September 17, 2019

"Saudi Arabia is once again a radioactive political football in the U.S., and President Donald Trump can't resist grabbing it," Politico reports. Trump's implication Sunday that Saudi Arabia would dictate the U.S. military response to Saturday's aerial attack on a Saudi oil facility "prompted fury in Washington, where the Saudis have faced an increasingly hostile climate in recent years," in fact "almost as politically charged as in the years immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis."

Trump administration officials have said Iran is behind the attack on the major oil facility, though Trump and Saudi Arabia are publicly less definitive on the culprit. In a telephone briefing Monday, Brian Hook, Trump's special representative to Iran, told congressional staffers that Saudi Arabia views the attack as "their 9/11," CNN and The Washington Post report, citing two people familiar with the call.

The comparison to the Saudi-linked terrorist attacks, less than a week after the 18th anniversary of 9/11, "rankled several staffers," the Post reports. People also felt the comment was inappropriate, CNN reports, "because there have been no reported deaths as a result of the Saudi oil field strikes yet nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in New York, Washington, and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in the 9/11 attacks." An official used the same 9/11 comparison on Trump during a briefing on the Saudi oil explosions, a source tells The Daily Beast, and Trump appeared "unmoved."

"From an American perspective, it seems like a trivialization of the tragedy of 9/11, and perhaps offensively so," Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, explains to The Daily Beast, "but from a Saudi point of view it is a way of explaining their shock to Americans." Peter Weber

5:23 p.m.

Lucky number seven?

Businessman Andrew Yang will return to the Democratic presidential debate stage next week in Los Angeles after he picked up 4 percent in the latest national qualifying poll from Quinnipiac University on Tuesday, just two days before the cut-off.

He'll join six other candidates who have already qualified, including former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, billionaire Tom Steyer, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). It's the field's final chance to duke it out in a debate before the primary gets rolling with early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire in February.

Yang was able to secure a spot despite stricter polling standards that have left most of his competitors out in the cold. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — who said she won't attend the debate even if she qualifies — for example, have apparently crossed the fundraising threshold, but don't have the polling numbers. Tim O'Donnell

4:50 p.m.

The FBI issued a warning about a hunting license loophole months before it was used to obtain a gun by Mohammed Alshamrani, who killed three people at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, last week, Yahoo News reports.

Per Yahoo, the agency sent around a report in May that warned business about the possibility of "extremists and other criminal actors" exploiting a federal exception allowing "non-immigrant visa holders" to legally purchase firearms via a hunting license or permit. The alert noted that terrorist organizations like the Islamic State "have encouraged" people to find workarounds in U.S. gun-purchasing laws "to conduct mass casualty shooting attacks in their home countries."

The FBI confirmed Tuesday that Alshamrani obtained his weapon through the hunting license exemption, but the retailer he reportedly bought it from declined to say whether the store received the FBI's warning. While the 21-year-old member of the Royal Saudi Air Force, who was an aviation student at the base, does not appear to have any direct links to international organizations like ISIS, the shooting is being investigated as a terrorism incident.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is now reportedly "at a minimum" advocating for "improved vetting" of foreign nationals seeking to purchase firearms, though he remains a "strong proponent of the Second Amendment for United States citizens," a spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferré said. Read more at Yahoo News. Tim O'Donnell

4:46 p.m.

Yes, the USMCA is facing further delays. No, Democrats aren't the chief cause.

After House Democrats announced Tuesday they'd crafted a on a U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement they and the White House could both agree on, House Republicans started pushing for an immediate vote on the trade deal. But it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who's stopping their wishes, saying Tuesday the Senate wouldn't see the trade deal until at least next year.

Republicans followed Democrats' Tuesday USMCA press conference with one of their own, with the top Republican on the Ways and Means committee Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) calling out "much delay by Democrats" before the trade deal got here. Then the calls for scratching out further stalling began pouring in. Brady tweeted that Congress "must pass USMCA without delay," as did Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

But it seems McConnell wasn't listening. Even though Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the Senate will only have 30 days to vote on the USMCA once the House passes it, McConnell said the body wouldn't consider the USMCA before its holiday recess. That leaves it for next year and, considering the Senate has already wiped out its January calendar as it buckles down for an impeachment trial, pushes the USMCA to a rule-breaking February arrival date. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:45 p.m.

Warming air and water temperatures, eroding sea ice, and wildlife showing signs of stress — the Arctic Report Card for 2019 portrays a rapidly changing climate and ecosystem.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations' report, released Tuesday, outlines how arctic ecosystems and communities are at risk. Meanwhile, world leaders are at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid working on ways to approach the crisis.

Scientists noted that feared climate change acceleration may already be underway. The soil underneath Arctic permafrost contains about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere, per the report. As temperatures rise, this carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gasses, creating a loop of climate change acceleration.

"We've turned this corner for Arctic carbon," Ted Schurr, a researcher at Northern Arizona University who was involved with the report card, told The Washington Post, and the amount of carbon emitted in the Arctic will continue to grow. This will make achieving carbon-cutting goals of the Paris Climate Agreement even more difficult.

Indigenous Elders in the Bering Sea region are among the first groups of people to experience hardships of climate change, as the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the global average. The report states that climate change is threatening their "homes, schools, airports, and utilities."

"We fear for our young people," they said in the report. "We worry that they will grow without the same foods and places that we have known throughout our lives."

The Arctic report card was the 14th annual from the NOAA, and was developed by 81 scientists from 12 countries. Taylor Watson

4:25 p.m.

Facebook has fired an employee who allegedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to reactivate banned ad accounts, BuzzFeed News reports.

The social media company has confirmed to BuzzFeed the employee is "no longer working with Facebook," as "this behavior is absolutely prohibited under our policies."

According to the report, a Facebook employee was paid to reactivate accounts connected to the marketing firm Ads Inc., which BuzzFeed writes "was running a sophisticated Facebook scam that involved placing more than $50 million in ads that typically made false claims about celebrities," with this being "part of a scheme that tricked consumers into signing up for an expensive monthly subscription for a product that was initially marketed as a free trial," as previously revealed in a BuzzFeed investigation.

The former Facebook employee reportedly made a deal with the former CEO of Ads Inc. whereby they would be paid $5,000 as an initial fee, as well as a possible monthly retainer of $3,000, in exchange for reactivating accounts Facebook had banned because they violated its policies. A former employee for Ads. Inc. said in the report more than one Facebook employee would do so, telling BuzzFeed, "to be honest there were a few people that would flip ads back on."

Facebook says it is "continuing to investigate the allegations and will take any further necessary action." Read the full report at BuzzFeed News. Brendan Morrow

3:39 p.m.

President Trump's Republican allies in his battle against impeachment don't seem too bothered about what the history books might say about them one day.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has appeared on both the House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committee panels during the impeachment inquiry, frankly couldn't seem to care less about his personal legacy. "I don't care how I'm remembered," Jordan told HuffPost, adding that he hasn't given anything like that a "second's thought."

Instead Jordan said he's more concerned about House Democrats trying to remove Trump with "zero facts on their side" because they can't accept the 2016 election results, as well as what he apparently considers elitist attitudes of Democratic witnesses like Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee last week. "The arrogance that lady had for hillbillies like Jim Jordan from Ohio, or Mark Meadows from the mountains of North Carolina, or anyone across the heartland who voted for this president, the disdain that she had for us, you know, regular folk," he said.

Meadows and Collins were more measured than Jordan, with the former telling HuffPost that "historical commentary will be about the process more than the individuals," and the latter noting that "history writes itself."

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is helping lead the Democrats' impeachment charge, wasn't buying the nonchalance, though. "History will not be kind to those that refuse to do their duty in the face of this unethical president," he said. Read more at HuffPost. Tim O'Donnell

2:32 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr says he disagrees with the Department of Justice's inspector general about the Trump-Russia investigation, suggesting the FBI may have operated in "bad faith."

The DOJ's inspector general in a report Monday found no evidence that the FBI's investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia was opened under "political bias or improper motivation," although it found "significant errors" were made.

Barr in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday said he disagrees with the inspector general on "whether there was sufficient predication to open a full-blown counterintelligence investigation specifically using the techniques that they did." He also suggested the FBI may have operated in bad faith, despite the report not finding evidence of bias or improper motivation.

"I think there were gross abuses ... and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI," Barr said. "I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith."

Barr went on to say that the reason for opening the investigation was "very flimsy."

These comments come after FBI Director Christopher Wray told ABC News that "it's important that the inspector general found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization." President Trump subsequently attacked Wray on Twitter, writing, "I don't know what report current director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me." Brendan Morrow

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