—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.
The untold story of how anger became the dominant emotion in our politics and personal lives—and what we can do about it.
I. An Angry Little Town
Soon after the snows of 1977 began to thaw, the residents of Greenfield, Massachusetts, received a strange questionnaire in the mail. “Try to recall the number of times you became annoyed and/or angry during the past week,” the survey instructed. “Describe the most angry of these experiences.” One woman knew her answer: Recently, her husband had bought a new car. Then he had driven it to his mistress’s house so she could admire the purchase. When the wife found out, she was livid. Furious. Her rage felt like an eruption she couldn’t control.
The survey was interested in the particulars of respondents’ anger. In its 14 pages, it sought an almost voyeuristic level of detail. It asked the woman to describe the stages of her fury, which words she had shouted, whether punches had been thrown. “In becoming angry, did you wish to get back at, or gain revenge?” the survey inquired. Afterward, did you feel “triumphant, confident and dominant” or “ashamed, embarrassed and guilty”? There were also questions for people like her husband, who had been on the receiving end: “Did the other person’s anger come as a surprise to you, or did you expect that it would occur?”
Sure, the job is terrible—but that’s not new. What’s different is that this president can’t use the same leverage that predecessors such as George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton did.
Donald Trump is, infamously, not the sort of man used to getting no for an answer. And while the frequent demurrals from candidates for administration jobs must have started to accustom the president to rejection, Nick Ayers’s decision not to take the White House chief of staff position must still come as a bitter shock.
Ayers has been the presumptive top presidential aide for as long as incumbent John Kelly’s future has seemed dim—which is to say, for months. Yet when Trump on Saturday finally announced Kelly’s exit, Ayers didn’t want the role.
Three other leading candidates have already said they don’t want it, either, including Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Another rumored contender, Representative Mark Meadows, released a statement saying it would be an honor to serve in the job.
Some who enter this president’s service are changed for the worse. Others have been that way all along.
John Kelly’s forthcoming departure as White House chief of staff is a reminder of an important but underpublicized distinction among those who have chosen to support or work for Donald Trump.The distinction is between those whom Trump has made bad, and those who have been revealed as bad through their association with this man. (There’s also a small “not yet bad” category, which I will get to later on.)
In the first category,“made bad,” are people who in other circumstances might have taken a harder, higher-minded path. They might have chosen to stand on principle, to take the long view, to seek out reasonable compromises, to defend the norms and values of American institutions—and, overall, to behave in a way they’d be happy to talk about later on. Many of these people have actually made those choices at previous times in their life.
Someone needs to get the White House under control—but the president won’t let it happen.
Before a president begins thinking about who should be his White House chief of staff, he has to define both the job and the moment. There’s nothing magical about the chief of staff’s corner office in the West Wing. How any individuals perform in the job depends, first, on the power the president gives them to execute their responsibilities, and second, on their expertise facing whatever’s in front of the White House in that moment. So how should that inform President Donald Trump as John Kelly takes his leave?
Consider the first issue. Had they been given unlimited time and bandwidth, neither of the presidents I worked for would have even hired a chief of staff. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would have wanted to take every meeting, hear every perspective, mull every decision, game out every scenario, and address every challenge. They both loved the job of president—and arrived in the Oval Office every morning excited to see what they could accomplish.
Black holes are somehow able to grow constantly without changing their size. Physics might finally be able to explain why.
Leonard Susskind, a pioneer of string theory, the holographic principle and other big physics ideas spanning the past half century, has proposed a solution to an important puzzle about black holes. The problem is that even though these mysterious, invisible spheres appear to stay a constant size as viewed from the outside, their interiors keep growing in volume essentially forever. How is this possible?
In a series of recent papers and talks, the 78-year-old Stanford University professor and his collaborators conjecture that black holes grow in volume because they are steadily increasing in complexity—an idea that, while unproven, is fueling new thinking about the quantum nature of gravity inside black holes.
The incoming House Judiciary chairman says the president has allegedly been involved in “massive frauds against the American people.”
The talk on the Sunday-morning shows took an ominous turn for President Donald Trump after a week when court filings put him in the middle of preelection hush-money payments by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and in interactions by Cohen with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Suddenly, the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which had been focused on possible campaign collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, had expanded and entered what one senator called a “new phase” that left members of both parties discussing the prospects for impeachment.
“What these indictments and filings show is that the president was at the center of several massive frauds against the American people,” Representative Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who in January will take over the House Judiciary Committee, where any impeachment proceedings would begin, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. He added that if Cohen’s allegations prove true about Trump’s direct involvement in preelection payoffs to two women who alleged affairs with the president—payments prosecutors said constituted campaign-finance felonies—“they would be impeachable offenses. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.”
The new and returning series that stood out the most
Trying to pick the best television series of 2018 is a bit like trying to judge a cuteness contest in a zoo: There’s way too much to choose from, and very little of it looks alike. How to compare, say, a peerless drama about repressed Edwardian England with a satirical animated comedy about an anthropomorphized, alcoholic horse actor? Or a thoughtful, in-depth documentary series about inequality in a Chicago-area high school with a bleakly comic fable about America’s nastiest and most overprivileged media dynasty?
Television’s current abundance means not just a laundry list of new quality shows each month, but also new styles and techniques with which TV creators are pushing the limits of the form. With that in mind, this list of the best series of 2018 tries to recognize things that TV has done exceptionally well this year, from complex and dynamic female characters, to empathetic cringe comedy, to experimental modes of storytelling, and everything that comes in between.
Other countries swear by brooms, mops, and sponges. The U.S. prefers something more disposable.
Every day, as Americans dry their hands, soak up their spills, and wipe their counters, they are—whether they know it or not—contributing to their country’s dominance. In an era of waning American exceptionalism, inhabitants can at least pride themselves on an underratedly important, probably shameful distinction: They reside in the paper-towel capital of the world.
This status is unquestioned. According to data shared with me by the market-research firm Euromonitor International, global spending on paper towels for use at home (but not in office or public bathrooms) added up to about $12 billion in 2017, and Americans accounted for about $5.7 billion of that total. In other words, the U.S. spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined.
The latest season did something surprising with the long-running show’s first female lead: It often allowed her to be powerless in the face of injustice.
Commercials and subway ads for the latest season of Doctor Who, which ended Sunday, bore a straightforward slogan: “It’s about time.” The show is, literally, about time, specifically time travel, but the joke was in the tagline’s second meaning: The Doctor, for the first time in the sci-fi series’ 55-year history, was played this season by a woman. The sentiment underlying the show’s promotional material was less proud than it was apologetic; that slogan might as well have been an exhaled Finally.
Since Doctor Who premiered in 1963, the potential of its elastic premise—the Doctor is an alien Time Lord who can regenerate into a new body when the old one fails—hasn’t been fully realized in its casting. Before the actress Jodie Whittaker took over the part at the end of 2017, making her proper debut this year in the revival’s 11th season, 12 white men played the lead role (or 13, counting John Hurt’s appearance in the 50th-anniversary special). While the Doctor—when the Doctor was a man—offered a model of masculinity that was brainier, more compassionate, and more resolutely pacifist than most male heroes in pop culture, the character still propped up a specific idea of what it meant to walk through the world as a white man. He operated like the cleverest person in every room, and because he was almost always right, he was justified in seizing authority. “Just walk about like you own the place,” David Tennant’s Doctor told the show’s first black companion, Martha (played by Freema Agyeman), when he took her back to Shakespearean times. “Works for me.”