August 11, 2017

Sixty-five years ago, Joseph Stalin had a stroke and died. Judging by the "loose" interpretation of events on display in the trailer for Veep creator Armando Iannucci's forthcoming film, The Death of Stalin, the ensuing battle for leadership in Stalin's vacuum was darkly hilarious.

Despite being a Russian period piece, the actors — including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rupert Friend — noticeably don't use accents. In fact, if you're looking for much historical accuracy at all, this might be the film to skip. However, if you're on board with a brilliantly absurd political satire, The Death of Stalin opens in theaters on Oct. 20 and you can watch the trailer below. Jeva Lange

10:28 a.m. ET

Trump campaign surrogate Katrina Pierson decided to defend retaining Confederate monuments in positions of public honor during a Fox & Friends segment Monday morning by arguing the history of slavery and the Civil War is "good history" that shows "how special and wonderful this country is."

Pierson was speaking with Fox host Ainsley Earhardt opposite Wendy Osefo, a Johns Hopkins University professor and Democratic strategist. Osefo argued the statues represent a "nefarious" part of U.S. history, a part that "doesn't deserve a place on state grounds; it deserves a place in museums." Pierson disagreed, and the result was this remarkable exchange (which has been edited lightly for clarity amid furious crosstalk):

"It absolutely deserves a place," Pierson interjected, "because bad history is still good history for this country."

"Slavery is good history?" Osefo asked in shock.

"Absolutely," Pierson responded. "Where would we be today if not for that Civil War? How would people know how special and wonderful this country is?" [Mediaite]

Pierson appeared to be arguing that slavery and the Civil War was a character-building experience for the United States, and that the country's founders were laudable for being "slave owners who actually put in a place to change the laws." The segment rapidly descended into chaos as Osefo demanded to know whether Pierson realizes that hundreds of thousands of people suffered and died in this "good history."

Pierson's father is African-American, a fact she has used in service of her support for President Trump. "A racist does not pick a single black mother to represent his entire freaking presidential campaign," Pierson said in reference to herself and Trump in a New York Times article last week.

Watch the Fox conversation below. Bonnie Kristian

10:25 a.m. ET

The New York Times' conservative op-ed columnist Bret Stephens ruled Rex Tillerson "a nominee for worst secretary of state ever" on Morning Joe on Tuesday, throwing in a comparison to Cambodian dictator Pol Pot for good measure, Mediaite reports.

"The State Department is also part of the machinery of government and that machinery has to run in order for normal things to happen like having relationships with foreign countries or having consular services for U.S. people, or doing all the things the State Department has to do, " Stephens told the Morning Joe hosts. "And Tillerson seems to be of a kind of Maoist school, in which it's — maybe it's Pol Pot."

"Wow," Scarborough jumped in. "If that is in fact the case, that is like one of the worst secretaries of state of all time."

"I don't mean killing fields," Stephens was quick to clarify. Catch up on what he did mean below. Jeva Lange

9:28 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The CEO of "the largest coal mining company in America" believes President Trump has broken his promises to miners, The Associated Press reports. Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray claims he told Trump that without the White House invoking an obscure emergency order to protect coal-fired power plants, he would have to lay off more than 6,500 miners. Murray allegedly convinced Trump, and Trump told his energy secretary, Rick Perry, three times that "I want this done."

The order allows "the Energy Department to temporarily intervene when the nation's electricity supply is threatened by an emergency such as war or natural disaster" by offering a temporary exemption of "power plants from obeying environmental laws," AP writes.

Murray argued that his biggest customer, the coal-burning FirstEnergy Solutions, faces bankruptcy. "As stated, disastrous consequences for President Trump, our electric power grid reliability, and tens of thousands of coal miners will result if this is not immediately done," Murray wrote in letters reviewed by AP.

The Trump administration ultimately rejected invoking the emergency order, deeming it an unnecessary response. "We look at the facts of each issue and consider the authorities we have to address them, but with respect to this particular case at this particular time, the White House and the Department of Energy are in agreement that the evidence does not warrant the use of this emergency authority," said an Energy Department spokeswoman.

Trump has long been considered the "savior" of the coal industry, although Paul Waldman writes for The Week that "the truth is that … coal jobs were mostly lost to automation and aren't coming back." Jeva Lange

9:16 a.m. ET

Vice President Mike Pence sat for an extensive interview with Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt on Tuesday, discussing everything from President Trump's newly announced military strategy in Afghanistan to the roiling national debate over appropriate historical statues.

On the latter point, Pence defended Confederate monuments, like the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee that sparked the deadly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. He condemned the activists who have taken to unilaterally felling statues, saying that destroying public property "in the name of any cause" is unacceptable, and he said the decisions "about what displays happen" should be left to local communities.

Pence then made the argument that the statues are reflections of our history — while simultaneously offering a spectacularly generous rewrite of it. "What we have to walk away from is the desire by some to erase parts of our history in the name of some contemporary political cause," Pence said, referring to the Civil War, which was the deadliest war in American history and fought due to the desire of some states to defend the right to own other human beings.

Watch Pence's full interview with Earhardt below, with the discussion of Confederate monuments beginning at the 12:46 mark. Kimberly Alters

8:35 a.m. ET

A super PAC "closely aligned" with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released an ad Tuesday that skewers Kelli Ward, the Republican primary challenger to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Politico reports. Ward has been publicly backed by President Trump. The ad is the latest move in an unfolding proxy war between Trump and certain Senate Republicans, where the future of vulnerable Sen. Flake, a constant thorn in the president's side, hangs in the balance.

The Senate Leadership Fund's ad blasts Ward for being an "embarrassing" conspiracy theorist, dubbing her "Chemtrail Kelli Ward" and "not conservative. Just crazy ideas." The ad additionally slams Ward for calling on Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to resign following his cancer diagnosis after having previously lost to him "big league" in a bid for the Senate last year.

People close to the super PAC told Politico that the Senate Leadership Fund's "offensive [is] part of a broader effort to show that any Trump-led push to undermine Flake, or any GOP incumbent for that matter, won't go uncontested." Watch the ad below. Jeva Lange

7:54 a.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has been campaigning for his re-election since not long after his inauguration, but the Democratic National Committee, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and veteran GOP political consultant Mike Murphy, isn't so sure Trump will be the GOP standard-bearer in 2020. DNC research director Karen Dillon confirmed to Politico that the Democrats have already started a full-bore opposition-research operation on a number of potential Republican rivals in 2020, including Vice President Mike Pence, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. The idea is that either a weakened Trump will have a strong primary challenger or he won't run for re-election for whatever reason.

"With Trump's tumultuous presidency in complete chaos, we are prepared for all scenarios," Dillon told Politico. Sitting presidents don't usually get serious primary challengers, and when they do — Pat Buchanan taking on George H.W. Bush in 1992 or Ted Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1980 — it doesn't usually end well for the president in the general election. "For an opposition party to be scrutinizing potential intraparty re-election rivals to an incumbent president just seven months into his term is highly unusual," Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti notes, though Trump's entire chaotic presidency "has been nothing if not unusual."

Other potential Trump challengers include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), plus Mitt Romney. Spokesmen for Sasse, Kasich, and other Republicans being investigated mocked the Democrats for spending their money this way, but the Republican National Committee is also already digging for information on Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And conservative radio host Charlie Sykes actually thinks this early opposition research could be a blessing for the GOP. "Needless to say, there is no historical precedent for this kind of challenge to a sitting president this early in his term," he said. "I do think it's important to begin to have these discussions, if for no other reason than to make it clear that there remain Republicans unstained by Trump's presidency." You can read more about the Democratic effort at Politico, and Mike Murphy's case for Trump not making it to 2019 at CNN. Peter Weber

7:51 a.m. ET

While President Trump's speech on his way forward in the Afghanistan War received mixed praise at home, the Afghanistan government deemed it a "10 out of 10" on Tuesday, The Associated Press reports. Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Hamdullah Mohib said his fellow countrymen had heard "exactly what we needed to" from Trump and the U.S.

Trump on Monday said the United States military is "not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists." He additionally did not set a timetable for withdrawing troops, instead using a conditions-based approach, and he decided against further revealing the number of troops on the ground in the country or announcing upcoming military actions.

Mohib also praised Trump's decision to "[break] the silence" on Pakistan. Trump claimed the country has "much to gain" by working with the U.S. in Afghanistan, and "much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists."

At The Week, Damon Linker writes that Trump's speech commits "the United States to a few more years of madness in Afghanistan" and David Faris claims "in all likelihood, we are headed toward another disastrous troop surge that will end the way every previous attempt to 'win' in Afghanistan has ended: in failure." Jeva Lange

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