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Our crazy politics year: From buying Greenland to Giuliani butt-dials to live-streaming dental work – NBC News



WASHINGTON — It’s difficult to describe politics in 2019 as anything but painful.

The nation is split exactly in half over President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Partisanship pervades the most fundamental questions about American values. And the Democratic debates are starting to make us all feel like Natasha Lyonne’s character in “Russian Doll,” living the same events over and over even as characters start to disappear inexplicably with each reboot. (Steve Bullock, we barely knew ya.)

But 2019 also had plenty of political stories that qualified as, well, laughable. Absurd. Preposterous. Darkly comedic, patently nutty or even just plain silly.

Each year, the NBC News Political Unit does its best to gather the year’s silliest, goofiest, most bizarre human behavior from America’s elected officials. Because as the decade draws to a close, we all could always use a laugh or two. Here are some of our favorites, in chronological order starting from last January:

Beto O’Rourke goes to the dentist

In early 2019, Beto O’Rourke’s viral social media presence, and his antagonizing of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the 2018 Senate race, had given his Democratic fans plenty of reasons to smile. After all, there had been a certain joyousness to his Insta-antics, such as skateboarding around a Whataburger parking lot or chowing down on guacamole.

But his public sharing of a trip to the dental hygienist was widely seen as less je ne sais quoi and more “TMI, dude.”

It wasn’t the last time that unvarnished access to O’Rourke’s every brain wave failed to age well. Eight months after the presidential hopeful declared, “Man, I’m just born to be in it” … he was right back out of it.

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Ted Cruz ate that guy’s son

You can’t blame Cruz for trying to have a sense of humor about, well, Ted Cruz. After all, not every United States senator faces conspiracies claiming that he’s the Zodiac Killer or that his dad killed JFK. (The latter rumor was, of course, fueled by the very president to whom Cruz has irrevocably tied his political fortunes. Irony!)

But Cruz’s particular clapback to a particularly absurd online meme, featuring his photo and the text “this man ate my son,” may have been, uh, alarming to those who weren’t in on the joke.

“He was delicious!” Cruz responded.

Inevitably, all traces of fun were immediately lost after Cruz’s foes and fans devolved into a Twitter argument about the joke and who precisely “owned” whom. But, hey, points for trying?

John Delaney has no time for your fun and games

John Delaney is having a Very Serious Year. He’s been spending his time and considerable personal wealth running for the Democratic nomination, with very little to show for it. The strength of his feelings about the direction of the Democratic Party is matched only by his urgency to deadlift 350 pounds right now.

So perhaps we should not be surprised that his turn on the Iowa State Fair’s giant slide did not exactly yield the childlike glee that might grip a less serious person.

Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., rides down the giant slide during a visit to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

That whole Greenland thing

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When wide-eyed future generations ask about the Trump Era in American politics, wizened old political sages will tell the tale of the time the president of the United States suggested purchasing the ice-covered semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and compared the transaction to a “large real estate deal,” which prompted a transatlantic spat that in turn resulted in the abrupt cancellation of his state visit to Denmark.

Remember that? That happened.

The pen ain’t mightier

Those wizened old political sages will also tell the tale of the time the president of the United States displayed a doctored map of a deadly looming storm — clumsily altered with a Sharpie, reportedly by his own hand — because he was in a dispute with an Alabama outpost of the National Weather Service over conflicting Twitter messages.

Remember that? That also happened.

President Donald Trump holds an early projection map of Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office on Sept. 4, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

J’accuse, Monsieur Delecto!

Keeping up appearances on your social media accounts can be a real drag. Just ask someone with a “Finstagram,” or someone who decided to #deletefacebook, or probably Beto O’Rourke after that whole dentist escapade.

So it’s not wildly unusual that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, had an alias Twitter account that allowed him to be, in his description, a “lurker” on the site.

But not since Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner has a political figure chosen a spicier pseudonym for their secret online identity.

Was Mitt Romney really “Pierre Delecto”? At long last, he admitted, C’est moi.”

Rudy Giuliani can’t stop butt-dialing people

Speaking of older Republican men’s relationship to technology: Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has spent a lot of time on his iPhone this year (he also has spent some time with said iPhone in an Apple Genius bar after forgetting his password).

But it turns out that some of his own phone calls occurred unbeknownst to Giuliani himself. NBC News reporter Rich Schapiro wrote in October that he received TWO separate accidental calls — colloquially known “butt-dials” — in which Giuliani could be heard saying phrases like “the problem is we need some money.”

Not to be outdone, some of the nation’s pre-eminent journalists chimed in to say: “Yes, I too have received a coveted Rudy Butt-Dial. But never one quite that good.”

Just say no

Yes, the methamphetamine crisis is a tragedy with a horrific human cost. And yes, they say that acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

But maybe the state government of South Dakota should have, y’know, asked a few more friends, “So what do you think of our new slogan to fight the meth crisis?” At least before spending half a million dollars on billboards reading “Meth. We’re on it.”

Images from South Dakota’s anti-methamphetamine

Inherit the Wind

American history is dotted with unsolved mysteries. Where is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What’s really going on at Area 51? Did a congressman audibly pass gas during an appearance on MSNBC?

Theories and counter-theories abound on the internet, far too many to enumerate here. But if you find yourself bored during the holiday season, a Google search of “Swalwell” and “gas” is sure to provide a rip-roaring good time.

Feats of strength

Joe Biden apparently has a thing about challenging people to push-up contests.

Asked about his age back in July, he joked that he’d happily face off in one with Trump. But the mood wasn’t quite as light later in the year, after an 83-year-old Iowa man at a town hall event aggressively questioned Biden’s age and Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukraine. “You’re a damn liar, man,” an angry Biden shot back, before suggesting a push-up contest or footrace. (There was also much dispute later about whether Biden also accused the man of being fat.)

To be fair, Biden isn’t the only 2020 presidential candidate who has mused about challenging a rival to engage in Feats of Strength. In August, Andrew Yang said he would challenge Trump to “any physical or mental feat under the sun.” He later added one exception: “Like, if there was a hot-air balloon that was rising and you needed to try and keep it on the ground, he would be better than me at that. Because he is so fat.”

Flush hour

When wide-eyed future generations ask about the Trump Era in American politics, those aforementioned wizened old political sages will surely not forget the tale of the time the president said this about toilets:

We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on, in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it. And you don’t get any water. You turn on the faucet; you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. It’s dripping out — very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.

Honorable mentions: That time some teenagers were running an 89-year-old’s presidential campaign; an extremely gross story about a prank Beto O’Rourke allegedly played on his wife; Marianne Williamson’s “Girlfriend” shoutout; that very, VERY sparsely attended Deval Patrick event and Trump’s copyright dispute with the band Nickelback.

That’s in no way a complete list of the absurd things that happened this year, but there’s only so much room on the internet, after all.

From all of us here at the NBC News Political Unit, have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

CORRECTION (Dec. 25, 2019, 9:23 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of an NBC News reporter. He is Rich Schapiro, not Shapiro.

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Doctor, NDP say politics guide Saskatchewan government’s COVID-19 response – Global News



An infectious disease physician and the official opposition both believe politics guide the Saskatchewan government’s response to COVID-19.

Both spoke a day after Premier Scott Moe announced the province is transferring six COVID patients to Ontario to help ease the burden on the overcrowded ICUs.

Both said the province must to do more to protect residents from the disease.

Read more:
Saskatchewan premier apologizes to those left without health care due to COVID-19

Dr. Alex Wong, in Regina, stated he believes the government uses “some reasoning, that is political in nature, that keeps our elected officials, specifically our minister of health and our premier, from implementing clear public health… interventions.”

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said the government is ignoring advice from the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.

“We’re asking that, moving forward, all of Dr. Shahab’s recommendations be made publicly available,” she told reporters.

“Enough of the behind-the-scene politics,” Mowat said, saying health minister Paul Merriman should be as forthright as possible.

Read more:
Saskatchewan premier says province could have acted sooner on renewed COVID-19 rules

During a press conference with the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) leadership team on Monday, Dr. Shahab said he recommended strongly that people limit themselves to two or three households for private gatherings.

Shahab’s advice remains just that — a recommendation. Saskatchewan is the sole province or territory without any form of government restrictions or guidance on gathering size restrictions.

The province also had the highest death rate per capita in the past two weeks, with 5.7 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the federal government.

Read more:
Saskatchewan’s top doctor named in alleged email threat

“There’s a reason why (gathering size restrictions have) literally been implemented every single place in the country, except us,” Wong said from his office in Regina, stating that even vaccinated people can transmit the virus.

The situation in the province’s ICUs, he said, was dire.

“We know informal triage is happening at the bedside, (doctors are) having to make hard decisions again about who gets access to resources and who does not.”

And things could still get worse.

Read more:
COVID-19: Saskatchewan to ask federal government for help easing burden on ICUs

The University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Safety, which tracks COVID-19 virus load in the water for several cities, recorded a 109-per cent increase in Saskatoon from Oct. 7-13 over the prior week.

Toxicologist John Giesy, a member of the team and a former Canada research chair holder, said Thanksgiving celebrations helped spread the virus.

Giesy said the fact the virus load doubled doesn’t mean new cases will double, but told Global News the figure can offer a hint about what the city will soon experience.

“Hospitalizations lag a week to two weeks behind our numbers,” he said.

“So by the time people get sick, end up sick enough to be in the hospital and get diagnosed, (it) takes some time.”

“What we don’t know now,” he went on to say, “is what’s going to happen when the weather turns cold. That’s the next big unknown.”

Global News reached out to Moe’s and Merriman’s offices to ask what health measures Shahab had recommended since July 11 and which of them the government had enacted.

Read more:
Saskatchewan sending 6 intensive care patients to Ontario as ICU challenges continue

Global News also asked the premier and health minister if they would implement gathering size restrictions in light of the post-Thanksgiving doubling of the virus load.

The Saskatoon Public Safety Agency, which coordinates the PEOC, responded.

A statement said the PEOC, “is taking a strategic approach when it comes to resource requests, to ensure that requests meet the needs of the province at any given time.”

“There doesn’t appear to be any clear end in sight at this point,” Wong said, referring to the pandemic, saying he and other front-line workers will struggle in the next few weeks.

“If there’s no further action, then we’re just kind of going to see how it goes. We’re going to be on our own.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Opinion: Politics has become a thankless, dangerous job – The Globe and Mail



Team members remove a window decal that was defaced at the campaign office of then-Liberal MP Catherine McKenna, in Ottawa, on Oct. 24, 2019.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

When Catherine McKenna announced she was leaving politics, she experienced an instant sense of relief.

It wasn’t the insane workload and hours – she was never afraid of hard work. Or the travel and the back-to-back meetings and the corrosive effect of snide partisanship. No, what she felt immediate respite from was fear – the fear that accompanies today’s politicians, especially ones with high-profile roles overseeing controversial files.

“I think the biggest thing was as a cabinet minister I constantly felt on edge,” the former environment minister told me in an interview. “It was the constant threats, people verbally accosting my staff and defacing my constituency office and sending me smashed up Barbie dolls.

“You realize people know where you live. You do think a lot about the safety of your children. It’s like this horrible cloud that follows you everywhere, and you have to try and pretend it’s not there but you can’t. You have to take threats seriously.”

Ms. McKenna is precisely the type of person we hope to attract to politics: smart, articulate, passionate about important issues, a fierce advocate for women and girls. Her absence leaves a hole. But who can blame her for wanting to leave given the constant harassment she faced? Why would anyone want to go into politics these days?

One never knows when deranged, malicious utterances on some social media platform might lead to something more serious. The recent killing of British MP David Amess, stabbed to death while meeting constituents in a church hall, is a tragic reminder of the increasing threat politicians all around the world face.

While the risk of violence has been something legislators have always had to live with, there is a sense it’s much worse now, amplified by social media and the ecosystem of the aggrieved.

“If you hate Catherine McKenna, Facebook will go find you other people who hate me too.”

It seems we have a few choices.

One option is finally getting serious with the social media platforms that are creating a dangerous work environment for politicians. Facebook and Twitter, among others, have said they will deal with the issue but have demonstrated little will to do so. This is no longer a freedom of speech issue. This is a public safety issue, and we shouldn’t fear trampling on certain rights in the name of a safer world.

The second option is massively increasing the security budgets for our elected officials. In Canada this would cost billions. Think about the home security systems that would be needed, the bodyguards. The fortress you would have to turn the House of Commons into. I doubt this would be very appealing to the public.

The third option is doing nothing and accepting that increasingly fewer of our best people are going to want to have anything to do with civic life because of the risk it poses to their personal safety and that of their families. I would argue this is already happening.

Every day it seems there is another report of a politician being screamed at or threatened in a public place. It happened to Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner when she and her husband were out for dinner during the election campaign. A man came up and started yelling at her. The same thing happened recently to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart. He and his wife were at a downtown liquor store when a man in his 50s approached the mayor and started screaming at him, daring him to step outside and fight. He then started in on the mayor’s wife. Police were called, and the matter remains under investigation.

I thought about this when I interviewed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in downtown Vancouver in July. After the interview, he plunged into a waiting crowd to take selfies. How easy it would have been, I thought, for some lunatic to do serious harm to the PM. Scenes like that are likely soon coming to an end.

It needs to be said that not all politicians are blameless here. Some are responsible for the kind of incendiary language that stokes division and hatred. The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is a prime example of that. Some of the statements by People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier during the recent election were highly inflammatory.

We need to take this issue far more seriously than we do now. The future of our country literally depends on it.

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U.S. House committee backs contempt charge against Trump aide Bannon



A US Congressional Committee probing the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of contempt-of-Congress charges against Steve Bannon, a longtime aide to former President Donald Trump.

The seven Democratic and two Republican members of the House of Representatives Select Committee approved a report recommending the criminal charge by a 9-0 vote, calling it “shocking” that Bannon refused to comply with subpoenas seeking documents and testimony.

Approval of the report paved the way for the entire House to vote on whether to recommend contempt charges That vote is set for Thursday, when the full, Democratic-controlled chamber is expected to approve the report.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said prosecutors there would “evaluate the matter based on the facts and the law” if the full House approves the recommendation.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position. But we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the panel’s chairman, said in his opening remarks.

Bannon’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening.

Before leaving office in January, Trump pardoned Bannon of charges he had swindled the Republican president’s supporters. Trump has urged former aides subpoenaed by the panel to reject its requests, claiming executive privilege.

Bannon, through his lawyer, has said he will not cooperate with the committee until Trump’s executive privilege claim is resolved by a court or through a settlement agreement.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the select committee’s vice chair, said: “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of Jan. 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.”

Thompson said Bannon “stands alone” among those subpoenaed in his refusal to cooperate.

More than 670 people have been charged with taking part in the riot, the worst attack on the U.S. government since the War of 1812. The select committee has issued 19 subpoenas.

“It’s shocking to me that anyone would not do everything in their power to assist our investigation,” Thompson said.


In its report, the committee argued that Bannon made statements suggesting he knew ahead of time about “extreme events” on Jan. 6, when Congress was scheduled to certify Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

Bannon said on a Jan. 5 podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” The next day, thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol.

Four people died on the day of the assault, and one Capitol police officer died the next day of injuries sustained in defense of the seat of Congress. Hundreds of police officers were injured and four have since taken their own lives.

Trump filed suit on Monday, alleging the committee made an illegal, unfounded and overly broad request for his White House records, which committee leaders rejected..

The U.S. Supreme Court said in 1821 that Congress has “inherent authority” to arrest and detain recalcitrant witnesses on its own, without the Justice Department’s help. But it has not used that authority in nearly a century.

In 1927, the high court said the Senate acted lawfully in sending its deputy sergeant at arms to Ohio to arrest and detain the brother of the then-attorney general, who had refused to testify about a bribery scheme known as the Teapot Dome scandal.

It was not immediately clear how the Justice Department would respond to a House recommendation – there have been few accusations of contempt of Congress – but some House members have argued that letting Bannon ignore subpoenas would weaken congressional oversight of the executive branch.

“No one in the United States of America has the right to blow off a subpoena by a court or by the U.S. Congress,” panel member Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, told reporters after the meeting.

The select committee was created by House  Democrats against the wishes of most Republicans. Two of the committee’s nine members – Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger – are Republicans who joined House Democrats in voting to impeach Trump in January on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 attack in a fiery speech to supporters earlier that day.

Multiple courts, state election officials and members of Trump’s own administration have rejected Trump’s claims that Biden won because of election fraud.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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