August 7, 2019

For the first time in years, there appears to be bipartisan momentum in Congress toward passing significant gun restrictions. The most popular gun legislation, universal background checks, has hit a wall in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but President Trump and GOP leadership appear open to passing "red flag" laws.

What are "red flag" laws?
Also called "extreme risk protection orders," they authorize law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from a person a judge deems an imminent danger to themselves or others. Typically, police or concerned family members or friends request the court order after a gun owner expresses a suicidal or homicidal intention. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the book.

Are red flag laws effective?
"For 'red flags' to work, someone has to raise them," The Washington Post notes, and an FBI study found that "those most likely to spot dangerous warning signs often feel loyalty to the attacker, refuse to believe they could commit violence, or fear what would happen if they reported the issue." There's little evidence yet that red flag laws are effective at preventing mass shootings, but there's a growing body of data that such laws can reduce suicides, which account for two-thirds of all U.S. gun deaths.

Are gun rights advocates on board?
The National Rifle Association has been fighting red flag laws in states for years, and an NRA spokeswoman said Tuesday that any such laws "at a minimum must include strong due process protections, require treatment, and include penalties against those who make frivolous claims." In most states, gun owners can petition the court to get their guns back.

What "red flags" should people look for?
Along with expressed intent to harm others, people who commit mass shootings tend to have low self-esteem, significant extended trauma, a history of violence — especially domestic violence — substance abuse, multiple DWIs, outbursts of anger, and access to guns NBC News reports, citing multiple studies. Mental illness does not appear to be a significant factor. Peter Weber

9:39 a.m.

The United States and El Salvador signed a "cooperative asylum agreement" Friday in what is seen as another attempt by the Trump administration to curb the flow of migrants from Central America coming into the U.S.

Few details about how the agreement will work or when it will go into effect were provided, but acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the pact "is one significant step forward" and that it will build on what the U.S. has "accomplished already" with neighboring Guatemala, which is trying to implement a "safe third country" agreement with the U.S. signed earlier this summer. El Salvador's Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco told The Associated Press that the agreement could similarly lead to migrants from third countries obtaining refuge in El Salvador if they pass through on their way to the U.S., although most northern migration routes don't include the country.

Criticism was swift, with opponents arguing that El Salvador is not safe enough to serve as a refuge. "If this agreement goes into effect, the U.S. will be forcing the most vulnerable communities to seek safety in a country that is not equipped to protect its own citizens or provide economic opportunity," said Oscar Chacon, the executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led organizations. Read more at NPR and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

8:24 a.m.

The Pentagon announced Friday that President Trump has agreed to send a "modest deployment" of American troops to Saudi Arabia in response to strikes last week against two major Saudi Arabian oil facilities. The Trump administration and Saudi Arabia believe the attacks were orchestrated by Iran, but Tehran denies the allegations.

In addition to the hundreds of troops, the U.S. will deploy air and missile defense systems. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the decision was "defensive in nature" and was reportedly made in response to requests from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are seeking protection for their "critical infrastructure." When asked if the White House was considering a military strike against Iran, Esper said "that's not where we are right now." That seems to echo Trump's rhetoric about showing restraint for the time being.

Still, the threat of a conflict, though far from imminent, has been palpable of late, with Tehran warning that a U.S. or Saudi military strike would result in "an all-out war," while the White House ramped up sanctions against Iran on Friday. Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

September 20, 2019

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced Friday that white supremacy would become a top priority under the department's new strategy to fight terrorism and "targeted violence." The ramped up mission comes as mass shootings motivated by white supremacy seem to happen every week in the U.S., and McAleenan cites last month's shooting in El Paso, Texas as a major reasoning behind the change, The Atlantic reports.

After the shooting in a Walmart left 21 people dead, McAleenan told The Atlantic he recalled thinking "this is an attack on all of us." The shooting in a largely Hispanic community was seemingly motivated by racism, and much of DHS' workforce, especially at the southern border, is Hispanic. This and other shootings soon "galvanized" DHS to look "beyond terrorists operating abroad" and start tackling "violent extremists of any ideology," McAleenan said in a Friday speech.

The revised plan calls for analyzing the "nature and extent" of domestic terror threats and working more closely with local law enforcement to prevent them, NBC News reports. DHS will also crack down on technology companies who host hate-filled websites, provide more active shooter training to local law enforcement, and run antiviolence messaging campaigns, per the proposal.

The report came just hours after the House Oversight Joint Subcommittee held a hearing on confronting white supremacy, where conservative provocateur Candace Owens said that "white nationalism" isn't a problem for "minority Americans." As DHS's shifting priorities and general facts of life make clear, it definitely is. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 20, 2019

Antonio Brown is out of a job.

The wide receiver was released from the New England Patriots on Friday following an investigation into allegations of sexual assault. A woman has accused him of rape and sexual assault and sending threatening text messages, which Brown has denied through an attorney.

Earlier Friday, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick told a press conference of reporters that he wouldn't answer any questions about Brown. They asked anyway, and he abruptly ended the conference.

Brown has been at the center of several claims of wrongdoing, allegedly refusing to comply with NFL equipment policies and facing fines after an altercation with the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, in addition to allegedly failing to pay former assistants. He was released from the Raiders before the season began and picked up by the Patriots, playing one game with New England under a $15 million contract as the allegations became public. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 20, 2019

This might just send House Democrats over the impeachment tipping point.

Reports of Trump promising a foreign leader something concerning to the intelligence community drew condemnation from Democratic congressmembers over the past few days. But with a Friday Wall Street Journal report saying that account involved Trump pushing for a Ukrainian investigation of Hunter Biden, they're calling for impeachment more loudly than ever.

Per the Journal report, Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son eight different times in a single phone call. Trump reportedly wanted Zelensky to work with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani on the matter, and Giuliani told CNN on Thursday he'd talked to Ukraine about the probe.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was one of the first to respond to the report, as he was on the phone with The Washington Post's Robert Costa when it broke. If Trump "requested that the president of Ukraine interfere in an American election, we are in really dangerous, brand new territory," Murphy said, later vaguely adding in a tweet that "Congress must act."

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) was far more explicit.

He followed this with a retweet asking people to "flood" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with "pro-impeachment phone calls." Pelosi has long been reluctant to impeach Trump, and in a Friday interview shortly before the Journal report dropped, she showed no signs of softening. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 20, 2019

President Trump in July reportedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, not once, not twice, but eight different times on a single phone call.

That's according to a report Friday from The Wall Street Journal, which cites sources familiar with the matter saying Trump pressured Zelensky to work with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on an investigation into the matter.

The president reportedly wanted to probe whether Biden worked to shield from investigation a Ukrainian gas company with ties to his son, Hunter Biden. One of the sources the Journal cited said they did not believe Trump offered the Ukrainian president a quid-pro-quo.

This comes amid an ongoing scandal surrounding a whistleblower who filed a complaint in August regarding Trump's communications with a foreign leader, which The Washington Post reported Thursday is related to Ukraine. The whistleblower was reportedly troubled upon hearing the phone call and alerted Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who marked the complaint as being of "urgent concern."

On Friday, Trump denied having any "dicey" conversation with a foreign leader, writing, "there was nothing said wrong." But he did not deny discussing Biden in conversations with Ukraine; when directly asked if he did, Trump responded, "It doesn't matter what I discussed." The White House did not comment on the story from The Wall Street Journal. Brendan Morrow

September 20, 2019

The largest retailer in the United States is ending the sale of e-cigarettes.

Walmart said Friday it will no longer sell e-cigarettes at its U.S. stores, citing "growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty," CNBC reports. The company plans to sell off its current inventory, after which it will "complete our exit."

This comes a week after President Trump announced his administration plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Walmart already announced it would stop selling fruit and dessert-flavored e-cigarettes earlier this year at the same time that it raised the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, The Associated Press reports.

When Trump made his announcement last week, there had been reports of six deaths of lung disease tied to vaping, and that number has since risen to eight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday there have been 530 confirmed or probable cases of lung injury associated with e-cigarette use. Brendan Morrow

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