September 26, 2019

The House may be wrapped up in whistleblowers and impeachment, but the Senate is still plodding along.

Just a few hours after a whistleblower report about President Trump's Ukraine phone call was released and acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified about it, the Senate confirmed Eugene Scalia as Trump's next labor secretary. Scalia was confirmed along a 53-44 party line vote, replacing Alex Acosta, who resigned amid allegations he mishandled Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse case.

During confirmation hearings, Scalia was questioned about an op-ed he wrote in college that said lesbian parents are not "as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family life." Scalia said his views on the subject have since changed, per The New York Times.

Scalia's name is no doubt familiar, as he's the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Eugene Scalia has a similarly conservative background and has defended businesses as a corporate lawyer, namely representing SeaWorld in a case involving an orca killing one of the marine park's trainers. SeaWorld ended up losing, but Scalia did win over then-federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, the lone dissenter in the case. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:52 p.m.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are making their 19-hour journey from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon after NASA and SpaceX teamed up for the first launch of a spacecraft carrying humans into space from U.S. soil since 2011.

The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but lightning and rain led to its postponement. Weather threatened to derail Saturday's launch, as well, but the skies cleared in time.

The mission is considered the start of a new era in spaceflight. Not only is it the first launch from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, it's the first time a private company orchestrated a crewed mission to space. Watch a replay of the launch below and follow along with the rest of the astronauts' journey here. Tim O'Donnell

2:27 p.m.

Despite sending out some inflammatory tweets Saturday morning, President Trump maintains he is "not at all" concerned his words might stoke racially-motivated violence in the wake of protests over George Floyd's death while in police custody earlier this week, claiming that his supporters "love African Americans."

Trump took to social media Saturday to praise the Secret Service for protecting the White House when protesters gathered outside on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., adding that "the most vicious dogs" were waiting if anyone had been able to breach the gate, and observers were quick to point out the history of law enforcement using dogs to curtail civil rights protests in the past.

But Trump, who appeared to hint that his supporters should head to the White House as part of a counter-demonstration, says his words were directed at "professionally managed" protesters — he later singled out Antifa — not at those gathering in response to Floyd's death.

1:18 p.m.

The U.S. was bracing for the number of COVID-19 fatalities to surpass 100,000 for quite some time before it officially crossed the threshold earlier this week, though a new analysis shows that the death toll likely reached the mark weeks earlier, The Washington Post reports.

The analysis, conducted for the Post by a research team at the Yale School of Public Health, estimates that there were 101,600 excess deaths between March 1 and May 9, which is about 26,000 more than were officially attributed to the coronavirus during that period. That doesn't mean that all 26,000 deaths were caused by the virus, but it's likely many of them were related to the epidemic in some capacity. For example, people with unrelated illnesses may have refrained from seeking necessary medical attention because of concerns about the virus' presence in the health care system.

Most of the surges in deaths occurred in states that experienced noticeably worse outbreaks, like New York and New Jersey, while several states like Alaska and Utah either had fewer deaths than would be expected or did not have an unusual excess mortality during the timeframe.

But the analysis did find that, among those states with lower excess deaths, there may be an undercounting when it comes to what percentage of those fatalities are related to COVID-19. Nationally, the coronavirus accounted for 74 percent of excess fatalities, but in South Carolina, Arizona, and Texas — all states that rank toward the bottom in testing prevalence — that number was 30, 40, and 39 percent, respectively. One of the research team members, Farzad Mostashari, told the Post the testing gap could be a contributing factor in the discrepancy. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

11:37 a.m.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced Saturday he is authorizing full mobilization of the state's National Guard for the first time since World War II. The action comes on the heels of protests against police brutality in Minneapolis and the surrounding area.

The Guard said 2,500 soldiers and airmen will be deployed by noon Saturday and they'll work in tandem with local law enforcement.

The protests began after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, while arresting him despite Floyd saying he couldn't breathe. Floyd later died. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday, but the demonstrations are expected to continue.

The protests began peacefully, but tensions increased over the course of the week, and several properties were damaged, which is why Walz felt it was necessary to bring in the Guard. The governor also said there are unconfirmed reports that white supremacist groups and drug cartels have taken advantage of the situation and may have incited violence. In fact, he estimates that 80 percent of the people arrested Friday were from out of state, suggesting that those behind the destruction were separate from the catalysts of the initial protests, though some observers note local officials often blame outsiders for civil unrest. Tim O'Donnell

10:55 a.m.

Many participants in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement welcomed President Trump's announcement Friday that the U.S. would begin to end its special relationship with Hong Kong after China moved forward with new national security laws that threaten the city's autonomy.

Trump's decision, if he goes through with it, would mean Hong Kong would become subject to the same trade restrictions Washington has imposed on China. As things stand, Hong Kong trades freely with the U.S. and it has built a reputation as one of the world's great financial hubs. Protesters understand that losing those exemptions could be bad news economically-speaking, but The New York Times reports they believe it's a risk worth taking and are willing to face financial hardships if Beijing is hit hard by the measure.

But not everyone thinks it's worth it. Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker, said it looks like her city is "being made a new Berlin" in a "new Cold War" between Beijing and Washington, referring to the German city that was formally divided along pro-Western and pro-Soviet lines from the end of World War II until German reunification in 1990. "We are caught in the middle of it," she said.

Mo is also doubtful that China will relent following Trump's threat and will retaliate at some point. "Beijing must have considered the risks and decided it could take them," she said. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

8:54 a.m.

Many scenes from Friday's protests across the United States against police brutality and institutional racism spurred by George Floyd's death while in police custody in Minneapolis turned violent, but Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields drew attention for a very different reason.

Shields was shown on video engaging with protesters and listening attentively while they calmly explained their grievances. In an interview she acknowledged the crowd was "understandably upset" by the "appalling" events in Minneapolis, adding that "whether it's by police or other individuals, the reality is we've diminished the value on" the lives of members of African-American communities across the country.

In addition to the empathetic message, Shields also proposed some ideas for reforming her profession. "The key is training and weeding out bad cops especially when you see a pattern of bad behavior," she said. "I think it's getting engaged with people and getting feedback in real time." Tim O'Donnell

8:30 a.m.

As protests against police brutality and institutional racism flared up across the United States on Friday, many turned contentious. Protesters in major cities set fire to police cars and damaged buildings while several incidents in which police officers appeared to escalate violence were captured on social media.

In Brooklyn, the passenger door of a police car driving by protesters was flung open, hitting one of the demonstrators, and another officer was filmed throwing a female protester to the ground. She ultimately wound up in the hospital.

But it wasn't just protesters who were targeted by some members of the police. Hours after a CNN news crew was arrested while covering protests in Minneapolis, a Louisville police officer fired pepper balls at a local television news crew reporting on demonstrations in the Kentucky city, much to everyone's confusion.

Elsewhere, a 19-year-old man was shot and killed in Detroit by an unknown suspect. It's unclear if the victim was a protester, but the shooting occurred where Detroit's demonstration was taking place.

As violence escalates, governors like Georgia's Brian Kemp (R) and Minnesota's Tim Walz (D) have called in the National Guard, and the Pentagon reportedly has military police on standby. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads