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June 10, 2019

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touts his ability to steer federal money to his home state. For example, after the city of Owensboro named a plaza for him in 2003, McConnell steered $40 million to the city in 2005, and Owensboro's support helped him survive a close 2008 election. That kind of patronage became harder after congressional Republicans banned earmarks — or "pork" — in 2011, but not impossible. Last year, Owensboro won an $11.5 million Transportation Department grant on its third try, with some help from McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Politico reports, citing emails obtained though a public-records request.

Chao appointed a top aide in 2017 as special liaison to help McConnell "and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell," Politico reports, "paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for re-election." The aide, Todd Inman, lived in Owensboro from 1993 to 2017, worked on McConnell's 2008 and 2014 campaigns, and is now Chao's chief of staff. His intercession for Kentucky is "a privilege other states did not enjoy," Politico notes.

The Transportation Department insists "no state receives special treatment" and Owensboro won the grants through an open, competitive process. But McConnell and local officials publicly tout the key role McConnell, Chao, and Inman played in steering federal transportation grants to Owensboro, and a former career official involved in the grant review process told Politico that after the professional staff hand grant recommendations in to a Cabinet secretary's office, politics often determine the outcome, regardless of party.

"Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get re-elected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American," John Hudak, a Brookings Institution expert on political influence on grant-making, tells Politico. "I do think there are people who will see that as sort of 'swamp behavior,'" even if it isn't illegal. Read more at Politico. Peter Weber

10:25 a.m.

As the saying goes, "it's not a party until the bagpipes come out."

Attorney General William Barr got the party started on Wednesday morning, opening the U.S. Attorneys National Conference in Washington, D.C. with an inspiring bagpipe performance.

Barr dramatically emerged from backstage and received a standing ovation when U.S. Attorneys in attendance realized they'd be treated to a surprise performance from the nation's top law enforcement officer. But Barr is a longtime bagpipe aficionado. Before becoming attorney general in former President George H.W. Bush's administration, Barr performed in the City of Washington Pipe Band, one of the world's top bagpipe ensembles, reports The New Yorker. His fellow band member even went so far as to call Barr a "serious piper."

While he no longer competes, or plays daily as he once did, Barr reportedly keeps the party going with raucous bashes replete with fiddles, whiskey, and of course, bagpipes. Watch his Wednesday performance below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

9:53 a.m.

Fox's Tomi Lahren has apparently had enough with all this talk of a humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

In a Wednesday appearance on Fox & Friends, Lahren was asked by guest host Jedediah Bila about comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in which the congresswoman praised Wayfair employees for planning a walkout on Wednesday over the company's decision to sell beds to furnish migrant detention facilities. Bila questioned the logic of Ocasio-Cortez's opinions on the humanitarian border crisis, asking if she would rather the children in the facilities not have beds.

But while Bila appeared to agree that the situation at the border is a humanitarian crisis, Lahren dismissed that idea entirely, even putting the words in scare quotes. Instead, Lahren suggested, it's all a part of plan. Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez want to release currently-detained migrants into the "shadows of society" to overwhelm U.S. cities and become Democratic voters, turning red states blue.

"This is all strategy," Lahren said. "And they cloak it in a humanitarian crisis. It's an opportunity." Watch the clip below. Tim O'Donnell

9:34 a.m.

President Trump in a Wednesday interview went on a bizarre rant about supposed Twitter censorship, claiming the company is intentionally making it difficult for people to "join" him.

During an interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo that lasted nearly an hour, Trump bemoaned "what they did to me on Twitter," claiming it's "very hard for people to join me" and that the fact that he isn't picking up followers at as quick a rate as he used to is evidence of some sort of a conspiracy.

"I was picking up 100,000 followers every few days … then all of a sudden, it stopped," Trump complained.

Trump then bizarrely suggested that many of his supporters are unable to follow him on Twitter, adding a new item to his long list of things he claims people just keep walking up to him and saying.

"I've had so many people come to me [and say], 'Sir, I can’t join you on Twitter,'" Trump said. "I see what's happening 100 percent."

Trump had previously met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the Oval Office during a meeting that he supposedly spent "a significant portion of" complaining about losing followers and probably launching into a rant not dissimilar to this one, no doubt making Dorsey long to be back on one of his silent meditation retreats. Brendan Morrow

9:15 a.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller spent two years heading up a major investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, but, come on, that doesn't mean he actually knows its details, says Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade.

The Fox & Friends team on Wednesday was discussing the news that Mueller is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees on July 17. The Democrats, like House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who have been pushing for Mueller's testimony for quite some time are undoubtedly excited by the news. But Kilmeade thinks it could actually backfire.

"He's like the King of England on this," Kilmeade said, referring to Mueller. "He assigns the people." Kilmeade added that Nadler-led hearings "often get out of control," and he senses this one might as well, with the results differing from the Democrats intentions.

Kilmeade did concede that Mueller has a few weeks to "bone up" on the report, and guest host Jedediah Bila said that if Mueller doesn't know the details now, she's pretty sure "he's sitting with a highlighter going over it" because he'll want to "make this his moment." Watch the clip below. Tim O'Donnell

9:05 a.m.

President Trump during a lengthy interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday tore into Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who he again said he has the right to fire.

Trump during the interview mocked Powell as a guy who "nobody ever heard of " before, saying that "I made him and now he wants to show how tough he is." This came after Bartiromo pointed out that Powell has said he won't be pushed around amid Trump's repeated criticism.

"Let him show how tough he is," Trump said of Powell. "He's not doing a good job."

The president also once again contended that he could fire or demote Powell while noting that he never said he's actually going to do so. After Bloomberg reported that Trump had discussed demoting Powell earlier this year, Trump said in a Sunday interview that he "didn’t ever threaten to demote him" but "I'd be able to do that if I wanted."

"We have a Fed that keeps raising interest rates," Trump also said on Wednesday. "I mean, you explain that one." Brendan Morrow

8:37 a.m.

On Tuesday, Russell Moore, a prominent evangelical Christian theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, deplored how the U.S. is treating detained migrant children, suggesting that "we can do better than this."

Jerry Fallwell Jr., a prominent evangelical leader who heads Liberty University and is famously friendly with President Trump, decided to publicly disagree, calling Moore "a bureaucrat" who has never "made a payroll" or "built an organization of any type from scratch."

The comments on Falwell's tweet veered from the saucy — "Have you ever hired a pool boy?" asked conservative pundit Bill Kristol. "Have naked photos of your wife ever showed up on Michael Cohen's computer?" — to the serious. "How did Jesus treat children?" asked Christian journalist Elizabeth Bruenig. Brian Zahnd, founding pastor of Missouri's Word of Life Church, brought the fire and brimstone:

Were there memes? Yes, there were memes.

Did anyone defend Falwell's thoughts on Christianity? If so, their comments were buried among questions about Jesus making payroll and how many people Falwell had just driven away from Christianity. To be fair, Falwell has pointed out that he is not an ordained minister, just a businessman who runs a Christian university. Maybe he can audit some New Testament classes this fall. Peter Weber

7:59 a.m.

After the publication of a graphic photo showing two migrant deaths at the border, former congressman Beto O'Rourke took aim at President Trump.

A disturbing picture of Salvadoran migrants, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, lying in shallow water at the Rio Grande was published by The Associated Press on Tuesday after originating from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, and it quickly gained viral attention. Ramírez and his wife and daughter had reportedly tried swimming across the river because his family could not request asylum. The Trump administration has limited the number of migrants who can request asylum per day.

O'Rourke in response placed the blame right on Trump, linking to the Associated Press story while writing, "Trump is responsible for these deaths." He also said that the administration's refugee policy comes "at the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety."

Other 2020 Democrats similarly spoke out on the photo while not being quite as direct as O'Rourke, with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) writing that denying asylum to families fleeing violence is "inhumane" and that "this is a stain on our moral conscience," while former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro called the photo "absolutely heartbreaking" and called for immigration reform.

The White House hasn't commented on the photo, but Trump on Wednesday morning tweeted that Democrats "want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking." Brendan Morrow

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