Does Donald Trump eat fried chicken with a knife and fork or not?

Point: Donald Trump eats fried chicken with a knife and fork.

First of all, let’s get this straight: Donald Trump would totally be the kind of guy to think it’s totally normal to eat his fried chicken with a knife and fork. He even has a history eating hand-foods with cutlery—in 2011, he shared a pizza in New York with Sarah Palin and both of them used a knife and fork. Trump was probably born with a silver knife and fork in his mouth.

The pizza incident is crucial in debunking the idea that the photo is staged. In 2011 Trump was very aware that his use of cutlery was a faux-pas—he even responded to critics in a video, stating:

A lot of people are asking why am I using plastic forks and knives that the pizza parlor gave. Well, I don’t walk around with forks and knives, and frankly, it was very comfortable. Plus, this way you can take the top of the pizza off so you’re not just eating the crust. I like to not eat the crust so we can keep the weight down at least as good as possible.

Trump isn’t one to forget criticism and he is quite aware that if he’s going to stage a “man-of-the-people” photo, he should have been eating the chicken with his hands. What we’re seeing here is a normal shot in the daily life of Donald, who eats his fast food with a knife and fork like the goddamn degenerate that he is. -Clio Chang

Counterpoint: Nope.

Donald Trump doesn’t eat fried chicken with a knife and fork because Donald Trump doesn’t eat fried chicken. This photo is fake. I don’t mean that it’s doctored, just that it’s clearly staged—and that the staging suggests that my man Donald has never in his life been in front of a plate of chicken. Look at him: He’s holding the knife and fork like Homer Simpson. And Trump only grins like that when he’s selling something, another tell. Check out the picture from the Trump Steaks box and you’ll see what I mean.

Back in the spring, Trump claimed to have eaten KFC, though he didn’t have the documentary proof. Here’s what he told Anderson Cooper: “The other night I had Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not the worst thing in the world.” Not the worst thing in the world—just the worst chain fried chicken. But KFC’s relative value is beside the point: “Not the worst thing in the world” is a thing you say if you’ve either just had KFC for the first time, or if you’re lying about having had KFC for the first time. If Trump had been eating KFC for his entire life—and Trump makes a big deal about how into fast food he is—you would not still be on the fence about it at age 70. (Also, you would have at least moved on to Bojangles.)

There’s some evidence that Trump’s McDonald’s fetish is real—this is a subject for another debate, but his tortured explanation for why he likes their food (he leans way too hard into defending McDonald’s very debatable “cleanliness”) tracks with his well-documented germobphobia. But Trump is also leaning into fast food because he thinks it makes him look like a man of the people, which is why he posts fake-ass pictures like this. Donald Trump has never eaten fried chicken. -Alex Shephard

November 14, 2018

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Facebook accused critics of anti-Semitism while promoting George Soros conspiracy theories.

In a blockbuster expose, The New York Times documents the hypocrisy of the social media giant as it tried to deflect political criticism for an array of offences ranging from violating the privacy of users to facilitating Russian election interference.

Facebook went after a group called Freedom from Facebook which, according to the Times,  carried in Congress “aloft signs depicting Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Zuckerberg, who are both Jewish, as two heads of an octopus stretching around the globe.” As the newspaper adds, “Facebook official quickly called the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organization, to flag the sign.”

Almost immediately after doing this, Facebook worked with a Republican opposition research firm too “take on bigger opponents, such as [George] Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right. A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.”

The article also illuminates the way Facebook was able to lobby powerful politicians such as New York Senator Chuck Schumer:

Mr. Schumer also has a personal connection to Facebook: His daughter Alison joined the firm out of college and is now a marketing manager in Facebook’s New York office, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In July, as Facebook’s troubles threatened to cost the company billions of dollars in market value, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, by then Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress.

Back off, he told Mr. Warner, according to a Facebook employee briefed on Mr. Schumer’s intervention. Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it.

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By rebuking Myanmar leader, Mike Pence takes on the mantle of mainstream Republican foreign policy.

While attending the the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence met with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and chastised her for the atrocities her government is committing against Rohingya Muslims. The State Department has accused Myanmar of committing ethnic cleansing. Pence said atrocities against the Rohingya are “without excuse.” He also reprimanded Suu Kyi for the imprisonment of two Reuters reporters. “In America, we believe in democratic institutions and ideals, including a free and independent press,” the vice president said. “The arrests and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans.”

In using the language of human rights, Pence is going against the grain of the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has generally been dismissive of human rights as a foreign policy concern and has tamped down on American criticism of autocratic regimes like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

In the Trump White House, Pence is one of the rare figures, along with former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who continued to uphold human rights in the manner of older administrations, both Democratic and Republican. On previous occasions, Pence has talked like a mainstream Republican when challenging North Korea and China on human rights.

While Pence has been a loyal solider in supporting President Trump against all critics, the Vice President now has more room to maneuver since Trump is licking his wounds after the Republican Party’s poor showings in the midterms.

Politically, championing human rights has paid off by earning Pence applause even from some Democrats:

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The media acknowledges that Trump duped the media with the migrant caravan.

National outlets have pointed to the president’s relative silence on the caravan in the past week as proof of a clear political ploy to energize his conservative base ahead of the midterms—a trap many of the same major newspapers and broadcasters fell for.

He might return his attention to the caravan once a majority of migrants reach the U.S.-Mexico border (according to recent reports, small groups of migrants have already arrived). But for now it appears that Trump has lost all interest in the issue. He hasn’t tweeted about it since Election Day, despite previously stoking fear among conservative voters by making unsubstantiated claims about “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” who had allegedly infiltrated a caravan of otherwise helpless, desperate migrants. He also called for an end to birthright citizenship and ordered more than 5,000 troops to guard the border. They are now hard at work putting up barbed wire and additional fencing along the border between Tijuana and San Diego.

Fox News, which dedicated over 33 hours of airtime to the caravan from mid-October through Election Day, spent less than five minutes discussing it in the two days following the election. The New York Times and The Washington Post ran 115 print stories on the caravan by November 2, 25 of which appeared on front pages. That coverage often sought to fact-check Trump’s claims and add context for readers and viewers, but also tended to frame the issue on Trump’s terms. It also pulled attention from other news, and glossed over the major factors driving the exodus, including violence, corruption, drought, and poverty.

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Even Fox News joins in widespread media support for CNN lawsuit against Trump.

On Wednesday, thirteen media outlets issued a statement supporting CNN and reporter Jim Acosta. CNN is suing the Trump administration for having revoked Acosta’s press credentials after the president took exception to some of Acosta’s questioning.

Signatories included The Associated Press, Bloomberg, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, USA Today, and The Washington Post. The statement read:

Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions. It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President. We will be filing friend-of-the-court briefs to support CNN’s and Jim Acosta’s lawsuit based on these principles.

Fox News president Jay Wallace also made a separate statement. “FOX News supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter’s press credential,” Wallace wrote. “While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the President and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access, and open exchanges for the American people.”

Fox News’s intervention is important because the cable news network is very popular with the Republican base, and, indeed, often shapes the thinking of President Donald Trump.

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Is the Freedom Caucus dead, or is it just the Republican Party now?

In 50 days, Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives will elect their leaders for the upcoming session. Both races appear predictable. Nancy Pelosi is expected to become the first person to hold non-consecutive speakerships in six decades, while Kevin McCarthy is expected to replace retiring fellow Young Gun Paul Ryan.

But Pelosi and McCarthy will have to deal with their left and right flanks, respectively. Pelosi is already being pressured by progressives to take on a host of issues, while McCarthy is facing the same group that has pestered the last two Republican leaders: the Freedom Caucus.

McCarthy likely will have an easier time than Ryan and John Boehner did. Founded in 2014, the Freedom Caucus only ever boasted between 30 and 40 members, but was able to exert an outsized influence when the GOP was in power, because they could deny the party leadership a governing majority. Without that majority next year, the Freedom Caucus’s power is diminished.

At the same time, there has never been less distance between the Freedom Caucus and the median member of the Republican caucus. The midterm elections were a bloodbath for the GOP in general, but particularly for moderate, suburban Republicans. Those who kept their seats tended to be from safely Republican districts, and many who won new seats are fiercely conservative. The Freedom Caucus lost two members, for instance, but is still expected to gain five new members.

The Freedom Caucus lacks leverage, and there is plenty of bad blood between it and McCarthy. But two of its high-profile members, Jim Jordan and chair Mark Meadows, are expected to take on leadership profiles once McCarthy becomes minority leader. Per Politico:

The Freedom Caucus is all but dead at this point, and McCarthy is going to easily put away Jordan in this leadership race. But they are now viewing how McCarthy treats Jordan as a litmus test. The president has put McCarthy in quite a position by asking him to cut a deal with Jordan, and place him at the top of Judiciary. Insiders thought Jordan would’ve been great at Oversight and Government Reform, where Jordan was next in line. Jordan has to jump Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to get to the top of Judiciary—not a huge lift.... There’s a domino effect by putting Jordan at Judiciary: it seems very likely that Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) will make a run for his party’s top slot at Oversight and Government Reform.

Meadows and Jordan are rising in the ranks partly because of the president’s intervention, sure, but also because the party’s hardliners are now in the mainstream. The Freedom Caucus is dead—long live the Freedom Caucus.

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The Trump campaign’s hoarding and self-dealing hurt the GOP in the midterms.

While many congressional Republicans had fundraising difficulties this year, President Donald Trump remained a champion at raising money. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, Mother Jones reports, much of it was spent to enrich Trump’s own businesses as well as a firm run by the head of the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign also sat on a significant chunk of money rather than helping cash-strapped Republicans running in congressional elections.

Trump started raising money almost as soon as he was inaugurated in 2017. This in itself was a break from the immediate past. Former President Barack Obama, for example, didn’t do any fundraising until 2011, a year before running for re-election. Trump quickly amassed a massive war chest in excess of $100 million.

Some of that money went to enrich the Trump Organization. Mother Jones notes that “through the end of September, his campaign paid $3.2 million to Trump’s own properties and businesses. There was money paid for rent at Trump Tower. There were hotel rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. There were banquet room rentals at Trump country clubs in New Jersey and Florida. The Trump campaign also paid for more than $1.2 million worth of flights using Trump’s personal jets—planes the president no longer travels on, but which other family members still do.”

Other big expenditures were on lawyers ($9 million) and on ads made by the company run by head of the Trump campaign ($5 million). The Trump campaign also hoarded $35.4 million, presumably to be used in 2020.

Even though the Trump campaign did spend some money on the midterms, it is likely that overall it was a net drain for Republicans, especially since it was drawing money from the same donor base that the party as a whole relies on.

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Trump’s acting attorney general might not be able to stop the Mueller investigation.

When President Trump appointed Matt Whitaker to replace attorney general Jeff Sessions, the general assumption was that it might threaten special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Politico reported Wednesday, however, that political and institutional push-back against Whitaker’s appointment might hamper any attempt to shut down the special counsel’s inquiry. Significantly, the Department of Justice is wavering on the issue of whether Whitaker might have to recuse himself—as Sessions did—from any decision involving the Mueller investigation.

As Politico notes, “Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec issued a statement late Tuesday signaling that Whitaker could still recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, a shift from the department’s initial position in the immediate aftermath of Sessions’ ouster that Whitaker had no plans to step out of the way on the Russia probe.” In the statement, Kupec asserted that Whitaker “is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal.”

Aside from the hurdle of possible Department of Justice rules, Whitaker is also facing political opposition which could box him in. On Tuesday, the state of Maryland filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of Whitaker’s appointment. On this matter, Whitaker has the support of the Department of Justice, which prepared a memo supporting his appointment.

Opposition by Democrats, Politico argues, has “put Whitaker in a difficult spot, trapped between setting off a political firestorm by clipping Mueller’s wings and angering a president intent on having him do just that.”

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The midterm defeat has left Trump angry and withdrawn.

On Tuesday night The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post published complementary reports, based on interviews with White House officials, indicating that the midterm loss has had a devastating effect on President Donald Trump, leaving the president depressed and often unwilling to perform the basic ceremonial tasks of his job. According to Times, Trump has “retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment.” One White House official told the newspaper Trump is “furious,” adding, “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

One consequence of the president’s foul mood is that he’s shirking from meetings, including with foreign dignitaries. As the Times sums up:

Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter. He has canceled travel plans and dispatched Cabinet officials and aides to events in his place — including sending Vice President Mike Pence to Asia for the annual summits there in November that past presidents nearly always attended.

Jordan’s King Abdullah was in Washington on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, but not the president.

The Post offers a parallel account, illustrated with a striking story about a conversation with the leader of one of America’s most important allies:

As he jetted to Paris last Friday, President Trump received a congratulatory phone call aboard Air Force One. British Prime Minister Theresa May was calling to celebrate the Republican Party’s wins in the midterm elections — never mind that Democrats seized control of the House — but her appeal to the American president’s vanity was met with an ornery outburst.

Trump berated May for Britain not doing enough, in his assessment, to contain Iran. He questioned her over Brexit and complained about the trade deals he sees as unfair with European countries. May has endured Trump’s churlish temper before, but still her aides were shaken by his especially foul mood, according to U.S. and European officials briefed on the conversation.

November 13, 2018

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To what extent has Melania Trump ousted the deputy national security advisor?

On Tuesday afternoon, ABC’s John Santucci reported that office of first lady Melania Trump believed that Mira Ricardel, the deputy national security advisor, should lose her job. In a statement, Stephanie Grisham, Melanie Trump’s communication director, wrote, “It is the position of the Office of the first lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

It’s highly unusual, perhaps without precedent, for a first lady to try and exert this sort of sway over a national security official.

Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg reports that Melania Trump and Ricardel quarrelled over seating arrangements in a trip the First Lady made to Africa.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Wall Street Journal White House reporter Michael C. Bender tweeted that Ricardel did indeed appear to be out of a job:

A White House official promptly denied the report:

More than most administrations, the Trump White House has been characterized by court intrigue.

As The New York Times recently reported, conflicts between Trump’s wife and his daughter sometimes take up the time of White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who is tasked with mediating between the two women.

The newspaper described one such conflict, also related to Melania Trump’s Africa trip:

The first lady’s office had asked West Wing officials to give her some space while she was in Africa so she could showcase the work she was doing, according to two people briefed on the discussion. There were widely distributed photographs of Mrs. Trump at several of the stops, including Accra, Ghana, where she was pictured cradling a small child.

But two days later, Ivanka Trump posted on her Instagram feed a video filmed by the White House team that had a final image of her with a black child during a tour of storm-struck North Carolina.

Someone in the West Wing noticed it, and flagged it for the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who has privately described the Trump children as “playing government” and who was supposed to help manage the relationship between the two women’s offices, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

Mr. Kelly discussed the video with Ms. Trump’s staff, according to two people familiar with the talks. A White House official disputed that Mr. Kelly had such a discussion.

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As the vote count continues in Florida, the GOP is undermining faith in the system.

Florida, where the results for the senatorial and gubernatorial races remains unsettled, has become a testing ground for how much political pressure can be put upon election officials. As The Washington Post reports, election officials, particularly Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes, has been a particular target of political criticism which has now spilled over to online harassment.

“Public criticisms of Snipes grew intense last week when Gov. Rick Scott, who at first appeared to narrowly win his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, declared in a news conference from the governor’s mansion that Snipes ‘has a history of acting in absolute bad faith,’” the newspaper notes. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former governor Jeb Bush have joined in the demand that Snipes lose her post.

According to The Washington Post, outside lobbying groups are part of this active campaign:

A pro-Trump political committee says it is spending $250,000 on an ad attacking Snipes on television in southern and central Florida and online. “Legal voters in Florida are outraged, and Brenda Snipes must be removed,” says the ad by Great America PAC, which suggests blatant fraud but offers no evidence. “When we can’t trust our elections, we don’t have a democracy.”

As a result of the heated partisan rhetoric, Snipes has been doxxed on social media, with her home address made public.

Paralleling this move, a senior advisor to Rick Scott refuses to say what Scott would do if Nelson is declared the winner of the election: