April 23, 2019

On Monday night, White House Deputy Counsel Michael Purpura informed House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) that acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had ordered former White House security clearance chief Carl Kline to defy a subpoena and skip a deposition scheduled for Tuesday. Kline's lawyer said in a separate letter that his client, who now works at the Defense Department, would comply with the White House's order. "With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him," said the lawyer, Robert Driscoll.

The House Oversight Committee is investigating how President Trump's White House approves security clearances. It subpoenaed Kline in early April after a whistleblower, career White House Personnel Security Office staffer Tricia Newbold, testified that Kline had overruled his staff and approved at least 25 security clearance applications rejected due to serious red flags, then retaliated against her when she spoke out. One of the senior officials whose application Kline approved despite significant concerns was reportedly Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law.

Earlier Monday, Cummings had rejected the White House's request that someone from the White House counsel's office attend the deposition with Kline, saying his committee would hold Kline in contempt if he ignored the subpoena. Peter Weber

11:23 a.m.

Will Smith is no longer Georgia bound for his new movie in response to the state's controversial voting law.

Smith's upcoming slave drama Emancipation, which is being directed by Antoine Fuqua, is no longer planning to film in Georgia in response to the voting law recently passed in the state, according to The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

"We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access," Smith and Fuqua said. "The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state."

The Georgia law implements ID requirements for absentee ballots that are "virtually certain to limit access to absentee voting," according to The New York Times, and it also limits where drop boxes may be placed and reduces the amount of time voters have to request absentee ballots, among other changes. Democrats have blasted the law, with President Biden labeling it a "blatant attack on the Constitution," and it prompted the MLB to pull the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

Georgia has attracted numerous major Hollywood film and television productions, including big-budget Marvel movies. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Smith's film is the first major production to leave the state in protest of the voting law — though the Reporter adds the move could pressure others to do the same. Brendan Morrow

11:21 a.m.

The tourism industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and cruise lines are no exception. In fact, they appeared particularly vulnerable to outbreaks early on in the crisis, and sailings stopped around the world. These groundings led to an 80 percent revenue drop and $4 billion in losses for Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the largest of its ilk in the world, The Wall Street Journal reports. Yet, at the same time, CEO Frank Del Rio's compensation doubled to $36.4 million, a Journal analysis of executive pay in 2020 found.

The increase was in part driven by bonuses tied a three-year contract extension, a Norwegian Cruise spokesman said, adding that Del Rio's pay included amounts related to the effects of the pandemic and a U.S. government decision to halt travel to Cuba. "We believe these changes were in the best interests of the company and secured Mr. Del Rio's continued invaluable expertise," the spokesman told the Journal. "Our management team took quick, decisive action to reduce costs, conserve cash, raise capital." He said that a plan to relaunch the company's fleet is underway, as well.

To be clear, Del Rio is not an outlier. Pay rose in 2020 for 206 of the 322 CEOs in the Journal's analysis, and the median pay for the executives in that group jumped to $13.7 million last year from $12.8 million in 2019. While it's true that many CEOs took salary cuts during the pandemic, the Journal notes that much of their pay is tied to bonuses or equity, so they were still able to reel in a lot of money when the stock market rebounded. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:06 a.m.

"On the domestic front, I have not yet witnessed something I've been happy about," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Politico in an interview, referring to the Biden administration's policy choices. But when it comes to Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation which has recently been rocked by a military coup and subsequent nationwide pro-democracy protests, "[the administration's] instincts are good. I think they're trying to do the right thing."

As it turns out the White House feels the same way about McConnell, who has been invested in Myanmar's fate for decades. Because of his experience championing democratic efforts in the country and his relationship with ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the White House is relying on McConnell, normally a political adversary, to help shape its Myanmar policy. McConnell's heavy involvement has helped the Biden administration "create a united front with lawmakers in both parties" on the issue, Politico reports, and he's getting some rare praise from top administration officials in response.

"Senator McConnell has played an important leadership role promoting an immediate return to democracy in Burma (Myanmar's other name), ensuring those responsible for the coup and the devastating violence against civilians are held to account, and standing firmly with the people of Burma as they peacefully resist military oppression," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Politico. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

10:04 a.m.

Regeneron's antibody cocktail could effectively provide "immediate protection to unvaccinated people," the company said Monday.

Regeneron announced that in a phase 3 trial, its monoclonal antibody cocktail protected against COVID-19 among people who were living with someone infected with the coronavirus, The New York Times reports.

This trial consisted of 1,505 people who lived in the same household as a person who tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous four days, and the antibody cocktail reduced the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 by 81 percent. Regeneron says it will ask the FDA to expand the emergency use authorization given to the antibody cocktail, which is now used for high-risk people infected with COVID-19.

"These antibodies may be particularly useful in individuals who are not yet vaccinated, and may also have potential in those who are immunosuppressed and may not respond well to vaccines," Dan Barouch, the trial's co-principal investigator, said.

Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos also said the antibody cocktail "may help provide immediate protection to unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus." This study was the newest evidence suggesting that drugs of this kind "not only prevent the worst outcomes of the disease when given early enough, but also help prevent people from getting sick in the first place," the Times wrote, while The Wall Street Journal noted the Regeneron drug could "provide temporary stopgap protection as people await vaccines."

Myron Cohen, one of the lead investigators of the study, also pointed out to Stat News that it's a "really, really big deal" that the Regeneron study administered the antibody drug via an injection, as needing to start an IV to use such antibody drugs has "unequivocally" been a barrier. Brendan Morrow

8:00 a.m.

Joseph Siravo, the actor who starred as Tony Soprano's father on The Sopranos, has died at 64.

Siravo died following a battle with cancer, his co-star Garry Pastore confirmed on social media, according to The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

"RIP my dear friend, who fought an incredible fight," Pastore wrote on Instagram. "I will miss you. See you on the other side."

In addition to Johnny Soprano on HBO's The Sopranos, Siravo's other roles included Ron Goldman's father Fred Goldman on The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and he starred in films like Carlito's Way, which served as his screen debut. Outside of film and television, Siravo had a successful theater career starring in shows like Jersey Boys, Oslo, and The Light in the Piazza. He was also "highly regarded" as an acting teacher in New York, Variety writes.

"Joe was an excellent actor and a wonderful guy and he will be missed dearly," The Sopranos star Michael Imperioli wrote on Instagram. "His performance of Johnny Boy Soprano was spot on and he also made a perfect John Gotti in Nick Sandow's The Wannabe. In my opinion he was the best of all the actors who've played the Teflon Don. Farewell Joe. Until the next life my friend." Brendan Morrow

7:12 a.m.

President Biden is preparing to nominate a slate of ambassadors, and among them will be Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a key Biden backer in Arizona last year, Politico reports. McCain is being vetted as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations Food Programme in Rome, a "coveted ambassador post in Western Europe in what would be his administration's first Republican appointee to a Senate-confirmed position," Politico says.

McCain, 66, has worked on global food scarcity and hunger issues, including collaborating with the World Food Programme in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Georgia. The three presidents before former President Donald Trump all appointed at least one member of the other party to their Cabinet, and Biden has not resumed that tradition. The Arizona Republican Party censured McCain in January, along with former Sen. Jeff Flake (R) and Gov. Doug Ducey (R), for insufficient fealty to Trump. Biden won Arizona in November, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1996. Peter Weber

6:21 a.m.

President Biden signed an executive order Feb. 4 revoking the historically low cap on refugees and other related restrictions put in place by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, and pledged to raise that limit to 125,000 a year. But he "has yet to do one thing that would make all of those changes official: sign what is known as a presidential determination," The Washington Post reported Sunday. Until he does, Trump's cap of 15,000 refugees in the 2020-21 fiscal year will remain in place.

In a report released Friday, the humanitarian nonprofit International Rescue Committee said Biden is on track to admit the fewest number of refugees of any modern president, including Trump. In its first two and a half months, the Biden administration has admitted 2,050 refugees, the IRC said, and without a change in policy, that will result in just 4,510 refugees this fiscal year.

Biden's effort to sharply raise the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. is supposed to take effect in "the first full fiscal year of the Biden-Harris administration," which begins in October. Biden "also intends to propose a raise in refugee admissions for this fiscal year, after appropriate consultation with Congress," the White House said in its Feb. 4 fact sheet.

Refugee advocacy groups have "deep concern" about Biden's delay in ramping up refugee resettlement, said Nazanin Ash, the IRC's vice president for global policy and advocacy, and "tens of thousands of already cleared refugees" are stuck "in uncertain limbo." Biden's fiscal 2021-22 budget calls for large increases in refugee resettlement funds, but "refugee advocates say those in limbo often cannot afford to wait weeks, let alone months, until the next fiscal year," the Post reports.

At Friday's White House press briefing, a reporter noted that Biden hasn't formally signed the paperwork on refugees and asked if he's "still committed to raising that cap to 62,500 by this fiscal year." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yes, "the president remains committed to raising the cap." Peter Weber

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