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April 16, 2019

President Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney slowly took apart the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before finding himself in the White House, The New York Times Magazine reported Tuesday.

The CFPB was created, in part, by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) following the 2008 financial crisis. Per the Times, she envisioned it as an "economic equalizer for American consumers." But Mulvaney, then a member of Congress, was a fierce opponent of Warren's idea, believing it gave the federal government too much power over the market. Despite his disdain, he didn't hesitate to take over as the agency's director when called upon by Trump in 2017.

Slowly but surely, the Times reports, Mulvaney utilized bureaucratic inefficiencies, such as hiring his own people as "twins" for incumbent senior officials, to slow the agency's efforts down. The new hires, some of whom had little experience in consumer enforcement, reportedly brought with them their political agendas and served as barriers between the officials and Mulvaney, making communication difficult. Junior staffers also told the Times they had to play games of "telephone" to figure out what was going on in the agency because Mulvaney was so secretive.

But the dismantled efficiency wasn't all planned out — some of it had to do with inexperience. The Times writes that because Mulvaney had more experience interrogating regulatory agencies than running them, his own priorities "began to suffer." For instance, after he announced he was reconsidering a regulation, Mulvaney was unexpectedly stumped by how much red tape he had to go through to rewrite it. His staffers were forced to anyhow, despite having no new data that would serve as a basis for replacing the rule. The process stalled and the old rule might end up staying put unless Mulvaney's team comes up with something new by August. Read more at The New York Times Magazine. Tim O'Donnell

11:18 a.m.

The winner of Game of Thrones turned out to be quite unexpected — but it wasn't as wildly unpredictable as you might have thought.

Leading up to the show's series finale, as fans endlessly debated who would ultimately emerge as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, there were several obvious contenders. But much to the surprise of some fans, betting markets had someone else in mind: the person who ultimately emerged victorious in "The Iron Throne," who shall remain nameless as to avoid divulging spoilers.

In fact, the betting website Odds Shark days ahead of the show's final episode declared this person the -500 favorite to win the series, prompting USA Today to ask, "Are we missing something?" Writer Henry McKenna proceeded to delve into all the reasons this winner wouldn't make sense while offering that "maybe the oddsmakers know something we don't."

Indeed, Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson noted in her post-finale assessment that "many regarded it as a fluke" when this character became the favorite to win, although she goes on to note that in retrospect, it actually makes a lot of sense. It's worth noting that there were leaks about the finale in recent weeks that accurately revealed the winner, which may have been the reason for the sudden jump in the betting odds; one bookmaker suspended wagers for that reason. Still, the winner had emerged as the favorite even going back to November of last year.

Ultimately, whether the choice of Game of Thrones' victor was satisfying is up for debate, and it's part of the reason the finale has proven to be so divisive. But if nothing else, those who followed the betting markets in their pools certainly had reason to celebrate. Brendan Morrow

10:26 a.m.

Game of Thrones fans' watch has ended, and the final bow proved to be predictably divisive.

Social media was immediately engulfed with negative reactions as the show's series finale, "The Iron Throne," wrapped up, with one particular heel turn from the previous week continuing to draw complaints. The ultimate victor also left many unsatisfied, with some fans feeling the series rushed into this conclusion at the end of an unnecessarily truncated final season and others complaining that certain plot points did not satisfyingly pay off.

On IMDb, the last episode currently holds a brutal score of 4.8 out of 10 with more than 70,000 ratings. Before this final season, no episode of Game of Thrones had even earned an IMDb score lower than 8 out of 10. For comparison, the famously hated series finale of Dexter has an IMDb score of 4.7.

Television critics have been a bit kinder, but not much. On Rotten Tomatoes, the episode holds a score of 57 percent, meaning 57 percent of critics gave it a positive review and 43 percent gave it a negative review. This is quite a drop from the season premiere, which scored a 92 percent approval rating among critics. The audience score for the show's last season is currently 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 2.5 out of 5.

These online reviews from fans should certainly be taken with a grain of salt considering those who hated something are always far more likely to rate it online than those who liked it. The reaction certainly wasn't all negative, with even some who were critical of previous episodes coming away from the finale pleasantly surprised.

Still, Game of Thrones is now almost certain to go down in history along with all of the other shows with famously divisive endings. Will this ending tarnish the iconic series' legacy like How I Met Your Mother, or will it actually gain more appreciation over time like The Sopranos? Only time will tell. Brendan Morrow

9:57 a.m.

It's apparently very unclear where President Trump stands with Rust Belt voters.

As the The New York Times put it in an article published Monday, "there's no boom in Youngstown [Ohio], but blue-collar workers are sticking with Trump." Yet a Politico story from the same day reveals that Trump is "scrambl[ing] to reverse his Rust Belt slide."

Both stories come ahead of Trump's Monday visit to Pennsylvania for a rally, and just after he made campaign stops in Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump is apparently "moving aggressively to shore up his support" in those three states, which he won in 2016 "but where his own polling shows him in trouble heading into 2020," Politico writes. Former Vice President Joe Biden has reportedly started to pull ahead in those states, according to people briefed on the Trump campaign's 17-state polling project.

"People close to the president insist they're not panicked," Politico writes. And if they take the The New York Times' word for it, they'd be right. Despite the fact that Rust Belters never saw the economic resurgence Trump promised, he "appears to have lost little of his blue-collar support here," the Times reports. The former Democratic chair of an Ohio county says his party "has lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before work." Those voters "don't care" about Trump's tax returns, former chair David Betras continued, and they're bound to turn the Midwestern purple states red once again.

Of course, the 2020 election is still a year and a half away, and Democrats haven't even chosen a nominee yet. Let the speculation continue. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:11 a.m.

President Trump started off his workweek with another tweetstorm raging against The New York Times, strangely personifying the news outlet in the process.

Trump tweeted in response to a report from the Times that Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialists flagged some potentially suspicious transactions involving accounts controlled by President Trump and Jared Kushner but that these concerns were ignored. The report also includes the detail that Deutsche Bank lent to Trump while "most Wall Street banks had stopped doing business with him after his repeated defaults."

The president's twitter thread was focused on this latter detail, as he contended that he "didn’t need money" and that "when you don’t need or want money, you don't need or want banks." From there, Trump labeled the media "corrupt and deranged" and he predicted the Times will "pass away when I leave office in 6 years" — not go out of business, but "pass away."

The writer of this Times story, David Enrich, was quick to respond to Trump's denials, saying his claim is "not true" and reiterating his reporting that Deutsche Bank was for 20 years the only bank willing to lend to Trump. He added that he "spent a long time looking into this."

Trump added in a follow-up tweet, "Two Tweets missing from last batch, probably a Twitter error. No time for a redo! Only the Dems get redos!" He evidently did have time to go back and delete this tweet, but the two tweets that he claims are missing may forever remain a mystery. Brendan Morrow

7:58 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, spoke with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace at a town hall event in New Hampshire on Sunday, and he didn't shy away from criticizing the network and its pundits. He singled out prime-time pundits Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham for remarks about immigrants. "There is a reason why anyone has to swallow hard and think twice about participating in this media ecosystem," Buittigieg said. "Even though some of those hosts are not there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith."

Trump had criticized Fox News, Wallace, and Buttigieg before the town hall, and Wallace asked Buttigieg how he plans to handle Trump's tweets and insults. "The tweets are ... I don't care," he said, to applause. Trump's twitter feed is very effective at grabbing the media's attention, he added. "It is the nature of grotesque things that you can't look away."

Responding to a question about restrictive new abortion laws, Buttigieg said he believes "the right of a woman to make her own decisions about her own reproductive health and her own body is a national right, I believe it is an American freedom." He said abortions in the third trimester should remain legal, too. "If it's that late in your pregnancy, then it's almost — by definition — you've been expecting to carry it to term," he said. "We're talking about women who have perhaps chosen a name, women who have purchased a crib, and families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime," which "forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice. ... That decision is not going to be made any better medically or morally because the government is dictating how that decision should be made."

The crowd sent Buttigieg off with rousing applause. "Wow, a standing ovation," Wallace said, apparently surprised. Peter Weber

7:49 a.m.

Thought Game of Thrones was going to go out without leaving one last modern beverage in a scene? Think again.

After a coffee cup was spotted in an earlier episode of the eighth season, fans once again found an out-of-place drink in the show's series finale. During one of the episode's most crucial scenes, a plastic water bottle can be seen near Samwell Tarly's foot — although at least this one is slightly more hidden than the coffee cup was.

Minutes later, what looks to be another plastic water bottle can also be seen nearby Davos Seaworth, apparently giving us not one but two beverage bloopers in a single scene.

After the now infamous coffee cup gaffe, HBO released a joking statement saying it was a mistake because "Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea." The network was quick to correct the error, though, and by Tuesday morning, the cup had been scrubbed from the scene. An art director for the show told Variety the situation was "so blown out of proportion" because such a mistake "has not happened with Thrones so far."

Little did we know it wouldn't even be the last time this season. Then again, this scene did occur immediately following a time jump, so perhaps the frantically-paced final season merely skipped over the introduction of plastic water bottles into Westeros. And given the fierce debate the divisive final episode has already sparked, a drink of water may be much needed for everyone involved. Brendan Morrow

6:33 a.m.

Volodymyr Zelensky, a comic actor with no political experience who played an accidental Ukrainian president on TV, was sworn in as president on Monday. During his inauguration ceremony, Zelensky announced he is "dissolving the Verkhovna Rada," or parliament, setting up snap elections. Parliamentary elections had been scheduled for October, but Zelensky campaigned on cleaning out parliament of lawmakers he accused of corruption and self-enrichment. "People must come to power who will serve the public," he said on Monday.

Zelensky, 41, crushed outgoing President Petro Poroshenko in last month's presidential runoff election, earning 73 percent of the vote. In his inaugural address, Zelensky said his top priority is ending the five-year-old conflict with Russian-back separatists in Eastern Ukraine. "I'm ready to do everything so that our heroes don't die there," he said. "I'm ready to lose my popularly and, if necessary, I'm ready to lose my post so that we have peace." Zelensky gave his address in Ukrainian, but he switched to Russian to express his conviction "that for this dialogue to start, we must see the return of all Ukrainian prisoners."

Zelensky has released few details of his governing agenda, but he laid out a broad vision for Ukraine in his address. "We must become Icelanders in football, Israelis in defending our land, Japanese in technology," he said, and "Swiss in our ability to live happily with each other, despite any differences." Although he was trained as a lawyer before becoming a TV star, Zelensky gave a nod to his fame as a comedian. "Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh," he said. "In the next five years I will do everything so that Ukrainians don't cry." Peter Weber

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