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September 15, 2018

President Trump on Twitter Friday night redoubled his Thursday denial of the estimated 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico attributable to Hurricane Maria. He quoted a Washington Post story — an article declaring his initial claim false — to note that officials told him the death toll was just 16 when he visited the island territory last year:

Contrary to the suggestion of the president's second post, the research method that produced the larger figure is not novel. The study counts "excess mortality" during the storm and in its aftermath, tallying deaths that would not have occurred under normal conditions. Many of these deaths were due to secondary effects of the hurricane (like power outages or medicine shortages) rather than direct effects (like flooding or building collapse).

The "researchers did not, contrary to [the president's] claim, attribute any specific individual’s death to Maria," the Post story Trump referenced explained. "Given the methodology, there was not an opportunity to misclassify someone who died of old age, as Trump suggested" Thursday. Indeed, "[h]ad the GWU researchers done what Trump claimed they did — attributing any death to Maria — the six-month death toll from the hurricane would have been 16,608." Bonnie Kristian

1:30 p.m.

The 138th health care worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo was infected during the country's current Ebola outbreak, which was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

Helen Branswell of Stat News reports that infections of health care workers are generally common at the start of an outbreak before people realize that the disease is spreading, but the recent "steady stream" of infections is puzzling.

That's because the workers are aware they are at risk of infection and many have been vaccinated, including the worker who was recently infected. In short, Branswell doesn't "think this should be happening."

Branswell went on to write that the disease is "not relenting," citing that there have only been three days in July when the Ebola case increase was in the single digits. In total, since the beginning of the epidemic last August there have been over 2,400 confirmed cases, and over 1,600 confirmed deaths. Tim O'Donnell

12:57 p.m.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) is the latest member of Congress to report on harrowing conditions after a visit to the southern border, where he and other lawmakers toured border facilities in Texas.

In a Twitter thread, Schatz described overcrowded quarters and a "harsh odor" filling the air, while writing that he spoke with some men through a chain-link fence that said they had been held at the border for more than 40 days.

He also shared a story about one mother with a young daughter who apparently has not been eating. The mother is supposed to travel to New York on Sunday to get her asylum claim adjudicated, but faces several challenges.

Schatz said that he "broke down" afterward, and called out President Trump, whom he blames for creating such a harsh environment at the border.

Read the thread here. Tim O'Donnell

12:29 p.m.

Puerto Rico hasn't come up much in the Democratic primaries, but several candidates expressed support for civilian protests in the territory on Friday.

As citizens continue to protest in light of the revelation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló's profane private chat and corruption probe involving several former members of his administration, Carlos "Johnny" Méndez, the president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, created a special committee on Friday to advise him on whether Rosselló committed impeachable offenses.

U.S. lawmakers, including presidential candidates, have added their names to the list of people calling for new leadership in the territory. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) compared Puerto Rico with her home state of Hawaii.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also expressed solidarity with the protesters, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said he believes Rosselló should resign.

The leaked chats showed the governor and 11 of his top aides exchanging profanity-laced, homophobic, and misogynistic messages about their fellow politicians, media, and celebrities. The messages also contain at least one joke about those who died during Hurricane Maria. Tim O'Donnell

11:59 a.m.

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the moment humans first set foot on the lunar landscape. And while that's brought with it some dazzling displays of commemoration, it has also put the discourse on the present and future of human space exploration front and center. The two surviving Apollo 11 astronauts weighed in on Friday evening.

Reunited in the Oval Office to celebrate the anniversary, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins both spoke about NASA and it's future plans after President Trump asked them their opinions. It's safe to say that they weren't entirely in agreement with the direction the agency has been going.

Collins, who remained in the command module while Aldrin and the late Neil Armstrong surfaced the moon, said he supports NASA bypassing a return to the moon — which is the current plan — and going straight to Mars. Aldrin, who is known for being direct, said he's disappointed with the state of human space exploration over the last decade or so. He also said that he doesn't support NASA's plan for a small space station around the moon from which to stage lunar landings, pointing out that Apollo 11 had no need.

Trump told NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was also at the gathering, to listen to the "other side." It seems not even the anniversary moon landing can escape Trump's desire to stir the pot. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

10:46 a.m.

The Iran nuclear deal Jenga tower is wobbling and the Trump administration is close to pulling the final block before it could collapse for good, NBC News reports.

The deal is already in a fragile state following America's 2018 withdrawal, and Iran's recent decision to surpass the pact's uranium enrichment regulations. Now, the White House is reportedly considering ending waivers that allow Tehran to operate a civilian nuclear program with international assistance, which the government says it needs to generate electricity and conduct research.

Advocates on both sides are reportedly pleading with President Trump to take their desired course. On the side of restraint are European nations still clinging to the hope that the original deal from 2015 can be salvaged through diplomacy. Several Republican members of Congress, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), however, are whispering in Trump's other ear, arguing that Iran cannot be trusted.

The latter view may be winning out, especially in light of Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday, which Tehran says was an act of reciprocity. Even the aforementioned European nations — the United Kingdom, Germany, and France — have condemned Iran's move, with the U.K. promising "robust" action if the ship is not returned. Meanwhile, the U.S. announced it will deploy military personnel to Saudi Arabia as a result of rising tensions.

CNN's Sam Kiley suggests that Tehran's latest "gamble," which is seemingly proof that the country's moderate voices have been stifled, could shift those European countries more closely to Washington. Perhaps supporting the end of the waiver is the next step, though plenty of people still believe exercising caution is the correct course. Tim O'Donnell

10:17 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has gone on the defensive against his own team.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate pushed back following complaints by his unionized campaign staffers who reportedly said they are receiving "poverty wages," rather than the proposed federal minimum of $15 an hour that Sanders has made a central part of his campaign.

In a statement on Friday, Sanders said his campaign has a "historic contract agreement that provides unprecedented protections and benefits" that include pay of at least $15 an hour and "the best health care benefits that any employer can provide for our field organizers."

Field staff do earn above minimum wage for a standard workweek of 40 hours, Vox explains, but those workers say they actually work around 60 hours per week, which would place their earnings at around $13 an hour, less than Sanders' proposed federal minimum. Those long hours are typical of campaigns, Vox reports. But the issue is that some members of the team are salaried and therefore don't necessarily receive overtime wages for pulling those extra hours.

Sanders also expressed frustration that his staffers aired their complaints to the media. "It is not really what labor negotiations are about, and it's improper," Sanders said. Read more at Vox. Tim O'Donnell

8:14 a.m.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Friday opened an internal investigation into whether it properly handled the case of Jeffrey Epstein.

The multimillionaire spent 13 months in jail beginning in 2008 after pleading guilty to solicitation of a minor, following a plea deal with Florida prosecutors that spared him from a much harsher sentence.

The investigation will specifically look at the office's decision to allow Epstein to be free 12 hours a day, 6 days a week on work release and determine whether deputies violated any rules or regulations related to the matter, The Miami Herald reports. While on work release Epstein was reportedly monitored by deputies, whom he paid $128,136 to watch him, the entire time he was out. On some occasions, records show, Epstein's personal limousine would drop him off at his office as early as 7:15 a.m. and returned him to jail as late as 10:40 p.m.

Epstein also was not allowed to leave his office while out of jail, but records show that deputies escorted him to his Palm Beach mansion on at least eight occasions.

"All aspects of the matter will be fully investigated to ensure total transparency and accountability," Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said on Friday. Bradshaw was the sheriff during Epstein's time in jail, as well.

Epstein has been charged with sex trafficking minors by New York prosecutors. He has denied wrongdoing. Tim O'Donnell

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