December 20, 2018

Rudy Giuliani always knows how to clarify a confusing situation.

President Trump's attorney told CNBC on Thursday that he has an even better idea than Trump's proposed border wall. Why not just beef up border security?

"I don't see the magic in a wall, as long as there's some form of improved barrier that picks up penetration," he said. A physical wall might not be the best strategy, he suggested, contrary to what Trump has been saying for years.

"I could build a wall for him with long-range cameras and security," continued Giuliani. "He needs something. I think he'd compromise if he got most of what he wanted." A compromise is exactly what lawmakers are looking for as an imminent government shutdown hinges on whether Trump will accept a federal spending bill that doesn't include $5 billion for a border wall.

Giuliani's offer to improve security with amped up technology and general funding was pretty far from on-message — Democrats have offered exactly that, suggesting around $1.6 billion could go toward increased border security, instead of a wall. Trump's attorney clarified that he hadn't conferred with the president and was speaking for himself. He did not comment on whether his security firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, would be willing to construct Trump's newly-conceived "steel slats." Read more at CNBC. Summer Meza

6:12 a.m.

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada and President Trump's unorthodox pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, spent more than half of her 600 days as ambassador outside of Ottawa, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said at Craft's confirmation hearing for the U.N. post on Wednesday.

Craft testified that many of those absence were tied to negotiating and promoting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA), or NAFTA 2.0, but Democratic aides later revealed that over the past eight months — after USMCA negotiations were complete — Craft spent an average of 20 days a month outside of Ottawa, Politico reports. And the average obscures some puzzling absences. For example, during the 54 days between March 21 and May 13, 2018, Craft was at her post only nine. During the 35-day government shutdown, when much of the embassy staff was working without pay, Craft was in the building only one business day.

On Monday, Politico reported that, based on FAA records, a private jet belonging to Craft's coal baron husband, Joe Craft, made 128 flights between the U.S. and Canada during Kelly Craft's first 15 months as ambassador — roughly one round trip a week. Some of those trips coincided with private social events in her home state of Kentucky.

Craft, a 57-year-old business consultant, is known within the State Department as an "absent ambassador," Politico reports. And because she has almost no diplomatic or public sector experience, senators have little other than her record in Ottawa to judge her fitness for the U.N. post. "We are concerned that the president has nominated someone who fails to show up at work on a regular basis," a Democratic aide told Politico.

A State Department spokesperson told Politico that all of Craft’s travels "to and from the United States, including numerous trips associated with USMCA negotiations, were pre-approved by the State Department and complied with all department travel guidelines." And Craft covered "all travel expenses from personal funds," the spokesperson said. Peter Weber

4:57 a.m.

President Trump's loyalty to Fox News "is the closest thing he's ever had to a monogamous relationship, but his marriage to Fox must be growing stale, because last week he cheated on them with ABC's chief news sprite George Stephanopoulos," Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal. But "while Trump is openly saying that he thinks it's fine for foreign powers to meddle with our elections, the Senate is making sure there's nothing standing in the way of a good meddle." Well, one senator in particular.

"Of course Mitch McConnell is blocking election security bills, just like he spent years stalling health aid for 9/11 first responders," Bee said. "McConnell's so good at blocking things he's like the kidney stone of the Senate," or "the dry rot of Democracy. If our institutions seem like they're on the verge of crumbling, Mitch is the guy who gnawed away at the foundations." But "McConnell's awfulness gets only a fraction of the attention Trump's awfulness gets," she said, and that's not right.

Bee walked through McConnell's Senate history, from moderate Republican to the dull "genius" who weaponized the filibuster. Thanks to his unprecedented filibustering of President Barack Obama's judicial nominations, she said, "at least 89 judgeships that were President Obama's constitutional right and duty to fill have instead been filled by President Trump. We'll be feeling the consequences of that for decades. In 2050, when my granddaughter gets jailed by Judge Kid Rock for brewing bathtub Plan B, she will have McConnell to thank." And yes, she covered Merrick Garland.

Long before McConnell "was blocking efforts to secure the 2020 election, he was blocking efforts to secure the 2016 election," Bee said. "He made us go soft on Russia because his side was benefitting. I'd ask how he can show his face after betraying America like that, but honestly, I've also wondered how he showed his face before he did that." Along with insult comedy there's also NSFW language. Peter Weber

3:49 a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are still fighting over remarks Biden made at a fundraiser on Tuesday night and Booker's call for Biden to apologize. Biden had used his working relationship with two hard-line segregationist former Democratic senators, James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, to argue that the Senate used to be more civil and amenable to getting things done with people you disagree with.

On Wednesday evening, Biden told reporters he "could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more," Eastman "was a segregationist" and "I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationists," and his point had been that "you don't have to agree, you don't have to like the people in terms of their views, but you just simply make the case and you beat them."

When reporters noted that Biden's Democratic rivals were suggesting he had problems talking about race and asked if he would apologize, as Booker requested, Biden responded: "Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period, period, period."

Booker appears to have taken special offense at Biden recalling Tuesday night that Eastland "never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'" He said on CNN Wednesday night that Biden's inability to admit he'd said something wrong and to call for Booker to apologize is "so insulting and so missing the larger point," which is that he needs to be anti-racist, not just not racist.

The first 2020 Democratic presidential debate is June 26, but Booker and Biden are on separate nights. Peter Weber

2:51 a.m.

"Last winter, the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seemed a sure bet to President Trump, a quick foreign policy win at a time when other initiatives in Asia and the Middle East appeared stalled or headed in the wrong direction," The Washington Post reports. Since a U.S. backed uprising led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó fizzled in April, senior administration officials tell the Post, Trump "is losing both patience and interest in Venezuela."

Trump is clearly frustrated about Venezuela, a foreign policy issue he "always thought of ... as low-hanging fruit" on which he "could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory," one former Trump administration official involved in Venezuela policy tells the Post. Now Trump rarely talks about Venezuela in public and his Twitter account has dropped all mentions of the country, save for one tweet earlier this month in which he claimed "Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela," the Post notes. Russia denied both leaving Venezuela and talking about leaving Venezuela with the Trump administration, and "it was never mentioned again."

In private, Trump "chewed out his staff" about the failed Venezuela regime change, blaming National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Latin America policy director Mauricio Claver-Carone for getting "played" by both Guaidó and key Maduro figures, current and former administration officials tell the Post. Some current officials disputed that characterization of Trump's reaction and said his Venezuela policy was always long-term and is on track. But Maduro appears safely ensconced in the presidential residence, the Post says, and "while Trump appears to have withdrawn from the fray, Bolton tweets about Venezuela more than on any other foreign policy issue," and he's still bullish on thwarting Maduro. Peter Weber

2:01 a.m.

Many people said the atmosphere at President Trump's Tuesday night re-election kickoff rally in Orlando "was like a music festival, and it was like a musical festival, specifically the Fyre Festival," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. "Trump was on fire — or at least his pants were. He jumped around from lie to lie, from hot topic to hot topic, like Joy Behar on Adderall." Kimmel quickly ran through some of Trump's bigger "whoppers" and laughed at Trump's big plans. "This would be a lot of scientific progress form a guy who stared directly into a solar eclipse," he said. "Why even bother curing cancer? Why not just deny that cancer exists, like you do everything else?"

Kimmel showed the empty, trash-strewn field where Trump's fans were supposed to have been watching his rally on a big screen. "That was the prefect visual metaphor for the Trump presidency," he said. "All that was missing is Ted Nugent shooting beer koozies with a crossbow." Kimmel threw in a new fake hair product line to highlight all the information former Trump aide Hope Hicks didn't tell a House panel on Wednesday,

"As the hearings related to the Russia investigation and obstruction ramp up, Republicans in the House have come up with a list of words they don't want Democrats to use when describing the president — for real," Kimmel said, showing the list of "no-no words." House Republicans say the words "violate longstanding congressional rules, words like 'crook,' 'con man,' 'corruption,' demagogue,' 'draft dodger,' 'misogynist,' 'racists,' 'sexual...' — basically, they don't want them to call him anything he is," Kimmel said, and to understand why, he spoke with a fictional Republican congressman, played by Fred Willard, who had some real information and a lot of no-no words. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:16 a.m.

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed Thursday in Pyongyang, where he is expected to discuss aid, the economy, and nuclear talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, and he will stay for two days. The pair will likely talk about Kim's failed February summit with President Trump, which crumbled after the two sides could not reach an agreement on North Korea ending its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. "For North Korea, the coming meeting will serve to show the U.S. that China has its back and to send a message to Washington it should stop its maximum-pressure posture," Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University, told The Guardian.

Xi is having his own tussle with the United States, in the form of an escalating trade war. While this is his first trip to North Korea to meet with Kim, the North Korean leader has gone to Beijing four times since March 2018. Xi was accompanied on his visit by several top officials and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Catherine Garcia

12:50 a.m.

"Usually, a re-election campaign offers new ideas, new policies to move the country forward," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show, but President Trump's Tuesday night speech "felt like an exact replica of him running in 2016 — and when I say an exact replica, I mean exact." Here's what he means:

To be fair, Trump did test out a new slogan for 2020:

Yes, "last night Trump was in Orlando, Florida, to officially relaunch the campaign he has never stopped," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "For those of you that are hoping that now that he's president, his tone would change, last night was a swift kick in the old hopey-changey." He played some highlights, interspersed with jokes and commentary. "You know, for all his bad environmental policies, Trump is very committed to recycling his garbage," he said. "Trump did make one new campaign promise, and it's a biggie" — but Joe Biden claimed it first.

"In the runup to this thing, Trump and his folks kept saying that this thing was oversold, something like 100,000 tickets — or 120,000, something like that — for only 25,000 seats in the arena," Colbert said. "That's why they said they had to have that '45 Fest' out in the parking lot, for the overflow crowd of 75,000 people who couldn't get in. That is impressive! That is also a lie."

Colbert showed Late Show footage of the "overflow crowd" outside the arena. And "it's no one — just garbage and abandoned yard furniture," he said. "But maybe that crowd went home, without any of their chairs, because they couldn't get into that sold-out arena? Again, no, because our team got their press credentials denied at the last minute — and this is true — so they just went online and got tickets and walked in ... to take any one of the many, many empty seats in the arena." He ended with the ugly opening prayer and a cameo. Watch below. Peter Weber

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