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July 12, 2019

Before Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December, the Defense Department had been helmed by an acting secretary just twice, the longest and most recent stint lasting two months in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush, The Associated Press reports. Now, the Pentagon is preparing for its third acting secretary in seven months.

There is also no Senate-confirmed deputy defense secretary, a confirmed incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff member and top Navy admiral abruptly retired this week, and the nominee for Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, was just accused of sexual misconduct by a senior military officer, throwing his confirmation into doubt. "The causes are varied, but this leadership vacuum has nonetheless begun to make members of Congress and others uneasy, creating a sense that something is amiss in a critical arm of the government at a time of global uncertainty," AP reports.

No previous administration has had more that one acting defense secretary, though the resignation of President Trump's second consecutive acting secretary, Mark Esper — who took over from acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan when he abruptly resigned in June — is supposed to be temporary. Esper is legally required to step aside when he begins his Senate confirmation process next Tuesday, and in that period Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will fill in as acting Pentagon chief.

"Even our foes" expect more stability from the U.S. military, former Defense Secretary William Cohen told AP. "There will inevitably be increasing uncertainty regarding which officials have which authority, which undermines the very principle of civilian control of the military," and "other countries — both allies and adversaries — will have considerable doubt about the authority granted to an acting secretary of defense both because of the uncertainty of confirmation as well as the worry that even being a confirmed official does not seem to come with the needed sense of permanence or job security in this administration." Peter Weber

2:57 a.m.

In a tweet Sunday, President Trump suggested the U.S. might go to war with Iran if Saudi Arabia thinks that's a good idea. There are those that consider this a smart gamble, but Monday's Late Show is not among them:

"On Saturday, a major oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia was knocked out by multiple drone strikes," Stephen Colbert explained in Monday's monologue. Houthi rebels immediately claimed responsibility. "Now, these Houthi rebels are in Yemen, so we're going to bomb Iran — or not!" he shrugged. The Trump administration blames the Houthi allies Iran, claiming 10 drones couldn't do that much damage. "Yes, drones are highly advance tech," Colbert said. "So they've narrowed down the suspect to Iran — or your dad, who just bought a quadcopter at Best Buy."

"Our top intelligence officials think Iran did it, and so does our top unintelligence official, Donald Trump," Colbert joked. And Trump seems to think Saudi Arabia should dictate any U.S. military response. "Oh, I keep forgetting that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman now tells the U.S. president who to attack and how," he said. "It's, of course, all part of Trump Hotels rewards program 'Rent 500 Rooms, Get a Free War!'" Trump tried to assuage fears about U.S. gas prices and the possibility of war with Iran, but Colbert had a few questions and a couple of jokes. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:16 a.m.

President Trump got no small amount of grief for suggesting Sunday that he would let Saudi Arabia decide what military action, if any, the "locked and loaded" U.S. should take against Iran if Tehran turns out to be behind an aerial attack on a major Saudi oil facility. But Trump's tweet has some strategic merit, argues Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. Here's the kernel of Landis' argument:

Congress, of course, has the explicit constitutional authority to declare war, and Saudi Arabia obviously does not. And Landis isn't arguing that Iran wasn't behind the attack — in fact, Iran has a clear motive — but he notes that the Saudis have been more cautions in assigning blame to Iran than the Trump administration has, and Trump was more cautious than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump also appears less than eager to get into another war in the Middle East — for good reason:

If Saudi Arabia is willing to gamble U.S. forces on an attack against Iran — calling Trump's bluff, in Landis' telling — Riyadh will foot the bill, Trump says. "The fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something," Trump said Monday. "They'll be very much involved, and that includes payment." Does that mean Trump has essentially turned the U.S. military into a Saudi mercenary force? Again, not necessarily, Landis says.

But you can't rule out the possibility. Peter Weber

1:40 a.m.

Sean Spicer is clearly comfortable in green, whether that involves hiding in bushes or wearing a lime ruffled frock while making his Dancing with the Stars debut.

On Monday night, Spicer, the former White House press secretary, and his partner, Lindsay Arnold, danced the salsa to the Spice Girls' "Spice Up Your Life." Thankfully, the spice puns ended there, before Spicer was forced to eat a chili pepper or start throwing turmeric at the audience.

The dance lasted approximately one minute and 10 seconds, and although the judges only gave him a score of 12 out of 30, things actually went pretty well for Spicer — he didn't fall, he didn't drop his partner, he showed off his ability to point at things, he wasn't replaced by Melissa McCarthy halfway through, and he didn't claim his appearance drew the largest audience ever to witness a Dancing with the Stars premiere, period, both in person and around the globe. Catherine Garcia

12:59 a.m.

The bond between pediatric nurse Claire Mills and her patient, Jackson, was instant.

Jackson was born five weeks early via emergency C-section, weighing just 3 pounds, 10 ounces. Mills, 25, works in the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in Texas, and she knew that Jackson's mother was struggling. Mills became a pediatric nurse because she was also a preemie, and she told Inside Edition she felt an "instant connection" with Jackson.

After several weeks, Jackson was discharged, and because it happened when Mills was off duty, she didn't have a chance to say goodbye. Mills called the social worker who had been assigned to work with Jackson's mom, and let her know that she was available to help the woman in any way possible. She soon heard back from Jackson's mom, who said she wouldn't be able to provide her son with the life he deserved, but Mills could.

Mills worried about raising him as a single mom, and talked to her own mother about it. Her mom encouraged her to follow her heart, and soon after, Mills started the adoption process. Jackson, now 4 months old, is all settled into his new home. He has gained weight and is in good health, and is "so happy," Mills said. Catherine Garcia

12:51 a.m.

"Last week was the third Democratic debate, where 10 Democratic hopefuls went head-to-head — you know, I was actually going to make a joke about this story, but I don't think it needs a joke," Jimmy Fallon said on Monday's Tonight Show. "I think it needs to be slow-jammed." One of the 10 candidates at the debate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), also wanted to slow-jam the news. And so she did — the "news" here being her run for president, platform, and qualifications.

Harris had the relatively dry job of explaining her platform, with a few zingers thrown in; Fallon added the double entendres to spice it up a bit and some puns that might not exactly resonate with the all-college-audience — "last tango in Harris"? A Culture Club reference? — and Tariq Trotter, as per usual, had the best lines. If the other 20+ Democratic candidates want their turns to slow-jam the news, Fallon could easily keep this up until after the Iowa caucuses. Peter Weber

12:17 a.m.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported a new allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from his college days, plus revelations about how the previously reported allegations were effectively ignored. "Every high school story or every college story we hear about Brett Kavanaugh just makes him seem worse and worse," Trevor Noah said on Monday's Daily Show. "And it's always something about him exposing himself."

"This story is messy," Noah said. "And what makes it messy is that the woman this allegedly happened to says she doesn't remember any of this happening. But the guy who says he saw it says that she was so drunk at the time he's not surprised that she can't remember it. And we may never know for sure what happened that night, especially since the FBI never even investigated it — which may seem a surprise to some people, but according to The New York Times, the FBI didn't look into a lot of the accusations against Kavanaugh."

"The FBI ignored 25 former Yale students who could have given evidence?" Noah said. "That's insane — because I didn't know the police also ignored white people. ... Now, in the FBI's defense, the reason they didn't interview these potential witnesses was because the White House reportedly told the FBI than when it came to Kavanaugh and the accusations, they were only allowed to interview 11 specific people and no one else. Which is not something you do when you're confident of someone's innocence."

"As has become normal in the age of Trump, reactions to this story have become as partisan as everything else is right now," Noah said, and there's no prize for guessing which side Trump landed on in the Kavanaugh imbroglio. "The Justice Department should come to his rescue? What? I feel like Trump doesn't really understand how the government works." Watch below for some safe-for-work theories on Kavanaugh's alleged proclivity for exposing himself at parties. Peter Weber

September 16, 2019

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, an enthusiastic supporter of President Trump, went a little over the top last week after a visit to the White House. The Daily Show didn't have to do much to point out how, um, uncomfortably effusive Dobbs was in his praise for Trump, just superimpose his face onto state TV in cult-of-personality North Korea.

The optimistic ranking of Trump's presidency is what it is — fanboys are gonna gush. And to be fair, when Dobbs claims "there's sunshine beaming throughout the place, and on almost every face," he's talking about the White House in early September. But either every tell-all account of life in the Trump White House is wrong, or Dobbs is spreading, you know, fake news. He ... reported, you can decide? Peter Weber

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