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June 13, 2018

The Trump administration is putting the final touches on its plan to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, will travel to the Middle East next week with international negotiations representative Jason Greenblatt, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The trip to Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia will be an opportunity to discuss "the next stages of the peace efforts" in the region, the White House said, and to finalize a plan that will reportedly be released in August. Kushner and Greenblatt will not visit any Palestinian cities, reports AP, in part because Palestinian leaders are boycotting talks with U.S. officials over accusations of bias.

Greenblatt, the former executive vice president of the Trump Organization, publicly clashed with Palestine's chief negotiator this week, publishing an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper to condemn his "false claims" and accuse him of making a potential peace agreement more difficult.

Kushner, for his part, was a prominently visible figure in the controversial embassy-opening ceremony in Jerusalem last month, where the U.S. unveiled the new facility while protests raged along the Gaza Strip. Nearly 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire, as demonstrators protested the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim, as the capital of Israel. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

8:32a.m.

The Midwest is posing a challenge for Democrats' hopes of taking the Senate but the party's prospects are a lot brighter in the gubernatorial races, according to projections from Politico on Thursday. Democratic candidates are expected to win in Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, all currently government by Republicans, and races in GOP-held Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa are tossups, as are contests in Republican states Florida, Georgia, and Nevada. There are seven states that could tip either way, Politico reports, while Republicans are projected to win 17 races and Democrats, 12. Currently, Republicans hold the governorships in 33 states.

The Democrats' three best shots to flip Republican states are Illinois, where Democrat J.B. Pritzker is significantly ahead of incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner; New Mexico, where Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) leads Rep. Steve Pearce (R) to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Susana Martinez; and Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is term-limited and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer is leading state Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) and just won endorsement from the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce's PAC, the rest Democrat to get the regional business group's backing since 1990.

Democrats even have a shot at winning the governorships of deep-red Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, though Republicans are within striking distance of unseating Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D). You can read more about the races and projections at Politico. Peter Weber

8:18a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is coming out swinging against President Trump, saying his handling of the mounting diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia is hurting the U.S. internationally.

Biden told CBS Thursday that while we don't yet know for sure whether Saudi Arabia was responsible for the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the allegations are "not inconsistent" with the kingdom's behavior, and it's worrying that Trump "seems to have a love affair with autocrats."

Trump has repeatedly floated the idea that the Saudi government may not be behind the killing of the Washington Post columnist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He has emphasized the Saudi kingdom's denial of responsibility, and even suggested "rogue killers" could be to blame. But U.S. intelligence officials are growing more convinced that the Saudi crown prince himself is culpable, per The New York Times.

Biden went on to say that Trump is "already making excuses" for Saudi Arabia "before the facts are known," and this "hurts us internationally." He added that there "absolutely positively" should be consequences if the Saudi government truly was involved, suggesting canceling arms sales to the country could be an option. "The idea that we would not take retaliation against them is ridiculous," Biden said. Watch his comments below. Brendan Morrow

7:02a.m.

The Llano River in central Texas receded on Wednesday, after hitting near-record levels on Tuesday after days of heavy rains. The Llano River, which rose to 30 feet above flood stage, feeds into the Colorado River, and the deluge caused flooding all the way from Llano to Austin. One woman's body was found at a low-water crossing on Wednesday after floodwaters receded, and another person was found dead on the banks of Lake LBJ on Tuesday. At least one bridge, on RM 2900, was washed out completely by the swollen Llano River.

The break in the rains and opened floodgates on dams controlled by the Lower Colorado River Authority helped reduce river levels to just above flood stage on Wednesday, but more rains are expected over the weekend, and with the ground already saturated, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for several counties in central Texas. "We really are not sure if this disaster has fully unfolded," said Llano County emergency management coordinator Ron Anderson. "We could see another rise of the Llano River. Whether or not it will be of historic value or not, we do not know yet."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a disaster declaration for 18 counties affected by the flooding on Wednesday. The Austin American Statesman has more photos and numbers in the video below. Peter Weber

6:03a.m.

Saudi Arabia paid $100 million to the U.S. government on Tuesday, the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Riyadh for an apparently friendly discussion with the Saudi rulers about the disappearance and presumed murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and government critic. A State Department official confirmed the payment on Wednesday but insisted it had nothing to do with the Khashoggi disappearance, widely blamed on the Saudi government.

The money was party of Saudi Arabia's pledged contribution to a U.S. stabilization effort in Syria, the State Department said. The Saudis promised the payment in August, and "questions persisted about when and if Saudi officials would come through with the money," The Washington Post notes. "We always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame," said Brett McGurk, the State Department envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition. "The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary's visit."

Middle East experts, who suspect the Saudis are also planning to compensate Turkey for agreeing to a joint investigation of Khashoggi's disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, aren't convinced that the timing of the payment is coincidental. "In all probability, the Saudis want Trump to know that his cooperation in covering for the Khashoggi affair is important to the Saudi monarch," Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, tells the Post. "Much of its financial promises to the U.S. will be contingent on this cooperation." Peter Weber

5:14a.m.

"Voters who actually like Republican ideas are dwindling, so to stay in power the GOP is using techniques like gerrymandering, blocking judicial appointments, and voter suppression — otherwise known as Mitch McConnell's version of the devil's triangle," Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal. "And this week they have outdone themselves." She breezed through recent cases of voter quashing in Arkansas and Ohio but focused on two states: North Dakota and Georgia.

Bee started with the Supreme Court upholding a North Dakota voting law that effectively prevents thousand of Native Americans from casting ballots because they have P.O. boxes, not street addresses. The law disenfranchises a key Democratic constituency "with almost surgical precision," she said, unless they follow a complicated bureaucratic maze. "We called 911 coordinators in North Dakota, and even they weren't sure how this is supposed to work — probably because its not supposed to," Bee said. And the racially disparate voter purges and suspensions by Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who's overseeing his own bid for governor? She filed that under "How the f--- is that legal?"

"Republicans are getting more creative, and more shameless, about their attempts to block the vote because they know they're not popular enough to win without cheating," Bee said. (There's NSFW language.)

Popular or not, Republicans think they may have found their golden ticket. The "horrific" Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight may have energized Democrats, "but Republicans think it may help them more," Bee said. "But is the 'red wave' real?" Full Frontal sent Allana Harkin and Mike Rubens to a Dallas Cowboy tailgate to find out, and, well, they seemed surprised at what they found. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:24a.m.

President Trump is facing increasing pressure to take action on the presumed murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. "There's mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia's leaders ordered this killing," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show, but Trump told The Associated Press it sounded to him like Saudi King Salman "felt like he did not do it." Colbert did not find that persuasive. Trump then said the Saudis shouldn't be presumed "guilty until proven innocent," because "we just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh," he noted. "To which Brett Kavanaugh said, 'Hey, maybe leave my name out of this one. Dismembering a journalist is actually one of the crimes I have not been accused of.'"

The central figure in the story is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely called MBS, who is believed to have ordered the grisly murder. "So many people believe the crown prince was involved in the killing that Washington insiders are now grimly joking that MBS stands for Mr. Bone Saw," Colbert said. "But despite the mounting evidence, including reported audio of the murder, Trump continues to back his buddies the Saudis." Sure, "the world looks to America for moral authority, but Trump says there's something just as important," he added: Selling arms and other "things" to the Saudis, including perhaps the man sitting in the Oval Office.

"If U.S. news has you down, you can just head up north — because as of today, Canada has officially legalized recreational pot," Colbert said. "Naturally, there's going to be a lot of pot tourism, and Canada is ready to attract visitors with this new ad."

Colbert also ran through some (sometimes) happier American news about the Joker movie, Calvin Klein's tiger Obsession, gas station boner supplements, and WikiLeaks. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:18a.m.

In the final stretch of the 2018 elections, Republicans have quietly dropped their plans to run on their tax cut and the economy, Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal. "But don't worry, because Republicans have another cool technique for getting votes without doing anything useful: The terrifying culture wars." She had a graphic ready for that, and video clips. "Republicans control all three branches of government!" she protested. "How do you play the victim when you've won everything there is to win? Well, they've found a way: Telling people that Democrats will eat them."

Bee played some ads. "I wish the left were 'crazytown,'" she said. "By the way, do you know what is actually nuts? Conflating Nancy Pelosi with a handful of masked anarchists who hate Nancy Pelosi more than any Republican." She ran through various "scary "groups, like kneeling football players, Beto O'Rourke, and especially women. "The right is really painting a picture of liberal women as deadly bitch tornado," Bee said.

The hot new attack is the incessant incantation of the word "mob" connected to "left-wing" or "Democrat." "The only time I've seen an unhinged mob of Democrats is when NPR runs out of totes," Bee joked, conceding: "Well, if anyone would know about the mob, it's Donald Trump."

"So, is this culture war bulls--t actually working? " Bee asked. "It's unclear. The typical American voter is looking around and seeing that their wages are stagnating, their health care's in danger, and their boss just bought another mega-yacht. I tend to think that's gonna matter more than a few loud pussy hats." There is NSFW language throughout. Peter Weber

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