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January 23, 2019

President Trump may get easily bored by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, but he apparently never tires of space travel. NASA is currently shuttered in the 32-day-old government shutdown, but in April 2017, Trump was willing to give the space agency unlimited funding if it spent the money getting astronauts to Mars while he was still in office, according to former Trump aide Cliff Sims' new memoir, Team of Vipers.

Anyone who watched Trump's public April 24 video chat with astronauts on the International Space Station heard him say he wanted to speed up the manned mission to Mars by a decade, New York's Olivia Nuzzi notes. And according Sims, Trump was dead serious. About three minutes before the video chat, Trump abruptly asked acting NASA chief Robert Lightfoot Jr. about the plan for Mars, Nuzzi recaps:

Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. "Trump bristled," according to Sims. He asked, "But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?" Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily. ...

"But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?" Trump asked. "What if we sent NASA's budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you're doing now. Could it work then?" Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn't think it was possible. This left Trump "visibly disappointed," Sims wrote. [New York]

With about 30 seconds until chat time, Trump took a detour to "his white-marbled bathroom for one final check in the mirror," Sims writes. "In the bathroom mirror, Trump smirked and said to himself, 'Space Station, this is your president.'" Read more at New York. Peter Weber

1:23 p.m.

The House of Representatives has just passed a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The legislation, which would raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009 from $7.25 to $15 by 2025, passed on Thursday in a 231-199 vote, The Washington Post reports. The vote mostly occurred across party lines, with three Republicans supporting it.

Activists in recent years have pushed for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour, as some states have done, as part of a movement known as Fight for $15. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) celebrated this "historic day" on Thursday, saying that "no one can live in dignity with a $7.25 an hour wage," Reuters reports.

Republicans opposed the bill, saying it would result in the loss of jobs; a recent Congressional Budget Office report said the legislation would increase wages for up to 27 million people but result in 1.3 million jobs being lost, The New York Times reports. The bill is not expected to advance further. "This would depress the economy at a time of economic boom," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday, per Reuters. "We're not going to be doing that in the Senate." Brendan Morrow

1:18 p.m.

Jeffrey Epstein won't be released to the scene of his alleged crimes.

As the multimillionaire faces charges for allegedly running a sex ring involving dozens of minor girls, Epstein's lawyers proposed a bail package that would allow him to wait for his trial in his Manhattan townhouse. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman dismissed what he called an "irretrievably inadequate" package Thursday, saying he posed a "danger to the community" if he returned home, NBC News reports.

Epstein has been accused of sexual abusing girls both in his Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, properties, and faces sexual abuse charges that carry a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. He recently pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his lawyers then proposed a $77 million bail package that would let Epstein stay in his townhouse guarded by private security. The package would also require he deregister his vehicles and private jet.

But on Thursday, Berman still decided that prosecutors displayed "clear and convincing evidence" that Epstein remained a flight risk. Berman also cited Epstein's failure to comply with a 1980 plea deal that required him to check in with the New York Police Department and mentioned that he "considered" the recent testimonies of two of Epstein's alleged victims in making his decision. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:10 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both defended President Trump after a Wednesday rally in which his supporters chanted "send her back" about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), while Democrats warned about the danger of this rhetoric.

Graham on Thursday argued that chanting "send her back" about a minority congresswoman who came to the United States as a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia isn't racist and that this rhetoric is fine because Trump doesn't want to "send back" those who agree with him.

"A Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back," Graham said, per CNN's Manu Raju. "If you're a racist, you want everyone from Somalia to go back because they're black or they're Muslim." Graham also suggested that this means the rhetoric is "about the criticism and the critic," although he offered some light criticism by saying that "I don't like it" and "I'm not going around telling anybody to leave the country who's an American citizen," The Hill reports.

McConnell also came to Trump's defense Thursday on Fox Business, saying the president is "onto something" with his attacks on the four congresswomen, although McConnell did not reference the "send her back" chant and instead praised the president as being "right about 'the squad' wanting to turn us into a socialist country," Mediaite reports.

Democrats, meanwhile, slammed Trump after the Wednesday rally, with the Congressional Black Caucus' Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) saying Omar's "life is in imminent danger" as a result of his rhetoric, Politico reports, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) accusing Trump of "instilling fear." Omar herself said that "racism distracts, racism hurts, racism kills." Brendan Morrow

11:15 a.m.

Merriam-Webster has a bit of information it would just like to leave right here after President Trump's Wednesday rally.

After Trump supporters at the event chanted "send her back!" about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the dictionary company tweeted that its top search results that night included "racism," "fascism," "xenophobia," and "bigot," with "racism" topping the list.

"Socialism" also made the list at number two, as Trump labeled the Democratic congresswomen he has been attacking as socialists.

This isn't the first time Merriam-Webster has weighed in on the controversy over Trump's tweets telling minority Democratic congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from. When Fox News' Brit Hume earlier this week claimed that Trump's comments don't "meet the standard definition of racist," linking to Merriam-Webster's definition, Merriam-Webster seemed to respond by gently pointing to an entry noting that its definitions are "not always well suited for settling disputes." Brendan Morrow

10:26 a.m.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's resume in politics is deeper than he lets on.

The 2020 candidate has broken barriers as the first openly gay man to make a presidential debate stage, while his folksy yet progressive charm have earned him comparisons to former President Barack Obama. And yet he also has a less public history of working for Democratic presidential campaigns and in political strategy, giving him "more in common with Bill Clinton than Obama," Mark Leibovich reports for The New York Times Magazine.

The 37-year-old Buttigieg has brushed off questions regarding his age and distance from national politics, touting that he has more "executive experience" than all the senators and congressmembers in the Democratic field. Yet that inexperience is also some of the appeal of his campaign, and Buttigieg embraces it, broadly promising Leibovich that he'll fashion a "completely different" response to the outrage against President Trump that's encompassed this presidential cycle. But as Leibovich writes, Buttigieg is still "at heart, a fairly conventional political animal:"

Buttigieg is steeped in campaign life, having worked for John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008, and he tends to talk, more than most candidates, like an operative. In 2017, he ran unsuccessfully to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee — a position that is essentially that of a glorified fund-raiser, talking head and political strategist rolled into one. His early ambitions, his methodical climb up the accomplishment ladder and his youthful attention to networking have more in common with Bill Clinton than Obama.

Read more about Buttigieg's political history at The New York Times Magazine. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:42 a.m.

President Trump's former director of communications, Anthony Scaramucci, is downright begging him to knock it off with the racist attacks on minority congresswomen.

Scaramucci, who served in the White House for just 10 days in 2017, spoke to CNN's New Day on Thursday morning after previously denouncing Trump's tweets telling four minority congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from as "racist and unacceptable." At a rally on Wednesday, Trump supporters chanted "send her back" about one of the women he attacked, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

During the interview, Scaramucci implored elected Republicans to "pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, you should really knock this off'" to Trump, per Mediaite. He also predicted that if the president "continues on that path" with this apparent new strategy that is "against the idealistic values of America," a "glacier of support is going to break off and float away from him in a way that he doesn't fully understand." Asked if he will personally still support Trump in this scenario, Scaramucci responded, "No."

Recent polling has suggested Trump actually increased his support among Republicans in the immediate aftermath of his weekend tweets, with one poll showing that 57 percent of Republicans agreed with him.

At the same time, Scaramucci suggested he'll have to weigh who Trump's opponent is when making the decision to abandon him over what he considers to be blatant racism, telling CNN, "You also have to compare it to what you're going up against." At some point, though, Scaramucci said this will become a "moral question." Brendan Morrow

9:17 a.m.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) didn't even dignify President Trump's rally attack with her own words.

At a Wednesday night presidential rally, Trump called out Omar by name and accused her of "launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds" during her time in office. That launched the crowd into chants of "send her back," echoing Trump's racist tweets against Omar and other Democrats earlier in the week. But instead of brashly fighting back, Omar responded to the rally attack with a bold quote from Maya Angelou.

The rally attack came after Trump on Sunday directed racist tweets at Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen, calling on them to "go back" to the countries they came from. Only Omar was not born in the U.S., but she became a citizen as a teenager. Kathryn Krawczyk

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