June 23, 2019

Despite Jake Tapper's best efforts, Vice President Mike Pence would not answer his question on Sunday's State of the Union about whether the "human-induced climate emergency" is a threat to the United States.

The CNN host posed the query in response to the Trump administration's decision last week to roll back former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which worked to reduce pollution from coal plants. After Tapper asked the first time, Pence said the administration will "always follow the science," and Tapper quickly interrupted to say "the science says it is."

Tapper kept asking the question, reminding Pence that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say it's a threat, but Pence continued to dodge, instead saying multiple times the administration is "not going to raise utility rates" and criticizing the Green New Deal.

Pence finally said he believes the U.S. is "making great progress reducing carbon emissions," with the country having "the cleanest air and water in the world," which caused Tapper to start laughing. "That is not true," he said. "We don't have the cleanest air and water in the world. We don't." Tapper then invited Pence to "get back to me with some statistics that show it." Catherine Garcia

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

1:48 p.m.

Who was the Zodiac killer? Was Homer a real person? Why did Spartacus turn back? Adding to the questions that may haunt mankind until the end of history is this: Who is the third of the three people following Ben Affleck's finsta?

On Thursday, Kelsey Weekman of In the Know stumbled upon what sure seems to be Affleck's private Instagram account (a.k.a. his "fake Instagram," or "finsta") as she was "checking to see" if he and his new girlfriend, Ana de Armas, "follow each other." While she was looking, Weekman "found a suspicious account" that de Armas followed named "Ben," which has the user name "PositiveAttitudeHunting." Hmmmmm!

But here's where things get interesting: Only two people aside from de Armas have permission to follow the private account. Fortune's Emma Hinchliffe managed to figure out that one of them is Affleck's ex, Jennifer Garner:

Which raises the question: Who is the third?! If you know, please tell Kelsey Weekman so we can all finally find some resolution. Jeva Lange

1:04 p.m.

Some Republicans have dismissed former Defense Secretary James Mattis' searing rebuke of President Trump — but not Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Mattis on Wednesday came out with a stunning rebuke of his former boss in The Atlantic, declaring that Trump "tries to divide us." Trump hit back on Twitter, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Fox News accused Mattis of "buying into a narrative that I think is, quite frankly, unfair" to Trump. Other Republicans didn't seem to put a lot of weight in the comments, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) telling CNN Mattis is "free to express" his opinion and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) telling NBC the comments weren't "especially helpful" but that he can "express himself" if he wants.

But then there was Murkowski, who told reporters she's "really thankful" for Mattis' "true, and honest and necessary" comments.

"When I saw General Mattis' comments yesterday, I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up," she said, CNN reports. Asked if she can still support Trump, Murkowski told reporters, "I am struggling with it," adding, "I have struggled with it for a long time, I think you know that."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) similarly told Politico that Mattis is an "American patriot of extraordinary service and sacrifice and great judgment," and he called the statement "powerful and stunning." Brendan Morrow

12:49 p.m.

What seems like a subtle statement of support for Defense Secretary Mark Esper is actually a bit bigger deal for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

It's rare for McConnell to publicly criticize or even offer much advice to President Trump, including when it comes to the many people Trump has fired throughout his term. But that changed on Thursday as Trump reportedly weighs firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, with McConnell burying a compliment for the secretary alongside one for Attorney General William Barr.

In a tweet, McConnell declared Trump and Americans "are very well-served by the expert advice and principled leadership" of Barr and Esper. "I appreciate their dedicated work at this difficult time for our nation," he continued.

The message comes after Esper broke with Trump's threat to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would bring the military into cities to forcefully end protests. Still, Esper did reverse his decision to send troops out of Washington, D.C., Wednesday night after reportedly angering the White House. The American Conservative's Curt Mills reported that Esper may be fired "as soon as today," though Trump has often dragged out the removal of even Cabinet members he openly despised. Kathryn Krawczyk

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