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Oct. 19 2017 11:35 PM

Vox Fires Editorial Director Lockhart Steele

Vox Media informed employees Thursday that the company had fired its Editorial Director Lockhart Steele. In a Slack message to employees, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff said Steele, also the founder and former CEO of Curbed (now a Vox Media property), had been terminated effective immediately apparently over an inappropriate sexual relationship with an employee.

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Screenshot Vox Slack Message

According to the Awl, the Medium post mentioned in the note by the now-former employee outlines instances of inappropriate sexual conduct by a direct supervisor, who is not named in the post. The firing comes in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, which prompted women in the media industry to create a “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” list that outlines alleged harassment and assault by male members of the media.

Oct. 19 2017 9:08 PM

A Grown Man Mooned the President’s Motorcade Today Because We All Have a Role to Play

Sometimes, after a long day’s work you’ve just had enough. So when you hear the president’s motorcade whining its way up Connecticut Avenue towards your apartment in Washington, D.C., you instinctively lift your head off the sofa and think: what can I do, in this moment, to be the change I want to see in the world? Across the room, a “Not My President” placard sits behind your softball bat. But there’s no time. So you run to the window and you, you know, resist.

From the White House press pool report:

Oct. 19 2017 7:40 PM

Finally, We Learn Why Chad Is on the Travel Ban List. It’s Not Good.

Ever since the Trump administration unveiled the latest edition of its travel ban on Sept. 24, many observers have been puzzled by the inclusion of Chad on the list. Chad was not previously known as a major source of anti-U.S. terror plots, at least no more than several countries that aren’t on the list, and is in fact considered an important regional counterterrorism partner of the U.S. We now know the answer—and it’s very dumb.

CBS reports that as part of its security review of traveler vetting procedures, the Trump administration had required countries to provide a sample of its passports to the Homeland Security Department for analysis. That was a problem for Chad, because the country had run out of passport paper:

Lacking the special passport paper, Chad's government couldn't comply, but offered to provide a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, several U.S. officials said. It wasn't enough to persuade Homeland Security to make an exception to requirements the agency has been applying strictly and literally to countries across the globe, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss disagreements within the administration.
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This was why the U.S. was willing to spurn a country that has hosted U.S. organized military exercises and is a major recipient of U.S. security aid, a move that might have contributed to Chad’s recent decision to withdraw hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where they had been part of the coalition fighting Boko Haram and where, as recent events make clear, the U.S. needs allies.

The issue is moot, for the moment, as the ban has been blocked by a federal court injunction just like its predecessors. But it should shred whatever remaining credibility the administration has in the criteria it uses to assemble these lists.

Oct. 19 2017 6:22 PM

Today in Conservative Media: John Kelly Saves the Day

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

Conservatives praised the speech that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly gave defending President Trump’s remarks to the widow of an American soldier killed earlier this month in Niger. National Review’s Rich Lowry called Kelly’s speech “moving, impressive, [and] highly informative.” Hot Air’s Allahpundit called it “one of the most effective damage-control performances you’ll ever see”:

POTUS couldn’t have asked for more from him to end the controversy over what he said to Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow. Kelly *is* angry — at Rep. Frederica Wilson, not at Trump, for listening in on Trump’s condolence call and then using it as a political bludgeon. (Kelly himself was listening in, actually, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.) And Trump only said what Kelly advised him to say, Kelly adds. The idea that Johnson “knew what he signed up for” was merely to suggest that he was with his comrades, serving his country and doing what he loved, when he was killed. He died nobly among those who cared for him. That’s all Trump meant. Kelly even goes so far as to note that he advised Trump *not* to call families of the fallen, as presidents don’t routinely do it and it wasn’t done when his son died (which, he stressed in noting it, was no criticism of Obama). Trump was actually going beyond the call of duty, per Kelly’s own conception of that duty. What more could he have said to protect POTUS here?
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RedState’s Jon Street noted that Kelly’s comments seemed to be at odds with Trump’s own words. “[W]hile Kelly’s presser does answer some questions, it raises one more,” he wrote. “Why did President Trump say that he never told the widow that her late husband ‘knew what he signed up for’ when his own Chief of Staff confirmed as much on Thursday?”

In other news:

Multiple outlets ran posts on Playboy announcing the selection of its first transgender playmate. “Who would have thought we’d actually come to miss Hugh Hefner,” NewsBusters’ Matt Philbin wrote. “The old libertine’s PJs are barely cold and the magazine he founded to showcase nude women has turned to showcasing … nude sort-of women.” In a post titled, “Playboy Magazine Features Transgender Woman With ‘Seductive’ Raspy Voice,” the Daily Caller’s Grace Carr surveyed reactions to the news on social media:

When I open a Playboy, I expect to see women, not some guy who identifies as a woman, or some former male who has had the surgery to become female,” wrote one reader on the Playboy’s Facebook page. [...]
Parents are also expressing concern about what their kids might think of the magazine spread. “I just don’t want my kids confused,” wrote a mother on Facebook. “It’s also a parent’s responsibility to guide and teach their kids at an early age … Males have male parts and females have female parts! Sorry!”

Oct. 19 2017 5:44 PM

The Senate Has 60 Votes to Stabilize Obamacare. But Will There Be a Vote?

Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander proudly read the names of nine more Republican who had agreed to co-sponsor the bipartisan health care bill he negotiated with Washington Sen. Patty Murray. Near the end of his speech, Alexander was handed a note that two more Republicans had also signed on. That, as Alexander proudly noted, brings the number of Republican sponsors, including himself, to 12.

In this case, that could be the magic number.

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If all 48 Democrats vote for the bill, the dozen Republicans would give it a filibuster-proof 60 votes. And Democrats across the ideological spectrum seem eager to deliver. Red-state senators like Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana practically stampeded at the opportunity to co-sponsor the bipartisan bill and show off their willingness to change Obamacare without repealing it. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, representing the left flank, supports it too.

“Now that a number of Republican Senators have come forward to support this sensible, bipartisan package,” Schumer said in a statement after the co-sponsors were announced, “I strongly urge Leader McConnell to put it on the floor without delay. If he does, it is virtually certain that it would pass.”

McConnell hasn’t said much about the compromise. But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who said he personally thinks the bill needs more state flexibility, was clear about what it would take to bring it to the floor.

“What we really need to do is get the president in a place where he’s comfortable with the bill,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday. “I think that’s really the next step that Sen. Alexander needs to take, and it doesn’t sound like the president’s committed to it right now.”

Indeed, he’s not. The president, who has waffled on the bill this week, offered another stream-of-consciousness take on the process Thursday morning, which seemed to indicate he was open to a stopgap fix to complement a permanent solution. By Friday morning, of course, he could flip opposing insurer “bailouts” yet again.

Alexander is working to convince him. He picked up the crucial support of both Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the authors of the most recent effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, as co-sponsors, signaling the president needn’t sacrifice his repeal-and-replace efforts to sign this short-term bill. And in their respective floor speeches, both Alexander and Murray addressed the president’s primary objection to the compromise, emphasizing their willingess to make sure cost-sharing reduction payments go to consumers rather than insurers’ bottom lines.

Getting Trump onboard only solves one of the bill’s political problems, though.. Senate Republicans, facing the threat of conservative primaries, aren’t going to call up a bill that “props up” Obamacare without certainty that it will pass the House, too. Trump’s support would give Speaker Paul Ryan a healthy dose of cover to bring it to the House floor, but it still might not be enough to overcome conservative objections.

Alexander is working on that, too — with a new talking point about how most House Republicans have already voted to fund CSR payments for the next two years: In the American Health Care Act, the repeal-and-replace bill they passed in May. (House conservatives will almost certainly point out, though, that they got a lot more flexibility in that bill than they would get in Alexander-Murray.) 

Even if Alexander-Murray can’t muster the support it needs to pass on its own in the immediate future, there’s at least one potential fallback option: the December tradition in which lawmakers, in a rush to get home for the holidays, dump everything they’re working on into the massive end-of-year appropriations package and hope that people aren’t paying too much attention. Alexander didn’t predict that this bill would pass soon. He did, however, predict that it would be law by the end of the year.

Oct. 19 2017 5:26 PM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Man Who Works for Donald Trump Complains That No One Respects Women Anymore

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Folks, who do you think said this?

When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.
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Yeah, it was White House chief of staff John Kelly, who must have missed ... I guess the last forty years of his boss's life. This was at a press conference that Kelly held to defend Trump's behavior during his feud with the widow, mother, and (female) congressional representative of a U.S. soldier who recently died in Niger.

What is there to say, really, other than we should all sell our possessions in order to spend the rest of our lives living in caves and muttering at birds?

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Oct. 19 2017 3:10 PM

George W. Bush's "Takedown" of Trump May Be the Most Too-Little Too-Late Thing That Has Ever Happened

George W. Bush gave a speech at the George W. Bush Institute in New York on Thursday. First of all, congrats to the George W. Bush Institute on booking George W. Bush for this event—one imagines he must have been their first choice! Second, the speech has been covered as a "takedown" of Donald Trump. But, sadly, it was not.

Bush did make some implicit references to the current president, who he did not mention by name:

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  • "Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."
  • "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism immigration has always brought to America."
  • "According to intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other ... foreign aggressions including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated."
  • "People of every race, religion and ethnicity can be fully and equally American ... bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed."
  • "Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone."

For this speech to be a "takedown," though, someone would have to get taken down, and oblique remarks about being tolerant and elevating the discourse—given more than a year after Bush stayed quiet while his party nominated a candidate who openly cultivated the support of white supremacists and belittled his brother Jeb in personal terms on a daily basis—are not going to move the needle.

To be cynical, and to put it in orotund, indirect terms like George W. Bush might, you could even suggest that, for many powerful figures in Republican politics and the business community, rejecting alt-right white supremacism is more of a matter of maintaining one's personal reputation in polite society than it is an actual political goal. Actual opposition takes time, money, and effort; saving face only requires a microphone, a few clichés about American values, and a cable news camera.

Oct. 19 2017 12:14 PM

Justice Department Appeals Decision Ordering Government to Let Undocumented Teen Get an Abortion

On Wednesday afternoon, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to let an undocumented teenager being held in a federally funded Texas shelter terminate her pregnancy. By Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice had appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, urging the court to block the abortion. The DOJ argued that the government’s “interest in promoting fetal life and childbirth over abortion” justified its refusal to allow the minor to go to an abortion clinic. A panel of judges from the D.C. Circuit will hear arguments in the case on Friday morning.

The Trump administration has taken a keen interest in the reproductive capacities of undocumented, unaccompanied minors. Thousands of these young women are currently being held in federal shelters overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a wing of the Department of Health and Human Services. In March, ORR announced that these shelters could no longer take “any action that facilitates” abortion for unaccompanied minors—including “scheduling appointments, transportation, or other arrangement”—without “direction and approval” from Scott Lloyd, the agency’s director.

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Lloyd, a Trump appointee, is a longtime anti-abortion activist who has consistently refused to allow minors to terminate their pregnancies. Instead, he has ordered shelters to take these young women to “crisis pregnancy centers” where they are “counseled” out of their decisions. In at least one case, Lloyd personally called a pregnant minor to convince her that she should not get abortion. If these interventions fail and the minor still wants to terminate her pregnancy, ORR directs shelters to refuse to let them attend their appointments.

That’s what happened to Jane Doe, the plaintiff in the case at hand. An unaccompanied, undocumented minor, Doe discovered that she was pregnant after arriving in the U.S. She asked for an abortion but was taken to a crisis pregnancy center, where she was forced to undergo an ultrasound and listen as counselors tried to talk her out of her decision. Doe didn’t change her mind, but she faced another hurdle: In Texas, a minor cannot get an abortion without her parents’ consent, or the approval of a judge. So Doe went before a judge and acquired the necessary judicial bypass. The judge also assigned her an attorney and guardian ad litem.

Doe then scheduled a counseling appointment at an actual health care center, which Texas requires before a woman terminates her pregnancy. Her shelter declined to let her go to the scheduled appointment. Instead, a staff member called Doe’s mother and told her Doe was pregnant. Her attorneys, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in a district court in Washington, D.C. (The venue is appropriate since Doe’s shelter was following rules promulgated by federal agencies located in the District.) U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a temporary restraining order compelling Doe’s shelter to let her attend the required counseling session and obtain the procedure. The DOJ appealed, and the D.C. Circuit has temporarily stayed Chutkan’s ruling “pending further order of this court.”

As it did in district court, the Justice Department argues that undocumented immigrants do not have a constitutional right to access abortion. The agency asserts that only individuals with established connections to the United States receive the rights guaranteed by the liberty component of the Due Process Clause. An undocumented immigrant like Doe, the Justice Department claims, is undeserving of these constitutional protections. In district court, a DOJ attorney declined to say whether, in the government’s view, undocumented immigrants have any constitutional rights while residing in the U.S. (They do, including the right to an abortion.)

The Justice Department also argues that, even if Doe and others like her have a constitutional right to abortion access, the administration is not imposing an unconstitutional “undue burden” on that right. It claims that Doe has two ways to terminate her pregnancy: She can find “a suitable sponsor in the U.S. who is willing to take temporary custody” of her, or she can “voluntary depar[t] back to her home country.” There is likely no “suitable sponsor” for Doe; these sponsors are almost always family members, and none of Doe’s family lives in the U.S. So the government is essentially informing her that, in order to obtain an abortion, she must self-deport.

The panel of judges that will decide Doe’s fate on Friday includes one progressive judge, one severely conservative judge, and one moderate. If they reverse the lower court’s restraining order, Doe will presumably appeal to the Supreme Court, which will have to act quickly. She is currently 15 weeks pregnant, and Texas bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Her time is running out.

Oct. 19 2017 11:07 AM

The Situation in Spain Is Getting Dangerous

Catalonia’s push for full independence from Spain may end up costing it much of its current level of autonomy, with Madrid now moving to impose direct rule over the region.

Here’s how we got here: After a chaotic and disputed independence vote on Oct. 1, which the Spanish government attempted to prevent by force, Catalonia had been expected to declare independence. Instead, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont made an ambiguous announcement on Oct. 10, saying he would use the referendum result to press for independence but would suspend its implementation for a few weeks to allow for negotiations with the Spanish government.

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But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected the idea of negotiating and demanded that Puigdemont clarify whether or not he had, in fact, declared independence. Puigdemont was given a deadline—Thursday—to make his intentions clear, and if he is in fact still seeking independence, to abandon that goal. Otherwise, Rajoy plans to invoke a never-used article of the Spanish Constitution allowing it to dissolve the region’s autonomy if it “acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain.”

It appears that Puigdemont is not backing down: He sent a letter on Thursday morning threatening to declare full independence unless Madrid agrees to dialogue. He also accused Spain of engaging in “repression,” referring to the arrest of two prominent Catalan independence leaders on charges of sedition earlier this week.

Rajoy’s Cabinet is due to meet for an emergency session on Saturday to decide what to do now. Options could include taking control of Catalonia’s regional police and finances or calling a snap election. These moves would also have to be approved by the Spanish senate, but that body is controlled by Rajoy’s party and its allies.

At the moment, it looks like Puigdemont has bitten off a little more than he can chew. He can’t exactly abandon the independence push after all that’s happened this month but also wants to avoid direct rule and possibly his own arrest. The crisis is also hitting Catalonia’s economy, the strongest in Spain, with several major companies announcing plans for move their headquarters out of the region due to political uncertainty. And there are signs of strain within Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders. Puigdemont belongs to a center-right nationalist party, but his government relies on the support of the radical leftist CUP, which has accused him of “inadmissible treason” over his reluctance to immediately declare independence following the vote.

Rajoy is headed to Brussels on Thursday for a summit of EU leaders. While some of them have vaguely called on the bloc to address the crisis, and there’s some public support for Catalonia among recently independent members like Slovenia, the EU has mostly stayed out of the conflict, calling it an internal matter for Spain. The Catalan crisis will not be on the agenda at the summit, though Rajoy may still be pressed to address it.

Right now, the Spanish government is in a much stronger position in the standoff, which unfortunately means that Catalan leaders will likely see escalation as their only option. If Madrid moves to impose direct rule, it will almost certainly provoke more massive protests, and Puigdemont’s best hope is, perversely, that Spanish authorities will once again employ the heavy-handed tactics they used on the day of the referendum, and that more scenes of police beating protesters on the streets of Barcelona will elicit international pressure on Rajoy to negotiate.

It’s a long-shot strategy that’s likely to lead to more violence and deepen Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, but with no compromise in sight, it’s hard to imagine any other outcome.

Oct. 19 2017 10:48 AM

This Is the Largest Crowd to Ever Have Breakfast With Sean Spicer

On Wednesday, some members of the media engaged in deliberately false reporting. One instance stands out.

Photographs of breakfast proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered for breakfast.

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This was the first time in our nation's history that white tablecloths have been used to protect the breakfast table at Harvard's Institute of Politics. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not eating breakfast, while in years past the wood color of the table eliminated this visual.

This was also the first time that both grapefruit juice and coffee were present on the table, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the table as quickly as they had in breakfasts past.

Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted. No one had numbers, because the Harvard cafeteria people, who control the breakfast site, do not put any out.

We do know a few things, so let's go through the facts. We know that from the area where Sean Spicer was seated, to the other edge of the end of the table, holds about two people. From that edge to the far end is another, let's say ... 220,000. And from the far edge back to Sean Spicer, another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when Sean Spicer began talking about politics during breakfast. We also know that 420,000 people used Boston public transit Wednesday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for Josh Earnest's last event.

Attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the breakfast—to suggest that its level of attendance and palpable air of limp, lukewarm sadness is yet another indication that the Harvard Institute of Politics should be humiliated to have associated itself with one of the most thoroughly self-discredited circus-clown laughingstocks in American public life—are shameful and wrong.

There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Sean Spicer accountable. And I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways. We're going to hold the press accountable, as well.

This was the largest audience to ever witness a breakfast—period—both in person and around the globe.

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