September 13, 2019

New Saturday Night Live cast member Shane Gillis' response to the controversy over his use of racist and homophobic slurs hasn't, it seems, remotely helped his situation.

Shortly after the NBC sketch show announced Gillis' hiring Thursday, examples of his use of racist and homophobic slurs spread online, including a video from September 2018 in which he uses an anti-Asian slur. He also used homophobic slurs in another instance, Variety reports. This controversy came on the same day SNL hired its first cast member of East Asian descent: Bowen Yang, who is also openly gay.

Amid the firestorm, Gillis released a statement defending himself as a "comedian who pushes boundaries" and takes "risks." While saying that "I sometimes miss," he didn't apologize and instead wrote that he would be "happy to apologize to anyone who's actually offended," seemingly questioning the motives of those criticizing him.

"The contempt in 'actually' tells you what you need to know," writer Mark Harris tweeted. "Racism is famously boundary pushing because nobody has ever been racist before," comedian Siobhan Thompson sarcastically commented. Writer Priscilla Page agreed, tweeting, "making a bad joke and sitting around with your friend just being casually racist are 2 very different things," while The Washington Post's Gene Park similaly wrote, "Ok but just saying the slur isn't really comedy or pushing any boundaries." Comedian Patton Oswalt, while not mentioning Gillis' name, also made his feelings on this non-apology pretty clear.

SNL hasn't yet responded to the controversy surrounding Gillis' hiring. For now, he's set to be a part of the show's line-up when it returns on Sep. 28. Brendan Morrow

10:11 a.m.

Get your posterboards ready.

It's impeachment hearing time, and while House Republicans didn't enter the floor until 10 a.m., their defense of President Trump sure arrived earlier. Lined up behind the bench Wednesday morning where congressmembers would soon take their seats were a series of posters essentially outlining Republicans' strategy for the day.

On the farthest left of the three posters, Republicans printed a quote from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). He was the first congressmember to call for impeaching Trump more than two years ago, and at one point said "I'm concerned if we don't impeach the president, he will get re-elected." That's indicative of how Republicans will likely claim Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry as a last resort for beating Trump.

That same message is reflected in a blow-up of a a tweet from Mark Zaid, the lawyer for the whistleblower who first raised concerns about Trump's Ukraine dealings. In it, Zaid says a "coup has started" against Trump and that "impeachment will follow," apparently indicating his bias in the matter. And the middle board says it's been 93 days since House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) "learned the identity of the whistleblower," suggesting he's holding back information from the rest of Congress. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:22 a.m.

Republicans have trotted out 17 defenses of President Trump's conduct with Ukraine since a whistleblower accused Trump of extorting the country's president for partisan political gain, according to The Washington Post's count.

The whistleblower's complaint has been mostly corroborated by impeachment witnesses, many of whom will testify over the next 10 days. But in an 18-page memo passed around Monday, Republicans boiled down their defense of Trump to four main points you can expect to hear frequently during the public impeaching hearings. Generally, the memo states, the transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky doesn't show a culpable "state of mind" on Trump's part.

Specifically, the GOP memo argues that Trump's call "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure," says Trump and Zelensky both denied that Trump pressured him during the call, claims the Ukrainian government didn't know Trump was withholding aid when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, and point out that Trump released the aid on Sept. 11 without any public announcement of an investigation he was seeking.

"Whatever you may think of the president or the case that he tried to extort Ukraine's president for political gain, there's a lot in these talking points which are just not true," Anderson Cooper said on CNN Tuesday night. For example, many of the arguments are contradicted or undermined by witnesses involved in Ukraine policy, he said, and "as many legal minds have also pointed out, attempted bribery and attempted extortion are still considered crimes." You can watch his entire fact-check below. Peter Weber

8:08 a.m.

The historic first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is about to begin.

The House Intelligence Committee is set to hold this first hearing Wednesday nearly two months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. EST, with the witnesses being William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

The House is examining whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine into opening investigations that he thought might help him in the 2020 presidential election, including involving former Vice President Joe Biden. One of Wednesday's witnesses, Taylor, previously testified that it was his "clear understanding" that Trump was conditioning the release of aid to Ukraine on the country committing to the investigations Trump sought.

Witnesses have testified that Trump was specifically looking for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to make a public announcement that these investigations were being pursued, and Kent previously told Congress that Trump "wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton."

The impeachment hearing can be streamed at 10 a.m. on YouTube via CBS, with coverage beginning an hour earlier. Brendan Morrow

7:34 a.m.

Much of the U.S., from the Great Plains to the East Coast, was hit with record-breaking cold and snowfall on Tuesday. Thirty percent of the continental U.S. is blanketed in snow, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates. The "arctic outbreak" was expected to reach the upper Texas coast on Wednesday. "The arctic airmass that has settled into the Plains will continue to spread record cold temperatures south and eastward into the Ohio Valley and down into the southern Plains," according to the National Weather Service. By Wednesday, temperatures in an estimated 300 locations will tie or break cold-weather records. Harold Maass

6:57 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is the new frontrunner in Monmouth University's poll of Iowa Democratic presidential caucusgoers. In the poll, released Tuesday, Buttigieg got support from 22 percent of likely caucusgoers, jumping 14 percentage points from Monmouth's last poll in August. Former Vice President Joe Biden lost 7 points, falling to second place with 19 percent support, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) lost 2 points, coming in at 18 percent. The only other candidate with double-digit support was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who gained 5 points to 13 percent support. When first and second choices were combined, Buttigieg led Warren 37 percent to 35 percent.

Buttigieg's support increased across all major demographics. At the same time, only 28 percent of likely caucus goers said they are committed to their candidate, and most said they are open to the possibility of switching contenders. Monmouth conducted the poll Nov. 7-11 among 451 likely Democratic caucus goers; its margin of sampling error is ±4.6 percentage points. Peter Weber

6:18 a.m.

The House Intelligence Committee will gavel into session at 10 a.m. (EST) Wednesday for the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump's Ukraine dealings. Wednesday's witnesses are William Taylor, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

The hearings, broadcast live on cable and network TV and online, will begin with 90 minutes of questioning by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the panel's top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and their staff; most of the questions are expected to come from former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman for the Democrats, Steve Castor for the Republicans. After Schiff and Nunes take their 45 minutes, the other committee members will each get five minutes to question the witnesses.

Taylor will likely testify about his alarm that the Trump administration was withholding crucial military aid for Ukraine until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly announced investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Kent testified behind closed doors that Trump was insisting Zelensky say three words: "Investigations, Biden, Clinton." The Washington Post's Paul Kane previews the hearings.

Democrats have signaled they will try to keep the hearing focused on Trump and what they believe are his use of the U.S. government to extort Ukraine into targeting Trump's domestic political rivals. Republicans will try to keep the focus off of Trump and, according to their published talking points, argue that the witnesses have no first-hand knowledge of Trump's directives, and try to paint the impeachment inquiry as part of a long-running effort by Democrats to unseat Trump. You can watch The Associated Press give its overview of the historic hearings below. Peter Weber

4:57 a.m.

You may want to sit down for this one. Stephen Miller, the influential senior White House policy adviser who has steered President Trump's exclusionist immigration policy, sent hundreds of emails to a Breitbart News editor in 2015 and 2016 with links to white nationalist sites, successfully shaping Breitbart's coverage of race and immigration, according to a new report from the Souther Poverty Law Center. The former Breitbart editor, Katie McHugh, shared more than 900 emails from Miller with the SPLC's Hatewatch.

"What Stephen Miller sent to me in those emails has become policy at the Trump administration," McHugh told Hatewatch. Breitbart fired McHugh in 2017 after she posted an anti-Muslim tweet, and she has since renounced her white nationalist views. When McHugh worked at Breitbart, Miller sent her links to articles from VDARE, American Renaissance, and other sites tied to white nationalism, and he fixated on the "white genocide" conspiracy theory and touted the French anti-migrant novel The Camp of Saints, both of which are popular among white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

After lunch one day, "Miller asked me if I had seen the recent 'AmRen' article about crime statistics and race," McHugh told Hatewatch. "I responded in the affirmative because I had read it. Many of us (on the far right) had read it. I remember being struck by the way he called it 'AmRen,' the nickname." According to the SPLC, Miller got a piece he wrote for far-right site FrontPage Magazine republished in American Renaissance in 2005. Miller was also apparently upset that Amazon stopped selling Confederate battle flags after the 2015 Charleston massacre in a historic black church.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said administration officials were not familiar with the new report and called the SPLC a "far-left smear organization" whose work is "beneath public discussion." Peter Weber

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