November 20, 2019

The fourth and potentially most significant day of public impeachment hearings is about to begin.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will testify before Congress on Wednesday as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump, which focuses on whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to open investigations that might benefit him politically, including by withholding military aid.

Earlier this month, Sondland revised his earlier closed-door testimony to admit he told Ukraine aid to the country that was being held up would likely not be released "until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," The New York Times reports. As to why Sondland didn't mention this when he originally testified and said that he didn't "recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens," he said he had since had his recollection "refreshed."

Of all the witnesses who have testified in the public impeachment hearings so far, The New York Times reports Sondland is the one who people close to Trump are most concerned about, as they have expressed "worry that he interacted directly with the president about Ukraine and that they do not know what he will say." The Times notes Sondland is also likely to face questions about why he didn't disclose a phone call he had with Trump about "the investigations" on July 26, which was first revealed during the public testimony of William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine.

The Sondland hearing is scheduled to get underway at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Also set to testify on Wednesday are Pentagon official Laura Cooper and State Department official David Hale. The impeachment hearing can be streamed below via PBS. Brendan Morrow

2:23 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday addressed the FDA and the CDC's decision to recommend a pause of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, arguing the move was not made "too quickly" and ultimately shows "how seriously we take safety."

Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, at a White House press conference spoke about the health agencies' recommendation that use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine be paused while officials look into six blood clotting cases. He stressed that "this is a very rare event" given that 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the United States, though he argued that officials weren't "pulling the trigger too quickly" with the pause.

"This is an unusual occurrence of a serious, adverse event that you want to make sure, before you go forward, you investigate it thoroughly, and that's exactly what they're doing," Fauci said. "They're pausing so that they can look at it more carefully."

The move to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over such a rare occurrence prompted some criticism, though, as well as concerns that it could lead to greater vaccine hesitancy. But Fauci argued it should only make Americans more confident in the process.

"The fact that a pause was done I think just is a testimony to how seriously we take safety, and why we have an FDA and a CDC that looks at this very carefully and hopefully will resolve it pretty soon, within days to weeks," Fauci said. "...So I think it's a very strong argument for safety, actually."

Fauci also stressed that there have been "no red flag signals" from the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines even though they have already been administered to tens of millions of Americans, which shows that "you're dealing with a really safe vaccine." Brendan Morrow

1:46 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump released a statement Tuesday criticizing the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, baselessly suggesting the decision was politically motivated.

"The results of this vaccine have been extraordinary, but now it's [sic] reputation will be permanently challenged," Trump said. He then floated, without any evidence, that the FDA may have been playing favorites. "[The FDA] should not be able to do such damage for possibly political reasons, or maybe because their friends at Pfizer have suggested it," he said. He also didn't lose an opportunity to bring up his favorite subject: his loss in the 2020 presidential election, which he has blamed on everyone from the Supreme Court to other Republican politicians to the pharmaceutical companies that worked with his administration to craft a vaccine. "Remember, it was the FDA working with Pfizer, who announced the vaccine approval two days after the 2020 presidential election," he said in his Tuesday statement.

He then finished off the statement by boasting about vaccine development under his administration, and called for the Johnson & Johnson shot to be back in action quickly. Tim O'Donnell

12:58 p.m.

President Biden on Tuesday eulogized the late Capitol Police office William "Billy" Evans as he lies in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Biden described Evans, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this month when a driver slammed into Evans and another officer in a suspected attack on the Capitol, as a "hero." During the "intimate" address, Biden spoke directly to Evans' wife and two young children, telling them their husband and father is "still with you."

The president said that although he didn't personally know Evans, he knew people like him growing up. "He was the one who always kept his word," Biden said. "If he said he'd be there, he'd be there. He was the one who ... wasn't capable of saying 'no' when you needed him."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also spoke, calling Evans a "martyr for our democracy." Tim O'Donnell

12:35 p.m.

President Biden is set to announce that all American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this year, The Washington Post reports.

Biden will reportedly reveal the new deadline this week, which will come after he said last month that it would be "hard to meet" the May 1 withdrawal deadline set under former President Donald Trump and negotiated with the Taliban.

"It is not my intention to stay there for a long time," Biden said in March. "...We will leave. The question is when we leave."

Biden also said at the time he "can't picture" U.S. troops still being in Afghanistan in 2022.

The president is planning for a "phased withdrawal" from Afghanistan between now and September, the Post writes. CNN confirmed the news that the roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn but noted it wasn't "immediately clear what will happen to several hundred U.S. special operations forces there."

But the Post quoted a source familiar with the deliberations as saying, "If we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exit, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest." Brendan Morrow

11:09 a.m.

The White House does not appear to be concerned about whether the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may hinder its distribution strategy.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in a statement Tuesday that because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up only a small percentage of the recorded shots in the U.S., the federal plan should remain intact without any major hiccups. "Over the last few weeks, we have made available more than 25 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna [vaccines] each week ... This is more than enough supply to continue the current pace of 3 million shots per day, and meet [President Biden's] goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office," the statement said.

Johnson & Johnson appointments scheduled for the next several days have already been canceled, but Zients said the Biden administration is working with state and federal partners to reschedule those for a dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

While the math may hold up for the White House's goals, there are still other factors to consider, including whether the FDA's decision leads to any noticeable increase in vaccine hesitancy, regardless of which shots are available. Tim O'Donnell

11:05 a.m.

Former House Speaker John Boehner revealed that in the 2020 election, he voted for former President Donald Trump, whom he would later blast for inciting a "bloody insurrection."

Boehner has recently been promoting his new memoir On the House, and he told Time in an interview published Tuesday that he backed the former president for a second term last year, citing his Supreme Court picks and their agreement on policy issues.

"I voted for Donald Trump," Boehner said. "I thought that his policies, by and large, mirrored the policies that I believed in. I thought the choices for the Supreme Court were top notch. At the end of the day, who gets nominated to the federal courts is really the most important thing a president does."

The revelation came after Boehner didn't hold back against Trump in his book for his actions after the 2020 election, blasting the former president's "bulls---" election fraud claims and saying he "incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons." Boehner also recounted a time when his staffer was berated by Trump during a golf outing before he became president, with Boehner writing that the incident revealed Trump's "real anger" and adding, "we had no idea then what that anger would do to our country."

Boehner also told Time he views Trump as a "product of the chaos we've seen in our political process over the last 10 or 12 years." But when asked if he wishes in retrospect that he had done more to push back on Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Boehner said he didn't feel the need to do so.

"I'm retired," Boehner said. "I try to stay out of the day-to-day rumble of politics. I really didn't need to speak up." Brendan Morrow

10:38 a.m.

Use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine has been paused in multiple states after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory recommending they do so "out of an abundance of caution." The reason is a tiny handful of unusual blood clotting events — just six of them, to be precise, out of a total of 6.8 million doses administered in the United States thus far.

This is an incomprehensible decision. As Helen Branswell writes at STAT News, every single clotting event involved a woman aged between 18 and 48 with a condition called thrombocytopenia (or low blood platelets). It isn't even clear yet that the vaccine actually caused the clots — the background rate of this particular kind of clotting is about five per million people, per year.

Now, of course public health authorities should be vigilant about potential side effects, and they should inform the medical and scientific communities about any troubling data that comes up. It would be understandable to pause a treatment that was just a precaution for some rare disease. But we are still right in the middle of a deadly viral pandemic, and cases are increasing: up from about 55,000 per day in mid-March to 70,000 per day, thanks mainly to an exploding outbreak in Michigan. Deaths are falling, but still coming in at about 750 per day. COVID-19 is a serious disease, even for younger people — indeed, one of the common complications is dangerous blood clots.

It might be reasonable to recommend that women under 50, or anyone with thrombocytopenia, get one of the other vaccines while scientists try to figure out what is going on. But pausing all use of the J&J vaccine will certainly prevent many thousands of people from getting vaccinated so long as the pause lasts, and will likely do long-term damage to the reputation of all the vaccines. The anti-vaccine crowd on Fox News is going to to go nuts with this, spreading fear and paranoia and increasing the resistance of Republicans to vaccination. This decision is the opposite of caution. Ryan Cooper

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