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February 8, 2019

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved 44 of President Trump's judicial nominees, sending them to a full-Senate vote where they will likely be confirmed.

HuffPost reports that it's "a huge number at once," and the sudden influx has Democrats concerned that Trump's picks are rapidly making federal courts substantially more conservative. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) pointed out that more than 80 percent of Trump's nominees are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative organization that has proven instrumental in elevating conservative lawyers to top judicial positions. Less than 4 percent of all American lawyers are members of the organization, Hirono told the committee.

"Month after month, we have seen a parade of these so-called conservative activists nominated to the federal courts," Hirono said on Thursday. "They have been groomed by conservative political ideologues," and are often deeply conservative on social issues, she continued.

Trump's administration has quietly been pushing forward in nominating and confirming 30 circuit judges and 53 district judges, writes HuffPost, in addition to Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, who are both members of the Federalist Society. At this point, 1 in 6 seats on the U.S. circuit courts are now filled by judges nominated by Trump.

One pick, Neomi Rao, faced sharp criticism on Tuesday for her past writings that suggested "intoxicated women were partly responsible for date rape," and Hirono said on Thursday that she was concerned about many of Trump's nominees, saying "they want to see Roe v. Wade overturned or narrowed into oblivion, LGBT people permanently consigned to the margins of American life, and constitutional and civil rights encroached [based] on the religious preference of a vocal few." Read more at HuffPost. Summer Meza

5:01 p.m.

Watch out influencers, the CIA is officially on their Instagram game.

As promised, the agency launched their newest social media account on Thursday — and who would have thought intelligence agents would be such good content-curators? For its first post, the agency shared a staged photo of CIA Director Gina Haspel's desk space in the form of a clever "I spy" game with Easter eggs hidden all over the scene.

With quite the Pinterest aesthetic, Haspel's desk is filled with books, plants, stationery, illustrations and other adorable objects that also seem fit for a college student's dorm room — travel-themed coin bank included. Getting playful, the picture also features a Top Secret Pulp bag, maps of Russia and Iran spread on the desk, a notebook with the words "We share what we can and protect what we must" and even Haspel's first-ever CIA badge.

CIA spokesperson Chelsea Robinson told The Verge that the account's main goal is to spark curiosity on the CIA's mission and that "joining Instagram is another way we're sharing stories and recruiting talented Americans to serve." Robinson guaranteed the account "will give a peek into Agency life, but can't promise any selfies from secret locations."

For their official bio, the agency kept it traditional with their mission statement: "We are the Nation's first line of defense. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go." The account only has about 2,000 followers right now, but if they keep up with the quality content, the CIA could score some lucrative deals with detox tea brands or teeth whitening companies. Marina Pedrosa

4:26 p.m.

Sri Lankan officials on Thursday lowered the death toll from Sunday's attacks from 359 to 253, CNN reports.

Coordinated suicide bombings targeted several churches and hotels on Sunday, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, though the bombers were reportedly a part of a lesser-known militant group.

The death toll was initially estimated above 300, but the Sri Lankan Health Ministry revised the estimate after further investigation. "Some of the bodies get severely damaged in these kinds of explosions and it's possible for some bodies to get completely destroyed or break into parts, making the identification of full bodies difficult," said the ministry statement. "Hence, counting an exact death toll is challenging." Read more at CNN. The Week Staff

3:50 p.m.

Twitter seems to have a not-so-public answer to why white supremacist content is permeating its site.

Over the past few years, Twitter has found success in algorithmically banning content and accounts linked to ISIS and other terrorist groups. It sometimes leads to "innocent accounts" such as Arabic language broadcasters being caught up in anti-ISIS sweeps, Vice News' Motherboard reports a Twitter executive saying at a recent all-staff meeting. But "society, in general, accepts" that sacrifice, the executive reportedly continued.

That apparently isn't the case when it comes to white supremacist content, though. "In separate discussions" beyond the meeting, one Twitter employee says the site "hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians," Vice News writes. Vice News then explained further:

The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn't be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.

A Twitter spokesperson said that this “is not [an] accurate characterization of our policies or enforcement — on any level." Still, it raises questions about why Twitter doesn't have a public explanation for why white supremacist posts persist, and how "societal norms" could be stopping Twitter from banning that content altogether, Vice News writes. Read more from Vice News here. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:43 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden expressed "regret" in a private conversation with Anita Hill, his 2020 campaign says.

Biden, who on Thursday officially announced he is running for president in 2020, spoke with Hill and "shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country," a campaign spokesperson said, CNN's Manu Raju reports.

The spokesperson did not offer any other details about the conversation and did not specify when it occurred. Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, and he has faced criticism for his handling of the hearings, including for not calling more witnesses to testify and back up Hill's account.

Biden said in March that "to this day I regret I couldn't come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved." He also said in December, "I owe her an apology." But Hill noted in September 2018 that Biden had not apologized to her, telling Elle, "it's become sort of a running joke in the household when someone rings the doorbell and we're not expecting company. 'Oh,' we say, 'is that Joe Biden coming to apologize?'" Brendan Morrow

3:11 p.m.

Avengers: Endgame may offer an ending for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it's certainly not the ending. So what will the franchise's next chapter look like?

Marvel has only officially set a release date for one post-Endgame film: Spider-Man: Far From Home, which hits theaters in July. But a number of other projects are in the works, one being a Black Widow solo movie, in which Scarlett Johansson's co-stars will reportedly include Rachel Weisz and David Harbour. A 2020 release is rumored.

Also in the works is The Eternals, which revolves around a race of super-powered beings and will reportedly star Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani. It could land in 2020 as well.

Another new franchise is Shang-Chi, which is based on the Kung Fu master hero and will be Marvel's first film centering around an Asian lead. That might make its way in 2021, a year that could also bring Black Panther 2 and Doctor Strange 2.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is also on the way; it's set to close out the trilogy and be the last film featuring the current version of the Guardians. It was originally expected for 2020 but was delayed after the firing — and re-hiring — of director James Gunn. Now, don't expect it until 2022.

A third Spider-Man is also happening, and a Captain Marvel follow-up is all but confirmed. Plus, a third Ant-Man seems likely, and there have reportedly been discussions of a fourth Thor. And yes, eventually, there will be another Avengers film.

Marvel's future will also rely heavily on Disney+, the streaming service where shows based on Loki, Scarlet Witch and Vision, Falcon and Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye are all on the way, and they'll tie directly into the film universe.

Marvel likely has even more surprises up its sleeve, especially after obtaining Fox's characters like the Fantastic Four. But one thing is certain: beyond Endgame, the Avengers will return — in some form, at least. Brendan Morrow

2:37 p.m.

Biden 2020 is taking on some very Bernie 2016 vibes.

Just hours after Joe Biden announced his 2020 candidacy on Thursday, his campaign also revealed it had hired Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2016 national press secretary. Symone Sanders will serve as Biden's senior adviser, a surprising addition seeing as Sanders criticized the former vice president just a few weeks ago, The Daily Beast reports.

Sanders built a prominent name for herself as part of Bernie Sanders' 2016 run, notably bringing the Black Lives Matter cause to a campaign criticized for its lack of diversity. She previously said she was waiting to make a 2020 move because there were "a lot of good candidates this time."

When Biden faced accusations of inappropriately touching women last month, though, Sanders "chastised" him for joking about it, The Daily Beast writes. Yet she did it in a way that almost seemed like she was preparing for a Biden hire, suggesting that Biden say "I'm sorry" so those words would appear in "all the chyrons and headlines."

Sanders' move to Biden's side comes not long after Bernie Sanders lost several of his top 2016 staffers just a month into his 2020 campaign. Bernie Sanders' 2016 staff was also marred by sexual harassment allegations that apparently went unacknowledged, though he's since built a leadership team featuring a 70-percent woman staff. About a month ago, Sanders' staffers also took the unprecedented step of unionizing, and Sanders heralded his presidential campaign as the first to do so. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:27 p.m.

If you're already planning your summer vacation at the shore, maybe it's time to reconsider.

Scientists have traveled all around the world, taking more than 100 samples from the ocean along the way, and discovered nearly 200,000 new species — of viruses. Separated into five different subgroups, these 195,728 viral populations expand our knowledge of marine viruses by a factor of 12.

While the sheer number of invisible viruses in the oceans might make you cringe, it's actually valuable information, Gizmodo explained. This giant catalog of viruses is essential to understanding how marine ecosystems function, especially with regards to microbes, which are tiny cellular organisms that make up over half of the life in the ocean, pound by pound.

The exciting new find was published on Thursday in the journal Cell, by a team of researchers led by Ann Gregory, a postdoctoral researcher at VIB, a life science research institute in Belgium. The new research "expands our knowledge of what the biological entities on our planet are," Gregory told Gizmodo.

Despite the huge set of data provided, this is still far from a complete list of every virus in the oceans, the study authors noted. But it will certainly prove useful to all sorts of scientific inquiry, from examining marine life to discovering new antibiotics. Learn more at Gizmodo. Shivani Ishwar

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