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November 19, 2017

President Trump responded on Twitter Sunday to comments from LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball player, which downplayed the president's role in getting his son, LiAngelo Ball, and two other student athletes, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, released from shoplifting charges in China.

"Who?" the elder Ball said to ESPN Friday when asked about Trump's actions. "What was he over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out." Trump reportedly spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the players while visiting Beijing on his tour of Asia this month, and he did not appreciate Ball's remarks:

In previous tweets this past week, Trump took credit for the athletes' release, wondered if they would thank him, and told them to "HAVE A GREAT LIFE" and be wary of "many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!" Bonnie Kristian

9:26 a.m. ET

The latest battle in this year's U.S. vs. China trade war is the most brutal yet.

President Trump imposed new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods on Monday, The Washington Post reports. China has promised to respond to levies with fresh tariffs of its own, and immediately kept its word by imposing tariffs on $60 billion in American goods.

The escalating trade war, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is "determined to win," has reached such heights that China is running out of American products to target, reports the Post. China's government accused the U.S. of "trade bullying," after canceling trade talks due to the rising economic tensions.

Trump has shown no sign of reining in the punitive duties. Pompeo predicted that "we're going to get an outcome which forces China to behave," but the Chinese government on Monday castigated the U.S. for "attempting to impose its own interests on China through extreme pressure." Trump has said that retaliatory tariffs would simply lead him to levy an additional $267 billion in goods. Once China runs out of American goods to hit, officials expect "qualitative" retaliation like slowing the process for visas and licenses.

Thousands of imports are now being taxed up to 10 percent, a cost absorbed by American consumers. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

8:57 a.m. ET

When Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was first accused of sexual misconduct last week by Christine Blasey Ford, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Ford should be heard. But now Conway's tone has changed.

Over the weekend, a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh thrust his penis into her face at a party when they were both students at Yale University. Kavanaugh denies the allegation. Conway on Monday told CBS that the allegations are "starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy."

Referring to Ramirez as the "second so-called accuser," Conway suggested to CBS that this is all a "smear campaign," also citing The New York Times' report that the paper spoke with dozens of sources and was unable to verify Ramirez's story.

Conway concluded that Kavanaugh is simply a victim of a "pent-up demand for women to get their day." Watch Conway's full interview below. Brendan Morrow

8:54 a.m. ET

On Sunday night, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh denied allegations in a New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer that he had put his exposed genitals in the face of a fellow freshmen, Deborah Ramirez, during a drinking game in a Yale dorm. "The alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen," Kavanaugh said in a statement. "The people who knew me then know that this did not happen and have said so."

That's a "blunt" and "unequivocal" denial, George Stephanopoulos told Farrow on Monday's Good Morning America. Farrow agreed, noted that he and Mayer included it in their article. But "it is not accurate to say that those who knew [Kavanaugh] at the time dispute this," he said. "We wouldn't have run this if we didn't have a careful basis of people who had heard at the time and found her credible."

Still, given the denials, "at any point when you were writing this story this close to the nomination, did you sort of want to push the pause button, say, 'Are we sure this is the right thing to do?'" Stephanopoulos asked. No, Farrow said. "The evidentiary basis for this, the number of witnesses who were told at the time, is strong. It's in excess of what we typically see in this kind of investigative reporting." The two eyewitnesses who denied the event, he added, were the ones "she alleged were egging Brett Kavanaugh on."

Farrow said Ramirez didn't reach out to Senate Democrats and wants to be fair to Kavanaugh. He also said Senate Republican staffers "were indeed aware of an allegation" last week "and were concerned about it and reached out to us about that." Peter Weber

8:10 a.m. ET
Thos Robinson / Getty Images

The first time Michael Moore directed a fiery documentary about an incumbent Republican president, it made for box office gold, but the filmmaker's second attempt came up short this weekend.

Fahrenheit 11/9, the new documentary in which Moore takes on President Trump, debuted with a low $3 million, putting it in eighth place, per Box Office Mojo. That might sound somewhat decent for a documentary, but it's fairly disastrous for one that opened in as many theaters as Moore's did. It played in about 1,700 theaters, giving it a per-screen average of just $1,800.

For comparison, Moore's 2004 George W. Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 opened to $23.9 million and a per-screen average of $27,000, Box Office Mojo reports. Calculating for inflation, that's the equivalent of $31 million today. What makes matters worse is that Fahrenheit 9/11 actually opened in fewer theaters: only 868.

Still, it seems those who did go see Moore's film liked it, as CinemaScore shows that a random sampling of moviegoers from across the country gave it an "A" rating. Brendan Morrow

6:57 a.m. ET
AFP/Getty Images

The Indian Ocean island nation the Maldives held a national election on Sunday, and in an upset, opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih beat incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, 134,616 votes to 96,132, according to provisional results. Yameen, accused of increasing authoritarianism, conceded, saying: "The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results." The election had pitted not only Yameen against Solih, but also China against India. Yameen had accepted economic aid and investment from Beijing and moved the Maldives closer to China; Solih, known as Abu, is expected to bring the nation back into India's orbit.

Solih led a coalition including his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Jumhooree Party, and the Adhaalath Party, running on a platform of democratic reform. "The message is loud and clear," he said after the results came in. "The people of Maldives want change, peace, and justice." Yameen, who has sharply cracked down on dissent in recent months, is the half-brother of former longtime autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was jailed in June. The Maldives, made up of 1,192 islands and 26 coral atolls, is one of the countries most at risk from rising sea levels tied to climate change. Peter Weber

5:59 a.m. ET

Democrats have opened up a 12-point lead in voter preference for which party controls Congress, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds. That's up from 8 points in August and 6 points the month before that. And there are some bad numbers for Republicans in the survey: Moderates and independents favor Democrats by more than 30 points, women 50 and older by almost 20 points, and voters in competitive congressional districts by 12 points, 53 percent to 43 percent. Fifty-nine percent of voters want to see "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of change.

But there are some warning signs for Democrats, too, the poll finds. First, Republicans have nearly caught up in interest about the midterms, with 61 percent rating their interest a 9 or a 10 on a 10-points scale, versus 65 percent of Democrats. That 4-point lead for Democrats is down from 16 points in July. Also, 73 percent of senior citizens — who tend to vote, and vote more for the GOP — are very interested in the midterms versus just 35 percent of voters age 18 to 34. Younger voters tend to vote more Democratic, when they vote, which isn't often, as Daniel Nichanian notes:

Men are also more interested than women, 60 percent to 56 percent, and white voters (61 percent) more interested than black (53 percent) and Latino voters (49 percent). When NBC and the Journal winnowed the overall congressional preference down to likely voters, the Democrats' 12-point lead shrank to 8 points. The poll was conducted Sept. 16-19 among 900 voters and it has an overall margin of error of ±3.3 percentage points, or ±4 points for likely voters. Peter Weber

4:57 a.m. ET

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who is accusing him of attempted rape at a house party in the early 1980s, Christine Blasey Ford, are both scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday — or at least that was the plan before The New Yorker published a second allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, this one from freshman year at Yale. In any case, Kavanaugh plans to give the Judiciary Committee calendars he kept in the summer of 1982, The New York Times reports, citing someone working for his confirmation.

The calendars "do not show a party consistent with the description of his accuser," the Times reports, but they also "do not disprove Dr. Blasey's allegations, Judge Kavanaugh's team acknowledged. He could have attended a party that he did not list." The calendars from June, July, and August show he was at the beach or with his parents many weekends, went to the movies, and did other teen activities, the Times says.

In 1982, Kavanaugh was 17 and Ford 15. "Unusual for a teenager, Judge Kavanaugh seemed to keep track of his days even during summer vacation," the Times says. Some observers were confused that someone who kept such fastidious notes and held on to them for 36 years had such a poor memory and records about so many topics in his confirmation hearing. Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook, had a different problem with this new wrinkle:

"Sensitive to the potential backlash over questioning the credibility of a woman alleging sexual misconduct," the Times says, Kavanaugh "will not challenge her account of being assaulted but will argue that it was not him." Peter Weber

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