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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Chris Geidner/BuzzFeed

    The Supreme Court appeared likely to uphold Ohio's system for removing voters from its voter rolls following arguments on Wednesday.

    Under Ohio's system, a voter who does not vote in a two-year period is sent a notice. If they do not return the notice and fail to vote for the next four years, their voter registration is canceled.

    The A. Philip Randolph Institute, represented by Campaign Legal Center's Paul Smith, argued on Wednesday that Ohio violates federal voting laws by basing its decision to remove voters on their failure to vote.

    The state, however, counters that its decision is based on the evidence it obtains over that time — the failure to vote and failure to return the notice followed by more nonvoting — that the person has moved.

    Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer joined Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito in skeptically questioning Smith's arguments for the challengers to Ohio's system.

    "What are they supposed to do?" Breyer asked Smith at one point.

    Kennedy followed up by asking whether the state could mail the notice to all voters in Ohio, rather than just those who hadn't voted over the past two years, to start the process, which Smith said would violate federal law — just in a different way.

    The questions to Ohio Solicitor Eric Murphy, primarily from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, did not appear to make a dent in the support for Ohio's process — or at least for Ohio's ability to choose that process from among many options.

    Murphy at one point noted that failure to vote "cannot be the sole basis for removal" but that "doesn't mean it can't be used" at all.

    The Trump administration had weighed in in support of Ohio's position, with US Solicitor General Noel Francisco arguing that Ohio's process is OK for that very reason — that the "protective process" (as in, the notice mailing) makes Ohio's process different than a "use it or lose it" process where nonvoting could lead to voter registration removal.

    That issue formed the majority of Smith's time at the lectern, with Smith arguing that the state not receiving the notice back tells "nothing" about whether the person moved.

    Roberts countered that it shows something, and the two — joined at points by Kennedy and Alito — went back and forth, with Roberts finally acknowledging, "I think we're both just repeating ourselves."

    Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not ask any questions at the arguments. That, combined with the fact that it wasn't necessarily clear whether Breyer's questions at argument represented his primary view of the case, could leave an (unlikely) opening for a narrow victory for the challengers — but the generally tone of the morning suggested otherwise.

    LINK: Read the transcript from Wednesday's argument, as provided by the Supreme Court.

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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    A group of Republican and Democratic senators have reached a bipartisan deal that would fund President Trump’s promised border wall while allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented people to remain in the country.

    The deal has not been endorsed by the president and could die in Congress. But it is the most significant breakthrough yet in the negotiations over what to do with the so-called DREAMers — 800,000 people who came, undocumented, to the United States as children and have lived in legal limbo ever since.

    In recent years, young, undocumented immigrants have remained in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, created by President Obama. Trump ended the program in the fall and it expires in March.

    For Republicans, the deal includes $1.6 billion in new border wall funding plus another $1.1 billion in border security infrastructure, according to sources involved with the talks. Other GOP victories include measures to end so-called chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program.

    The negotiating group that struck the deal is made up of Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner on the Republican side, and Sens. Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, and Bob Menendez on the Democratic side.

    The main appeal for Democrats is that the deal includes the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. The path would take 12 years, though in practice it would become a 10-year path because they will get two years of credit.

    The deal is sure to draw fire from both the left and right. Even if it reaches 60 votes needed to pass the Senate it would also need to pass the House, where a faction of Republicans oppose amnesty for DACA recipients, and many Democrats strongly oppose any funding to build a border wall.

    It will then need to be approved by President Trump, who has given contradictory statements about what he believes should happen to DACA recipients. The deal would keep the door open to thousands of immigrants from places that Trump derided as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting Thursday.

    Sources say the deal would eliminate the temporary visa lottery system, which awards visas to up to 50,000 people per year from countries with low rates of immigration to the US, a key priority for Trump. But those slots would still be allocated, at least in part, to the Temporary Protected Status program that brings in immigrants from countries reeling from natural disasters or civil conflict.

    The Trump administration announced Monday that almost 200,000 Salvadorans who had been staying in the country under the Temporary Protected Status program will have to return to El Salvador this year.

    The deal strikes a compromise on chain migration, wherein new citizens bring their relatives into the country, who in turn bring in more relatives. “Ending” chain migration was a key stated goal of Republicans in these talks.

    Under the deal, parents of DACA recipients would not be able to obtain citizenship through their children. However, they would gain protected status and work authorization for three years, which would be renewable.

    The deal allows Republicans to tout that they have broken the chain, while Democrats could say that parents of DACA recipients are protected through the end of this administration, and a future president would have the chance to extend their stay.

    The big questions now are if, and when, it would pass Congress.

    Democrats had hoped to tie DACA talks to a budget spending bill that needs to be passed by Jan. 19 in order to avoid a government shutdown. They saw this as giving them maximum leverage in negotiations. But Republicans appear to be eyeing a slower pace. Flake said Thursday that the goal is to release legislation by the end of January and pass it before DACA expires in March.

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    Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

    The attention around Oprah Winfrey’s stirring Golden Globes speech and dramatic emergence as a speculated candidate for president in 2020 took most of the most prominent black Democratic groups by surprise this week.

    Some of their reaction to Oprah was tempered because they view Sen. Kamala Harris’s candidacy as more likely. The Oprah flashpoint underscored how a lot of the groups are preparing quietly for Harris; in private, these activists and donors are eager to talk about Harris’s affability and charisma; her record as attorney general of California; how popular she’d be in say, South Carolina.

    But, Oprah (!) had many of them thinking about an alternate universe in which she is not their preferred candidate simply by virtue of the person she is. The national fawning over her speech had black Democratic groups scurrying behind the scenes about what to say, how to say it — and wondering if they should say anything at all. A Democratic strategist was more succinct: “They don’t want to step on Kamala’s toes.”

    Some of the black political class are game to talk about all things O. Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a cofounder of Higher Heights for America, which advances black women’s issues in public policy and seeks to increase black women's civic participation in politics in part by supporting black woman candidates, told BuzzFeed News in an email interview that the opportunity for a black woman to “break the ultimate glass ceiling for women” is exciting “whether that candidate is Oprah Winfrey or Kamala Harris.”

    Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

    Harris has been the subject of two recent national profiles, both of which highlight how voters are energized by the prospect of her candidacy. “As an organization focused on harnessing the political power of black women at the voting booth and on the ballot, having an exciting candidate of our own at the top of the ticket has the potential to energize black women and our ally voters to the polls and bring that energy and enthusiasm to other black women on the ballot,” Peeler-Allen said. “It remains our focus to make sure that black women's voices, votes, and leadership matter in the political discourse whether that be at the local, state, or federal level.”

    “Having dynamic figures like Oprah lend their voices, talent, and resources as activists and donors,” she said, “to candidates can inspire the possibilities when we unleash the organizing power of black women.”

    The outpouring of attention toward Oprah also created some friction among black political activist circles: In these conversations, according to one prominent Democratic activist, people balk at the popular framing — asking a black woman to take on trying to save the country from ruin. The political discourse around Oprah, now surrounds “not asking another black woman to bear the burden of saving America from what white folks, especially white women, did,” in electing Trump, the activist, who asked not to be identified, said in a text message to BuzzFeed News.

    “But also, people acknowledge that [Oprah] is one of those people who even some Trump supporters love,” she said.

    Harris and Winfrey certainly know each other, according to one person close to her. Quentin James, a cofounder of Collective PAC, which is raising money to recruit, train, and fund black candidates was casually into the idea of Oprah running: “We’d love to see it,” he said, pledging support but unconvinced that she really wants to do it. “But it's early. But does she really want to do it? Most of [the speculation] is being driven by cable TV. So, I just don’t know?”

    Bakari Sellers is among the more aggressive political figures courting Oprah on social media after her big speech. The former South Carolina state senator and CNN political commentator told BuzzFeed News that Oprah’s Sunday speech recalled the stump speech she had given on behalf of Barack Obama on the campus of the University of South Carolina; she was nervous, according to murmurs backstage, but, “She crushed it,” he said.

    Harris is exciting to voters, he agreed. Eric Holder could do well in South Carolina. And Eric Garcetti, a white candidate who he said he could “bring to a black church” — and could be relied upon to clap on beat, an underrated, but over-observed cultural cue people that people feel is important to South Carolina voters. But none of it applies to Oprah, after all. She’s a celebrity.

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    Chris Geidner/BuzzFeed

    The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear cases over allegations that Texas's redistricting efforts violated voting rights laws and the Constitution — adding high-profile racial gerrymandering cases to a term that already includes at least two cases about how courts can address partisan gerrymandering.

    The move sets up the court for a potential blockbuster term — setting standards on voting rights relating to redistricting — before the next nationwide round of redistricting begins after the 2020 Census.

    The cases over Texas congressional maps and state House maps were two of a dozen matters that the Supreme Court announced on Friday it will be taking up.

    Among the other cases the court agreed to hear are those addressing a long-standing Supreme Court precedent regarding out-of-state sales taxes, the constitutional role of Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judges, and what courts must do to back up a decision not to grant a person a proportional sentence reduction under federal sentencing rules.

    The Texas redistricting cases are appeals from a 107-page ruling of a three-judge district court panel from this past August. Law professor Rick Hasen from the University of California, Irvine, an election law expert, summarized the cases as "big, important, and exceedingly complex. ... Issues include violations of the Voting Rights Act, findings of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, and a finding that Texas acted with racially discriminatory intent."

    The court heard a case over a partisan gerrymandering challenge to Wisconsin redistricting efforts this past October and has agreed to hear a case over Maryland's redistricting. North Carolina's lawmakers have said they are appealing a third partisan gerrymandering case — decided earlier this week — to the justices as well.

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    Friday's White House event.

    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    President Trump’s private remarks about Haiti and African countries have angered prominent black leaders, setting off a tense and uncomfortable period — just days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 2018 marks 50 years since King's assassination in 1968.

    On Thursday, the president was reported to have referred to places like El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations as “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers present, and wondered why the United States accepts so many people from those countries. Though the White House did not deny he made the comment, Trump has since denied using the term “shithole.”

    Those comments have caused acrimony behind the scenes: A Republican source with knowledge of the conflict told BuzzFeed News that Dr. Bernice A. King, the CEO of the King Center, was disturbed by Trump’s reported language, and its proximity to the King holiday. On Friday, for instance, the president appeared at an MLK event Friday with Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is also scheduled to speak at an annual King Center event on Monday.

    A King Center spokesperson declined to discuss Bernice King’s reaction to Trump’s reported comments, but said that she remains concerned about any “hate speech” or hateful rhetoric coming directly from Trump without mentioning the “shithole” ordeal.

    Over the weekend, it was even unclear if Carson would still speak Monday at the King Center’s annual service. Four sources had told BuzzFeed News that it did not seem likely, and a spokesperson for the King Center told BuzzFeed on Saturday that they were unsure if Carson would speak. (A HUD spokesperson did not return an email on Saturday asking about Carson's schedule.)

    By Sunday afternoon, though, the King Center confirmed that Carson will appear on Monday.

    Carson will speak briefly and honor King's life and legacy, a HUD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Sunday.

    According to an administration source, Bernice King had reached out to try to keep Carson from appearing with Trump on Friday because of the reported “shithole” comments. The King Center spokesperson declined to say whether she had reached out to administration officials.

    According to the same administration source, at least one White House official also solicited advice from the people who came to see Trump: How should the White House respond in the event the King Center withdrew its invitation to Carson?

    The people in attendance Friday represent Trump’s strongest remaining black supporters. The reported comments shadowed that event, but he did not address them, and none of them took questions afterward.

    The mood, according to one of the people present, was raw and tense, especially when April Ryan asked the president if he was a racist. It struck multiple people there: Here was the president of the United States — who had referred to a group of white supremacists as including “very fine people” — being asked by a familiar face if he was a racist.

    “It’s just a bad day for all of this,” an attendee told BuzzFeed News. “[It was] a shithole kind of day.”

    Not everything was uncomfortable on Friday: According to Paris Dennard, a staunch Trump supporter and CNN commentator, Trump paused and smiled at him to ask how he was doing. "You OK?" the president said. Dennard said he replied, “I'm doing just fine, thank you.” “I just had to check,” said Trump. Dennard told BuzzFeed News Trump's concern was due to the constant verbal onslaught he takes on CNN when defending Trump and the administration against liberal — and some conservative — commentators. (Despite his denials, it has been widely reported that Trump watches a lot of cable TV.)

    The Republican source said the “biggest elephant in the room” was the absence of Omarosa Manigault-Newman on Friday. The former administration official and Trump loyalist who left the White House under circumstances that are still unclear was missed because she was such an outsize presence.

    The Republican source and the source close to Manigault-Newman said she’d had a vision for the Monday event in Atlanta that consisted of what now seems implausible: President Trump addressing the country from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    Georgia lawmaker Rep. John Lewis said he gets taunted in public, recalling a specific account of boarding a plane where someone was shouting "Trump!" at him.

    On Lift Every Voice, a new podcast by Sen. Cory Booker, Lewis said the taunt happened on a recent flight he had taken from Atlanta to Washington.

    "I was coming back to Washington on Sunday night," Lewis said. "I was on a flight from Atlanta. And I'm walking down the aisle and the gentleman said as loud as he could, 'Trump!' So I didn't — I just kept walking. I didn't say anything. And sometimes I'm walking in the airport in different places. I guess [people think] they're getting to me or harassing me. But they don't understand... I've been called many, many things. But I'm not going to let anything get me down. I'm going to keep walking, keep moving."

    Lewis worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King in the days of the civil rights movement. On the podcast, he talked about his career in the movement and philosophies that have guided his life's work. As a lawmaker in recent years, Lewis's accounts of the movement have served as a living history. In 2016, BuzzFeed News reported that Lewis has acknowledged that the movement discriminated against women.

    Last summer, Booker and Lewis staged a sit-in on the steps of the US Capitol. The 40-minute interview seemed to show something of a bond between the two lawmakers. "You are my hero," Booker said, thanking Lewis for being a mentor to him. Lewis cut him off and said, "I just try to help out."

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    Bannon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    Steve Bannon was subpoenaed last week to testify before a grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible links between Trump associates and Russia, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

    Bannon, the former executive chairman of President Trump's campaign and one time chief strategist at the White House, was recently ousted as leader of far-right website Breitbart.

    Citing “a person with direct knowledge of the matter,” the Times reported that it was the first time Mueller has used a grand jury subpoena, which could be a “negotiating tactic" to get Bannon to agree to be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of his office.

    Mueller's office declined to comment on the report.

    Also on Tuesday, Bannon was on Capitol Hill testifying before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee. During the voluntary interview, Bannon was subpoenaed on-the-spot by the committee after he refused to answer questions relating to his tenure in the Trump White House, a source confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

    Bannon reportedly cited executive privilege, and his lawyer told the committee that he would not answer any questions about his time with the Trump team after the election, including his time in the White House and on the transition team, Politico reported.

    Bannon was still speaking with the committee as of 7 pm ET, nearly 10 hours after the hearing was scheduled to start.

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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    Alabama isn’t keeping track of the number of felons who’ve registered to vote following the implementation of the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, according to a spokesperson for the Alabama Secretary of State's office.

    “The reason that there is not [an official record] is because the state does not track felon data in the Secretary of State’s Office. Information is delivered on an as-needed basis to the county registrars when reviewing each registrant,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

    Alabama’s recent move, along with former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision to restore voting rights individually to more than 200,000 convicted felons, came amid some major changes in the way some view criminal justice policy in American politics. A growing and bipartisan group of people have generally supported a mix of changing sentencing laws, especially around nonviolent drug offenses, and reexamining the way prisons are administered, with some also calling for the restoration of voting rights.

    But one political question that remains unanswered is, how many felons whose ability to vote is restored actually do vote?

    The Sentencing Project estimates that in 2016, 286,266 people were subjected to laws that bar felons from voting in Alabama, while the Southern Poverty Law Center speculated that nearly 250,000 people in Alabama regained the right to vote after Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act into law.

    The act gained national attention after Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ surprising and narrow win in December; Kenneth Glasgow, a grassroots activists in Alabama, claimed to have helped thousands of felons navigate the process of registering to vote.

    The law clearly defines the types of “crimes of moral turpitude,” as it’s used in part of the state’s constitution to bar people certain criminals from registering to vote. Before the Moral Turpitude Act went into effect in August, the types of crimes in the “moral turpitude” category were left to the discretion of county election officials.

    The implementation of the law first ran into issues when county registrars said they were confused about how the law should be implemented and how it applied to their duties, according to a report from

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    Former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio at a rally for Trump in 2016.

    Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

    When Arizona Rep. Martha McSally declared her Senate candidacy last week, she did so with a video that presented her as a foulmouthed combatant who would make President Trump proud.

    “Like our president, I’m tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses,” she says before adding with a chuckle: “I’m a fighter pilot, and I talk like one. That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done.”

    A beat later, text on screen calls attention to an F-bomb McSally reportedly dropped during last year’s health care debate. There also are several brief snippets of Trump praising the lawmaker. (“My friend, Martha McSally. … She’s the real deal. … She’s tough.”)

    McSally’s video is the most explicit rendering of Trump’s outsized influence on a race that has taken many unexpected turns in the first year of his presidency. It’s a Republican primary that once figured to match vehemently anti-Trump Sen. Jeff Flake against an antiestablishment populist but now features three candidates — including Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff known for overzealous immigration enforcement and birtherism — competing for Trump’s affections and voters. It’s a seat Democrats have hopes of flipping in a state where demographics are changing in their favor, and where a prized recruit, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, is expected to be their nominee. It’s also a seat that could determine control of the Senate, where Republicans have a fragile majority.

    Trump confirmed speculation he would put his thumb on the scale last August, when he called Flake “toxic” in a tweet that also encouraged Flake’s main challenger, former state Sen. Kelli Ward. Then Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist, left the White House and endorsed Ward as part of his effort to turn the 2018 midterms in a war against those seen as obstacles to Trumpism.

    But Flake is now out of the picture, choosing to retire and ratchet up his Trump critiques from the refuge of lame-duck status. Bannon is gone, too. His catty comments about the Trump family in Michael Wolff’s newly published Fire and Fury made him toxic to the Trump movement and forced Ward to awkwardly distance herself from Bannon and his once-coveted support.

    And Arpaio shook up the race yet again last week, launching his campaign days before McSally’s entry. The former Maricopa County sheriff has a more cosmic connection to Trumpism than McSally or Ward can claim: The president pardoned Arpaio last year, following his conviction on a contempt of court charge over his refusal to end a policing tactic to catch undocumented immigrants. Arpaio had been an early supporter of Trump’s campaign.

    In a telephone interview Tuesday with BuzzFeed News, Arpaio said he would welcome an endorsement but had not heard from the president since announcing his candidacy.

    “No, he hasn’t called me,” Arpaio said. “But I never ask. Maybe I’m a strange guy, maybe I’m too old-fashioned of a guy, because when I give favors, I don’t ask for favors in return. If he doesn’t decide to come out front, that’s OK with me. I presume he may stay out of the primary.”

    Arpaio nonetheless repeatedly mentioned his relationship with Trump. “I was with the president from day one,” he said. “I haven’t become a supporter just recently just to win elections.”

    Rep. Martha McSally's tweet after the Access Hollywood video.

    @MarthaMcSally / Twitter / Via Twitter, @MarthaMcSally

    That’s an obvious reference to McSally, who did not endorse Trump in 2016 and was among those who criticized him after hearing the Access Hollywood audio in which Trump bragged about groping women. Democrat Hillary Clinton won McSally’s House district by five points that year. But since Flake’s retirement announcement, though, McSally has taken great care to demonstrate an affinity for Trump and a fluency in Trumpism. When an Associated Press reporter asked McSally if she is a trained singer — she performed the national anthem at a Phoenix Suns basketball game — the former fighter pilot replied: “No, I’m a trained killer.”

    McSally also is toeing a harder line on immigration, mindful that she is being attacked from the right by critics who say her voting record paints the picture of a pro-amnesty squish. On Fox News this week, McSally railed against passing a clean DREAM Act without additional border security measures. And when she was asked about Trump’s remark about immigrants from “shithole” countries, McSally defended him, noting that she also speaks “a little salty behind closed doors at times.”

    This realignment is necessary, several Republicans told BuzzFeed News, because McSally is the establishment candidate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who prefers to see Flake’s seat go to another ally, made no secret that she was his top pick in the race. And that’s dicey for McSally.

    Republicans want to avoid any of the Trump-versus-McConnell dynamics that have played out in the party, most notably with disastrous results in the recent special Senate election in Alabama, where a three-way primary produced a series of bad outcomes and ultimately a loss in a very red state. The Arizona primary has similar players: in McSally, a McConnell-backed candidate courting Trump, and in Arpaio and Ward, fringy culture warriors asserting themselves as the truest Trumpers.

    McSally’s team did not answer questions about whether she has discussed the Senate race with the president or received feedback from his advisers at the White House.

    “For 26 years, at home and in six combat deployments, Martha has had the honor and duty of serving this nation in uniform and she is going to work around the clock to improve the lives of Arizona families,” McSally spokesperson Andrea Bozek said in an emailed statement. “As Martha said in her announcement, she understands we are in a crucial time for our country and she is going to take nothing for granted in this race because we can’t allow the liberal chameleon Kyrsten Sinema to represent Arizona families in the United States Senate.”

    Republicans partial to McSally worry that Arpaio and Ward and the Trump-heavy politics of the moment will force her too far to the right in the primary, making it difficult to move to the center and beat Sinema in a general election. The early conventional wisdom on Arpaio’s presence in the race had him splitting the antiestablishment vote with Ward and securing a win for McSally. But some believe Arpaio’s celebrity status among conservatives and his electoral success in Arizona’s most populous county could make him the frontrunner in the primary.

    “I don’t know there will be a split between Ward and Arpaio as much as consolidation behind Arpaio,” one GOP consultant closely watching the race told BuzzFeed News.

    A poll of likely primary voters last week by ABC’s Phoenix affiliate and OH Predictive Insights showed McSally at 31%, Arpaio at 29%, and Ward at 25%. Another poll of likely voters, conducted by Data Orbital after McSally officially joined the race, had McSally at 31%, Arpaio at 22%, and Ward at 19%. Both surveys found Trump to be a positive factor. A majority of respondents to the Data Orbital poll had a strongly favorable opinion of him. And Arpaio’s support jumped to 35% when the ABC/OHPI poll presumed a Trump endorsement for him while also factoring in McConnell’s support for McSally (31%) and Bannon’s for Ward (13%).

    Arpaio theorized that Trump might stay out of the race altogether to avoid another clash with McConnell, whom Arpaio referred to as “McDonnell” before correcting himself.

    Eric Beach, an adviser to Ward’s campaign and to a pro-Trump group that has been aligned with Bannon, downplayed Bannon’s endorsement. But he also asserted that Ward’s aggressive campaign chased Flake from the race — something that probably wouldn’t have happened without Bannon’s personal involvement. (Flake announced his retirement a week after Bannon introduced Ward at her kickoff event.)

    “Yeah, of course Bannon was there, but she’s not an insurgent candidate at this point,” Beach told BuzzFeed News, noting that Ward, a former state lawmaker, gained statewide name recognition after challenging Sen. John McCain in the 2016 primary. “Donald Trump is the leader of this movement, but Kelli Ward is a big part of this movement and has been for years.”

    Beach said McSally is playing to Trump voters because consolidating the establishment vote will not be enough and discounted the notion that Arpaio and Ward will cancel out each other.

    “I think what you’re looking at is a 60% piece of the pie that Kelli Ward and Sheriff Joe are vying for, but the reality is this campaign is months away,” Beach said.

    But in a race that has been full of surprises, another potential race-shifting development has campaign handlers and observers whispering. If McCain, who announced in July 2017 that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer, retires before May 30, the filing deadline for the August primary, a special election will be held this year to fill the remainder of his term. A second Senate seat would be up for grabs.

    Given the sensitivity surrounding the subject — Ward has been criticized for publicly suggesting she be tabbed as his successor — most won’t discuss scenarios on the record. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey would appoint an interim replacement, and it’s unknown whether he’d choose one of the candidates for Flake’s seat or someone else who would run to keep the seat. Selecting McSally might further brand her as an establishment fixture. Selecting someone else seen as too moderate for Trumpism could inspire another populist challenger à la Arpaio or Ward.

    Arpaio, the only one who talked openly of the prospect, did so carefully.

    “First of all, that position will be appointed by the governor,” he said. “And the governor, I supported him out of all the [gubernatorial] candidates. And I would never ask him for anything. ... I don’t know. I just have to do my campaign and raise the money.”

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    Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016.

    Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

    Young black voters are fearful of and deeply disturbed by police violence carried out against black Americans, and highly concerned with mass incarceration and the manner in which President Trump’s reversals of progressive policies made under Barack Obama are being rolled back, according to new research by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.

    Together with the online civil rights group Color of Change, Priorities USA sought to better understand these voters, as well as those currently not registered to vote who typically register at lower rates in midterm cycles. Notably, these kinds of potential voters turned out at lower rates during the 2016 presidential election. That the largest Democratic super PAC is spending time on a series of focus groups and a national survey underscores just how critical a problem that represents for the party.

    Young black Americans are more motivated, the research found, if they know Democratic candidates have plans to improve their economic opportunities. “However, the most effective way to do this is by making core economic issues directly relevant to their lives, instead of talking about them in the abstract,” the report reads.

    These voters are also guided politically by a sense of urgency: Priorities USA said it found that young black voters almost uniformly see their communities as under attack. “And the notion of voting as a way to assuage conditions and circumstances echoed with the voters targeted in the focus groups and survey.”

    “Although black voters remain the single most loyal progressive voting bloc in the country, this research makes clear that there is so much more work to do to ensure that the concerns of African-American millennials are reflected in the political platforms of candidates running for offices across the country,” said Rashad Robinson, spokesperson for Color of Change, said. “Despite having every reason to be disenchanted with politics and the political process, black millennials remain aspirational and committed to empowering their families and communities.”

    Priorities USA found that more than half of its respondents said Facebook is the major platform young black voters use to stay informed of politics and current events. Among these voters, 92% reported that racism is “a big problem in the country today,” with 70% saying it’s a “very big problem; two-thirds said it affected [them] in their daily lives.”

    In an email to BuzzFeed News, Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said, in order to be successful this year, Democrats “must commit to a bold and ambitious agenda” that specifically targets and lifts communities of color.

    “If we want to defeat Donald Trump and the Republicans’ disastrous agenda and build a country that stands up for opportunity and justice for all, we can’t take a single vote for granted,” Cecil told BuzzFeed News. “Young African-Americans are critical to the success of the Democratic Party, and our research makes clear how much more work we have to do to engage them in the political process.”

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    Proposition 8 case plaintiffs Kris Perry (left) and Sandy Steir ride in San Francisco's 43rd annual pride parade Sunday, June 30, 2013.

    Noah Berger / AP

    A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request to unseal — and, hence, make public — the video tape recordings of the 2010 trial over California's Proposition 8 marriage amendment at this time.

    In the decision, however, US District Judge William Orrick also ruled that the tapes will be released on Aug. 12, 2020 — a decade after the initial judgment was entered in the case that led to marriage equality in the state — unless the proponents of the initiative "show compelling reasons for the seal to remain in place for an additional period of time" by earlier that year.

    The tapes were recorded by US District Judge Vaughn Walker, who oversaw the case over the constitutionality of the 2008 amendment but has since retired. After the Supreme Court halted the planned simulcast of the trial to several other courts, Walker had stated that he would still record the trial but that the tapes were for his use — and "not for public broadcasting or televising."

    Since the trial ended, however, there have been multiple court fights over whether and when the tapes — now "an undeniably important historical record," as Orrick wrote in Wednesday's order — would be made public.

    The current fight was brought by KQED and backed by the plaintiffs in the marriage case, as well as the City and County of San Francisco. California, the named defendant in the original case, did not oppose the motion.

    The proponents of Proposition 8, as at trial in 2010, were left opposing the motion alone.

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    President Trump and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.

    Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

    The Fake News Awards were expected to be a surreal, probably riveting Trump event — instead it became a Republican National Committee press release that didn't totally work (many visitors encountered an error page).

    Several party operatives on Wednesday night expressed disappointment that the RNC accepted the virtual master-of-ceremonies duties on the president’s behalf, and they found the exercise to be the latest example of a national party that’s willing to do Trump’s bidding, no matter how undignified.

    "The RNC has become the dumpster for misplaced shit that’s too crazy for the actual White House," one source close to the RNC told BuzzFeed News late Wednesday.

    Garrett Ventry, a Republican strategist, questioned the use of party resources.

    "I understand the RNC is the political arm of the White House, but this basically wasted research talent and time that could’ve been used on Democrat opponents and focusing on the 2018 midterms," Ventry said. "There are a lot of good folks over at the RNC. The focus needs to be selling the president and Republicans’ accomplishments to voters."

    Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who has worked for Sen. Marco Rubio, offered similar thoughts on Twitter:

    An RNC official told BuzzFeed News that compiling the information for the web post — a list of stories or reports that Trump deemed biased, unfair, or inaccurate — was not "a heavy lift" and did not require too much of the staff's time. The RNC's hosting of the list "alleviated any potential ethics concerns were something like this to come from the White House," the official said.

    Trump vowed more than two weeks ago he would present the awards later in the month. Though the president promoted the event through his Twitter account, the White House officially kept itself at arm's length from the execution.

    It’s the second time in as many months that the RNC’s efforts have come under scrutiny from fellow partisans. In December, Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel resumed its financial support for Roy Moore after Trump reaffirmed his endorsement of the Alabama Senate candidate. Moore had become politically radioactive following accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, and McDaniel initially had suspended the RNC’s efforts on his behalf. Some RNC members and other party insiders were unhappy about the reversal.

    Trump routinely calls “fake news” on any news coverage he finds unflattering. And the RNC has in the past criticized sloppy reporting, including a botched report last month from ABC's Brian Ross, who was included on the Fake News Awards list. Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and frequent Trump critic, used a Senate floor speech Wednesday to speak out against the president’s attacks on the media. McDaniel, signaling allegiance to Trump on the issue, rebuked Flake for comparing the president to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

    “Sen. Flake, turn on the news,” the RNC chairwoman wrote on Twitter. “It’s wall-to-wall with biased coverage against @POTUS. He has every right to push back. Comparing the leader of the free world to murderous dictators is absurd. You’ve gone too far.”

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    Florida governor Rick Scott

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    Across the country, more than 6 million people are barred from voting because of laws that bar convicted felons from voting — and nearly a quarter of that population lives in Florida.

    The state is home to more than 1.6 million citizens — 10.4% of the state’s population — who can’t cast a vote in elections unless granted clemency by the state’s governor, Rick Scott, according to data from the Sentencing Project.

    A group of grassroots organizations lead by Desmond Meade, a convicted felon and chairman of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, are proposing a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot in 2018 that, if approved, would restore voting rights to felons (excluding people convicted of murder and sexual offenses) automatically after they complete their sentences.

    If the initiative qualifies it could be one of the most important ballot initiatives in the country ahead of the 2020 election, possibly adding more than one million people to electorate in a swing state that often decides who wins presidential elections by razor thin margins. In 2012, Obama won the state by .9% and in the notorious 2000 election George Bush was elected by 537 votes.

    The state’s clemency process has undergone a series of changes over the last decade. In 2007, former Florida gov. Charlie Crist streamlined the process of granting clemency ahead of the 2008 presidential election, making 100,000 felons eligible voters in the process. In 2011, Gov. Scott rolled back the policy and implemented a five-year waiting period before ex-felons who’ve served their time can apply for voting-rights restoration. A class-action lawsuit filed last year cites a backlog of over 10,000 applications for the clemency board that only meets four times a year.

    “When you look at this country Florida stands out,” Meade said, “because Florida is the worst state in the country for denying people the right to vote and that’s more people than the population of many states and territories. Florida sticks out as an outlier, we’re only one of four states where people don’t have their right to vote reinstated.”

    The initiative to restore voting rights needs 766,000 certified signatures ahead of its Feb. 1 deadline to be placed on the ballot in the 2018 election cycle. The initiative already has 750,723 certified signatures, according to data from the Florida Department of State, and organizers with Florida Right Restoration Coalition are waiting for the more of the 1 million signatures they collected to be certified.

    But actually winning on the issue is a much tougher process: The state requires 60% approval for a successful referendum vote. In 2014, for instance, a referendum on medical marijuana failed — with 57.6% of the vote.

    The move follows a series of prominent similar ones in states with recent, prominent elections: Alabama and Virginia. In Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights for more than 200,000 people and in Alabama, after the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act cleared the way for thousands of felons to vote, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow and The Ordinary People Society helped register felons there. The latter move, in particular, garnered national attention after Senator Doug Jones’ narrow (a 20,000-vote margin) victory last month.

    How many convicted felons register and then vote is still unclear though; Alabama officials told BuzzFeed News that they do not have an official tally of how many people registered and voted.

    “In a state where the margin of error is 1% I think adding this new cohort of people could have a great effect on future elections,” Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida told BuzzFeed News.

    McManus thinks that if political parties organize get out the vote efforts to mobilize voters similar to efforts in Alabama and Virginia after thousands of felons were given the right to vote in both states that it could potentially swing an election in Florida.

    While many experts believe that restoring voting rights to felons benefits the Democratic Party — because of the disproportionate rate of incarceration of black Americans — Meade sees felon disenfranchisement as a “cancer” that’s “grown from an effort to disenfranchise recently freed slaves to a problem that affects Floridians across racial and political lines.”

    Meade believes the initiative will meet the requirements to be placed on the ballot and he thinks its due time for all Floridians to have full citizenship. Meade loves to tell the story of Jesus forgiving a criminal on the cross when talking about restoring voting rights to ex-felons. “When the criminal asked for forgiveness, Jesus didn’t make him wait five to seven years. He said, ‘This day you enter with me into paradise.’”

    “Once a debt is paid, it’s paid and one should not be made to continuously be made to pay a debt that’s been paid in full,” Meade said.

    This story has been updated to clarify what percentage of voters must approve a referendum for it to pass.

    LINK: Alabama Isn’t Keeping Track Of The Number Of Felons Who’ve Registered To Vote

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    President Trump during a Thursday visit to H&K Equipment in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania.

    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

    CORAOPOLIS, Pennsylvania — President Trump’s Thursday trip to western Pennsylvania was the first test of how helpful he can be to Republicans in a challenging midterm climate.

    The results were what you’d expect from any other incumbent president trying to lend his party a hand — which, considering this was Donald Trump, made them somewhat surprising.

    Trump delivered the kind of performance many Republicans have said they hope to see from him this year as they fight to keep their majorities in the House and Senate. It was tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, with few of the digressions that typically make headlines after Trump events.

    He also gave a lift to Rick Saccone, a local state lawmaker and Republican nominee for the 18th Congressional District seat. That seat is up for grabs in a March 13 special election that will be watched closely for clues about GOP fortunes in 2018. Saccone greeted Trump when Air Force One landed at Pittsburgh International Airport and got a strong shout-out — “a spectacular man” — during Trump’s speech at a nearby industrial supplier.

    “Rick is a great guy, I think he is going to do very well,” Trump said, according to pool reports, after a tour of H&K Equipment, which sells and services lift trucks and other machinery.

    Trump also suggested he would “be back” to campaign for Saccone.

    The visit to H&K was not the big arena rally that Trump loves. But the White House’s characterization of the visit as a more formal affair to promote the recently passed tax bill and talk about the economy clashed with Trump’s tweet proclaiming that he was coming to “give my total support for Saccone.” In the end — and, clocking in at 25 minutes, it was also uncharacteristically short for a Trump roadshow speech — it was a fusion of both.

    Aware that the president often can be a liability, given his low job-approval numbers and his tendency to wander off script, GOP strategists have said Trump would be at his most valuable to the party by simply marketing the tax bill as a big win for voters.

    Trump can be unpredictable, so it’s always possible he will revert to his combative comfort zone, where he blurts out whatever’s on his mind (NFL players protesting during the national anthem, Hillary Clinton, etc.). But, for the most part Thursday, Trump was on message — the traditional GOP’s preferred message, at least. There was one brief reference to Clinton, his Democratic rival in 2016. There also was a tip of the cap to her husband, former president Bill Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid,” said Trump, repeating the Clinton campaign mantra of 1992. “You ever hear that one?”

    And there was an on-stage cameo from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser. She plugged the child tax credit she championed. (“It is so amazing to be here in Pennsylvania, to be here with all of you,” she said. “We worked so hard on tax cuts and tax reform.”)

    The 18th District, which hugs the Pittsburgh area, has been solidly Republican for years. Trump won here by nearly 20 points in 2016. Saccone, a 59-year-old Air Force veteran, has styled himself as an unabashed Trump loyalist, or in his words, “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

    Ordinarily, Saccone would be a shoo-in in the 18th. But the seat is open because scandal chased Rep. Tim Murphy — a conservative who faced allegations that he encouraged a mistress to have an abortion — from office. And Democrats are excited about their candidate: 33-year-old Conor Lamb, a youthful Marine veteran and former assistant US attorney whose family is well known in local political circles.

    National Republicans and allied groups are investing significant money and resources in the race. They hope a victory will at least stall if not reverse the momentum Democrats entered the year with after winning gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, making gains in state legislatures across the country, and picking up a Senate seat in deep-red Alabama. With Trump unpopular in many places, and with midterm dynamics often favoring the party out of power, the GOP faces a tough fight to maintain control of Congress.

    Lamb is positioning himself as pragmatic centrist at a time when the Republican playbook calls for linking Democratic congressional candidates to Nancy Pelosi. Lamb said last week that he would not support Pelosi staying on as the House’s Democratic leader if he wins.

    His campaign debuted a TV ad Thursday to coincide with Trump’s visit. The 30-second commercial emphasizes his Catholic school upbringing, military service, and features a photo of him taking target practice as a voiceover says Lamb “still loves to shoot.”

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    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    The Justice Department on Thursday evening asked the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as a lawful action — and to "resolve the dispute this Term," which, generally speaking, would mean by the end of June.

    In response to multiple challenges to the decision to end DACA, a district court judge ordered the administration on Jan. 9 to continue accepting renewal applications from current DACA recipients. After a slight delay, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would begin accepting renewal applications this past weekend.

    On Tuesday of this week, however, the Justice Department announced that it would be asking the Supreme Court to hear the case immediately — an effort to skip review by the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which has sided against the Trump administration multiple times and drawn scorn from President Trump.

    Trump even raised the issue of his views of the 9th Circuit in discussing the DACA case on Twitter, tweeting that it "shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is" because "the opposing side ... runs to the 9th Circuit."

    The department filed its brief at the Supreme Court on Thursday evening, formally a request for certiorari before judgment due to the fact that the department is asking for the Supreme Court to review the case before an appeals court has done so.

    "Without this Court’s immediate intervention, the [district] court’s injunction will persist at least for months while an appeal is resolved and, if the court of appeals does not reverse the injunction, it could continue for more than a year given the [Supreme] Court’s calendar," the Justice Department lawyers argue in their brief.

    As to the substantive request for review, the Justice Department argues, as it did at the district court, that the decision to end DACA, made by then-acting secretary of homeland security Elaine Duke, is not reviewable and, even if it is, it was a lawful decision.

    "The district court has entered a nationwide injunction that requires DHS to keep in place a policy of non-enforcement [of immigration laws] that no one contends is required by federal law and that DHS has determined is, in fact, unlawful and should be discontinued," the Justice Department lawyers argue in making their case for why the district court's ruling should be reviewed and overturned. "The district court’s unprecedented order requires the government to sanction indefinitely an on- going violation of federal law being committed by nearly 700,000 aliens — and, indeed, to confer on them affirmative benefits (including work authorization) — pursuant to the DACA policy."

    The strong language from the Justice Department about DACA recipients comes even as lawmakers and the White House have been debating and seeking legislative solutions to provide protections for those people affected by the decision to end the program.

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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    The clock was ticking for the Republican-controlled Congress to stave off a government shutdown Thursday night — just over 24 hours to go — but Washington's chaos seemed to be taking place on another planet for about 800 of President Donald Trump's most die-hard supporters, who held a lavish celebration at Mar-a-Lago to mark Trump’s first-year in office and rally for his re-election.

    Decked out in red, white, and blue, Trump fans from all over the country danced throughout the evening at the president’s exclusive club, toasted repeatedly to Trump's accomplishments, chanted his name — along with the occasional campaign favorite "lock her up" — and referred to Trump as a “damn genius,” their “messiah” and “savior." The speakers and attendees also slammed the media and pushed back on renewed allegations of racism levied at the president, after reports last week that he called African nations "shithole countries" in a private meeting with lawmakers.

    Tarini Parti / Via BuzzFeed News

    "Welcome to Mar-a-Lago, a magnificent place," said Fox News host and Trump backer Jeanine Pirro, kicking off her keynote address just before dinner on a stage with a shimmering gold backdrop.

    "It sure ain't no shithole."

    The night’s “Red, White, and Blue Celebration” was organized by Toni Holt Kramer, leader of the Trumpettes, a group of wealthy socialites who got together in 2016 to help Trump get more support from female voters. The event was not a fundraiser, despite the constant pleas to gear up for 2020, and was billed as a "party for we the people." Attendees paid $300 for a ticket that included a cocktail hour and dinner. (BuzzFeed News was invited to cover the event by Holt Kramer and paid for a ticket).

    Attendees had been so excited to hear Pirro speak that one of them climbed up on the stage to cut off Tova Leidesdorf, a local philanthropist who had been introducing the conservative celebrity and had paid for her speaking fees. The disruptor had to be removed from the stage by organizers and security.

    Moving past the brief kerfuffle, Pirro fired up the crowd by rattling off accomplishments that Obama couldn’t manage,"but the so-called racist president could do it."

    "I love Donald Trump,” she said. “He's the least racist man I've ever met, but I must tell you, race has always been an issue for Donald. Donald is always in a race — in a race against time, in a race against competitors, in a race against corruption, in a race against crime, and a race against terrorism."

    Tarini Parti / Via BuzzFeed News

    The president, who has frequently flown back to Mar-a-Lago for weekends, especially in colder months, is not expected to be at his club until Friday night, plans that could be complicated by a potential government shutdown. But large cutouts of him with his iconic thumbs up — some with First Lady Melania Trump and others with his “Make America Great Again” hat on — were scattered throughout the ballroom so he could join in the celebration. The attendees drank Trump wine and dined on sliced beef brisket, berry salad, and “American apple pie.”

    Throughout the night, attendees were eager to sound off on the most recent charges of racism against the president, which was fitting, given that the event was also first conceived as a result of the outrage over Trump's comments in the aftermath the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville last August, when he said "both sides" were responsible. Charities and businesses that had held annual events Mar-a-Lago started fleeing the club after those comments because they did not want to be seen as at all sympathetic to white supremacy by associating themselves with the Trump brand.

    At the time, Holt Kramer decided to counter any insinuation of the president being a racist in the most Trumpian way possible: by throwing an over-the-top celebration at his resort on the eve of the first year of his presidency.

    "Everyone knows that if it weren't for him, there wouldn't even be a club in Palm Beach where Jews and Muslims and people of all faiths would be welcome," Holt Kramer told BuzzFeed News before the event. "I said this is disgusting. It was just so offensive to me. I thought about it and decided, 'Well I think I'm about to do an event."

    Tickets for the celebration, which was initially planned for about 400 people and ended up doubling, sold out within days last fall and was expanded to include an "overflow ballroom."

    "These are the people who fought. These are the people who lost friends because of their support."

    In his welcome remarks, Eric Trump, the president’s son, called the people who came to the celebration his family's "true friends."

    "These are the people who care," he said. "These are the people who fought. These are the people who lost friends because of their support."

    His wife, Lara Trump, who is already working on Trump's re-election campaign, told supporters that Trump has to "fight an uphill battle everyday" against the media and the Democrats. "The thing is they won't try to stop a loser," she said. "But they will try and stop a winner, and Donald Trump is winning for this country."

    "They better buckle up because we got him for seven more years, right?"

    Trump will be having another one-year anniversary celebration at Mar-a-Lago this weekend once he’s due to be in town, according to Bloomberg News. A pair of tickets, which will benefit Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, start at $100,000.

    Although polls show some Republicans growing wary of Trump’s controversial comments and tweets ahead of the 2018 elections, the hundreds who attended Thursday night seemed to have no major concerns about his presidency so far. Several also said that Trump might have called the countries “shitholes,” but that’s because of their corrupt politicians, not because of their people.

    Becky Diefendorf of Port St. Lucie who attended the event didn't hold back on her anger at those calling Trump a racist. "That's such bullshit. You could call that a shithole." Diefendorf went on to suggest that Trump should get rid of all the national news outlets covering the White House — "all of those who have been sitting up there for 40 years" — and replace them with “local reporters and entrepreneurs”

    Anka Palitz, a Palm Beach resident and Mar-a-Lago member, said she's been a Trump fan for 30 years and has continued to be impressed with his time in office. "This is not a man who thinks inside the box," she said. "He thinks outside the box."

    Tarini Parti

    Palitz said the presidency hasn't changed Trump at all, and that he still acts the same way when he's at the club. She said she was disappointed in "liberals" who don't want to hear Trump's opinion and continue to paint him as a racist, adding with a smile that instead of being bothered by it, a certain curse word would be making a comeback.

    "I tell you, shithole is going to be the new word."

    On their way out, guests picked up red "Trump 2020" baseball hats that were lined up on tables — and bottles of Salute American Vodka.

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    Attendees of the March for Life demonstrate outside the Supreme Court building on Jan. 19, 2018.

    Chris Geidner/BuzzFeed

    The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to President Trump's third attempt at his travel ban, the court announced on Friday.

    The travel proclamation, signed in September, limited travel to the United States from eight countries — six of which are majority-Muslim nations. It was Trump's third attempt to limit travel to the US; the first two — which were executive orders — faced significant pushback from federal courts, although the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the second one to go into effect in part.

    A district court had halted enforcement of the September ban nationwide in a lawsuit brought by Hawaii, but the Supreme Court issued an order alloweing the Trump administration to enforce the ban while the administration appealed the ruling — a sign that a majority of the court believed the proclamation is likely to be found to be lawful.

    In late December, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the travel proclamation, upholding the lower court's injunction in part and setting up the Justice Department's request for Supreme Court review.

    In addition to the questions raised in the Justice Department's brief of whether the case is justiciable (can even be heard by the courts), whether the proclamation is allowed under federal immigration law, and whether the "global injunction" is too broad, the justices also asked the parties to "brief and argue" a question raised by Hawaii: whether the proclamation violates the Establishment Clause.

    The case is to be argued in April, with a decision expected by June.

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    Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

    The commission formed by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to review the Democratic nominating process is presenting its final report to the party's rules committee this weekend. But party officials are still working to resolve their differences over key changes such as caucus rules and superdelegates.

    As officials gather Friday and Saturday in Washington for a meeting of the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, one Clinton adviser is circulating a petition asking Democrats to reconsider a proposal aimed at favoring primaries over caucuses.

    The Democratic operative and Clinton staffer, Adam Parkhomenko, released the petition on Friday, pointing members to a proposal that would require states with both caucuses and state-run primaries to use the results of the primary, not the caucus, to decide the number of delegates allocated to each candidate.

    The proposal, an amendment introduced last month by former Clinton operative David Huynh, set off a granular but contentious debate at the final meeting of the Unity Reform Commission, formed by Clinton and Sanders allies at the 2016 Democratic convention. Huynh, one of the members of the 21-person Unity Reform group, argued that his amendment adhered to the commission's founding "mandate," the document outlining the group's mission and goals, including one to "make recommendations to encourage the expanded use of primary elections."

    Clinton and Sanders allies had already worked out a compromise on the topic in advance of the meeting. The agreed-upon rule, requiring states that hold a primary to use the primary to allocate delegates rather than a caucus, would have only applied to states with five or more congressional districts, excluding small states such as Idaho and Nebraska. Huynh's amendment, proposed at the end of the lengthy meeting last month in Washington, sought to eliminate the exception for those small states.

    "The mandate currently asks us to make recommendations on the use of primaries, and this is what my amendment does," Huynh said at the meeting. "If we're looking to include more people in the process, then we have to use primaries over caucuses."

    A number of commission members immediately raised objections to the amendment. Jane Kleeb, the Democratic Party chair in Nebraska, argued that the decision should be left to Nebraska Democrats. "There are problems with the caucus system. We acknowledge that," Kleeb said. "But it is not our role as a Unity Commission to tell a state that they have to choose one or the other."

    Another Democrat from the crucial caucus state of Iowa, Jan Bauer, argued that in small, rural states — often controlled by a Republican governor or state legislature — caucuses are the best vessel for building a strong Democratic Party. "We're talking about small rural states — states with voter rights being eroded every day."

    "So I'm with Jane," Bauer said. "Hands off, David."

    Members of the commission have already come up with a set of sweeping proposals meant to make the caucus system more fair, accessible, and flexible. These include measures to require absentee ballots, total public vote counts, and same-day voter and party registration.

    Huynh's amendment was ultimately "tabled" indefinitely and never raised again.

    As a result, according to members, neither the amendment nor the original language around the rule was included in the Unity Reform Commission's final report, which can be viewed online.

    The petition circulated by Parkhomenko, currently serving as an adviser to Clinton and her new PAC, Onward Together, takes issue with the chair of the commission, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, who was appointed to the role by Clinton and cast the deciding vote in tabling the amendment at the end of last month's meeting.

    O'Malley Dillon, Parkhomenko's petition reads, cast "the decisive vote to table an amendment that would address one of the most important aspects the Unity Reform Commission." The 500-word petition continues as follows:

    "We are the Democratic Party and use the mechanism that best takes into account the most Democratic voices. Therefore, we the undersigned urge the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full DNC to live up to the mandate of the resolution to 'expand the use of primary elections' and require that states with state-run presidential primary to use their respective primary over a caucus system to allocate the state's national delegates when a state-run presidential primary exists. Such a rule would also forbid state parties from reverting back to caucuses when a state-funded presidential primary already exists."

    After last month's meeting Parkhomenko, a fierce Clinton loyalist, rallied supporters on Twitter and elsewhere to lobby O'Malley Dillon to explain and reverse her vote. O’Malley Dillon did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

    Clinton herself, two associates said, was also monitoring the meeting and vote.

    Members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, meeting over the weekend in Washington, are expected to take up the issue themselves, two members of the committee said this week. That body has about six months to review the Unity Reform Commission's proposals and put forward their own suggested changes.

    Aside from the exact rules on caucuses and primaries, another remaining issue of contention among DNC members at larger is what to do about superdelegates.

    Under the current system for choosing a Democratic nominee, candidates amass a number "pledged delegates" tied to their performance. Apart from the delegates decided by voters, a group of about 700 people, or superdelegates — a group made up of DNC members, Democratic elected officials, and former leaders — get their own "unpledged" delegate to award to the candidate of their choosing.

    Last month, the Unity Reform Commission proposed to effectively eliminate about 60% of superdelegates. Under their suggested changes, the superdelegates who are DNC members — there are currently 447 — would keep the title of superdelegate, but their votes would be bound proportionally to the vote count in their states on the first ballot of voting at the convention. The rest, the elected officials and distinguished leaders, would remain unbound. (In the case of a second ballot of voting at a convention, all superdelegates would be unbound.)

    The idea is the same one outline in the 2016 mandate, a document that DNC members already approved unanimously on the floor of the convention.

    Still, whether members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee propose as aggressive a change already appears to be a tenuous proposition. The committee, stacked with many longtime Democratic officials, may put forward a less ambitious proposal.

    And even then, for the change to become final, DNC members would have to approve it by a two-thirds majority vote — meaning that most of the 447 DNC members, superdelegates themselves, will have to vote to strip themselves of power.

    The Rules and Bylaws Committee is expected to meet several times before presenting their report before members of the DNC for a final vote, likely this fall.

    This story has been updated with a link to the Unity Commission's report.

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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    The first anniversary of the self-professed ultimate deal-maker’s inauguration is being celebrated in Washington with a government shutdown and no deal to reopen it in sight.

    “This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present,” Trump tweeted early Saturday morning.

    Trump, who was supposed to be celebrating this weekend at a high-dollar fundraiser at his exclusive Florida resort, is now stuck in Washington. But while the White House says Trump is working the phones, other than an ultimately unsuccessful meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday, the president has been largely sidelined from deal-making, with congressional leadership and a few of his top aides taking the lead.

    And some senators from both parties say negotiating with Trump himself to find a way out of the shutdown is essentially impossible.

    Trump extensively bragged about his negotiating skills on the campaign, wrote a book literally titled "The Art of The Deal," and has tweeted about deals being his "art form." "Other people paint beautifully or write poetry," he tweeted in 2014. "I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."

    Marc Short, Trump’s White House legislative director, said in a briefing Saturday that the White House remains anxious to get to a deal, but when asked if the timing of the shutdown reflects poorly on the administration, he said it was the opposite.

    “I think it’s disappointing that Congress has chosen to shut down the government, and particularly Senate Democrats have, on the one-year anniversary,” he said, going on to call Democrats “toddlers.”

    “I think many Democratic activists look at the accomplishments this administration has made in the last year and they push their leadership to shut down the government ... Their reaction is, because we can’t beat them we're going to shut down the government,” he said.

    Trump insiders also acknowledged to BuzzFeed News that the anniversary of his presidency ending in more "chaos" rather than celebration is "bothersome." But they continue to insist that it takes two sides to make a deal, and that one side — the Democrats — has been too uncooperative to get anywhere.

    "It is very frustrating," said a source close to the administration. "But even deal-makers don't win them all, especially in politics. It's the grandstanding on the part of the Democrats that's getting in the way."

    That’s not how everyone sees it. In a press conference Saturday afternoon, Schumer detailed how a rough agreement he and Trump came to at Friday’s lunch fell apart in the hours leading up to the shutdown. "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O," the New York Democrat said. "It's close to impossible."

    Schumer said it's also unclear who is even supposed to be on the other side of the deal. GOP leadership in Congress has told him to negotiate with Trump, he said, and Trump has told him to go to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    "It's next to impossible to strike a deal with the president because he can't stick to the terms," Schumer said. "So here we are on the first anniversary of the president's inauguration mired in the Trump shutdown, but it doesn't have to be this way."

    Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters later Saturday that Schumer “mischaracterized” the meeting with Trump. (A Schumer aide responded in a tweet that Mulvaney hadn't been in the meeting)

    Matt Schlapp, a GOP consultant close to Trump, said the public saw Trump's deal-making skills firsthand when he brought the cameras into his negotiation with lawmakers on immigration, so they should not doubt his abilities to cut deals but rather question Democrats’ stance, as some of the party’s leaders spent the first hours of the shutdown rallying with Trump opponents at the Washington Women’s March. "Boy, I don't see how it makes the case that Democrats are ready to govern when they are more ready to protest."

    "You can't really negotiate until two parties want to negotiate," Schlapp said. "Democrats actually want a shutdown."

    That on-camera negotiating session, however, has so far only led to where the government is now: shut down.

    Even a Republican senator — albeit one who has been critical of Trump — told reporters Saturday that the president is not a reliable partner in cutting legislative deals.

    "If we can reach an agreement with the White House, great," Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters. "But we haven't been able to. We've been working for months and can't [get] from the White House what their position is. It's different on Tuesday than it is on Thursday."

    With the future of government funding unclear, Trump world is also gaming out how the optics of the shutdown on Trump’s one-year anniversary will play out politically.

    A former Trump administration official said neither Trump nor Republicans would necessarily be blamed for the shutdown, however the government running out of funding — especially the timing of it — would help Democrats in a midterm election by energizing their base.

    “There was no incentive for Schumer to cut an immediate deal because Trump having the government shut down on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration is exactly the visual Democrats wanted to create," the official said.

    "Unfortunately, the question of blame won't matter in the long term, but what does matter is the message Democrats are sending to their base voters for the midterms, that they are going to stand up and fight on issues they care about."

    Paul McLeod contributed reporting.

    0 0

    Chief Justice John Roberts last year.

    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Thirteen years into the job, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. remains a conservative — but he has shifted to a more moderate position among the conservative justices on the court, a small change with potentially dramatic consequences.

    Among the justices appointed by Republican presidents, Roberts agreed least with Justice Anthony Kennedy in Roberts’ first two terms leading the court — and the most with Kennedy in the two most recently completed terms.

    That kind of shift could have significant effects on how the current court decides major issues and — if it represents a permanent change — on how Roberts leads the court into the next decade.

    President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States in 2005 when William Rehnquist died. Roberts had been a clerk for Rehnquist and was a former Reagan administration Justice Department official who later worked in the White House counsel’s office, meaning conservatives had — and many still have — high expectations for Roberts to lead the court in a staunchly conservative direction. And that’s still true on many matters, from high-profile cases on abortion and affirmative action to those involving economics and business concerns.

    But a more complicated picture emerges when the past few years are closely examined, even on some of the more divisive issues before the court. Roberts has found himself moving ever so slightly away from the doctrinaire conservative position he held when he started on the high court — having shown repeated interest in taking actions that are aimed at protecting the institutional integrity of the court and governmental stability more broadly, in the court’s approach to the Affordable Care Act and by its handling of the marriage equality cases.

    It is not necessarily an ideological shift; it could be seen as a pragmatic, or even protective, move. It also is not yet clear if this movement from Roberts is a long-term change or a temporary shift in response to the current ideological split on the court — or even the dynamics of the Trump candidacy and presidency.

    After all, Roberts’ very being is — within the conservative world — a type of anti-Trump. While President Trump came into office on a promise of “draining the swamp,” Roberts was a federal appellate judge in DC before his nomination to the high court and he had served in the two prior Republican administrations before that.

    Trump is a constant presence on TV and Twitter; Roberts is not (and runs a court that has no video of its proceedings and delays the release of audio so it can’t appear in news coverage of the day’s arguments).

    And, perhaps most importantly, as Trump takes aim at institutions across Washington, Roberts, in his dozen years on the Supreme Court, has shown an affinity for taking actions to protect governmental institutions — an affinity that has only grown in recent years.

    Now, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the high court, the reformulated nine-person bench is deep in its hearings for Roberts’ 13th term leading the Supreme Court, and it is unclear how the court will resolve key questions about balancing religious liberty and nondiscrimination laws, the consideration of political and racial gerrymandering claims, the application of the Fourth Amendment in the “cloud” age, and more.

    More than three months into the new term, the justices have issued only one opinion from an argued case — a unanimous decision in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion. Adam Feldman at Empirical SCOTUS noted in December that you’d have to go back to 1869 to find a term when the court didn’t issue its second opinion until January.

    While the court obviously has given no reason for the dearth of opinions, it does mean that opinions haven’t been ready. And if opinions aren’t ready, that means that there are difficulties either resolving a few key cases or resolving many cases. Difficulties could range from something as significant as a situation where the court is split three (or more!) ways on how to resolve a case and unable to reach a majority opinion, to something as minor as continued disputes between the authors of drafts of the court’s majority opinion and justices’ dissenting opinions.

    These opinions, once the court starts issuing them as early as Monday, could tell us much more about the direction of the court — and what is driving Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the most important people in in America.

    Charles Dharapak / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Statistics from Roberts’ first dozen terms on the high court show a growing willingness to be less doctrinaire in his conservatism — particularly in order to agree with Justice Anthony Kennedy.

    For his first eight terms on the court, Roberts agreed most with Justice Samuel Alito (one of the staunchest conservatives on the court), according to statistics compiled by SCOTUSblog.

    For three of the past four terms, he agreed most with Kennedy.

    (The SCOTUSblog statistics lay out the percentages of times when the justices agreed with one another on three levels: (1) agree in part, all, or judgment; (2) agree in part or all; and (3) full agreement.)

    It’s not just that Roberts is agreeing more with Kennedy; he’s agreeing with some of the more liberal justices more and the more conservative justices less.

    In three of those recent terms, Roberts agreed with Justice Stephen Breyer, at least in judgment, in the same percentage of cases as he agreed with one of the more conservative justices (Alito twice and Justice Clarence Thomas once). In two terms, he agreed with Justice Elena Kagan more than he did with one of the more conservative justices (Alito in one instance and Thomas in another).

    (This is not necessarily all Roberts’ doing. Breyer is by no means an unbending liberal vote on the court, and Kagan has shown a similar tendency in her time on the court.)

    Roberts still disagrees with Kennedy and even more often with Breyer and Kagan — sometimes in key cases, often in ideologically divided cases — but the movement is there.

    Statistics only give part of the picture, though. In some of Roberts’ most prominent legal moves — and in some more quiet ways — on the Supreme Court itself, he has etched out a position of conservatism that sometimes values the interests and stability of the Supreme Court and federal government more broadly to a greater degree than political conservatives might wish to see.

    In 2012, Roberts famously — or infamously, in some corners — joined the more liberal members of the court in upholding the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a move that kept the court from striking down one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president in recent decades. Three years later, joined by Kennedy this time, Roberts again protected Obamacare from court-imposed destruction — upholding the insurance subsidies implemented under the law nationwide. Those moves provoked outrage on the right that continued through to the 2016 Republican presidential primary. But those decisions also can also be read as Roberts trying to prevent governmental instability by deferring, ultimately, to the other branches of government. (Notably, Roberts similarly voted against overturning the decisions of the other branches of government in one of the prominent times when he disagreed with Kennedy in writing in recent years — the 2013 challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.)

    In the marriage cases themselves, it likely was Roberts who helped avoid a constitutional scenario in which the court would have been seen as being “responsible” for expanding the rights of same-sex couples to marry in roughly 60% of the country. Instead, the ultimate June 2015 ruling changed the law on the ground in only about 25% of the country. Whether it was based on a hope that the court could avoid the matter altogether through unanimity at the lower courts or was just an effort to delay a ruling from the high court, the Supreme Court made a series of moves that suggests a strategy of minimizing the amount of disruption seen as coming from the high court. The court that decided to hear the case over California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment in December 2012 also decided against taking up the appeals from several other states in October 2014. That decision, in turn, expanded the number of states with marriage equality dramatically by the time the Supreme Court later agreed to hear appeals from same-sex couples in other states in April 2015. Although Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas made it clear that they believed the court should have heard the October 2014 cases, at least Roberts or Alito (or both of them) must have voted against doing so at that time. Although we can’t, at this date, be certain that Roberts cast a vote allowing that marriage equality expansion, there is much more reason to believe that Roberts — with his institutional concerns — would have voted to do so than Alito.

    Finally, when it comes to the death penalty, Roberts has shown a willingness to go along with Kennedy — or, at the least, not voice his opposition — on a handful of capital cases in which the court sided with death-row inmates. This does not mean he always votes against the death penalty. Instead, it means merely that he has shown a willingness to consider tossing out death sentences in certain cases in which Kennedy himself has clear concerns. In each of the past two terms, Roberts has authored a majority opinion siding with a death-row inmate. (Neither Thomas nor Alito joined either opinion.) In recent years, he also has agreed with (or at least not voiced his dissent to) per curiam decisions siding with death-row inmates — cases in which Thomas and Alito, and now Gorsuch, regularly voiced their dissent. Even where Roberts disagreed with Kennedy in the resolution of one of the court’s capital cases in recent years — over the way states determine who is intellectually disabled and thus exempt from the death penalty — Roberts agreed with Kennedy (and the court majority) that the test at issue used by Texas was improper. (There was one instance in which Roberts joined the more liberal justices to halt an execution where Kennedy did not do so, but that was a stay of execution in which Roberts made clear he was only doing so as a “courtesy” to the four justices who wanted to consider whether to grant certiorari in an inmate’s case. They ultimately did not, and the man has since been executed.)

    Even the court’s approach to Trump’s travel bans have shown a desire to avoid the most contentious outcomes for the court — and the public — through its orders. This was most notably achieved in the order from June 2017 that allowed the partial implementation of the second ban while allowing those with ties to the US to be exempted from it — an order that allowed each side to claim some semblance of victory and pushed off any merits consideration that could be less malleable to compromise. Notably, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch wrote to say they would have allowed the full ban to go into effect — a statement that neither Roberts nor Kennedy joined.

    Roberts walks out of the Supreme Court with Neil Gorsurch last year.

    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    As the Supreme Court moves forward into 2018, it is clear that Chief Justice John Roberts is attuned to the complexities of the time in which he is leading the high court.

    With the unpredictability that Trump has brought to government and Washington — which followed the year of instability that the court itself faced following Scalia’s death — Roberts has sought out a path of compromise and comity that is in fitting with the institutionalist conservatism that his marked his approach to his role on the court.

    This path is most clearly seen through Roberts’ record of siding with Kennedy slightly more often in recent years — helping to anchor a center on the court that I have described previously as being used to Roberts’ advantage particularly well when the court was down to eight members.

    Of course, a court without Kennedy or one of the more liberal members of the current Supreme Court would test the longevity of and perhaps illuminate the reasons for this shift — given that such a vacancy, should it come in the near future at least, likely would lead to a more dramatic rightward shift on the court (and, possibly, place Roberts in the unusual and powerful position of being both the “swing vote” justice and the chief justice).

    Now, though, on the current court, controversial topics already are making their way to the justices — some the result of governing decisions from the Trump administration or state governments, others urged by liberal or conservative legal advocates — with more on their way. In addition to cases over wedding cakes — addressing religious liberty and nondiscrimination laws — and elections — from partisan gerrymandering to racial gerrymandering — the court has now agreed to hear arguments this spring over Trump’s third attempt at his travel ban. Additionally, petitions are pending before the justices asking them to hear cases over the administration’s policies regarding undocumented teenagers in federal custody who are seeking abortions and over Arizona’s death penalty law.

    And, again, the court has thus far released only one opinion in an argued case — a peculiarity that has stuck out more and more with each passing week but could change on Monday.

    All of this suggests that Roberts, who has taken the court through several uncertain years with a remarkable stability, is now facing his greatest challenge yet — whether he can balance his own conservative legal beliefs, slightly shifting as they appear to be, and his institutional concerns in leading a court that leans conservative in the Trump era and, if so, how. ●

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