March 24, 2020

A coronavirus treatment is still out of reach — and its eventual price tag probably will be too.

Dozens of potential treatments for the rampant COVID-19 virus are in the works, including one antiviral by Gilead Sciences known as remdesivir. Even though the new coronavirus has caused a certified global pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration officially labeled remdesivir a treatment for "rare diseases" on Monday, with potentially disastrous consequences, The Intercept reports.

The FDA labeled remdesivir an "orphan" drug on Monday, allowing Gilead to profit exclusively off its developed treatment for years after it first hits the market, The Intercept continues. That designation will stop other manufacturers from even acquiring the supplies needed to make a generic — and likely cheaper — version of remdesivir. And even though other firms around the world are working on their own version of the drug, patients in the U.S. may be barred from buying it.

The 1983 Orphan Drug Act also gives special incentives to companies who develop treatments for diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. — a threshold COVID-19 hasn't yet surpassed, though possibly due to lack of testing. The act's grants and tax credits are meant to stimulate production of potentially not-so-profitable medicines and treatments.

Gilead has close ties with the White House, and particularly President Trump's coronavirus task force. Joe Grogan joined the COVID-19 response team after lobbying for Gilead from 2011 to 2017. Gilead and the White House, on behalf of Grogan, declined to comment. Read more at The Intercept. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:52 a.m.

The White House says it "respects" the Senate parliamentarian's decision that a $15 per hour minimum wage increase can't be included in Democrats' COVID-19 relief package — but not everyone on the left feels quite the same way.

Some progressives are pushing to overrule Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who on Thursday ruled the minimum wage increase can't be included in Democrats' coronavirus relief package under budget reconciliation. As Politico writes, some Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2017 called on the vice president to "ignore the merely 'advisory' opinions of the parliamentarian and decide for himself what policies were kosher under reconciliation," and some progressives are now pushing for that step.

"The White House and Senate leadership can and should still include the minimum wage increase in the bill," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, said. "We can't allow the advisory opinion of the unelected parliamentarian to stand in the way."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) also told The Washington Post, "The progressive base understands that Vice President Harris can disregard the parliamentarian," adding, "This simply comes down to whether the VP will choose to include the $15 or not." Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), meanwhile, pushed for replacing the Senate parliamentarian, writing, "What's a Democratic majority if we can't pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable." But Politico writes that essentially "everyone to the right of the Squad" is opposed to that move.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has said that "we're going to honor the rules of the Senate and work within that system to get this bill passed," and on Thursday, the White House said President Biden is "disappointed" in this outcome but "respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate's process." Overruling the parliamentarian would be a "long shot," the Post writes, noting that the White House is opposed and that "it's unlikely that all 50 Senate Democrats would stand united on this even if it got on board." Brendan Morrow

9:13 a.m.

The most chaotic awards show every year is about to get even stranger.

The Golden Globes on Sunday will become the latest awards show to go forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting from opposite sides of the country. Nominees are expected to participate remotely, although there will be an in-person component with presenters joining Fey and Poehler in New York and California, respectively.

Pundits are generally predicting that either Nomadland or The Trial of the Chicago 7 will win Best Motion Picture — Drama; the latter would become Netflix's first winner in this category ever. Meanwhile, Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy will likely come down to either Borat Subsequent Moviefilm or Hamilton.

Chadwick Boseman appears quite likely to posthumously win best drama actor for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, while best drama actress looks like a tough battle between Nomadland's Frances McDormand, Promising Young Woman's Carey Mulligan, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom's Viola Davis. In musical or comedy actor, Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen is favored, and experts think his co-star Maria Bakalova will also win musical or comedy actress.

In the television categories, The Crown may be poised to win best drama series again, while comedy series should go to either 2020 Emmys favorite Schitt's Creek or Apple's Ted Lasso. Wins for Ozark's Jason Bateman, The Crown's Emma Corrin (or her co-star Olivia Colman), Ted Lasso's Jason Sudeikis, and Schitt's Creek's Catherine O'Hara could also be in the cards, though O'Hara has some serious competition from The Flight Attendant's Kaley Cuoco.

As usual, the Golden Globes' film winners could gain a key boost in Oscars momentum, especially any upset victors who could wow Academy voters with memorable speeches. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is notorious for its out-of-left-field picks, so expect the unexpected when the Golden Globes go live this Sunday on NBC. Brendan Morrow

9:03 a.m.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may be in the cannabis business, but he suggested Thursday it's the merlot talking when he slips profane asides into the audiobook version of his memoir on his former life of power politics in Washington's "smoke-filled rooms."

What kind of expletives? Well, in one aside, two people tell Axios, Boehner said, "Oh, and Ted Cruz, go f--k yourself." A Boehner spokesman, David Schnittger, confirmed "there were some off-script moments during his recording of the audiobook," adding: "He pretty much just let it fly, as he did when he was working on the book itself. He's not really interested in being anything other than himself these days. That is kind of the spirit of the entire project."

It isn't clear what prompted the dig at Cruz, but Boehner famously called the Texas senator "Lucifer in the flesh" during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, adding: "I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." His view is widely shared, especially after Cruz's micro-vacation to Cancun during the Texas frigid blackout crisis. In a Feb. 20-22 Yahoo/YouGov poll released Wednesday, only 24 percent of voters said they approve of Cruz's job performance, including a paltry 53 percent of Republicans — a drop of 24 percentage points from his January rating in a separate poll.

Boehner has been famously unfiltered in his retirement, but Cruz seems to invite colorful comments on his unpopularity. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) quipped in 2016. Former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) wrote in his autobiography: "I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz."

Even President Biden seems to be snubbing Cruz when he visits Houston on Friday to survey recovery efforts from last week's winter haymaker. Biden will mostly travel in Texas with Gov. Greg Abbott (R), and when reporters asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki if Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will tag along, she said dryly, "There are some limitations on space." Peter Weber

7:49 a.m.

For two weeks, COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped steadily from the alarmingly high peak of America's third wave of the pandemic. Vaccination rates are rising, new vaccines and millions more doses of approved ones are coming online soon, and deaths have dropped dramatically in places where significant numbers of people have been inoculated, especially nursing homes. But "this is not a time to relax," President Biden said Thursday as he celebrated the country's 50 million's vaccination. "We must keep washing our hands, stay socially distanced, and for God's sake — for God's sake — wear a mask."

It turns out, a fourth wave of the pandemic already appears to be building.

Cases have leveled out worldwide, too. "The most likely explanation is the more contagious variants of the virus, like the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in Britain," David Leonhardt writes at The New York Times. Business Insider's Jim Edwards points out that the uptick in cases and deaths could be statistical noise, but notes that worrisome new variants have also popped up in California and New York.

"Taking into account the counterbalancing rises in both vaccinations and variants, along with the high likelihood that people will stop taking precautions, a fourth wave is highly likely this spring," Apoorva Mandavilli reports at the Times, citing a majority of 21 experts interviewed on the pandemic. "But they stressed that it is not an inevitable surge, if government officials and individuals maintain precautions for a few more weeks," and "COVID-19 deaths will most likely never rise quite as precipitously as in the past."

"The good news," Mandavilli writes, is that "despite the uncertainties, the experts predict that the last surge will subside in the United States sometime in the early summer. If the Biden administration can keep its promise to immunize every American adult by the end of the summer, the variants should be no match for the vaccines. ... For now, every one of us can help by continuing to be careful for just a few more months, until the curve permanently flattens." Peter Weber

5:28 a.m.

The Democrats' push, most prominently by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour hit a significant snag on Thursday. But Costco, the No. 2 U.S. bricks-and-mortar retailer, raised the ante anyway, announcing Thursday — at a Senate hearing chaired by Sanders — that it is raising its own minimum wage to $16 an hour, starting next week. Costco set its lowest hourly wage at $15 in 2019, a year after raising it to $14. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.

"I want to note: this isn't altruism," Costco CEO Craig Jelinek said at the Senate Budget Committee hearing. "At Costco, we know that paying employees good wages and providing affordable benefits makes sense for our business and constitutes a significant competitive advantage for us." About 90 percent of Costco's 180,000 U.S. workers are hourly employees, and 20 percent of them earn its minimum wage. The average hourly wage is $24, and Jelinek said the company has been paying a $2 hourly hazard bonus since March. That will end next month but be converted to wage increases company-wide, he added.

Costco's raise could pressure its large competitors to follow suit, CNN says. Target and Best Buy raised their minimum wage to $15 last year, while Walmart's minimum wage is $11, rising soon to $13 an hour for about a quarter of its workforce. Amazon's minimum wage has been $15 an hour since 2018. Peter Weber

4:48 a.m.

Prince Harry evidently thought he was going to be on "Carpool Karaoke." "This is subtle — where's the Range Rover?" he asked James Corden when Corden arrived in an open-air bus for a tour of Los Angeles on Thursday's Late Late Show. The non-working-royal prince did rap the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but there was no singing on the tour. There was, however, high tea, an ill-advised real estate push invoking Meghan Markle, and a military-style obstacle course.

Prince Harry seemed to enjoy parts of the tour: He said he's never been allowed to ride on an open-top bus and has always wanted to go sight-seeing, and since he and his wife arrived in the U.S. during coronavirus lockdown, "this is the first time I've had a chance to see L.A." He described a typical day in his quasi-royal Santa Barbara household, starting with breakfast from a waffle-maker gifted to son Archie by his great-grandmother, the queen, and ending with him and the duchess in bed watching Jeopardy! or "a little bit of Netflix."

"And how do you feel about The Crown?" Corden asked. Unlike his brother, Harry has watched the show, and he had thoughts about how his family is portrayed: "They don't pretend to be news, it's fictional, but it's loosely based on the truth. Of course it's not strictly accurate," but "loosely, it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that. I'm way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife or myself," because one is "obviously fiction" and the latter is "being reported on as fact."

When asked, Harry said he wants Damian Lewis to play him when his storyline starts in The Crown. Corden nominated himself to play Prince William, earning a dubious stare from Harry. "It's not great casting, but it is casting," he said. You can watch him get the last laugh below. Peter Weber

3:38 a.m.

The Senate on Thursday confirmed former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, 64-35, to lead the Energy Department, with 14 Republicans joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to give President Biden his 10th Cabinet-level appointee (plus one deputy secretary). After her confirmation, Granholm tweeted that she's "obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis" and "impatient for results."

Granholm repeated her priorities on MSNBC Thursday night. "I am all about bringing clean-energy jobs" to communities, especially those, like Michigan, reliant on fossil fuels, she told host Chris Hayes. "I am totally obsessed about how to create good-paying jobs in America," and the clean-energy sector "is the biggest opportunity for us."

The market is shifting toward green energy, regardless of what politicians prefer, and the Energy Department's 17 national labs are creating ways to not only expand renewable energy but also "decarbonize fossil fuels," Granholm said. "And honestly, if we can bring the supply chains for all of these clean-energy products to the United States, instead of letting our economic competitors eat us for lunch, the jobs that could be created for us in the U.S. — good-paying jobs — are boundless."

Biden has sent the Senate more nominations, and gotten fewer of them confirmed, than any recent president, Axios reports, citing a count by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post.

"The new president is facing a pandemic without a surgeon general or head of the Department of Health and Human Services, he confronts an economic crisis without his leaders at Labor or Commerce, and domestic terrorism is on the rise with no attorney general," Axios notes. You can track Biden's nominations at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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