June 11, 2014

No one saw it coming, and we're still trying to figure out how exactly House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ended up losing his seat in a stunning upset to David Brat, an economics professor aligned with the Tea Party. But one theory that has been floated is that Cantor, the only Jew in the House majority, may have been out of step with his increasingly homogenous district.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented, and more conservative.

"Part of this plays into his religion," Mr. Wasserman said. "You can't ignore the elephant in the room." [The New York Times]

If true, this could be a big problem for a party that has struggled to broaden its tent. Ryu Spaeth

Crisis in Syria
9:16 p.m. ET
Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview with Iran's Khabar television station, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he has no plans to negotiate with Western-backed groups opposed to his government and said his only option now is to "destroy terrorism."

"Implementing any solution or any political ideas that might be agreed on will need a state of stability," he said, as reported by the SANA news agency Sunday. "Otherwise it has no value. Consequently, destroying terrorism is the foundation of any action in Syria. Political ideas can be implemented later." Assad usually describes any of the government's armed opponents as "terrorists," The Washington Post reports. "Terrorists do not fight for political reform," he said. "They fight because they want money or because they have a perverted doctrine, or because they want to have a role in a state that becomes another state's client." Western officials, he added, are "in a state of confusion and their vision lacks clarity."

Assad said he is participating in talks for an Iranian-backed peace initiative, and will continue to send representatives to talks sponsored by Russia. Syrian opposition groups say they have been the main targets of a Russian air campaign that started last week, not the Islamic State, and will not take part in any of the initiatives because they do not include an exit date for Assad, the Post reports. On Saturday, Munzer Khaddam, the media spokesman for the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, was detained at a government checkpoint near Damascus, with his family telling Agence France-Presse it was due to comments he made against the Russian intervention. His whereabouts, they said, are currently unknown. Catherine Garcia

wild weather
8:32 p.m. ET
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

In South Carolina, at least five people died during a storm that dumped more than 18 inches of rain in the central part of the state by early Sunday. 

Of the five deaths, officials say three were caused by traffic accidents. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that some areas saw a downpour expected to occur once every 1,000 years, Reuters reports. "Our goal is all hands on deck," she said during a news conference. "If you are in your house, stay in your house. This is not something to be out taking pictures of." A record 8.7 inches of rain was recorded in Columbia for a 24-hour period ending Sunday afternoon; Charleston broke its record for greatest monthly rainfall for October after just four days; and the Congaree River is at its highest level since 1936.

Flooding was reported along the highway between Charleston and Georgetown, a town of 9,000 that was mostly underwater, officials said. Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said "every ambulance in the county" was out responding to calls, and "people are being moved from their homes in boats." Another two to six inches of rain is expected to fall through Monday. Catherine Garcia

2016 Watch
1:44 p.m. ET

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has run a presidential campaign plagued by low poll numbers, weak fundraising efforts, and lackluster debate performances. Recently, he's been pouring more fundraising energy into his Senate re-election bid, which he's running simultaneously to his effort to win the Republican presidential nomination.

But Paul insisted he's not going anywhere in a Sunday interview on Fox News' Media Buzz.

"I think the rumors of my demise are somewhat exaggerated, to say the least," he said.

Paul also took a shot at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who predicted Paul's downfall in a September tweet.

"We run a tight ship around here," Paul said. "We plan on being in for the long hall, and I think ultimately celebrity will sort of filter out of this."

Watch Paul's full interview here. Julie Kliegman

Israel and Palestine
1:10 p.m. ET
Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli authorities banned Palestinians — including Jerusalem residents — from entering the capital's Old City on Sunday, The New York Times reports.

The only exception to the ban was reportedly for Palestinians who wanted to worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque, where men under 50 are not typically allowed.

About 3,500 police officers in Jerusalem closed off some of the capital's Arab neighborhoods Sunday. The move came after the second deadly Palestinian attack on Israeli families in three days, where two ultra-Orthodox men were fatally stabbed. Julie Kliegman

squad goals
12:34 p.m. ET

The bad blood between pop stars Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus might run even deeper than previously thought. When Cyrus hosted Saturday Night Live, the show devoted a whole segment to relentlessly mocking her colleague's ever-growing squad.

On her 1989 tour, Swift has garnered attention for a mile-long list of invitations for celebrities to join her on stage: Lena Dunham, Uzo Aduba, Julia Roberts, Keith Urban, and Kobe Bryant, to name a very small fraction.

In a post-apocalyptic sketch that feels way too real, SNL dared to imagine what will happen when everyone forcibly joins Swift's cult.

Vanessa Bayer woke up in a dark, dark world where the few remaining survivors live in constant fear of being abducted to join Swift on stage.

"First it was the models. And then the athletes," a distraught Kenan Thompson said, moments before his own abduction. "Then it was everybody."

Watch your imminent demise unfold below. Julie Kliegman

lgbt rights
11:27 a.m. ET
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden said transgender people should be able to serve openly in the military, a stance that goes beyond anything the Obama administration has said before, The Associated Press reports.

"It's simple," Biden said at the Human Rights Campaign gala Saturday night. "All Americans are qualified to serve, should be able to serve."

In July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered a review of the policy banning transgender people from service.

Biden is known for supporting LGBT rights more vocally than other prominent Democrats. In 2012, he backed same-sex marriage before President Obama and Hillary Clinton did.

The vice president, who is still deciding whether to enter the 2016 race, also used the keynote as a chance to slam his would-be Republican opponents.

After noting how far the U.S. has come in supporting LGBT rights, Biden added a wry caveat: "There's homophobes still left — most of them are running for president." Julie Kliegman

School Shootings
10:56 a.m. ET

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump doesn't believe stricter gun control would result in fewer mass shootings, he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, he thinks more guns could be the answer to stop gunmen like Christopher Harper-Mercer, who fatally shot nine people at an Oregon community college Thursday.

"I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than his, fewer people would've died, fewer people would've been so horribly injured," he told Chuck Todd.

Both on NBC and in a similar interview on ABC's This Week, Trump blamed gun violence on mental illness.

"No matter how you cut it, you have people that are mentally ill, and they have problems and they're going to slip through the cracks," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

In fact, only 4 percent of U.S. violence can be linked to people diagnosed with mental illness, according to a 2015 American Journal of Public Health report debunking the exaggerated role some believe mental illness plays in mass shootings.

Watch Trump's Meet the Press comments below and check out his This Week interview here. Julie Kliegman

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