing things in her own interest as a political figure, as opposed to Ivanka, who is not a political figure, who is the daughter of the president, yet she was not the secretary of state dealing with a variety of very sensitive and classified information."

Trump is not paid for her White House work and does often on domestic policy, like the family leave Santorum mentioned, but she has accompanied her father on state visits abroad, held his seat at a G20 summit, and met with the United Nations secretary-general.

Watch Santorum's comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian

9:54 a.m.

Get ready for another contentious investigation into a government official's email use.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Tuesday called for "some kind of investigative effort" after The Washington Post reported that Ivanka Trump in 2017 used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business. Blumenthal told CNN that either the Office of Government Ethics or Congress itself should conduct an investigation into this matter because Trump "in a sense" has put herself "above the law." He also said "there's no way that she had no knowledge of the rules."

The report on Ivanka Trump's email use naturally drew comparisons to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was hammered during the 2016 election for her use of a private email server while at the State Department. Blumenthal agreed with this comparison and decried "hypocrisy," while Trump's lawyer says her situation is not like Clinton's because she didn't have a private server in her house and didn't send classified material, per CBS News' Mark Knoller.

But Trump's email use, which the Post reports violated federal records rules, is drawing criticism even from some past members of the administration, with former communications director Anthony Scaramucci calling it "hypocritical" and former legislative affairs director Marc Short saying it "certainly looks bad." Watch Blumenthal's comments below. Brendan Morrow

8:55 a.m.

Some Republicans are beginning to worry they may lose a Senate seat to Democrats — in Mississippi.

Voters in the state are set to participate in a runoff election on Nov. 27, as neither Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith nor Democratic challenger Mike Espy captured a majority in the midterm election. But Hyde-Smith has been mired in controversy in recent weeks, first for a remark about a "public hanging" and then for saying that making it difficult for liberals to vote sounded like a "great idea." Her campaign dismissed the former comment as an exaggeration and the latter as a joke.

After these gaffes, Republicans are reportedly "nervous" that Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to her seat earlier this year and is now running for a full term, could cost them a Senate seat, with one top party member in the state telling Talking Points Memo that the race "is definitely tighter than what it should be." Talking Points Memo also reports that some private polls show the race has tightened and Hyde-Smith is only up by a few points.

Democrats are engaging in a last-minute push to get out the vote, Politico reports, hoping to increase turnout, specifically among black voters. President Trump appears not to be taking Hyde-Smith's win for granted, as he plans to travel to the state for two rallies on Monday. Trump won Mississippi by 17 points in 2016.

If Espy, the former agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, were to actually defeat Hyde-Smith, he would be the first Democratic senator to represent the state in nearly three decades, and the first black senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction. The candidates will square off in a debate Tuesday night. One Republican told Talking Points Memo, "It's all about whether we can get through the debate without saying anything that makes it worse." Brendan Morrow

8:13 a.m.

The main U.S. stock indexes plunged on Monday, weighed down by negative news about Apple and Facebook.

Facebook shares fell by nearly 6 percent in continued fallout from a New York Times report on the social network's aggressive response to criticism over its handling of fake news and other efforts to influence public opinion. Apple shares fell by 5 percent after a Wall Street Journal report that disappointing sales had prompted the company to cut orders for its latest iPhones. Shares of Google-parent Alphabet also fell by 4 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down by 1.6 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 3 percent and the S&P 500 dropped by 1.7 percent. Stock futures fell further early Tuesday, Fox Business reports, suggesting more tech-fueled selling. Harold Maass

7:38 a.m.

President Trump's immigration agenda has just suffered a major legal setback — again.

Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco late Monday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Trump administration from denying the asylum claims of immigrants who cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally, The Washington Post reports. Trump had rolled out his plan days after the midterms in response to the caravan of migrants making their way to the United States from Central America.

The judge said Monday that Trump does not have the authority to "rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden." Whether a person arrives at a legal point of entry "should bear little, if any, weight in the asylum process," he said, as is reflected under current law. Additionally, the judge said the immigrants would be put at "increased risk of violence and other harms at the border" if Trump's ban went into effect, CNN reports.

This is just the latest legal setback the Trump administration has faced when it comes to immigration; an appeals court earlier this month also blocked Trump from ending DACA, the program that gives protections to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Judge Tigar's temporary restraining order will expire on Dec. 19, at which point another hearing will take place and a permanent order could be issued. Brendan Morrow

1:36 a.m.

The United States is contemplating placing Venezuela on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

In September, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and two other GOP senators sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a letter stating that Venezuela has ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, but did not offer any concrete evidence. They asked for Venezuela to be added to the list, which has four countries on it: North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

A U.S. official told Reuters those countries have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism," and for Venezuela to be added to the list, there has to be sufficient proof. Venezuela is experiencing food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation, and if the country ends up on the list, it could limit economic assistance from the United States. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said he is the victim of an "economic war" with the U.S. Catherine Garcia

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