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June 19, 2017

Voters in Georgia's 6th congressional district head to the polls Tuesday to vote in a special election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel. On Monday, President Trump weighed in with an endorsement of Handel:

Ossoff will enter election day with surprisingly strong numbers for the heavily Republican suburbs of Atlanta: "If Democrats are to keep pace with their special election results so far, then Ossoff probably should be winning the race, not just coming close — and Georgia 6 should be the election where Democrats go from 'moral victories' to actual wins," FiveThirtyEight writes in its analysis. That being said, "Ossoff [is] ahead by a not-very-safe margin of about 2 percentage points." In other words: It's still anybody's race.

But as small as the victory might ultimately be, the implications will likely be read as massive by the defeated party. "This is a laboratory. In order to win the House back we have to win in districts that are gerrymandered for Republicans, so [special elections like this one are] laboratories for us to figure out what's the best way to mobilize this vote," Democratic National Committee Associate Chair Jaime Harrison told Politico.

What's more, "a loss in Georgia's special election here could leave the [Democratic Party] demoralized, with little to show for all the furious organizing, fundraising, and spending in a handful of congressional special elections in the early months of the Trump administration," Politico writes.

"This is a harbinger of national politics. The world is looking, the nation is looking — and all the money has flowed in here," former Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jeva Lange

11:08 a.m. ET
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After 65 years on the green, Ben Bender has retired from golf on a high — quitting the game just minutes after hitting his first-ever hole in one. The 93-year-old Ohioan bought his first set of clubs for $50 at age 28 and has been playing ever since, getting as low as a 3-handicap. The former insurance salesman, who suffers from hip bursitis, was on the third hole when he made his long-sought ace last month. "I played a few more holes, my hips were hurting, and I had to stop," Bender says. "It seemed the Lord knew this was my last round, so he gave me a hole in one." Christina Colizza

10:37 a.m. ET

On Thursday, President Trump announced that he was pulling out of a scheduled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by … writing a civil, calm, professionally regretful letter? Still, despite the generally cordial tone, this is distinctly a work from the Trump canon.

The first clue comes in the second sentence: "We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant." Then why bring it up? While the next sentence, "I was very much looking forward to being there with you," might be translated as "I really want the Nobel Prize," the subsequent sentence uses Trump's favorite word ("sad!") and displays his usual love of hyperbolic adjectives: "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."

The letter even sneaks in a Trumpian boast at the bottom of the first paragraph: "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."

While admittedly the letter isn't littered with ellipsis, threats, typos, oddly Capitalized letters, or addressed to Mr. Rocket Man, Trump's own staff have reportedly learned to mimic his rambling, colorful messages in order to ghostwrite them more effectively. Apparently that goes to open letters to foreign heads of state, too. Jeva Lange

10:25 a.m. ET

The summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be canceled, but the commemorative coins will live on forever.

Trump on Thursday pulled out of the summit that was scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, writing to Kim that "it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting" due to increasing tensions. But the souvenir coins that the White House Communications Agency minted earlier this week are still for sale through the White House gift shop.

(The White House Gift Shop)

The coin celebrated the "PEACE TALKS" of 2018, depicting Trump and Kim facing off with both national flags. Patriotic collectors can still visit the White House gift shop online and pre-order a coin for just $24.95, though it's a different version that includes South Korean President Moon Jae-In. It even comes in a black velvet coin case!

If coins aren't your thing but you still want to remember the almost-talks, don't worry — the White House is still taking orders for the official Nuclear Deproliferation Summit Ornament. The shop says it's the most sophisticated ornament design yet, made to complement the summit coin.

So buy your souvenirs now: if not to commemorate a successful summit, then to wistfully sigh and remember what could have been. Summer Meza

10:04 a.m. ET

President Trump and his allies have been attacking former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper over the past few days, part of his attempt to make "Spygate" happen. Clapper is on a media tour to promote his new book, Facts and Fears, and along with explaining how Trump is distorting his words and the FBI's attempt to investigate Russia, Clapper has been explaining his contention in the book that the Russians, to their surprise, "swung the election to a Trump win."

"Since I left the government," Clapper told PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, "it's what I call my informed opinion that given the massive effort the Russians made, the number of citizens that they touched, and the variety and the multidimensional aspects of what they did to influence opinion and affect the election, and given the fact that it turned on less than 80,000 votes in three states, to me it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn't affect the election, and it's my belief they actually turned it."

On CNN Thursday night, Clapper swatted down more Trump team attacks and reiterated his "informed opinion" about Russia handing the election to Trump, though, he told Jake Tapper, "I don't have the empirical evidence to go with it."

But there is some empirical evidence, if not conclusive, in a new working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Automated Twitter bots — a key tool that Russians used in the election — may have added 3.23 percentage points to Trump's vote in 2016, as well as 1.76 percentage points to the "leave" vote in Britain's Brexit campaign, the researchers found. "Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots' effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes," write authors Yuriy Gorodnichenko from U.C. Berkeley and Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera from Britain's Swansea University. You can read more about the study at Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

9:51 a.m. ET

President Trump has pulled out of a historic summit in Singapore with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, which had been scheduled for June 12, calling it "a truly sad moment in history."

In an open letter, Trump told Kim "we greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations" and that "I was very much looking forward to being there with you," but that "it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting" due to increasing tensions between the parties. A North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs called Vice President Mike Pence "ignorant" and "stupid" on Thursday for comparing North Korea to Libya, and warned Kim would cancel the summit if the U.S. didn't stop its threats.

Read the letter in full below. Jeva Lange

9:44 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Tensions between two of the Trump administration's economic advisers has surpassed the usual co-worker drama.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top trade adviser Peter Navarro have not resolved their differences when it comes to economic policy opinions, The Daily Beast reported Thursday, and sources say Navarro has taken to calling Mnuchin "Neville Chamberlain."

That former U.K. prime minister famously capitulated to Nazi Germany and fascist dictator Adolf Hitler during the late 1930s. Navarro reportedly sees China as such a serious economic threat that he thinks Mnuchin's international policy principles make him just as bad as a Nazi appeaser.

Navarro takes an "America First" stance when it comes to trade policies, The Daily Beast reports, and is very frustrated that other advisers like Mnuchin don't want to be as tough on China as he'd like. One official said that the battle between the two advisers is like a "cold war that became hot," also referring to a shouting match between Mnuchin and Navarro while in China earlier this month. Read more at The Daily Beast. Summer Meza

9:42 a.m. ET
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

The U.K. is blaming Russia for a prank phone call to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with Johnson's deputy, Alan Duncan, telling Bloomberg News: "If this was an attempt to ridicule us, it has totally backfired." Russian pranksters have previously placed hoax calls to U.S. politicians by posing as world leaders; earlier this year, radio comedians "Vovan" and "Lexus" pretended to be the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament in order to offer Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) nude photos of President Trump, and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was tricked into telling the pranksters she was "closely watching" Russia's interference in the elections of Binomo, a made-up country.

Johnson apparently realized the call was a hoax and ended the conversation, earning the respect of prankster Alexei Stolyarov who claimed it was "probably the first time the person we talked to ... was not a fool."

The U.K. was not amused, suggesting that the Kremlin supported the call in an attempt to discredit reports that Russia poisoned former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. "These childish actions show the lack of seriousness of the caller and those behind him," said the Foreign Office. Jeva Lange

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