September 9, 2019

Democratic presidential hopefuls are making "big promises about the fabulous bills candidates will sign when they're elected," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. But they probably won't, "because they'd have to go through the Senate," which is currently "a giant nonfunctioning roadblock." The Senate's "low level of production is likely thanks to one incredibly annoying legislative tool — not actually this tool," he said, showing a photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), "although he is certainly at fault. I'm referring to the filibuster."

The filibuster, or "any tactic aimed at blocking a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote," has "often been presented in TV and movies as a heroic act, like when Jimmy Stewart talked himself to exhaustion in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," but "the modern filibuster is nothing like the Jimmy Stewart version," Oliver said. "It's become an overused tool of obstruction." Because any legislation now needs 60 votes to pass, he said, "theoretically, senators from the 21 least populated states, representing just 11 percent of Americans, could overrule everyone else. Which seems pretty extreme."

"To recap the main arguments in favor of the filibuster: We've always had it (no, we haven't); it enables debate (no, it doesn't); it protects minorities (not the ones you're thinking of); it encourages bipartisanship (not even close)," Oliver said. "It has become so difficult to pass a law, the big issues of our day are now being handled by other branches of the government," notably via executive action or court rulings. Killing the filibuster "is undeniably a gamble," since your side won't always have power, "but personally, I have come around to thinking it is a risk worth taking," he said. "The Senate is supposed to address America's problems, and the filibuster is making it basically impossible for them to do that." To convince risk-averse skeptics, Oliver turned to "the exact kind of big, stupid speech that I hate." Watch him "filibuster the filibuster" below (if you don't mind NSFW language). Peter Weber

2:30 p.m.

The shooting — which is now being considered an act of terrorism — that resulted in three deaths at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday has placed the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia under a microscope.

The suspected shooter, identified as Saudi Royal Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammad Saeed Alshamrani, was an aviation student at the base. The killing has led some people to question whether the partnership should continue, especially considering there have long been doubts about the alliance for a variety of reasons, most notably accusations of human rights abuses in Yemen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

But President Trump seems committed to U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, especially as his administration remains wary of Iran's influence in the Middle East. Trump said he spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after the shooting, who offered his condolences to family and friends of the deceased. There didn't, however, seem to be much in the way of rethinking the alliance.

That doesn't mean others haven't. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is aiming to challenge Trump as the next Democratic nominee, called the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia "unacceptable."

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a supporter of Trump, said he was assured by Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud that Saudi Arabia would not interfere with the investigation into the matter, unless requested. But he still said that Friday's shooting "has to inform" the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Tim O'Donnell

1:52 p.m.

NBC's Chuck Todd really isn't sure why Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), of all people, isn't more skeptical of President Trump.

Cruz, in an appearance on Sunday's edition of Meet the Press, said he still believes Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election, which has become a major talking point among Republicans defending Trump during the impeachment inquiry that was spurred, in part, by Trump asking the Ukrainian government to investigate the claim.

As he did last week, when Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) expressed a similar opinion, Todd seemed like he couldn't quite grasp what he was hearing. He then asked Cruz why he's so trusting of Trump considering he dealt with the president's attempts to manipulate a narrative about someone firsthand during the Republican primary battles in 2015 and 2016, including Trump's threat to "spill the beans" about Cruz's wife. The senator wasn't thrilled Todd brought that up, but he didn't backtrack on his comments about Ukraine.

Todd, for his part, wasn't buying Cruz's argument that Ukraine officials criticizing Trump during the election amounted to interference. The NBC host said Cruz, in comparing Ukraine's role in the elections to Russia, was basically comparing a pickpocket to Bernie Madoff. Tim O'Donnell

12:52 p.m.

Only four weeks remain in the 2019 NFL regular season, and Sunday's slate of games is a doozy.

It'll be a particularly telling week for the AFC East, where the New England Patriots might actually have a real challenger for the division crown for the first time in what seems like forever – and people are excited.

New England, behind quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichik, has won the last 10 division titles, but the upstart 9-3 Buffalo Bills, who were mostly an afterthought before the season, are right there.

Here's the thing, though: Neither team has done much against quality opponents this year, aside from New England's hardfought 16-10 victory in Buffalo way back in Week 3. New England is 10-2, but they were beat convincingly in their two most challenging games this year — road matchups with the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans — which has led to questions about whether the Brady-Belichik partnership might be winding down.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has only beat one team that currently has a winning record, and it's fair to say that the Tennessee Titans were nowhere near as good as they are now when that happened.

Both teams will be up against a major test Sunday with a chance to buck the trend. New England will host the Kansas City Chiefs and reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, while the Bills have the luxury of playing the Baltimore Ravens, the hottest team in the league thanks to potential 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Per The Ringer, New England will need its statistically-impressive defense to play like it has against its non-Houston and Baltimore opponents, while Buffalo will need its improving quarterback Josh Allen to step up against Jackson. Tim O'Donnell

11:08 a.m.

President Trump may have gotten a good response from his audience, but his latest speech offended many others.

Trump delivered a 45-minute speech to the Israeli American Council in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday evening. Trump spoke about his administration's decisions to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2017, move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and eliminate funding for the Palestinian Authority as he urged those in attendance to vote for him while he runs for a second term in the Oval Office. Trump was reportedly regularly interrupted by the crowd's chants of "four more years" during the speech.

But the speech was not without controversy, with several observers noting that his words played into anti-Semitic tropes about wealth and loyalty, Haaretz reports. During the speech, Trump said there are Jewish people in the U.S. who don't love Israel enough, and added that if someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gets elected to the presidency, instead, the people in the room would "be out of business in 15 minutes."

Read more at Haaretz and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:32 a.m.

Welcome to NATO High.

In the latest Saturday Night Live cold open, the NBC show parodied the hot mic situation from last week's NATO conference, in which several world leaders appeared to be gossiping about President Trump. Paul Rudd, Jimmy Fallon, and James Corden joined the sketch as French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Rudd's Macron and Fallon's Trudeau are clearly the cool kids at the NATO conference, and they've decided to let Corden's Johnson tag along with them during lunch (though it sounds like they mostly want him to help them throw a party at Buckingham Palace.)

Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin returned as Trump, who — along with a tray filled with several cheeseburgers — tries to snag a seat at the table, but is continuously rejected by the trio, who eventually give their fourth seat to a shocked Angela Merkel (portrayed by Kate McKinnon). Baldwin's Trump is especally stung by Corden's Johnson, who he thought was his friend. After Baldwin's Trump gets fed up with his fellow leaders' antics, Cecily Strong's first lady Melania Trump dropped by with a message about bullying. Watch the full skit below. Tim O'Donnell

8:09 a.m.

North Korea is at it again. But this time no one is exactly sure about what they're up to.

North Korean state media reported Sunday that Pyongyang conducted a "successful test of a great significance" Saturday at its Sohae satellite launch site, a rocket testing ground, but did not reveal what was tested. U.S. officials have said North Korea promised to close the testing ground, but it appears that won't be the case any longer as Pyongyang's year-end deadline to reach a denuclearization agreement with Washington nears after talks stalled earlier this year.

It likely wasn't a missile launch, since Japan and South Korea can usually detect those. Instead, missile experts said it's possible North Korea tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow the country to field intercontinental ballistic missiles that are easier to hide and faster to deploy. "If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn't already," said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year."

North Korea has promised to adopt a "new path" if the U.S. does not offer sanctions relief, which analysts believe could include launching a satellite that would allow Pyongyang to continue testing missiles more covertly. Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did not want to answer that one.

Warren on Saturday steered away from directly responding to a question about whether she would release her tax returns from before 2008 if her fellow Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made his fundraisers open to the press.

The senator didn't say yes or no, but she made the argument she was focusing on the present. To her point, she has already released 10 years worth of her tax returns, which is more than President Trump or former President Barack Obama ever released. But Warren has also recently called for Buttigieg to release the names of his clients when he worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He began that job in 2007.

Buttigieg's camp responded to Warren already, and called for her to release the returns in a show of transparency. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads