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September 18, 2018

Due to their close relationship, many people have speculated that Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie are a couple, and a former writer for the show said those viewers are correct.

In an interview with Queerty, Mark Saltzman said while writing for the characters, he used his own experiences with his partner. "I didn't have any other way to contextualize them," Saltzman said. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street, quickly released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying that not only are Bert and Ernie not gay, but they don't have a sexual orientation, period.

"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends," Sesame Workshop declared. "They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." A few hours later, Sesame Workshop followed up with another statement, saying Sesame Street has "always stood for inclusion and acceptance. It's a place where people of all cultures and backgrounds are welcome." Should Bert and Ernie weigh in on the matter, this report will be updated. Catherine Garcia

3:40a.m.

President Trump has landed on a familiar theme to try to rev up Republican enthusiasm heading into the final stretch of the 2018 campaign: Immigration. And specifically, Latin Americans crossing illegally into the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigration was in many ways the animating force of Trump's 2016 campaign, and while Republicans point to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation battle as a boost to GOP energy, "the president realizes he needs to keep that momentum going," GOP strategist Matt Moore tells The Wall Street Journal. "Illegal immigration animates the Republican Party base like few other issues."

But, the Journal notes, "Democrats say the focus on immigration is backfiring by motivating progressives and independent voters," and the poll numbers, at least, are on their side. Trump's hardline immigration policies, including the separation of migrant families, are broadly unpopular, but they poll well among Republicans. "Despite Mr. Trump's focus on the issue, it is barely registering in political advertising by GOP candidates," the Journal reports. "Less than 11 percent of all ads in Senate, House, and governor races through Tuesday had an anti-immigration message, according to Kantar Media/CMAG."

Trump "clearly views it as one of the reasons for his political success," says GOP pollster David Winston. "But it's still all about the economy and jobs." You can read more immigration politics and the midterms at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

2:52a.m.

In a particularly pungent case of victim-blaming, "hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist's alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia — and support Trump's continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom," The Washington Post reports, citing four GOP officials involved in the discussions.

The campaign includes "a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump" who in recent days have been "privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi," a Post columnist and Saudi government critic, the Post says. Still, the murmurs have begun to "flare into public view" as conservative media organizations and personalities — Rush Limbaugh, Front Page, Donald Trump Jr., and a sanitized version on Fox News, to name a few — "have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights."

The main lines of attack — pushed by pro-Saudi accounts on Twitter — focus on and distort Khashoggi's association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his young and interactions as a journalist with late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and '90s. "The GOP officials declined to share the names of the lawmakers and others who are circulating information critical of Khashoggi," the Post explains, "because they said doing so would risk exposing them as sources." It's a good bet Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is not among them.

According to Turkey, Khashoggi was tortured, murdered, and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. "Trump wants to take a soft line, so Trump supporters are finding excuses for him to take it," Weekly Standard editor William Kristol tells the Post. "One of those excuses is attacking the person who was murdered." Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

1:58a.m.

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths, and Rishab Jain, 13, has invented a treatment that could change that.

The Oregon resident won the Young Scientist Challenge with his invention, an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to locate and track the pancreas in real time, Inside Edition reports. It can be difficult to spot the pancreas during radiation treatment, as it can be hidden behind the stomach or other organs, and that often leads to healthy cells accidentally being hit by radiation.

Jain's algorithm not only improves the accuracy but also increases the impact of the radiation treatment, Young Scientist Challenger organizers said. He only started working on the project last year, when he discovered how lethal pancreatic cancer can be. "At the same time, I was also doing artificial intelligence programming, so I wondered if I could combine my knowledge in both areas," he told Inside Edition. In addition to being named the winner of the contest, Jain received a check for $25,000. Catherine Garcia

1:32a.m.

On the East Coast this weekend, witches will gather to put a hex on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while on the West Coast, a Catholic exorcist will hold a Mass for him as a way of blocking this "conjuring of evil."

The hexing will take place Saturday at Catland Books in Brooklyn, and while the online invitation states that Kavanaugh will be "the focal point," he is not "the only target, so bring your rage and all of the axes you've got to grind." Kavanaugh has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, allegations he has denied. Event organizer Dakota Bracciale told Time that the hexing is being held as a way of "raising visibility and letting people know they're not alone with the monsters. Even the witches are coming out of the woodwork to stop this." This isn't the first hexing to take place at Catland, either — over the summer, three events were held to hex President Trump.

Fr. Gary Thomas, exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose in California, told The National Catholic Register that he is "appalled," arguing that "conjuring up personified evil does not fall under free speech." He will offer Mass for Kavanaugh, who is Catholic, and is urging others to pray and fast. "The decision to do this against a Supreme Court justice is a heinous act and says a lot about the character of these people that should not be underestimated or dismissed," he said. Catherine Garcia

1:27a.m.

Stephen Colbert kicked off Thursday's Late Show with a family-friendly joke about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's reported post-election report on President Trump and Russia, and Sting's tantric ... prowess — followed by a Gen-X-friendly joke about Ferris Bueller's Day Off. "Of course the big story continues to be Donald Trump reacting to the likely murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with a firm ¯\_(ツ)_/¯," Colbert said. Trump has been exercising "an uncharacteristic amount of caution" in rendering a verdict on what happened to Khashoggi and whether the Saudi government is culpable, but on Thursday, the president "gave his hot take on the journalist's fate": "It certainly looks" like Khasoggi is dead, and "it's very said."

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo want everyone to cool their heels until the Saudis finish their investigation, "and Saudi Arabia is really making headway with their 'investigation,' because today, one of the 15 alleged Saudi killers died in a car accident in Riyadh," Colbert said. "One down. Right now in Riyadh there are 14 other guys saying, 'It's a nice day, I think I'm gonna walk.''

"Trump's getting some criticism for his bold soft-on-murder stance, but some people still have his back," Colbert said, showing a clip of televangelist Pat Robertson "downplaying Khashoggi's murder and prioritizing the financial benefit of siding with Saudi Arabia," notably when it comes to arms sales. "Thank you, reverend, thank you for capturing the core message of Christianity: How important can one man's death be?" Colbert deadpanned.

He ended with the profanity-filled shouting match outside the Oval Office between "the White House's own Statler and Waldorf," Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton. (The similarity really is striking.) Colbert counseled a truce: "Fellas, fellas, don't fight, you're both terrible." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:41a.m.

While in Montana on Thursday, President Trump applauded the state's Republican congressman, Greg Gianforte, for assaulting a journalist last year, saying that "any guy that can do a body slam ... he's my guy."

In May 2017, Gianforte was running in a special election for Montana's at-large congressional district, and Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked him a question about the Republican health care plan. Gianforte then body-slammed Jacobs, who was treated for an elbow injury. Gianforte pleaded guilty to a charge of assault, and served 40 hours of community service, paid a fine, and had to take anger management classes.

Trump told a rally crowd that Gianforte is "smart," a "great guy," and a "tough cookie." He said when he learned about Gianforte assaulting Jacobs, he thought he would lose the election, "and then I said, 'Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him' And it did."

Trump's approval of physical violence against a journalist comes as he's being accused of providing cover for Saudi Arabia in the case of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Guardian US editor John Mulholland derided Trump's comments, saying, "To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it." He called on "decent people" to "denounce these comments" and said he hopes "the president will see fit to apologize for them." Catherine Garcia

12:29a.m.

At a rally in Montana on Thursday night, President Trump trotted out a confusing new theory about a group of Honduran migrants trying to head to the U.S., currently stalled in Guatemala: The Democrats sent them. Why would Democrats try to lure some 3,000 Honduran citizens up to the U.S. right before an election that Trump is increasingly trying to make a referendum on illegal immigration? They "figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat," Trump said, rallying for the Republican Senate candidate challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Noncitizens can't vote in U.S. elections, of course, but Trump let that slide. "A lot of money's been passing through people to come up and try to get to the border by Election Day because they think that's a negative for us," Trump said. "They wanted that caravan and there are those that say that caravan didn't just happen. It didn't just happen."

The president appears to be referring to a video posted on Twitter first by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) then by Trump of a man passing out what appears to be money to a group of women, the theory — as explained by Newt Gingrich — being that somebody is paying Hondurans to migrate to America for some unexplained reason. Gaetz later explained: "This video was provided to me by a Honduran government official. Thus, I believed it to be from Honduras."

Trump is so concerned about 3,000 Hondurans trying to make their way to the U.S. border that he threatened on Thursday to "call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" Peter Weber

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