November 21, 2019

Thursday's impeachment witnesses have so far only added to the quid pro quo case against President Trump.

Former National Security Council adviser on Russia Fiona Hill and diplomat in Ukraine David Holmes testified in a public impeachment hearing Thursday. And just like their foreign service colleagues before them, they provided further evidence that Trump set out conditionals for Ukraine to receive aid and a White House meeting, spelling out the quid pro quo he has so far denied.

In his testimony, Holmes described a call he overheard between U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Trump, in which he heard Trump's "loud and recognizable" voice ask Sondland if Ukraine would start an unnamed investigation. He later said he thought Ukraine, upon realizing its aid from the U.S. hadn't arrived yet, would've "drawn that conclusion" that the aid was conditioned upon starting the investigation.

Hill provided more than just assumptions, testifying that Sondland told her that a White House meeting for Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky was dependent on him launching the investigations — and specifically saying Sondland was referring to the Bidens. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:16 a.m.

The United States Navy said Saturday that two of its aircraft carriers — the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and U.S.S. Nimitz — were conducting exercises in the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China despite objections from neighboring Southeast Asian countries. The exercises by the two U.S. carriers, as well as four other warships, reportedly include flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft.

The Navy said the purpose of the operations is to unambiguously "signal to our partners and allies" that the U.S. is "committed to regional security and stability" rather than serve as a response to exercises conducted by China nearby. It's no secret, though, that the strategic waterway has long been a point of tension between the two powers whose relationship is deteriorating over a trade war, the coronavirus pandemic, and Beijing's recent crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy.

The Wall Street Journal, which initially reported the story, described the South China Sea as central to China's plan to project strength beyond its traditional boundaries. Over the last few years, Beijing has been stocking artificial islands in the sea with missiles and jamming equipment that hinder operations by the U.S. and its allies, making it one of the most consequential hot spots in the world. Read more at Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:57 a.m.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraising official for the Trump re-election campaign and the girlfriend of President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the coronavirus Friday after traveling to South Dakota to watch Trump speak prior to an Independence Day fireworks display near Mount Rushmore.

Guilfoyle and Trump Jr. reportedly did not travel with the president aboard Air Force One or meet up with him in South Dakota, and Guilfoyle — who is reportedly asymptomatic at this point — was the only person in her travel group to test positive. She and Trump Jr., who tested negative, never made it to the event, and are reportedly planning to drive back to the East Coast in an attempt to avoid further contact with people.

The New York Times reports Guilfoyle is the third person in possible proximity to the president to test positive, suggesting people's — including Trump's — concerns about the president contracting the virus have some weight to them. But it's worth noting Trump is reportedly tested daily and the White House goes to great lengths to reduce the risk of infection. Read more at NBC News and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

10:43 a.m.

The United States on Friday reported 57,497 newly-confirmed coronavirus cases, the largest single-day total in the country since the pandemic began. It was the seventh time in nine days the U.S. set a new record, and at least 20 states set new highs for the average number of daily new infections over the last seven days.

Florida reported the most new cases at 9,488, and hospitals in at least two Texas counties are reportedly at full capacity, prompting county judges to urge people to shelter in place during the Independence Day weekend. Some governors and mayors have attempted to limit holiday celebrations in their states and cities and are either mandating or encouraging people wear masks, but there is concern the weekend will help keep cases rising. President Trump, for his part, held a large gathering at the base of Mount Rushmore on Friday evening, and attendees reportedly flouted public health guidelines.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases across the globe surpassed 11 million Friday. Read more at The Washington Post and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

10:27 a.m.

President Trump on Friday gave a speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota during a controversial Independence Day celebration, where many attendees reportedly weren't wearing masks and ignored public health guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The president railed against "cancel culture" and "far-left fascism" while describing activists' efforts to remove statues and monuments across the country following protests against police brutality and systemic racism as "a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children." Trump said "angry mobs" are not only trying to "deface our sacred memorials," but "unleash a violent wave of crime in our cities."

As a response, the president announced he was signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park featuring statues of "the greatest Americans to ever live." The suggestion list for who should be represented in the park is long — including, but not limited to, presidents like George Washington, civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and athletes like Jackie Robinson. Read more about Trump's time at Mount Rushmore at The Associated Press and The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

July 3, 2020

Just one day after a major sponsor of the Washington Redskins issued a rebuke of the football team's controversial name, the franchise announced it will "review" the moniker. FedEx, "a Fortune 100 company that for more than two decades has tied its brand to that of the team," as The Washington Post reports, made the request on Thursday after investors worth more than $620 billion in assets urged the company to cut ties with the team unless the name was changed. Nike, another sponsor, removed Redskins merchandise from its online store Thursday.

The move is significant because it suggests the battle over sports team names "has shifted from moral appeals to business and political tactics," the Post says, especially as the U.S. grapples with its long history of racial inequality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

FedEx owns the naming rights to the team's stadium in Maryland, so its opinion could matter quite a lot. Team owner Daniel Snyder has long been pressured to change the team's name, but he's previously claimed the name honors Native Americans. This is the first time he's relented. "This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League, and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field," Snyder said in a statement.

Read more at The Washington Post. Jessica Hullinger

July 3, 2020

As coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S., overwhelming hospitals and bringing state-wide reopening plans to a halt, many might be wondering where the next hotspots will be. Unfortunately, that's somewhat hard to predict, as "the infection curve rose in 40 of the 50 states heading into the July Fourth holiday weekend," The Associated Press reports. But we can make some educated guesses.

The states with the most severe outbreaks at present are Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California, which "reported a combined 25,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday," AP says. But Georgia "is among the most worrying states right now," says Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic. Over the last week, the Peach State reported more than 14,800 new cases, and this can't be chalked up to more testing: "At the beginning of June, about one in 14 tests came back positive. Last week, about one in nine tests did; today, one in seven tests did," Meyer says.

Another state to watch is Ohio, "which saw new cases rise much faster than tests this week," Meyer reports. The percentage of positive tests has also doubled in Kansas, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Carolina. "In Nevada, it has tripled. In Idaho, it is five times higher," according to AP.

Meanwhile, the Northeast, which was the early epicenter for the virus, has seen new infections drop significantly. Of the states seeing a downward trend in infections, only two — Nebraska and South Dakota — are outside the Northeast. "What seems to unite many of the most affected states is that they reopened indoor dining, bars, and gyms," Meyer says. "What will distinguish them is how they react now." Jessica Hullinger

July 3, 2020

Tucker Carlson for president? It's not inconceivable.

According to Politico, a number of Republican Party insiders are hoping the Fox News host will "parlay his TV perch into a run for president in 2024," believing he could be the next-generation leader of Trumpism. It's undeniable that Carlson has a massive platform from which he could make his pitch. As Politico reports, Tucker Carlson Tonight is the most watched cable news program in history, and Luke Thompson, a Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush's super PAC in 2016, told Politico this would make him a "formidable" candidate. But if he were to become the nominee, a "debate over the future of the party" would erupt, Politico says, about "whether Trump was an aberration or a party-realigning disrupter — a fight that will be all the fiercer if Trump loses in November."

Carlson's high ratings come alongside an advertiser exodus following his on-air claim that the Black Lives Matter movement "is definitely not about Black lives. Remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will." His ability to repeatedly withstand a barrage of backlash seems to be one of his selling points for the Republican base. "What he's been saying speaks for a lot of people, and it's basically not expressed or serviced by most Republican politicians," Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, told Politico. "There's a lot to be said for being fearless, and he is, while Republican politicians, as a breed, are not."

The question, though, is: Would Carlson run? According to one former top political aide to Trump, Carlson is "disgusted" with politicians, so he probably won't be interested in becoming one. He also has zero political experience under his belt, but as Lowry notes: "Political experience matters less than it once did."

Read more at Politico. Jessica Hullinger

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