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December 5, 2018

In the three months following the 2016 presidential election, lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved several blocks of rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., paying for an estimated 500 nights, The Washington Post reports.

The Washington firm Qorvis/MSLGroup, which has long worked for the Saudi government, paid to host six groups of U.S. military veterans at the Trump International, spending more than $270,000, the Post reports. Once in D.C., the veterans were pushed to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which lets the families of Sept. 11 victims file suit against the Saudi government.

Before Trump's election, veterans stayed in Northern Virginia, and the switch to Trump International took place in December 2016, the Post reports. At that time, the average nightly rate at the Trump hotel was $768; organizers told the Post they received a discount, all other hotel rooms in the area were full, and they were not trying to appeal to Trump. One veteran from Texas, Henry Garcia, told the Post he was never told Saudi Arabia was behind his trip until partway through, and he was surprised by the amount of wining and dining that occurred. "It made all the sense in the world when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it," he said.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed claiming Trump violated the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause by taking improper payments from foreign governments, and on Tuesday, the attorneys general in D.C. and Maryland subpoenaed 13 Trump businesses, looking for records showing foreign spending, the Post reports. Read more about the lobbying efforts and what the veterans say they were told to say about JASTA at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

December 15, 2018

President Trump on Twitter Saturday gleefully greeted Friday's news that The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative news magazine which has been critical of his presidency, is closing its doors:

A brief reply from Weekly Standard co-founder Bill Kristol told Trump to share future insults directly instead of subtweeting them, which is the Twitter equivalent of talking behind someone's back:

A CNN report on The Weekly Standard's closure suggested the magazine's failing fortunes were linked to its opposition to the president. Conservative outlets "critical of Trump have lost influence or changed their tone," the story says, "while media organizations on the right supportive of the president have flourished."

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Stephen Hayes, seemed to hint at this dynamic in a note to staff Friday. "This is a volatile time in American journalism and politics," he wrote. "Many media outlets have responded to the challenges of the moment by prioritizing affirmation over information, giving into the pull of polarization and the lure of clickbait." Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

"Brexit is in danger of getting stuck — and that is something that should worry us all," U.K. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd warned Saturday. "If [lawmakers] dig in against the prime minister's deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble."

Her comments and similar remarks from other leaders come after Prime Minister Theresa May was unable to exact more concessions for the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union this week.

"The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation," the EU said Thursday of the previously negotiated deal, which is not expected to pass the British parliament as-is. May postponed a Tuesday House of Commons vote on the proposal. Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

Thousands of "yellow vest" protesters assembled in Paris Saturday for a fifth consecutive weekend of demonstrations, though the crowd was smaller and more peaceful than it has been in weekends prior.

Additional assemblies were anticipated around France, and some 69,000 police officers — 8,000 of them in Paris alone — were deployed to respond. Paris police again used tear gas and water cannons to make protesters disperse.

The demonstrators are protesting high taxes and cost of living in France, the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron, and more. "We're here to represent all our friends and members of our family who can't come to protest, or because they're scared," a demonstrator named Pierre Lamy, 27, told The Associated Press. "Everything's coming up now. We're being bled dry."

The yellow vests are calling for a citizens' referendum. "We are protesting peacefully," said yellow vest representative Maxime Nicolle, "but, Mr. President, give us back our freedom and our sovereignty!" Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

Friday night's federal court ruling that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as ObamaCare, is unconstitutional because of its individual mandate provision raised two key questions: What does this mean for Americans' health-care coverage? And will the ruling stand?

On the first point, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said there will be "no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan." Beyond that, many legal experts are skeptical of the decision's longevity because though it claims the individual mandate is "essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA," 2017's GOP tax reform law nixed the mandate's penalty.

Law professor Jonathan Adler explained this argument at length at The Volokh Conspiracy and in brief for Vox:

[Legal experts] say [the ruling] willfully ignores the intent of the 2017 Congress, which zeroed out the individual mandate penalty without touching the rest of the Affordable Care Act.

"They are asking the court to evaluate the current law on the basis of what the law used to be," Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University who supported previous ObamaCare challenges, has told Vox. "That whole analysis just doesn't apply or work anymore." [Vox]

Ted Frank, director of litigation for the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, likewise deemed Friday's ruling "an embarrassingly bad decision," arguing that "if a liberal judge had issued something like it goring a conservative ox, conservatives would be rightly up in arms." And New York Times editorial board member Cristian Farias contended the "partisan, activist ruling cannot stand," urging ACA supporters not to panic.

But George Mason University law professor llya Somin, also writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, sounded a note of greater caution. "I do not expect this ruling to survive on appeal," he said. "But I am not quite as confident on that subject as most other commentators seem to be. The fact that one federal judge has endorsed the states' severability argument increases the odds that others might, as well." Read his reasoning here. Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

President Trump on Twitter Saturday morning announced Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is leaving his administration by year's end:

Trump did not say whether Zinke resigned or was fired.

Zinke's tenure at Interior has been marred by allegations of unethical conduct which have reportedly troubled Trump and prompted a Justice Department investigation. His policy proposals have included privatizing campgrounds on public land, shrinking national monument land, and raising national park visitor fees to cover renovations.

This announcement comes one day after Trump said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will step in as acting White House chief of staff. A Politico report in late October indicated further turnover in the already volatile administration was likely following the midterm elections. Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

The Department of Education is forgiving about $150 million in student debt belonging to some 15,000 borrowers, around half of them former attendees of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain, which went bankrupt in 2015. The agency announced the loan cancellation Thursday in response to a federal court order and began notifying affected students by email Friday.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had sought to avoid implementing a set of Obama-era "borrower defense" regulations, among them an option of loan discharges for students whose schools have closed. But a federal judge ruled against her plan in September and also rejected a similar push by for-profit colleges in October.

The loan forgiveness process could take up to three months to complete, but affected borrowers do not have to take any action to benefit. Any payments made on the discharged loans will be applied to other debt on the student's account or returned to the payer, the Education Department announcement notes, and "information related to a discharged loan and its payment history [will be] removed from the borrower's credit report." Bonnie Kristian

December 15, 2018

A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday night that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as ObamaCare, must be "invalidated in whole" because its individual mandate provision is unconstitutional.

District Judge Reed O'Connor argued the mandate is "essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA," and that it cannot "be fairly read as an exercise of Congress's tax power," contrary a 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the ACA as a tax, "and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause."

President Trump celebrated the decision on Twitter:

Despite Trump's enthusiasm, the ruling's immediate impact is limited. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Fox News that ACA enrollment, which is open through Saturday, Dec. 15, will continue as usual because the case will be litigated further. "There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan," the agency said. Bonnie Kristian

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