U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, First Cuban-American Elected to Congress, Retiring Next Year

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, pictured right, announced Sunday that she’ll retire from Congress at the end of her term next year. In this 2016 photo, Ros-Lehtinen, puts heart glasses on a dog at the ASPCA’s Paws for Love Valentine’s Day pet adoption event at the Capitol.

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress and the first congressional Republican to publicly support marriage equality, is retiring next year at the end of her term.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, will have spent almost three decades in Congress, having been elected for the first time in 1989. Her unexpected retirement was first reported by the Miami Herald on Sunday, and confirmed in an open letter published by the paper later Sunday afternoon.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen addresses attendees at the launch of a public service announcement about LGBT nondiscrimination that featured her family in 2016. Ros-Lehtinen was the first congressional Republican to publicly support gay marriage, and has been a vocal advocate of LGBT rights.

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“It’s been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” she told The Herald in a phone interview. “We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.’ “

The Republican congresswoman said she had no doubt she could’ve won re-election had she sought it in 2018, despite a shifting political climate in her district.

The newly-redrawn 27th District covers much of southeast Miami-Dade County, and Democrat Hillary Clinton won it by more than 20 percentage points over Donald Trump in the 2016 election. It was Clinton’s largest margin of victory of any Republican-held district in the country, according to The Herald, and although Ros-Lehtinen beat her Democratic opponent by 10 percentage points, it was her closest re-election in years.

Since Trump’s election, Ros-Lehtinen has been among the president’s most vocal Republican dissenters in Congress. She said she did not vote for Trump in last year’s general election, and has disagreed with him on immigration, transgender rights, budget cuts, and health care.

“I don’t agree with many, if not most, positions of President Trump,” she told The Herald.

Democrats were already said to be eyeing Florida’s 27th District as a seat they could turn in 2018, so with Ros-Lehtinen now officially out of the picture, the party is expected to pour resources into an election without a clear Republican heir apparent.

“Big Bad Wolf”

Born in Havana, Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled the Castro regime in Cuba when she was 8 years old. She was a fierce critic of Cuban politics, even garnering the nickname “the big bad wolf” from Fidel Castro.

She became the first woman to chair a standing congressional committee, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, according to the Associated Press, and made a name for herself as a foreign-policy hawk.

More recently, the congresswoman has been notable for her stances on LGBT issues. She has a transgender son, who is an outspoken activist, and in 2012, Ros-Lehtinen became the first Republican in congress to publicly support marriage equality.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen was featured in this 2016 Human Rights Campaign video, talking about transgender rights.

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Prior to serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ros-Lehtinen was also the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush worked as her campaign manager during her first campaign for Congress in 1989, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worked in her office as an intern in the 1990s.

26 years ago this summer I worked as intern with @RosLehtinen She has served our community, state & country well. Godspeed & finish strong

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 30, 2017

The congresswoman is scheduled to announce her retirement in a press conference on Monday, according to the AP.

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Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader To White House

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks with reporters in Manila on Friday. President Donald Trump invited Duterte to the White House in a phone call this weekend, despite concerns about the leader’s violent war on drugs.

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During a “very friendly” phone conversation, President Donald Trump invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, signaling a massive shift in attitude from the U.S. toward a leader known best for inciting an extrajudicial war on drugs in his country that’s killed more than 7,500 people.

Duterte also publicly attacked Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, multiple times last year, once calling Obama the “son of a whore,” before walking that statement back. In October, Duterte said Obama could “go to hell” and he also threatened to “break up” with the U.S.

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A statement from the White House said Trump invited Duterte to discuss the “importance of the United States-Philippines alliance,” and that the two also talked about “the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.”

The tactics Duterte has used to wage that battle, since he was elected in June, have garnered global reprimands.

“Do your duty, and in the process, you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you,” Duterte told police on July 1, the day after he was sworn in, Michael Sullivan reported for NPR.

The Philippines president has also been accused of encouraging civilians to kill people attempting to buy or sell drugs.

“Forget the laws on human rights,” he said in his final campaign speech before he was elected. In September, he compared himself to Adolf Hitler.

In December, Duterte released a statement saying Trump had told him he was conducting his war on drugs “the right way.” Less than three weeks later, the top human rights official with the United Nations called for the Philippines leader to be investigated for murder.

It isn’t the first time since Trump has taken office that he has looked past a leader’s human rights issues, in an effort to strengthen ties.

Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month, to congratulate him on a victory that gave the authoritarian leader increased power, and the two are scheduled to meet in person in Washington next month.

The White House also hosted Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi a few weeks ago, despite concerns about an Egyptian government that’s sent tens of thousands of political dissidents to jail since the 2013 coup that brought el-Sissi to power.

“The Trump administration has been unfortunately silent as to the importance of American values,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, at the time.

Trump is scheduled to visit the Philippines in November to participate in a summit with the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The Philippines leads ASEAN, which just released a statement indicating its most lenient stance yet on China building and arming manmade islands in the South China Sea. Trump’s administration has previously been vocal about the issues it had with China’s island building there.

“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops,” Rex Tillerson, then secretary of state nominee, told senators in January. “And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

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Trump Stars On Stage He Built Himself, Far From Washington

President Donald Trump addresses a “Make America Great Again” rally in Harrisburg, Penn., on Saturday, marking Trump’s 100th day in office.

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When we got up Sunday, we could hope our long national nightmare is over.

Meaning, of course, that we should finally be free of the obsessive chatter over Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office.

After all, who cares about Day 101? Especially when, just last night, we witnessed such a marvelous metaphor for the Trump era, so far.

While official Washington was busy with the White House Correspondents Association’s annual dinner – sometimes called “the nerd prom” – Trump was on a different stage in a different city with a very different crowd.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from the Washington swamp,” Trump said, “spending my evening with all of you, and with a much much larger crowd and much better people.”

For the record, there were rows that were visibly empty in the hall in Harrisburg, while the WHCA dinner was sold out as usual. But it didn’t matter to Trump, who had his lines down without regard to what he saw before him.

He called out the dinner’s “Hollywood people,” of whom there were far fewer than in years past. But the jibe highlighted the contrast between the WHCA’s recent glamour fixation and Trump’s own evening with the salt of the earth.

It was a visible contrast to be beamed to the nation on split-screen TV. On one side you could see the capital’s elite in black ties and ball gowns. On the other: the people’s president before a throng of thrilled Pennsylvanians — “the forgotten man and forgotten woman” of the heartland.

There could have been no better way for the president to say and to show: “I’m not with them, I’m with you.”

The president had constructed a stage for himself far from the confines and dictates of the capital city he has occupied but not conquered. From that stage he spoke to the Americans who respond to his mix of nostalgia, alienation and recaptured confidence.

So it is with the Trump presidency to date. He speaks from platforms of his own choosing that stand apart from the usual venues and avenues of power. Be they virtual or digital, they enable him to inhabit and speak to a separate reality.

All presidents now must govern largely via the media, but Trump is perhaps the first to be quite so governed by it – so defined by a media vision of the world.

He lives in that conception more than inside the governmental structure he heads, and that suits both him and his support base just fine.

In Harrisburg, it was possible for the president to mock the obsessions of the media, such as the 100 days milestone he has previously called “ridiculous.” He could say his first months in office had seen more achieved than any similar period in history. He could say he had done more than any previous president.

He could talk once again of repealing and replacing Obamacare with something that will be “wonderful.” He could promise again a great wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He could speak of bringing back millions of manufacturing jobs lost to global competition (if not the millions more lost to automation).

He could promise a tax cut for everyone. And he could put the world on notice that the U.S. will insist on serving its own interests in every dispute and conflict, be it economic or military.

For an hour on the Harrisburg stage, there was no investigation of Mike Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor. There was no power struggle with the leaders of Congress, no war within the West Wing inner circle, no unease with leaders of foreign allies and adversaries alike.

In short, on his own stage, Trump was still the star of the campaign trail, untroubled by the realities of the office he won or the complicated nature of the shared-power system in which he now serves.

The crowd, not quite so large or as boisterous as a year ago, still embraced the man who calls himself their “true hero in the White House.”

This master stroke of counter-programming typifies the strengths of the Trump style in office. If critics pounce on a controversy or a failure of some kind, the president can convey his side of the story via selective interviews and predawn tweet-storms.

These means of messaging circumvent the usual carriers of information and commentary that we know as the media. This allows the White House to communicate without the usual interference. And if that means the mainstream media have to fume and stew in their juice, so much the better.

In a similar strategy, the president has made extraordinary use of executive orders. These instruments allow the president to dial up a change in national policy without actually passing or amending any laws. All presidents have used such orders, although usually for relatively small matters or after first trying to change the law.

Trump can claim to have issued more executive orders than any president since Harry Truman (a rather populist “man of the people” in his own right). The new president says he has also signed 28 bills into law, although it is difficult to find anyone who knows what any of them were about.

Far larger issues have been addressed by Trump’s executive actions. Among the biggest: immigration (banning entry for those from seven predominantly Muslim countries), energy (the Dakota Access oil pipeline, regulations on coal and other fossil fuels) and so-called “sanctuary cities” that resist federal policy on deportation.

Executive orders can be overruled by Congress, although it seems unlikely this Congress would do so. They can also be suspended by rulings from the federal courts, and this has already happened with regard to the immigration ban and sanctuary cities.

The big emphasis on executive orders and bill signings was pushed by the White House in late April after an effort to downplay the 100 days milestone failed to break the media fever over it. As the number of days reached the 90’s, the president’s team swung into action, urging Congress to do the same.

In the final week, the president’s team tried to tackle the repeal of Obamacare (despite Congress’ resounding failure on this front in March), to get money for the border wall and to introduce the president’s overhaul of the tax code.

The only real business that had to be done before April ended was an extension of spending authority so the federal government could keep operating. But that little housekeeping item was actually held hostage for a time as the White House insisted on another health care vote and money for the wall. Congressional Democrats came back with counter-demands of their own, tensions rose – and the White House backed off.

Now the president says his wall can be worked out in the fall. Obamacare will be around to be repealed when the votes are there. The tax code, well, details are in development.

As the week ended, the government was still open. Trump signed an extension for another week. None of the bigger issues had been resolved, and all will be back next week. And the week after that.

“I thought it would be easier,” the president famously confessed to Reuters on Thursday.

We can all doff our caps to that.

This might have ended as a week of frustration epitomizing the first three months of the 115th Congress and the Trump regime. The polls have not been kind to the new president, with most showing his approval rating several points below his share of the vote last November and some showing it below 40% (a traditional danger zone for presidents at any stage of their term).

While few would have expected Trump to deliver a wall overnight, or tame North Korea’s nuclear ambitions with a tweet, there had been expectations for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Was President Trump invited to the dinner back in his adopted “home” town? Of course he was. The dinner, which has been around for a century, has always been designed to honor the president. But this president chose not to attend, scoffing at one more Washington taboo.

Some have read this as revenge for the merciless jokes made at his expense at previous WHCA dinners. One in particular, in 2011, featured a long putdown of Trump’s NBC-TV show The Celebrity Apprentice, delivered by none other than President Obama himself.

That year’s after-dinner comic, Seth Meyers, said he was amazed to hear Trump might run for president as a Republican. “I always thought he was running as a joke,” said Meyers. Cameras caught Trump at the NBC table with a tight little smile and, no doubt, thoughts of his own.

Some thought this, the first nerd prom since own electoral triumph, would be irresistible for Trump — the payback opportunity of a lifetime. But the president seems once again to be his own best producer, as well as the star of his own show.

He said “I’m with you” from the stage at the Republican convention in Cleveland last July. It had to be sweeter yet to say it in Harrisburg after 100 days, leaving all with that split-screen image to preserve and ponder.

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'Paradise Lost': How The Apple Became The Forbidden Fruit

Left: Title page of the first edition of Paradise Lost (1667). Right: William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost)


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This month marks 350 years since John Milton sold his publisher the copyright of Paradise Lost for the sum of five pounds.

His great work dramatizes the oldest story in the Bible, whose principal characters we know only too well: God, Adam, Eve, Satan in the form of a talking snake — and an apple.

Except, of course, that Genesis never names the apple but simply refers to “the fruit.” To quote from the King James Bible:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

“Fruit” is also the word Milton employs in the poem’s sonorous opening lines:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe

But in the course of his over-10,000-line poem, Milton names the fruit twice, explicitly calling it an apple. So how did the apple become the guilty fruit that brought death into this world and all our woe?

The short and unexpected answer is: a Latin pun.

In order to explain, we have to go all the way back to the fourth century A.D., when Pope Damasus ordered his leading scholar of scripture, Jerome, to translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Jerome’s path-breaking, 15-year project, which resulted in the canonical Vulgate, used the Latin spoken by the common man. As it turned out, the Latin words for evil and apple are the same: malus.

In the Hebrew Bible, a generic term, peri, is used for the fruit hanging from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, explains Robert Applebaum, who discusses the biblical provenance of the apple in his book Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections.

“Peri could be absolutely any fruit,” he says. “Rabbinic commentators variously characterized it as a fig, a pomegranate, a grape, an apricot, a citron, or even wheat. Some commentators even thought of the forbidden fruit as a kind of wine, intoxicating to drink.”

A detail of Michelangelo’s fresco in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel depicting the Fall of Man and expulsion from the Garden of Eden


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When Jerome was translating the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” the word malus snaked in. A brilliant but controversial theologian, Jerome was known for his hot temper, but he obviously also had a rather cool sense of humor.

“Jerome had several options,” says Applebaum, a professor of English literature at Sweden’s Uppsala University. “But he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings. As an adjective, malus means bad or evil. As a noun it seems to means an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila. So Jerome came up with a very good pun.”

The story doesn’t end there. “To complicate things even more,” says Applebaum, “the word malus in Jerome’s time, and for a long time after, could refer to any fleshy seed-bearing fruit. A pear was a kind of malus. So was the fig, the peach, and so forth.”

Which explains why Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco features a serpent coiled around a fig tree. But the apple began to dominate Fall artworks in Europe after the German artist Albrecht Dürer’s famous 1504 engraving depicted the First Couple counterpoised beside an apple tree. It became a template for future artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, whose luminous Adam and Eve painting is hung with apples that glow like rubies.

Eve giving Adam the forbidden fruit, by Lucas Cranach the Elder.


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Milton, then, was only following cultural tradition. But he was a renowned Cambridge intellectual fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, who served as secretary for foreign tongues to Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth. If anyone was aware of the malus pun, it would be him. And yet he chose to run it with it. Why?

Applebaum says that Milton’s use of the term “apple” was ambiguous. “Even in Milton’s time the word had two meanings: either what was our common apple, or, again, any fleshy seed-bearing fruit. Milton probably had in mind an ambiguously named object with a variety of connotations as well as denotations, most but not all of them associating the idea of the apple with a kind of innocence, though also with a kind of intoxication, since hard apple cider was a common English drink.”

It was only later readers of Milton, says Applebaum, who thought of “apple” as “apple” and not any seed-bearing fruit. For them, the forbidden fruit became synonymous with the malus pumila. As a widely read canonical work, Paradise Lost was influential in cementing the role of apple in the Fall story.

But whether the forbidden fruit was an apple, fig, peach, pomegranate or something completely different, it is worth revisiting the temptation scene in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, both as an homage to Milton (who composed his masterpiece when he was blind, impoverished and in the doghouse for his regicidal politics) and simply to savor the sublime beauty of the language. Thomas Jefferson loved this poem. With its superfood dietary advice, celebration of the ‘self-help is the best help’ ideal, and presence of a snake-oil salesman, Paradise Lost is a quintessentially American story, although composed more than a century before the United States was founded.

What makes the temptation scene so absorbing and enjoyable is that, although written in archaic English, it is speckled with mundane details that make the reader stop in surprise.

Take, for instance, the serpent’s impeccably timed gustatory seduction. It takes place not at any old time of the day but at lunchtime:

Mean while the hour of Noon drew on, and wak’d/ An eager appetite.”

What a canny and charmingly human detail. Milton builds on it by lingeringly conjuring the aroma of apples, knowing full well that an “ambrosial smell” can madden an empty stomach to action. The fruit’s “savorie odour,” rhapsodizes the snake, is more pleasing to the senses than the scent of the teats of an ewe or goat dropping with unsuckled milk at evening. Today’s Food Network impresarios, with their overblown praise and frantic similes, couldn’t dream up anything close to that peculiarly sensuous comparison.

It is easy to imagine the scene. Eve, curious, credulous and peckish, gazes longingly at the contraband “Ruddie and Gold” fruit while the unctuous snake-oil salesman murmurs his encouragement. Initially, she hangs back, suspicious of his “overpraising.” But soon she begins to cave: How can a fruit so “Fair to the Eye, inviting to the Taste,” be evil? Surely it is the opposite, its “sciental sap” must be the source of divine knowledge. The serpent must speak true.

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour

Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck’d, she eat:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat

Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,

That all was lost.

But Eve is insensible to the cosmic disappointment her lunch has caused. Sated and intoxicated as if with wine, she bows low before “O Sovran, vertuous, precious of all Trees,” and hurries forth with “a bough of fairest fruit” to her beloved Adam, that he too might eat and aspire to godhead. Their shared meal, foreshadowed as it is by expulsion and doom, is a moving and poignant tableau of marital bliss.

Meanwhile, the serpent, its mission accomplished, slinks into the gloom. Satan heads eagerly toward a gathering of fellow devils, where he boasts that the Fall of Man has been wrought by something as ridiculous as “an apple.”

Except that it was a fig or a peach or a pear. An ancient Roman punned – and the apple myth was born.

Nina Martyris is a freelance journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

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President Trump's First 100 Days, In Photos

President Donald Trump greets supporters after speaking to a joint session of Congress.

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When Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, he started forcefully laying out a plan for his first 100 days that included full repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, suspension of immigration from certain “terror-prone regions” and the lifting of “roadblocks” to let “infrastructure projects like the Keystone Pipeline move forward.”

“I’ve asked my transition team to develop a list of executive actions we can take on Day 1 to restore our laws and bring back our jobs,” Trump said in November. “It’s about time.”

The administration touted higher numbers of laws signed into effect and executive orders than previous administrations, and it successfully appointed a Supreme Court justice to fill Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat. However, Trump struggled through challenges to several of his cabinet appointees, questions about his personal conflicts of interest, several stumbles from his press secretary, and an ongoing investigation into Russia’s potential interference in the November election.

Republicans hoped he would bring unity to the party, but even with a majority in Congress, they narrowly managed to delay a government shutdown on Friday, and only until May 5.

“I think the president is learning that the all-powerful position of the presidency is not the end-all,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

As the 100 day marker passes this weekend, here is a look at some of the major events that have transpired in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Republicans clap after Congress completes the tally of Electoral College votes, officially electing Donald Trump as President on Jan. 6.

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The end of the 114th United States Congress (left) and the start of the 115th United States Congress (right).

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Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller talks on the phone next to a bust of former Vice President Dick Cheney on Jan. 4.

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Then Vice President-elect Mike Pence, left, shakes hands with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before speaking on repealing Obamacare, right, during the weekly House GOP meeting.

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Ret. Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Defense Secretary, spoke to senate on Jan. 12, testifying that Russia was a major threat to the U.S. “I’m all for engagement,” Mattis said, “but we also have to recognize reality in terms of what Russia is up to.”

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Some of Trump’s appointees include (clockwise from top left) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

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CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo broke with the president-elect, opposing waterboarding as a form of torture. In his hearing on Jan. 12, Pompeo also said he had confidence in the current U.S. intelligence program and said he agreed with their findings that Russia had tried to interfere in the elections.

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A view of the Washington Monument during the 2017 March For Life on Jan. 28. Thousands of people flocked to the National Mall for the anti-abortion rights rally, which has been an annual event for more than 40 years.

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Detained travelers are released amid cheers at Dulles International Airport in Sterling, Va., on Jan. 28. Trump’s executive order on immigration — which temporarily bars citizens from seven largely Muslim countries, as well as all refugees, from entering the U.S. — sparked protests in airports and public spaces across the country.

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Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted planned votes on Jan. 31 to advance the nominations of two Trump Cabinet nominees: Georgia Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin.

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Protestors demonstrate outside the Supreme Court as President Trump announces Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Denver, as his nominee to fill the vacant seat of Antonin Scalia.

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First Lady Melania Trump visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Sarah Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Feb. 15.

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Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., of the House Intelligence committee, speak to the media on March 15 about the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

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Democratic female representatives, right, wore white, a symbol of the early suffragettes, at Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks with his aides before the Senate Judiciary committee hearing to consider nomination of Rod Rosenstein to deputy Attorney General and Rachel L. Brand to associate Attorney General on March 7.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks on the Affordable Health Care Act during a press conference at the Capitol on March 9. “This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here; the time is now. This is the moment,” said Ryan.

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Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, speaks alongside other Republican representatives at a press conference on the American Health Care Act on March 17. Republicans were unsuccessful in repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, though they continue to push changes to it.

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Former Senator, now Attorney General, Jeff Sessions’ office being renovated to make way for newly appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

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On April 3, Senate Democrats voted against ending debate on Gorsuch’s nomination on a near party-line vote, leaving Republicans shy the 60-vote hurdle required by Senate rules to move on to a final confirmation vote. So Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the power of his position to change the rules of the Senate — to lower that threshold to end debate from 60 to 51 votes.

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Chairman Chuck Grassley, left, and fellow Republican Senate Judiciary members speaks on April 3 on the vote to move the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Senate floor. The Supreme Court building, center, is seen from the wing of the Senate while Senators vote Judge Gorsuch on April 7. Justice Anthony Kennedy, right, administers the judicial oath for Judge Gorsuch on April 10.

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President Trump signs executive orders on tax reform alongside Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., at the Treasury Department April 21.

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Chief strategist Steve Bannon was removed from his role on the National Security Council months after he was elevated to the position. Ivanka Trump became an unpaid government employee in March. Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an ill-conceived reference to Hitler in April. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway raised ethics concerns in March when she endorsed Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.

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A display case at the Walter Reed Medical Center showcases photographs of presidents past and present. President Donald Trump awarded a purple heart to U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Alvaro Barrientos on April 22.

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Gabriella Demczuk is a freelance photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. She covers politics for the New York Times, CNN and NPR.

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Saturn: Cassini's Final Chapter

After years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will soon begin its final act — a plunge into Saturn. NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Dr. Carolyn Porco, head of the imaging team, about the mission’s legacy.

Images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show the closest-ever views of Saturn’s swirled atmosphere and its massive hurricane.

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is giving earthlings their closest-ever views of Saturn’s swirled atmosphere and its massive hurricane, beaming a trove of images and data back to Earth after the craft made its first dive between Saturn and its rings Wednesday.

Cassini is “showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The raw images are being fed into a photo stream on NASA’s website, and while they lack detailed captions and annotations, they provide entrancing views of the planet’s complex atmosphere.

In the maneuver that sent Cassini between Saturn and its rings, the craft went over the planet’s north pole, where it captured the first high-resolution image of the mammoth storm back in 2013. The eye of the storm was measured at more than 1,000 miles wide.

As Cassini began to cross between Saturn and its rings, the craft went over the planet’s north pole.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The vortex is swirling inside “a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon,” NASA has said.

As of Thursday morning, more than 100 images had arrived from Saturn. Some show what look to be ethereal blips and blotches against the planet’s swirling clouds. Other images tantalize with patterns of striated clouds and whorls of disturbance.

Cassini captured the images over the past 24 hours, but it couldn’t send them back to Earth until early Thursday because the craft was using its 13-foot-wide antenna as a deflector shield to protect it from ice and rock particles. Right on schedule, the craft made contact with NASA’s Deep Space Network at the Goldstone Complex in California’s Mojave Desert just before 3 a.m. ET Thursday.

An animation of photos showing Saturn's atmosphere taken by NASA's Cassini craft.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

All went according to the plan, Maize said, adding that after its dive, the craft that has now been in space for nearly 20 years “has come out the other side in excellent shape.”

As we reported Wednesday, Cassini has now begun what NASA calls its Grand Finale, as it weaves its way between Saturn and its rings in a series of 22 dives that will culminate in what the agency describes as “a science-rich plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15.”

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