February 26, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden picked up the coveted presidential endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday, the morning after Tuesday night's debate in Charleston.

The decision was expected — the two are old friends, and Clyburn has praised Biden consistently throughout the Democratic primaries. But it's still a big get for Biden with South Carolina heading to the polls on Saturday for the South's first primary. The vice president has remained the favorite in the Palmetto State for quite some time, but he's looked more vulnerable as the national frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), makes gains.

Still, Biden has received some positive reviews for his latest debate performance, and some more recent polling suggest he's still in good standing in South Carolina, so Clyburn's endorsement could very well strengthen his lead. Clyburn is a prominent Democratic voice in South Carolina and Washington alike. He serves as the House majority whip and is the highest-ranking black member of Congress.

"I can think of no one better suited, better prepared, I can think of no one with more integrity, no one more committed to the fundamental principles that make this country what it is than my good friend," Clyburn said, appearing alongside Biden at a South Carolina event. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

11:05 a.m.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that active-duty U.S. military forces should only be deployed in a domestic law enforcement role "as a matter of last resort" and "in the most urgent dire of situations." In his view, the protests against brutality taking place across the country do not meet that criteria. "We are not in one of those situations right now," Esper said.

Therefore, he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act — which allows the president to deploy troops to suppress civil disorder — despite President Trump's threats to do so. Esper said he has always believed the National Guard, which has been supplementing local police in some states, "is best suited for providing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations."

Politico previously reported Pentagon officials were uneasy about the possibility the military could play a role in quelling the protests, and Esper seems to be distancing himself from Trump's rhetoric since he came under fire for walking with the president through Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., after federal police forcibly cleared peaceful protesters from the area. Esper claims he wasn't aware of plans to clear the park. Tim O'Donnell

10:28 a.m.

Pope Francis has spoken out about the "tragic" death of George Floyd and "disturbing" unrest throughout the United States.

The pope on Wednesday commented from the Vatican on the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, in police custody and the subsequent outrage and demonstrations his killing sparked.

"Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd," Francis said, CNN reports. "My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life."

The pope said he is praying for Floyd and for "all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism" and added, "let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn," per The Washington Post.

The comments from the pope came following more than a week of protests, and Francis said that "we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating." CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen observed that for Francis to reference the name of a specific person like he did Floyd in his weekly prayer is "relatively rare." Brendan Morrow

10:25 a.m.

President Trump would like you to know he was never hiding, just doing some routine maintenance.

On Friday, reports indicated that Trump was herded to the White House's underground bunker while police cracked down on protesters on Washington, D.C.'s streets. But as Trump told Fox News radio on Wednesday, he was actually only down there to "inspect" the bunker.

"I was there for a tiny, short little period of time," Trump claimed, saying it was "more for an inspection." This is apparently something Trump has done before, specifically "two and a half times." Trump did not clarify what a half visit entails.

On Monday, Trump, reportedly upset by the spreading idea that he was hiding in the bunker, directed law enforcement to use tear gas to clear peaceful protesters outside the White House so he could walk across the street for a photo op at St. John's Church. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:19 a.m.

Police officers in Mount Vernon, New York, allegedly participated in a rash of misconduct, secretly recorded telephone tapes obtained by Gothamist/WNYC reveal.

In one of the secretly recorded phone conversations, a Mount Vernon police officer, John Campo, accused a colleague, Camilo Antonini, of framing innocent civilians, while apparently giving preferential treatment to favored city drug dealers. Campo also alleged officers planted drugs, illegally entered homes, and fabricated search warrants in some cases. He said he brought the concerns to two different commissioners, who referred him to the FBI, but Campo ultimately decided not to cooperate because he didn't want to wear a wire or take a polygraph test.

Another officer who was secretly recorded, Avion Lee, said there was one incident where she and her colleagues were on patrol when they approached a young man who took off running. The officers pursued him, and when Lee caught up to them, the officers had badly beaten the man. When they took him to jail, the officers allegedly concocted a story that they'd seen him participate in drug transaction, so that it didn't look like brutality. Prosecutors dropped the case against the man the next day.

The phone conservations were recorded by Marushea Bovell, a 12-year veteran of the police department in the city just north of the Bronx. Bovell has reported alleged corruption to higher-ups, including to Westchester County's District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, but "nothing happened," so he decided the "only option left is to let the public know." Read more at Gothamist. Tim O'Donnell

9:47 a.m.

As the search for a coronavirus vaccine continues, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is feeling "cautiously" optimistic.

"Given that the body can make a good response against coronavirus, we feel cautiously optimistic that if we mimic safely natural infection with our vaccine, we will be able to induce a response in a person that would be equivalent to the response that natural infection induces," Fauci explained on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Fauci, a member of President Trump's coronavirus task force, was optimistic that several COVID-19 vaccine candidates will be shown as effective in "a reasonable period of time" and pointed to the promising early data from Moderna, per the Journal, though he added that a major unanswered question is for how long any eventual vaccine might provide protection from the coronavirus.

"What is a big unknown is what the durability of that protection is," he said. "Is it going to be a year, two years or even maybe, unfortunately, six months or less?" If it provides protection for a fairly short period, he said this might lead to a "secondary problem" in trying to get enough doses out.

Speaking to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fauci on Tuesday reiterated he's "cautiously optimistic" about getting a vaccine and pointed to the administration's hope of having a few hundred million doses available by the beginning of 2021, per CNN, though some experts have cast doubt on this incredibly tight timeline. But while he's feeling hopeful about the progress, Fauci also noted this week that there's "never a guarantee, ever, that you're going to get an effective vaccine." Brendan Morrow

8:44 a.m.

A review of 172 studies on coronavirus transmission from 16 countries confirmed that wearing a face mask and maintaining physical distance significantly reduced the risk of spreading COVID-19. The first-of-its-kind study, funded by the World Health Organization and published Monday in the journal The Lancet, also attempted to quantify how much each measure cut transmission risks by itself.

The risk of transmitting the new coronavirus without a mask or respirator is 17.4 percent, but with a mask that falls to 3.1 percent, the study found, though the researchers noted there's a higher amount of uncertainty on mask wearing than physical distancing. Keeping a distance of less than 1 meter (3.3 feet) and no other protective measure carried a transmission risk of 12.8 percent, cut to 2.6 percent when the distance was more than 1 meter and even lower at 2 meters (6.6. feet). There was also a sharp cut in risk with eye protection.

"In all three questions, the evidence appears to support the measures," Oxford University's Trish Greenhalgh, who wasn't involved in the study, tells CNN. "For example, on average, staying 1 meter away from other people appears to reduce your chance of catching COVID-19 by 80 percent. Wearing a mask or face covering appears to reduce your risk by up to 85 percent. And wearing goggles or a face shield seems to reduce it by up to 78 percent."

Still, the main takeaway is that "no single intervention on its own made an individual completely impervious to transmission," Dr. Derek Chu at Canada's McMaster University, who co-authored the study, told NBC Today. All three together seriously cuts the odds, and "we can't neglect basic measures such as hand hygiene." Peter Weber

8:12 a.m.

Lea Michele has issued an apology after a Glee co-star called her out for alleged "traumatic microaggressions."

The actress in an Instagram post on Wednesday morning said she has been examining how "my own behavior towards fellow cast members was perceived by them" after on Monday, Glee's Samantha Ware claimed Michele made her "first television gig a living hell" with "traumatic" microaggressions on set and even told people that "if you had the opportunity you would 's--t in my wig.'"

"While I don't remember ever making this specific statement and I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that's not really the point, what matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people," Michele wrote. "Whether it was my privileged position and perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times or whether it was just my immaturity and me just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused."

Other black Glee stars had backed Ware up after she posted her claims, with Dabier Snell alleging Michele said he "didn't belong" at a table with the cast. Michele in her apology said she has "listened to these criticisms and I am learning and while I am very sorry, I will be better in the future from this experience."

Michele's apology came after HelloFresh ended a partnership with her as a result of the controversy, with the company saying it's "disheartened and disappointed" over the allegations. Brendan Morrow

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