Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

While he’s made it clear in the past that he is not an advocate of recreational marijuana use, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced new medical marijuana research legislation Wednesday in a bill that would make it easier to conduct research on the plant for medical use.

But his statement introducing the roll-out of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 wasn’t as dry as the bill’s title sounds.

It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch said in a statement introducing the bill and its co-sponsors, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).

“To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act,” he said.

Hatch will introduce the bill on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. He said he’s bringing the legislation forward because the country hasn’t had the chance to properly delve “into the weeds” on the effectiveness of marijuana as medical treatment.

“I urge my colleagues to join Senator Schatz and me in our joint effort to help thousands of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders,” he said. “In a Washington at war with itself, I have high hopes that this bipartisan initiative can be a kumbaya moment for both parties.”

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Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced his foundation’s first set of civic engagement programs coming this fall, which are all designed to expand opportunities for young people in the U.S. and around the world.

The programming at each event will reflect feedback Obama received from young people and supporters about what his Foundation should offer, he said.

“We asked you what this organization ought to look like. What its goals should be. What work is going on out there that we should lift up,” he said in an email to supporters. “And you delivered beyond what we could have hoped for. Based on what we’ve heard from you, I’m here to tell you what’s next.”

He said the organization is going to “focus on empowering and equipping civic innovators and young leaders” with what they need to “create change in their communities.”

“We’ll spotlight the incredible individuals and projects around the world that are making an impact, and convene those that are tackling challenges in their own backyards,” he said.

The first event, a one-day civics training program, will be held in Chicago on Oct. 14, as well as in Boston and Tempe, Arizona in November.

About 150 young people will attend each training to learn how to get involved in their local municipalities for the first time. The trainings will be hosted by the Obama Foundation and other partner organizations. 

At the end of October, Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will host a two-day summit in Chicago for young people from all over the world to gather and share ideas and problem solve.

The foundation also announced its Obama Foundation Fellowship program and its plans to ally with the My Brother’s Keeper organization.

“A diverse set” of 20 young people will be chosen for the two-year fellowship, according to the Foundation.

“From the day we launched the Foundation, I told you that even as we experiment, even as we try and fail as humans do, there would be one constant in our work — our commitment to progress,” Obama said. “Democracy is a job for all of us. What are you going to do about it? I’ve never been more certain that we’ll rise to the occasion — together.”

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Congress on Tuesday passed a bipartisan resolution condemning white supremacists and other hate groups and sent it to President Trump’s desk, Politico and The Hill reported.

With the bill on its way to the White House, sponsors urged President Donald Trump to not hesitate in signing it.

“Tonight the House passed my resolution condemning hate groups and the Charlottesville attack. POTUS should send a clear message and sign it ASAP,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate, tweeted Tuesday evening.

The resolution is designed to formally condemn the “shameful and hate-filled acts” of white supremacists and other hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia last month who gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who sponsored the bill in the House.

The rally ended in violence when a man affiliated with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters and killed one woman.

“I hope this bipartisan action will help heal the wounds left in the aftermath of this tragedy and send a clear message to those that seek to divide our country that there is no place for hate and violence,” Connolly said in a statement he tweeted.

While the resolution is on its way to the President’s desk, the White House has not taken an official stance on whether it will sign the measure, according to Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, who tweeted that a White House spokesperson said there were “no announcements” on the resolution yet.

The bipartisan resolution will likely force Trump to officially and formally condemn white supremacists, a stance he was hesitant to take after the violence in Charlottesville.

He blamed “both sides” for the violence and claimed there were “good people” on both sides of the protest.

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Republican members of Congress and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) are “denying reality” by refusing to acknowledge the role that climate change has played in the two recent hurricanes that have rocked U.S. coastal communities in the past month, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told Politico Tuesday.

“It’s denying reality,” Nelson said. “You can call it politics or whatever, but the Earth is getting hotter. This storm is another reminder of what we’re going to have to deal with in the future.”

As a former astronaut, Nelson said climate change and the greenhouse effect have warmed the waters and caused sea levels around Florida to rise in recent decades, which helped fuel the size of Hurricane Irma, he said, saying the issue is not political.

“It’s certainly going to be an important issue, and if certain people such as the one you mentioned is my opponent, there’s a significant contrast in what we believe,” Nelson told Politico, referencing Scott, who will likely be Nelson’s opponent in the 2018 Senate race and has questioned climate science in the past.

He said he thinks Republicans should explain why they think “99.5 percent of scientists” are wrong climate change.

“It’s ironic isn’t it?” Nelson said, questioning why politicians are so quick to believe government scientists when they make predictions about when hurricanes are coming, but not on climate change predictions.

“They accept the hurricane information, but deny the climate information.”

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Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) and his wife are recovering from injuries they sustained when they were involved in a car accident Tuesday.

The couple sustained “non-life-threatening injuries” when the car they were driving east on I-40 was rear-ended and flipped multiple times, Loudermilk’s office said in a statement sent to TPM. The impact caused their vehicle to leave the road and flip multiple times eventually coming to rest on the passenger’s side.

A spokeswoman said the couple was driving to Washington, D.C. after coming home to Georgia to assist in Hurricane Irma relief efforts. 

“Both the congressman and Mrs. Loudermilk were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries where they were treated and released,” the spokeswoman added. “They have been instructed to return to Georgia for follow-up treatment.”

While he wasn’t harmed then, Loudermilk was also present on the baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia in June when a man opened fire at a congressional Republican baseball practice. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot and is still recovering from injuries.

 “The Loudermilk’s immediately acknowledged God’s hand in protecting them from serious injury, and they would appreciate your thoughts and prayers as they recover,” the spokeswoman said.

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The aid Mexico promised the U.S. to help with victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas will now be redirected back to Mexico after the country was hit by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that killed 95 people and a hurricane of its own.

The Mexican government announced its decision in a statement on Monday, saying it “unfortunately” wouldn’t be able to provide the aid it had promised Texas because Mexico needed to “channel all available logistical support to the families and communities that have been affected” into its own country.

Last month, the Mexican government released a statement promising help in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

While President Donald Trump never responded to the country’s offer, Mexico’s foreign secretary had been in communication with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the aid and sent a detailed note of its offer to the State Department on Aug. 28.

On Sept. 6, Mexico received word that the U.S. had accepted its offer, but would only need “logistical support” from the country, as the need in Texas had “declined considerably,” according to the statement from Mexico.

While it had to withdraw its promise to help the U.S., the Mexican government expressed sympathy over the devastation in Florida after being struck by Hurricane Irma.

“The Mexican government expresses its full solidarity with Florida given the severe damage done by Hurricane Irma,” the statement said. “Mexico will be alert to developments related to this hurricane in the coming days and hopes that Florida, Texas and Louisiana soon recover from the damage caused by the hurricanes that have struck them.”

Trump has not offered condolences or aid to Mexico in the wake of the country’s two natural disasters, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray on Monday to express sympathy.

“He emphasized … that the U.S. government stands ready to assist our neighbors in Mexico during this difficult time,” a State Department spokesperson told The Los Angeles Times.

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The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said she fully expects to see Donald Trump Jr. back on Capitol Hill for a public hearing at some point to further discuss his meeting with a Russian lawyer last summer.

Trump Jr. met with the Senate Judiciary Committee for four hours last week to discuss his role in arranging a meeting that was proposed by a family friend as a chance to learn damaging information about his father’s presidential-opponent Hillary Clinton. It was presented as being a part of the Russian government’s efforts to aid President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to emails Trump Jr. released himself. 

After that meeting, CNN asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) if she expected to see Trump Jr. back in the Senate for public testimony.

“I do — come hell or high water,” she told the network.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been less committed than Feinstein about whether he plans to bring Trump Jr. back for further questioning, CNN reported.

During his interview with judiciary staff last week, Trump Jr. called the meeting with Kremlin-linked individuals a waste of time and he said he took the meeting to see if they had information about Clinton’s “fitness” for office.

He claimed neither he nor anyone he knew colluded with any foreign governments during the campaign.

Both CNN and The Washington Post reported that inside accounts of the testimony revealed that Trump Jr. declined to address some of the most important questions he was asked, like whether his father helped him dictate his response to press inquiries about the meeting.

Both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed interest in fully vetting Trump Jr. after he released the email chain that led to his meeting with the Russian lawyer last summer.

In those emails the President’s son said he would “love” to meet with the Russians if they were able to produce damaging information on Clinton.

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Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said one reason he’s not seeking reelection is because of the shift he’s seen in the balance of power between moderate and conservative members of his party.

“I’ll tell you what, the battle prior to Donald Trump was this: We had the purists versus the pragmatists — and the pragmatists were largely the governing wing of the party, of which I was a part,” he said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” Monday evening. “That was the battle, that was the litmus test. Now since Donald Trump has become President, the litmus test is more Trump loyalty — are you loyal enough?”

While Dent said Trump played a role in his retirement from Congress, it’s something he has been thinking about since September 2013, when right-wing members of his party shut down the government over a budget impasse.

He said he wants to leave the job “at the top of my game, some people hang on too long.”

“We were having challenges prior to Donald Trump. I mean the simple basic task of governance — just funding the government through a continuing resolution or preventing a default. These shouldn’t be very difficult things to do. But they became excruciatingly hard,” he said. “We have some responsibilities. And we just can’t get them done. And if you can’t take care of the basics, the fundamentals, then how can you advance big policy initiatives like tax reform, health care reform, infrastructure. That’s I guess the frustration for me.”

Dent, a moderate Republican, announced last week that he would not seek reelection when his term is up in 2018, The Washington Post first reported.

Dent is one of four Republicans from competitive districts that have announced they’ll retire when their term is up. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Dave Trott (R-MI) have all announced this year that they’re done with Congress.

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After former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon claimed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lost his shot at a cabinet job because he criticized the President after the Access Hollywood tape came out, Christie fought back.

In an interview with PBS News Hour Monday, Christie said “no one’s really going to care” about what Bannon says “now that he’s been fired” from the White House.

In a post-mortem interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose last week Bannon claimed the response to the release of the tapes, which featured President Donald Trump making lewd comments about women, was a “litmus test” for Trump supporters. He said Christie was not looked at for a cabinet position after that.

After the tapes came out, Christie still backed Trump, but said his comments were “unacceptable” and that he was “disturbed and disappointed by it and embarrassed for him and his family.”

Christie refuted Bannon’s claims.

“I was offered cabinet positions by this president. It’s been widely reported and it’s true that I was offered cabinet positions that I turned down, so I suspect this little black book that Mr. Bannon is talking about, the only one who read that little black book was Mr. Bannon himself,” Christie said. “I know that no one else cared about it and now that he’s been fired, no one’s really going to care about anything else Steve Bannon has to say.”

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a new interview that she is now convinced that President Donald Trump’s associates helped the Russian government meddle in the 2016 election, telling USA Today she has “no doubt in my mind” that there was communication and possibly collusion between the two parties.

“There certainly was communication and there certainly was an understanding of some sort,” she told USA Today Monday. “Because there’s no doubt in my mind that Putin wanted me to lose and wanted Trump to win. And there’s no doubt in my mind that there are a tangle of financial relationships between Trump and his operation with Russian money. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the Trump campaign and other associates have worked really hard to hide their connections with Russians.”

The interview was part of Clinton’s promotion of her campaign tell-all, “What Happened.”

She said she is “convinced” the Trump campaign was involved in some type of coordination with Russia, but said she “happen(s) to believe in the rule of law and believe in evidence,” so she didn’t want to “make all kinds of outrageous claims.”

“But if you look at what we’ve learned since (the election), it’s pretty troubling,” she said.

She said she thinks the Russian president has had a “personal vendetta” against her since her husband’s presidency and because of certain moves she made as secretary of state.

“Yet I never imagined that he would have the audacity to launch a massive covert attack against our own democracy, right under our noses — and that he’d get away with it,” she said.

She told USA Today that she thinks there is still more to learn about Russia meddling in the election, including Wikileaks’ release of her campaign manager’s and the Democratic National Committee’s emails and Facebook ads that could have fueled Russian interests.

Read the full interview here.

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