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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

When asked whether President Donald Trump is concerned about alienating himself with his repeated attacks on influential Republican members of Congress — most recently Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) — the White House threw the blame back on lawmakers.

“I don’t think he’s alienated anyone. I think Congress has alienated themselves by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.

She blamed Republicans for not being able to repeal and replace Obamacare as “they all promised and campaigned on” and said the White House is hopeful for a different outcome when it comes to tax reform.

“We are certainly committed to that and think we’ll get there, but time and time again Congress has made promises and failed to deliver. If anyone is being alienated, it’s people who are promising things and not delivering,” she said.

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After alluding in an Forbes interview that he thinks he has a higher IQ than his secretary of state, President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t “believe in undercutting people.”

In an interview with Forbes that was published Tuesday, Trump said he thinks reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “moron” this summer are “fake news,” but said if the reports are true “I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

When asked by reporters Tuesday if he still has confidence in Tillerson, Trump responded with a simple “yes.” MSNBC’s Kristen Welker then asked if he “undercut” Tillerson with his IQ comments.

“No, I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” he said.

Trump and Tillerson were scheduled to have lunch with Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the White House Tuesday, after reports last week that Tillerson not only called Trump a “moron,” but also wanted to resign over the summer.

Both Tillerson and Trump have denied those reports.

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After calling on Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to resign over his criticism of President Trump, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said he is starting a “coalition” to go after certain Republican members of Congress.

“We’re declaring war on the Republican establishment,” he said, appearing on Fox News’ “Hannity” Monday evening.

One of Bannon’s first targets is Corker, who is retiring next year. Bannon wants conservative Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who just announced a Senate bid, to fill the seat.

“If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately. He should not let those words stand, what he said about the President of the United States,” Bannon said, referencing Corker calling the White House an “adult day care center.

He said Republicans like Corker are the reason he left the White House and vowed to “go after them” in 2018.

“There’s a coalition coming together that’s going to challenge every Republican incumbent instead of Ted Cruz,” he said. “We’re spending a ton of time with grassroots organizations to make sure the people are fully vetted. … You are going to see real candidates and by the way, they’re going to take on incumbents in every state and they’re going to take on the Democrats after that.”

He said there will be about 15 names announced in the next several weeks of people who will be challenging incumbents, some of whom work in government and others who have served the Trump agenda as “outsiders.”

We’re declaring war on the Republican establishment. … We’re going to cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell,” he said. “Mitch McConnell’s biggest asset is the money. We’re going to make it a liability. We’re going after them tooth and nail.”

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Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is not the only Republican who is frustrated with President Trump, but said he and fellow outgoing lawmaker Corker may be the only Republicans who have been “bold” about their dissatisfaction.

“We’ve had a lot of these ‘the emperor has no clothes’ moments and I’m glad that Sen. Corker has brought voice to this,” Dent said Monday on MSNBC. “We are concerned. My colleagues, my Republican colleagues in the House, I know, and Senate, are concerned by much of the dysfunction and disorder and chaos at the White House.”

He acknowledged that tensions have eased “a bit” since John Kelly became chief of  staff, but said the constant “insults” and “side shows” are distracting Congress from focusing on policy.

“We have these conversations all the time and we have to do better and I think more of my colleagues should speak up,” he said. “They say things privately, they don’t say publicly. I said it publicly before I announced I wasn’t running.”

Dent’s comments follow an ongoing back-and-forth between President Donald Trump and Corker. Corker has called the White House an “adult day care center” and said the President is putting the U.S. on the “path to World War III.”

When you’re the President of the United States, your words are policy. People take those words very seriously, and I don’t think the President has learned that yet,” Dent said, referencing Trump’s fiery rhetoric toward North Korea and it’s leader Kim Jong-Un. “The President, I believe, has to be much more measured in his rhetoric, but good luck with that.” 

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Twitter has blocked a top Republican representative from advertising her Senate campaign video on the social media outlet because of its “inflammatory” claims about Planned Parenthood.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced her Senate campaign over the weekend with a video that painted her as a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative” who is a “100 percent pro-life” candidate who “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

Twitter said that line violated its advertising policies, according to an email obtained by Politico.

“It appears that the line in this video specific to ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts’ has been deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction,” a Twitter staffer wrote in an email to a consulting firm working for Blackburn’s campaign. “If this is omitted from the video it will be permitted to serve.”

The cryptic line in her campaign announcement is likely referring to Blackburn’s work leading a House investigation into Planned Parenthood after a video surfaced in 2015 that appeared to show the group profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, which has been illegal since 1993. Abortion providers can be paid for shipping and handling the material, New York magazine reported. 

Planned Parenthood consistently denied wrongdoing and never faced any criminal charges, but the anti-abortion activists who filmed it did. Those charges were eventually dropped. 

Blackburn is still able to promote the video by posting it on Twitter, but can’t pay to promote it. She’s been using the censorship by the social media giant to boost her campaign announcement. 

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On Thursday, the National Riffle Association released a statement that called on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ARF) to review whether the bump stock device — which authorities believe was used by the Las Vegas gunman — is in compliance with federal law that bans automatic riffles.

A day later, the NRA’s outspoken spokeswoman Dana Loesch wouldn’t say whether she supports a ban on the gun accessory that allows a semi-automatic riffle to function like a fully automatic weapon.

Appearing on Fox Business Friday morning, she dodged questions about whether she would support tightly written legislation that bans the bump stock devices, saying, “I’m not an elected official” and “I don’t want to engage in hypothetical arguments.”

“Dana, come on. I want your opinion on bump stocks and getting rid of them,” Stuart Varney, host of Fox’s “Varney and Co.,” said.

“This is why we elect Congress to do this,” she said.

When Varney asked for her opinion again, she repeated that it’s Congress’ job, eventually saying that the NRA doesn’t support confiscation and they’re “not asking for a ban.”

“We are asking the ATF to just simply look at the regulations, this is a question of the ATF and whether it’s doing its job with consistency here,” she said. “(Wayne) LaPierre was incredibly clear when he said that last night and further NRA members have been incredibly clear on this. What isn’t clear is where Congress is. What isn’t clear is the job that Congress needs to do. What isn’t clear is the consistency, or rather lack thereof, from the ATF these past eight plus year. That’s where our focus is.”

While she said Congress needs to do its “job,” she was likely referencing Republican members of Congress coming up with legislation that isn’t “Diane Feinstein’s gun control circus,” she said.

“We can talk about things that can be done, we can talk about the system that failed. Universal background checks failed in California twice,” she said, spouting out mass shooting instances in which a gunman was able to legally obtain a weapon. “I will tell you people want to protect themselves from the monsters. We want to protect ourselves. The system we are told to trust is not doing it for us.”

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President Donald Trump reiterated his go-to solution for Senate stalemates during an interview with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, saying Senate Republicans need to get rid of the filibuster rule.

“I thought that when I got to the Oval Office, I would have a bill sitting on my desk, repeal and replace, a beautiful health care bill, and it didn’t happen,” he said in a clip of the interview that was released Friday. The full interview premieres Saturday on Huckabee’s new show for the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

“But remember it didn’t happen because of a lot of Republicans and it happened, that horrible thing happened because of a few people, really a few people,” he said, referencing Republicans like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who weren’t shy about their opposition to the Senate’s repeal and replace plans this summer and fall.

But Trump cast the real blame for the Senate’s failure to get rid of Obamacare on a filibuster rule that allows the minority party in the Senate to force a 60-vote threshold on new legislation. 

“And the problem we have is we have 52 senators and they have to get rid of the absolutely crazy voting where you need 60, it’s called the filibuster rule it’s a disaster, ok? It’s a disaster for the Republicans. They have to get rid of it. If they don’t get rid of it, it’s just a death sentence,” he said.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said Trump’s calls to end the rule won’t work because there isn’t enough support in the Senate to change it. Getting rid of the filibuster likely wouldn’t help Republicans on health care anyway as they’ve failed to garner 50 votes on any repeal bill.

Watch the clip below:

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The Secret Service has directed its agents protecting the White House to ban personal mobile devices in the West Wing, according to a memo obtained by MSNBC.

The memo, which was reportedly sent out by the Secret Service, was revealed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on her show Thursday evening, but the news outlet was not able to confirm the authenticity of the document with the White House or the Secret Service department, she said.

Secret Service personnel were notified this week that as of Monday there would be a “new restrictive policy” that would prohibit the use of mobile devices, cell phones, tablets and smartwatches within the entire West Wing.

“All personal devices will either be secured and provided lock boxes … or turned off completely prior to entering the West Wing,” the memo said, according to Maddow. There will be a “30-day management period” before policy takes effect and the new rules only apply to personal devices.

Starting Friday, the policy will also apply to tour groups, including pass holders and their guests, according to the memo. 

There have been similar policies in place for secured meetings in the White House, MSNBC reported.

The memo follows news that Chief of Staff and former director of Homeland Security John Kelly’s personal cell phone had been compromised potentially as early as December 2016, Politico reported Thursday.

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On Friday, President Donald Trump threw his weight behind the Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Ed Gillespie, tweeting that the Democratic candidate Ralph Northam is “fighting for MS-13 killer gangs and sanctuary cities.”

The Virginia race is the only contested statewide election this year and has been pegged as a test of electoral politics in the Trump era, according to The Washington Post. A Washington Post-Schar School poll released Thursday indicated Northam, the Democrat, lead Gillespie by 53 percent to 40 percent among the voters surveyed.

An endorsement from the President doesn’t indicate an automatic win, as was evidenced during the Republican primary run-off election in Alabama last month.

Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), but the incumbent ended up losing to a controversial conservative and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

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