CNN – Politics

Graham says it would be 'terrible' if DNA showed he has Iranian heritage

Graham says it would be 'terrible' if DNA showed he has Iranian heritage

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Lindsey Graham joked Tuesday that it would be "terrible" if a DNA test showed that he has Iranian heritage.

The South Carolina Republican made the remark as part of a joke about Sen. Elizabeth Warren's recent DNA test to prove her claims of Native American ancestry. He vowed that he would soon take the test himself, saying "I think I can beat her" in regard to Native American heritage.

"I've been told that my grandmother was part Cherokee Indian," he said on "Fox & Friends." "It may all be just talk, but you're going to find out in a couple of weeks because I'm going to take this test. ... I'm taking it, and the results are going to be revealed here. This is my Trump moment. This is reality TV."

He later added, "I'll probably be Iranian. That'd be, like, terrible."

"Well, they have great people, just bad leaders," co-host Brian Kilmeade said.

"Yeah, bad leaders. I'm not in the Ayatollah branch," Graham replied.

Asked Wednesday if Graham had anything to add or clarify, a spokeswoman referred to comments he made later Tuesday on "Fox News @ Night."

"It was a joke and it was directed at the Ayatollah, not the Iranian people," he said to host Shannon Bream, adding, "If you know anything about me, you're an Iranian dissident, I'm on your side."

Graham was not the only top Senate Republican to tweak Warren over the test. GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah ribbed Warren in a tweet on Monday that also poked fun at himself with a graphic saying his DNA results showed he descended from dinosaurs.

On Tuesday night, Trump went after Warren on Twitter, saying, "Elizabeth Warren is being hammered, even by the Left. Her false claim of Indian heritage is only selling to VERY LOW I.Q. individuals!"

Trump has long seized on attack lines about Warren claiming Native American ancestry and mocked her with the nickname "Pocahontas." In a move to push back on the attacks, Warren released details of her background on Monday, including a DNA analysis that said she has distant Native American ancestry. Warren also called on Trump to donate $1 million to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, referencing his line in a campaign rally that he would donate $1 million to a charity of her choosing if she took a DNA test and the test "shows you're an Indian."

Trump dismissed the moves from Warren and continued calling her "Pocahontas" on Tuesday. He also said he would not pay the $1 million until she won the Democratic presidential nomination and unless he administered the test personally.

"I'll only do it if I can test her personally," he said. "This is not something I would enjoy doing either."

EPA official on why she was ousted: 'Maybe saving children doesn't matter anymore'

EPA official on why she was ousted: 'Maybe saving children doesn't matter anymore'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Environmental Protection Agency children's health director who was recently placed on leave says she is concerned that to agency leadership, "maybe saving children doesn't matte ... Continue Reading
First lady's plane lands safely after 'mechanical issue'

First lady's plane lands safely after 'mechanical issue'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - First lady Melania Trump's plane was forced to return to Joint Base Andrews Wednesday after a "mechanical issue" that led to smoke in the cabin.

According to the press pool traveling with Trump, about 10 minutes after the plane took off, reporters could see a thin haze of smoke and the smell of something burning. Reporters were brought wet towels and told to hold them over their faces if the smell became too strong.

The plane, a Boeing C-32A, landed safely. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also was on the plane, a pool report said.

The White House did not immediately provide an official explanation of what happened. Stephanie Grisham, Trump's communications director, told CNN the incident was a "minor mechanical issue. Everything is fine and everyone is safe."

Trump was headed to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where she was scheduled to make remarks about neonatal abstinence syndrome. She was originally scheduled to return to Washington Wednesday afternoon.

The trip remains on for later Wednesday and the first lady will take a different plane, Grisham said.

URGENT - First lady's plane lands safely after 'mechanical issue'

URGENT - First lady's plane lands safely after 'mechanical issue'

(CNN) -- First lady Melania Trump's plane was forced to return to Joint Base Andrews Wednesday after a "mechanical issue" that led to smoke in the cabin.According to the press pool traveling with Trump, about 10 minutes after the plane took off, reporters could see a thin haze of smoke and the smell of something burning. The plane landed safely.Reporters were brought wet towels and told to hold them over their faces if the smell became too strong.The White House did not immediately provide an official explanation of what happened and the pool has been told that the trip is being re-evaluated.
Alaska's lieutenant governor resigns over 'inappropriate comments' 3 weeks before election

Alaska's lieutenant governor resigns over 'inappropriate comments' 3 weeks before election

(CNN) - Alaska's lieutenant governor resigned abruptly Tuesday over what he said were "inappropriate comments" -- which he and other officials have done little to further explain -- providing an unex ... Continue Reading
O'Rourke borrows Trump's attack line against 'Lying Ted' Cruz in Texas Senate debate

O'Rourke borrows Trump's attack line against 'Lying Ted' Cruz in Texas Senate debate

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) - Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke aggressively cast Republican Sen. Ted Cruz as "all talk and no action" during the second -- and potentially final -- debate of the Texas Senate ... Continue Reading
Saudi affair exposes Trumpism's moral apathy

Saudi affair exposes Trumpism's moral apathy

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Donald Trump has dug a moral hole through the middle of America's foreign policy -- and he's not sorry at all.The President's reaction to the apparent murder of Washington Post c ... Continue Reading
Trump sides with Saudis as clamor grows over Khashoggi disappearance

Trump sides with Saudis as clamor grows over Khashoggi disappearance

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump launched a concerted defense of Saudi Arabia for the disappearance and suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying the country's crown prince "totally denied" knowledge about the suspected death of the Washington Post journalist and complaining that the country was being assumed "guilty until proven innocent."

Trump began his campaign as Saudi Arabia began to float an explanation for Khashoggi's disappearance inside their consulate in Turkey.

Three sources familiar with the case told CNN that a high-ranking intelligence officer who has ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for organizing a mission to interrogate and possibly abduct Khashoggi.

It's unclear whether the Crown Prince authorized any mission. Several officials CNN has spoken with say the alleged murder could not have happened without the direct knowledge of the 33-year-old crown prince, the Kingdom's de facto ruler who is known by his initials "MBS."

One source says the intelligence officer assembled his own team to interrogate and possibly abduct Khashoggi, suspecting him of ties to the Kingdom's rival Qatar. There is no evidence to substantiate Khashoggi had such ties.

Trump's move to absolve Saudi leadership of responsibility is raising the stakes in a foreign policy crisis that administration officials privately describe as the most consequential of his presidency to date.

Trump took to Twitter shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a trip to Riyadh, tweeting as US lawmakers squarely blamed Saudi Arabia and said the claim that its leaders had no knowledge of Khashoggi's disappearance strained credibility.

Senators and lawmakers vowed to introduce sanctions, called for the ouster of the crown prince and said that US credibility and leadership were on the line if the administration participates in what would essentially be the whitewashing of a journalist's murder on foreign soil.

'Answers will be forthcoming'

Not long after a Turkish official told CNN that Khashoggi's body was cut into pieces after he was killed, Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he "just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate."

"He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo...during the call," Trump's tweets continued, "and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."

Later in the day, he compared the case to sexual assault allegations against recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent," Trump told The Associated Press.

"I don't like that," he added. "We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way."

During an interview with Fox, he said that if Saudi Arabia knows what happened to Khashoggi, "that would be bad."

Trump's approach to handling the crisis with Saudi Arabia "may be the most consequential decision of his Presidency," a senior adviser to the President told CNN. The official who declined to be identified is a direct adviser on national security matters.

The official's view reflects a growing concern by some administration officials that Trump may not take their advice that the Saudi regime must be held to account over the murder of Khashoggi.

The White House is relying on Saudi Arabia's support to keep oil markets steady as it confronts Iran and prepares to sanction those who buy Iranian oil starting November 4. Administration officials would not have missed Saudi threats to hike the price of oil if the US took steps to punish it for Khashoggi's disappearance.

Some administration officials point to the potential impact the crisis could have on the standing of US troops and diplomats overseas, while Trump has fretted publicly about the impact on US arms sales to the world's largest weapons buyer.

Trump has worried that if the US were to halt arms sales, the Saudis could shift their purchases to Russian weapons. Others say that would be hard for the Kingdom to do. The Saudis still would require extensive US contractor supports for the interoperability of the weapons they already have and would not be quick to divert from US weapons.

Asked about the need for Saudi support on issues like Iran, a senior US official said that while the US-Saudi relationship is "very significant to us," the administration is committed to holding those responsible "accountable."

'Direct and candid conversations'

"Of course we have a longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia that is very significant to us, but that doesn't mean in any way we are ignoring or downplaying this episode," the official said. "We continue to believe those that are responsible for it have to be held accountable. And I think that's got to be our bottom line."

None of Pompeo's public appearances with the Saudis signaled any strain in the bilateral relationship. The top US diplomat appeared relaxed and smiling in photos with the King, the crown prince and foreign minister, telegraphing support and warmth far more than concern.

In a statement, Pompeo said he had "direct and candid conversations" with the Saudi royals. "My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia's senior leaders or senior officials," Pompeo said.

The narrative emerging from sources familiar with the case seems designed to insulate the Saudi leadership from responsibility. A second source familiar with the investigation told CNN said Khashoggi may have been injected with some kind of tranquilizer and then died in the consulate. The Saudi team then covered up what they had done in an amateur fashion, the source said.

A third source told CNN the mission's organizer was not transparent about what he told Riyadh, offering that as an explanation for why the government had no clear information for days.

Lawmakers, who have been shown classified intelligence materials about Khashoggi's disappearance, did not hesitate to point to the crown prince.

"He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News. "The MBS figure to me is toxic," he said, and called on Saudis to find themselves another heir apparent.

"This guy has got to go," Graham said. In the meantime, he added, "we're going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia."

The issue has created a rarely seen bipartisan unity in the fractious Congress. Graham's sanctions call was echoed others, including Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who told CNN that "Saudi Arabia must understand that this is in no way compatible with our country's values and we will respond with two-thirds majorities in both chambers."

Trump's new stance on Tuesday marked another turn in a narrative that has been shifting ever since Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate on October 2.

The President said last week that "what happened is a terrible thing," and said, "maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised, but I somehow doubt it." A few days later, he threatened "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia was found to have killed the father of four -- prompting Saudi threats about skyrocketing oil prices

Sources have told CNN the Saudis were preparing to say that Khashoggi had died during an interrogation at the consulate.

"The Saudi story, even in the last 24 hours, has been changing to where they may be acknowledging that the journalist Khashoggi was murdered, but somehow presenting the notion that it was rogue elements," Sen. Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, told CNN's Jake Tapper.

"This is actually not some dark room or off some dark deserted road, this is inside the Saudi consulate and 15 individuals coming over from Saudi Arabia for what at least appears to be one task only and that was the elimination of Mr. Khashoggi," Warner said.

'It strains any credibility'

"It strains any credibility that somehow the leadership of the Saudi regime, which is so authoritarian, wouldn't have knowledge of these actions," Warner said.

Trump's advisers say one reason it's vital to hold Saudi Arabia accountable is the impact on US global leadership. They say inaction could make it increasingly difficult for the US military and diplomats around the world to argue a moral high ground on human rights.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio echoed that concern, saying that the US will lose its credibility on human rights if it does not take action on Khashoggi's death. The Florida Republican said that protecting human rights was worth ending an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

"I don't care how much money it is," Rubio told Tuesday. "There isn't enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights. ... Just because a country we're working with did it doesn't mean the US can just shrug its shoulders and say nothing happened here."

Judging the Kavanaugh effect in key Senate races

Judging the Kavanaugh effect in key Senate races

(CNN) - President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have said they'll turn the vote on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court into an asset in November, while Democrats have made i ... Continue Reading
Chief Justice Roberts stresses 'independence from the political branches'

Chief Justice Roberts stresses 'independence from the political branches'

(CNN) - Chief Justice John Roberts alluded to the bitter and partisan confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court in an appearance Tuesday night -- his first public remarks on the topic.

Roberts stressed in a speech at the University of Minnesota Law School that the judiciary "requires independence from the political branches."

"I will not criticize the political branches," he said, but added that the judicial branch "must be very different."

"I have great respect for our public officials. After all, they speak for the people, and that commands a certain degree of humility from those of us in the judicial branch who do not," he said. "But we speak for the Constitution -- our role is very clear. We are to interpret the laws and Constitution of the United States and ensure that the political branches act within them."

"That job obviously requires independence from the political branches," he said.

Without mentioning Kavanaugh by name, Roberts commended recent remarks by his "newest colleague" during his ceremonial swearing-in at the White House. At that event, Kavanaugh said he would not serve "one party or one interest."

Roberts said he wanted to assure "that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities, whether times are calm or contentious."

Roberts said his colleagues know that "the best way to do our job" is to work together in a "collegial way."

The speech represented an unusual foray into controversy and an attempt to distance the court from the rancor surrounding Kavanaugh's confirmation, which featured the most political hearings in the modern era. Roberts also sought to make assurances that the Supreme Court would not become another political branch.

He spoke of the importance of judicial independence and acknowledged the court has "from time to time erred greatly" but said that when it had, it was because the court had "yielded to political pressure."

He specifically cited the 1944 Korematsu case, which he said had "shamefully" upheld the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.

Later, Roberts moved from the podium to an armchair for a more wide-ranging conversation with professor Robert A. Stein.

Asked how it felt to have a new colleague Roberts joked, "it's like having a new in-law at Thanksgiving dinner," and added that his colleagues have so far behaved themselves better by not interrupting each other so much.

On a more serious note, he spoke broadly about an early goal he had as a chief justice, to achieve greater consensus on the court by issuing more narrow opinions. "I'd have to say it's a project in progress still," he said, noting that in some years there is more consensus than others, depending on the issues at hand. But he said he still believes consensus is an important objective.

He repeated that he is not a fan of cameras in the courtroom: "I think if there were cameras that the lawyers would act differently. I think, frankly, some of my colleagues would act differently, and that would affect what we think is a very important and well-functioning part of the decision process."

Roberts was asked by a student whether having more women on the court has affected the way he looks at cases. "I understand the argument that it brings a different perspective," the chief justice said. "On the other hand, it may, but I would say it's subconscious in the sense that I don't hear anything and think, 'Oh, that's a peculiarly female perspective on the law.' In terms of the legal work and the presentation, I don't see a difference. Maybe I'm just not attuned to it, but I think my female colleagues perform pretty much the same way my male colleagues do," he said.

He was also asked if he's ever come to a legal conclusion that was at odds with his personal beliefs. Roberts referred to a 2011 case where he wrote a major First Amendment opinion protecting speech at military funerals by members of controversial Westboro Baptist Church. He called the church an "extraordinarily offensive group" that would protest at funerals for servicemen "in the most vulgar way." He said his personal view was to lock up the members of the church and "throw away the key." But he said his job was to apply the First Amendment. "The protesters were on the public sidewalk. They had a particular point of view, as offensive as it was, and so I wrote the opinion for the court," he said. "I think the vote was 8-1 upholding their right to -- to protest in that matter. I didn't like it, but I thought, and as my colleagues did, that was the right answer."

He said the court is a collegial place, and the justices form a bond sometimes because "we are often the only people we can talk to about certain subjects." He said they have lunch together on argument days and conference days, where he demands one thing: "The one rule that I enforce there is that we don't talk about work. So it's a nice opportunity to learn about different things. You can learn how the Phillies are doing from Justice Alito, and the latest performance of 'Traviata' from Justice Ginsburg." He also noted that the summer break is useful: "We need a little break from each other and we get it."

Joe Biden says age a 'totally legitimate' question if he were to run for office again

Joe Biden says age a 'totally legitimate' question if he were to run for office again

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (CNN) - Former Vice President Joe Biden said a candidate's age is a "legitimate" issue in elections -- including if he were to run for president in 2020."I think age is a total ... Continue Reading
Graham credits Trump for Supreme Court picks: 'This is all working out OK'

Graham credits Trump for Supreme Court picks: 'This is all working out OK'

(CNN) - Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham expressed happiness Tuesday with President Donald Trump's successful nominations of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, calling them "the gre ... Continue Reading
Heidi Heitkamp apologizes for ad that mistakenly identified women as abuse survivors

Heidi Heitkamp apologizes for ad that mistakenly identified women as abuse survivors

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp issued a personal apology on Tuesday after her campaign identified some women as survivors of abuse in an ad without their knowledge or consent.

The misstep has led some women misidentified in the ad to decry the Democratic candidate and question how their names landed on the list, with one group of women saying they are seeking "a lawyer who will take our case" because the ad has "interfered with, or downright ruined, our lives."

The Heitkamp campaign, looking to slam Rep. Kevin Cramer, her Republican opponent, for suggesting "tough people" do not identify with the national conversation around sexual assault and the treatment of women, ran an open letter to Cramer to show him "what prairie tough looks like."

The letter featured over 120 names at the bottom, but several women have come forward to say they were either included without their permission or were not survivors of "domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape," as specified in the letter.

In response, Heitkamp admitted the mistake and said she was "personally apologizing" to each person impacted.

"We recently discovered that several of the women's names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse," Heitkamp said in a statement. "I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again."

Heitkamp's bid for re-election in a state that President Donald Trump won by 36 percentage points in 2016 has been an uphill climb from the start, despite the fact that Cramer has made a number of comments that have caused Republicans in Washington to cringe. A series of recent polls have found Cramer leading Heitkamp, including a Fox News survey that found him with a 12-percentage-point lead -- 53 to 41.

After Heitkamp spent hours on Tuesday trying to clean up the mistake, Shylah Forde, Megan Stoltz and Alexandria Delzer, three of the misidentified women, provided CNN with a statement from a group they said represents over a dozen women who landed on the list without their consent. They declined to provide the names of all the women who signed on to the statement.

"Heidi Heitkamp's political agenda has interfered with, or downright ruined, our lives," they wrote. "Survivors of assault who had taken care to avoid the subject were suddenly bombarded by questions asking them to explain to their loved ones why their name appeared on this list. Women who have never been assaulted spent the day reassuring loved ones of their safety."

The group of women went on to say that their "privacy was violated on this day" so they have begun to "search for a lawyer who will take our case."

A Heitkamp spokeswoman, asked about the legal threat, referred CNN to the senator's earlier comments.

The reaction to the ad was started by Kady Miller, one of the women identified at the bottom of the open letter.

"I don't even support Heidi Heitkamp and I am not a domestic abuse survivor," she wrote on Facebook with a photo of the ad.

Miller, reached by CNN on Tuesday, said that she was not a Heitkamp supporter and did not believe a personal apology from the senator would make amends.

"What's done is done and I don't think she can even get out of this one or fix it in any way," she said. "Our names have already been published in multiple newspapers."

Lexi Zhorela, another woman named on the list, also responded that she did not give permission to have her name published.

"I am beyond furious," she wrote. "There are so many woman (sic) in this list including myself that have been victims of sexual adult (sic) -- and more of us probably didn't want our name (sic) to be spread across the news for everyone to see."

She added: "I will not stand for this."

Zhorela, in an interview with CNN, said that she and "many other women on this list" were "very publicly humiliated on more than one level."

She added that a representative from the campaign has contacted her and said she will receive a personal phone call apology from the senator, but that the call has yet to happen.

"That doesn't really do justice to the hurt this has caused not just me but many women that were wrongfully put in this situation," she said.

Zhorela said she was a liberal and had planned to back Heitkamp.

"That has changed," she added.

Another woman whose name incorrectly appeared on the letter but asked to remain anonymous called the ordeal "humiliating."

"I'm not even a survivor and my name was included in the ad," she said. "I had family and friends calling me all concerned. It was humiliating."

Other women who posted on Facebook did not respond when CNN contacted them.

A Heitkamp aide told CNN that the campaign worked with victims' advocates in North Dakota on the ad and the list of women.

Heitkamp, in response to the controversy, blanketed the radio waves with a series of interviews on Tuesday. In one emotional interview with WZFG, Heitkamp said that the criticism of her campaign was "legitimate" and that she took responsibility for the issue.

I feel "horrible and mad and angry and furious and ready to tell someone 'what were you thinking,' why is this happening, how could you have been this irresponsible," she said. "I have gone through all of that exactly how you set it out, 'what if this was my daughter, what is this was my son, how would I react to this?'"

She added: "I don't think anyone is perfect in the world and sometimes when you are on a big stage you can make big mistakes, and I think our campaign made a big mistake and we need to own it and we need to fix it."

Heitkamp and her team are now working to determine who provided the unauthorized names, with the senator telling one radio host that there "will, in fact, be consequences."

Kylie Oversen, the former North Dakota Democratic Party chairwoman and a candidate for North Dakota tax commissioner, helped in the process, she told CNN on Tuesday, but said that she provided "fewer than 10 names... and they were all individuals that authorized me to use their name."

Oversen, who also signed the letter, said that there were "many people who were just helping to reach out to leaders in the community and contact people who would be willing to sign."

Republicans quickly highlighted the story, with Cramer calling the ad a "revictimization of victims," according to local media.

"Eager to save her failing campaign, Heidi Heitkamp has stooped to a new low," Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in an email.

"This is another example of Heidi Heitkamp exploiting whoever she can for political gain," said Jake Wilkins, Communications Director for the North Dakota Republican Party. "With a campaign built on lies, misinformation, and manufactured controversy, it's no wonder Heitkamp is the most vulnerable Senator in the country."

Federal deficits are rising. Here's the whole story

Federal deficits are rising. Here's the whole story

(CNN) - There are two things that can expand a deficit: Decreased tax revenues and increased spending. Right now, we have both.

The federal deficit rose 17% in 2018, to $779 billion --- the highest since 2012, thanks to a bigger military budget, rising interest costs, and a giant tax cut.

But Republicans, who have historically decried fiscal irresponsibility, only want to talk about spending.

"It's very disturbing," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, on the newly released deficit numbers. "And it's driven by the three big entitlement programs that are very popular, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid."

Is that true? Let's look at the Treasury tables. In fiscal year 2018, which ended on September 30, overall spending increased by 3%, or $127 billion. The largest spending increases came from interest on the debt ($65 billion) and the Social Security Administration ($39 billion). Then came defense spending, at $32 billion --- increases President Donald Trump and other Republicans demanded in budget negotiations. Medicare and Medicaid --- programs Trump has promised not to touch --- rose by $17 billion total.

What about the tax side? Budget receipts were basically flat overall. Individual non-withheld and self-employment taxes rose by $89 billion, as they should in a good economy when more people are working. Most of that increase came in April, when taxpayers were filing returns for 2017 --- before the Trump tax cuts took effect. Congress' Joint Tax Committee has forecast the overall revenue impact of the individual tax cuts to be much larger in 2019, knocking collections down by $189 billion.

Corporate taxes only constitute about 9% of the government's $3.3 trillion in 2018 collections, but they plunged by $93 billion from last year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, about half of that drop came after June, when companies began paying estimated taxes for the 2018 tax year, at the lower post-tax-cut rate. If there had been no tax cut, collections would have been higher.

Translation: Tax cuts played a key role in boosting the deficit in 2018, and are expected to contribute to deficits in the coming years, contrary to claims from the White House and Congressional Republicans that they would "pay for themselves." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that lower tax rates will boost collections when businesses have had enough time to reinvest their savings in growth, but that's not what's happened after previous tax cuts, and it's not what nonpartisan analysts like the Tax Policy Center think will happen after this one.

But here's the more important question: Does any of this actually matter?

As a percentage of gross domestic product, the deficit in 2018 rose to 3.9% from 3.5% last year. That's higher than the 3.2% average over the last 40 years, but it's nowhere near the 9.8% level reached in 2009, at the depth of the financial crisis, or even the 4.5% during the recession of the early 1990s.

And although interest rate payments of $522 billion seem eye-popping, as a percentage of GDP they're also far below levels paid in the 1980s and 1990s, when fiscal austerity first became a Republican political cause.

There's no guarantee, however, that interest rates will stay as low as they have been. The rate on the 3-month Treasury bill has risen from zero three years ago to 2.27% today, making the debt more expensive to service, and Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell has said he's likely to continue hiking on that upward path. Also, elevated deficits are highly unusual in heady economic times such as these, when the federal government could be curbing the growth of the debt rather than accelerating it.

That's what much of the rest of the developed world is doing: According to an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries in the euro area are projected to decrease their public debt between 2017 and 2019 as a percentage of GDP by about as much as the United States is projected to increase it.

It also matters what the government is going into debt to do, and what kind of returns it will generate.

Lower-income people, for example, are more likely to spend any extra disposable income they might get from a tax cut than rich people, who are probably already meeting all their needs. The Trump tax cuts disproportionately benefit higher-income people, so they are not well targeted to maximize economic growth.

Infrastructure spending --- once a favorite Trump objective --- would also be a logical reason to rack up debt, since repairing and building out America's roads, train lines, sewer systems, and broadband connections would improve productivity in a way that no other fiscal policy could.

But that's not why U.S. deficits are rising now. They're rising because of tax cuts, and yes, because of an aging population that's going to need to depend on Social Security and Medicare when they retire.

Sessions won't say if President has pressured him to resign

Sessions won't say if President has pressured him to resign

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions dodged questions Tuesday over whether President Donald Trump has pressured him to resign amid Trump's relentless criticism during his tenure leading the Justice Department.

Sessions acknowledged that Trump has been "frustrated with him," but said he is "honored" to head the Justice Department and "will do so as long as appropriate for me to do so."

"The President speaks his mind. He says what's on his mind at the time. And he's been frustrated about my recusal and other matters. But we have been so pleased and honored to be given the responsibility to execute his agenda at the Department of Justice," Sessions said.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Sessions for his decision to recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, which include the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the election.

Instead, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which is looking into any potential ties between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Trump voiced frustration with Sessions over the Mueller investigation, saying, "I can fire him whenever I want to fire him."

Sessions' comments Tuesday came at a news conference about going after a Mexican drug cartel, where he was also asked for his reaction to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi "and what that says about freedom of the press internationally."

Seemingly addressing both Khashoggi and danger for journalists globally -- including those killed in Mexico -- Sessions said the trend is "unacceptable" and defended the need for journalists to be able to do their jobs.

"It is a big deal. It is an unacceptable trend," Sessions said.

"The world will be diminished if journalists aren't able to go and travel and to report honestly conditions in differing countries. Or people in their own country can't report on corruption or crime or misconduct in their countries. So I think it can even separate countries from a civilized community," he continued, adding that he and the President feel "strongly" about it.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that Khashoggi's body had been cut into pieces after he had been killed two weeks ago at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, according to a Turkish official.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, disappeared after he entered the consulate to get marriage papers, which has sparked global questioning of the Saudi government.

Sessions also noted the number of journalists who have been killed in Mexico: "Mexico may have had in the last several years the greatest number of attacks on journalists and murders of journalists. I'm not sure -- probably the world has not reacted sufficiently to it."

Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone will be next White House counsel

Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone will be next White House counsel

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone will be President Donald Trump's next White House counsel, according to a source briefed on the matter.

Despite Cipollone's new role, Emmet Flood is expected to continue handling the Russia investigation for the White House Counsel's office, the source added.

Trump told The Associated Press earlier Tuesday night that he had chosen Cipollone, a partner at the Washington law firm Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner, to take the position.

Cipollone is a seasoned litigator and former Justice Department official who served during President George H.W. Bush's administration.

CNN first reported in August that Cipollone was being considered for the post. The attorney came to know Trump after advising the President and his legal team concerning the special counsel investigation, a source familiar with the matter said.

Trump had told reporters on Saturday that he wasn't ready to publicly name his next White House counsel, but said, "Pat's a great guy, I don't want to say, but he's a great guy. He's very talented and he's a very good man, but I don't want to say yet."

When Cipollone was still being considered for the position, counsel to the President Jay Sekulow hailed him as a "brilliant attorney."

"I have had the privilege to work with him and can attest to his skill, integrity and knowledge of the law. If selected by the President, he would make an outstanding White House counsel," Sekulow said.

Cipollone's law firm notes that he is experienced in "a wide variety of cases, including complex maters" such as class action lawsuits, regulatory disputes involving federal agencies, congressional investigations and financial matters.

Cipollone also has "substantial expertise in defamation counseling and litigation," according to his law firm biography.

Trump first announced in August that White House Counsel Don McGahn would leave the job this fall following Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

"I have worked with Don for a long time," Trump said in a tweet, "and truly appreciate his service!"

McGahn has told associates he hopes to remain in the position until the midterm elections in November, two sources close to him told CNN. He has been spotted in his office and has continued to attend meetings after Kavanaugh's confirmation earlier this month, according to his colleagues.

Why New Jersey might shake up the Senate map

Why New Jersey might shake up the Senate map

WASHINGTON (CNN) - On Tuesday, something interesting -- and important -- happened in the battle for the Senate.Senate Majority PAC, the chief super PAC of Senate Democrats, dumped $3 million worth ... Continue Reading
First lady's office calls out T.I. for 'disgusting' video depicting Melania Trump

First lady's office calls out T.I. for 'disgusting' video depicting Melania Trump

(CNN) - First lady Melania Trump's spokeswoman on Tuesday went after rapper T.I., whose most recent music video features a Trump lookalike dancing without clothes in a fake Oval Office.

"Like it or not, she is the first lady and this is the White House," Stephanie Grisham, Trump's communications director, told CNN in a statement. "It's disrespectful and disgusting to portray her this way simply because of politics. These kinds of vulgar attacks only further the divisiveness and bias in our country -- it needs to stop."

T.I., whose real name is Clifford Harris, stars in the video as himself, seated at a fake Resolute Desk in a setting made to look like the Oval Office. Video footage of President Donald Trump taking off from the White House in Marine One plays, and shortly afterward, a woman enters the "Oval Office." The woman is wearing only a jacket, which reads: "I really don't care do u?," a clear nod to the controversial Zara jacket the first lady wore during a June trip to Texas.

The woman in the video, who has a clear resemblance to Melania Trump, then proceeds to strip off the jacket and dance atop the desk.

On Friday, T.I. tweeted the video with the accompanying statement: "Dear 45, I ain't Kanye."

The reference to rapper Kanye West comes on the heels of West's visit to the White House last week where he elaborated on his support for Trump.

In response to T.I.'s video debut, Grisham tweeted Saturday from her official Twitter account: "How is this acceptable? #disgusting #boycottT.I."

Shortly thereafter, Melania Trump's @FLOTUS account retweeted Grisham's tweet.

Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter is running an anti-Muslim campaign against his opponent

Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter is running an anti-Muslim campaign against his opponent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) - Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter is running a brazenly anti-Muslim campaign against his Democratic opponent, a Christian who is the son of a Mexican-American mother and Palestinian ... Continue Reading
Trump to AP: Saudi Arabia criticism makes the nation 'guilty until proven innocent'

Trump to AP: Saudi Arabia criticism makes the nation 'guilty until proven innocent'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump defended Saudi Arabia in an interview Tuesday, suggesting the wave of criticism the Middle Eastern kingdom has received over a missing Saudi journalist is premature.

"Here we go again with you know you're guilty until proven innocent," Trump told The Associated Press in an interview at the White House.

The AP's report said Trump compared the accusations against Saudi Arabia, which stands accusing of killing Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, to sexual assault allegations against recently confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"I don't like that," Trump said. "We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."

Trump also said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was going ahead with a scheduled trip to Saudi Arabia for a conference, but that it could be canceled depending on the results of an investigation.

"I think we'll also be guided by what other countries are doing," Trump said.

A Turkish official told CNN on Tuesday that Khashoggi's body was cut into pieces after he was killed two weeks ago at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The disappearance of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, has engendered wide-ranging criticism and prompted calls from members of both parties for some degree of punitive action toward Saudi Arabia.

Trump has hesitated to criticize the Saudi government since Khashoggi's disappearance. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Trump bristled at the idea of cutting weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and in comments on Monday, he touted a denial from the Saudi King and offered up the idea that "rogue killers" were involved.

He told AP on Tuesday that the "rogue killers" theory came from his "feeling" after speaking with Saudi leadership, but that King Salman had not used the term.

Trump's reference to Kavanaugh in the AP interview followed public allegations that nearly derailed Kavanaugh's nomination from Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in their high school years. Kavanaugh denied her allegation before his successful confirmation by the Senate earlier this month.