February 21, 2020

President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday night that he is considering nominating Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) as director of national intelligence.

The director of national intelligence oversees the 17 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Since the resignation of Dan Coats in August, there has not been a permanent director of national intelligence; Joseph Maguire has served in an acting role since last year, but on Wednesday, Trump announced he will be replaced by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.

This is a position that requires Senate confirmation, and Collins is known for being one of Trump's most ardent defenders, a quality that was on display during the House impeachment inquiry. Collins announced earlier this year that he is running for Senate in Georgia against Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to fill the seat vacated by former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned due to health reasons.

Collins entering the race has caused infighting among Republicans, and if he is picked as director of national intelligence, he'll likely drop his Senate bid. Prior to becoming a congressman, Collins worked as a lawyer and served in the military as a chaplain. Catherine Garcia

10:42 a.m.

America's dad is continuing his push for "common sense" during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Hanks spoke to Today on Tuesday morning for what was his first live TV interview since he and his wife, Rita Wilson, recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year. The actor reflected on this experience having "crippling crackling body aches" and compared the pandemic to World War II, another time when Americans were called upon to do their part.

"There was a sensibility [during World War II] that permeated all of society, which was, do your part," he said. "We're all in this together."

Hanks went on to say that the idea of similarly doing your part during the pandemic by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands "should be so simple."

"It's such a small thing," he said. "It's a mystery to me how somehow that has been wiped out of what should be ingrained in the behavior of us all. Simple things. Do your part."

While Hanks observed that "a huge majority of Americans get it," he decried the "ignorance" of those who don't.

"There is a darkness on the edge of town here, folks," he said. "Let's not confuse the fact: it's killing people. ... I don't know how common sense has somehow been put in question in regards to this."

Hanks previously called out those who don't do their part during the pandemic by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing their hands, saying, "If anybody cannot find it in themselves to practice those three very basic things – I just think shame on you." Brendan Morrow

10:11 a.m.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is still conducting trials on its double-antibody cocktail for COVID-19, but the company will have a head start on distribution should the Food and Drug Administration grant an emergency use authorization for the potential treatment.

Regeneron on Tuesday said the U.S. government signed a $450 million dollar contract with Regeneron to make and supply the cocktail — which consists of two human antibodies binding "non-competitively to the receptor binding domain of the virus' spike protein" hindering its ability "to escape treatment" — as part of "Operation Warp Speed," the initiative aimed at accelerating the development of and access to coronavirus vaccines and treatments during the pandemic.

Pending FDA approval, Regeneron said it expects somewhere between 70,000 and 300,000 treatment doses or 420,000 to 1.3 million prevention doses, with the initial batch ready to go as early as the end of the summer. If that's the case, the government has reportedly committed to making the doses available to Americans at no cost and would be responsible for their distribution. Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

9:41 a.m.

Democrats have a good chance of reclaiming the Senate this fall if fundraising numbers are any indicator of success.

Challengers to incumbent Republican senators have posted huge gains in the second fundraising quarter, FEC numbers released in the last two days show. Topping that list is Jaime Harrison, who more than doubled his first quarter haul to bring in $13.9 million in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

Harrison, the former chair of South Carolina's Democratic Party, raised $7.36 million in the first fundraising quarter of the year to Graham's $3.9 million at that time. Graham hasn't shared his Q2 numbers yet, but has still raised more money in total than Harrison. The Cook Political Report predicts Graham will likely retain his seat.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock meanwhile more than doubled his Q1 fundraising haul to bring in $7.7 million as he challenges Sen. Steve Daines (R). Sara Gideon, challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), brought in $2 million more than Q1 for a total of $9 million. And Cal Cunningham, who's looking to replace Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), set a state record by bringing in $7.4 million.

Democrats need to gain four seats to take the majority in the Senate this fall. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:27 a.m.

The Trump administration has often said it would sniff out leakers within its own ranks to no avail. But this time, Politico reports, the White House seems more determined than usual.

Per Politico, the administration has opened an internal investigation to figure out who leaked intelligence about Russia allegedly offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Some of the anger about the leak may have to do with the fact that the information was highly-classified, but the bombshell report also sparked backlash against President Trump for failing to address the issue. The White House responded by denying Trump was ever briefed on the intelligence, which only led to more criticism.

After a series of interviews, the administration reportedly believes it's narrowed down the list to fewer than 10 people who had access to the intelligence. The White House maintains the story was overblown and the report itself is far from conclusive, although follow-up reporting provided further evidence that the bounties were real. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

9:12 a.m.

Novavax is set to receive more than a billion dollars in federal funding for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The company on Tuesday morning announced it's getting $1.6 billion from the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed, and this money will help it to "complete late-stage clinical development," "establish large-scale manufacturing," and "deliver 100 million doses" of its potential vaccine "as early as late 2020."

The Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed aims to speed up the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, and the $1.6 billion for Novavax is the largest deal the administration has made as part of this program so far, The New York Times reports. Novavax has "never brought a product to market," the Times notes.

"We are grateful to the U.S. government for its confidence in our technology platform, and are working tirelessly to develop and produce a vaccine for this global health crisis," Novavax CEO Stanley C. Erck said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said in a statement that backing Novavax's vaccine candidate "increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year." Novavax says it's planning to begin its phase three clinical trial with up to 30,000 subjects in the fall. Brendan Morrow

8:25 a.m.

President Trump has threatened to veto a must-pass defense authorization bill that would remove the names of Confederate military leaders from U.S. bases within three years, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) warned Monday the president is fighting for a lost cause. "If it came to overriding a veto, we'd probably override the veto," he said. "I would hope he wouldn't veto it just based on that." Four Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee voted in favor of the amendment, proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), lodging it firmly in the bill.

A Pentagon official told The Washington Post on Monday that the highest levels of Defense Department leadership are considering a ban on Confederate flags at all bases, building on less absolute bans put in place by the Marine Corps and Navy. NASCAR and Mississippi have recently retired the Confederate battle flag and House Democrats included a clause in a separate funding bill Monday that would remove the statues of Confederate figures from the U.S. Capitol.

Trump's insistence on keeping the Confederate names on military bases is "part of a pattern" in which he "has sought to stoke white fear and resentment" just about every day for the last two weeks, "portraying himself as a protector of an old order that polls show much of America believes perpetuates entrenched racism and wants to move beyond," Maggie Haberman reports at The New York Times. "For many Republicans who are watching the president's impact on Senate races with alarm, his focus on racial and cultural flash points — and not on the surge of the coronavirus in many states — is distressing." Peter Weber

8:01 a.m.

Halle Berry won't be playing a transgender character in a new movie after all.

The actress has announced she's not considering the role of a transgender man anymore after drawing backlash for comments she made about doing so.

"As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories," Berry tweeted. "I am grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days and I will continue to listen, educate and learn from this mistake."

Berry particularly drew criticism after on Instagram Live describing the transgender man character using "she" and saying the film would be a "female story" exploring "who this woman was."

"It changes to a man, but I want to understand the why and how of that," she said, per Business Insider. "I want to get into it."

These comments were highlighted in a viral tweet from journalist and transgender activist Serena Daniari, who pushed back by writing, "It absolutely is NOT a female story, it is a story about a man." Berry in her statement said she'd "like to apologize for those remarks" she made while discussing her consideration of the role.

GLAAD in a statement approved of Berry's decision to drop the role, per CNN, saying that "other powerful people should do the same." Brendan Morrow

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