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March 22 2017 8:19 PM

New Poll Shows Trump’s Base Eroding, Approval Rating Sliding, as 60 Percent Find Him Dishonest

If it feels, to you, like Donald Trump is doing a terrible job as president—you’re not alone. Recent polls have shown the president’s support cratering to historic lows, and a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday confirmed Trump’s unpopularity. Trump’s job approval rating stands at 37 percent with a whopping 56 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Trump’s doing. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of Barack Obama at a similar stage, and George W. Bush had an approval rating nearing 60 percent, while roughly 1-in-4 Americans disapproved of the former presidents two months into their first terms.

Inside the numbers, Trump’s support is eroding among Republicans—dropping 10 points—and his support among white voters and men—two demographics whose support was crucial to his election win—has also dipped. Trump’s personal characteristics are also proving to be deeply unpopular. According to Quinnipiac’s nationwide survey conducted March 16–21, some 60 percent of Americans think the president is not honest and does not share their values; 66 percent believe he is not level-headed; and 57 percent say President Trump does not share their values.

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The majority of Americans also disapprove of how Trump is handling the major issues facing the country.

Only 19 percent of Americans believe that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election, according to the survey.

March 22 2017 5:57 PM

We're One Day Before Showtime, and Trumpcare Still Doesn't Have the Votes

House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed on television Wednesday that the American Health Care Act was gaining in support: “We're adding votes by the day. We're adding votes, we are not losing votes.”

It would be lovely if Ryan would share his whip count with us. Because public information suggests that this is the opposite of what happened Wednesday afternoon.

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The 25 or so hard noes in the House Freedom Caucus haven’t budged, according to chairman Mark Meadows. And several moderates came out Wednesday afternoon as no votes.

Southern New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced he was a no Wednesday afternoon. In his statement, he went so far as to say that the proposed changes aren’t even an improvement on Obamacare: “Simply put, this bill does not meet the standards of what was promised; it is not as good as or better than what we currently have.”

Moderate Iowa Rep. David Young also came out against the bill, calling it a “very good start” that nevertheless “does not yet get it right.”

And Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan just announced his opposition in an op-ed. This seems to be an direct case of the “Buffalo Buyoff” losing the New York delegation one vote, since Republicans do have one member representing New York City. “Of particular concern to me is a provision added only days before the vote that prohibits New York State from passing Medicaid costs down to county governments,” Donovan wrote. “The proposed amendment exempts New York City, putting an unfair and disproportionate burden on City residents to fund the entire state's share of the Medicaid bill. That's wrong. I cannot support a deal that gives our district short shrift.”

On the plus side, leaders did flip Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta back to yes after he declared himself a no yesterday. Leaders will allow him to bring forward a bill later to super-duper-prevent undocumented immigrants from coming anywhere near health care tax credits.

Do not rule out the possibility that this bill passes on schedule on Thursday. The White House and Senate Republicans are reportedly warming to at least trying to insert the regulatory changes conservatives want, and giving those changes a shot before the Senate parliamentarian. If conservatives can get verification that this is more than a stunt, and that Senate Republicans really will find a way to make this happen, it could unlock a lot of votes.

Until then, though, the below tweet tells you where conservatives stand after another day of Donald “The Closer” Trump’s withering pressure campaign.

March 22 2017 5:25 PM

Today in Conservative Media: All Eyes on an Alleged Rape in Maryland

On Wednesday, conservative outlets were abuzz with stories about an alleged rape in Maryland. A post from LifeZette captured the general tone of the coverage: “The brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl at a Maryland high dchool [sic] by two Latino suspects last week — at least one of whom was in the country illegally — is causing growing outrage over how school districts deal with illegal aliens.”

In his Tuesday night monologue, Sean Hannity discussed the story, proposing that it proved Trump was right when he claimed at the outset of his campaign that Mexico was “sending” rapists to the United States. (The suspects are from El Salvador and Guatemala.) “Following those remarks … he was mocked, he was ridiculed, he was blasted, he was demeaned by the alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump press,” Hannity said, before rattling off statistics about convictions of “illegal aliens.”

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Hannity connected the incident to a 2015 crime allegedly committed by an undocumented immigrant in a sanctuary city.

The sanctuary city angle was a popular one. (Montgomery County, Maryland, where the alleged rape occurred, is not an official sanctuary jurisdiction.) Breitbart published a post titled, “Sean Spicer Slams Sanctuary City Jurisdictions After Illegal Aliens Accused of Gang-Raping High School Freshman,” though Spicer only indirectly addressed sanctuary cities in his Tuesday press briefing. The Federalist also employed this frame in “An Undocumented Man Allegedly Raped A 14-Year-Old, Now Democrats Want To Protect Him From Deportation.” That post discussed the Maryland legislature’s push to adopt a bill that, according to the publication, “would prohibit local and state law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities to find and deport undocumented immigrants.” The Daily Caller took a similar approach in its piece about parent protests at the school where the incident allegedly occurred, but it noted in its conclusion that “Montgomery County indicated that it would cooperate completely with ICE.”

On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh suggested that the alleged incident exemplified leftist panic about the Trump presidency:

In Maryland… This is unbelievable. In Maryland, we have the rape of a Rockville High School student by two undocumented immigrants, and now the State of Maryland is taking a vote on whether they should become a sanctuary state! It defies… We’re gonna take a vote on how we are openly going to break and flout the law, and again this is because of Trump, because Trump is making everybody scared. Everybody’s afraid they’re gonna be deported. We need to provide a safe haven for anybody who’s afraid of Donald Trump.

An Allen West Facebook post about the incident accusing liberals of hypocrisy was shared more than 10,000 times:

In other news:

In the wake of an attack in London, England, conservative sites were quick to embrace initial descriptions of the incident as terrorism. Breitbart ran a regularly updated liveblog throughout the afternoon in which it identified a possible attacker, relying on reporting from Channel 4 News. Sean Hannity’s site published a post titled, “FLASHBACK: London Mayor Sadiq Khan Says Terror Attacks ‘Part and Parcel’ Of City Life” that referenced the mayor’s assertion that cities have to be vigilant against threats. Conspiracy site Infowars wrote, “ISIS is celebrating the terrorist attack outside the UK Parliament in London on Wednesday, an attack which had all the hallmarks of ISIS-inspired violence.” That post cited tweets from both New York Times journalist Rukmini Callimachi about ISIS chatter and one of the site’s own writers speculating about the ethnic background of the attacker.

March 22 2017 5:10 PM

Al Franken Says the GOP Is Gaslighting Democrats on Garland and Gorsuch

At Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Sen. Al Franken expressed his concern about several decisions that favored businesses over consumers. “What we’re worried about,” he explained, “is another 5–4 Roberts Court making one decision after another … that hurts consumers.” Franken then tied conservatives’ interest in preserving these decisions to Senate Republicans’ unprecedented filibuster of Merrick Garland: “You said earlier, there’s no Democratic judges, there are no Republican judges. If that’s the case, what was Merrick Garland about? That’s what it was about. … [This] core group of cases in which the Roberts Court continually has ruled in favor of corporations.”

Franken then alluded to the GOP’s gaslighting of the Democratic Party—“my colleagues on the other side say that we’re making something up over here”—before explaining what he and his Democratic colleagues are up to. “We’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to see a continuation of this pro-corporate bias,” the Minnesota senator said.

I’m pleased Franken raised these rulings and tethered them to the Garland blockade, because he’s absolutely right: Businesses have come to rely on the Supreme Court to swat away lawsuits and help them entrench their monopolies. In a series of closely divided rulings, the court’s conservatives have crushed class-action lawsuits while bolstering corporations’ ability to shunt legal challenges into mandatory arbitration, which disfavors consumers. These decisions are an embarrassment to the court; they are built upon such flimsy analysis that it is difficult not to conclude that the conservative majority simply wanted to help out the business world. And Franken was right to ask for Gorsuch’s attitude toward them, though of course the judge provided no substantive response.

 

March 22 2017 4:40 PM

What the Hell Did Devin Nunes Just Say About Trump and Surveillance?

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made a somewhat confusing statement to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, the headline being that communications by the Trump campaign were “incidentally” monitored by the intelligence community. But beyond that, a lot of things are unclear. Here’s what Nunes said:

First, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.
Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.
Fourth and finally, I want to be clear. None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.
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Nunes initially said “yes,” when asked by a reporter if President Trump’s own communications were part of that surveillance, but when he was asked that same question again later, he said “it’s possible.” Elaborating but not clarifying, Nunes said, ”I know there was incidental collection regarding the president-elect and his team. I don’t know if it was physically a phone call.” He said he could not say if the communications had taken place in Trump Tower.

Nunes said that the information was collected in November, December, and January—the transition period after the election. He said he had seen “dozens” of reports involving Trump and his team, which were brought to his attention by a concerned but unidentified party. The information was collected, according to Nunes, as part of “normal foreign surveillance” and not related to any criminal investigation. “I believe it was all done legally,” he said. While he said repeatedly that the surveillance had nothing to do with the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, he wouldn’t say what countries were involved.

Nunes was asked point blank, “Do you think right now that the NSA or a member of the intelligence community was spying on Trump during the transition period?”

He replied, “Well, I guess it all depends on one’s definitions of spying.“ (Nunes is fond of suggesting that definable words are open to interpretation.) He declared himself “alarmed” by what he had learned and is demanding more information from intelligence agencies. He said he was headed to the White House later Wednesday to brief the administration.

There was some master-level word salad–speak going on here. Nunes may be intimating that Trump and his team were victims of “reverse targeting,” in which surveillance of foreigners is used as a pretext for the surveillance of Americans. Intelligence agencies like the NSA and CIA are prohibited by law from spying on Americans but can collect “incidental information” if those Americans are in communication with foreigners. Reverse targeting is illegal, but privacy advocates, including Edward Snowden, say the law provides a loophole for it to continue. Sen. Rand Paul recently brought up reverse targeting when asked on Face the Nation about President Trump’s claims that President Obama had tapped his phones. To be clear: Nunes’ statement definitely did not confirm that this was going on.

Nunes is also suggesting that names of Trump associates collected in this surveillance were improperly “unmasked” and information about their activities shared within the intelligence community. He had previously raised this concern over the information that led to the discovery that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been in touch with the Russian ambassador, but that apparently has nothing to do with the surveillance he’s talking about now. It’s also not really clear what “normal” surveillance is, or what was being investigated here if it wasn’t Russia.

The Democrats on the committee, including ranking member Adam Schiff, were apparently unaware of the evidence Nunes was citing. Democrats are also criticizing Nunes for briefing the White House on his findings:

Nunes’ statement is extremely frustrating. Trump’s defenders would love to shift attention from the Russia investigation to claims that Trump was under improper surveillance, and these vague remarks give them just enough ammunition to keep the claim going, without any way of assessing if this surveillance was actually improper or not. Press secretary Sean Spicer read from Nunes' statement during his press briefing Wednesday and Trump told reporters Wednesday that he feels “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ comments.

I don’t know why he would. What Nunes definitively did not say was that President Obama had ordered Trump’s phones tapped, which, it bears repeating, is the only logical way of interpreting the president’s claim.

March 22 2017 4:25 PM

The President Is Under FBI Investigation. Is This Normal?

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Is This Normal? is a Slate series that attempts to determine which controversial Trump World behaviors are outrageously unprecedented, which are outrageous but within the realm of what others have gotten away with, and which shouldn't be considered outrageous at all.

The Issue

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FBI Director James Comey confirmed in a hearing Monday that Donald Trump’s Russia ties are the subject of an FBI investigation. Some have suggested that an FBI investigation into the White House, a sitting president, or those connected to a sitting president lacks recent precedent and perhaps hasn’t happened since Watergate:

The Precedent

The FBI has had a role in investigating several post-Watergate scandals involving the White House.

Debategate: The FBI investigated Debategate, a 1983 scandal that emerged over the Reagan campaign’s acquisition and use of Jimmy Carter’s prep materials during a 1980 debate. Although Reagan himself was never seriously implicated, the FBI’s investigation and a concurrent House subcommittee investigation prodded at figures high up in the administration who had prominent roles in the campaign, including White House chief of staff James Baker and CIA Director William Casey. Both the FBI and the House subcommittee’s investigation failed to reach any conclusions about who was responsible.

Iran-Contra: In 1986, the FBI was called in to investigate Iran-Contra, the scandal that erupted over arms sales to Iran, then under an arms embargo, organized by Reagan officials to finance the Contras, right-wing militants in Nicaragua. To the ire of many, the agency’s investigators were brought in too late to prevent the destruction of potentially relevant documents by National Security Council staffer Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter, both of whom were later indicted for their involvement along with several other administration officials including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. During the investigation, FBI Director William Webster said that Reagan had likely told the truth about being unaware of the scheme to divert funds to the Contras.

Whitewater, Filegate, Monica Lewinsky: The FBI directly investigated both Bill and Hillary Clinton during the Whitewater scandal over the circumstances of a failed real estate venture both had invested in. This scandal spun off several others, including Filegate, about the White House's improper possession of FBI files on prominent Republicans, which the FBI investigated, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for which FBI agents aided Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton by recording conversations with Lewinsky and reportedly threatened Lewinsky and others into cooperating.

Chinagate: In 1997, it was revealed that the FBI had launched an investigation with echoes of the current Trump imbroglio into whether Chinese government officials, including China’s head of military intelligence, influenced American elections by funneling donations intended for President Clinton and other candidates to the Democratic Party through fundraisers close to the Clintons. Senate Republicans on the Governmental Affairs Committee investigating the case found circumstantial evidence that a Chinese government plot to influence elections had existed, and three fundraisers were ultimately convicted of violating campaign finance law and on other charges. No administration officials were charged with wrongdoing.

Plamegate: The George W. Bush White House also found itself the subject of an FBI investigation into the leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame in 2003. Scooter Libby, an adviser to Vice President Cheney, was ultimately convicted in part for lying to FBI agents during the investigation.

The Ruling

Sadly, the FBI has had occasion to investigate the White House and those close to the president many times. In one case, the FBI even investigated whether officials from a foreign government had worked to influence a presidential election. Strangely enough, this is normal.

March 22 2017 3:24 PM

One Day After White Terrorist Murder in New York, NYPD Beefs Up Security Over Possible Jihadism in London

On Monday night, a 28-year-old white man named James Harris Jackson stabbed a 66-year-old named Timothy Caughman to death near Times Square in New York City. Jackson told police he attacked Caughman at random because Caughman was black. Authorities say that Jackson, who is reportedly a member of a "documented hate group" in Maryland, carried out his attack in New York "because it is the media capital of the world and he wanted to make a statement."

On Wednesday, the NYPD announced it was deploying counterterrorism teams to guard potential terror targets around the city. It did not do this because of a murder carried out in New York City by a member of a radical ideological group who "wanted to make a statement." The department's move, it said, was motivated by Wednesday's attack in London, which seems to fit the profile of other attacks carried out by radical Islamic jihadists but, to be clear, took place in another country.

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Does that make sense?

March 22 2017 1:31 PM

U.S. Airstrike Reportedly Kills Dozens of Civilians in Syria. Again.

Another U.S.-led coalition airstrike has reportedly killed a large group of Syrian civilians, this one on Tuesday night at a school sheltering displaced people in Raqqa province, near ISIS’s de facto capital. At least 30 people were killed according to local activists, many of them families who had fled from fighting in other parts of Syria. The Pentagon says it will investigate the allegations.

Fighting is escalating around Raqqa, where an increasing number of U.S. troops have joined Turkish, Kurdish, Russian, Syrian government, and Syrian rebel forces in the area, eyeing each other almost as warily as they are eyeing nearby ISIS positions. In a separate operation, U.S. special forces reportedly airdropped in to attack ISIS positions near Raqqa on Wednesday.

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News of the latest alleged mass civilian casualty incident comes as the military announced it has launched a formal investigation into another airstrike that reportedly killed dozens of civilians at a mosque in northwestern Idlib province last week. The U.S. Central Command is looking into both reports from local activists that as many as 49 civilians were killed and whether the building that was hit was actually part of a mosque, as locals claim. Officials have said they targeted an al-Qaida meeting site near a mosque.

Tuesday’s airstrike—the second alleged incident of this type in one month—will and should raise questions about whether the U.S. is taking adequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties. This year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, and, according to data collected by the monitoring site Airwars, civilians killed in U.S.-led coalition strikes exceeded those killed in Russian strikes in both January and February.

Of course, civilians were killed in airstrikes under the Obama administration too, and the uptick in civilian deaths preceded Trump taking office. But the new administration has also taken a number of steps that could put more civilians at risk, including instructing the Pentagon to loosen rules of engagement for anti-ISIS missions to the minimum required by international law (a move one former U.S military intelligence officer has described as “really fucked up”); giving the military more latitude to order operations without White House review; and giving the CIA new authority to conduct drone strikes, which have a lower level of transparency and accountability than those conducted by the military.

Trump had campaigned in part on the notion that the Obama administration was being too “politically correct” in the fight against ISIS and suggested deliberately killing the families of terrorists. We thankfully haven’t seen anything like that yet, but that’s not good enough. International humanitarian law requires militaries to take “all feasible precautions” to avoid civilian deaths, a standard that also came up in the investigation of the 2015 U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital near Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Jonathan Horowitz, a legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, told me that, whether or not the two airstrikes met the “all feasible precautions” standard “depends heavily on what was happening on the ground and how much the military operators knew and how strong their efforts were to distinguish between things military and things civilian.” That will hopefully become more clear as these incidents are investigated, though Horowitz does say that the Trump administration’s recent policy changes “really call into question whether they are taking all feasible measures” to protect civilians.

After the botched Yemen raid in January, I predicted that liberal Americans might start to look more critically at the humanitarian consequences of U.S. counterterrorism operations, something they often gave Barack Obama a pass on. This might have been too optimistic, as these airstrikes have gotten relatively little attention amid an admittedly crowded news cycle. But as the campaign against ISIS escalates, and if incidents like this continue to occur, it’s essential for the public to finally ask tough questions about what the U.S. military is doing to avoid killing innocent people.

March 22 2017 1:27 PM

More Evidence That the Trumps’ Ethics Plan Is Not to Have One

When it comes to addressing conflicts of interest, Donald Trump’s plan has always been not to have a plan—or at least not one with enough specificity to actually matter. Prior to the election, he promised to solve the problem by creating a blind trust that was by definition not blind. After the election, he made a big show of walling himself off from his business empire without actually taking the steps needed to do it. And now, Fortune’s Dan Alexander provides yet one more piece of evidence that the Trumps DGAF.

In the course of reporting on a story about the Trump family’s friends and business partners, Alexander spoke with Eric Trump in his office at Trump Tower:

One minute, he promises to never talk about the business with his father while he serves in the White House. Less than two minutes later, he says he will update his father on the company's financials “probably quarterly.”
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If we take Eric at his word, the much-hyped firewall between the president and the business that bears his name will swing wide open around four times a year. (Trump’s lawyers had previously claimed the president would “sharply limit his information rights,” but provided few specifics.) Another reading of probably quarterly, though, is that Eric Trump hadn’t bothered to even think about how, when, and how often he’ll update his father until Alexander asked him. That’s troubling in its own way, since not deciding is a decision of its own, and it’s these type of nondecision decisions that have largely allowed the Trumps to continue to do whatever they want without being accountable to the American public.

Consider their much-hyped promise to give the Treasury Department any profits the Trump Organization makes from foreign government officials staying at one of its hotels, a decision Trump’s lawyers suggested was made out of an abundance of caution as not to violate the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. Noticeably absent from the January announcement were the details, and when the Trump Organization finally began to provide them this week, it became clear that it won’t be actually making any such donations until 2018 at the earliest. Given what we’ve seen so far, Treasury officials probably shouldn’t hold their breath. Similarly, the company claims to have a comprehensive vetting process in place for any business dealings—and yet it won’t say what that process is or explain why it didn’t stop the company from selling a $16 million Park Avenue penthouse to a woman with ties to Chinese military intelligence, as Mother Jones discovered.

This isn’t limited to the Trump Organization. Earlier this week, Politico reported that Ivanka Trump now has her own West Wing office and “is in the process of a obtaining security clearance.” That same day, the New York Times reported on her continued influence over the Ivanka Trump brand and vague attempts to steer clear of ethics violations. So now Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are both officially advising the president from offices inside the White House while retaining stakes in their own companies. Under federal law, it is illegal for either to participate “personally and substantially” in any government matter that will affect their own financial interests. The White House, however, has avoided saying what areas of policy each is involved in and which ones they will recuse themselves from. That raises plenty of big questions, but it simultaneously prevents the public from learning the more important answers.

This all, then, leaves two options: Either the Trumps really haven’t bothered to think this stuff through in any detail—or they did, and quickly realized the American public wouldn’t like the results.

Know anything about the Trump Organization? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter, or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

March 22 2017 11:16 AM

At Least Three Killed in Knife and Vehicle Attacks Near British Parliament

What we know: An individual who apparently stabbed a police officer outside the Palace of Westminster in London was shot by responding authorities. The attacker is dead. Several individuals were struck on the nearby Westminster Bridge, apparently by a car that the attacker drove through pedestrians before attacking the officer. The officer who was stabbed and at least two other victims have died. The perpetrator who was killed is believed to be the only individual involved in carrying out the attack.

Update, 2:15 p.m.: Police have announced that the attacker who was shot after stabbing a police officer is dead. The officer who was attacked and at least two other victims have also died. Police do not believe there are any other attackers at large.

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Update, 1:45 p.m.: The police officer who was stabbed earlier Wednesday in London is dead. London authorities have also said that a victim of the apparent vehicle attack was recovered, alive but with serious injuries, from the River Thames beneath the Westminter Bridge. It's not clear if she was knocked off the bridge or jumped to avoid being hit.

Update, 12:30 p.m.: A doctor at London's St. Thomas Hospital has told reporters that one woman involved in Wednesday's incidents has died. It's not clear how she was injured.

Update, 11:30 a.m.: Here's video, taken by a former Polish foreign minister, of injuries on Westminster Bridge.

And here's a shot of the car that has crashed into a fence outside the palace.

Original post, 11:16 a.m.: Police have fired on an assailant who attacked an officer near the Palace of Westminster, the iconic building in which the United Kingdom's Parliament meets, the leader of the House of Commons has announced. Several individuals on the nearby Westminster Bridge appear to have been hit by a car in an incident whose relation to the stabbing is unknown.

Parliament was in session Wednesday inside the palace, which has been locked down. We'll update this post when more details become available.

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