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May 18, 2018

At an immigration-related meeting with California Republican officials on Wednesday, President Trump responded to a complaint about a hypothetical MS-13 gang member by saying, "these aren't people, these are animals." There was some confusion about whom he was talking about, since he did not mention gangs or MS-13 and set up his "animals" statement like this: "We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are." On Thursday, Trump clarified: "I'm referring, and you know I'm referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in."

"We have laws that are laughed at on immigration," Trump said Thursday. "So when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals. And guess what — I always will." Critics, including the Mexican government, have argued that Trump purposely conflates "gang members" and "immigrants" and point out that calling any person an "animal" is dehumanizing, and a tactic used in other countries before mass atrocities. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders one-upped Trump on Thursday, practically daring reporters to criticize her or Trump.

"The president was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws," Sanders said. "If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they're more than welcome to. Frankly, I don't think the term that the president used was strong enough." Some members of MS-13 have done horrible things. But the Trumps haven't only reserved such language for El Salvador-based gangs. Last June, Eric Trump, referring to Democrats, told Fox News host Sean Hannity: "I've never seen hatred like this. To me, they're not even people." Noted. Peter Weber

8:50a.m.

President Trump has repeatedly said the upcoming midterm elections are about him. But it seems that rule only applies if Republicans stack up a bunch of wins.

In private, Trump has reportedly been saying that the midterms are not a referendum on him at all, Politico reports. Though Trump is optimistic about a "red wave," Politico reports that in the case of Republican losses, he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would be to blame. The president has reportedly been saying that "if they screw it up, it's not my fault." Never mind that he recently told supporters that "this [election] is also a referendum about me," per The Washington Post.

One aide told Politico that Trump would likely blame an unfavorable outcome partially on Ryan for sticking around as a lame duck speaker of the House. Another source said Trump would chalk losses up to the fact that candidates didn't adhere closely enough to his message, and so his own supporters didn't turn out.

Either way, it seems Trump has his fall guys picked out if things don't go as planned for the GOP next month. Brendan Morrow

8:34a.m.

Michael Myers finally came home this weekend, and it looks like he's here to stay.

Halloween, the new revival of the iconic horror franchise which sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) returning to face down Michael Myers 40 years after the events of the original classic, opened to a massive $77.5 million this weekend, per Box Office Mojo. This is the second-best debut for a horror film of all time behind only 2017's It, which made $123 million in its opening weekend. It's also by far the best opening ever for the long-running slasher series; the franchise's previous best was with Rob Zombie's 2007 remake, which made $26 million in its opening weekend, or the equivalent of $31 million today.

Halloween came just a few million dollars short of besting Venom's two-week-old record for best October opening, but it didn't quite reach the $80.3 million necessary to do so. Still, Blumhouse will clearly be thrilled with the performance of Halloween, as this is the horror studio's best opening weekend yet, besting the $52 million it made with the debut of Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011. Halloween reportedly only cost $10 million, meaning it brought in nearly eight times its budget just in the first few days of release.

Clearly this means the franchise will continue, and producer Jason Blum had confirmed the studio hoped to make a sequel assuming Halloween performed well, Entertainment Weekly reported. The new film's co-writer, Danny McBride, has also said he has ideas for where the story can go next. Based on how quickly Blumhouse has produced follow-ups in the past, don't be surprised to see the franchise's killing spree continue as soon as next Halloween. Brendan Morrow

6:36a.m.

After Saudi agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, one member of the 15-man Saudi team that flew to Turkey apparently to abduct or murder Khashoggi left the consulate in the slain journalists clothes, CNN reported Monday morning, citing a senior Turkish official and surveillance video. The Saudi decoy, who Turkey identifies as Mustafa al-Madani, is captured wearing a fake beard and glasses that make him resemble Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident. Al-Madani was captured on camera leaving the consulate with an accomplice by the back door, taking a taxi to a popular tourist destination, then ducking into a bathroom and emerging in his own clothes, sans beard and glasses, CNN reports.

Saudi Arabia apparently meant this ruse to serve as evidence that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, then disappeared elsewhere. Turkish officials tell CNN they suspect the Saudis abandoned that ploy when they realized Turkey had quickly figured out what they'd done to Khashoggi and recognized that their decoy would not stand up to scrutiny. Peter Weber

5:55a.m.

In weighing the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia's brutal murder or accidental killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump repeatedly brings up the $110 billion in arms sales he claims to have signed with the Saudis as a reason to maintain robust ties. And he doesn't frame that as a victory for U.S. defense contractors but as a job-creation engine — a claim that rose from 450,000 U.S. jobs on Oct. 13 to 600,000 and then, a few minutes later, a million jobs on Oct. 19. "Trump is not very precise with numbers, but this is getting ridiculous," says Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Trump's jobs claims "Four Pinocchios."

First, those arms sales are mostly "smoke and mirrors," a combination of speculative sales, deals reached under the Obama administration, and a much smaller amount of contracts actually signed, Kessler notes. The details of the prospective arms sales "have been sketchy," The Associated Press adds, since Trump first announced them in May 2017. Second, Saudi Arabia says half of the spending on any signed contracts must take place in Saudi Arabia — in other words on Saudi jobs. After Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia in 2017, the State Department described the deals discussed as "potentially supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States," not "creating" jobs.

"Moreover," Kessler writes, "the Aerospace Industries Association says that in 2016 there were 355,500 manufacturing jobs supported by the entire defense and national security industry, generating $146 billion in annual exports. Thus it's hard to imagine that $110 billion in deals with Saudi Arabia, spread over a decade, would significantly add to that total, let alone more than double it." You can read more details at The Washington Post — though for anyone who has decided it's not worth suspending arms sales to a country waging an ugly war in Yemen over the admitted extrajudicial killing of a U.S. resident for criticizing his government, the details may be superfluous. Peter Weber

4:07a.m.

A CNN/SSRS poll of Florida's Senate and gubernatorial races released Sunday had some good news for Democrats that CNN says "could be an outlier" or "an indicator of renewed Democratic enthusiasm." In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, opened up a 12-point lead among likely voters over former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), 54 percent to 42 percent. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has a smaller 5-point lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), 50 percent to 45 percent, within the poll's margin of error.

The Democrats, especially Gillum, are being buoyed by lopsided advantages among women, younger voters, and non-white voters. The Republicans have a wide lead on the issue of the economy and the Democrats dominate on the issue of health care. Gillum and Scott are seen getting a boost from their responses to Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.

As CNN political analyst Mark Preston notes in the video below, the races are likely tighter than this poll suggests — according to the RealClearPolitics average, Gillum leads DeSantis by 3.7 percentage points, thanks largely to the boost from this CNN poll, and Nelson leads Scott by 1.3 points. FiveThirtyEight rates the Gillum-DeSantis race a "likely Democratic" pickup. Several reputable polls have registered greater Democratic enthusiasm.

SRSS conducted the CNN poll Oct. 16-20 on landlines and cellphones, contacting 1012 adults, including 872 registered voters and 759 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters is ±3.9 percentage points and for likely voters, ±4.2 points. "The Democratic advantages in the poll were similar across multiple versions of a likely voter model, including those driven more by interest in the campaign and those which placed stronger emphasis on past voting behavior," CNN notes. Peter Weber

3:12a.m.

At the end of their debate earlier this month, two candidates for a Vermont state House seat asked the moderator for a few extra minutes — not to make last-second appeals for votes, but rather to make a little music.

Lucy Rogers, the Democrat, grabbed her cello, while Zac Mayo, the Republican, picked up his guitar. They started performing "Society" by Eddie Vedder, much to the surprise of everyone in attendance at the debate inside the Varnum Memorial Library in Jefferson. "It strikes a chord," Mayo told CBS News. "To say to the world that this is a better way."

Rogers and Mayo agreed early on while campaigning in Lamoille County that they were going to be civil and treat each other with respect throughout the race. During a Fourth of July parade, the pair discussed their mutual love of music, and ahead of the debate, Rogers asked Mayo if he wanted to play a song with her. He thought it was a fantastic idea — and so did the voters who attended the debate. One told CBS News it "gave me a lot of hope," while another declared this was "what we needed all along." Catherine Garcia

2:58a.m.

Caroll Spinney is retiring as the voice and actor behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Since Spinney has given life to Big Bird since 1969, replacing him will be no small feat. The Late Show had some unconventional ideas for people who might be able to fill these oversize bird feet, and through the magic of television, you can watch these four prominent men try out for the role. The words that come out of Big Bird's mouth are actual audio clips from these very public figures, but they are probably not safe for Sesame Workshop.

Scott Meslow spoke with Spinney for The Week in 2015, and you can read that interview for more information about the man who breathed life into Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 50 years. Peter Weber

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