August 12, 2019

The Endangered Species Act made America's national bird great again, but the Trump administration is prepared to make significant changes to the law that helped rescue the bald eagle anyway, The New York Times reports.

The White House announced on Monday that it would change the way the Endangered Species Act, which was signed into law by former President Richard Nixon in 1973, is applied. The Times reports that the changes could clear the way for new mining, drilling, and development in areas where protected species live. The new rules would also make it more challenging to consider the effects of climate change when determining whether a species deserves protection, make it easier to remove a species from the list, and weaken protections for threatened species.

Another major tweak is the modification of language that prohibits economic factors when deciding a species' fate. Currently, determinations must be made solely on science. "There can be economic costs to protecting endangered species," said Drew Caputo, the vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife, and oceans at Earthjustice. But he added that focusing on short-term economic costs could lead to "a whole lot more extinct species."

Republicans have long considered the regulations too burdensome and punitive, but with the Democrats in control of the House any legislation would have little chance of passing, the Times reports. The Trump administration's revisions could be a way around that roadblock.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have both said that the changes will not effect the country's protection and recovery goals. "The Act's effectiveness rests on clear, consistent, and efficient implementation," said Bernhardt. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:02 a.m.

Monty Python co-founder Terry Jones has died at 77, his family confirmed Wednesday.

Jones, the writer, comedian, and founding member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, died Tuesday after a years-long battle with dementia, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"Over the past few days his wife, children, extended family and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London," his family said in a statement. "We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humor has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades."

The Reporter writes that Jones was considered to be Monty Python's "underrated but passionate heart," and he was responsible for much of the "early innovation" of the group's TV series Monty Python's Flying Circus. He worked as director or co-director of the films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian, and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, starring in the films as well. Outside of his work with Monty Python, Jones also authored books like Fairy Tales, a collection of children's stories, as well as the screenplay for Jim Henson's film Labyrinth.

Tributes poured in for Jones on Wednesday, with Stephen Fry remembering his "wonderful talent, heart and mind" and Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker praising him as an "actual genius." Monty Python's Michael Palin also remembered Jones as "one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation," per BBC News. On Twitter, Monty Python's John Cleese also paid tribute, writing, "It feels strange that a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away." Brendan Morrow

8:03 a.m.

President Trump is already fantasizing about abruptly showing up at his Senate impeachment trial, warning a reporter that she might just convince him it's a great idea.

Trump spoke in a news conference Wednesday after the impeachment trial against him began in the Senate, and he was asked whether he might appear during it. That idea, specifically the concept of showing up and intensely staring at Democrats, instantly seemed quite appealing to Trump.

"I'd love to go," Trump said. "Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be beautiful? ... Sit right in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces. I'd love to do it."

Asked why he doesn't do so if he'd love to so much, Trump told the reporter, "Don't keep talking, because you may convince me to do it," although he added that his lawyers "might have a problem" with the prospect.

Trump during this press conference touched on a variety of impeachment related issues including the possibility of former National Security Adviser John Bolton testifying, which Trump said he'd like to see happen except that "it's a national security problem." Besides, Trump said, "You don't like people testifying when they didn't leave on good terms." Brendan Morrow

7:27 a.m.

A CNN-SSRS poll released Wednesday morning found a new national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), though his lead over former Vice President Joe Biden is within the poll's margin of error, "meaning there is no clear leader in this poll," CNN says. Sanders, with 27 percent support among registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning, and Biden, polling at 24 percent, are now in a category of their own, though, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has fallen to a distant third at 14 percent.

"For the first time in the entirety of this campaign, in CNN's national polling, Joe Biden doesn't have the lead position all to himself," CNN political director David Chalian said on Wednesday's New Day. Sanders jumped 7 percentage points since December by eating into Biden's support among nonwhite voters and Warren's support among liberal Democrats.

The most important quality Democratic voters said they valued was electability, and Biden still held a commanding lead among candidates seen as the most likely to defeat President Trump, but Sanders leads in voter enthusiasm, CNN reports. Nine percent of men and 20 percent of women said they didn't think a woman can win the presidency.

In head-to-head polling against Trump, all six leading Democrats beat Trump nationally, with only Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) lead falling within the margin of error, but the candidates were all essentially tied with Trump in the 15 battleground states CNN identified. Trump's approval rating in the poll was 43 percent.

SSRS conducted the poll Jan. 16-19 among 1,156 adults, and the full sample has a margin of sampling error of ±3.4 percentage points. For the sample of 500 Democrats, the margin of error was ±5.3 percentage points. Peter Weber

6:46 a.m.

The Seattle area is jumping in where few municipalities have dared to tread, allowing all 1.2 million voters in King County to vote by smartphone in a Feb. 11 election, NPR reports. Cybersecurity experts are squeamish about online mobile voting, but King County has decided to wager that election security risks are worth the potential payoff of people actually voting in a local election. The stakes are relatively low in this case: Voters are choosing a new board of supervisors for the King Conservation District, a Washington state environmental agency many people in Seattle and the surrounding area have never heard of. Voting starts Wednesday.

The pilot project, to be announced in Seattle on Wednesday, is still making waves as the first U.S. general election conducted via mobile voting. Voters who chose to try out the new system will use a web portal to log in with their full name and birth date, and they will sign their ballot using their touchscreen. The ballots will be printed. Washington is good at verifying voter signatures because the state votes entirely by mail, says Bryan Finney of Democracy Live, the company providing the technology.

Tusk Philanthropies is funding the experiment, as it has smaller mobile voting projects. "This is the most fundamentally transformative reform you can do in democracy," founder Bradley Tusk tells NPR. "If you can use technology to exponentially increase turnout, then that will ultimately dictate how politicians behave on every issue."

"There is a firm consensus in the cybersecurity community that mobile voting on a smartphone is a really stupid idea," counters Duncan Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina. Still, he conceded, "until we have a total collapse of some election, I think this sort of thing is going to continue" because "people want to believe that, you know, they can do everything on their phones." Listen to NPR's report below. Peter Weber

5:41 a.m.

President Trump's impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday, and "soon we will find out if breaking the law is illegal — gotta say, so far I don't like the odds," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gets his way, there will be "no evidence, no witnesses, just 100 old people stuck in a room together. This isn't a trial, it's the 4 o'clock dinner rush at Denny's."

Lead impeachment prosecutor Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained why McConnell's rules make a mockery of trials, and even if that makes no difference, Colbert said, "it just feels good for someone to stand up and name the lie we can all plainly see." He thought less of Trump's legal team's loud protestations.

"Trump's defense team isn't even denying that he did what he's accused of, they just say it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment — which is like Jeffrey Dahmer arguing it didn't rise to the level of cannibalism," Jimmy Kimmel said at Kimmel Live. Senate Republicans "don't care about evidence, they know he's guilty," and "if you have a problem with that — which you should, no matter what side you're on — the best thing you can do is vote."

All senators, meanwhile, don't get screen time and can only drink water or milk — "the same rules I have for my 5- and 2-year-old children," Kimmel joked. "Why do I feel like Vice President Pence had something to do with the milk rule?"

"The only other place you'll see water and milk is in Mike Pence's beer helmet," Jimmy Fallon agreed at The Tonight Show. And while "senators have to remain silent and they can't use their phones," he added, "Trump will be screaming at the TV while tweeting from the toilet."

"No talking, no phones, no unapproved bathroom breaks or you could go to jail?" Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "This doesn't sound like a trial, it sounds like detention." He noted that "Trump's 'I Love the '90s' legal team" includes Kenneth Starr, from Bill Clinton's impeachment, and former O.J. Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz, both "perfect for Trump because they have experience with super-guilty people and super horny presidents."

The Daily Show's Michael Kosta wryly defended McConnell's "speedy Senate trial."

Conan O'Brien, meanwhile, got assurances from fictional McConnell aide Jim Fence (Chris Parnell) that the trial will be fair, at least for Trump. Peter Weber

3:17 a.m.

Two minutes before midnight Tuesday night, as the Senate was considering whether to subpoena documents and witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released 192 pages of documents related to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, complying with a Freedom of Information Act request from American Oversight.

"President Trump's lawyers stood in the Senate on Tuesday arguing that documents are totally unnecessary for the impeachment trial, but these documents give lie to that entire position," said American Oversight executive director Austin Evers. "Despite the Trump administration's obstruction and the rhetoric at the trial, the public can now see even more evidence of the president's corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real time," and just "how much the administration has withheld from the House, the Senate, and the American public."

The documents include emails between OMB associate director Michael Duffey, career OMB official Mark Sandy, and Pentagon officials Katie Wheelbarger and Elaine McCusker, who wrote Duffey he "can't be serious. I'm speechless," after he tried to blame the Pentagon for Trump's Ukraine aid freeze, according to unredacted emails won by another group, Just Security. Senate Republicans rejected motions to subpoena Duffey and OMB documents in the impeachment trial on Tuesday, and the emails released Tuesday night are heavily redacted.

The documents still tell a story, though.

American Oversight lists more FOIA deadlines for Ukraine-related Trump documents coming up, the next batch due from the Energy Department on Jan. 28. You can read this batch of documents at American Oversight. Peter Weber

2:14 a.m.

After a marathon debate session that began on Tuesday afternoon and ended early Wednesday morning, the Senate approved the ground rules for President Trump's impeachment trial.

The vote was 53 to 47, along party lines. Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) resolution, House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team will both have up to 24 hours over three days to argue their cases. Senators will have 16 hours to ask questions, and then they will revisit the matter of calling witnesses and subpoenating other evidence in the trial.

Before the final vote, the Senate rejected along party lines several Democratic amendments proposed by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), including subpoenaing former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. The Senate is now adjourned until 1 p.m. ET. Catherine Garcia

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