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February 12, 2019

President Trump started comparing crowd sizes even before he took the stage at the El Paso County Coliseum on Monday night. "We have a line that is very long already," Trump said at the White House earlier Tuesday. "And I understand our competition's got a line, too, but it's a tiny, little line." The "competition" would be an anti-wall march organized by more than 40 local civic and human rights groups, headlined by El Paso native and potential 2020 candidate Beto O'Rourke.

About 30 minutes into his rally, Trump said he had been challenged by "a young man who's got very little going for himself except he's got a great first name. ... So we have, let's say, 35,000 people tonight, he has 200 people, 300 people — not too good," Trump claimed. "That may be the end of his presidential bid." He said later that 10,000 people were inside the stadium. Donald Trump Jr. also tried to mock Beto's crowd size.

Trump's audience inside the coliseum was 6,500, at capacity, El Paso Fire Department public information officer Enrique Aguilar told the El Paso Times. "It might be 10,000 with the people outside," watching on monitors. The rally O'Rourke spoke at, following a mile-long march, drew at least 7,000 people, The Texas Tribune reports. Bloomberg's Jennifer Epstein says that's an undercount:

The substantive disagreement between O'Rourke and Trump was about the efficacy and wisdom of border walls, and a vision for America. "Walls work," Trump said. "Walls save lives." He claimed, incorrectly, that El Paso became safer after border fencing was erected in 2009, saying "they're full of crap when they claim it hasn't made a big difference." O'Rourke called El Paso "one of the safest cities in America," and it's "safe not because of walls but in spite of walls." You can watch Beto's speech below. Peter Weber

1:19 p.m.

Republican consultant and pollster Frank Luntz says he is "afraid for the country" amid a week of President Trump's attacks on minority congresswomen.

Luntz, who Politico reports has informally advised the White House through conversations with Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, spoke with Mother Jones' David Corn the day after the president's now infamous North Carolina rally in which his crowd chanted "send her back" about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Trump would later disavow the chant. This rally was held days after the president tweeted that Omar and three other minority congresswomen who were born in the United States should "go back" to where they came from.

At first, Luntz didn't want to comment on any of this, telling Mother Jones that "I don't want to go there." But ultimately, he did go there, saying that "it's not what I would do" and "it's not what I would say." Luntz went on to fully sound the alarm by declaring that he's "afraid for the country."

"I do not think we know how low we can go," Luntz told Mother Jones. "I know what the outcome is. It's bad. It's France in 1793. It ends up consuming everything." Still, Luntz wasn't entirely pinning this on Trump, telling Mother Jones that "both sides" are to blame.

Luntz during the 2016 election was critical of Trump's campaign, saying privately that he was "turning what we believe into a joke" and that his rhetoric "doesn't solve anything," Politico reported at the time, although Luntz would later say after the 2018 State of the Union that he owes Trump "an apology." Over the past week, Luntz has been one of the Republicans putting Trump on blast for his "go back" comments, which Luntz called "racist" and "stupid." Brendan Morrow

12:38 p.m.

President Trump's Oval Office rendezvous with survivors of religious persecution got awkward at a couple different points — like when Trump got an unexpected geography lesson when learning about the Rohingya community and persecution of the Uighur population in China, and when his spiritual adviser used her speaking time to thank him for making it ok to say "Merry Christmas" again.

But one of the most noteworthy exchanges during the event came from Nadia Murad, a human rights activist who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in bringing attention to the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq. Murad asked Trump for help in securing safety in the region for people like her who are unable to return home.

"But ISIS is gone?" Trump asked. "If I cannot go to my home and live in a safe place and get my dignity back, this is not about ISIS," Murad responded. "It's about I'm in danger. My people cannot go back." After she told Trump about her entire family being killed, Trump asked "Where are they now?" and said "I know the area very well." He then pivoted to her Nobel Prize, asking, "they gave it to you for what reason? Maybe you can explain."

Thousands of Yazidis have been killed by ISIS and thousands more were taken prisoner, like Murad, who asked Trump to press Iraqi and Kurdish officials to support survivors in returning to Iraq. Trump told Murad he is "going to look into it very strongly."

Watch the exchange below, via NBC News. Summer Meza

11:01 a.m.

The Cats trailer dropped into all of our lives on Thursday with little warning, leaving unsuspecting viewers everywhere stunned by whatever unspeakable horror it is that director Tom Hooper is set to unleash into theaters this Christmas.

The footage released on Thursday was the first time the public at large got a glimpse at the film's use of so-called "digital fur technology" to morph its star-studded cast into CGI cats, and let's just say Universal was likely hoping for a different reaction.

"My eyes are bleeding," critic Kristy Puchko wrote, adding, "There is no god." For The Ringer, Kate Halliwell decided the trailer is "the worst thing I've ever seen," asking a series of 66 questions ranging from "What fresh hell is this?" to "has God abandoned me?" The Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert faced a similar emotional crisis, writing, "Am I high? ... Is this the final glitch in The Matrix that ushers in the end times?"

The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon, meanwhile, wrote that the trailer has "shaken me to my core," while Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson summed it up best by asking, "What. And how. And what. And why. And what." Critics were shocked by everything from how bizarre the cats' faces look to how weirdly small they are on the giant sets to, well, basically everything else about the entire enterprise. Even director Jordan Peele got in on the pile-on, responding to a video adding the creepy Us trailer music onto the Cats footage with his seal of approval.

On YouTube, the reaction hasn't been much kinder or less confused. Universal's official upload of the trailer currently has more dislikes than likes, with comments such as "I'm terrified" and "Why are you doing this to us?"

Whatever the answers might be, audiences have five months to prepare themselves for this no doubt distressing theatrical experience, as Cats hits theaters on Dec. 20. Brendan Morrow

9:33 a.m.

The New York Times' Thomas Friedman seems to have hit a nerve with President Trump.

After the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist in a Tuesday article labeled Trump a racist following his attacks on four minority congresswomen, Trump on Friday dedicated not one but three tweets to blasting Friedman as a "weak" and "pathetic sort of guy," giving him the nickname "Thomas 'the Chin' Friedman," and mocking him for playing golf.

Trump also claimed he spoke to Friedman over the phone recently and he, as Trump puts it, "kissed my a.."

This was one of several tweets Trump fired off on Friday amid widespread criticism both over his racist tweets and over a "send her back" chant shouted at his rally. He wrote that "I am not" a racist and declared the media "crazed" for its reaction to the chants, even after saying on Thursday he disavows them. "I was not happy with it," Trump said. Brendan Morrow

8:43 a.m.

Microsoft on Thursday reported earnings that far exceeded Wall Street's expectations due partly to strong ongoing growth from its Azure cloud services and LinkedIn. The software giant reported profit of $13.19 billion, or $1.71 a share, up from $8.87 billion, or $1.14 a share, in the same period last year. Analysts had expected profit of $1.21 a share, MarketWatch reports.

Microsoft wrapped up its 2019 fiscal year with $36.8 billion in net profit, a 21.6 percent increase over the previous year. Sales increased by more than 14 percent. Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said the company expects sales and operating profit to continue growing by double digits in the coming fiscal year, too. Microsoft shares gained more than 1 percent in after-hours trading after closing up by 0.1 percent on Thursday. Harold Maass

8:38 a.m.

The second round of Democratic presidential debates could be former congressman John Delaney's swan song, as if his team get its way, he'll drop out of the race not long after.

The 2020 Democrat's staffers recommended on July 9 that he drop out of the 2020 race by mid-August after thinking he "flopped" during the first Democratic debate and is virtually assured of being shut out of third one in September, Axios reports. Delaney, who has been polling at less than one percent, did qualify for the second round of Democratic debates later this month, but the threshold is being raised starting in September, and Delaney is one of a number of candidates expected to not meet the new requirements.

According to this report, Delaney "seemed open" to dropping out this summer during a recent meeting with his staffers, although he still wanted to hang in there long enough to attend the second debate. He's set to participate in the second round's first night, debating alongside Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on a separate night than former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

If Delaney, who sources close to the campaign complained about to Axios by saying that "every other day he would have a different position," does leave the race soon, he could be the second major 2020 dropout after Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). Then again, with reports of turmoil within the campaign of former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, the question of which 2020 candidate named John will next drop out on the advice of their frustrated staffers may be a real nail-biter. Brendan Morrow

7:48 a.m.

Iran is now denying that one of its drones was destroyed by the United States after President Trump announced on Thursday that the U.S. Navy had done so.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Friday tweeted that "we have not lost any drone" after Trump said that the U.S.S. Boxer destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz that came within 1,000 yards and would not stand down. "I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS by mistake!" Araghchi also wrote.

"This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters," Trump said upon announcing that the Iranian drone had been destroyed, CNN reports. His announcement came amid escalating tensions with Iran and a month after Iran shot down a U.S. drone in the Strait of Hormuz, nearly prompting Trump to launch a retaliatory strike that he says he called off with 10 minutes to spare.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon also said on Thursday that the Iranian drone was destroyed by the U.S. after coming "within a threatening range," The New York Times reports.

Iran's military spokesman denied Trump's claim as well, The Washington Post reports, saying that "all Iranian drones" in the Strait of Hormuz "including the one which the U.S. mentioned ... have returned to their bases. Brendan Morrow

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