July 12, 2019

The House of Representatives on Friday easily passed a bill to permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. But former Daily Show host Jon Stewart isn't ready to celebrate just yet.

The House in a 402-12 vote on Friday authorized the fund providing health care for 9/11 first responders through 2090, CNN reports. Now, the fight moves to the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said a vote will take place before the upcoming August recess, The Washington Post reports.

Stewart, who for years has lobbied Congress to reauthorize the fund and put lawmakers on blast in a fiery rant on Capitol Hill last month, told MSNBC on Friday he'll hold McConnell to this promise of a vote before the recess. The comedian also said that "it's hard to feel optimistic or confident given the past history, but we're hoping this passes the Senate and that this community can finally exhale and go home and deal with the grief and burdens that they've been dealing with all along."

Stewart also spoke to Fox News and said that there's "always going to be a little bit of shock that it's been this hard a fight and that it's taken this long," adding that the need to reauthorize the fund is "urgent." But as to whether today is cause for celebration, Stewart told CNN, "it's hard to be celebratory when people do their jobs." Brendan Morrow

3:39 p.m.

Article II of the United States Constitution bestows executive power on the office of the presidency. For example, the article establishes the president as the commander-in-chief of the military and grants the office the power of pardons. But it's also sandwiched between Articles I and III, which are the foundations for the powers of the legislative and judiciary branches. You know, the whole checks and balances thing. It's unclear, however, if President Trump understands this.

During a speech at Turning Point USA's Teen Action Summit, Trump played his usual hits. But while railing against the Democrats for their "witch hunt" into 2016 Russian election interference and alleged obstruction of justice, Trump mentioned that he has "an Article II," which would allow him to do whatever he pleases.

But rest assured, he said he doesn't "even talk about that."

Trump has, in fact, talked about it on more than one occasion, often in the context of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

It appears that Trump usually brings up Article II when he's arguing that he could have fired Mueller and didn't. As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake pointed out, Trump might not actually think he has wide-reaching, unchecked powers as president — just that he could have put an end to the investigation. Whatever he believes, he's managed to get everyone talking about it. Tim O'Donnell

3:37 p.m.

Six months after airing the acclaimed documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, Lifetime is tackling the Jeffrey Epstein case.

The network on Tuesday announced its new documentary Surviving Jeffrey Epstein, which comes after the financier earlier this month was arrested and hit with sex trafficking charges as prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls. The series will examine how Epstein "used his money and connections to wealthy and powerful people to allegedly shield predatory behavior with girls," reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly, which delved into the years of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B singer and interviewed some of his alleged victims, brought renewed outrage to the case and was a ratings hit for the network. The month after it aired, Kelly was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse, and he was recently arrested on additional federal sex crime charges. Page Six recently reported that these federal charges came "after a Homeland Security Investigations agent watched the Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly." Kelly has denied the allegations.

Prior to his recent arrest, Epstein previously pleaded guilty to prostitution charges in Florida but ultimately only served 13 months, during which time he was allowed to leave for hours a day. New criticism over the controversial plea deal offered to Epstein led to the recent resignation of President Trump's former Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, a former Florida prosecutor.

The announcement of Surviving Jeffrey Epstein came during the Television Critics Association press tour, during which Lifetime also announced a film based on the college admissions scandal as well as a follow-up to Surviving R. Kelly itself called The Aftermath. A+E Networks President Rob Sharenow, Deadline reports, touted the network on Tuesday as providing a "platform for women to have their voices heard." Brendan Morrow

3:02 p.m.

The NAACP just gave a huge boost to the impeachment train.

On Tuesday at its annual convention, the NAACP announced its delegates had unanimously voted to call for the impeachment of President Trump. The vote comes a day after the convention heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and it clearly decided to follow Tlaib's point of view.

The NAACP is America's oldest and largest civil rights organization, and has 10 presidential candidates slated to speak at its annual convention tomorrow. But it has already heard from Tlaib, who insisted Monday that she's "not going nowhere, not until I impeach this president." Tlaib has long advocated for Trump's impeachment, including with some NSFW terms. Pelosi also spoke on Monday, but didn't touch the topic she's so far declined to endorse. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:16 p.m.

Lawyers for Cesar Sayoc, who pleaded guilty to mailing pipe bombs to critics of President Trump last year, characterized him in a new sentencing memo as a religious Fox News viewer whose views were influenced by the network.

Sayoc is described in the defense filing as someone with "severe learning disabilities" who was "abandoned by his father and sexually abused by a teacher" and "lost everything in the Great Recession," ABC News reports. "In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump," Sayoc's lawyers said.

The filing goes on to detail Sayoc becoming obsessed with Trump on a personal level and beginning to watch Fox News — especially Fox & Friends and Hannity — "religiously," in addition to following pro-Trump Facebook groups, The Washington Post reports. These groups pushed "the idea that Trump's critics were dangerous, unpatriotic, and evil" and that Democrats are "murderous, terroristic, and violent," and "Fox News furthered these arguments," the lawyers say.

The lawyers go on to cite a specific segment from Hannity in which the Fox News host described prominent Democrats as "encouraging mob violence against their political opponents," which came in response to former Attorney General Eric Holder saying, "When they go low, we kick them."

Because Sayoc lived in isolation, the filing also says, he had no one to "puncture his alternative reality" and "truly believed wild conspiracy theories" that he heard not only online, but from Fox News and Trump himself. "He began to consider Democrats as not just dangerous in theory, but immediately and seriously dangerous to his personal safety," the filing says, per HuffPost. "President Trump did nothing to dissuade this message."

Sayoc's defense is asking for the minimum sentence of 121 months in prison. The Week Staff

2:06 p.m.

The Trump administration struck a deal with House Democrats on Monday that has drawn the ire of conservatives analysts.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), outlets like The National Review and The Washington Examiner, and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have all lambasted the agreement because it would increase spending levels by $320 billion. Yet there is a sense that it represents the fall of a deficit-slashing Republican party.

The deal is a far cry from when the Tea Party dominated Republican budget rhetoric, writes Philip Klein of the Examiner. Klein argues that while Trump once vowed to drain the swamp, "he has merely drained it of the Tea Party," and, in the process, has "restored Washington to a much more conventional place in which both parties agree to ignore warnings of fiscal disaster."

National Review's Brian Riedl agrees, writing that the deal would essentially repeal the final two years of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the "crown jewel" of the "tea-party Congress." He argues the move "mirrors the shredding of the Republican credibility on fiscal responsibility." Klein echoed that sentiment, writing that Republicans, who have voted several times to "blow past" spending limits, decided "to stop pretending to care about the debt" and that the Freedom Caucus has "devolved into a PR shop for Trump."

It's worth noting that several members of the caucus have announced their opposition to the spending package. Of course, in this day and age, things can always change. Tim O'Donnell

1:19 p.m.

President Trump's defense secretary nominee has won over pretty much all of the Senate.

Current Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper was confirmed to lead the Pentagon on Tuesday with a 90-8 vote in the Senate. All eight opposing votes came from Democrats, and five of them came from Democrats running for president.

The defense secretary spot hasn't been permanently filled since James Mattis left the role in December, with the previous acting secretary and nominee Patrick Shanahan resigning amid reports of his family's history with domestic violence. Yet as tensions heightened with Iran, concern grew over the empty spot at the top of the Pentagon. That likely contributed to Esper's overwhelming support, with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) the only ones voting against him.

Five of those Democrats are running for president, so their unabashed opposition to Trump isn't unexpected. After all, Gillibrand has voted against nearly every one of Trump's Cabinet nominees, while Warren grilled Esper during his confirmation hearing. Yet Klobuchar, with a far more moderate voting record and presidential platform, comes as more of a surprise. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:58 p.m.

It's a big day for incoming U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who officially won the race for Conservative party leadership over Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday.

But it looks like he has his work cut out for him — Brussels apparently isn't going to cave Johnson's demands, which include nixing the Irish border backstop.

Incoming European commission president Ursula von der Leyden warned him that "there are many difficult issues" ahead. Meanwhile, Michael Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said he hopes to work "constructively" with Johnson on the basis that they stick with facilitating outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, which Johnson has described as "dead."

Johnson has said that he's prepared for a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 if the sides can't reach an agreement before then, which seems like a tall order given how long previous negotiations have taken.

While some European leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney expressed a willingness to get down to business with the polarizing Johnson, others were not so welcoming. One European commissioner from Lithuania, Vytenis Andriukaitis, compared Johnson to "a different Boris," the former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Andriukaitis said he sees a lot of similarities between the two Borises, including their "unrealistic promises" and dismissals of "economic rationales and rational decisions."

That said, not everyone doubts Johnson can renegotiate a deal. Pieter Cleppe, who works at the Open Europe think-tank, told Forbes in June that if Johnson shows he's "serious" about a no-deal Brexit, while taking on the persona of a "friendly, funny Trump," he could have a shot at working something out with his continental counterparts. Read more about the at The Guardian and Forbes. Tim O'Donnell

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