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December 22, 2018

Brett McGurk, the United States' special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, tendered his resignation Friday in response to President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Appointed by former President Barack Obama, McGurk previously planned to leave his post in February, but he will now depart at the end of December. Defense Secretary James Mattis also resigned this week over foreign policy differences with Trump; he will step down at the end of February.

"The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us. It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered," McGurk reportedly said in an email to his staff. "I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity." Bonnie Kristian

8:37 a.m.

On Tuesday, Russell Moore, a prominent evangelical Christian theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, deplored how the U.S. is treating detained migrant children, suggesting that "we can do better than this."

Jerry Fallwell Jr., a prominent evangelical leader who heads Liberty University and is famously friendly with President Trump, decided to publicly disagree, calling Moore "a bureaucrat" who has never "made a payroll" or "built an organization of any type from scratch."

The comments on Falwell's tweet veered from the saucy — "Have you ever hired a pool boy?" asked conservative pundit Bill Kristol. "Have naked photos of your wife ever showed up on Michael Cohen's computer?" — to the serious. "How did Jesus treat children?" asked Christian journalist Elizabeth Bruenig. Brian Zahnd, founding pastor of Missouri's Word of Life Church, brought the fire and brimstone:

Were there memes? Yes, there were memes.

Did anyone defend Falwell's thoughts on Christianity? If so, their comments were buried among questions about Jesus making payroll and how many people Falwell had just driven away from Christianity. To be fair, Falwell has pointed out that he is not an ordained minister, just a businessman who runs a Christian university. Maybe he can audit some New Testament classes this fall. Peter Weber

7:59 a.m.

After the publication of a graphic photo showing two migrant deaths at the border, former congressman Beto O'Rourke took aim at President Trump.

A disturbing picture of Salvadoran migrants, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, lying in shallow water at the Rio Grande was published by The Associated Press on Tuesday after originating from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, and it quickly gained viral attention. Ramírez and his wife and daughter had reportedly tried swimming across the river because his family could not request asylum. The Trump administration has limited the number of migrants who can request asylum per day.

O'Rourke in response placed the blame right on Trump, linking to the Associated Press story while writing, "Trump is responsible for these deaths." He also said that the administration's refugee policy comes "at the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety."

Other 2020 Democrats similarly spoke out on the photo while not being quite as direct as O'Rourke, with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) writing that denying asylum to families fleeing violence is "inhumane" and that "this is a stain on our moral conscience," while former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro called the photo "absolutely heartbreaking" and called for immigration reform.

The White House hasn't commented on the photo, but Trump on Wednesday morning tweeted that Democrats "want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking." Brendan Morrow

7:15 a.m.

Oregon state Senate President Peter Courtney (D) announced Tuesday that House Bill 2020, a plan to enact a cap-and-trade climate bill in Oregon, was dead for this session, and a few hours later, Gov. Kate Brown (D) confirmed the bill's demise. The Senate's 11 Republicans, who fled the state a week ago to stymie the legislation by denying the 18 Democrats a quorum, "have blocked a bill that provides a better future for our state and for our children, and the tactics they employed to do so are not just unacceptable, but dangerous," Brown said in a statement.

"Unfortunately the chaos and corruption of Washington, D.C., are coming to Oregon, my Oregon," Brown told The Washington Post. "Oregon government used to function. They literally shut down the legislative branch. Eleven people took their marbles and went home." Brown challenged the Republicans to "prove me wrong" by coming back to work so the Senate can consider the remaining 125 bills before the legislative session ends on Sunday. "Are they against climate change legislation or are they against democracy?" she asked. "If they are not back by Wednesday afternoon, we will know the answer."

Senate Republicans don't seem inclined to return. Sen. Herman Baertschiger (R), speaking over the phone from an "undisclosed location" in Idaho, told reporters "it saddens me that we have to do this," but "this session has been horrible. It has been anything but bipartisan." His caucus fled the Senate in May, too; after Democrats agreed to drop two bills, on gun control and vaccinations, Republicans agreed to return and stay until the end of the session. After they fled again, one senator, Brian Boquist (R), appeared to threaten to shoot any State Police officer who came to collect him, and right-wing paramilitary groups sided with the Republicans, leading to the Capitol shutting down on Saturday. Peter Weber

5:49 a.m.

There has been speculation that a recent series of letters between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — Trump called Kim's "beautiful" while Kim dubbed Trump's "excellent" — might lead to a third summit between the two leaders, after the second summit ended in February with no progress on denuclearization. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that in fact U.S. and North Korean officials are holding "behind-the-scenes talks" to arrange a third summit, in an unspecified time and place. He didn't say if the talks were face-to-face or who participated.

"There's no reason to regard the current situation as a stalemate in the peace process on the peninsula just because the pace has remained slow," Moon wrote in response to questions from seven news organizations, including The Associated Press. "Complete denuclearization and a permanent peace regime on the peninsula are tasks that cannot be achieved overnight." Trump is traveling to Japan for a G20 summit on Friday, before heading to South Korea to meet with Moon, and "he is reportedly considering a visit to the demilitarized zone that divides the two Korea," CNN reports, citing a South Korean government official.

Earlier Wednesday, North Korea's foreign ministry slammed the U.S. for having "viciously slandered" Pyongyang by suggesting its sanctions will "bring us to our knees." The foreign ministry's statement criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but not Trump, even referring to the president "as the 'supreme leader' of the United States," mirroring Kim's title in North Korea, CNN notes.

The foreign ministry is trying to distinguish the Kim-Trump "bromance from the relationship between their two countries," Duyeon Kim, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, suggested to CNN. "It sounds like they're sending a warning to Washington, almost as if to manage expectations ahead of a third summit, while making an appeal to Trump to basically put a straitjacket on his staff." Peter Weber

4:46 a.m.

"Over the weekend, columnist E. Jean Carroll accused Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her 23 years ago," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, "and yesterday, Trump gave a very, very bad reason why he's innocent, telling a reporter: 'I'll say it with great respect: No. 1, she's not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, okay?'"

"So it didn't happen because she's not his type," Colbert said. "That is the sound of a man realizing mid-sentence that he's not talking to Billy Bush."

"If someone asks you, 'Did you rape that woman?' and you say, 'No, she's not my type,' that's not a defense, it's a confession," Seth Meyers said at Late Night. "And hey, no one believes you when you deny this stuff because you already admitted to it, remember? You were on a bus with Billy Bush, bragging about assaulting women." Also, "I know you think everything's a conspiracy," he said, but "the media isn't trying to screw you because, to borrow a phrase, you're not their type."

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah also found Trump's response sorely lacking. "If your denial leaves people thinking there is a type of woman you would rape, that's not a good denial," he said. "And I don't understand how we're still struggling with this in society: A woman's attractiveness has nothing to do with whether or not they were raped. Nothing at all. But it shows you how out-of-whack Trump's priorities are. He's being accused of rape and his first concern is letting people know what his standards are for women. It's like you're accused of murdering someone at a Holiday Inn and your response is, 'I stay at the Ritz Carlton, no!'"

"Do you ever think about how many men were held accountable after facing a single credible accusation?" Noah asked. Trump's "got 22, and it's barely news." Watch him ponder how the guy whose election mainstreamed #MeToo is somehow immune to it. Peter Weber

3:17 a.m.

The bodies of Salvadoran migrants Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, were found Monday on the banks of the Rio Grande near Matamoros, in Mexico's Tamaulipas states. They are the latest migrants who died trying to reach the U.S. to seek asylum. Journalist Julia Le Duc captured the image of father and daughter, her arm "draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments," The Associated Press notes. It appeared Monday in Mexico's La Jornada, and AP published it on Tuesday.

Here's their story, as recorded by La Duc from Ramírez's wife and confirmed to AP by his mother in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, and an unidentified Tamaulipas government official:

Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria. He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. ...

"When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further ... and he couldn't get out," [Rosa] Ramírez told AP. "He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, 'I've come this far' and decided to go with her." [The Associated Press]

Ramírez and his wife and child left El Salvador on April 3 and arrived in Matamoros early Sunday, they went to the U.S. Consulate to request an asylum interview, then decided to seek asylum on the U.S. side, AP reports. Under a recently enacted "metering" policy, U.S. officials conduct about 40-45 asylum interviews a week, and there are 800 to 1,700 names on the waiting list.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday the two deaths are "very regrettable," adding, "We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing" the river. Mexico, under pressure from the U.S., has recently started taking and housing more asylum-seekers who successfully crossed into the U.S. Peter Weber

1:49 a.m.

Jimmy Fallon explained to guest Trevor Noah on Tuesday's Tonight Show that the "impression generator" they were about to use would "land on one random politician and one random topic," and whoever's turn it was would have to improvise an impersonation of that political figure discussing the chosen topic. Fallon, who excels at impersonating musicians, was no match for Noah. Anyone who's watched The Daily Show has seen Noah's Barack Obama impression, and both late-night hosts were able to bring out their Trump impersonations — two for one, in fact, in Noah's case — but Noah really shone when he had to make up whole cloth Beto O'Rourke reading a cereal box. Watch below. Peter Weber

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