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January 17, 2019

In front of the cameras, President Trump is adamant about standing firm and not bending to Democrats in order to end the government shutdown, but behind the scenes, he's not so steadfast, The New York Times reports.

While watching news coverage of the shutdown recently, Trump turned to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, clearly heated. A person with knowledge of the conversation told the Times that Trump said: "We are getting crushed! Why can't we get a deal?" Trump has been telling aides that he thinks Americans are going to forget all about the shutdown — entering its 27th day on Thursday, it's the longest in U.S. history — and will instead remember that he demanded money for a southern border wall.

As Trump deals with the shutdown — his poll numbers dropping, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking him to reschedule or drop the State of the Union address, and other debacles — Mulvaney is figuring out his new role in the White House. Before becoming acting chief of staff on Jan. 3, Mulvaney led the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So far, he's taking a less rigid approach than his predecessor, John Kelly. He's not limiting access to Trump or demanding he sign off on everything, the Times reports, telling staffers during a meeting, "You're all adults." Read more about how Mulvaney is tackling his new role, and how he's dealing with an ever-present Jared Kushner, at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

3:30 p.m.

Marvel will do whatever it takes to break fans' hearts over the Avengers: Infinity War ending nearly a year after its release.

The studio on Tuesday debuted brand new character posters for Avengers: Endgame, with those who survived Thanos' decimation of half the universe at the end of Infinity War being in color, while the many, many people who didn't survive being in black and white.

In addition to the main leads, characters whose fates were not revealed at the end of Infinity War are featured, including Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie. Since she's in color, this implies she lived and suggests she's actually in Endgame, something Thompson had hinted at but was never officially confirmed. Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, and Wong also get color posters.

That's the good news, but on the flip side, Black Panther's Shuri gets a black-and-white poster, which seemingly confirms her off-screen death. The first Endgame trailer suggested as much, with Shuri being designated missing, but then again, so was Scott Lang, even though he lived. Anyone hoping Shuri similarly made it out unscathed just had those dreams shattered, though.

The tagline on the new posters is "Avenge the fallen," tying into the plot of the heroes attempting to undo Thanos' actions. While their success may be a foregone conclusion, one question has been whether Endgame will revive only the characters who died in Thanos' snap or also bring back those who died normal, pre-snap deaths like Loki. While that's still an open question, Loki, Gamora and Vision, all of whom died before the snap, got black-and-white posters on Tuesday, and since this places them in the same category as the snap victims, Slashfilm posits this could suggest everyone will return.

These questions won't remain unanswered for long, as with a month left to go until the film's April 26 release, we truly are in the endgame now. Brendan Morrow

3:11 p.m.

The Trump administration may not ultimately get to create the highly-anticipated Space Force — that will fall on congressional shoulders — but the White House has made strides in expanding the U.S. military's role beyond the Earth's atmosphere anyway.

Per CNN, defense officials confirmed on Tuesday that four star Air Force general, John Raymond, will head up the newly established U.S. Space Command.

Raymond currently oversees the Air Force Space Command (an entity separate from U.S. Space Command) and will remain in both jobs indefinitely. Defense News reported that if Space Force is, indeed, approved by Congress and established as a sixth branch of the military under the Department of the Air Force, Air Force Space Command could dissolved into the new unit. U.S. Space Command, however, will remain separate either way and will focus particularly on coordinating satellite efforts of all military branches.

Space Force remains highly controversial in Washington, but Space Command, which actually existed between 1982 and 2003 and does not require Congressional approval, has generally proven itself popular among lawmakers, as it will reportedly help the U.S. counter growing anti-satellite capabilities from possible hostile nations like China and Russia, per the Colorado Springs Gazette. President Trump announced the re-establishment of a U.S. Space Command last December. Tim O'Donnell

2:25 p.m.

Chicago's mayor and police superintendent on Tuesday tore into prosecutors for dropping the charges against Jussie Smollett, saying they stand behind their conclusion that he orchestrated a fake hate crime against himself.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday that all of the charges against Smollett being dropped is "without a doubt a whitewash of justice," arguing it sends the message that someone in "a position of influence and power" is treated differently than everyone else. Emanuel said that a grand jury had decided to indict Smollett after only seeing "a piece of the evidence" police had, complaining that Smollett has now "gotten off scot-free" after abusing hate crime laws "in the name of self-promotion" and asking, "Is there no decency in this man?"

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also said of the Empire actor, who had been hit with 16 charges but now has had his record cleared, "it's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period." Chicago "is still owed an apology," Johnson also said while criticizing Smollett as having decided to "hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system" when he should have wanted to clear his name in court.

Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, on Tuesday had said that Chicago police should not "try their cases in the press" or "convict people before they are tried in a court of law."

Joe Magats, the assistant state's attorney, told The New York Times' Julie Bosman on Tuesday that "we didn't exonerate" Smollett. Magats said that "we stand behind the investigation" but that "we work to prioritize violent crime" and that "I don't see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety." Brendan Morrow

1:53 p.m.

President Trump just performed the biggest 180 of all time.

After years of railing against Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's conduct surrounding Russian election interference, Trump finally got to see Attorney General William Barr's primary conclusions from the investigation on Sunday. Barr's letter said that, while Trump wasn't exonerated, he wouldn't face charges following Mueller's report. But Trump has proceeded to flip that determination on its head, going so far as to say "the Mueller report was great" and "it could not have been better" on Tuesday.

Trump went on to claim the report declared there was "no obstruction" and "no collusion," adding to his Sunday tweet claiming Mueller's report concluded "total exoneration" in his favor. That's not true. Per Barr's letter, Mueller's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, but also left it up to Barr "to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime." Barr decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:51 p.m.

Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor while firing a gun at his Soviet rivals. Luke Skywalker riding a Tauntauns on the ice planet Hoth. Aquaman emerging from the sea on the back of a giant seahorse.

Those were just some of the most striking visuals that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) propped up on an easel stand during the session before the Senate's procedural vote on the Green New Deal, a plan to revamp the U.S. economy to eliminate carbon emissions introduced this year by freshman congresswoman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). At first glance, it is clear that context is sorely needed.

When Lee had the floor he declared that he wasn't afraid of the Green New Deal like some of his colleagues. Instead, he said, he would consider the proposal with "the seriousness" it deserved, prompting his use of the wild images.

Velociraptors, he said, had as little to do with ending the Cold War as the Green New Deal will have in stopping climate change.

Then the performance began. A deadpan Lee said that without the airplanes the deal mulls eventually banning, Alaskans will have to get around on "carbon-neutral" Tauntauns, a fictional "reptomammal" from the Star Wars universe. Hawaiians, meanwhile, will have to resort to crossing the Pacific Ocean on the backs of giant seahorses. Lee did admit what we're all thinking, however. "It would be really, really awesome," he said. Watch Lee's speech here starting from the 2:08:36 mark. Tim O'Donnell

1:45 p.m.

When President Trump announced last week that he was unexpectedly canceling some North Korean sanctions, it left more than just his Twitter following confused.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Treasury had announced "additional large scale sanctions" on North Korea, but he was already withdrawing them. The problem was, the Treasury never made that announcement — and it never intended to, Bloomberg reports.

Per four sources who spoke to Bloomberg, Trump's tweet last Friday didn't actually refer to sanctions that had been announced "today," as he wrote. He reportedly was talking about sanctions against two Chinese shippers, which the Treasury had announced Thursday. The Treasury accused the Chinese companies of helping North Korea avoid separate American sanctions issued over its nuclear program.

So sure, the sanctions Trump reportedly referenced technically involved North Korea. But it's also totally reasonable that Trump's tweet left current and former government officials "stunned," Bloomberg writes. State Department, Treasury, and White House officials wouldn't even mention the tweet for a few hours. They eventually settled on releasing an unattributed statement saying those Chinese sanctions hadn't been reversed, and that the government wouldn't "wouldn't pursue additional sanctions against North Korea," Bloomberg continues.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later explained the tweet as Trump saying he "likes Chairman Kim and he doesn't think these sanctions will be necessary." Yet according to two sources who spoke to Bloomberg, those sanctions weren't anywhere in the Treasury's plans. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:28 p.m.

Jussie Smollett has just spoken publicly for the first time after having all of the criminal charges against him dropped.

Smollett, the Empire actor who police said staged a fake hate crime against himself, on Tuesday said that he has been "truthful and consistent on every single level since day one" and that he would "not be my mother's son if I was capable of even one drop of what I was accused of."

The actor also said he would "not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this." Now that the charges against him have been dropped, Smollett said he would like to "get back to work" and "move on with my life," closing by saying he will "continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

Smollett had said in January that he was the victim of a hate crime, saying he was attacked by two men in Chicago who put a noose around his neck and screamed, "This is MAGA country!" Although police said they originally treated this as a hate crime, they later said that Smollett actually staged it himself, accusing him of paying two men to attack him. Police blasted Smollett in a press conference, with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson saying what he did was "shameful." Smollett later pleaded not guilty to 16 felony charges.

But in a stunning turn of events, prosecutors on Tuesday unexpectedly dropped all of the charges against him, clearing his record and sealing the case. Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the police should not "try their cases in the press" and use the media to "convict people before they are tried in a court of law." Chicago police have yet to comment on Tuesday's events. Brendan Morrow

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