February 28, 2017

At a time when seemingly every aspect of American life breaks along fairly predictable partisan lines, there's something refreshingly quixotic about the fractured reaction to this photo of White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office, after snapping a smartphone photo of President Trump and the leaders of black colleges and universities.

"I don't care how Kellyanne Conway sits on a sofa in the Oval Office and can't imagine why it would bother people," tweeted New York's Jonathan Chait, a liberal. Amanda Carpenter, a conservative political operative, responded to a #CouchGate post from the The Reagan Battalion by rolling her eyes: "She was getting a picture, [people]. Calm down." Last Week Tonight writer Josh Gondelman quipped that he'd "only be able to get mad at the way Kellyanne Conway sits on a couch if it turns out she's hiding... Trump's tax returns under her."

On the other hand, Conway clearly had her shoes on the Oval Office couch, and some people viewed that as a sign of disrespect for the office, especially since there was no obvious reason she needed to be snapping a photo with her phone, or to snap it from the couch:

Several commentators recalled the conservative outrage when former President Barack Obama was photographed with his feet on his desk in the Oval Office, while others, like Rachel Vorona Cote at Jezebel, bristled at what she called Conway's "alternative decorum" and purported lack of respect for "the country's most esteemed African American educators" gathered in the room. Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editorial page editor, was similarly unimpressed:

But hey, at least we've all stopped arguing about that white-and-gold dress. Peter Weber

11:12 a.m.

It looks like the tables have turned for some House Democrats when it comes to impeaching President Trump, even if they still won't say so publicly.

The New York Times reports that a group of moderate freshman lawmakers, who have previously opposed launching an impeachment inquiry, said they were considering changing course after Trump confirmed he raised corruption accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden in a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While they told the Times they would be closely watching Thursday's hearing with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the lawmakers were reportedly still not entirely comfortable with the idea of going public with their opinions and would rather see a transcript of the call first.

It's not just politicians who are reconsidering, either. James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, had also opposed impeachment, but he now reportedly thinks that upon obtaining a transcript of Trump's call, the House should move "quick and clean" on an inquiry. "Let the Senate Republicans stew," Carville said.

Ultimately, the Times notes, the whole thing could depend on Democrats from districts that Trump won or nearly lost in 2016. Once a transcript comes out, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said, even those tenuous situations shouldn't matter anymore. "I don't see how they can fight it any longer," Titus said. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

11:01 a.m.

Rudy Giuliani wants to set the record straight by not setting anything straight at all.

The former New York City mayor turned lawyer to President Trump has been making the media rounds to toss some unverified allegations against Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden and his apparent ties to Ukraine. That continued in a Monday morning interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, during which Giuliani referred to Hunter Biden as "the guy who is drug challenged" and said he couldn't fully deny a reported threat Trump made to the Ukraine.

Reports in the last week have maintained Trump allegedly threatened to cut off aid to Ukraine if it didn't investigate Hunter Biden and potentially find an attack he could use against the Biden 2020 campaign. Giuliani on Monday said a report of a funding cutoff was a "false story," but when Bartiromo asked if it was "100 percent," Giuliani said "well, I can't tell you if it's 100 percent."

Bartiromo went on to accuse the media of "not covering" the alleged scandal between the Bidens and Ukraine, though Giuliani corrected her. He then said he'd be releasing "a lot more evidence" against the Bidens over the next few days. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:19 a.m.

Facebook reportedly might still have a misinformation problem on its hands.

Judd Legum reports for Popular Information that several Facebook pages managed by people in Ukraine are funneling large audiences to pro-Trump memes, including some that have been recycled since the 2016 Russian election interference campaign. The reach of this network of pages reportedly surpasses several major media outlets in the United States.

The Ukrainian pages usually draw their followers in by posting memes about dogs, Christianity, and American patriotism, before gradually cross-posting pro-Trump propaganda. For example, one page titled "I Love America" has around 1.1 million followers, was launched in March 2017, and gained traction thanks to its patriotic posts. But recently, Popular Information reports, it's been on the Trump bandwagon.

Many of the posts include messages such as "Click Like, if you love Donald Trump as much as we do" or "God Bless Donald Trump and God bless America," but others are more misleading. One page, for example, posted a meme that falsely claims Hillary Clinton sold access to her email server to foreign governments. But a spokesperson for Facebook told Popular Information that the company doesn't believe these pages violate its policies.

Some people, like social media expert and New School professor David Carroll, find that troubling since it suggests Facebook is not sticking to its own promise to weed out these kinds of pages. But not everyone is panicking. Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Grafika, believes the network of pages is too unsophisticated to pose any real risk, especially compared to government-backed campaigns. In the end, he said, it's probably just clickbait. Read more at Popular Information. Tim O'Donnell

10:12 a.m.

Climate protesters are creating a whole new kind of gridlock in Washington, D.C.

As the United Nations gathered for its Climate Action Summit on Monday, protesters filled the capital's streets to "seize key intersections" and bring the city to a halt, per a press release from the Shut Down DC movement. They were still blocking traffic near the Capitol Building as the morning wore on, but it appeared several protesters, including some students, were cleared off the streets and arrested.

A week of climate action around the world kicked off last week with massive global rallies, headlined by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She's slated to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, prompting Shut Down DC to ask "climate rebels" to "seize key intersections in the city at 7 a.m., disrupting the city’s morning rush hour traffic." And as videos captured of D.C.'s busiest streets revealed, it seemed to be working.

Soon, police began warning protesters they'd be arrested if they didn't leave the streets soon, and then started rounding them up.

Yet near the Capitol, protests turned dance parties raged on.

Kathryn Krawczyk

8:26 a.m.

President Trump on Monday starts a three-day trip to join world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly. The trip comes as tensions swirl around Trump's relationship with Ukraine, a showdown with Iran following strikes against Saudi oil facilities, Trump's trade war with China, and frozen nuclear talks with North Korea. Trump said "nothing is ever off the table completely," ABC News reports. But he had no plans to meet on the sidelines with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani as the U.S. pushes to build a coalition to confront Tehran over the attack in Saudi Arabia, which rattled the world oil market. Trump meets Wednesday with the president of Ukraine as Democrats press the Trump administration to release a whistleblower's complaint about a phone call Trump had with a foreign leader believed to involve Ukraine. Harold Maass

8:10 a.m.

So far, 18 House Republicans have announced that they are resigning, retiring, or seeking another office, including longtime GOP stalwarts, some of the few GOP congresswoman, and the lone black Republican congressman. And that just scratches the surface, The Washington Post reports. "All told, 41 House Republicans have left national politics or announced they won't seek re-election in the nearly three years since [President] Trump took office," dwarfing the 25 Democrats who retired between 2009 and 2013, "and Republicans privately predict this is only the beginning."

"The problem for the GOP is bigger than retirements," the Post reports:

Since Trump's inauguration, a Washington Post analysis shows, nearly 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as [Michigan Rep. Paul] Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust. The vast turnover is a reminder of just how much Trump has remade the GOP — and of the purge of those who dare to oppose him. [The Washington Post]

Most retiring or resigning GOP members of Congress cite their families, "but behind the scenes, Republicans say the trend highlights a greater pessimism about the direction of the party under Trump — and their ability to win back the House next year," the Post reports. Most are reluctant to criticize Trump on the record, but Mitchell isn't.

"We're here for a purpose — and it's not this petty, childish bulls--t," Mitchell, 62, told the Post in early September. He said his decision to retire started when Trump attacked four Democratic congresswomen on Twitter, then solidified when no fellow Republicans would relay his concerns to Trump. "Did any member of this conference expect that their job would start out every morning trying to go through the list of what's happening in tweets of the day?" he asked. Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

6:38 a.m.

Two weeks ago, President Trump announced that the Food and Drug Administration will soon ban flavored e-cigarettes, crediting first lady Melania Trump's advocacy for the ban. Very quickly, conservative groups and the vaping industry jumped into action, Axios reports, and now "conservative leaders are circulating data to White House staff" showing that "the number of adult vapers in key battleground states greatly outweighs the margins by which Trump won those states in 2016 — and they argue it could cost him reelection."

"While parents may be concerned about e-cigarettes, the people who genuinely care about vaping as a voting issue so far outweighs the number of people Trump needs to win in 2020 that they are royally screwing themselves by doing this," Americans for Tax Reform's Paul Blair tells Axios. An industry lobbyist added that suburban moms concerned about vaping "don't have the same voter intensity on this as adult vapers do." Trump was supposed to hold a listening session with vaping supporters, including lobbyists, last Thursday, but the meeting was canceled, Axios says.

There are reasons to doubt the arguments about vaping's effect on the election, Axios notes, including the iffy assumptions that significant numbers of vapers "are single-issue voters around vaping rights" and "wouldn't vape anymore if they couldn't get the flavors," but "the math can't be totally ignored, especially in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin where Trump's 2016 win margins were so narrow and the number of adult vapers is relatively high."

That said, maybe Trump has bigger issues than angry vapers. Peter Weber

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