👋 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/ Mitch McConnell defended his decision to block an election security bill in a speech on the Senate floor, accusing his critics of engaging in “modern-day McCarthyism” to “smear” his record. McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked Democratic attempts to bring up several bipartisan election security bills for votes, including legislation to require a paper trail for ballots and the disclosure for online political ads. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough dubbed McConnell “Moscow Mitch” for the move with opinion columnist Dana Milbank labeling McConnell a “Russian asset.” McConnell has blamed Democrats for politicizing election security. Following McConnell’s speech, the hashtag #MoscowMitchMcTreason began trending on Twitter. (KTLA / Washington Post / New York Times / The Hill)
Trump defended McConnell and accused the Washington Post of being a “Russian asset.” McConnell “is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump, and I know nothing,” Trump said. (Washington Post)
📌 Day 917: 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/ Trump’s pick for director of national intelligence promoted the now-debunked conspiracy theory of an anti-Trump “secret society” operating within the FBI. John Ratcliffe claimed that the text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok before the 2016 election were proof that the FBI was working against Trump, which fell apart when the exchange became public. Ratcliffe also misrepresented his role in an anti-terrorism case, claiming he had been appointed as a “special prosecutor” in 2008 to secure convictions for funneling money to Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization. Court records and lawyers involved in the case suggest he had no direct role in the prosecution. (Daily Beast / ABC News)
3/ One of Trump’s billionaire friends tried to buy the only U.S. manufacturer of large nuclear reactors while he was lobbying Trump to become a special envoy and promote his company’s nuclear work in Saudi Arabia, according to a new congressional report. Thomas Barrack failed in both efforts, but his attempts raised “serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.” The report shows Barrack negotiated with Trump and other White House officials to seek “powerful positions” like special Middle East envoy while he was also attempting to purchase Westinghouse Electric Company, the sole American manufacturer of large-scale nuclear reactors — partly with capital from Saudi Arabia or its close ally, the United Arab Emirates. (The Guardian / New York Times)
4/ Barrack also provided a draft of Trump’s energy speeches in 2016 to senior officials from the United Arab Emirates for edits, according to emails and text messages uncovered by a House Oversight Committee investigation. Two weeks before Trump was scheduled to give the speech, Barrack provided a former business associate inside the UAE with an advance copy of the speech, which the associate then shared with UAE and Saudi government officials. Later, Barrack arranged for the edits requested by the UAE officials to be added to the speech with the help of Paul Manafort. “This is the most likely final version of the speech. It has the language you want,” Manafort confirmed in an email to Barrack on the day of the speech. (ABC News)
5/ The Senate failed to override Trump’s veto of three resolutions to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The resolutions were passed by Congress with bipartisan support in June, but the three votes to override Trump’s vetoes failed, 45-40, 45-39 and 46-41. A two-thirds vote was needed in each case. (Politico / CBS News / CNN)
6/ White House adviser Stephen Miller wants to use Border Patrol agents as asylum screeners in order to reduce asylum approvals. Miller believes Border Patrol agents would be tougher critics of asylum seekers and is interested in the rate of approval for migrants interviewed by Border Patrol agents versus asylum officers. On average, asylum officers approve about 90% of “credible fear” screenings – the first thing migrants must do when seeking asylum is to convince officers that they have a credible fear for their safety in their home country. (NBC News)
7/ California now requires all presidential candidates to submit five years of income tax filings in order to be on the state’s presidential primary ballot. Trump will be ineligible for California’s primary ballot next year unless he discloses his tax returns. (Los Angeles Times / New York Times)
8/ More than half of the Trump administration’s trade-war aid for farmers went to just one-tenth of the recipients in the program. The Trump administration announced a $16 billion round of trade aid for farmers this year as the trade dispute with China continues. (Bloomberg)
9/ For the fourth consecutive day, Trump attacked Elijah Cummings and asserted – without evidence – that black Baltimoreans “really appreciate what I’m doing.” Trump added that “Cummings should take his oversight committee and start doing oversight on Baltimore.” Hours later, Trump marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of democracy in America in a speech at the Jamestown Settlement Museum. Virginia’s African-American state lawmakers boycotted the speech, calling Trump an “emblem of hate” and accused those who chose to attend and remain silent of being complicit in Trump’s racism. During his speech, Trump made no reference to his attacks on Cummings and his majority black, Baltimore-based district, which Trump previously called “rat and rodent infested” where “no human being would want to live,” nor mentioned the four congresswomen of color he recently told to “go back” to where they came from. Instead, Trump highlighted that this year is also the 400th anniversary of the first slaves brought to America. (Politico / Washington Post / New York Times / USA Today)
📺 The second set of Democratic presidential debates are tonight and tomorrow. They begin at 8 p.m. ET and are expected to last at least two hours. Here’s the NPR guide to how to watch and what they’re watching for, the CNN guide, and the New York Times guide. Go nuts.
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