March 31, 2020

The Kennedy Center has come up with more than 100 things it won't use its $25 million bailout check for.

To some criticism, the performing arts center of Washington, D.C., was allocated $25 million in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package President Trump signed last week. But musicians for the National Symphony Orchestra learned just hours later that they'd soon be laid off without pay, and on Tuesday, staffers for the orchestra were laid off as well.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter told the NSO's 96 musicians on Friday that they'd no longer receive paychecks after April 3, saying she was forgoing pay as well. The musicians also wouldn't receive health care benefits. And on Monday, news followed that at least 20 staffers supporting the NSO would be laid off as well. "It's starting to look like the Kennedy Center knew it was going to lay everyone off even before they lobbied for funds in the bailout," an anonymous orchestra member told the Washington Free Beacon.

The orchestra's union filed a grievance in response, and GOP lawmakers and conservatives started complaining about the contradiction on Twitter and demanding the money be handed back. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.) has even submitted legislation mandating the money be returned. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:06 p.m.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, shared a stark warning on Wednesday about the Islamic State in Syria.

McKenzie participated in a virtual United States Institute of Peace forum, and said that in parts of western Syria, "conditions are as bad or worse" than they were prior to the terror group's rise in 2014, and "we should all be concerned about that." This region is controlled by the Syrian government, and insurgents there have a degree of freedom to move around. There is barely a U.S. presence in western Syria, McKenzie said, and the United States does not believe the regime will do anything to try to push back against the militants.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it's been difficult to transfer people out of Syrian refugee camps. One camp, al-Hol in northeastern Syria, has as many as 70,000 inhabitants, and it can be easy to radicalize people in these conditions, McKenzie said. "As young people grow up, we're going to see them again unless we can turn them in a way to make them productive members of society," he added. "We can either deal with this problem now or deal with it exponentially worse a few years down the road." Catherine Garcia

5:48 p.m.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) appeared for the first time as Joe Biden's vice presidential candidate on Wednesday, speaking at an oddly quiet audience-free event in Wilmington, Delaware.

When the former vice president announced Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, he reflected on her relationship with his late son Beau. Harris herself, who worked with Beau when she was California's attorney general and he was Delaware's, used a few of the first moments of her speech to pay tribute to Biden's son. He was the "kind of guy who inspired people to be a better version of themselves," she said, and "when I asked him where'd he get that ... where did this come from, he would always talk about his dad."

After running through plans to revamp the criminal justice system, promote clean energy, and expand access to health care, Harris moved on to criticize President Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic. "This virus has impacted every country. But there's a reason it has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It's because of Trump's failure to take it seriously from the start," she said. "This is what happens when we elect a guy who just isn't up to the job. Our country is in tatters. And so is our reputation around the world."

Instead of jumping to tamp down on early outbreaks of COVID-19, Harris said, Trump "pushed miracle cures he saw on Fox News." Aside from his coronavirus response, Harris criticized Trump's handling of the economy. "He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden," she said. "And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground." Summer Meza

5:33 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, made their first public appearance together as running mates Wednesday, just a day after the Biden campaign announced her selection.

In his introduction, Biden lauded Harris' integrity and credentials, saying he has "no doubt that I picked the right person to join me." But he also found the time to take a shot at President Trump in the process.

It didn't take long for Trump to insult Harris after Tuesday's announcement. When asked about the pick, he called her "the meanest" and "most horrible" senator, taking particular issue with her questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his dramatic confirmation hearing.

But Trump's words left Biden chuckling. The former vice president said "whining" is what the commander-in-chief "does best," and asked, rhetorically, if anyone was "surprised Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman" like his running mate. Tim O'Donnell

4:37 p.m.

Drop boxes are set to take center stage in the "2020 voting wars."

On Wednesday, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose released a statement spelling out the rules and regulations for drop box usage during general election voting, and some viewed it as a red flag that could suppress voter turnout.

LaRose says legitimate drop boxes will be placed only at county boards of elections, and that "boards of elections are prohibited from installing a drop box at any other location." But Democrats in the state are arguing there's no legal reason for such a restriction, and that limiting the number of drop boxes will make it more challenging for voters to get their ballots in on time during the coronavirus pandemic.

It doesn't help that recent concerns about the slow pace of the United States Postal Service has some worried about delays to mail-in ballots. President Trump has even faced allegations of grinding the service to a halt deliberately.

The move is viewed by some as an attempt to cater to the Trump administration. Tim O'Donnell

3:49 p.m.

A powerful derecho storm that swept through the Midwest on Monday has left thousands of acres of crops completely devastated, and officials say more than half a million people could be without power for quite a while.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said the storm, which had hurricane-force winds up to 112 mph, destroyed at least one-third of the entire state's crops. More than 10 million acres were completely flattened, leading Reynolds to say she thinks the storm should qualify for federal disaster declaration. The Washington Post reports between 180 and 270 million bushels of corn were likely damaged, shortly before harvesting usually begins in September.

The storm left one man dead in Iowa and one woman in Indiana. Teams are working to restore power, though USA Today reports full recovery could take weeks.

Photos demonstrate just how dramatic and widespread the damage was:

3:18 p.m.

It doesn't sound like Defense Secretary Mark Esper will remain at his post for long after the November election, regardless of whether President Trump is re-elected, Bloomberg reports.

Trump has reportedly said he intends to find someone else to run the Pentagon if he wins in November, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. And one source said Esper himself has told people close to him he intends to leave no matter the outcome, so, if the reports are accurate, the two do at least appear to be on the same page. On the other hand, an official close to Esper did tell Bloomberg he is committed to serving in the role as long as Trump wants him to.

But it wouldn't be shocking if that turns out to be later this year — Trump has appeared frustrated with Esper on several occasions because the Pentagon chief doesn't always back him up on key issues. Esper also didn't agree with Trump's idea to send active-duty military to contain nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd's death earlier this summer, Bloomberg notes. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

3:04 p.m.

Serena Williams is back and once again proving there is nothing she cannot do.

In her first match since the coronavirus shutdown, the tennis star pulled off a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Bernarda Pera in the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky on Tuesday.

Williams attributed her victory to being "calm for once in my career," as the audience was relatively empty save for her team, husband Alexis Ohanian, and their daughter, Alexis Olympia. Williams didn't look at her family during the match, but her ears picked up her daughter's cough.

"I know my baby's cough," she said in a press conference. "I didn't look over there but I kind of flashed my husband a look like make sure she's chewing her grapes because she shouldn't be coughing while she's eating grapes. That's the new mom in me and it's good."

Her sister, Venus Williams, beat Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-2, and will advance to play Serena on Thursday in their 31st meeting, the New York Times reports. Serena holds a 18-12 lead.

"I don't play forever so I want to play the best players. And I think I got my wish," Venus said of facing off with Serena. "Here we go." Taylor Watson

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