February 15, 2019

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke with President Trump on the phone at least three times Thursday as Trump balked over signing the bipartisan spending bill that includes $1.375 billion for border fencing, not $5.7 billion for the border wall he demanded, The Washington Post reports, citing more than two dozen sources. McConnell and other Senate Republicans had "spent recent days on the phone, soothing him" and telling him Democrats lost, and when Trump finally agreed to sign the bill, McConnell rushed to the Senate floor, The New York Times adds, "interrupting a colleague's speech to announce Mr. Trump's decision, in effect locking it in before he could change his mind."

With Trump pairing his decision with a legally dubious emergency declaration, "White House officials insisted Thursday that Trump was acting in a defiant and assertive way," the Post reports, but "few Republicans, including the president's closest allies, were pleased with the ending. ... Yet for Trump, the negotiations were never really about figuring out how to win. They were about figuring out how to lose — and how to cast his ultimate defeat as victory instead."

"Time and again, Democrats demonstrated during the negotiations that they — not Trump — had the leverage," the Post reports, and when Democrats agreed to offer Trump $1.45 billion for non-wall fencing, lead negotiator Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) "walked into the room and surprised her Senate counterparts by lowering the offer to $1.375 billion" — a number lead Senate negotiator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) "accepted without a fight."

Still, Democrats decided "to be "careful with their language," the Post says, and when Republicans spun the $1.375 billion as a burn on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), "Democrats, privately, were amused but made a conscious decision not to gloat," worried their celebrations "might anger Trump enough to veto the deal." Trump "doesn't seem to work on a totally rational basis," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Post. "Little comments throw him off." Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:45 p.m.

The NBA's board of governors voted Thursday to approve a 22-team, one-location playoff to finish its 2019-20 season, ESPN reports.

The top nine teams from the NBA's eastern conference and top 13 from the western conference, based on standings from when the season was suspended in March, will play an additional eight regular-season games to determine seeding and to tune up. They'll then move to a standard 16-team playoff bracket with a seven-game series determining each round's winner.

All the teams will live and play in a "bubble-like environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World," The Washington Post reports, with no fans allowed and visitors strictly limited. Games begin July 31 and the tournament is slated to end in October. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:55 p.m.

Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday delivered a stirring eulogy for George Floyd, who was killed in police custody last week, saying it's time to "stand up" in his name.

Sharpton spoke at the Minneapolis memorial service following emotional remarks from Floyd's brother, saying his death was due to a "common American criminal justice malfunction" and calling the gathering one that has become "too common."

"George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks," Sharpton said. "Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations, and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck."

"What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country," said Sharpton, but now, "it's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'get your knee off our necks.'"

Amid the nationwide protests over Floyd's killing, Sharpton said that "none of us" at the service condones looting or violence but noted that "there's a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet," as there are some who "just want us to shut up and suffer in silence." He at one point got in a swipe at President Trump as well, referencing his recent church photo-op in which he held up a Bible — "I would like him to open that Bible," Sharpton said. Brendan Morrow

4:45 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came face to face with protesters for the first time on Thursday, and it went over about as well as you'd expect.

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against black people have taken over New York City in the past week, de Blasio's response has made him neither a friend of the protesters nor the NYPD. That became clear at a memorial service for Floyd on Thursday, where de Blasio was drowned out by a booing crowd from the moment he walked onstage even after the reverend who introduced him asked for "respect."

De Blasio, who frequently seeks to align himself with progressives, hasn't actually attended any of the protests, and has repeatedly defended the police department's tactics, even saying he hasn't seen any videos of police attacking peaceful protesters. Yet members of the NYPD don't seem to be fans of de Blasio either, going so far as to doxx his daughter Chiara de Blasio when she was arrested protesting over the weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00 p.m.

Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint following her ouster from America's Got Talent.

Reports emerged last year that Union was not brought back as a judge for AGT after complaining about a toxic workplace culture and alleged racist incidents on the set; last week, NBC announced an investigation found that "concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

But through her lawyer Bryan Freedman, Union just filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which names NBCUniversal and producers FremantleMedia and Syco, Simon Cowell's company, Variety reports. The complaint alleges Union was terminated because she refused to "silently endure the racist and misogynistic conduct on AGT," per Deadline.

Union is also reportedly now alleging that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy tried to threaten and silence her.

"In sharp contrast to NBC's recent statement on race, what was truly an 'outrage' was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show," her lawyer said, per Variety. "There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism."

Variety notes that complaints like the one Union filed are "often precursors to lawsuits," while Deadline wrote she is "clearly moving towards either a lawsuit she now has the right to pursue or arbitration." Brendan Morrow

3:45 p.m.

PAC-MAN might be the key to munching our way through the coronavirus pandemic.

Okay, so the ghost-eating yellow blob has nothing to do with stopping a deadly virus. But a gene editing technique that borrows the video game's name could prove effective in "scrambling" COVID-19's genetic code and stopping it from growing, Science Daily reports.

Stanley Qi's bioengineering team at Stanford University started working last year to develop a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool to fight influenza, calling their technique "PAC-MAN." It sends a virus-killing enzyme into a virus' RNA — DNA's instructional messenger — that in turn tells the enzyme to attack the virus' genetic material.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus, with no clear cure or treatment, presented a new opportunity for PAC-MAN. "By scrambling the virus's genetic code, PAC-MAN could neutralize the coronavirus and stop it from replicating inside cells," Science Daily writes.

But there was still the dilemma of how to actually deliver the PAC-MAN technique into lung cells. So after publishing a preprint of their study on the technique, Qi's lab found the Biological Nanostructures Facility at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. The facility focuses on using lipitoids to deliver therapies, and after a first test, the lipitoids "performed very well" at delivering the gene-scrambling treatment, Science Daily writes. Read more at Science Daily. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:43 p.m.

The publisher of The New York Times has addressed staffers' "disappointment and hurt" over a recent op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while the editorial page editor continues to defend its publication.

The Times faced backlash on Wednesday both internally and externally after publishing an op-ed by the Republican senator titled "Send in the Troops," in which Cotton argues President Trump should send the U.S. military into cities in an "overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers." Times staffers openly rebelled against the decision, with many tweeting the same message: "Running this puts Black [New York Times] staff in danger."

A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the Times, addressed the controversy in a note to employees on Thursday, per CNN's Oliver Darcy, writing that "for many, pride in" the Times' work has been "overshadowed by the disappointment and hurt felt" over Cotton's piece. But Sulzberger defended the decision to publish it as being made in the "spirit" of "openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with."

James Bennet, the editorial page's editor, also defended the decision, writing, "Cotton and others in power are advocating the use of the military, and I believe the public would be better equipped to push back if it heard the argument and had the chance to respond to the reasoning. Readers who might be inclined to oppose Cotton's position need to be fully aware of it, and reckon with it, if they hope to defeat it."

Cotton himself, meanwhile, is heaping praise on the Times for running his opinion, saying he's happy the editors "stood up to the woke progressive mob in their own newsroom."

According to CNN, Sulzberger's note "did not quell concerns from staffers," with one employee saying it failed to "address what many felt were factual inaccuracies in the Cotton op-ed and its incitement of violence" and was "demoralizing." Brendan Morrow

2:28 p.m.

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has a recent history lesson for President Trump.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis denounced Trump on Wednesday after his militaristic response to nationwide protesters, prompting Trump to tweet about how he fired the retired general. Except as Kelly reminded Trump in an interview with The Washington Post, that's not exactly how it went down.

"The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation," Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, told the Post. "The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is a honorable man."

Mattis submitted his resignation at the end of 2018 with a decisively passive aggressive letter. Trump, apparently not actually reading the letter, praised Mattis at first before actually figuring out what the defense secretary had said.

In a statement to The Atlantic, Mattis declared Trump was "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try." He then sided with protesters demanding "equal justice under law," and went so far as to compare the White House's mission under Trump to the Nazi slogan of "Divide and Conquer." Kathryn Krawczyk

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