A Veep Who Wants Your Skin Ripped Off

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Hello it’s the weekend. This is The Weekender ☕️

It appears that in his quest to find a running mate who might pull in a few Republican voters who aren’t thrilled about voting for him again in 2024, Donald Trump has moved on from the dog killer who lies about meeting with North Korean regime leader Kim Jong Un.

He’s reportedly now considering, among a handful of other options, the senator who thinks those protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza should have their “skin ripped off.”

That’s not the most notably unhinged remark or action from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in recent years, it’s just the last thing I wrote about him.

According to new reporting from the New York Times, Cotton is on Trump’s shortlist of potential vice presidential candidates. Others include Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), J.D. Vance (R-OH), Tim Scott (R-SC) and his former HUD director Ben Carson. Trump is reportedly interested in Cotton as he seeks out a Veep who “would carry relatively little risk of creating unwanted distractions.”

So the guy who sent President Biden a letter in 2021 warning that Beijing was planning on using the 2022 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to gather and harvest DNA from American athletes to breed “biologically-enhanced soldiers” seems like a good fit.

Here’s what else TPM has on tap this weekend:

  • Josh Kovensky prepares us for what is to come during the Trump trial next week. 
  • Emine Yücel explains the hypocrisy behind Trump’s fumble on contraceptive restrictions this week.
  • Khaya Himmelman unpacks a new report on election deniers’ invasion of Congress.
  • Emine Yücel questions how clever it actually is to use AI to write legislation that would ultimately regulate the technology.

Let’s dig in.

— Nicole Lafond

What’s To Come

What will possibly be the only criminal trial of Donald Trump will draw to a close this week, as the jury is set to get the case. Here’s what to expect.

Judge Merchan said that closing arguments — also known as summations — will take place on Tuesday. Court will continue on Tuesday for as long as it takes to finish summations that day, he said. At the same time, we don’t expect closing arguments to last an inordinately long amount of time.

From there, Judge Merchan will read the charge to the jury — these are the instructions for how the jury must apply the law, including definitions of key terms to help them do so. Merchan said that this will take around one hour, and will likely take place on Wednesday morning.

Once the case goes to the jury, all bets are off. We could have a verdict in hours; it could be days or weeks of waiting before a hung jury result. There may be notes from the jury to the judge — if so, we’ll keep you updated on what’s being asked. We will have some notification of a verdict in advance, and I will try to be on the scene once one is rendered and announced.

— Josh Kovensky

Election Deniers Invade Congress

About one third of the sitting members of Congress can be considered election deniers, according to recent reporting by the nonpartisan States United Action.  

In other words, 170 members of Congress, representing 36 different states, have in some ways supported Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. These efforts include pushing baseless conspiracy theories about the safety and integrity of the election, attempting to stop the certification of election results, or by supporting or pursuing meritless legal challenges to attempt to overturn the election results. 

As States United Action notes, there are 151 election deniers who hold office in the House of Representatives with 67 on the ballot in 2024, and 19 in the Senate, with 3 on the ballot this year.

In states like Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, close to 90 percent or more of congressional members are election deniers, and in states like Missouri, 80 percent of congressional members are election deniers. In Montana 75 percent are election deniers. 

These are particularly worrying statistics as we get closer and closer to the 2024 presidential election. Election experts previously told TPM that one of the biggest threats to the upcoming election is the fact that election deniers are, in many cases, still running the show. 

“If representatives still remain committed to anti-democratic forces, they still have the power to create a fair amount of disruption,” Justin Levitt, a professor of law at Loyola Law School, previously told TPM

Similarly, Lizzie Ulmer senior vice president of strategy and communications for States United Democracy Center, told the AP, that the public “should have a real healthy dose of concern about the real risk of having people in power who’ve shown they’re not willing to respect the will of the people.”

— Khaya Himmelman

Trump And Republicans Are Not Pro-Pill, No Matter What They Say

This week Trump went on TV and said he was “looking at” restrictions on contraceptives, adding that he thinks it’s “a smart decision.” But that same day, it seems he realized that proclamation was not a smart decision.

Hours after the interview, he reversed his statement in an all-caps Truth Social post. “I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL, or other contraceptives,” Trump posted. His campaign also tried to clarify the former president’s words, saying the 2024 candidate thought he was discussing abortion medication. 

But regardless of how swiftly Trump and his team backtracked on the remarks, the idea of restricting or even banning contraceptives is not a new platform for Republicans. You can see a list of some Republicans who have shown public support for that idea in a list I made this week

And even though Trump said he will never support restricting contraception, it’s hard to take that at face value when he did just that while he was in office. During his first round of staffing in the White House, Trump hired people who opposed legal contraception, a new piece by Salon laid out. 

“One of his biggest health care policy advisors falsely claimed birth control pills cause abortion, a pretext to ban the pill alongside actual abortion. His first Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, called for an end of federal funding for birth control and voted to allow employers to fire women for using contraception,” reporter Amanda Marcotte wrote. 

Trump’s administration also strategized to take away contraception by defunding family planning clinics that offer birth control at low or no cost and gutting the Affordable Care Act provision requiring insurance plans to cover contraception as they would any other preventive service, according to Salon. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration pushed to take away insurance coverage, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of allowing employers to block women from using their own insurance to pay for contraception.

— Emine Yücel

AI Is Now Helping Write Bills To Oversee Itself

An Arizona House Republican revealed this week he used ChatGPT to help craft a subsection of House Bill 2394 — legislation that will allow Arizonians to get a court order declaring that the person in an artificial intelligence-driven impersonation, commonly known as a deepfake, is not them.

State Rep. Alex Kolodin told NBC News that he used the AI software to help define “what a deepfake was.”

“I was really struggling with the technical aspects of how to define what a deepfake was,” Kolodin said. “So I thought to myself, ‘Well, why not ask the subject matter expert, ChatGPT?’”

Using AI to write a bill to help combat a part of the technology that can easily be used for malicious purposes is quite clever. But as someone who has covered AI, it’s also a bit unnerving.

Kolodin says because proposed bills are reviewed by many, if ChatGPT “had effed up some of the language or did something that would have been harmful,” it would have been spotted. But can we know that for sure?

Kolodin’s bill was signed into law by Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) earlier this week.

— Emine Yücel

Words Of Wisdom

“It does seem like they are trying to say Trump is a racist. And they have to go all the way back into the eighties to say he is a racist. I remember in the eighties, Blacks loved Trump.”

That’s Fox News’ Jesse Watters on Thursday commentating on the rally Donald Trump held in the Bronx in New York that evening.

This doesn’t happen very often but this week I’m not even sure where to start to unpack the stream of consciousness segment Watters attempted to host. I think it’s best to start by reminding y’all that Watters was about 17 months old in 1980. I’m no expert but I very much doubt that Watters remembers his favorite toy at that age let alone if “Blacks loved Trump.”

On top of that, anyone who has been paying attention to the news cycle over the past couple of years knows that no one needs to go all the way back to the eighties to find examples of Trumpian racism.

You’d think in 2024 I wouldn’t have to type these words but a reminder to Watters: Black America is not a monolith. 

But I guess none of this is surprising coming from the guy who, in the same segment, said, “Voters are like women. They want to be courted. They want you to lavish attention on them. So the Bronx is now like ‘Hey! Where have you been all my life? Come over here.’”

— Emine Yücel

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