TPM News

Is Hope Hicks next on the chopping block?

As one of President Donald Trump’s closest aides, Hicks has had one of the longest tenures in the Trump White House. But the President has reportedly become increasingly exasperated with his communications director in recent days for her handling of the White House’s response to allegations of domestic abuse against former aide Rob Porter, CNN reported Friday.

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump believes Hicks let her relationship with Porter — whom she recently reportedly became romantically involved with, according to CNN and CBS — muddle her judgement in drafting a statement in Porter’s defense when his ex-wives’ allegations of abuse became public Tuesday. According to CNN’s sources, Trump was not consulted when Hicks wrote the statement and he thinks the communications director put her own interests above his.

Trump is also reportedly “very disturbed” by the coverage of Porter’s alleged abuse and subsequent resignation and is becoming increasingly frustrated with Chief of Staff John Kelly for his handling of the situation.

On Tuesday, The Daily Mail first reported that both of Porter’s ex-wives — Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness — have accused him of domestic abuse. The White House and Kelly quickly released statements defending Porter and his character. After seeing the photos of Holderness’ black eye that she said she sustained when Porter punched her, Kelly backtracked and put out a statement calling the allegations “shocking.” Kelly is under fire for his botched response to the allegations and for reportedly having previous knowledge of the ex-wives’ allegations.

Trump has reportedly been asking aides what they think of Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in recent weeks, which aides think means he’s considering Mulvaney as a potential candidate for a new chief of staff, according to CNN.

Porter has denied the accusations and called them a “smear campaign,” but ultimately resigned on Wednesday.

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NEW YORK (AP) — The flu has further tightened its grip on the U.S. This season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago.

A government report out Friday shows 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the U.S. during swine flu in 2009.

And it surpasses every winter flu season since 2003, when the government changed the way it measures flu.

This season started early and has been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other more common flu bugs.

But its long-lasting intensity has surprised experts, who are still sorting out why it’s been so bad. Flu usually peaks in February.

Some doctors say this is the worst flu season they’ve seen in decades. Some people are saying that, too.

Veda Albertson, a 70-year-old retiree in Tampa, was sick for three weeks with high fever and fluid in her lungs. She said she hadn’t been this sick from the flu since the 1960s, when she was a young mother who couldn’t get out of bed to go to the crib of her crying baby.

“It was like ‘Wham!’ It was bad. It was awful,” she said of the illness that hit her on Christmas Day.

Heather Jossi, a 40-year-old Denver police officer and avid runner, said her illness last month was the worst flu she’s experienced.

“I don’t remember aches this bad. Not for four days,” said Jossi. “It took me out.”

Last week, 43 states had high patient traffic for the flu, up from 42, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Flu remained widespread in every state except Hawaii and Oregon and hospitalizations continued to climb.

So far, however, deaths this season from the flu and flu-related pneumonia have lagged a little behind some recent bad seasons. There are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu during a bad year.

The CDC said the amount of suspected flu cases at doctor office and hospitals last week matched that seen in 2009, when a new swine flu epidemic swept the country and panicked many people. Swine flu, also called pandemic H1N1, was a new strain that hadn’t been seen before. It first hit that spring, at the tail end of the winter season, but doctor visits hit their height in late October.

This flu season, hospitalization rates have surpassed the nasty season of the winter of 2014-2015, when the vaccine was a poor match to the main bug.

Health officials have said this year’s vaccine targets the flu viruses that are currently making people sick. However, preliminary studies out of Australia and Canada have found the shot was only 10 to 20 percent effective in those countries. How well it is working the U.S. won’t be known until next week.

This year, illnesses are commonly being reported in people who got a flu shot. Albertson said she did in late October. Jossi didn’t.

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Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) announced on Friday that he will not seek re-election in 2018, leaving his swing district in Minnesota up for grabs.

“Now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation,” Nolan said in a statement.

In a letter announcing his retirement, Nolan said that he planned to finish his term in Congress “strong.”

“Despite the fact that our nation is being challenged by some rather troubling politics, let’s remember that our founders foresaw difficult times and gave us the tools to see them through,” Nolan wrote in the letter obtained by the Star Tribune. “Our Constitution is strong, our people are resilient, and the elections of 2018, 2020 and beyond provide continuing opportunities for progress, reform and necessary change.”

Nolan’s decision came as a bit of a surprise given his announcement in June that he would not run for governor because he felt pressure to hold onto his congressional seat. The district is historically Democratic, but it is slowly becoming more Republican leaning, as Kyle Kondik, an elections expert at the University of Virginia, explained.

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President Donald Trump asks intelligence officials to give him oral presentations of the President’s Daily Briefing rather than reading the brief himself, as most previous presidents have done, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Trump prefers to rely on oral presentations — featuring graphics, videos and maps —rather than reading the report because that’s his “style of learning,” the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the situation.

He asks “edge” questions during the oral presentations, an unnamed senior administration official told the Washington Post, and has complained that briefers are “talking down to him.”

Other unnamed officials told the Washington Post that Trump asks direct questions of his briefers such as, “Why can’t I just pull out of Afghanistan?”

The daily briefing — which is a highly classified roundup of important intelligence, compiled before dawn — is typically delivered first thing in the morning. According to the Washington Post, Trump reportedly receives the in-person briefing he prefers once every two or three days. The last president who may not have regularly read the intelligence briefing was Richard Nixon.

During his presidential transition in 2016, Trump turned away opportunities to be briefed on classified intelligence.

“You know, I’m, like, a smart person,” he said in December 2016.“I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

A month later, Trump said that his briefings on global threats made him realize that he has “got to get it right,” but indicated that he preferred to see those global issues summed up in one-page briefings in listicle form.

“I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he said. “I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The last time Sen. Rand Paul was in the news for a scuffle, it involved a neighbor who’s admitted tackling him in his yard over a lawn dispute. Thursday night, the Kentucky Republican took on the entire U.S. Senate — and rather than fisticuffs, his weapons of choice were obstinacy and the chamber’s weird rules.

With the clock ticking toward a midnight government shutdown, the 55-year-old lawmaker, ophthalmologist and veteran Senate pest made himself the sole obstacle to his chamber’s quick passage of legislation keeping federal agencies open.

The measure — which would shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with around $400 billion in new spending — was destined for overwhelming Senate approval, no matter what Paul did. It was finally approved early Friday by a 71-28 vote.

But the libertarian, failed 2016 GOP presidential contender and “wacko bird” — a moniker an angry Sen. John McCain gave him years ago — said “I object” when Senate leaders tried speeding a vote on the measure. Under the chamber’s rules, senators had to delay votes on the massive legislation past 1 a.m. Friday.

“I didn’t come up here to be part of somebody’s club. I didn’t come up here to be liked,” said Paul, whose actions during a seven-year Senate career make it likely that many colleagues would silently answer, “Mission accomplished.”

“I’m in a club that says we need to keep the government open,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said on the Senate floor. With Paul standing just a yards away, he said the delays could continue “if we want to go for theater” but said the bill would pass notwithstanding.

Paul said he was demanding a vote on an amendment against breaking spending caps imposed by a bipartisan budget agreement in 2011. He complained the new budget accord would drive up federal deficits — but didn’t mention that he backed a $1.5 trillion tax bill in December that added red ink that was multiples larger than this week’s spending agreement.

“I ran for office because I was critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits,” he told the chamber’s leaders, who stood silently as he derailed their hopes for an early evening vote. “Now we have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits.” He said he could not “look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.”

Paul said he was asking for a 15-minute debate and then a vote on his amendment, which was certain to lose. He said the 652-page measure was “printed at midnight” and was a bill that “no one has read.”

Paul’s fellow Kentuckian, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had no intention of caving in, knowing that would inevitably spark demands for amendment votes by other senators. Instead, they offered him a procedural vote, which Paul declined.

“It’s his right, of course, to vote against the bill,” McConnell said around 6 p.m. EST. “But I would argue that it’s time to vote.”

“We’re in risky territory here,” Schumer said, noting that Paul was flirting with a politically damaging government shutdown.

They got nowhere. Neither did No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas, who at 10 p.m. EST tried and failed to get Paul’s consent for votes before 1 a.m. Cornyn said Paul’s objections were “wasting everybody’s time” and said the Kentuckian would “effectively shut down the federal government for no real reason.”

Paul came to the Senate in 2009 after defeating a GOP primary opponent that McConnell had actively supported. The two men have made an effort to work together, and McConnell even backed Paul’s abortive 2016 presidential run.

“We get along fine,” Paul told reporters Thursday. Asked if McConnell was annoyed with him, Paul said: “Not that I know of. I think he takes policy disputes in hand.”

In the Senate, Paul’s libertarian streak has steered him into conflicts with his own party before. He’s opposed indefinite detention of terror suspects by the military, backed President Barack Obama’s restoration of relations with Cuba and waged an 11-hour filibuster in 2015 against renewing a law on government surveillance.

He’s advocated pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and once expressed his opposition in principle to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, though he later said he opposed its repeal.

Rene Boucher has admitted making a “running tackle” of Paul after seeing his neighbor add to a brush pile and deciding he’d “had enough,” according to court documents. Paul, who has said he was blindsided, suffered broken ribs in the November attack and developed pneumonia.

Boucher said the attack wasn’t politically motivated, the documents said. He’s been charged with assaulting a member of Congress as part of a plea agreement, but no date has been set for his guilty plea.

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — It was a historic moment, and it happened even before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics had officially begun.

As South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife greeted VIPs in their dignitary box to watch the opening ceremony, they turned to shake hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, who arrived earlier in the day on an unprecedented visit to the South by a member of the North’s ruling Kim family.

All broke out in broad smiles.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was at the opening ceremony with North Korea’s nominal head of state, 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam. They are part of an extraordinary diplomatic push by the North aimed at using the Olympics to ease tensions with Seoul and bolster unity between the two Koreas after a year that has been marked by escalating fears of war and increasing angry rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington.

As they shook hands, the North and South Koreans spoke briefly. It was not immediately known what they said, but all of them were smiling.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife arrived after the handshakes. They were seated beside the Moons and next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. His office said he did not interact with the North Koreans.

The Moons, Nam and Kim all stood again as athletes from both Koreas marched together behind a blue-and-white “unification” flag for the first time since 2007. There was another handshake.

The Pences did not stand for the unified Korean team’s entrance. During the parade of nations, they stood only for the U.S. team.

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Last night’s government shutdown lasted five hours. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made his point about spending — “I didn’t come up here to be liked,” he said — and held up the Senate vote until after midnight. As the East Coast was waking up, the House voted to lift spending caps. Seventy-three Democrats supported the bill against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) urging. Now the government is back open, and a solution for Dreamers will have to wait until next week. Here’s what our team is watching today.

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President Donald Trump called his former White House chief of staff to complain about his current chief of staff this week, The New York Times reported Thursday.

According to sources close with Trump, Trump called Reince Priebus, who he pushed out to hire his current Chief of Staff John Kelly, to “confide grievances” over Kelly’s negative headlines this past week, according to the Times’ reporting. Priebus denied that the phone call occurred.

Kelly first came under fire this week for comments he made about the undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some of whom he said are “too lazy” to sign up.

“(Some of them) were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” he told reporters Tuesday while discussing the White House’s immigration proposal on Capitol Hill.

The negative headlines continued Wednesday when Kelly released an initial statement of support for White House aide Rob Porter after Porter’s ex-wives’ allegations of patterns of domestic abuse became public. Kelly later corrected his original defense of Porter and called the allegations “shocking,” but the clean-up fell on deaf ears after it was reported that Kelly already knew about at least some of the abuse allegations. Porter’s background clearance check was stalled because both of his ex-wives told the FBI about their accusations of domestic violence.

White House spokesperson Raj Shah indicated Thursday that Kelly was unaware of the totality of the allegations until this week, specifically the photos that Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness released of a black eye that Porter allegedly gave her.

Porter has denied the accusations but offered his resignation on Wednesday.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama said this week it plans to invest millions of dollars in state-level elections in 11 states this year, with its heaviest focus on Ohio.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, said this year’s election cycle is critical to affecting the congressional redistricting process. It is the first cycle whose winners will participate in drawing congressional maps for the decade starting in 2021.

The push comes amid bipartisan national concern that political gerrymandering, the process of drawing maps that benefit one party over another, has led to partisanship, gridlock and incivility in Washington.

“In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process,” Holder said in announcing the group’s electoral targets on Wednesday. “By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021.”

The group is targeting races in 11 states, including nine gubernatorial races, 18 legislative chambers, two ballot initiatives and two down-ballot races. Eight more states are on the committee’s watch list.

In Ohio, a perennial political battleground, the committee plans to support Democrats for five offices — governor, auditor, secretary of state, Ohio Senate and Ohio House — as well as pushing a redistricting ballot measure.

Other target races include:

— Colorado: Governor, state Senate

— Florida: Governor, state Senate

— Georgia: Governor, state Senate

— Michigan: Governor, state Senate, state House, ballot initiative

— Minnesota: Governor, state Senate, state House

— Nevada: Governor, state Senate, state House

— North Carolina: State Senate, state House

— Pennsylvania: Governor, state Senate, state House

— Texas: State Senate, state House

— Wisconsin: Governor, state Senate

The group also participated in the Virginia House last year, and has targeted both its House and Senate in 2019.

On its watch list are ballot initiatives in Arizona, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah; the governor’s and state Senate races in Maine; and the governor’s, state Senate and state House races in New Hampshire.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, also has been championing redistricting reforms, including working with fellow Republican, movie star and ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminate Gerrymandering Crowdpac.

Ohio lawmakers sent a bipartisan redistricting compromise to the statewide May ballot in a vote this week.

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister took her place among dignitaries from around the world, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday in an unprecedented visit to South Korea.

The trip by Kim Yo Jong is the latest move in an extraordinary show of Olympic diplomacy with Seoul that could prove to be a major challenge to the Trump administration’s hard-line Korea policies.

As the opening ceremony began, she and South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged a historic handshake and spoke briefly. They smiled broadly, though it was not immediately known what they said.

She and Kim Yong Nam, the North’s 90-year-old nominal head of state, were seated behind Moon and his wife, while Pence and his wife were seated beside the Moons and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At the age of 30, Kim Yo Jong is quite possibly the most powerful woman in North Korea. Just a few years younger than her brother, she is believed to be his closest confidant and is a senior cadre in North Korea’s ruling party.

Her arrival on Kim Jong Un’s private jet with a coterie of 22 officials was broadcast live on South Korean television.

Looking confident and relaxed, she had a brief meeting at the airport with South Korean officials, including Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, before being whisked away in a black limousine and catching the high-speed train to the mountains of Pyeongchang. As a sign of her status, the elder Kim Yong Nam offered her the seat of honor at the airport meeting, but she politely declined.

The trip comes amid a flurry of activity following Kim Jong Un’s surprise proposal on New Year’s Day to send a delegation of athletes, officials, entertainers and cheering groups to the Olympics.

His decision to dispatch his sister to the games is all the more significant since Kim Jong Un himself hasn’t set foot outside North Korea or met a single head of state since he assumed power upon the death of their father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. His single-minded pursuit of a nuclear arsenal to counter what he sees as the threat of invasion by the United States has ratcheted up tensions not only with his rivals but also with primary trading partner China and with Russia, once a key benefactor.

The North’s Olympic “detente” is a striking shift in tactics.

This is the first time a member of the Kim dynasty has traveled to South Korea, though their grandfather, Kim Il Sung, went to areas occupied by his troops south of what is now the Demilitarized Zone during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim Yo Jong has been rapidly rising within the North’s power structure and is believed to be in charge of shaping her brother’s public persona. But she has generally remained safely cloaked in her brother’s shadow. This is her first high-profile international appearance at center stage, though she is technically just a member of a delegation headed by Kim Yong Nam.

Just before the opening ceremony, Kim Yong Nam attended a dinner for visiting foreign dignitaries hosted by Moon. Pence was also at the dinner and reportedly refused to shake the elderly North Korean’s hand.

For security reasons, few details of Kim Yo Jong’s three-day itinerary have been made public.

After arriving at the South’s ultramodern Incheon International Airport— the North’s flagship airline is subject to sanctions — she traveled to Pyeongchang for the opening ceremony, where the North and South Korean athletes marched together behind a blue-and-white “unification” flag for the first time in more than a decade.

It was an emotionally charged moment.

The two Koreas, which remain technically at war, have cycled through countless periods of chill and thaw since their division 70 years ago. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and blew up a South Korean commercial airliner the year before. The past year has been particularly acrimonious as the North has accelerated its nuclear weapons development and test launches of missiles that are now believed to be able to reach most or all of the United States, South Korea’s most important ally.

The delegation’s most substantive event may come outside of the Olympic ambit on Saturday.

Along with the rest of the North’s senior delegation, Kim Yo Jong was to have lunch with Moon at the presidential Blue House. The meeting could turn out to be just a lunch, a photo op or a nicety. But it is so unprecedented, and its announcement on Thursday was so sudden, that rumors are already swirling it could open the door to much more — perhaps even an offer for Moon to travel to Pyongyang, the North’s capital.

The North and South held summits in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, both hosted by Kim Jong Il.

Considering the depth and complexity of the problems that keep the Koreas apart, it’s highly unlikely a luncheon would lead to an immediate breakthrough on something like the North’s nuclear weapons development. Pence, who is using his visit to South Korea to underscore the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure on the North, has publicly and repeatedly warned Seoul not to let down its guard to a North Korean charm offensive.

But during her stay, Kim Yo Jong will have ample opportunity to play up the feel-good side of her country’s participation in the games.

The first hockey match featuring the joint North-South women’s ice hockey will be held Saturday night — they play Switzerland, where both Kim Jong Un and his sister went to school when they were children — and that would be an event she might want to see. The North has also sent a several hundred women-strong cheering squad, an orchestra with singers and dancers and a demonstration taekwondo team that will perform in Seoul and places near the Olympic venues.

Security for anything involving the North Koreans has been exceptionally tight.

The North’s participation has been generally welcomed, but right-wing protesters have shown up at several venues to burn North Korean flags and tear up portraits of Kim’s brother. The group is fringe, but their demonstrations have generated irate reactions in North Korea’s state-run media and could potentially spin out into a major incident if they ever manage to get closer to the North Koreans themselves — or especially Kim and her entourage.

So far, police have kept the two at a safe distance.

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