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February 13, 2018

President Trump's 2019 budget proposal and infrastructure plan, both unveiled Monday, have something in common: Sell! Sell! Sell!

In the infrastructure plan, which envisions leveraging $200 billion in federal funds into $1.5 trillion in investment, "the Trump administration is pushing federal officials to sell off, privatize, or otherwise dispose of a broad array of government assets," The Washington Post reports, including Dulles and Reagan National airports, freeways, aqueducts, and electrical facilities in the South, West, and Pacific Northwest. The budget also sets aside $150 million to explore privatizing the International Space Station.

"The federal government owns and operates certain infrastructure that would be more appropriately owned by state, local, or private entities," the Trump infrastructure plan says. Federal agencies would gain new "authority to divest of federal assets" and keep the proceeds of such sales, incentivizing the privatization of public property.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called this "a much more collaborative and creative way" of funding projects when "unfortunately, there's not enough money to be able to pay for all the infrastructure needs of our country." (Chao's husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, just pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut.) "We should also not discriminate" against private firms wanting to partner with public entities, Chao said. Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute had a different view of the proposal:

The budget's proposal to "encourage commercial development" of the ISS, with the goal of at least partially privatizing the orbiting research and exploration facility after 2024, was not fleshed out. And it's prospects are murky. Private aerospace firms seemed cool on the idea, and Congress did not seem enthusiastic. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the rumored proposal fiscally irresponsible and blamed it on "numskulls" at the Office of Management and Budget. Peter Weber

5:55a.m.

In weighing the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia's brutal murder or accidental killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump repeatedly brings up the $110 billion in arms sales he claims to have signed with the Saudis as a reason to maintain robust ties. And he doesn't frame that as a victory for U.S. defense contractors but as a job-creation engine — a claim that rose from 450,000 U.S. jobs on Oct. 13 to 600,000 and then, a few minutes later, a million jobs on Oct. 19. "Trump is not very precise with numbers, but this is getting ridiculous," says Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, who gave Trump's jobs claims "Four Pinocchios."

First, those arms sales are mostly "smoke and mirrors," a combination of speculative sales, deals reached under the Obama administration, and a much smaller amount of contracts actually signed, Kessler notes. The details of the prospective arms sales "have been sketchy," The Associated Press adds, since Trump first announced them in May 2017. Second, Saudi Arabia says half of the spending on any signed contracts must take place in Saudi Arabia — in other words on Saudi jobs. After Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia in 2017, the State Department described the deals discussed as "potentially supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States," not "creating" jobs.

"Moreover," Kessler writes, "the Aerospace Industries Association says that in 2016 there were 355,500 manufacturing jobs supported by the entire defense and national security industry, generating $146 billion in annual exports. Thus it's hard to imagine that $110 billion in deals with Saudi Arabia, spread over a decade, would significantly add to that total, let alone more than double it." You can read more details at The Washington Post — though for anyone who has decided it's not worth suspending arms sales to a country waging an ugly war in Yemen over the admitted extrajudicial killing of a U.S. resident for criticizing his government, the details may be superfluous. Peter Weber

4:07a.m.

A CNN/SSRS poll of Florida's Senate and gubernatorial races released Sunday had some good news for Democrats that CNN says "could be an outlier" or "an indicator of renewed Democratic enthusiasm." In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, opened up a 12-point lead among likely voters over former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), 54 percent to 42 percent. Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has a smaller 5-point lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), 50 percent to 45 percent, within the poll's margin of error.

The Democrats, especially Gillum, are being buoyed by lopsided advantages among women, younger voters, and non-white voters. The Republicans have a wide lead on the issue of the economy and the Democrats dominate on the issue of health care. Gillum and Scott are seen getting a boost from their responses to Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.

As CNN political analyst Mark Preston notes in the video below, the races are likely tighter than this poll suggests — according to the RealClearPolitics average, Gillum leads DeSantis by 3.7 percentage points, thanks largely to the boost from this CNN poll, and Nelson leads Scott by 1.3 points. FiveThirtyEight rates the Gillum-DeSantis race a "likely Democratic" pickup. Several reputable polls have registered greater Democratic enthusiasm.

SRSS conducted the CNN poll Oct. 16-20 on landlines and cellphones, contacting 1012 adults, including 872 registered voters and 759 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters is ±3.9 percentage points and for likely voters, ±4.2 points. "The Democratic advantages in the poll were similar across multiple versions of a likely voter model, including those driven more by interest in the campaign and those which placed stronger emphasis on past voting behavior," CNN notes. Peter Weber

3:12a.m.

At the end of their debate earlier this month, two candidates for a Vermont state House seat asked the moderator for a few extra minutes — not to make last-second appeals for votes, but rather to make a little music.

Lucy Rogers, the Democrat, grabbed her cello, while Zac Mayo, the Republican, picked up his guitar. They started performing "Society" by Eddie Vedder, much to the surprise of everyone in attendance at the debate inside the Varnum Memorial Library in Jefferson. "It strikes a chord," Mayo told CBS News. "To say to the world that this is a better way."

Rogers and Mayo agreed early on while campaigning in Lamoille County that they were going to be civil and treat each other with respect throughout the race. During a Fourth of July parade, the pair discussed their mutual love of music, and ahead of the debate, Rogers asked Mayo if he wanted to play a song with her. He thought it was a fantastic idea — and so did the voters who attended the debate. One told CBS News it "gave me a lot of hope," while another declared this was "what we needed all along." Catherine Garcia

2:58a.m.

Caroll Spinney is retiring as the voice and actor behind beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Since Spinney has given life to Big Bird since 1969, replacing him will be no small feat. The Late Show had some unconventional ideas for people who might be able to fill these oversize bird feet, and through the magic of television, you can watch these four prominent men try out for the role. The words that come out of Big Bird's mouth are actual audio clips from these very public figures, but they are probably not safe for Sesame Workshop.

Scott Meslow spoke with Spinney for The Week in 2015, and you can read that interview for more information about the man who breathed life into Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 50 years. Peter Weber

2:32a.m.

Four Americans and their Costa Rican tour guide were killed on Saturday when their rafts overturned on the Naranjo River in Quepos, Costa Rica.

Officials said Sunday that three rafts carrying 18 people overturned, and 13 passengers were able to hang onto the rafts but five were pulled downstream. The victims have been identified as American tourists Ernesto Sierra, Jorge Caso, Sergio Lorenzo, and Andres Dennis, all between the ages of 25 and 35, and their Costa Rican tour guide, Kevin Thompson Reid.

The river was high from rains, officials said, and the Red Cross had 12 workers in the area, who helped assist with the rescue. Catherine Garcia

2:23a.m.

WikiLeaks founder and longtime resident of Ecuador's London embassy Julian Assange now has to pay for his own medical bills and phone calls, clean up his bathroom and living area, and take care of his cat, including paying for its food and cleaning the litter. Assange is suing Ecuador and its foreign minister, Jose Valencia, arguing that the new protocols are unfair and were created without his input. The obligations to clean up after his cat are particularly "denigrating," his lawyer Baltasar Garzón said at a news conference in Quito on Friday.

Assange sought asylum in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012, evading a Swedish arrest warrant for suspected sexual assault. Sweden later dropped the investigation, but Britain says it will arrest him if he leaves the embassy for violating the terms of his bail. Assange, who gave a boost to President Trump during the 2016 election, has said he believes Britain would extradite him to the U.S. to face prosecution for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. Ecuador granted Assange, an Australian national, citizenship in 2017, then briefly tried to name him to a diplomatic post in Russia, Reuters reports.

Assange "has been held in inhuman conditions for more than six years," Garzón said. "Even people who are imprisoned have phone calls paid for by the state." He also said Assange hasn't had internet access since March, contradicting a statement from WikiLeaks last week. Garzón did not say who has been cleaning up after Assange's cat for six years. Valencia, named in the lawsuit because he is the intermediary between Assange and Ecuador's government, said Ecuador "will respond in an appropriate manner," but "the protocol is in line with international standards and Ecuadorian law." Peter Weber

2:10a.m.

The official Saudi Press Association reported on Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the eldest son of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi to offer his condolences to the family.

On Oct. 2, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and he was never seen again. Turkish officials say he was murdered by Saudi agents, and on Friday, Saudi Arabia admitted he was killed inside the consulate, claiming he died during a fight. On Fox News Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said it was a "rogue operation," and "the individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority. There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable in any government."

The foreign minister said the crown prince and the kingdom's intelligence services did not know about the operation in advance, and that the Saudis do not know exactly how Khashoggi was killed or where his body is now. Saudi Arabia feels the Khashoggi family's "pain," al-Jubeir said, and "I assure them that those responsible will be held accountable for this." Catherine Garcia

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