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Vox Sentences: Out-of-joint session of Congress

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

President Trump's first big speech; his administration's first big test at the UN; and his Cabinet's first (or second, or 50th) race controversy.

75 minutes of the best words

Trump Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
  • At 9:10 pm Eastern on Tuesday, President Donald Trump will give his first address to a joint session of Congress — the sort of speech we'd be calling a State of the Union, except he was just inaugurated, so it isn't one. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • The outline promises a "vision of optimism" about what America can accomplish (if Americans respect law enforcement and the military more, and support school choice, for example). [Zeke Miller via Twitter]
  • It also might, apparently depending on how Trump felt this afternoon, suggest that Congress come together to compromise on immigration. Which, sure, no one's ever tried that before. [CNN / Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer]
  • Trump isn't actually laying out an agenda for Congress to follow, though. The speech (though it's supposed to be 75 minutes long) will be "light on details." [Politico / Josh Dawsey]
  • That's because details might commit him to specific policy proposals on, say, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and that issue (the core of Trump's legislative agenda) is so stalled in Congress that the White House isn't willing to stick out its neck. [Huffington Post / Matt Fuller]
  • Here is the problem: Donald "The Art of the Deal" Trump has shown no interest or ability in making actual deals in government, which is the way things get done if you don't have 60 votes in the Senate. [Vox / Ezra Klein]
  • And while a speech could focus pressure on Republican senators — Trump is overwhelmingly popular among Republican voters, after all — Trump is also very bad at using speeches to ask people to do things, rather than just promising to fix everything himself (as his inaugural address showed). [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • Maybe the Trump we see tonight won't be the Trump of "American carnage." But let's be real: Half of his invited "real people" guests are people who've lost relatives to murder by unauthorized immigrants, the same people who've been with him on the campaign trail since the primary. It's certainly not an indication of a Great Pivot. [Washington Post / David Nakamura]
  • Democrats are certainly preparing to respond to a campaign-style Trump speech. The Spanish-language response will be delivered by activist Astrid Silva (who herself would be affected if Trump gets rid of Obama's deferred-action program for young adult unauthorized immigrants)... [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • ...and the English-language version will be given by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, reminding Americans how much they like Obamacare now that they might lose it. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]

The US fails to break Russian support for Assad

UN meeting Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Vetoes from Russia and China blocked a UN resolution to impose sanctions on the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians during the country's six-year civil war. [Reuters / Michelle Nichols]
  • The resolution was the first test for the Trump administration — which has repeatedly promised to improve relations with Russia — in a venue, and on an issue, where the two countries have clashed in the past (since Russia supports the Assad regime, and the US, under Obama, opposed it). [UN Dispatch / Mark Leon Goldberg]
  • But in the end, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was pretty consistent with her Obama-appointed predecessors; she condemned Assad and voted for sanctions, but wasn't able to keep Russia from casting a veto. [NYT / Somini Sengupta]
  • The Trump administration's Syria policy has made itself known through absence: The US isn't participating in the latest round of peace talks, in Geneva, which are reportedly floundering in its absence. [Washington Post / Liz Sly]
  • The fact that the talks have been interrupted by airstrikes and suicide bombings probably doesn't help, either. [Reuters / John Irish, Stephanie Nebehay, and Tom Miles]


Statement by Betsy DeVos Department of Education
  • President Donald Trump held an Oval Office "listening session" with the presidents of America's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on Tuesday. They were only allowed to speak for under 10 minutes and came away embroiled in a national media controversy. [The Washington Post / Philip Bump]
  • On the one hand, Trump signed an executive order moving the point of contact for HBCUs from the Education Department to the White House — fulfilling a longstanding request of the black colleges. [USA Today / Greg Toppo]
  • But the move was immediately overshadowed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who, in a statement of either stunning ignorance or tone-deafness, called HBCUs — founded when almost all schools were racially segregated — "real pioneers" of "school choice." [The Washington Post / Danielle Douglas-Gabrial and Tracy Jan]
  • Of course, HBCUs were founded not to give black students a cornucopia of choices, but because they were shut out of the education system and had nowhere else to go. [Inside Higher Ed / Scott Jaschik]
  • The recriminations came quickly. A Howard professor called DeVos's statement "a bit crazy." The director of UPenn's Center for Minority-Serving Institutions said it was an "inaccurate whitewashing of US history." Democratic senators called it "totally nuts." [Politico / Benjamin Wermund]
  • Adding to the controversy: Trump's handling of the meeting, where the administration cut short the HBCUs' time to speak. [Medium / Dillard President Walter Kimbrough]


  • Data is a singular noun. [Norman Gray]
  • Jennifer Wilkinson has a spinal condition called spondylolisthesis, and uses a scooter. That didn't stop a photo of her buying groceries from becoming a hugely popular meme, where the joke is that she's too lazy to walk. [The Mighty / Jennifer Wilkinson]
  • A large-scale experiment suggests that getting political doesn't harm scientists' credibility — even when they go beyond facts to advocating specific policies. [The Atlantic / Ed Yong]
  • Liberal Society and Conservative 101 seem like diametrically opposed Facebook-focused political websites. But both are run by the same company, along with several option liberal/conservative click factories. [BuzzFeed / Craig Silverman]
  • The Treasury secretary says that Trump will cut tax rates for the rich but also close enough loopholes that the rich won't pay any less. That's … literally impossible. [Democracy / David Kamin]


  • "Four Loko is designed to make you forget Four Loko, because Four Loko is itself forgettable." [A.V. Club / Clayton Purdom]
  • "Nobody on the planet will make you feel as dope as a fellow woman, three glasses of wine deep, with whom you are sharing a sink trough." [Racked / Alanna Okun]
  • "The recent Super Bowl, for instance. The result, bizarre on the surface — with that unprecedented and impossible comeback complete with razzle-dazzle catches and completely blown coverages and defensive breakdowns — makes no sense at all in the 'real' world. Doesn’t happen. But it is exactly what you expect to happen when a teen-ager and his middle-aged father exchange controllers in the EA Sports video-game version." [New Yorker / Adam Gopnik]
  • "Sources within U.S. News claim that, after looking deeply into the methodology of the rankings, Graham found that U.S. News had essentially put its thumb on the scale to make sure that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton continued to come out on top, as they did every year until 1999." [Washington Monthly / Nicholas Thompson]
  • "Devise short yet complex stories in case someone asks you why you’re trying on women’s clothes. Enjoy this step. Be creative. 'My girlfriend and I are the same size, and I want to get her something nice,' or maybe, 'Well I’m a clothing designer, actually, and I think men need to really feel the clothes if they’re going to design them to be worn. This is part of my job, actually.'” [McSweeney's / Casey Plett]

Watch this: The hunt for Forrest Fenn’s $2 million hidden treasure

The secret is hidden in a poem that starts like this: "Begin it where warm waters halt." [YouTube / Estelle Caswell and Zachary Crockett]