March 3, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden had quite a night on Monday. At a rally in Dallas, three former Democratic presidential rivals endorsed his bid for president, giving him a potential boost heading into Super Tuesday. Texas is the second-biggest delegate haul in Tuesday's primaries, after California, and it can't hurt Biden's chances that he followed up the rally by celebrating with a burger and a shake at a Whataburger with one of his endorsers, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Texas). Beto, being Beto, livestreamed the meal on Facebook.

He probably needn't have. The other Whataburger patrons cheered Biden and O'Rourke when they arrived, and people posted on Twitter.

Beto probably chose the restaurant.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Biden has a slight edge over main rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Texas, according to FiveThirtyEight's model, but the race is essentially a dead heat. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Michael Bloomberg are expected to pick up some of Texas' 228 pledged delegates as well. Peter Weber

1:16 p.m.

The legitimacy of the company Surgisphere, which provided global policy-altering coronavirus data, has been called into question, The Guardian reports after conducting an investigation into the little-known U.S. healthcare analytics firm.

Several governments in Latin America changed their COVID-19 treatment policies based on data Surgisphere claims it obtained from more than a thousand hospitals across the world, and the World Health Organization halted its trials of the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been touted by President Trump, for the same reason. There are still many concerns about hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness and safety among the scientific and medical communities, but there's simultaneously growing skepticism about studies which involved Surgisphere's data.

Two of the world's leading medical journals, the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, are now expressing concern about the reliability of the data used in hydroxychloroquine studies they published, which found the drug was associated with a higher mortality rate among COVID-19 patients. And The Guardian reports seven hospitals in Australia that were included in Surgisphere's database said they had never even heard of the company, let alone cooperated in its collection.

The Guardian's investigation also reveals several of Surgisphere's employees have little or no scientific background (one "science editor" appears to be a scientific fiction author), the company has a limited online presence and lacks a way for hospitals to get in touch and provide data, and its chief executive, Sapan Desai, has been named in three medical malpractice suits. Desai denies the company is illegitimate, but Peter Ellis, the chief data scientist of the international management consulting firm Nous Group, told The Guardian that Surgisphere is "almost certainly a scam." Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

12:13 p.m.

The Trump administration is planning to block Chinese passenger carriers from flying into the United States, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Department of Transportation made this announcement on Wednesday, saying China is still "unable" to say when it will "allow U.S. carriers to reinstate scheduled passenger flights."

As The New York Times explains, China has essentially stopped U.S. airlines from being able to resume service to the country; in March, China's regulators "limited foreign carriers to one flight per week based on the flight schedules they had in place earlier that month," the Times writes, but "all three American airlines that fly between China and the United States had stopped service to the country by then because of the coronavirus pandemic." As a result, the Transportation Department says, China "effectively precludes U.S. carriers from reinstating scheduled passenger flights to China."

Given this, the Transportation Department said it's required "to restore a competitive balance" by taking this action. Delta Air Lines, which is seeking to resume flights to China, on Wednesday expressed support for the administration's announcement, saying, "we support and appreciate the U.S. government's actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness."

The ban is reportedly set to go into effect on June 16, though the Transportation Department says that should China "adjust its policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers," it's "fully prepared to revisit the action." Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

Yes, the Senate is still talking about former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to kick off the committee's hearings on the FBI's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rosenstein oversaw the investigation, but noted that he wouldn't have okayed at least one part of it based on the information he has today.

Rosenstein signed off on four FISA warrants, which allow the surveillance of foreign agents, back in 2017 in the early days of the FBI investigation. One of those was for the surveillance of Carter Page, who was an aide to then-candidate Donald Trump. But as an inspector general report found after Mueller's report came out, the FBI's application to surveil Page had several errors; the IG did conclude the FISA error didn't affect the outcome of the investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned Rosenstein on his approval on Wednesday, asking "if you knew then what you knew now, would you have signed the warrant application?" "No I would not," Rosenstein quickly responded. Kathryn Krawczyk

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

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