April 10, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence's disdain for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his Socialist Party is no secret. But on Wednesday, he let a prominent Venezuelan official know that directly.

While addressing the United Nations Security Council in New York, Pence looked directly at Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Samuel Moncada and essentially told him to take a hike.

Moncada wouldn't hear of it, though, shaking his head defiantly while Pence continued to speak.

The vice president urged the Security Council to help remove Maduro from power and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the official president of Venezuela. The United States and a number of European countries have already recognized Guaidó as interim president.

"Now it's time for the United Nations to act, and for the world to stand with the people of Venezuela as they march for freedom," Pence said. He also announced the United States will allocate an extra $61 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela. The country is plagued by years of hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and numerous power outages, which a significant portion of the population blames on the Maduro regime. Tim O'Donnell

12:36 p.m.

The Force wasn't with Michael B. Jordan when he auditioned for Star Wars.

The actor opened up to Variety this week about once auditioning for a role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and completely bombing.

"I think that was probably my worst audition to date," the actor said.

Jordan explained the extreme secrecy of J.J. Abrams' film threw him off, noting that "when you're reading for these high-level projects, there's never really any specificity in the sides."

"Everything's like super vague," he said. "Everything is in secret. Reading through, I just couldn't connect it. I definitely bombed that one for sure."

The Creed star was evidently going for the role that John Boyega ended up being cast in, which IndieWire notes Tom Holland says he also failed to get. In Holland's case, he apparently couldn't stop laughing during his audition at a woman making "bleep bloop bloop" sounds while trying to act like a droid.

"I obviously didn't get the part," Holland said. "That wasn't my best moment." Brendan Morrow

11:29 a.m.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) just signed the state's restrictive new voting bill into law, but local reporters who wanted to see him do so evidently had to tune into Fox News.

The Florida governor signed the controversial new law on Thursday morning that implements new restrictions on drop boxes and requires voters to sign up for mail-in ballots more often, among other measures, Axios reports. But DeSantis received additional criticism after signing it not in front of a whole group of reporters from various outlets, but live on Fox & Friends as an exclusive to the network.

"Local media outlets told CNN that they were not allowed to go inside the morning signing event and that it was a Fox News exclusive," CNN writes. This, according to The Washington Post, "came as a surprise to local journalists, who had arrived to cover the event."

DeSantis' decision to make this bill signing a Fox exclusive drew criticism from reporters, with CBS News' Kathryn Watson writing, "If I worked at Fox, I would refuse to cover the bill signing unless all my colleagues at other outlets could. It's the right thing to do." The New York Times' Maggie Haberman also wrote, "Can't say I've ever heard of an act like a bill signing being treated like a commodity to trade with Fox."

The Society of Professional Journalists' Florida chapter also slammed the move, with its president saying, "Actions like this openly defy against a free press. We condemn DeSantis' office barring journalists from doing their job for the sake of good TV." A Fox News spokesperson in a statement said that Fox & Friends "did not request or mandate" that the governor's event or interview "be exclusive to Fox News Media entities." Brendan Morrow

10:06 a.m.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta is calling out Fox News' Tucker Carlson for his latest "dangerous" vaccine comments.

Carlson during a segment on his highly-rated Fox show on Wednesday cited a federal reporting system to baselessly suggest COVID-19 vaccines could be responsible for 30 deaths in the United States every day. But PolitiFact writes that not only is this an "open system, where anyone can submit a report," but the system warns users that its reports shouldn't be used "on their own to determine whether a vaccine caused or contributed to a particular illness." Indeed, radiologist Pradheep J. Shanker writes that "the vast majority" of the complications found in the system "are likely not from the vaccine," noting, "If you had a vaccine today, and then had a heart attack unrelated to the vaccine, your death would be in" the system.

With this in mind, Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, on Thursday blasted Carlson's "reckless" and "dangerous" segment and said it's "absolutely not true" that 30 people are dying from COVID-19 vaccines every day.

"It's absolutely, 100 percent false," Gupta said. "The problem is that it continues to stir up this vaccine hesitance, or outright vaccine reluctance. It is so frustrating."

Gupta, who recently revealed his uncle died from COVID-19 amid India's surge in coronavirus cases, pointed to the fact that this same reporting system found a "one-in-a-million" chance of an adverse reaction to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as evidence the CDC isn't somehow overlooking over two dozen daily deaths from vaccines. He added that "we could be in a much better position" in the pandemic "if it were not for people like Tucker Carlson." Carlson previously drew criticism after baselessly speculating that COVID-19 vaccines might not work "and they're simply not telling you that."

CNN host John Berman put things far more bluntly, asking of Carlson, "Does he want his viewers to live?" Brendan Morrow

8:42 a.m.

Tucker Carlson was right: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is living in the Washington, D.C., penthouse of Republican pollster and messaging maven Frank Luntz, and it does sound like a pretty sweet deal. Carlson was tipped off to the roommate arrangement, and McCarthy confirmed it Tuesday, telling Fox & Friends he has "rented a room from Frank for a couple of months, but don't worry, I'm back to — going back to where I normally am, on my couch in my office. But, yes, we pay fair market rate"

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler looked into Luntz's apartment, and it's actually a 7,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom, 16-bathroom amalgamation of 4 three-story penthouses Luntz purchased for nearly $4.3 million in August and September 2018 and merged in November 2019. The homeowner's association fees on the four units is $4,976 a month, Kessler calculates, citing Redfin.

Neither McCarthy nor Luntz responded to the Post's request for comment, but a McCarthy spokesman told the Daily Wire the minority leader "calculated the fair market value amount at $1,500/month" to rent an "approximately" 400-square-foot room in Luntz's penthouse. Kessler's Apartments.com search found that a comparable studio or one-bedroom would run about $5,000 a month. Regardless, he writes, "besides the 'room' he rented, McCarthy would have had access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table."

"This is quite a deal, especially considering that Luntz has talked about how he's on the road all the time," Politico muses. "Imagine paying $1,500 a month for what is essentially a mansion carved into a high-rise? It's good to be the minority leader!"

Carlson was less amused by the "sleazy and corrupt" arrangement. "Kevin McCarthy promises Republicans he shares their values" and "will fight for them against permanent Washington, the forces that would like to destroy their lives," he said. "And at the end of the day, Kevin McCarthy goes home to Frank Luntz's apartment in Penn Quarter and laughs about it." Peter Weber

8:31 a.m.

Early data indicates Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, the company says.

Moderna released this data on Thursday along with its first-quarter earnings, CNBC reported. An initial analysis of a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents between 12 and 17 years old "showed a vaccine efficacy rate of 96 percent," the company said. The vaccine was also "generally well tolerated," and the "majority of adverse events were mild or moderate in severity." Like Pfizer, Moderna also said Thursday it plans to apply for full FDA approval of the vaccine this month.

The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly on the verge of authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years old, allowing the vaccine to expand to this key age group ahead of the next school year. In March, Pfizer said a trial showed its vaccine was 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15, demonstrating "robust antibody responses." President Biden earlier this week said his administration's COVID-19 vaccination efforts are set to enter a "new phase," which includes vaccinating kids between 12 and 15 pending FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has also said it expects to seek authorization of its vaccine for kids between 2 and 11 this September, and Moderna says a phase 2 study of its vaccine in children 6 months to 11 years old is ongoing. Brendan Morrow

7:10 a.m.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted to allow most Texans to carry handguns without any sort of permit or training, sending the legislation to a conference committee with the House, which already passed a similar measure. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said last week he will sign the bill. The Senate passed permitless carry on a party-line 18-13 vote, "less than a week after it sailed out of a committee created to specifically to tackle the legislation," The Texas Tribune reports. Every Republican voted for it, but several voiced concerns about the legislation during debate.

The legislation, considered too fringe during previous legislative sessions, faced opposition from law enforcement groups, firearms instructors, and Democrats. Currently, Texans must undergo four to six hours of training, pass a written exam and shooting proficiency test, and get fingerprinted to carry a handgun.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, argued that gun safety is a personal responsibility. "The obligation on the part of the citizen who owns a potentially dangerous weapon to understand gun laws, to become proficient in their handling of their gun, is not absolved," he said. One Republican who showed up to vote for unlicensed carry despite injuries from a car accident collapsed on the Senate floor during debate.

Texans oppose unlicensed carry, 59 percent to 34 percent, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from April. When asked, 46 percent of Texans would make gun laws stricter while 30 percent would leave them untouched and 20 percent would loosen them further, the poll found. Three-quarters favor requiring criminal and mental background checks before all gun sales.

"A lot of the [legislative] agenda right now seems at odds with public opinion," said James Henson, co-director of UT/Texas Tribune poll. "Guns is the best example" of Republican lawmakers chasing policies that "come from the most conservative wing of the majority party," he added. "But this is also notable on the abortion questions." Peter Weber

5:52 a.m.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is extremely effective against two dangerous variants of the coronavirus, the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the United Kingdom and the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa, researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.

Moderna also reported Wednesday that, according to early results from its booster shot trial, a third dose of its vaccine given six to eight months after the first two doses boosted antibodies to protect against the South African B.1.351 variant and other worrisome strain found in Brazil. Moderna is testing its original vaccine and a version modified to target the B.1.351 variant.

The new variants are more transmissible than the original strain and, some studies suggest, deadlier. The New England Journal of Medicine study examined records of more than 200,000 people from Qatar's COVID-19 database. The Pfizer vaccine was 87 to 89.5 percent effective at preventing infection from the B.1.1.7 variant among people two weeks past their second shot, 72.1 to 75 percent effective against the B.1.351 variant, and 100 percent effective at preventing severe, critical, or fatal cases of either variant, the researchers found.

The study in The Lancet was based on more than 230,000 cases from Israel. It found that the Pfizer vaccine was more than 95 percent effective against infection, hospitalization, or death in fully vaccinated people 16 and older, and 94 percent effective in people 85 and older. The vaccine efficacy numbers aren't self-evident, but Brains On!, a science podcast for kids, has a short, entertaining, and pretty effective explanation using defecating seagulls. You can watch that below. Peter Weber

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