June 19, 2019

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

10:22 a.m.

The group that gives out the Golden Globes is once again under fire.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which each year puts on the Golden Globe Awards, is distancing itself from a controversial email sent by its former president about the Black Lives Matter movement. A report in The Los Angeles Times revealed that Phil Berk, who was the HFPA's president for eight terms, in an email to members of the association on Sunday shared a post that labeled Black Lives Matter a "racist hate movement."

Berk, according to the report, didn't link to a source in the email but was apparently quoting from an article titled "BLM Goes Hollywood," which also claimed that Black Lives Matter is "carrying on [Charles] Manson's work" to "start a race war." The email reportedly drew backlash from HFPA members, one of whom wrote back, "Please remove me from any racist email you wish to send to the membership." A board member also reportedly wrote, "The vile rhetoric contained in this screed is simply unacceptable."

The HFPA told the Times that the "views expressed in the article circulated by Mr. Berk are those of the author of the article and do not — in any way shape or form — reflect the views and values of the HFPA." The organization also said it "condemns all forms of racism, discrimination and hate speech and finds such language and content unacceptable."

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association faced heavy criticism in the lead-up to this year's Golden Globes after a report revealed its voting body doesn't consist of a single Black member. During the February awards show, officials from the organization came on stage to acknowledge they have "work to do." According to The Hollywood Reporter, the HFPA, which has said it will announce changes by May 5, is considering taking action against Berk. Brendan Morrow

9:47 a.m.

Chad's President Idriss Déby has died from wounds he suffered on the battlefield in the country's north, the military announced Tuesday.

Déby, who had been in power for three decades, was declared the winner of last week's presidential election just hours before the news broke. The exact cause of Déby's death has not been verified by news sources, but he had traveled north to visit troops on the frontline of a battle with rebel forces based in Libya known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, BBC reports. The military said Déby, an army officer by training, was killed while leading troops in combat.

Laith Alkhouri, a global intelligence adviser, told The Associated Press that the news "raises concerns" about security forces' assessment of the "severity of the situation," though the Atlantic Council's Cameron Hudson tweeted that there's no reason to believe this was a coup by the troops, suggesting Déby was indeed killed by rebel fire.

His son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, is now expected to head a military council that will govern for an 18-month transitional period, after which new elections will be held. But Hudson and other analysts anticipate the Chadian opposition will not easily accept such a transfer of a power, given that there was already discontent over Déby's rule. Read more at BBC and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

8:47 a.m.

Former aides to former President Donald Trump are reportedly looking back at the end of his term as a major missed opportunity to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

A new report in Politico describes how Trump's "unwillingness to pitch his voters on getting the jab has become the source of frustration for former aides," not to mention experts who believe he could have helped sway those Republicans who say they won't get vaccinated. While Trump was in office, there was reportedly a "monthslong effort to get him to publicly take the lead" on pushing vaccinations.

"If he spent the last 90 days being the voice — and taking credit because he deserved to for the vaccine — and helping get as many Americans get vaccinated as he could, he would be remembered for that,” a former senior administration official said.

In fact, health officials pushed for Trump to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on camera, and officials from the White House and federal agencies planned for him take on the role of the "vaccine's salesman-in-chief," Politico reports.

Ultimately, Trump didn't get the vaccine publicly, though former Vice President Mike Pence did. A senior administration official told Politico there were concerns that Trump would be seen as "jumping the line" ahead of those at higher risk after he had COVID-19 in the fall. But officials were also reportedly skeptical that Trump would be open to getting the vaccine on camera.

"Someone joked and said, 'Have you ever seen him wear a short sleeved shirt in public?'" a former administration official told Politico. "'I don't think that's going to happen.'"

It was later revealed in March that Trump actually quietly received the vaccine off camera before he left office — and not only did the White House not tell anyone, but Politico says top health officials and aides didn't even know this was happening at the time Read more at Politico. Brendan Morrow

7:23 a.m.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law controversial "anti-riot" legislation that increases penalties for certain kinds of protests, creates a new crime called "mob intimidation," requires that people arrested at protests remain in jail until their first court appearance, threatens sanctions for local municipalities that reduce or shift funding for law enforcement, and allows businesses to sue cities and local officials if the municipalities are found to have provided inadequate law enforcement protection during protests.

DeSantis, flanked by GOP officials and law enforcement officers, called the new law "strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement measure in the country." Critics called the law unconstitutional and vowed to sue Florida.

"The bill will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, creating new jail beds in a mass incarceration system that is already over-bloated and on the brink of collapse," said Mikah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, and "it shields violent counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester or demonstrator."

"Republicans love to talk about the Constitution, but they're shredding it with bills" like this, said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's lone statewide elected Democrat. "Silencing speech and blocking the vote is what communist regimes do."

DeSantis said the law is necessary to prevent the kind of damage that accompanied some anti-racism protests last summer. "If you riot, if you loot, if you harm others, particularly if you harm a law enforcement officer during one of these violent assemblies, you're going to jail," he said. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held up photographs of people having fun at Disney World and beaches, then warned new residents not to "register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north." He pointed to Florida's low crime rate and said people "up north" are getting killed and victimized.

Overall crime dropped 12 percent in Florida in the first half of 2020, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported in January, but murders jumped 16.2 percent and aggravated assaults rose 6.5 percent. Homicides were up in all but one Florida county, and they soared 31 percent in Miami-Dade County and 16 percent in Jacksonville, NPR reported. That's on par with national trends for 2020. Peter Weber

5:26 a.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine is open to all Americans 16 and older as of Monday, and "the Biden administration is trying to get the word out," Jimmy Fallon said on Monday's Tonight Show, skeptically. "Your idea to get kids vaccinated is putting an 80-year-old scientist on TikTok? Good luck with that. You know Biden's old when he's like, 'We need someone young and hip for the Snapchat videos. How about that kid Dr. Fauci?'"

NASA successfully flew a helicopter on Mars, Fallon noted. "The flight lasted a total of 30 seconds. The men on the team said it was a complete success, while the women agreed so they wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings." And "a new poll shows Matthew McConaughey is leading Gov. Greg Abbott by 12 points in a hypothetical matchup for governor of Texas," he said. "When asked if he's actually gonna run for office, McConaughey said 'I might, I might, I might.'"

The Late Show created a clearly unsolicited campaign commercial for McConaughey.

One highlight of Sunday night's star-studded COVID-19 special, featuring Biden and and Barack Obama, was "when Dr. Anthony Fauci was interviewed by actor Matthew McConaughey," Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show. "Wow, the sexiest man alive was interviewed by Matthew McConaughey!" For anyone wondering, he added, "I can say categorically that Matthew McConaughey is not going to run for governor. He's going to drive a Lincoln, talking to himself the entire time."

Colbert made extended, elaborate Anglo-Saxon jokes to mock Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-Ga.) short-lived America First Caucus, including a Beowulf zinger.

"President Biden over the weekend attended the confirmation of his grandson," Late Night's Seth Meyer said, "but then Mitch McConnell said it's too close to an election and put all confirmations on hold."

Jimmy Kimmel spent most of his monologue in a mutual fascination loop with MyPillow chief Mike Lindell, but he also had some ideas for promoting COVID-19 vaccines to the Republican and white evangelical men opposed to getting inoculated. "I don't think a TV special or putting Dr. Fauci on Snapchat is going to do anything to convince people, these men who don't want to get the shot," he said. "There's a lot of disinformation out there, and I think the CDC should just stop trying to appeal to common sense and embrace the nonsense." Watch Kimmel Live's PSA below. Peter Weber

3:23 a.m.

At the right-wing news channel One America News Network, "there's still serious doubts about who's actually president," as OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp said in a March 28 report. OAN "has become a kind of Trump TV for the post-Trump age," The New York Times reported Sunday, and some of its "coverage has not had the full support of the staff." One OAN producer, Marty Golingan, said the network had lurched to the right since he joined in 2016.

The "majority" of his colleagues "did not believe the voter fraud claims being run on the air," Golingan told the Times, and "a lot of people said, 'This is insane, and maybe if [Dominion Voting Systems] sue us, we'll stop putting stories like this out.'" He said OAN's news director, Lindsay Oakley, reprimanded him for referring to "President Biden" in news copy.

Golingan was fired Monday. He had told the Times' Rachel Abrams he would wear being sacked as "a badge of honor."

Of 18 current and former OAN staffers Abrams interviewed, 16 said their employer had broadcast reports they consider misleading, inaccurate, or untrue. But several also said they have bills to pay and few other job prospects. "We're not Nazis," one producer told Abrams. "Just, like, everyday people." Peter Weber

2:33 a.m.

President Biden hosted another bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers on Monday to discuss his infrastructure proposal, and once again everyone said the meeting was cordial and respectful, Biden and his guests expressed a willingness to compromise on the size and scope of the bill, and the Republicans said they won't support raising the corporate tax rate to pay for the package.

Biden wants to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, from 21 percent, to fund $2.25 trillion in spending. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has suggested a 25 percent rate, and there's speculation Democrats will settle around that number. "You could see a 2 or 3 percent increase — maybe not all the way to 28 but 25," Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), who was at Monday's meeting, told The Wall Street Journal. GOP lawmakers were "more in favor of user fees so that whoever was benefiting from that particular infrastructure project would be paying for it in the long run," said Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.), another participant.

Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) both said after the meeting they favor paying for new infrastructure with gas taxes, user fees, and other mechanisms that don't hit corporations. "There is broad support for infrastructure, and I believe a bipartisan bill is possible, but we need to find agreement to make these updates in a targeted way that doesn't raise taxes," Hoeven said.

Biden opposes user fees, gas taxes, or any other funding mechanism that hits the middle class, and the opposition from Romney and Hoeven suggests he'll get no GOP support for raising corporate taxes, Axios says. Biden told Republicans he won't wait forever for a counteroffer. "He'd like for the Republicans to, you know, for us to come back with some kind of proposal on infrastructure by about mid-May," Giménez said.

Meanwhile, "progressives are warning the president not to get too attached to his GOP friends," Politico reports. Biden "should approach the negotiations with an open mind and an open heart, but he should not delay," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. "We can't end up months from now with no real progress and no real infrastructure bill."

"I personally don't think the Republicans are serious about addressing the major crises facing this country," added Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "Maybe I'm wrong, but we're certainly not going to wait for an indefinite period of time. ... They have something to say? Now is the time to say it." Peter Weber

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