—The U.S. military struck a Syrian airfield near Homs, the opening salvo in the Trump administration’s response to this week’s chemical-weapons attack by the Assad regime. More here
—Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
UPDATE: Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' After Democrats Filibuster Gorsuch Nomination
Updated at 1:08 p.m.
Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. The change came after Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, who have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, had the support of at least three Democratic senators, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. The party-line vote on the rule change was 52-48. Democrats, still smarting over the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat, have been unrelenting in their opposition of Gorsuch. They say if the president’s nominee cannot get the support of 60 U.S. senators, the White House should withdraw his nomination in favor of someone who can secure the support of a supermajority of senators. But it was always going to be an uphill effort, and Gorsuch is expected to be easily confirmed Friday by the Senate.
Devin Nunes Temporarily Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation
Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday he would temporarily recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Nunes said in a statement it was “in the best interests” of his committee and Congress for him to temporarily step aside, adding: “I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims” filed by left-leaning organizations. Nunes has faced mounting pressure to step down from the investigation after it was revealed last month he visited the White House before and after announcing he had significant information to support President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims his transition team was surveilled by the intelligence community. That resulted in allegations from Democrats he was too eager to do Trump’s bidding, especially after it was revealed the information was given to him by White House officials. Nunes said the investigation will be taken over by Republican Representative Michael Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney. As my colleague Russell Berman notes, though Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes in a press conference following the announcement, “the chairman’s sudden move to quit the Russia probe raises questions about whether he misled the speaker about his handling of evidence that he viewed at the White House.”
North Korea Looms Over Meeting Between Trump, China's Xi
President Trump has called China a currency manipulator, he has criticized it on trade, and for, in his view, not doing enough to curtail North Korea’s activities. But while those issues loom over the meeting today between Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida, the two leaders are likely to discuss the one area where there could be a deal of some sort: North Korea. Their meeting comes a day after North Korea launched a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean peninsula, the latest of several such tests the North has carried out in recent months. Last month U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruled out talks with the North until it renounces its nuclear-weapons program, adding that when it came to the North, the U.S. kept all options on the table. The New York Timesnotes that Trump, behind closed doors, “intends to aggressively press his counterpart to more effectively use China’s economic leverage on North Korea to restrain its rogue leader, Kim Jong-un, from developing nuclear weapons.” Meanwhile, their discussions on trade could focus on the U.S. trade deficit with China, which stands at about $300 billion annually.
An overlooked corner of the Constitution hints at a right to be protected from infection.
Ever since state governors began implementing stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus pandemic, protesters have resisted such safety measures under the belief that they violate constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Proposals to mandate mask wearing have collided with allegations of First Amendment violations. Orders to close gun stores have clashed with concerns about Second Amendment freedoms. But a profound historical counter-vision to these ideas about “individual liberty” can be found in one of the most neglected and underappreciated corners of the Bill of Rights: the Third Amendment.
“No soldier,” the amendment reads, “shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” Federal courts have rarely invoked it, and in 2015 even rejected a Third Amendment claim against police officers’ occupation of a house. Now the subject of memes, the amendment, in the words of the legal historian Morton Horwitz, is an “interesting study in constitutional obsolescence.”
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
Some of Trump’s most committed Catholic supporters have leveled dark charges against Biden as they battle to sway the vote in crucial swing states. And wait until you hear what they think of the pope.
Joe Biden or Donald Trump: Who’s the better Catholic? If this seems like an odd question to raise in the context of a race for the highest secular office in America—and a race in which one of the two candidates is Protestant—never mind. Both campaigns, and their surrogates, are hotly contesting the answer.
The ex–Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz slammed Biden as a “Catholic in name only” in his appearance at the Republican National Convention.
“President Trump is ignoring Catholic teachings on care for the Earth, feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrant,” Sister Simone Campbell, a social-justice activist who led a prayer at the Democratic convention, fired back in an interview with me not long after.
On the Rocks, starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray, is a dose of much-needed escapism.
Sofia Coppola is no stranger to ennui. From the death-obsessed ’70s teens of her directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, to the disaffected heroines of Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and Somewhere, the filmmaker has long fixated on emotionally and physically isolated characters looking for a sense of purpose. Coppola should be the perfect storyteller for 2020, a year when monotony has ruled so many people’s lives. And boredom certainly plays a role in her new movie, On the Rocks, which is available to stream on Apple TV+ this week. But the film is a surprisingly fizzy bit of escapism, one that unfolds in a nearly forgotten, dreamlike environment of yesteryear: the crowded bars and restaurants of Manhattan.
How anti-Trump women in America’s suburbs are ushering in a new era of political activism
To say that Susan Polakoff Shaw is a delight is to say nothing particularly controversial. The 61-year-old Ohioan’s charm is an objective fact, like snow being cold or a square having four equal sides. She laughs loudly and swears often. Her strawberry-blond curls are piled on the top of her head, like Ms. Frizzle, and she wears jean jackets, chunky jewelry, and blue plastic-framed glasses, like the kooky aunt you wish you had. She is also, importantly, a woman of action—“a mover and a shaker,” as one of her friends put it to me. Her one-woman communications firm, which she founded in 1991, has been hired by the International Olympic Committee to work press operations for 15 Olympic Games.
So naturally, when Shaw attended her first meeting of a local Democratic club in 2018, she saw it as her next big project. The gathering was fairly dull, a handful of older people seated around tables in an echoey ballroom on Cleveland’s west side. There was pizza, sure, and a lineup of local speakers. But there was no attendance-taking, no callouts for volunteers, no planning for weekend projects—even though the midterm-primary season was under way. Things have got to change if we’re going to beat Donald Trump, Shaw thought to herself as the meeting wrapped. And things did.
Signature matching—which one expert described as “witchcraft”—could lead to thousands of legitimate ballots being thrown out.
George Mangeni registered to vote as soon as he became a U.S. citizen in 2015. Mangeni, who immigrated from Kenya, always makes sure to cast a ballot in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, where he lives.
“It’s just something you do,” he told me. “You are given an opportunity to select people who make influence over your lives, and so it’s important you have a voice.”
This spring, with COVID-19 ravaging Ohio, he decided to cast his vote in the primary elections by mail for the first time. The instructions were straightforward enough, especially for a network engineer like Mangeni: He applied for a ballot, received it, marked it up, signed it, and prepared to submit it. As he got ready to post his ballot, though, Mangeni felt a pang and took a photograph of it. “I had a sinking feeling that something would happen,” he recalled. “I was like, I hope it gets counted.” But he sent the ballot to the board of elections, and didn’t worry about it any more.
The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.
American colleges botched the pandemic from the very start. Caught off guard in the spring, most of them sent everyone home in a panic, in some cases evicting students who had nowhere else to go. School leaders hemmed and hawed all summer about what to do next and how to do it. In the end, most schools reopened their campuses for the fall, and when students returned, they brought the coronavirus along with them. Come Labor Day, 19 of the nation’s 25 worst outbreaks were in college towns, including the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Iowa State in Ames, and the University of Georgia in Athens. By early October, the White House Coronavirus Task Force estimated that as many as 20 percent of all Georgia college students might have become infected.
Where the desperation of late-stage meritocracy is so strong, you can smell it
Photo illustrations by Pelle Cass
Updated at 10:03 a.m. ET on October 19, 2020.
To make the images that appear in this story, the photographer Pelle Cass locked his camera onto a tripod for the duration of an event, capturing up to 1,000 photographs from one spot. The images were then layered and compiled into a single digital file to create a kind of time-lapse still photo.
Image above: Cornell versus Dartmouth, women’s lacrosse, October 2019
On paper, Sloane, a buoyant, chatty, stay-at-home mom from Fairfield County, Connecticut, seems almost unbelievably well prepared to shepherd her three daughters through the roiling world of competitive youth sports. She played tennis and ran track in high school and has an advanced degree in behavioral medicine. She wrote her master’s thesis on the connection between increased aerobic activity and attention span. She is also versed in statistics, which comes in handy when she’s analyzing her eldest daughter’s junior-squash rating—and whiteboarding the consequences if she doesn’t step up her game. “She needs at least a 5.0 rating, or she’s going to Ohio State,” Sloane told me.
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at email@example.com.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m perfectly healthy. I’m 42 and I exercise routinely, eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, and have excellent biomarkers. If I get the flu, chances are it will be mild and run its course. So why risk any potential negative side effects of a vaccine? To protect me against something that I might still get even with the shot? Even though I’m sure the risk is low, why should I potentially jeopardize my health? I guess I see only downsides and no upside.
Your concerns are widely shared, and your question is important. The answer is especially worth considering because the same logic that guides your decision will apply to the coronavirus vaccines in coming years.
Totally Under Control delivers a damning—and essential—report card on the White House’s mismanagement of the pandemic.
Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, it may seem senseless to make a two-hour film that looks back on how the coronavirus ran rampant in the U.S. And yet, Totally Under Control—from the Oscar-winning writer-director Alex Gibney and his co-directors, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger—not only documents the chaos of 2020 with clear-eyed precision, but also successfully argues for its own existence.
Filmed in secret over five months, Totally Under Control (streaming on Hulu) uses news footage and interviews with experts and government whistleblowers to show how the administration missed each opportunity to either stop the virus from arriving in the U.S. or prevent its spread. The filmmakers present these events in rapid, blow-by-blow succession, lending the doc an urgency that contrasts with the languid federal response to the pandemic. The result is a film that—unlike 76 Days, the moving and intimate documentary on the lockdown in Wuhan, China, made without talking heads—feels shocking to watch in retrospect for its crisp frankness. Viewers may have grown numb to the constant churn of distressing news and learned to stomach the administration’s failure to contain the virus. But Totally Under Control refuses to look away, and being reminded of how many warnings went unheeded is unnerving.