👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Following Robert Mueller’s testimony and warnings about Russia’s continued attempts to interfere in U.S. elections, Senate Republicans blocked two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure. Democrats attempted to pass two bills by unanimous consent on Wednesday that would require campaigns to notify the FBI and the FEC if they receive offers of assistance from foreign governments. The other bill would let the Senate Sergeant at Arms offer voluntary cyber assistance for the personal devices and accounts of lawmakers and their staff. Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith blocked all three of the bills without giving any reason for her objections or indicating whether she blocked the bills on behalf of herself or the GOP caucus. Mueller testified yesterday that “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious” and that “it wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.” (The Hill / CNN)
2/ Mitch McConnell blocked the two election security measures on Thursday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit.” McConnell called the House-passed legislation “so partisan it received just one Republican vote over in the House,” adding that the election security legislation is being pushed by the same Democrats who pushed the “conspiracy theory” of Trump and Russia. (The Hill / CNN)
3/ The Senate Intelligence Committee found that “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level,” according to the committee’s report on Russian interference. The report recommends that Congress provide additional funding for states to secure elections once the $380 million appropriated in 2018 is spent. (NPR / Bloomberg / Axios / The Hill)
4/ The House Oversight and Reform Committee authorized subpoenas for senior White House aides official work communications sent via personal email and cellphone. The White House refused to turn over the messages voluntarily earlier this month. Democrats have raised questions about whether Jared Kushner’s WhatsApp communications with foreign officials, Ivanka Trump’s use of a private email account to conduct official business, and Stephen Bannon’s use of a personal mobile device for White House business violated the Presidential Records Act. (Politico / Washington Post / Axios)
5/ The Trump administration threatened a travel ban against Guatemala unless the nation agrees to the safe third country deal, which would require migrants from El Salvador and Honduras to seek asylum there, instead of in the United States. Guatemala backed out on the immigration deal earlier this month when Guatemala’s high court blocked its government from signing the deal. The White House is looking at the authority already granted to the executive branch to suspend classes of people it considers detrimental to national interests. (NPR / Wall Street Journal)
6/ The Justice Department will resume executing prisoners awaiting the death penalty for the first time in 16 years. Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons set execution dates for five men on federal death row who have exhausted their legal appeals. Their executions are to be carried out in December and January. (Washington Post / New York Times / ABC News / CNN)
7/ The House passed the budget deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and set budget levels for two years. The legislation raises spending by $320 billion above limits set in a 2011 budget law and suspends the debt ceiling until the end of July 2021. 65 Republicans joined the Democrats in the 284-149 vote. 132 Republicans voted against the bill, despite Trump’s endorsement. The House vote sends the measure to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days and send it to Trump’s desk. Trump is expected to sign it. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / CNBC)
8/ Trump, his company, and three of his children must face part of a lawsuit alleging they used their family name to scam people into joining a multilevel marketing scheme. A federal judge said the Trumps and their investors in a Trump-endorsed company called American Communications Network could be liable for claims of fraud, false advertising, and unfair competition. The suit claims the Trumps received millions of dollars in secret payments from 2005 to 2015 in exchange for endorsing ACN and then conned people into believing that Trump thought their investments would pay off, when the Trumps’ real goal was simply to enrich themselves. (Reuters / Bloomberg)
9/ Trump’s pick for assistant treasury secretary for public affairs repeatedly suggested Obama was secretly a Muslim who was sympathetic to America’s enemies. Monica Crowley made the comments online between 2009 and 2015. Trump originally tapped Crowley in December 2016 to be the senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council before she withdrew herself from consideration after it was reported that she plagiarized portions of her 2012 book and portions of her 2000 Ph.D. thesis. (CNN)
10/ Trump appeared in front of a fake presidential seal that had been edited to look like the Russian coat of arms. The doctored seal swapped out the traditional bald eagle clutching arrows in its talons for a two-headed bald eagle clutching golf clubs. The two-headed eagle seal is similar to the coat of arms Russia has been using since 1993 and the preeminent symbol of the Russian empire dating back to the 1600s and beyond. Additionally, instead of “e pluribus unum,” the scroll above the eagle appears to say “45 es un titere,” which roughly translates from Spanish to mean “45 is a puppet.” (The Guardian / Esquire / USA Today / CNN)
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