March 5, 2018

Many unpaid interns on Capitol Hill are required to sign nondisclosure agreements that bar them from discussing their experiences working for lawmakers — including reports of abuse or harassment. The language in the agreements is abnormally broad, discouraging interns from speaking up about mistreatment, Vox reported Monday.

Lawyers who reviewed two examples of such NDAs found that the agreements made unusually sweeping confidentiality requirements. The documents require that interns not discuss anything about anyone on staff, Vox reported, rather than simply the lawmaker, and the agreement stipulations continue to apply even after an intern has left the Hill.

Congressional interns are unpaid, meaning they don't have access to the official complaint process that most Hill employees can use in cases of abuse or misconduct.

The House passed an overhaul of its sexual harassment policy in February, updating the 1995 rules that many staffers said were overly complicated and lacked transparency. Lawmakers like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) have resigned in recent months in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, sparking new scrutiny towards harassment protections for Hill staffers. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce a bill that would give interns more rights in filing sexual harassment claims. Summer Meza

11:30 a.m.

New York has undercounted the number of nursing home residents who have died from COVID-19 by "as much as 50 percent," according to the state's attorney general.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday released a 76-page report stemming from an investigation conducted by her office, and it alleged that the true number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state is far higher than the over 8,500 that have been reported, The New York Times reports.

"A larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the New York State Department of Health's (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent," a statement from James' office said.

James' office explained that the data collected suggests "many" nursing home residents died from COVID-19 after being transferred to a hospital, something that wasn't reflected in the official count, and there was also "apparent underreporting" of deaths in nursing homes themselves. For example, one facility reported five confirmed and six presumed COVID-19 deaths, but the actual number was found to be 27 deaths at the facility and 13 hospital deaths.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has faced criticism over the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes in the state, as well as for a March memo requiring nursing homes take in patients who tested positive. As the Times notes, the state's Health Department has stated that "most patients admitted to nursing homes from hospitals were no longer contagious when admitted and therefore were not a source of infection."

James' report concluded that "government guidance requiring the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities and may have obscured the data available to assess that risk," also placing blame on a "lack of compliance with infection control" at some nursing homes. Brendan Morrow

10:12 a.m.

Robinhood should consider changing its name to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The past two days have turned Wall Street on its head as Reddit users colluded to buy massive amounts of GameStop stock, with the explicit aim of hurting hedge funds that profit off shorting the typically falling stock. A lot of that GameStop trading happened on Robinhood, a free app that allows people to trade small amounts of stocks. But on Thursday, Robinhood decided to betray its name and halt purchases of GameStop stock, as well as stock from other nostalgic companies.

Robinhood said in a Thursday blog post that after "recent volatility," it wasn't allowing the purchase of new stock from GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry, Bed Bath and Beyond, Koss headphones, and Nokia, as well as the newly listed Naked brands that may have gotten caught up in the Reddit boom. Robinhood also raised margin requirements for some securities, meaning users have to front more of their own money to buy the securities, ostensibly benefiting those with more cash. TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab also increased margin requirements for GameStop stock on Wednesday.

Robinhood has framed the decision as a way to "help our customers navigate this uncertainty" in its blog post. The Verge meanwhile noted one hedge fund suffering amid the GameStop surge was Melvin Capital Management, which another hedge fund, Citadel, has since bailed out. Citadel's founder is Ken Griffin, who also founded Citadel Securities, a big investor in Robinhood that also works with TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab.

While Robinhood's everyday users may be blocked from trading these newly booming stocks, they were able to exact revenge against the app with a wave of one-star Google app store reviews. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:12 a.m.

The U.S. economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic just had its worst year in over seven decades.

The Commerce Department on Thursday said the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, resulting in the worst year for growth since 1946, The Washington Post reports. This was also the U.S. economy's first yearly contraction since 2009 amid the Great Recession.

The report represented a "major disappointment and hit to the nascent recovery in the domestic economy," RSM economist Joseph Brusuelas said, per Axios. It also "showed the recovery from the pandemic losing steam" late in 2020, Reuters reports, with GDP increasing at only a 4.0 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter.

The numbers came on Thursday morning at about the same time the Labor Department reported that another 847,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline from the week before but still a historically high number.

"The virus is in the driver's seat — there's no getting around it," Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao said, per The Wall Street Journal. "Until we control the pandemic, we can't hope for a full recovery economically." Brendan Morrow

9:09 a.m.

President Biden will be reopening the Affordable Care Act's online health insurance marketplace for a special enrollment period of three months, the White House has announced.

The White House on Thursday said Biden will sign an executive order allowing Americans to sign up for health insurance via from Feb. 15 through May. 15, Reuters reports.

"This special enrollment period will give Americans that need health care coverage during this global pandemic the opportunity to sign up," the White House said.

Open enrollment on the health insurance exchange for those who aren't insured through their employer would previously only be for six weeks, and the most recent period ended in December, CNN reports. Exceptions are made for those with major life changes, The Washington Post notes.

According to The New York Times, this special enrollment period announced by the White House is "intended to help people who have lost coverage in the past year, but it will be open to those who want health insurance for any reason."

The White House additionally said Biden will be directing "federal agencies to reconsider rules and other policies that limit Americans' access to health care," as well as issuing a memorandum "to protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive health care" and rescinding the "Mexico City policy" that "bars international non-profits that provide abortion counseling or referrals from receiving U.S. funding." Brendan Morrow

8:00 a.m.

Facebook is evidently now looking to minimize politics on its platform, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company hopes to "turn down the temperature."

Zuckerberg during an earnings call Wednesday announced Facebook will stop recommending political and civic groups to users, which he described as a "continuation of work we've been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations," Politico reports.

The social media company has long faced criticism over the amount of misinformation and polarization on its platform, with its recommendations being a frequent target of these complaints. Facebook previously said it would be putting these recommendations on pause in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Politico notes. Additionally, Zuckerberg said Wednesday the company plans to take action to reduce the amount of politics in users' news feeds, Axios reports, but he didn't offer any further information on that effort.

"There has been a trend across society that a lot of things have become politicized and politics have had a way of creeping into everything," Zuckerberg said. "A lot of the feedback we see from our community is that people don't want that in their experience."

Zuckerberg added that if users do want to discuss politics or join political groups, "they should be able to," but "we are not serving community well to be recommending that content right now."

The company by looking to "downplay politics" on the platform was "backing away from arguments it's long made that political speech is vital to free expression," Axios wrote. The decision came after various companies have taken steps to either ban political ads or limit them in certain situations, not to mention after numerous platforms suspended former President Donald Trump, leading Axios to conclude, "The social platforms that profited massively on politics and free speech suddenly want a way out — or at least a way to hide until the heat cools." Brendan Morrow

7:56 a.m.

When former President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans rushed through the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett right before November's election, then-candidate Joe Biden promised that if he won, he would create a bipartisan commission to study how to reform the Supreme Court and federal judiciary. Now that he has been sworn in as president, he's moving forward, staffing the commission and placing it under the aegis of the White House Counsel's office, Politico reports.

The commission will be co-chaired by Bob Bauer, Biden's campaign lawyer, and Cristina Rodríguez, a Yale Law School professor and alumna of the Obama Justice Department, Politico reports. Others named to the commission include Jack Goldsmith, a Bush Justice Department official who now teaches at Harvard Law School, and Caroline Fredrickson, former president of the American Constitution Society, Politico says. The panel will likely end up with nine to 15 members.

Bipartisan commissions are the "classic Washington, D.C., punt," Politico notes, and progressives who favor adding justices to the Supreme Court — an idea Fredrickson at least seems open to — and judicial term limits are not optimistic. "Commissions are often places where ideas go to die and there is no time on the clock to reform the court," said Aaron Belkin, director of the progressive group Take Back the Court. "The entire agenda of what needs to get done is in jeopardy thanks to stolen federal courts."

The White House told Politico only that Biden "remains committed to an expert study of the role and debate over reform of the court and will have more to say in the coming weeks." Peter Weber

6:57 a.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) flies to Florida to raise money on Thursday, and he's making a stop at Mar-a-Lago to meet with former President Donald Trump around lunchtime, Politico reports. McCarthy reportedly asked for the meeting, his first with Trump since the Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of Trump supporters, and he has been effusive about the tête-à-tête. "Kevin can't shut up about it," one Trump adviser joked to Politico.

McCarthy sees the visit as a way to smooth over their absolute "soap opera" of a relationship since the insurrection, and also as a way to inquire about Trump's political plans, Politico reports. "Unlike Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly doesn't want to speak to the ex-president ever again, McCarthy believes it's in his interest to be on Trump's good side," since Trump is still widely popular with the GOP base McCarthy needs to show up in 2022.

But "Trump world is ecstatic about the visit," too, "viewing the huddle as proof of a comeback in the making," Politico adds. Trump will "give Kevin an earful" about the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, the Trump adviser said. But McCarthy's pilgrimage is "the first solid bit of evidence that Donald Trump is still in charge of the party." Read more at Politico's Playbook. Peter Weber

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