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January 8, 2019

Despite some misgivings, the major American TV networks — NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox — are broadcasting President Trump's prime-time Oval Office address on what he's calling a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump is expected to make his case for declaring a national emergency that could allow him to start building his border wall, despite constitutional concerns. There's also trepidation he will repeat falsehoods he and his aides have been telling. "My network will be carrying Trump's Wall speech live," Stephen Colbert joked. "So at 9 p.m. Tuesday, tune into CBS to See B.S."

In November 2014, President Barack Obama asked the networks to broadcast his own prime-time immigration speech from the White House, focusing on what would become the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The networks said no, though some individual affiliates did carry Obama's speech live. Obama was butting into sweeps week, but also "there was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political," a network insider told Politico at the time. "The White House has tried to make a comparison to a time that all the networks carried President Bush in prime time [in 2006], also related to immigration. But that was a bipartisan announcement, and this is an overtly political move by the White House."

"This turnabout where George W. Bush gets free airtime to promote his immigration idea but then Obama doesn't get free airtime for his ideas because it's 'overtly political,' and then Trump gets free airtime for an overtly political message on immigration, is striking," Matthew Yglesias says at Vox. "It's particularly striking because, in this case, this mismatch is partisan rather than ideological — Bush and Obama had broadly similar approaches to immigration while Trump has a different one." In 2014, The Washington Post's Jaime Fuller suggested that relatively few people would've watched Obama's address even if it were broadcast on all the networks. The same may be true of Trump's speech. Peter Weber

7:01 p.m.

The Trump administration wants to do away with the Office of Personnel Management, and will furlough 150 workers if Congress tries to intervene, The Washington Post reports.

The agency manages the government's civilian workforce. The Trump administration says it is a troubled department that needs to be dismantled, and wants Congress to kill the department by June 30. An internal briefing document obtained by the Post shows that if Congress balks, employees will be sent home without pay on Oct. 1, and after 30 days, could be laid off. More than 5,500 people work in the department, and the Post reports that dozens of workers have retired or quit in recent months because they're not sure what will happen come October.

The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, released a report this week concluding that if the agency is shuttered, it would increase, not ease, a retirement claims backlog. The Trump administration wants to divide the agency among three other departments, and acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert told the Post "a legislative solution would be the most straightforward answer, but we've made it very clear we can't wait without action." Weichert, three officials told the Post, has told staffers that she is "planning to play chicken with Congress." Catherine Garcia

5:45 p.m.

There appeared to be progress on multiple fronts to avoid a military confrontation with Iran on Wednesday, but the Trump administration's plan remains unclear.

House Democrats voted to pass a $1 trillion appropriations bill, which includes a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only member of Congress to vote against AUMF in 2001, added the repeal last month.

However, no Republicans voted for the bill and it appears unlikely it will get past the Senate.

The AUMF was passed days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, granting the president authority to use military force against those responsible for the attacks and those who harbored them, generally considered to be al Qaeda and Afghanistan, respectively.

But lawmakers recently raised concerns that the Trump administration was potentially prepared to invoke AUMF to launch a war with Iran, after statements by officials tying Iran to al Qaeda, which raised skepticism in Congress.

On the other hand, President Trump is reportedly less hawkish on Iran than his advisers and he has privately pushed them to ease up their talk. Trump even called the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which the U.S. alleges were orchestrated by Tehran, "very minor." State Department Special Representative Brian Hook, meanwhile, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a hearing on Wednesday that there is "no talk of offensive action" and the priority remains putting economic pressure on Iran, The Daily Beast reports. Tim O'Donnell

5:26 p.m.

President Trump's tariff threat didn't hurt the USMCA after all.

On Wednesday, Mexico's senate overwhelmingly voted to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. The deal is an update of North American Free Trade Agreement the three countries squabbled over last fall, and comes despite Trump threatening tariffs on Mexico a few weeks ago.

Mexico's Senate voted 114-4 to approve the deal, with three lawmakers abstaining from the vote. Some of those voting for the deal were cautious, seeing as Trump has been notoriously unpredictable when dealing with his southern neighbor, but said the bill was essential in guaranteeing Mexico's economic viability, Politico reports. Despite largely voicing opposition to Trump, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also pushed for the deal, essentially ensuring its passage in a Senate held by his party. The deal contains many of the same provisions as NAFTA, but calls for more automotive manufacturing within the three countries, per The Washington Post.

The approval came despite Trump threatening in late May to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it curbed the flow of migrants into the U.S. Several GOP lawmakers broke with Trump over the tariff threat, with some saying it would jeopardize the USMCA's passage. Trump later called off the threat after successful discussions with Mexican authorities. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:57 p.m.

NXIVM founder Keith Raniere has been found guilty on all counts.

Raniere, who prosecutors said ran a "sex cult" within his purported self-help group, on Wednesday was found guilty on seven counts, including racketeering conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, and sex trafficking conspiracy, CNN reports. He was also found guilty of possession of child pornography, NBC News reports.

These charges come in connection with a sorority known as DOS, which operated within Raniere's group NXIVM. In the sorority, prosecutors say women were allegedly branded with Raniere's initials and required to hand over compromising material, including nude photos of themselves, and told it would be released if they tried to leave, The New York Times reports. Women in DOS were referred to as "masters" and "slaves," with prosecutors saying victims were "exploited, both sexually and for their labor." The group gained nationwide attention after a Times investigation published in Oct. 2017.

Former followers testified during Raniere's six-week trial in Brooklyn, with one saying she was sexually assaulted by Raniere after being instructed to seduce him, The Daily Beast reports. Raniere pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer during trial said that all of the relationships Raniere had with members of the organization were consensual, BuzzFeed News reports.

Smallville actress Allison Mack previously pleaded guilty to racketeering charges over her role in the alleged sex cult, saying that she "believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people, and I was wrong." Raniere will be sentenced on Sept. 25 and faces life in prison. Brendan Morrow

3:32 p.m.

These 2020 Democrats want to make it clear they love their wives.

On Wednesday, The New York Times published a sweeping interactive article featuring most of the Democratic presidential candidates answering 18 different questions. To start, the contenders answered "who is your hero?" — and barely any of them produced a somewhat original response.

Of the 21 contenders who agreed to the Times' interview (Joe Biden notably sat it out), two-thirds of them said their heroes were some family member. Four of them said it was their wife. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) decided it was Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns' quarterback.

For those who initially responded with a touching personal hero, the Times then probed further, asking for a "political hero" as well. A solid five of them said Abraham Lincoln, while three said Teddy Roosevelt and two said Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Notably, only Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) listed women as their political heroes, naming Harriet Tubman and Shirley Chisholm, respectively. Statistically, there's a solid chance Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's hero, "the American voter," could be a woman as well. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:59 p.m.

The NBA is really going all in on legalized sports betting.

The league, in conjunction with the NBA Players' Association and United Kingdom-based Highlight Games Limited, announced on Wednesday that it will create a virtual sports-gambling game called NBA Last 90, because people apparently want to spend their money betting on games that are not real. The league will reportedly splice together clips from its archives of old games to create the final 90 seconds of a simulated matchup between two NBA teams.

It'd work like this, Bloomberg reports: Fans will watch 90 seconds of clips between two teams from previous matchups between the squads. The clips will then be strung together as if it were a new game, and those watching can put money down on who will "win." A random number generator, like those used in slot machines, will determine the outcomes of the simulations, ESPN reports.

The NBA has heartily embraced legalized sports betting, Bloomberg reports, and has even been lobbying statehouses across the countries. As for the virtual aspect, it's new to the U.S. sports betting landscape, but is reportedly popular in Europe, which is what stoked the NBA's interest in the first place. Tim O'Donnell

2:51 p.m.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks has reportedly been refusing to answer many questions from lawmakers at a closed-door hearing, and top Democrats aren't happy.

"I'm watching obstruction of justice in action," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday, USA Today reports. "...You have to ask the question, 'what are they trying to hide from the American people?'"

Lieu on his Twitter page said that a Department of Justice lawyer accompanying Hicks to the testimony has repeatedly objected to questions about her time in the White House, apparently including one about where her office was located. The White House had previously directed Hicks not to testify about her White House tenure. Lieu added that he did get Hicks to answer one question about whether it was sunny or cloudy on her first day working in the White House. "You'll need to wait for the transcript to see her answer," he wrote.

Similar to Lieu, when asked on Tuesday about news that the White House had directed Hicks not to answer questions about her time in Trump administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) simply told CNN, "obstruction of justice."

Hicks during the testimony also would not answer a question about whether she told the truth to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, with a White House lawyer instructing her to also dodge questions about her time after leaving the White House, Politico reports. "She is making a choice to follow along with all the claims of absolute immunity,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Politico. "Basically, she can say her name." Brendan Morrow

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