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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.20.17

11/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* As of this morning, 51% of Puerto Ricans are without electricity and 9% are without running water. Hurricane Maria made landfall 61 days ago.

* North Korea: "President Donald Trump on Monday designated North Korea a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on the regime."

* Keystone: "The Keystone XL pipeline cleared a major hurdle on Monday after a Nebraska regulator approved an alternate route for the $8 billion project. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted to approve TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline in a 3-2 decision that cleared a regulatory hurdle for the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline."

* Zimbabwe: "Robert Mugabe, 93, who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron grip until the military placed him under house arrest last week, shocked the nation on Sunday night by refusing to say whether he would resign."

* Glenn Thrush: "The New York Times suspended prominent political reporter Glenn Thrush on Monday following accusations of sexual misconduct, the paper said. The suspension came hours after the news outlet Vox published a report detailing an alleged pattern of inappropriate behavior toward women, particularly young female reporters."

* Charlie Rose: "Eight women have told The Washington Post that longtime television host Charlie Rose made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas."

* Germany: "Negotiations to form the German government broke down, dealing a blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel and throwing the leadership and direction of Europe's largest economy into doubt."

* This guy was the chair of Donald Trump's campaign in Oklahoma: "Former state Sen. Ralph Shortey has agreed to plead guilty to a child sex trafficking offense for offering to pay a 17-year-old boy for sexual 'stuff' last March."

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) speaks to reporters at a news conference outside the Capitol on June 9, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

New accuser says Franken put his hand 'on my rear'

11/20/17 02:12PM

Once someone is accused of sexual misconduct, there are a series of important questions that immediately follow, including the number of accusers.

In Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) case, Leeann Tweeden, a radio news anchor with KABC in Los Angeles, came forward last week with accusations stemming from a USO show in 2006. Franken has apologized -- Tweeden has said she accepts the apology -- and at least initially, no one else made similar accusations. On the contrary, several women who worked with Franken in his Senate office issued a joint statement praising him for his professionalism.

Today, however, the story changed.

A new woman has come forward with an allegation against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., days after a radio host accused the lawmaker of forcibly kissing and groping her more than a decade ago.

Lindsay Menz, 33, told CNN in an interview that Franken grabbed her buttocks when they posed for a photo together in 2010. The accusation was first reported by CNN. Menz also appears to have tweeted about the encounter several days ago.

Menz said she met Franken at the Minnesota State Fair seven years ago with her husband and father and asked for a photo with the lawmaker.

The woman said that while she and the senator posed for a photo, Franken "put his hand full-fledged on my rear." She added, "It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek."

In a response, Franken said yesterday, "I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don't remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected."

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A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over Osan Air Base, Sept. 13, 2016, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

U.S. nuclear commander would balk at any 'illegal' order

11/20/17 12:54PM

For quite a while, the topics of Donald Trump and nuclear policy have been an area of concern. As a Republican presidential candidate, he didn't seem to have any idea what the nuclear triad was; he was equally baffled by the first-use policy; and didn't seem to understand what "proliferation" meant.

During the presidential transition process, Trump made matters worse, tweeting senselessly about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal and welcoming a new international "arms race."

Once in the Oval Office, Trump struggled some more, flunking the basics of nuclear modernization and missile defense, even while threatening to rain "fire and fury" on nuclear-armed North Korea.

But there's a related concern that goes well beyond the president's ignorance: what if Trump decided he actually wanted to use the world's most dangerous weapon? There was some notable commentary on the subject over the weekend.

The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be "illegal," saying he would hope to find another solution.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has given a lot of thought to what he would say if Mr. Trump ordered a strike he considered unlawful.

Hyten told the audience that he and his colleagues "think about these things a lot," adding, "When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?"

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.20.17

11/20/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Alabama yesterday, the front page of the Birmingham News featured an all-caps headline that read, "Stand for decency, reject Roy Moore." It was followed by this endorsement of the Republican's opponent, Doug Jones (D).

* Last week, Kellyanne Conway was asked about Moore's candidacy, and said, "The incontrovertible principle is that there is no Senate seat worth more than a child." This morning, however, the White House aide, asked if Alabamans should vote for Moore, replied, "I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through."

* Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said over the weekend that she has "no reason to disbelieve" Moore's accusers, but she's voting for him anyway because he's a Republican.

* The Moore scandal has apparently given Doug Jones' campaign a fundraising boost.

* A progressive group called Not One Penny is launching a seven-figure ad buy, targeting 25 House Republican districts, slamming GOP lawmakers for supporting their party's regressive and unpopular tax plan.

* If you contribute $10 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the NRCC will enter you into a lottery to spend the weekend at Donald Trump's hotel in D.C. -- which the president still profits from.

* With Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) resigning in the wake of a sex scandal, local Democrats have chosen a candidate in the special election to replace him: Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and assistant U.S. attorney. Republicans, meanwhile, have chosen state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) for the March 13 election. Both nominees were chosen at party conventions; there will be no primary.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-DEPARTS

Trump touts another airplane deal that doesn't exist

11/20/17 11:20AM

Donald Trump's recent Asia-Pacific trip was largely a bust. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the American president helped China, watched helplessly as former U.S. trade partners forged a deal without us, and instead of taking a stand in support of human rights, cozied up to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump nevertheless pretended his sojourn was a great success, and boasted upon his return about, among other things, Japan's new investments in its own military. "This will include purchases of U.S. advanced capabilities," he said at a White House event last week, including "jet fighters."

The New York Times noted that Trump's claim appears to be wrong.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency has yet to notify Congress of any intended sale, which must happen before negotiations can begin.

Japanese officials have also pushed back at the notion. In a report in The Japan Times last week, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that Tokyo was following its existing defense procurement plan that was approved more than three years before Mr. Trump took office.

If Abe and Trump did reach some kind of agreement about a sale, the Times' report added that it would be "in a very preliminary stage in a process that could take years."

And while this may seem like a fairly modest falsehood by Trump standards, this reminded me of a larger thesis: the president says a lot of weird stuff about airplanes.

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An African elephant is pictured on Nov. 18, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty)

Under pressure, Trump reverses course on big-game trophy hunting

11/20/17 10:40AM

Last week, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, the Trump administration announced the end of an Obama-era ban on hunters bringing the trophy heads of elephants they'd killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S. The move immediately drew fire, even from some prominent Republicans.

On Friday night, as NBC News reported, the president halted his administration's new policy.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced he is suspending a controversial decision to lift the ban on importing trophies of dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia into the U.S., which had been assailed by conservation and animal rights groups.

"Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts," Trump said on Twitter.

He added last night, "Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal."

It wasn't altogether clear why the administration made the decision in the first place. There was some speculation that Trump World was motivated by a desire to undo every decision from the Obama era, without regard for merit. The Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau had a compelling piece arguing that the decision was intended to be a thumb in Hillary Clinton's eye.

It also wasn't lost on anyone that Donald Trump's sons have a personal interest in the matter. The Washington Post's report noted, "Both of Trump's sons have engaged in big-game hunting, and photos of them posing in 2012 with the carcasses of species including an elephant and waterbuck have circulated widely on social media. In one image, Donald Trump Jr. is wearing an ammunition belt and holding the severed tail of an elephant in one hand, a knife in the other."

Whatever the motivation, the initial policy change was a dramatic step backwards, so the fact that it's now on hold is heartening. There's also a couple of broader takeaways to keep in mind.

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