February 20, 2020

President Trump is still smarting over remarks Brad Pitt made nearly two weeks ago when he received an Academy Award for his performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Trump held a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday night, and spent a considerable amount of time complaining about this year's Oscars. "How bad were the Academy Awards?" he asked. He was mad that the widely praised South Korean film Parasite was named Best Picture, thinking the honor should have gone to an American movie like 1939's Gone With the Wind, and he shared his irritation with Pitt.

While accepting the Best Supporting Actor statue, Pitt said: "They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week. I'm thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing." He was referring to the Republican-controlled Senate voting against letting Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, testify during Trump's impeachment trial.

Trump did not appreciate Pitt's comments, which were made as millions of people watched around the world. "I was never a big fan of his," Trump said. "He got up, said a little wise guy thing. He's a little wise guy." Catherine Garcia

8:42 a.m.

Tucker Carlson was right: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is living in the Washington, D.C., penthouse of Republican pollster and messaging maven Frank Luntz, and it does sound like a pretty sweet deal. Carlson was tipped off to the roommate arrangement, and McCarthy confirmed it Tuesday, telling Fox & Friends he has "rented a room from Frank for a couple of months, but don't worry, I'm back to — going back to where I normally am, on my couch in my office. But, yes, we pay fair market rate"

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler looked into Luntz's apartment, and it's actually a 7,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom, 16-bathroom amalgamation of 4 three-story penthouses Luntz purchased for nearly $4.3 million in August and September 2018 and merged in November 2019. The homeowner's association fees on the four units is $4,976 a month, Kessler calculates, citing Redfin.

Neither McCarthy nor Luntz responded to the Post's request for comment, but a McCarthy spokesman told the Daily Wire the minority leader "calculated the fair market value amount at $1,500/month" to rent an "approximately" 400-square-foot room in Luntz's penthouse. Kessler's Apartments.com search found that a comparable studio or one-bedroom would run about $5,000 a month. Regardless, he writes, "besides the 'room' he rented, McCarthy would have had access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table."

"This is quite a deal, especially considering that Luntz has talked about how he's on the road all the time," Politico muses. "Imagine paying $1,500 a month for what is essentially a mansion carved into a high-rise? It's good to be the minority leader!"

Carlson was less amused by the "sleazy and corrupt" arrangement. "Kevin McCarthy promises Republicans he shares their values" and "will fight for them against permanent Washington, the forces that would like to destroy their lives," he said. "And at the end of the day, Kevin McCarthy goes home to Frank Luntz's apartment in Penn Quarter and laughs about it." Peter Weber

8:31 a.m.

Early data indicates Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, the company says.

Moderna released this data on Thursday along with its first-quarter earnings, CNBC reported. An initial analysis of a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents between 12 and 17 years old "showed a vaccine efficacy rate of 96 percent," the company said. The vaccine was also "generally well tolerated," and the "majority of adverse events were mild or moderate in severity." Like Pfizer, Moderna also said Thursday it plans to apply for full FDA approval of the vaccine this month.

The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly on the verge of authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years old, allowing the vaccine to expand to this key age group ahead of the next school year. In March, Pfizer said a trial showed its vaccine was 100 percent effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15, demonstrating "robust antibody responses." President Biden earlier this week said his administration's COVID-19 vaccination efforts are set to enter a "new phase," which includes vaccinating kids between 12 and 15 pending FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has also said it expects to seek authorization of its vaccine for kids between 2 and 11 this September, and Moderna says a phase 2 study of its vaccine in children 6 months to 11 years old is ongoing. Brendan Morrow

7:10 a.m.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted to allow most Texans to carry handguns without any sort of permit or training, sending the legislation to a conference committee with the House, which already passed a similar measure. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said last week he will sign the bill. The Senate passed permitless carry on a party-line 18-13 vote, "less than a week after it sailed out of a committee created to specifically to tackle the legislation," The Texas Tribune reports. Every Republican voted for it, but several voiced concerns about the legislation during debate.

The legislation, considered too fringe during previous legislative sessions, faced opposition from law enforcement groups, firearms instructors, and Democrats. Currently, Texans must undergo four to six hours of training, pass a written exam and shooting proficiency test, and get fingerprinted to carry a handgun.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, argued that gun safety is a personal responsibility. "The obligation on the part of the citizen who owns a potentially dangerous weapon to understand gun laws, to become proficient in their handling of their gun, is not absolved," he said. One Republican who showed up to vote for unlicensed carry despite injuries from a car accident collapsed on the Senate floor during debate.

Texans oppose unlicensed carry, 59 percent to 34 percent, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from April. When asked, 46 percent of Texans would make gun laws stricter while 30 percent would leave them untouched and 20 percent would loosen them further, the poll found. Three-quarters favor requiring criminal and mental background checks before all gun sales.

"A lot of the [legislative] agenda right now seems at odds with public opinion," said James Henson, co-director of UT/Texas Tribune poll. "Guns is the best example" of Republican lawmakers chasing policies that "come from the most conservative wing of the majority party," he added. "But this is also notable on the abortion questions." Peter Weber

5:52 a.m.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is extremely effective against two dangerous variants of the coronavirus, the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the United Kingdom and the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa, researchers reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.

Moderna also reported Wednesday that, according to early results from its booster shot trial, a third dose of its vaccine given six to eight months after the first two doses boosted antibodies to protect against the South African B.1.351 variant and other worrisome strain found in Brazil. Moderna is testing its original vaccine and a version modified to target the B.1.351 variant.

The new variants are more transmissible than the original strain and, some studies suggest, deadlier. The New England Journal of Medicine study examined records of more than 200,000 people from Qatar's COVID-19 database. The Pfizer vaccine was 87 to 89.5 percent effective at preventing infection from the B.1.1.7 variant among people two weeks past their second shot, 72.1 to 75 percent effective against the B.1.351 variant, and 100 percent effective at preventing severe, critical, or fatal cases of either variant, the researchers found.

The study in The Lancet was based on more than 230,000 cases from Israel. It found that the Pfizer vaccine was more than 95 percent effective against infection, hospitalization, or death in fully vaccinated people 16 and older, and 94 percent effective in people 85 and older. The vaccine efficacy numbers aren't self-evident, but Brains On!, a science podcast for kids, has a short, entertaining, and pretty effective explanation using defecating seagulls. You can watch that below. Peter Weber

4:27 a.m.

"Earlier today, Facebook ruled to uphold former President Trump's suspension," Jimmy Fallon said on Wednesday's Late Show. "So if you want to see crazy conspiracy theories, you'll have to settle for any other person on Facebook." That's right, "no Facebook for Trump," he said. "On the bright side, he still has a good excuse for forgetting his kids' birthdays."

Still, "this has to be driving him nuts — if Trump runs for president again, he's gonna have to go door to door, talking to voters like a Jehovah's Witness or something," Jimmy Kimmel joked on Kimmel Live. "Trump has been banned from Facebook since Jan. 7. His punishment for trying to overthrow the government is the same punishment you give a teenager for coming home late after curfew."

"Trump is like a bullhorn without batteries right now, but he's trying to change that," Kimmel said. "Finally he can speak freely and safely with himself on his new website. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think he just started a blog."

"Hold up — this dude has been saying for months that he's gonna create a whole new social media platform to rival Twitter and Facebook, and he just ended up making a blog?" Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "I get it, Trump had to do something to distract from the fact that he lost his appeal to get back on Facebook — or as he put it, 'We won this appeal in a landslide, everyone knows it!'"

"Look I get why Facebook extended Trump's suspension, but you have to admit, it does seem pretty unfair to ban him from a website that began as a way to rate women's looks," Noah said. "And just as a side note, it's crazy that Facebook even has a supreme court to make these decisions. What's even crazier is Mitch McConnell has already appointed four of its justices."

"Being on Facebook's oversight board, that's got to be a cushy job, hasn't it?" James Corden mused at The Late Late Show. "You've banned Trump and you've done absolutely nothing else ever to make Facebook better." Trump's new site is "called 'From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,' and it's a blog," Corden affirmed. "Trump's jotting down some thoughts when they come to him, so let's be honest about what this whole thing should really be called: 'From the Bathroom of Donald J. Trump.'" Peter Weber

2:45 a.m.

Reporters in Georgetown, Kentucky, asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday about House Republicans rushing to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her leadership position due to her clashes with former President Donald Trump about the validity of the 2020 election. McConnell sidestepped the question. "One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration," he said, referring to President Biden's policies as "socialist."

McConnell repeated the line when the same reporter asked if he is concerned that a sizable portion of the Republican Party says they believe Trump's lie that he actually won. "One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration," he said. "What we have in the United States Senate is total unity, from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz, in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country."

"Who knows what matters anymore, but this is a gift-wrapped quote for Democrats," Washington Post reporter David Weigel tweeted. "The thing about an ongoing controversy" like the Liz Cheney saga is that politicians "keep getting asked about it — like any interrogation, it leads to slip-ups."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made some hay out of McConnell's quote, telling reporters, "The contrast for people to consider is 100 percent of our focus is on delivering relief to the American people and getting the pandemic under control and putting people back to work." But Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris mostly shrugged it off.

"He said that about the last administration — about Barack, that he was going to stop everything — and I was able to get a lot done with him," Biden said, referring to McConnell's statement to National Journal in 2010 that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Harris, in Rhode Island, said she and Biden "are sincere and serious about the potential to actually get something done together."

Trump said in a statement Wednesday that McConnell is "gutless and clueless." Peter Weber

1:52 a.m.

After being separated for almost six decades, Martin Hauser was finally able to meet his younger brother, Joe Shaw, for the first time — and the happy occasion was made even sweeter by the fact that it took place right before Shaw's wedding.

Hauser was adopted as a baby in 1962 in North Carolina. After he started having his own children, Hauser decided he wanted to learn more about his biological parents and any siblings he might have, and the Arizona resident tried everything to get information — he took DNA tests and visited ancestry websites and adoption Facebook groups, but kept coming up short.

Last December, the Children's Home Society was able to track down his biological father's death certificate, and listed as his next of kin was Shaw. Within 15 minutes, Hauser found Shaw on Facebook and sent him a message. Shaw told WXII he read his note in absolute disbelief, and his fiancée encouraged him to call Hauser. That was the first of what would become their almost daily phone calls, and last month, the brothers were finally able to see each other in person, when Hauser came to North Carolina for Shaw's wedding.

Shaw said he felt "ecstatic" to get to know his brother, and Hauser was excited about meeting ever more relatives at the wedding. Hauser told WXII he hopes his story will inspire others who are struggling to uncover information about their biological families, as he "never gave up" on finding Shaw. Catherine Garcia

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