April 15, 2020

Before the Trump administration reversed its official stance on wearing facemasks in public during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a top National Security Council deputy, Matt Pottinger, secured a deal in mid-March with Taiwan to receive shipments of masks, fearing that both the White House and the country at large didn't have an adequate supply. Taiwan agreed and soon sent 500,000 masks to Washington. Most of those went toward the national stockpile, but a portion was set aside for White House staff, The Washington Post reports.

The NSC kept 1,800 for its own employees, while another 1,800 went to other personnel in the White House. That reportedly made some U.S. officials uncomfortable since civilians were still being told not to wear masks (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's reversal came on April 3) and health care workers across the country had to resort to measures like crafting homemade gear. But other White House officials reportedly noted that the vast majority of Taiwan-shipped equipment were prioritized for medical staff and first responders.

Pottinger has emerged as one of the figures within the White House who warned early on that China's initial coronavirus outbreak could become a major issue for the U.S. He'd been communicating regularly with his contacts in places throughout Asia, like Taiwan and Hong Kong, about how they successfully mitigated the spread, determining masks played a role. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

5:31 a.m.

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, revealed that she had a miscarriage over the summer in a remarkable New York Times op-ed published Wednesday. "Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few," she wrote, adding that "despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning."

Markle's op-ed follows Chrissy Teigen's essay about her miscarriage in September, but while Teigen and her husband, John Legend, frequently share stories about their personal and family lives, Britain's royal family keeps a famously tight lid on private issues.

Markle, 39, and her husband, Prince Harry, stepped back from being senior royals in January and now live more or less quietly in California with their 1-year-old son, Archie. "After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp," she writes in her op-ed, describing what had been an otherwise "ordinary" July morning. "I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second. Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband's hand," watching his "heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine."

The duchess turned their private grief into a larger rumination on a year that "has brought so many of us to our breaking points," from COVID-19 to the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the deep divisions that have fractured the U.S. into siloed factions and individuals. "That polarization, coupled with the social isolation required to fight this pandemic, has left us feeling more alone than ever," Markle writes, and she kept returning to a question that might save us: "Are you okay?"

"This Thanksgiving, as we plan for a holiday unlike any before — many of us separated from our loved ones, alone, sick, scared, divided, and perhaps struggling to find something, anything, to be grateful for — let us commit to asking others, 'Are you okay?'" Markle writes, suggesting that if we do, and if we really see one another, "we will be." Read her full op-ed at The New York Times. Peter Weber

3:34 a.m.

Despite his tweets and frequent fundraising emails, President Trump knows "the battle is effectively over" and he's already moved on to asking allies "how he can stay relevant in the media and in the Republican Party and how he can earn money" next year and beyond, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing Trump advisers. "Privately, even the few advisers to the president who had argued he still had a shot over the last week now largely concede he has no path to victory."

Trump's lawyers, led by Rudy Giuliani, are expected to keep up the appearance of a legal fight until the Electoral College votes Dec. 14, the Journal reports. "While there are just a handful of people left urging the president to keep up the legal fight — among them, Mr. Giuliani — there are equally few people telling him to end it." One official explained, "Everybody's trying to straddle the fence and avoid him flipping out." They have other reasons to give Trump a wide berth, the Journal adds:

In a West Wing where advisers have often loitered near the Oval Office in the hopes of being asked inside, there has been noticeably less angling among aides to get an audience with the president in recent weeks, administration officials said. Aides have said privately they are concerned that the president might ask them for something that would draw them into the legal battle. [The Wall Street Journal]

"Usually everybody's looking for an opportunity to go in. Now it's the opposite," said an administration official. "You never know where there's going to be this moment where he's like, well why don't you do X-Y-Z crazy thing." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

2:48 a.m.

Fox News and Joel and Mary Rich disclosed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York that they have reached a settlement in the lawsuit the Rich family filed against the network over a false story it published and promoted about their son, Seth Rich. Seth Rich was a 27-year-old staffer at the Democratic National Committee when he was shot dead in Washington, D.C., in July 2016, in what D.C. police determined was likely a botched robbery.

FoxNews.com published an article in May 2017 falsely claiming Rich had leaked damaging DNC emails to WikiLeaks, feeding a frenzy of conspiracy theories that Democratic Party leaders had him murdered. Russian military hackers had stolen and distributed the DNC emails, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation later confirmed. Fox News retracted the story after a week, saying it did not meet "editorial standards."

But Fox News opinion hosts, notably Sean Hannity, continued to bolster the claim, suggesting it helped disprove the conclusion that Russian intelligence helped President Trump during the 2016 election. "Fox News announced it was conducting an internal investigation into how the story came to be posted on its website, but it has never released the results," Yahoo News reports.

Joel and Mary Rich filed suit in 2018, saying Fox News "intentionally exploited" their son's murder for political gain, causing them extreme emotional distress. A U.S. district judge dismissed the lawsuit but a federal appellate judge reinstated it, and Fox News decided to settle last month, right before Hannity and Fox News executives were scheduled to be deposed under oath about what they knew about the fake story, Yahoo News reports.

The terms of the settlement weren't made public, but Yahoo News says it "includes a lucrative seven figure payment to the Rich family consistent with the size of payouts Fox News and related corporate entities have made in other cases that have brought them negative publicity." Fox News said in a statement it is "pleased with the resolution of the claims and hope this enables Mr. and Mrs. Rich to find a small degree of peace and solace moving forward." Peter Weber

1:59 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden is trying to decide who should lead the Department of Health and Human Services during his administration, and at the top of the list are New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, more than a dozen people with knowledge of the matter told Politico.

The health secretary will be busy right off the bat, helping manage the government's COVID-19 response, pushing out messaging about the virus, and coordinating the immunization process. If Lujan Grisham, 61, is selected, she would be the first Latina nominated for the position. Should Murthy, 43, be picked, he will be the first nominee of Indian descent.

UnidosUS President Janet Murguia told Politico Lujan Grisham has "seen directly the impact of COVID-19 on her state and managed the response — and she's had to do a lot because there hasn't been a lot of federal guidance. She knows what it's like to lead in this space and is a very credible candidate."

Murthy is an internist who is now serving as one of Biden's top advisers on the coronavirus pandemic and co-chair of his COVID-19 advisory board. If Murthy doesn't get selected, several people familiar with the matter told Politico it's basically guaranteed that he will get another top health role in the administration.

Biden is still considering a few other candidates, three Democrats with knowledge of the situation told Politico, including Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and former Louisiana health secretary Rebekah Gee. It's likely he won't announce his choice until Monday, at the earliest. Catherine Garcia

1:35 a.m.

The U.S. plans to send 6.4 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine across the U.S. within 24 hours of the vaccine getting emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, officials said Tuesday. The goal is to distribute 40 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of the year, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. States were informed of their allocations on Friday, and they will probably be advised to inoculate front-line health care workers first, said Gen. Gustave Perna, the logistics chief of the U.S. vaccination effort.

The FDA will get a recommendation on whether to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech shots after a Dec. 10 vaccine advisory committee meeting, and final say over emergency approval will go to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. "While we cannot predict how long the FDA's review will take, the FDA will review the request as expeditiously as possible, while still doing so in a thorough and science-based manner," Hahn said in a statement. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted approval would come "soon after" the Dec. 10 meeting.

Within two days of FDA approval, an independent advisory board to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet publicly to finalize recommendations on who should get the first shots. Then it will be up to the governors of each state, Perna said, describing the federal government as the "air traffic controller" of vaccine distribution.

Getting frozen vials of vaccine — Pfizer's needs to be stored -94 degrees Fahrenheit — to hospitals and other distribution centers across the U.S., then tracking that the right people get two doses of the same vaccine weeks apart will be a massive logistical challenge, as The Washington Post explains.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices says it will recommend that 20 million health care workers and 3 million people in long-term care facilities get first priority, then about 87 million other essential workers, 100 million adults with high-risk medical conditions, and 53 million senior citizens 65 and older. The general public will probably start getting vaccinated in April. Peter Weber

1:15 a.m.

Nearly 2,100 COVID-19 deaths were recorded in the U.S. on Tuesday, The Washington Post says — the highest daily number since May 6, when 2,611 deaths were reported.

Nine states — Alaska, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin — all reported a record number of fatalities.

More than 85,000 people are hospitalized with the virus across the U.S., setting a new record for the 14th day in a row, the COVID Tracking Project reports. The Department of Health and Human Services released a report stating that there are more than 1,000 U.S. hospitals that are "critically short on staff," CBS News reports, and the death rate is climbing so fast in El Paso that there are 14 mobile morgues now stationed in the city.

Dr. Hassan Taha with Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, Kansas, told CBS News that there are more than 100 coronavirus patients at the hospital, which has reached capacity. "What is worrying to me is two weeks from now Thanksgiving and having a lot of cases that will end up coming to us, or to other hospitals, and there's no beds," Taha said. Catherine Garcia

12:02 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden won more than 80 million votes in the 2020 election, the ongoing vote count confirmed late Tuesday, meaning he beat the previous record by more than 10 million votes. That previous record was set by President Barack Obama, Biden's running mate, in 2008; Obama did not top 70 million in 2012, nor did popular-vote winner Hillary Clinton in 2016. President Trump did beat Obama's record this year, winning at least 73.9 million votes, but he trails Biden by more than 6 million votes and, unlike in 2016, he also lost in the Electoral College.

Biden currently has 51 percent of the vote, versus 47.1 percent for Trump, making him also the first president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 to unseat a sitting president with more than 51 percent. (Ronald Reagan won a landslide in the Electoral College in 1980 but got only 50.7 percent.) The U.S. electorate turned out in large numbers this year, and there were also more Americans eligible to vote, USA Today notes. Peter Weber

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