June 9, 2020

The Lincoln Project, a super PAC of Republican strategists seeking to defeat President Trump, released another ad Tuesday morning that savagely targets one of Trump's manifest insecurities, in this case the first one he revealed as president.

"It took almost four years for Trump to get the crowds he wanted," the narrator says over photos of Trump's sparse inaugural crowd followed by large Black Lives Matters protests from around the country. "After years of Donald Trump's divisiveness and discord, America is coming together." Voters will have to choose between America and Trump, the ad argues. "Imagine how big the crowds will be when he's gone."

Trump has tried to hit back at the Lincoln Project's founders, including George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, but the group seems to revel in his tweets and verbal insults. They even created an ad bragging "we're still there, living in your head."

There's evidence the group really has gotten inside Trump's head. One reason Trump's re-election campaign is spending more than $400,000 on cable news ads in the solidly blue Washington, D.C., market is his paid advisers are "hoping to counter-program recent ads" by the Lincoln Project, The Daily Beast reported Monday night, citing two campaign sources. Trump responded furiously after the super PAC aired an ad called "Mourning in America" on Fox News in the D.C. area, a strategy Conway said his group learned from Trump's team.

The Lincoln Project also cut an ad zeroing in on Trump's reported anxiety that his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is using the Trump name to get rich, even as Trump's poll numbers slide.

Conway has argued at length that Trump is a sociopathic narcissist, and another recent mocked "a frightened Trump" who "hides from protesters in a deep bunker, firing off tweets" like a "coward." Trump claimed on Fox News radio last week that he was only "inspecting" the bunker, an obvious lie that Attorney General William Barr causally upended Monday afternoon.

"The Lincoln Project represents a limited constituency, given that President Trump has received exceedingly high approval numbers among Republicans in poll after poll," The Daily Beast notes. "But the group and its D.C.-targeted messages have managed to get under the president's skin." Peter Weber

4:18 a.m.

Borat showed up to taunt Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, but Stephen Colbert got to interview Sacha Baron Cohen on Monday's Late Show. And Cohen had some new details about Borat Subsequent Moviefilm's most infamous scene, where Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, puts himself in a compromising position with a young actress playing Borat's daughter, Tutar.

Giuliani "has denied that he was actually doing anything untoward toward this girl, this 24-year-old woman playing your 15-year-old daughter," Colbert said. "Do you have anything to say to Rudy Giuliani about going into a bedroom with a supposedly teenage girl to drink whisky and zip your pants up and down?" Cohen noted that Giuliani "said that he did nothing inappropriate, and you know, my feeling is if he sees that as appropriate, then heaven knows what he's intended to do with other women in hotel rooms with a glass of whisky in his hand."

Cohen explained that while the actress, Maria Bakalova, was in the hotel room with Giuliani, he was hiding in a custom-built box in the wardrobe, unable to see but supposed to be getting updates from his producer based on the cameras hidden in the room. "You don't want Maria left alone with Giuliani," Colbert suggested, and Cohen said Giuliani thought he was alone with her. "He brought a cop with him, an ex-policeman, and the policeman does a sweep of the entire hotel suite," he explained, and then Rudy's security guard left and "sits outside the room, ensuring that no one could come in and out — which is actually more scary when you think about it, for her." Things got even dicier when he turned on the phone, Cohen said.

Cohen also recounted what really happened when he interviewed Trump as another of his alter-egos, Ali G, and showed unreleased footage of Borat narrowly escaping a gun-rights rally after being recognized by undercover Black Lives Matter activists. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:21 a.m.

President Trump signed an executive order last week that could turn tens of thousands of nonpartisan career civil service jobs into "excepted service" positions, stripping federal scientists, public health experts, attorneys, regulators, and other policy professions of civil service protections. These career employees would essentially become political appointees whom the president could fire without cause or recourse.

Ronald Sanders, appointed by Trump to head the Federal Salary Council, cited this order when resigning Sunday, telling The Washington Post on Monday, "I don't want to sound too corny here, but it was just a matter of conscience."

Trump's order "is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the president, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process," Sanders wrote in his resignation letter. "I simply cannot be part of an administration that seeks ... to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law ... not to be loyal to a particular president or administration."

Sanders, a lifelong Republican who has worked in federal personnel positions over four decades, said in his letter he "cannot in good conscience continue" to serve a president who "seeks to make loyalty to him the litmus test for many thousands of career civil servants." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow applauded his letter a "very, very rare Trump administration profile in courage."

Trump's executive order "would be a profound reimagining of the career workforce, but one that may end up as a statement of purpose rather than anything else," the Post notes. "The order fast-tracks a process that gives agencies until Jan. 19 to review potentially affected jobs. That’s a day before the next presidential inauguration. An administration under Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be unlikely to allow the changes to proceed." Peter Weber

1:47 a.m.

You won't see his art hanging in a museum, but Phil Heckels' drawings of family pets are bringing joy to his friends — and raising money for a good cause.

Heckels lives in England, and about six weeks ago, he asked his son to make a thank you card. He worked on his own piece of art, drawing their dog Narla, and posted a picture of it on Facebook, joking that it was available to buy for just £299 (about $390). It wasn't a great drawing, and Heckles was shocked with seven friends asked him to sketch their pets.

Word spread and more requests started coming in from people, so Heckels, who works in commercial real estate, started a Facebook page with the tongue-in-cheek promise to create "extremely realistic pictures." Heckels told CNN he does "genuinely try quite hard to draw them" while also "having a laugh with it. People seem to be enjoying it and I'm certainly enjoying it."

When one client insisted Heckels accept payment, the artist instead asked that they donate to charity, and he has since launched a fundraiser for one of his favorite charities, Turning Tides, which helps the homeless. So far, Heckels, who estimates he's finished 220 portraits, has raised $15,000 for the organization. He told CNN his drawings have provided "a little bit of fun and a little bit of light," and he would "die a happy man if I could spend the rest of my life doing this." Catherine Garcia

1:39 a.m.

The Supreme Court sided with Republicans in Wisconsin on Monday, ruling 5-3 along ideological lines that Wisconsin can count only those absentee ballots that arrive by Election Day — even if they were mailed days earlier. Since first-class mail has been taking an average of 10 days to be delivered in the state, Wisconsin's Democratic Party urged mail-in Democrats to hand-deliver their absentee ballots or vote in person.

The practical issue involves what happens with Wisconsin's 700,000 outstanding absentee ballots. "But the deeper issue is about the extent to which a ballot should be considered as valid," Phillip Bump writes in The Washington Post. In a factually sloppy concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh evidently embraced President Trump's baseless conspiracies about voter fraud and bizarre demand that the winner be announced election night.

Many states require absentee ballots to arrive by Election Day because they "want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election," Kavanaugh wrote. "And those states also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter."

Justice Elena Kagan, in her dissent, noted that "there are no results to 'flip' until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more 'suspicio[us]' or 'improp[er]' than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night."

More broadly, Kavanaugh — and Justice Neil Gorsuch — embraced late Chief Justice William Rehnquist's concurring opinion in 2000's Bush v. Gore, which invented a legal theory "so radical, so contrary to basic principles of democracy and federalism, that two conservative justices" rejected it, even as they agreed to hand the White House to George W. Bush in what was supposed to be a one-off decision, Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate.

Rehnquist argued that state courts cannot interpret state election laws in federal elections, Stern writes, "a breathtaking assault on state sovereignty" that would transform the Supreme Court "into a national board of elections with veto power over each state's election rules." With Judge Amy Coney Barrett put on the court, the conservatives likely have five votes enact Rehnquist's theory, throwing out ballots in Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well as Wisconsin, he added. "In other words, Barrett's first decisions as a justice may determine the outcome of the election." Peter Weber

12:24 a.m.

Two wind-driven brush fires in Orange County, California, have burned more than 10,000 acres combined and forced at least 100,000 residents to evacuate from their homes.

The Silverado fire broke out in Irvine on Monday morning, and by evening it had scorched 7,200 acres. Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy told the Los Angeles Times that a 26-year-old firefighter and a 31-year-old firefighter both sustained second- and third-degree burns while battling the blaze, and are now intubated at a local hospital. "They're gravely injured," he said. "We're doing all we can for them."

On Monday evening, Southern California Edison told the state's Public Utilities Commission it is investigating whether its equipment may have sparked the Silverado fire. So far, no homes have been reported destroyed.

A second blaze, the Blue Ridge fire near Yorba Linda, has burned 3,000 acres and destroyed one home. The dry Santa Ana winds are fanning the flames, and gusts of up to 70 mph were recorded in Orange County on Monday. Relative humidity was at 5 percent, "which is bone-dry," National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Gregoria told the Times, and the dry air combined with high winds is "creating these critical fire conditions." Catherine Garcia

October 26, 2020

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany is walking back comments she made in 2015, when she called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, then the vice president, "a man of the people" who is "funny and likable."

CNN's KFile reports that in August 2015, McEnany appeared on New York's AM970 to discuss what would happen if Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee and Biden, who was mulling a run for president, became the candidate for the Democrats.

McEnany said this would be "a problem" for the GOP, because "Joe Biden, one of the things he is remarkable at is really kind of being a man of the people and resonating with middle class voters. ... His gaffes, as much as we make fun of them, to a certain extent they make him look human." With Biden against Trump, "I think the juxtaposition of kind of the man of the people and kind of this tycoon is a problem," she added. Earlier that week, CNN reports, McEnany was on Fox Business Network, and said Biden was "funny and likable and can resonate with the middle class, he really can speak to the average, everyday American, versus Hillary Clinton, who's cold and somber."

After the 2016 election, McEnany became a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and joined the Trump team, and has blasted Biden at every opportunity, calling him a "radical socialist" and "sleepy." When CNN asked her to comment on her 2015 remarks about Biden, she accused him of being corrupt and called him "an empty vessel for the liberal elites and far left."

McEnany has also changed her tune when it comes to Trump; in 2015, after Trump said Mexico was sending "rapists" to the U.S., she said on CNN "a racist statement is a racist statement. I don't like what Donald Trump has said." In another interview on CNN, she called Trump "a Republican in name only" and said she didn't "want to claim this guy." As Trump's poll numbers began to go up, McEnany had a change of heart, and defended Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants. After becoming press secretary earlier this year, she explained away her earlier criticisms of Trump, saying she "very quickly came around and supported the president." Catherine Garcia

October 26, 2020

After the Senate voted on Monday night to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court justice, she spoke at a White House event, saying she was "truly honored and humbled" to be selected for the position.

Before Barrett spoke, Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath to her; on Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the judicial oath during a private ceremony. Several Republican senators attended the event, held outside on the White House's South Lawn.

During her remarks, Barrett said it is "the job of a senator to pursue her policy preferences" but "it is the job of a judge to resist her policy preferences," and "the oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor, and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences. I love the Constitution and the democratic republic that it establishes, and I will devote myself to preserving it." Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads