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October 20, 2017

The White House on Friday called it "highly inappropriate" to question Chief of Staff John Kelly's mischaracterization of Rep. Frederica Wilson's (D-Fla.) 2015 speech at the dedication of a new FBI building. In addition to skewering Wilson for sharing the details of a phone call between President Trump and the widow of a U.S. service member killed in Niger on Thursday, Kelly claimed Wilson once "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for" the FBI building. In a video from the dedication surfaced by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday, Wilson takes credit for naming the building but does not claim to have secured its funding.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained that Wilson "also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there."

"[Kelly] was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money," a reporter pressed.

"If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that's up to you," Sanders said. "But I think that, if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate." Jeva Lange

October 20, 2017

Former President Barack Obama, stumping for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam in Richmond on Thursday evening, alluded to August's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, 70 miles up I-64. That rally was ostensibly organized to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

"We've got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry" for political gain, Obama said. "We shouldn't use the most painful parts of our history just to score political points. ... We don't rise up by repeating the past, we rise up by learning from the past." He then mentioned that he is "an eighth or ninth or tenth or something cousin removed from Jefferson Davis," the head of the Confederacy. "Think about that." And lest you think he was bragging about his ancestry, Obama had a parting shot: "I'll bet he's spinning in his grave."

On Tuesday, the PTA president of a predominantly black public school in Jackson, Mississippi, said that the school stakeholders had voted to change the name, Davis Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary, after Jefferson Davis, to Obama Magnet IB Elementary. "Jefferson Davis, although infamous in his own right, would probably not be too happy about a diverse school promoting the education of the very individuals he fought to keep enslaved being named after him," the PTA president, Janelle Jefferson, told the Jackson School Board. The change will take effect next school year. Peter Weber

October 20, 2017

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) opened his speech at the 72nd annual Al Smith Dinner in New York City on Thursday night with a joke about President Trump. "Please, enough with the applause," he said. "You sound like the Cabinet when Donald Trump walks into the room." He kept going from there.

The white-tie dinner, a fundraiser for the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, hosted by the Catholic archbishop of New York, is typically a bipartisan political roast, and the world lost out on the Democratic jokes from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), who had to cancel his appearance to vote against the Senate GOP budget resolution.

Trump — whose speech at the 2016 Al Smith Dinner was uncomfortably sharp-elbowed and defensive, as Ryan alluded to in one of his jokes — wasn't the only target for Ryan and his joke writers. Ryan also poked fun at Hillary Clinton ("I'm from Wisconsin. It's a great state to visit in the fall. Looking back, someone should have told Hillary"), Stephen Bannon ("Steve Bannon said I was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation. This is amazing — no one knew Steve believed in science"), himself ("Every afternoon, former Speaker John Boehner calls me up. Not to give advice. Just to laugh"), and his methods for surviving the Trump presidency ("Every morning, I wake up in my office and scroll Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend that I didn't see later"). You can read more of his one-liners at NBC News. Peter Weber

October 19, 2017
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Debating how presidents honor fallen service members is "asinine," Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CBS News on Wednesday, when Major Garrett asked him about the days-long controversy surrounding President Trump. "The presidents of the United States each have a love for this country," Perry said. "They have a love for the young men and women who serve and the families who have lost them. I think anyone who questions that — now do they handle it differently? Yes, and that's okay."

President Trump has had about two dozen service members die while he was in office, but when George W. Bush was president, Perry noted, he was signing a condolence letter a day during the height of the Iraq War. When Perry was governor of Texas, he added, "about 10 of those years, I wrote a letter a week to a Texan's family — their spouses, their loved ones, their next of kin — who was lost in the war on terror. I went to funerals. I visited with parents."

Perry said he wasn't sure why Trump cast false aspersions on former President Barack Obama's handling of fallen troops, but "what I will say in defense of what he said — I think he was making reference to — everybody does this differently." From his perspective, Perry added, "I know we live in a 24/7 news cycle and to be splitting hairs on how do we mourn, how do you give comfort, I think is a waste of time, frankly." You can watch the entire exchange at CBS News. Peter Weber

October 18, 2017

On Tuesday, anonymous White House officials, reportedly including Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reached out to numerous news organizations to inform them that former President Barack Obama had not called White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in 2010 after his son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan. They did this because on Tuesday morning, President Trump had suggested to Fox News Radio, without being asked, that reporters "ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" Maybe nobody took him up on the offer.

Trump's decision to invoke Kelly's son was seen by some commentators as lacking in taste and decorum, since Kelly himself has made an evident effort to keep Robert Kelly's death out of the realm of political debate. On Wednesday, Sanders said she believes that "General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost. I think he's disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it's toward that."

Sanders said she's not sure if Kelly "knew of that specific comment" about his son beforehand, but that he and Trump "had certainly spoken about it, and he's aware. And they've spoken several times since then." Peter Weber

October 18, 2017

On Tuesday, President Trump dragged White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's son Robert Kelly, a Marine lieutenant killed in Afghanistan in 2010, into his evolving explanation for why it took him 12 days to acknowledge the deaths of four U.S. servicemembers in Niger or contact their families. On Tuesday night's AC360, Anderson Cooper began his analysis with Kelly's documented reluctance to politicize his son's death.

"In everything he said and did not say back then, and everything he's said and done since then, Gen. Kelly has refused to make the shared sacrifice of so many about his own personal loss," Cooper said. "Well, this morning, President Trump took Gen. Kelly's deeply private, searing, and eternal loss and made it about his own momentary personal gain." Trump had suggested that former President Barack Obama had not called Kelly with condolences, a point the White House aggressively pursued with the media.

"President Obama, like Presidents Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, and others before them honored the fallen in many ways — phone calls, letters, witnessing the caskets coming home, visiting the wounded," Cooper noted. "They did so frequently, often without bringing reporters along. None of them, Republicans and Democrats alike, wanted it to be about themselves, until now." Trump, "in his mind, simply cannon be wrong," he added, suggesting a motive for Trump stooping to this new level. "And that gives him license, it seems, for a lot," including bringing "his chief of staff's profoundest personal loss into the public realm." Watch below. Peter Weber

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized one of the soldiers' Army role. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

October 18, 2017
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump surprised White House officials Tuesday morning when he invoked one of Chief of Staff John Kelly's sons, Marine 1st Lt. Robert M. Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, The Washington Post reports. Trump was speaking on Fox News Radio, responding to criticism over his untrue comments Monday that former President Barack Obama never called the families of fallen troops, a comment he walked back when challenged, saying he was "told" Obama didn't call, and "all I can do is ask my generals."

"For the most part, to the best of my knowledge, I think I've called every family of somebody that's died, and it's the hardest call to make," Trump told Fox News Radio on Tuesday. "I mean, you could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people."

White House officials then anonymously told Fox News, NBC News, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post that Obama did not call Kelly, then a Marine general, upon the death of his son. Robert Kelly, 29, was married, and typically the president would call the widow, not the parents, of a fallen service member. Gen. Kelly, who has been very careful that his son's death not be politicized and reportedly recoils at any grieving family being used for political points, did attend a May 2011 breakfast Obama hosted for Gold Star families, and he sat at first lady Michelle Obama's table. Kelly, unusually and without explanation, did not attend a Trump news conference Tuesday afternoon.

About two dozen service members have died during Trump's presidency, and AP found at least a few whose widows or parents said they never got a call or letter from Trump, though they said the military and other White House officials were very warm. Trump called the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger on Tuesday, after 12 days of silence. Peter Weber

October 17, 2017
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Congressional Democrats are not supporting efforts to fund President Trump's much-promised wall along the southern border, a White House representative said Tuesday, purely out of petty, political malice.

"Many Democrats, don't forget, many Democrats in 2006 voted for the Secure Fence Act," Marc Short, Trump's director of legislative affairs, argued on Fox News. "But now they don't want to fund it for political reasons," he continued. "They don't want the president to have a win." Short said that because the wall is key to national security, funding "will happen at the end of the year."

Trump's border wall is supposed to be see-through, up to 55 feet high, and possessed of a "big, beautiful door." Its price tag — depending on what features are included and, at this stage, whose estimate you use — would be in the tens of billions of dollars. The 2006 bill Short mentioned is part of the reason much of the border is already fenced. The places without a barrier tend to have mountainous terrain and extreme heat that together make both wall construction and illicit border crossings very difficult. Bonnie Kristian

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