February 19, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is condemning China for its decision to expel three reporters from The Wall Street Journal from the country.

"Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions," Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday. "The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech."

This came after China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said three journalists from the Journal would have their credentials revoked over the paper's recent headline, "China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia," The New York Times reports. The reporters weren't actually involved with the article, which was an opinion piece, but Beijing called the story "racist" and "malicious." The journalists, two of whom are American and one of whom is Australian, have been ordered to leave China within five days, although the Times notes it's not clear if that's possible, as one of is currently in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus.

Journal editor Matt Murray called China's actions "harsh and unprecedented," saying the paper "will continue in the coming days to push for this action to be reversed." The Foreign Correspondents' Club also called the expulsion "an extreme and obvious attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign news organizations." The Journal noted this is "the first time in the post-Mao era that the Chinese government has expelled multiple journalists from one international news organization at the same time."

Pompeo's condemnation came after he warned African countries in a speech Wednesday to "be wary of authoritarian regimes and their empty promises" in an apparent swipe at China. The State Department also told China Tuesday that five major Chinese news outlets will be treated as foreign state operatives by the United States going forward. Brendan Morrow

9:07 p.m.

He campaigned against Vice President Joe Biden, but former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is backing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Steele, a lifelong Republican, joined The Lincoln Project in August as a senior adviser, and in a new ad released by the anti-Trump group on Tuesday, Steele officially endorsed Biden for president.

The video begins with Steele discussing a plot in 1861 to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his way to the inauguration. That would have plunged the country into "chaos," Steele says, but instead Lincoln safely made it to D.C. and "onto greatness."

"In the days ahead, we may face a crisis of similar proportion," Steele continues. "An outlaw president clinging to power and defying the will of the people. For four years, many have said there will come a moment — well, this is the moment, because this ballot is like none ever cast."

Steele said while he remains a Republican, "this ballot is how we restore the soul of our nation: electing a good man, Joe Biden, and a trailblazer, Kamala Harris, and ensure an orderly transfer of power, or plunge our country into chaos. America or Trump. I choose America." Catherine Garcia

8:20 p.m.

At least two protesters in Nigeria were shot on Tuesday night when soldiers opened fire on anti-police brutality demonstrators in the Lekki neighborhood in Lagos, several witnesses told Reuters.

The protests began nearly two weeks ago, after video circulated that allegedly showed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officers shooting a man in Delta state. Thousands of people have been demonstrating nationwide every night since, despite a curfew in Lagos and other cities. For years, human rights groups accused SARS of committing murder, torture, extortion, and harassment, and while the unit was disbanded on Oct. 11, the protests continued.

Witness Inyene Akpan told Reuters that on Tuesday night, more than 20 soldiers showed up at the Lekki toll gate and began shooting at the crowd. A second witness, Akinbosola Ogunsanya, told Reuters he saw 10 or so people get shot, and then watched as soldiers removed bodies.

The condition of the people shot on Tuesday is unknown, and the Lagos state government said it is investigating the incident. Amnesty International says at least 15 demonstrators have been killed since the protests began. Catherine Garcia

7:02 p.m.

A Miami police officer will face disciplinary action after he wore, while in uniform, a "Trump 2020" mask to an early voting site.

Steve Simeonidis, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats, tweeted a photo of the masked officer on Tuesday. Simeonidis called this an "egregious form of voter intimidation" and "a crime."

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the officer was at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami to cast his ballot, and he violated departmental policy by wearing political signage in uniform, NBC News reports. "It's inappropriate, it's against departmental orders," Suarez said. "Police officers are supposed to be impartial, so irrespective of who the person was, whatever sign it would have been, it would have been problematic."

Suarez said an investigation has been launched into the officer's visit to the polling place, and it's unclear if he was on duty. Officers are allowed to vote in uniform and while carrying their department-issued firearms. "One important fact is that the officer was voting," Suarez said. "Had he not been voting it would have been a much more serious situation." Catherine Garcia

5:34 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly shut down all hope of passing a COVID-19 stimulus bill in the next two weeks.

Discussions regarding the next relief bill have gone on for months with no actual results after the last package — and the boosted unemployment insurance that came with it — expired after July. But despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continuing discussions Tuesday, people familiar with the discussions say McConnell has called the whole thing off, The New York Times reports.

Mnuchin and Pelosi have been in talks for weeks, with Pelosi setting Tuesday as a deadline for both sides getting their "terms on the table." Yet negotiations didn't end as Democrats try to work at least $2 trillion in funding from the White House; Mnuchin offered up a $1.8 trillion package on Monday. McConnell meanwhile said Tuesday "if a presidentially supported bill clears the House at some point we'll bring it to the floor." But behind closed doors in a lunch with Senate Republicans, McConnell reportedly said he told the White House not to accept anything until after the election. He's looking to avoid making Republicans up for re-election avoid the "difficult choice of defying the president" by voting against the bill or "alienating their fiscally conservative base" by approving it, the Times reports.

President Trump had previously said he was ending the stimulus talks until after the election, only to change his mind just a few days later. McConnell has been pessimistic about negotiations for weeks. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:41 p.m.

A juror in Breonna Taylor's case has some serious criticism of how it was handled.

On Tuesday, a state judge ruled grand jury records — usually kept sealed — could be released to determine if "publicly elected officials are being honest" about Taylor's case. That allowed jurists to speak freely about the case, including one who released a statement criticizing how Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron presented the case to the jury.

Taylor was shot and killed by police while they executed a no-knock warrant at her home. Only one of the officers involved was indicted on charges of wanton endangerment for firing into a neighbor's apartment; none were charged with Taylor's death. But as the anonymous juror said Tuesday, the grand jury in Taylor's case weren't allowed to do so.

After learning how "the grand jury normally operates," it was clear to this juror that Taylor's case was "quite different," the juror said. "The grand jury was not presented any other charges other than the three wanton endangerment charges" against former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison. "The grand jury did not have homicide offenses explained to them," nor anything regarding "self-defense or justification," the juror continued. "The grand jury didn't agree that certain actions were justified, nor did it decide the indictment should be the only charges in the Breonna Taylor case," the juror said.

Cameron recently said he hadn't recommended manslaughter charges to the grand jury investigating Taylor's case. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:38 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report estimates there have been almost 300,000 excess deaths in the United States this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

CDC researchers on Tuesday said that while about 216,000 deaths from COVID-19 had been confirmed as of Oct. 15, this "might underestimate the total impact of the pandemic on mortality," and they write that "299,028 excess deaths have occurred in the United States from late January through October 3, 2020, with two thirds of these attributed to COVID-19." This number takes into account fatalities from all causes "in excess of the expected number of deaths" for this period of time, the researchers explain.

The report found the largest percentage increases occurred among Hispanics and among adults age 25 to 44, with the latter group seeing a 26.5 percent spike.

"Although more excess deaths have occurred among older age groups, relative to past years, adults aged 25-44 years have experienced the largest average percentage increase in the number of deaths from all causes from late January through October 3, 2020," the report said.

The Washington Post explains that the main causes of the excess deaths are likely people dying from COVID-19 but not having the coronavirus recorded as their cause of death and people dying for other reasons after not seeking medical care or not being able to receive it due to the pandemic.

Steven Woolf, Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health director emeritus, told the Post this is another study demonstrating that "the number of people dying from this pandemic is higher than we think," adding that the number of excess deaths is likely to climb to 400,000 by the end of the year. Brendan Morrow

2:47 p.m.

Never is there a dull moment interviewing Nicolas Cage.

Case in point: the actor spoke to Marilyn Manson in a conversation published by Interview magazine on Tuesday, and when Manson asked a simple question about whether Cage gambles, he had an entire story ready to go about how he once "turned $200 into $20,000" at a casino in the Bahamas and proceeded to donate it to a nearby orphanage.

"I went and found an orphanage in the Bahamas, met all the kids and the headmistress, and said, 'This is for you,'" Cage explained. "I put the 20 grand in her hand, walked away, and never gambled again, because if I did, it would ruin the power of that moment."

Add this one to the list of examples of Cage's real life arguably being more interesting than any of his actual films, alongside that time he apparently really tried to find the Holy Grail. The interview's other highlights included Cage describing how he "just bought a crow" named Huginn who "called me an a--hole" and telling a story about freaking people out with a two-headed snake during a party with Werner Herzog at a "haunted mansion." Presumably, a bidding war in Hollywood for the rights to at least three different stories in this interview alone has already begun. Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads