December 23, 2019

Former President Obama has reportedly been vouching for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to wealthy donors in an attempt to "rally the troops."

Obama, The Hill reports, has in recent months "gone to bat" for the Democratic presidential candidate to "donors reluctant to support her given her knocks on Wall Street and the wealthy," describing her behind the scenes as a capable contender and encouraging them to support her if she's the nominee.

"He obviously thinks she's very smart," a Democratic donor said. "He thinks her policy ideas matter. And I think he sees her running the campaign with the most depth."

Obama has not offered any 2020 endorsement and has made clear he'll stay out of the Democratic primary. Still, the Hill reports that those around Obama say he's concerned Democrats in financial services will, per one ally, "have an issue" with Warren as the nominee, hence his attempt to "rally the troops." One Obama source noted, however, he would do the same for any one of the 2020 Democrats.

This comes after a report that Obama in 2015 said that if voters rallied behind Warren, who helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in his administration, it would be a "repudiation" of his economic policies. It also comes after a September report on the "far more combative relationship" between Warren and the Obama administration "than she usually discusses on the campaign trail." Brendan Morrow

8:57 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new guidance has acknowledged that COVID-19 can spread through the air, CNN reports.

The CDC's website as of Friday says that "airborne viruses, including COVID-19, are among the most contagious and easily spread" and that the coronavirus commonly spreads "through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols."

The CDC's latest guidance also says, "It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes)."

The guidance from the CDC, CNN notes, previously described COVID-19 as mainly spreading through "respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks" and within six feet. In the new guidance, when listing ways to protect oneself from COVID-19, in addition to steps such as social distancing and wearing a mask, the CDC also now says to "use air purifiers to help reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces."

The Washington Post notes that "scientists and public health experts have warned of mounting evidence that the novel coronavirus is airborne" for months, and University of Colorado at Boulder chemistry professor Jose-Luis Jimenez told the Post this acknowledgement from the CDC as a "major change."

"This is a good thing," Jimenez told the Post, "if we can reduce transmission because more people understand how it is spreading and know what to do to stop it."

Additionally, University of Maryland professor Donald Milton told CNN it's a "major improvement," adding, "I'm very encouraged to see that the CDC is paying attention and moving with the science. The evidence is accumulating." Brendan Morrow

7:22 a.m.

A sizable anti-abortion minority of U.S. voters are excited at the prospect of a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court striking down or effectively neutering Roe v. Wade, but the Affordable Care Act is in much more imminent danger after the death Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 10 in a lawsuit by Texas and other conservative states, backed by the Trump administration, arguing that the entire ACA should be struck down because the GOP-controlled Congress zeroed out the individual mandate to buy insurance in 2017. The lawsuit "was largely shrugged off" when it was filed two years ago, Politico notes, but it has now "been validated by Republican-appointed justices in lower courts, and ObamaCare will have one less ally on the conservative-dominated bench when the Supreme Court considers the law's fate this fall."

"Conventional wisdom had held that Chief Justice John Roberts would likely join with the court's liberals to save the ACA once again," Axios reports. "But if President Trump is able to fill Ginsburg's former seat, Roberts' vote alone wouldn't be enough to do the trick, and the law — or big sections of it — is more likely to be struck down." Most at risk are the law's protections for pre-existing conditions, according to legal scholars following the litigation. But everything is on the table, including Medicaid expansion, coverage for people up to age 26 on their parents' insurance plans, and no-cost preventative care.

"A broad ruling against the entire ACA still requires some logical leaps," Axios notes. But "a lawsuit that once seemed like a long shot now has a much more reasonable chance at success — and that means 20 million people's health coverage really could be in the balance." Trump and congressional Republicans tried and narrowly failed to replace the ACA in 2017, and Trump has yet to release his frequently teased newer health care plan. Peter Weber

5:11 a.m.

President Trump gave approval Saturday for a deal in which China's ByteDance would partner with Oracle and Walmart to create a U.S. TikTok spinoff that would satisfy his security demands. ByteDance said Monday it wanted to clarify some "groundless rumors" about the deal, asserting that the Beijing company would control 80 percent of a wholly owned subsidiary, TikTok Global, after a public offering. Oracle would own a 12.5 percent stake and Walmart the other 7.5 percent.

U.S. backers of the deal argue that because U.S. investors own 41 percent of ByteDance, the 20 percent owned by Walmart and Oracle would give U.S. investors and companies a majority stake in the TikTok Global. Oracle and Walmart also said Americans would hold four of the five seats on the board of directors. ByteDance said Monday that one seat would go to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon but the other four would stay with current directors, including ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming.

Another "rumor" ByteDance sought to shoot down was Trump's assertion that the Chinese company would pay the U.S. $5 billion to create an education fund to teach American children "the real history of our country." ByteDance said the $5 billion figure was just an estimate of federal taxes it would pay over several years if its new subsidiary proved successful. Trump has said he wanted the buyers to pay the White House "key money" for facilitating the deal, but White House lawyers said that would violate the law.

ByteDance also said it will retain full control of TikTok's prized algorithms and source code, and Oracle can review the code for security threats but only in controlled locations. Trump's Aughst executive order giving ByteDance 90 days to sell to a U.S. company cited concerns that the personal data of Americans could be passed on to China's government. A senior Trump campaign official tells The Wall Street Journal that TikTok's Washington lobbyists had argued to Trump's campaign that banning a social media juggernaut with 100 million users, "including many who are of voting age and live in battleground states such as Florida," would be bad politics. Peter Weber

3:22 a.m.

There isn't really anything to agree or disagree with in a campaign ad Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted over the weekend, nothing to actually fight over. But it does win points for brevity, clocking in at 10 seconds, 5 of which is Biden saying he approves the message. The other 5 seconds is President Trump marveling that he might lose to Biden.

Trump also makes what Biden spins into a promise — and if so, it's not one Trump will keep. As The Week's Bonnie Kristian argued, you're (understandably) delusional if you think "that if Trump loses in November, he will, in some sense, go away." Peter Weber

2:21 a.m.

The White House said Sunday that President Trump will announce a Supreme Court nominee soon but will let Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) determine the calendar for a potential confirmation vote.

Trying to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday, before the election or in the lame-duck session afterward would be a rushed process — and extremely contentious, especially given that McConnell blocked President Barack Obama's nominee in early 2016 on the grounds that voters should decide who gets to pick the nominee in an election year.

Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), have publicly opposed filing Ginsburg's seat before the next president is chosen, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016 — suggested in August he would oppose holding hearings if a seat opened up before the election. Four Republicans have to oppose Trump's pick for the nomination to fail. But if McConnell waits until the lame-duck session, that number might fall to three, thanks to Arizona's Senate race.

Former astronaut Mark Kelly, the Democratic nominee, is leading Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in most or all polls, and if he wins on Nov. 3, he could be sworn in by Nov. 30, NBC News reports. That's because this is actually a special election to fill the seat vacated when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) died. McSally was sent to Congress by Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.), not the voters, and state law says the winner of the election will take office once the results are certified. It's possible Ducey or McConnell could try to slow the process if Kelly wins.

Ginsburg's dying wish was for the president inaugurated next January to pick her successor. "But the decision of when to nominate does not lie with her," Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said Sunday. Peter Weber

2:09 a.m.

She's been running since age 9 and competed in Division I track and cross-country, but Sister Stephanie Baliga had never before experienced a marathon like this one.

When the Chicago Marathon was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 32-year-old nun decided she would still run the 26.2 miles, only it would be inside, on a treadmill in the basement of her church, the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels. Baliga spread the word that this solo marathon was going to be a fundraiser for the church's food bank, and a friend told her she should livestream the run so people could support her from afar.

At 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, Baliga started a Zoom call, and immediately, family, friends, and clergy members were cheering her on. Baliga told The Associated Press it "seems to have allowed people to have some encouragement and happiness and joy in this time of extreme difficulty for lots of people. I'm really humbled by the extraordinary support that so many people have shown me along this journey."

The last 30 minutes were rough, Baliga said, but a surprise appearance by her childhood hero, Olympic marathon runner and 2004 bronze medalist Deena Kastor, "distracted me from the pain." Baliga finished the treadmill marathon in three hours and 33 minutes, and raised more than $130,000 for the food bank. Catherine Garcia

1:17 a.m.

Forecasters expect the slow-moving Tropical Storm Beta to make landfall in Texas on Monday afternoon or evening.

As of late Sunday night, Beta was about 120 miles south of Galveston, moving west-northwest at 6 mph with winds clocking in at 60 mph. The storm is expected to hit southeast Texas, where it will hover for about 24 hours as it drops torrential rain, ABC News reports. Beta will weaken over the course of the week, and will likely enter the Mississippi Valley by Friday.

There are flash flood watches in effect for parts of Texas and Louisiana, and when the storm first hits, forecasters warn there could be storm surge of up to four feet. Catherine Garcia

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