May 23, 2019

Former President Barack Obama has the endorsement every 2020 Democrat wants.

Unfortunately for them, Obama isn't handing out any hints about who he'll give it to — or if he'll even endorse a primary candidate at all. Instead, "Obama and his aides have carefully guarded when and how to deploy him," and are even prepared for him to step in and use his endorsement if there's a chance of a contested convention, The Atlantic reports.

The most obvious 2020 endorsement for Obama would be his former Vice President Joe Biden. And judging by the nostalgia-heavy campaign Biden is running, one would think he's already earned it. But no, Biden has claimed he asked Obama not to endorse him so early in the race — "despite firm statements from Obama's orbit making it clear that he'd decided himself not to endorse," The Atlantic writes.

That leaves the option of Obama endorsing someone else — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), for one, made it clear to The Atlantic that she campaigned for Obama in 2007 when Biden was still running against him. But Obama is apparently more concerned with finishing his book, which was supposed to be released this year but is reportedly taking longer than the former president expected. But given the usual pre-holiday release of blockbuster books like Michelle Obama's Becoming, dropping it next year just after Election Day could make Obama "the voice of a party in despair after another defeat, or poised to grab the spotlight from a freshly elected Democratic president," The Atlantic writes.

Obama's spokesperson summed up this political distance in a cautious statement, saying "big, bold ideas are a sign of the Democratic Party's strength, and President Obama urges everyone running to be transparent with voters about how these ideas will work." Read more at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:54 p.m.

Disney has provided one last look at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with a tear-jerking final trailer teasing the saga's end.

The new trailer for the ninth episode released Monday night keeps its mysterious marketing campaign going but still packs an emotional wallop, most notably with a scene halfway through in which C-3PO takes, as he puts it, "one last look" at his friends. Why Threepio seems to be saying his goodbyes is unclear, but could he be the latest classic Star Wars character to bite the dust?

While still not revealing Emperor Palpatine in his full glory, this final trailer does feature the classic villain's throne and some new dialogue. "Long have I waited, and now, your coming together is your undoing," Palpatine says, presumably referring to Rey and Kylo Ren. At one point, Rey looks to be confronting Palpatine in the flesh, suggesting he truly has returned fully alive and well after seemingly dying in Return of the Jedi. After a shot of Rey and Kylo apparently destroying Darth Vader's mask together, another team-up to face him looks likely.

We also get glimpses at characters here who we haven't seen much in the film's marketing, including The Last Jedi's Rose Tico, as well as a new character played by Dominic Monaghan. As John Williams' stirring score builds, the footage concludes with Luke and Leia each reading part of the line, "The Force will be with you, always."

As expected, The Rise of Skywalker's marketing continues to build the film up as the end of the series as we know it, with the "Skywalker Saga" set to wrap up even as Star Wars movies about other stories are to continue. This time, the trailer declares that while "the saga will end," "the story lives forever." Watch the final trailer, which debuted as tickets for the film went on sale, below. Brendan Morrow

10:09 p.m.

Those fried chicken and pickle sandwiches will have to come from somewhere else, as Chick-fil-A's first location in the United Kingdom will shut its doors early next year when its six-month lease is up.

Chick-fil-A, which has 2,400 U.S. locations, opened on Oct. 10 at the Oracle Mall in Reading, and almost immediately, LGBTQ activists called for a boycott. The company has donated to organizations that aim to reverse LGBTQ rights and are against same-sex marriage, and in a statement, the advocacy group Reading Pride said the chain's "ethos and morale stance goes completely against our values, and that of the UK, as we are a progressive country that has legalized same sex marriage for some years, and continues to strive toward equality."

The Oracle Mall said not renewing the lease was "the right thing to do," NBC News reports, but Chick-fil-A claimed in a statement to The Washington Post that the plan was always to close in six months. Reading Pride CEO Martin Cooper isn't buying it, saying in an email to NBC News, "what business would not stay if they were successful and profitable? The point is, they've not been given the option to stay by the landlords, The Oracle." Catherine Garcia

9:23 p.m.

President Trump's perception of Ukraine being a corrupt country was reinforced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who made disparaging comments about the country during conversations with Trump, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

This information was shared by George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, during his closed-door testimony last week as part of the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, the Post reports. The officials said that Putin and Orban did not directly encourage Trump to request Ukraine launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, or push the debunked conspiracy theory that Kyiv was behind the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Instead, Trump was driven by his own belief in the conspiracy theory, peddled by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

National security officials were ready for Putin to try to damage the United States' relationship with Ukraine, the Post reports, and a former official said during a conversation in early May, Putin "did what he always did," which was say that Ukraine "is just a den of corruption." Such conversations made it harder for White House officials to get Trump to support Ukraine's new president, who was elected in April, and it didn't help that many people who backed aid to Ukraine, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, had left the administration. Read more about how Trump is shaped by his relationships with authoritarian leaders at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

7:57 p.m.

President Trump may soon have a brand new acting chief of staff.

Over the last few days, Trump has been chatting with allies about who might be able to replace current acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, two people close to the White House told Reuters. Mulvaney has been acting chief of staff since January, when he stepped in after John Kelly resigned.

Trump isn't happy with how Mulvaney dealt with the fallout from his now-reversed decision to host next year's G7 at his own Miami resort, Reuters says, or how Mulvaney publicly admitted last week that Trump held military aid from Ukraine in order to get Kyiv to investigate a conspiracy theory about the 2016 presidential election. He's also reportedly angry that Mulvaney pushed to bring former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) onto Trump's outside legal team, despite the fact that lobbying rules prevent Gowdy from joining until January.

"The president expressed some concern after Mick's difficult week," one person told Reuters. Two people who have been suggested to take Mulvaney's place have previously turned down the position: Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Another name being floated around is Matthew Whitaker; a Trump supporter, he served as acting attorney general before William Barr's confirmation. Catherine Garcia

6:51 p.m.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said some U.S. troops may remain in eastern Syria to ensure that Islamic State fighters do not take over oilfields.

Earlier this month, President Trump said he would pull most U.S. troops out of Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to cross the border and attempt to push back Kurdish forces. As American allies, the Kurds led the fight against ISIS in Syria, losing thousands of fighters in the process.

Esper said the plan is still being worked out, and has not yet been seen by Trump. By leaving some U.S. troops in Syria, it would give Trump "maneuver room," he told reporters. Esper also said that troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq, and operations against ISIS will continue. During a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump said ISIS had once been "all over the place," but he "captured them. I'm the one who did the capturing." Catherine Garcia

5:22 p.m.

CNN host Alisyn Camerota isn't a fan of the new guy.

The network recently hired former GOP Rep. Sean Duffy as a contributor, and in his first appearance on the network on Monday, he was already throwing out conspiracy theories. In particular, Duffy defended White House Press Secretary Mick Mulvaney for saying the White House wanted Ukraine to hand over the DNC email server — something Ukraine certainly doesn't have.

Duffy reiterated Mulvaney's comments from last week where he said the White House withheld aid money from Ukraine to pressure it to hand over the emails hacked in 2016 — an admitted quid pro quo. There's just one problem: "That's a conspiracy theory," Camerota told Duffy. The former congressmember then dug himself deeper into his theory, even trying to bring former Vice President Joe Biden into the mix. Camerota breathlessly egged him on the whole time before blurting out that "Ukraine doesn't have the server." Duffy even agreed Camerota might be right on that point, but to him, the facts didn't exactly matter. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:19 p.m.

The Associated Press believes the Michigan State Spartans have a great chance of becoming the first Big 10 basketball to win the Division I championship since, well, Michigan State in 2000. The Spartans overwhelmingly earned the top spot in AP's preseason college basketball top 25, receiving 60 of 65 first place votes. It's the first time Michigan State's ever been ranked No. 1 in a preseason AP poll, which is surprising given the program's consistent greatness.

The Big 10 is generally one of the country's most competitive conferences, but a national title has remained elusive. Regardless, preseason predictions have pegged the Spartans, led by longtime coach Tom Izzo and senior point guard Cassius Winston, as the team to beat. It's not a surprise — Michigan State went to the Final Four last season and returns Winston, who projects to be one of the best players in the country once again, as well as two other starters in Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry. They'll also be getting back Winston's classmate and NBA prospect Joshua Langford, who missed most of last season with a foot injury.

There's still a long way to go, of course, and Michigan State will have plenty of competition. Kentucky and Kansas split the remaining five votes and are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Duke finds itself the nation's fourth-ranked team to begin the year, but the Blue Devils will be dealing with a lot of turnover. Other teams in the top 10, such as Florida and Michigan State's Big 10 competitor Maryland, also looked poised to go deep into March.

Virginia, the defending champion, will enter the year as the No. 11 ranked team, though it did lose its three star players — De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy — to the NBA draft this offseason. See the full rankings here. Tim O'Donnell

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