March 18, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave Republican senators a stark warning on Tuesday, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News, saying that if the government doesn't step in to offer economic relief amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. unemployment could reach 20 percent.

Mnuchin was trying to get support for his $1 trillion economic stimulus proposal, aimed at providing financial assistance to small businesses and wage workers. While meeting with lawmakers, Mnuchin also shared his thinking that the coronavirus could cause an economic fallout worse than the 2008 financial crisis, Bloomberg reports.

Treasury Department spokeswoman Monica Crowley said while speaking to the senators, Mnuchin "used several mathematical examples for illustrative purposes, but he never implied this would be the case."

Earlier Tuesday, Mnuchin said the Trump administration is "looking at sending checks to Americans immediately," because they "need cash now." Catherine Garcia

1:35 p.m.

During the campaign for the two Georgia Senate races, Joe Biden repeatedly promised to pass $2,000 stimulus checks if the Democrats won. After they did, the administration argued that $2,000 really meant $1,400 in addition to the $600 that had already gone out in the December rescue package.

Whether that is true or not, now Biden is inarguably breaking his promise. Under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats, he has reportedly agreed to cut down the formula under which the checks will be sent out. In the previous packages, the amount started phasing out at $75,000 in income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, and vanished entirely at $100,000 and $200,000 respectively (as of 2019). Now the phase-out will start start in the same place but end at $80,000 for singles and $160,000 for couples.

The $1,400 promise clearly implied at least that the checks would go out according to the previous formula used under Trump. But now singles making between $80,000-100,000 and couples making between $160,000-200,000 will get nothing. The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reports that roughly 17 million people who previously got checks now will not.

The supposed justification here is that moderates want the aid to be more "targeted." In fact this formula is horribly inaccurate, because the income data the IRS uses is from the year before the pandemic (unless people have already filed their taxes — and by the way, if your income decreased in 2020, you should do that immediately). This formula is therefore doubly wrong — there are no doubt millions of people who have lost jobs and should qualify but won't, and a smaller number that have gotten raises and shouldn't qualify but will. And this change will only save a pitiful $12 billion.

The survival checks are one of the most popular government programs in American history. Polls have them at something like 4-1 approval. "Moderation," for Senate Democrats, apparently means breaking their party's promises in the service of unpopular, pointless actions that make their president seem less generous than Donald Trump. Ryan Cooper

1:09 p.m.

Congressional testimony about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot from Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, began with a "brutal" line of questioning from Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) on Wednesday.

Walker himself wasn't the target of Peters' questions. Rather, the senator asked the major general how quickly he was able to get approval to deploy troops in the nation's capital from the Pentagon in June during the protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Walker confirmed he got the go-ahead immediately. But when Peters followed up by asking about the timeline on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Walker testified that he did not receive immediate approval, highlighting the differences in responses to the events.

Walker said he alerted Army senior right after former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested assistance from guardsmen, whom Walker had moved closer to the Capitol in anticipation of the situation, but he didn't receive the required approval from then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller until over three hours later. The major general added that he received an "unusual" letter the day before the insurrection restricting him from deploying any Quick Reaction Force service members without the explicit approval of then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. Read more at NPR. Tim O'Donnell

12:11 p.m.

Nearly two months after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, officials are warning a militia group may be plotting another breach.

The U.S. Capitol Police said Wednesday it has obtained intelligence "that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group" on March 4. Backers of the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory falsely believe former President Donald Trump will actually be sworn into office for a second term on March 4, despite losing the 2020 presidential election.

"Our department is working with our local, state, and federal partners to stop any threats to the Capitol," Capitol Police said. "We are taking the intelligence seriously."

Officials previously said they would "enhance our security posture and staffing for a number of days, to include March 4," due to "concerning information and intelligence" surrounding that date, ABC News reports.

This comes after the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, warned Congress there are militia groups who were present at the Jan. 6 riot who "want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible" when President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time. Because of this, Pittman said it's necessary for Capitol Police to "maintain its enhanced and robust security posture," including fencing and National Guard presence. The date for that address by Biden hasn't yet been decided.

House of Representatives Acting Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett has also reportedly raised concerns about March 4 threats, with CNN reporting he sent a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday warning of Capitol Police's "new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol" by a militia group on March 4 through March 6. Blodgett, CNN notes, previously told members this week there was "no indication" that any groups were coming to Washington, D.C. to protest or "commit acts of violence." Brendan Morrow

11:23 a.m.

Left-leaning and centrist news publications get fewer clicks on Facebook if they publish false stories. But far-right publications experience the opposite, nabbing nearly twice as much Facebook engagement on stories classified as misinformation.

That's according to a new study out Wednesday, as reported by Wired. The researchers at the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University found that not only are far-right publications unique in that they are seemingly rewarded for posting faulty information, they are receiving by far the most engagement compared to slightly right, center, slightly left, and far-left publications in general.

Every other type of news outlet suffers a "misinformation penalty" if they share false information. The analysis found that in the far left, slightly left, and center categories, credible stories saw between two and five times as much engagement as fake news. On the far-right, however, misinformation received 426 interactions per thousand followers in an average week, while credible far-right information received only 259 engagements. "Both those engagement numbers dwarf any other category," notes Wired.

Lead researcher Laura Edelson told Wired this could demonstrate what type of information users are steered toward on Facebook, since the platform's algorithms generally try to maximize engagement. A Facebook spokesperson, however, said the report "looks mostly at how people engage with content, which should not be confused with how many people actually see it on Facebook." Even though Facebook closely guards the specifics on its recommendation algorithms, this study still "provides perhaps the most substantial evidence yet about what types of news—and fake news—perform best," writes Wired. Summer Meza

11:18 a.m.

"If digital advertising doesn't evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web," Google's director of product management for ads privacy and trust David Temkin wrote in a blog post Wednesday. That's partly (regulatory pressure is also a significant factor) why the tech giant is promising it will scrap individual user tracking after it's finished phasing out third-party tracking cookies over the next year or so, Axios reports.

The advertising industry is mostly prepared for a future entirely without third-party cookies, but Axios notes that many ad tech companies are working to implement "work-around solutions" so advertisers can still target individuals through different technologies. However, Google says it is committed to avoiding that strategy.

Still, Google isn't completely abandoning targeted advertising. The goal, The Verge reports, is "to replace the more invasive methods of old with a new one of its own design, which it calls the Privacy Sandbox." Per The Wall Street Journal, this method involves analyzing web users' browsing habits, but groups them in with other users who have similar interests, creating "cohorts" for ad targeting. Temkin also notes Google will still use first-party data to target ads on its own publishing platforms, like YouTube. Read more at Axios, The Verge, and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:13 a.m.

Germany was one of the international stars of the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year thanks to a renowned contact tracing system that kept infection rates low, but its vaccine rollout is not going so well. So far, the country has only administered 6.2 million doses, well below the 21 million in the United Kingdom, which began its drive a few weeks earlier, but has a smaller population.

One of the big issues is how difficult it is to sign up for an appointment in the first place, at least in some regions of the country. Reports the Financial Times, the registration portal requires 10 online steps, including a two-step authentication process. For months, the website would also only allow people to sign up for one appointment, even though two doses of the vaccines available in Germany are required for full inoculation, and if everything is booked, there's no waiting list people to notify people when more doses become available. "It's totally amateurish and incredibly inflexible," one German health official told FT.

The jumbled nature of the system is giving some Americans "flashbacks" to the highly-anticipated launch in 2013, which was tainted by a variety of technical difficulties and an incomplete website design that made it challenging for people to sign up for their health insurance. Read more at The Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:32 a.m.

Former Vice President Mike Pence broke his silence Wednesday with an op-ed in The Daily Signal, criticizing congressional Democrats for their voter reform push and giving new life to former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Despite being a central target of the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 because of his refusal to answer Trump's call to somehow block the Electoral College certification, Pence claimed the election was "marked by significant irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside election law." He said he shares "the concerns of millions of Americans" about its integrity, suggesting he still hasn't fully broken with Trump on the matter. For many people, the show of loyalty was baffling.

That said, Pence's op-ed didn't outright call the 2020 vote fraudulent. Rather, he framed its outcome as uncertain so he could launch into his argument about why Congress should not pass HR 1, the For the People Act, which includes measures such as required early voting and same-day voter registration in every state. Pence called the bill "an unconstitutional power grab" with the sole goal of giving "leftists a permanent, unfair, and unconstitutional advantage in our political system." Read the full op-ed at The Daily Signal. Tim O'Donnell

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