Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Thursday that he has fired four top officials in the department for “inappropriate behavior” on the same day that the department released a survey showing that about a third of staffers at Interior have experienced harassment or discrimination over the course of the last year.

“I’m speaking today to make it clear that the culture of harassment and intimidation, which this administration inherited, has come to an end. I’ve already removed four senior leaders that were guilty of inappropriate behavior, and I will remove 400 more if necessary,” Zinke said in a video published on the Interior Department website. “Intimidation, harassment and discrimination is a cancer to any organization. However deep it goes, we will remove it from Interior.”

Zinke did not detail the “inappropriate behavior” exhibited by the four fired employees, leaving unclear the nature of the harassment or discrimination. The secretary also suggested that the Obama administration was to blame for allowing a culture of harassment, portraying himself as the harbinger of change.

“In the past, the words ‘zero tolerance’ have been an empty promise. While past leaders at Interior have said the right things, there was very little if any action,” he said in the video. “To be clear, Interior will no longer protect predators or accept inappropriate behavior.”

Asked for details Thursday on any staffers fired as a result of the survey, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift would not say much to the Associated Press, but she did say that those terminated abused their authority, including with sexual harassment.

“Generally speaking, those terminated abused their authority to intimidate or harass fellow employees. This includes but is not limited to sexual harassment,” Swift told the AP in a statement.

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President Donald Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin over the phone on Thursday and thanked the Russian leader for lauding U.S. economic performance during his annual press conference, the White House said Thursday evening.

Putin specifically praised Trump’s “quite serious achievements” when it comes to economic growth during the press conference. The Russian leader also dismissed the notion that Russia worked with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election.

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe intensifies, Trump has continued to deny that his campaign colluded with Russia. The President has also avoided affirming the wide-held belief that Russia was behind the 2016 election hacking, so much so that his aides avoid mentioning it to him, according to the Washington Post.

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Following reports indicating that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is seriously considering retiring from Congress, a spokeswoman for the speaker said that he is “not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Strong indicated that Brendan Buck, a counselor to Ryan, would have additional comment, but he had not yet weighed in early Thursday afternoon.

Ryan also addressed speculation that he is thinking about retiring on Thursday. Asked as he was leaving his weekly press briefing whether he was quitting any time soon, Ryan replied, “I’m not.”

Two recent reports sparked the speculation.

The Huffington Post reported on Wednesday night that Republicans in Congress have been hearing rumors and speculation that Ryan will step aside soon now that he’s on the cusp of passing tax cuts, a long-held dream of his.

Politico followed up Thursday afternoon reporting that Ryan has told confidants that this will be his final term as speaker and that he’s considering retiring from Congress altogether at the end of this congress. Per Politico:

More recently, over closely held conversations with his kitchen cabinet, Ryan’s preference has become clear: He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress.

After the Politico report dropped, CNN published a report that Ryan has been “soul searching” about his future with close friends, and that those friends think it’s possible Ryan could leave Congress after the 2018 election.

Asked about the reports that Ryan is considering retirement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon that Trump spoke with Ryan recently and that the speaker assured him that the reports were not accurate.

“The President did speak to the speaker not too long ago, and made sure that the speaker knew very clearly, in no uncertain terms, that if that news was true he was very unhappy with it. The speaker has assured the President that those were not accurate reports, and they look forward to working together for a long time to come,” Sanders told reporters at the daily press briefing.

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Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, stressed on Thursday morning that Republican Roy Moore lost the Alabama senate and that Republicans must move on despite Moore’s refusal to concede the race.

During an interview on Fox News, host Sandra Smith noted that Moore has yet to concede the race despite Democrat Doug Jones’ decisive margin of victory, and asked Thune if he was relieved that Moore lost. Thune hedged and argued that there was no good outcome before stressing that Moore definitely lost and that Senate Republicans will just have to operate with one fewer member in their caucus.

“I think the message coming out of this, Sandra, is that unelectable candidates don’t normally get elected. And there were issues that we knew, everybody knew, that were going to be problematic. He was going to come in here, if he got elected, under a cloud in an ethics investigation. I’m not happy with the outcome. There were no good outcomes as far as I’m concerned there. I thought the best solution if he had stepped aside and allowed another Republican to run, we would have won that seat,” Thune told Smith.

“So we have to deal now with another Democrat in the Senate, but Roy Moore lost that election. It’s over,” Thune added. “We’ll move on and do the best that we can in the days ahead to continue to move an agenda forward that is good for the American people.”

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After Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning win in the Alabama Senate race on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump was mildly frustrated with Steve Bannon for urging him to back Roy Moore, but he remained surprisingly calm considering the GOP’s loss, according to several reports out Wednesday night.

The President was annoyed by coverage suggesting that the Alabama race was a referendum on his presidency and said, “I won Alabama, and I would have won Alabama again,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. Trump spent Wednesday asking advisers whether he made a mistake backing Moore and about his tweet after the race stressing that he endorsed Luther Strange in the Republican primary, the New York Times reported.

Trump distanced himself from the race and instead blamed Bannon for encouraging him to stand with Moore and blamed Moore for being a bad candidate, according to the Washington Post. However, it appears Trump is not upset enough with Bannon to remove him from his large circle of advisers and the two spoke by phone with Bannon on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

Despite his frustration and time spent questioning his choices, aides told the Washington Post and the New York Times that Trump was in surprisingly good spirits on Wednesday and approached the loss with a relatively muted response.

Trump, known for launching into angry tirades on Twitter while watching the news in the morning, only published a few tweets on the race on Wednesday. He distanced himself from Moore and reminded Twitter that he backed Strange in the primary. He later followed up with a tweet saying that the Republican party needs to recruit better candidates, placing the blame squarely on Moore.

One member of Trump’s orbit who could see his role diminished in the wake of the Alabama loss is Bill Stepien, Trump’s political director. The White House could bring on another political adviser, and reduce Stepien’s role, according to the Washington Post. The New York Times also reported that aides expect Stepien’s role to be diminished.

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Two Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate sexual misconduct allegations made against President Donald Trump before he took office.

In a letter, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the chair of the House Democratic caucus, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a leading voice in the #MeToo movement in Congress, noted that the ethics committees in the House and the Senate have launched probes into claims about lawmakers’ conduct but that accusations against Trump have not been investigated.

“Following the release of a video tape in October 2016 in which then-candidate Donald Trump admits ― and brags about ― making unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances toward women, numerous individuals came forward to share their own personal stories of their encounters,” they wrote in the letter.

“We believe public officials must set the gold standard for professional behavior, particularly those who hold the high offices of representative, senator, and ― especially ― president of the United States,” the Democratic lawmakers added. “That is why it is incredibly important that you conduct an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct by the president. No individual is above the law, regardless of his or her profession, persona, or power.”

Several Democratic members of Congress asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate the sexual misconduct claims against Trump earlier this week, but Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) declined to launch a probe and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Read the letter from Crowley and Speier:

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Roy Moore still refuses to concede the Alabama Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones and suggested in a video released by his campaign Wednesday night that provisional and military ballots could still swing the race in his favor.

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization, and our religion, and to set free a suffering humanity. And the battle rages on,” Moore says in the video. “In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race – and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

Though it’s true that the secretary of state has not certified the results and the state must account for remaining ballots, the secretary of state has also said that it’s unlikely Moore will ultimately defeat Jones given the current margin in the race.

In the video, Moore went on to charge that the political process has been “tainted” by “baseless” allegations and money from outside groups.

“Immorality sweeps over our land. Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the true issues which affect our country,” Moore says in the video. “This election was tainted by over $50 million from outside groups who want to retain power in their own corrupt ideology.”

Jones leads Moore by 1.5 percentage points according to unofficial results. The race as of Thursday morning is not close enough to trigger a state-sponsored recount. Alabama and national Republicans have accepted the results of the race — President Donald Trump called Jones to congratulate him on the win on Wednesday.

Watch Moore’s video:

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon lamented that some Republicans were “happy” that Republican Roy Moore, who faced several sexual misconduct allegations, lost the Alabama Senate race.

“We wish we would have gotten the seat. A lot of Republicans feel differently. They’re very happy with the way it turned out,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I would have — as the leader of the party, I would have liked to have had the seat. I want to endorse the people that are running.”

Though most Republicans never fully yanked their support for Moore, a handful of GOP lawmakers opposed him outright. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) donated to Democrat Doug Jones’ campaign and celebrated Jones’ win Tuesday night. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a frequent critic of Trump, said Wednesday morning that he was “happy” with Jones’ win. Both senators are not running for re-election.

The President told reporters Wednesday that Moore’s loss will not affect his agenda but also stressed that Republican gains in 2018 would be helpful.

“I will say, we have to get more senators and more congressmen that are Republicans elected in ’18. And then you’ll see a lot more of what we’re doing right now,” he said.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Wednesday morning that the House plans to stop using taxpayer money to pay settlements to victims of sexual misconduct.

“Yes, and that’s among the things we’re working on right now,” Ryan said on the Wisconsin radio program “The Jay Weber Show” when asked if Congress would stop using taxpayer money for settlements.

As a spate of lawmakers and high-profile media figures have recently been accused of sexual misconduct, Congress’ outdated, arduous system for addressing sexual harassment has come under scrutiny. In particular, lawmakers have criticized the fact that Congress has secretly paid settlements to sexual harassment victims for years.

When the host argued that using taxpayer money for those settlements is “indefensible,” Ryan said he agreed.

The speaker did not specify how Congress would compensate victims of sexual harassment if Congress’ Office of Compliance stopped paying settlements. He said that House Republicans are working on an entire package to overhaul the system for addressing sexual misconduct on Capitol but did not offer details.

A bipartisan bill to overhaul the system introduced in November would require the Office of Compliance to publish the amounts of settlements and the office in which the alleged behavior took place. It would also require members, but not staff, to pay Congress back for the settlement.

That same bill would also make changes to the reporting process, such as doing away with a requirement that victims undergo counseling before filing an official complaint, and would give additional protections to victims.

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Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Wednesday morning that it would be “difficult” for Republican Roy Moore to win the Alabama Senate race even as Moore refuses to concede.

“I know a lot of people would say it’s never over until it’s over, but the margin of victory for Doug Jones at this time looks like a difficult amount of votes to overcome as the remaining votes out that are there to be counted next week begin to be considered at the local level,” Merill said on CNN when asked how likely it is that Democrat Doug Jones will remain the victor in the special election.

Jones defeated Moore Tuesday night by more than a percentage point, however, Moore refused to concede and raised the possibility of a recount. The margin as of Wednesday morning would not trigger an automatic recount paid for by the state, but Moore could still request and pay for one himself.

Merrill, a Republican who backed Moore in the race, made similar comments Tuesday night on CNN, saying it’s “unlikely” Jones would not become a U.S. senator and said that he secured a decisive victory.

“The people of Alabama have spoken tonight,” Merrill said Tuesday night. “They’ve made their voice heard loud and clear.”

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