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June 18, 2019

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) teamed up from across the aisle on Tuesday to raise concerns over President Trump's decision on Monday to deploy 1,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East.

The two senators wrote a letter to the president, asking him to clarify several aspects of the decision, including where, specifically, the troops will be deployed, what their mission is, and if they'll be used to apply pressure on Iran. They also asked Trump to relay to them what the "new, specific imminent threat from Iran is."

The senators were joined by a bipartisan group of fellow senators, including Jeff Merkley (D-Or.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in signing the letter. Together, they emphasized that Congress has not authorized war with Iran and "no current statutory authority allows the U.S. to conduct hostilities against the government of Iran." The letter concludes with a request for a joint Defense, State, and Intelligence community briefing by the end of June to address the situation. Read the full letter here. Tim O'Donnell

10:06 a.m.

Some Republicans are ready to look past President Trump's racist "go back" tweets, while many outright agree with them. But there's a faction of GOP strategists who are worried about them, as well, The Washington Examiner reports.

Those strategists are particularly concerned that Trump's rhetoric will prove to be a sore spot among suburban women and college-educated white voters who provided Trump with key support in 2016. Many of those constituents already voted blue in the 2018 midterms.

"Republicans want this election to be about the economy and judges," said Alex Conant, a GOP operative who has advised presidential candidates. "If it's about Trump's tweets and temperament, it's likely that Democrats will have an enthusiasm advantage."

Several Republicans spoke to the Examiner anonymously, admitting that the president had "committed an egregious, self-inflicted error that could haunt him" in the 2020 election when he attacked Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Trump's re-election campaign team is reportedly taking a different spin on the whole thing. The New York Times reports that campaign manager Brad Parscale has reportedly been telling people that it's difficult to persuade voters in today's political landscape. So, right now, the strategy is not to bring those swing voters back into the fold, but rather increase turnout among Trump's base.

One way they're doing so is by portraying his opponents, like the four congresswomen, as anti-American rather than just anti-Trump. The president's tweets, which inaccurately insinuated that three of the four lawmakers weren't even born in the U.S., certainly falls into that category. But as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out, Parscale relied on an economy-based advertisement targeting suburbanites in 2018 because Trump's "hate-campaign against migrants was failing," so some skepticism is warranted. The base, after all, might not be enough. Tim O'Donnell

9:52 a.m.

President Trump has denied that his tweet attacking four minority congresswomen by telling them to "go back" to where they came from was racist. But even if he said it was, that might not be a deal-breaker former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, who Trump endorsed for Kansas governor last year and who says the president is "very encouraging" of his 2020 Senate campaign, spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo on Tuesday night and defended Trump's tweets, prompting Cuomo to ask what he would do if Trump came out and said the reason he tweeted what he did was that "I am a racist."

Kobach first said he would "not defend" Trump if that happened, as there is "no excuse for racism in America." But Kobach then received what should have been the easiest possible follow-up question to answer, with Cuomo asking if he would still support Trump as president in this scenario. Kobach hesitated, saying he doesn't know whether he would and that this is a "tough" question.

"I don't know," Kobach said. "...I'd have to know who was running against him."

As Cuomo expressed his utter disbelief with this answer, Kobach said he "probably" wouldn't support him, still leaving the door open to the possibility that he would get behind an admitted racist as president depending on who his Democratic opponent was. Watch the stunning clip below. Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

President Trump's racist tweets are apparently just his defense against an ongoing culture war.

At least that's what Trump's son Eric Trump suggested in Tuesday appearance on Fox & Friends. After Trump's attack on four democratic congresswomen led to his official condemnation in the House, Eric Trump claimed "95 percent of this country is behind him" in this message despite polls showing the opposite.

During Tuesday's Fox & Friends episode, host Brian Kilmeade declared that he "believe[s] calling the president a racist is personally offensive." Eric Trump then arrived, praised his father for "fighting for American pride and standing up for the national anthem," and spouted a very inaccurate statistic about the president's approval in this so-called battle.

As a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Wednesday shows, the president's overall approval hasn't changed since before he told the congresswomen to "go back" to the countries they came from. Republican support, meanwhile, did jump five percent from a week earlier, the poll showed. A separate USA Today/Ipsos poll also showed that 68 percent of people aware of the tweets considered them "offensive," though 57 percent of Republicans said they agreed with Trump's messages.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll surveyed 1,113 U.S. adults online on July 15 and July 16, with a 3 percent margin of error overall and 5 percent for Democrats or Republicans. The USA Today/Ipsos poll surveyed 1,005 people online on July 15 and July 16, and it has a 3.5 percent margin of error. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:20 a.m.

NBC has resurfaced an old tape of President Trump laughing and seeming to discuss women with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who would later be convicted on state prostitution charges and register as a sex offender, at a party in 1992.

Footage that aired on MSNBC on Wednesday, which Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski said was found in the NBC archives after being shot in November 1992 for a talk show appearance, shows Trump partying at Mar-a-Lago with Epstein. Trump seems to point a woman out to Epstein and say, "she's hot," although it's difficult to hear due to the loud music. Epstein also laughs after Trump says something to him that isn't audible. The footage also shows Trump grabbing a woman at the party.

Epstein was recently arrested on sex trafficking charges as prosecutors say he abused dozens of underage girls. The financier has pleaded not guilty to new charges.

A lawyer for Trump has denied the two ever had a "social relationship," The New York Times reports. Trump also recently said he had a falling out with Epstein 15 years ago and "was not a fan" of him after previously describing him in a 2002 interview as a "terrific guy." Brendan Morrow

8:00 a.m.

President Trump has actually increased his Republican support in the wake of his tweets telling four minority congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from, with a majority of Republicans agreeing with the statement.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll published Wednesday shows Trump's Republican support at 72 percent, a five-point increase from a week earlier. The president's overall approval rating didn't change. The poll was conducted in the days after Trump told four minority congresswomen they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Another new poll from USA TODAY/Ipsos shows that 57 percent of Republicans agree with Trump's tweets. Overall, though, 62 percent of those surveyed said they disagree with the tweets, with 68 percent calling them offensive and 59 percent calling them un-American. Republicans were also slightly more split on whether the tweets were offensive, with 42 percent saying they weren't but 37 percent saying they were. These questions were specifically asked of those who said they had heard of these weekend tweets from Trump.

The Republican support for the tweet is in spite of the fact that in this same poll, a plurality of Republicans, 45 percent, said that telling minorities to "go back where they came from" is a racist statement, although 34 percent said it's not.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to condemn Trump's tweets while he continues to double down on them, on Monday saying he's unconcerned about them being seen as racist because "many people agree with me."

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted by speaking to 1,113 U.S. adults online on July 15 and July 16, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points overall and 5 percentage points for Democrats or Republicans. The USA Today/Ipsos poll was conducted by speaking to 1,005 people online on July 15 and July 16, and it has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Read more results at Reuters and USA Today. Brendan Morrow

1:46 a.m.

After the House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday condemning President Trump's "racist comments" against four Democratic congresswomen, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) filed articles of impeachment against the president.

Trump tweeted at the lawmakers — all women of color — to "go back" to their home countries. In his resolution, Green wrote that "Trump has, by his statements, brought the high office of the president of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace, and disrepute, has sown discord among the people of the United States, has demonstrated that he is unfit to be president, and has betrayed his trust as president of the United States to the manifest injury of the people of the United States, and has committed a high misdemeanor in office."

Green told Democratic leaders earlier in the day what he planned on doing, The Washington Post reports, and they now have three choices: let the vote proceed, attempt to table the impeachment articles, or refer them to the House Judiciary Committee. Under House rules, Green can force a vote in two legislative days. More than 80 members of the House of Representatives have said they want to launch an impeachment inquiry.

Democrats are divided on what to do about impeachment, with some all for it and others — especially those who represent districts won by Trump in 2016 — wary. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she would rather the American people vote Trump out next year, and while Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) supports impeachment, he told the Post, "We're trying to keep the caucus together as we respond to the most lawless administration of our lifetimes. I'm enough of a political pragmatist to believe that you call votes when you think you can win them, not when you think you can lose them." Catherine Garcia

1:01 a.m.

It sounds like the premise of a horror movie or a Floridian fever dream — meth-addicted alligators cause chaos after crawling out of the sewers — but a police department in Tennessee warns that if people keep flushing their drugs down the toilet, this could happen.

The Loretto Police Department says that while serving a search warrant, a suspect recently attempted to flush 24 fluid ounces of liquid meth and miscellaneous drug paraphernalia down the toilet. He wasn't successful, which was good news for the city's sewer workers, who "are not really prepared for meth," the police department said. "Ducks, geese, and other fowl frequent our treatment ponds and we shudder to think what one all hyped up on meth would do."

Loretto Police Chief Bobby Joe Killen told ABC News that while the department is serious about not flushing drugs down the toilet, the idea of "methed-up gators" is just a joke. "When you work eight, 10-hour shifts in our line of work, there are times when we like to laugh a little bit," he said. For those who want to make sure the wild animals of Loretto stay sober, Killen said the police department is happy to help people with proper disposal. Catherine Garcia

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