Wednesday kicked off with yet another big NBC News scoop, this one about President Trump asking for a "nearly tenfold" increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. "A tenfold increase?" Stephen Colbert gasped on The Late Show. "Excuse me while I onefold into the fetal position. He knows that we can already end all life on Earth, right? The cockroaches will survive — which is good news for Steve Bannon." Trump denied on Twitter that he said any of that and lashed out at NBC News — then at the free press.
Trump told reporters that "it's frankly disgusting how the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it," and Colbert had an answer: "For the record, people did look into it. In fact, 'We the People' looked into it and thought, yeah, they should write whatever they want." Sadly, "him the people" apparently disagrees with the First Amendment, suggesting that NBC lose its "license" for reporting "fake news" that demeans him, Colbert sighed. He had two follow-up questions — neither one of which addressed whether the president can pull a network's broadcast license. (Spoiler: He can't.)
Jimmy Kimmel also looked at Trump's tweet asking when it's "appropriate" to "challenge [NBC's] License," and he had an answer: "Never? I don't know, because that's what dictators do?" This is like the "Comic Book of Revelations," he said. "Everything Trump says is fake is true, everything he says is honest is dishonest." Kimmel showcased his "fun idea" of correcting Trump's tweets accordingly, and you can watch how that worked below. Peter Weber
President Trump's supporters have a new chant, and it goes something like SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE! While certainly a marked improvement over "lock her up," even the Air Force and Defense secretaries have opposed the creation of the sixth branch of the armed forces, pointing out that space-related military missions already have a home under the Air Force's umbrella.
"We're re-opening NASA. We're going to be going to space," Trump says, though NASA has been open and going to space this whole time, and the crowd chants "SPACE FORCE SPACE FORCE," and it is 2018.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 21, 2018
Still, it does have a pretty cool ring, which Trump himself tested out by repeating "Space Force" thoughtfully back to the crowd. Watch the Space Force enthusiasm below. Jeva Lange
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 21, 2018
On Wednesday, President Trump did something no politician likes to do: He at least tacitly admitted he was wrong and made a dramatic retreat. Just about everyone outside the White House urged him to stop separating families detained at the border under his "zero tolerance" policy — Republicans, Democrats, the pope, every living first lady (including the one currently living in the White House), pollsters — but none of that convinced him to cave and sign his executive order, reports Mike Allen at Axios. "TV was the tipping point."
"The president watches more cable news than most Americans," a "person who knows Trump's mind" told Axios. "So he experienced an overdose of the outrage and the media frenzy. None of the White House messaging seemed to be helping. So he decided, mostly on his own rather than at the urging of advisers, that some action was required to change the narrative." A source close to Trump added: "This was the biggest communications fail I've seen out of this White House, and that's really saying something. The president, senior staffers, Cabinet members, and outside surrogates all trumpeted different talking points."
In fact, according to The Washington Post's count, the Trump administration changed its story on family separation at least 14 times.
Clearly, Trump "acted because of political necessity, not a change of heart," writes Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton. "The heart-rending sound of children crying for their mothers and the disturbing sight of little kids confined in wire cages are more powerful than any president." All the talking points in the world couldn't put that "wildfire of public revulsion," he said. So "Trump finally did the right thing and stopped tormenting little kids. At least for now. We don't know what he'll do next, but hopefully there'll be sound and video." Peter Weber
The House is voting Thursday on a pair of immigration bills, neither of which is assured to garner enough support to pass. The bill with the best shot, known as the compromise bill, will need the support of House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), although he told reporters after a visible disagreement with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday that it "is not ready for prime time," Politico reports.
A procedural vote early Thursday morning is planned to amend a drafting error in the bill, which accidentally allocated President Trump's wall $125 billion rather than $25 billion. The later votes on the bills will be a test for Trump, who spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Republicans on the Hill in hopes of flipping them to support the White House-backed legislation. Jeva Lange
The number of Democrats who rank immigration as the most important issue facing the country jumped 10 percentage points in the last week, to 18 percent, while independents are also more engaged, with 11 percent picking it as the nation's most pressing issue, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll released Thursday. Republican interest in immigration hasn't really changed much since early May, when, as now, 21 percent listed it as their most important issue.
There's been a big jump over the last week in the percentage of Americans who say immigration is the most important issue facing the country. https://t.co/uyHs9RTAYa
— Axios (@axios) June 21, 2018
What seems to have changed is that Americans were "bombarded by the images and sounds of families being separated after trying to cross the border illegally" — a Trump policy that Axios' Mike Allen calls "the biggest blunder of the Trump presidency." The "big question" going forward, Axios says, is "whether Democrats will stay as interested as Republicans, who have consistently ranked immigration as a much higher priority than it is for Democrats and independents." The poll was conducted online June 15-19 among 3,936 adults, and the modeled error estimate is ±2.5 percentage points. Peter Weber
"Everyone has been blaming President Trump for this week's border crisis, but it wasn't his idea alone," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show. "We can also thank Trump's senior policy adviser Stephen Miller." He brought out Michael Kosta and asked him how Miller, the architect of Trump's harshest immigration policies, could "support causing so much pain?" Kosta mocked him: "Calm down, snowflakes, okay? What you've got to understand is, riling up liberals is Stephen Miller's thing." And then in the guise of pointing out how Miller is impervious to insults from the "libs," they both spent the next few minutes absolutely wrecking Miller.
On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert interviewed him — or, rather, actor Peter Grosz doing his most dead-eyed Miller impersonation — about the "next draconian move" he's been planning, now that Trump is rolling back his family-separation policy. (Miller "actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border," a White House adviser told Vanity Fair, Colbert noted. "He's a twisted guy, the way he was picked on.") "What could be harsher than putting kids in a cage?" Colbert asked "Miller," who responded: "Well, putting one kid in many cages! I'm just joking of course, Stephen. Just like Seinfeld. What is the deal?!?" You can watch more of their stylized awkward banter below. Peter Weber
Voters are more enthusiastic than usual about voting in the 2018 midterm elections, and to an unprecedented degree, they have President Trump and partisan control of Congress in mind, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday. The numbers favor the Democrats, who have a 5-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot (48 percent to 43 percent) and voter enthusiasm (55 percent to 50 percent), but Republicans are almost as fired up, pointing to a close race. And Trump is a bigger factor than in any midterm since Pew first started asking during Ronald Reagan's first term — 34 percent of registered voters say they will essentially be voting against Trump while 26 percent will be voting for Trump, both historically high numbers.
"Trump is, on balance, a more negative than positive factor," said Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research. "But he is motivating about half of the voters in his own party." At the same time, Doherty said, "This is a different midterm than the ones in 2006, 2010, and 2014. In those midterms, you had one party that was more enthusiastic." This year, 51 percent of all voters are more enthusiastic than usual about casting their ballot, and 68 percent of registered voters say party control of Congress will be a factor for them this year, Pew's biggest recorded midterms number since 1998.
The poll shows that "the Democratic wave is building," Politico says, "but this year's Democratic wave may be crashing against a well-fortified GOP wall." The survey was conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults and 1,608 registered voters, with a margin of error of ±2.9 points for registered voters. You can find more demography and other data points at Pew. Peter Weber
Stephen Colbert is glad Trump 'folded like an origami Trump casino' on splitting up families, but not satisfied
"Our long national nightmare is ... different," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show, "because after weeks of tearing families apart at the border, and then falsely insisting that only Congress could solve the problem," President Trump realized he didn't like how the policy made him feel and took a stab at ending it. He ribbed Trump for insisting this couldn't be done through an executive order, and then signing an executive order to do it. But "here's the thing," Colbert said. "Trump made it a big signing ceremony to make it look like he did something good instead of admitting he was just ending the evil thing he started."
Yes, Trump is "reuniting families — in prison," maybe, "but even if this was the perfect plan — and it's not," Colbert said, "none of these folks in the administration or anyone who defended them are off the moral meathook here. Because they didn't change this policy because they thought they were wrong — they changed it because it made 70 percent of Americans sick to their stomach. And make no mistake: Trump folded. He folded like an origami Trump casino." That's a first, he added, and the final straw was probably the "tender age" shelters for seized babies and toddlers. And caging babies "was hurting the most vulnerable," Colbert deadpanned: "Members of the Trump administration."
The Late Show imagined Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's interrupted Mexican dinner out as a very bad first date.
Colbert also spared a thought for Corey Lewandowsky, "hung out to dry by Trump's ethical backpedal" for going "all in on the evil" and attaching his name forever to mocking disabled children in cages with the sad-trombone sound. "For those of you keeping track of Trump's three campaign mangers," he said, "one was 'womp womp' right there, the other guy's in jail now, and the third is Steve Bannon, the nice one?" Watch below. Peter Weber