November 27, 2019

The Trump administration is "undoing decades of civil and human rights progress," especially regarding LGBTQ issues, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in a report published last Thursday.

The study is the result of a two-year probe launched after several agencies announced budget and personnel cuts in departments that oversee civil rights. Stripping these divisions of resources, the commission found, left "allegations of civil rights violations unredressed."

The federal watchdog group also alleged that the administration's application of "religious liberty" guidance since 2017 has been marginalizing LGBTQ communities. The report cites the example of the DOJ supporting a Colorado-based baker who refused to sell cake to a same-sex couple in a discriminatory lawsuit, as well the "elimination of data collection on LGBTQ status."

In a statement, the White House denounced the report as a product of the "radical left" to paint LGBTQ Americans as "threatened," reports NBC News.

While the independent, bipartisan commission will not be able to enforce their findings, the report will still be presented to Congress at the end of the year. "After that," notes NBC News, "it's up to legislators to act." Ramisa Rob

8:38 a.m.

Could Apple be on the cusp of scoring a Best Picture win at the Oscars?

The company is teaming up with Paramount on Martin Scorsese's highly-anticipated upcoming movie Killers of the Flower Moon, Deadline reports. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro and is based on the book of the same name, and Apple will now be financing the film, which reportedly has an eye-popping budget of up to $200 million. The film was previously set up at Paramount, but the studio was "nervous" about the price tag, the report says.

Killers of the Flower Moon will now be an Apple original movie, though Deadline reports it's still getting a wide theatrical release from Paramount, a significant piece of the news considering Scorsese's last streaming movie, The Irishman, didn't receive that from Netflix. Major theater chains require movies they show be exclusive to them for about three months, but Netflix prefers to debut its films on streaming sooner than that, and the two parties were unable to reach an agreement. The Irishman instead got a limited theatrical release.

Some Oscars prognosticators have speculated that Netflix's status as a disruptor of theatrical norms held it back from Best Picture in recent years, but Apple could potentially avoid that problem with a traditional, wide theatrical release. Netflix's The Irishman never quite became the major awards contender that Roma did a year earlier anyway, but it was still surprising when it ended up scoring zero wins despite all the critical acclaim. Netflix itself only got two wins at the Oscars this year after landing 24 nominations.

Thus far, no streaming service has ever won Best Picture at the Oscars. Unless something goes terribly wrong with Killers of the Flower Moon, though, expect Apple to be right there in that Best Picture race looking to make history in the not too distant future. Brendan Morrow

8:33 a.m.

President Trump shook up his campaign this week, naming former White House political director Bill Stepien as deputy campaign manager and elevating the campaign's political director for the Midwest, Stephanie Alexander, to campaign chief of staff.

Stepien "is viewed by Trump advisers as a competent tactician who can help the campaign appeal to alienated suburban voters," Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair, but his problem will be "that no amount of messaging or get-out-the-vote efforts can shade the reality that Trump's mishandling of the pandemic has plunged the country into a once-in-a-century economic crisis." Before the 2018 midterms, Sherman wrote, Stepien told him Americans "want to feel safe in the realm of national security, and they want to feel economically secure."

Trump is focused on the economic side of that equation, but at least 100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus so far, and the rush to reopen public spaces without adequate testing or containment strategies makes a significant resurgence of the virus more likely in the fall. Trump is furious that COVID-19 has derailed what he viewed as his clear path to re-election, a Trump adviser told Sherman, paraphrasing Trump: "The intelligence community let me down!" The intelligence community warned Trump early and often about the coronavirus, according to several reports, and so did first lady Melania Trump, according to Sherman:

Even those closest to Trump have been privately worried the election is slipping away. According to a source, Melania Trump warned the president during their trip to India in February to take the virus response seriously. "He totally blew her off," the source said. Melania later told people that Trump "only hears what he wants to hear and surrounds himself with yes-people and family," the source added. [Vanity Fair]

Melania Trump's office did not respond when Vanity Fair asked for a comment. Read more at Vanity Fair.

6:54 a.m.

Democrats in the Pennsylvania state House learned from a reporter on Wednesday that at least one of their Republican colleagues had tested positive for COVID-19 a week earlier. State Rep. Andrew Lewis (R) stepped forward.

Lewis said he had "immediately" informed House leadership of his positive test on May 20, but kept quiet "out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed." Rep. Russ Diamond (R) and Rep. Frank Ryan (R) subsequently said they were self-quarantining after coming in contact with an infected person.

House Democrats accused Republicans of covering up the infections to bolster their claims that COVID-19 isn't a significant risk. "It is simply unacceptable that some House Republicans knew about this for more than a week and sat on that knowledge," House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said Wednesday, adding that "a vocal few" of his GOP colleagues "have attempted to make a virtue out of not wearing a mask when in close proximity to others."

"I have never been this livid: The Republican leadership risked the lives of our staff" and "other members," said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D). Rep. Brian Sims (D) expressed his ire at GOP colleagues in a series of short videos, most of which contain NSFW language.

Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R), said "the health and privacy of a member" is "protected by HIPAA law — so the only person who was at liberty to announce their positive test is the member." He insisted that House Republicans "followed the data and science" and "notified and quarantined" anyone who met guidelines from the CDC and state health department. Democrats noted pointedly that none of them had been contacted.

"Some of our colleagues sat in close proximity to this member during committee meetings," tweeted Rep. Leanne Krueger (D). "The Republican contact tracing program ignored them." Peter Weber

4:59 a.m.

China's National People's Congress approved a controversial bill Thursday that, once enacted, will allow Beijing to exert its power more overtly in semi-autonomous Hong Kong. The 2,878-to-1 vote was expected and it moves the legislation, handed down from China's central government, back to the Standing Committee of the Communist Party. Once the committee finishes writing the law, it could be in force by August or September.

The legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference in Hong Kong, and it says that "when needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People's Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law." That has been interpreted as allowing Beijing to set up its own security agencies in Hong Kong, adding a parallel police force. Hong Kong pro-democracy protests have resumed in response.

The new law, and another proposed bill that would outlaw disrespect for China's national anthem in Hong Kong, have fueled concerns about the future of the city as an international financial hub. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the Trump administration no long considers Hong Kong autonomous and may revoke its special trade status. Peter Weber

4:01 a.m.

The U.S. passed 100,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, by far the highest official death toll in the world. "It's a striking reminder of how dangerous this virus can be," said Kaiser Family Foundation health policy expert Josh Michaud. "The experience of other countries shows that death at that scale was preventable."

President Trump did not mark the sad milestone, tweeting instead the number of tests the U.S. has conducted with the exhortation: "Open safely!" His presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, gave a eulogy for the 100,000 dead and attempted words of comfort for their loved ones. And The Daily Show just compiled a super-reel of Trump, his media allies, and members of his administration praising the Trump administration's response, with patriotic music playing in the background. There is, perhaps appropriately, no punch line at the end. Peter Weber

3:16 a.m.

A protest outside the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct police station tipped into violence for a second night on Wednesday as demonstrators demanded justice in the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, on Monday night. Looting was seen at a nearby Target, Dollar Tree, Cub Foods, and AutoZone, and as night fell, fires broke out in the street and the auto parts store, The Associated Press reports. Police, who fired tear gas and stun grenades Tuesday night, stood guard outside the station but did not appear to intervene to stop the looting.

Police did apprehend a suspect after finding a man shot dead on a sidewalk near the protests. Police spokesman John Elder said the shooting was being investigated as a homicide and the events that led up the death are "still being sorted out." Police Chief Medaria Arradondo urged calm as evening fell, noting that Floyd's death is under several investigations, including one by the FBI. "Justice historically has never come to fruition through some of the acts we're seeing tonight, whether it's the looting, the damage to property, or other things," he said on KMSP-TV.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called for the arrest of the white officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck for eight minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn't breathe. That officer and three others involved were fired Tuesday. There were also nonviolent protests outside the officer's house and the home of the Hennepin County prosecutor who will decide whether to file charges in the case. Surveillance footage appears to show Floyd cooperating with police, CNN reports, though the public has not yet seen the officer's body-camera.

Police forces around the country have enacted polices in recent years to limit excessive use of force, especially against black and brown people, and Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said as far as he's concerned, the video of Floyd's final moments speaks for itself. Peter Weber

2:15 a.m.

"It seems like every day we're learning something new while we're in quarantine," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. For instance, "did you know Hitler had an alligator? Well, he did, and now that alligator is dead."

"The president and his space poodle were in Florida today for the big NASA/SpaceX launch — this would have been the first time ever that a private company sent astronauts into orbit, which would have been a big deal," Kimmel said. "Unfortunately, the mission had to be scrubbed at the last minute due to weather. ... People online are blaming the president for jinxing this thing because he showed up to see it, just like they say he jinxed Alabama by showing up their home game, or how he's jinxed everything he's ever touched, but this is not his fault."

"It's been an all-caps kind of week for our dear mis-leader — Twitter yesterday, for the first time ever, flagged his tweets as potentially misleading," Kimmel said. "I guess this is good, but I don't know. Do we really need Twitter to tell us our fake president tweets fake things? Is that their job? The president, of course, was displeased. He took to Twitter to lash out at Twitter." He read Trump's tweetrum and said he wasn't sure what it meant.

"I guess it was only a matter of time before Donald Trump would be in a Twitter feud with Twitter," Kimmel said. "But this new kick he's on, trying to stop voting-by-mail, is actually very scary, because it's pretty clear he's setting the stage to claim he was cheated if he loses the election, which could potentially result in real violence in this country. And to help him push our democracy toward the edge of a cliff, Kellyanne Conway spoke to reporters today to say: pandemic, schmandemic, real American voters wait in line." At least for cupcakes.

Late Night's Seth Meyers presented a cartoon mashup of Trump's family quarantine and The Shining, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads