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Rep. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, is defending a 2013 meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and explaining that he did not know religious leader Louis Farrakhan would be in attendance.

Why it matters: Ellison came under recent fire by conservative media following a WSJ report that he had dinner with religious leader Louis Farrakhan and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in 2013.

The back story: Ellison penned several op-eds in the student newspaper while in law school, defending Farrakhan against claims of racism and anti-semitism. He later attempted to distance himself from both Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, once in 2006 during his House campaign and again in 2016 while running for DNC chair.

In a statement to Axios, Ellison wrote:

“As part of the 2013 U.N. General Assembly, and as negotiations were under way for what would become the Iran deal, I attended a meeting with President Rouhani and nearly 50 American Muslim leaders. This was not a private dinner, I didn’t know in advance who else would be there, and my decision to attend was not an endorsement of the political views of other attendees."
I attended the meeting to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue and to press President Rouhani face-to-face for the release of former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who was illegally detained and tortured by the Iranian regime. As always, I disavow anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms.

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Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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What to watch in tonight's debate

Joe Biden (left) and President Trump (right) are facing off in Cleveland for the first presidential debate. Photos: Alex Wong (of Biden) and David Hume Kennerly (of Trump)/Getty Images

President Trump will try to break Joe Biden's composure by going after his son Hunter and other family members in tonight's first presidential debate — a campaign source tells Axios "nothing will be off the table" — while Biden plans to stick to the economy, coronavirus and new revelations about how Trump avoided paying taxes.

Driving the news: Biden and Trump are set to debate at 9 p.m. ET at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and it will be moderated by Fox News' Chris Wallace.

Massive layoffs hit Disney theme parks

A person posing for a photo in front of the iconic Disney castle at Disneyland Resort in Hong Kong on Sept, 25. Photo: Miguel Candela Poblacion/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Disney is laying off 28,000 workers at its theme parks and experiences and consumer products divisions, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic has forced the company to close its California theme parks and limit attendance at re-opened parks elsewhere around the U.S. Around 67% of the 28,000 laid off workers are part-time employees, according to Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney's parks, experiences and products division.