September 18, 2020

President Trump and his White House say they've done a great job responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but by most metrics, including cases and deaths, the U.S. resembles a failed state. Vanity Fair's Katherine Eban "wanted to better understand how the U.S., with its advanced medical systems, unmatched epidemiological know-how, and vaunted regulatory and public health institutions, could have fumbled the crisis so disastrously," she wrote in an article published Thursday. Her pen ended up pointing at Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and overburdened senior adviser.

Specifically, Eban blamed Kushner and his "shadow" coronavirus task force's "quasi-messianic belief in the private sector's ability to respond effectively to the crisis and their contempt for government capabilities." She previously reported that Kushner's team had developed a comprehensive national COVID-19 testing plan — then scrapped it after deciding the coronavirus was a blue-state problem. In her new article, she pieced together the March 21 meeting where everything fell apart, using "recollections, notes, and calendar entries from three people who attended the meeting," the quotations "based on the recollections of one or more individual attendees."

Kushner, seated at the head of the conference table, in a chair taller than all the others, was quick to strike a confrontational tone. "The federal government is not going to lead this response," he announced. "It's up to the states to figure out what they want to do." One attendee explained to Kushner that due to the finite supply of PPE, Americans were bidding against each other and driving prices up. To solve that, businesses eager to help were looking to the federal government for leadership and direction.

"Free markets will solve this," Kushner said dismissively. "That is not the role of government." The same attendee explained that although he believed in open markets, he feared that the system was breaking. As evidence, he pointed to a CNN report about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his desperate call for supplies. ... According to another attendee, Kushner then began to rail against the governor: "Cuomo didn't pound the phones hard enough to get PPE for his state. ... His people are going to suffer and that's their problem." [Vanity Fair]

"That's when I was like, We're screwed," the attendee told Vanity Fair. Read more about how Kushner and key allies put their faith in consultants, made some shady deals involving Kodak and Russia, and arguably failed America at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

8:42 a.m.

Larry King, the longtime radio and television broadcaster, died Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his production studio and television network, Ora Media, announced. He was 87. No cause of death was given, but CNN previously reported that King had been hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.

King is perhaps best-known for his 25-year run hosting CNN's nightly Larry King Live, which ran from 1985 to 2010, though he continued working after that.

The Associated Press estimates King conducted somewhere around 50,000 on-air interviews, which included guests from all walks of life. Per AP, he claimed he never prepared for his interviews, delivering them in a non-confrontational style that "relaxed his guests," many of whom reportedly sought out his show because of his "middle-of-the-road" stance. The statement from Ora Media said King "always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and the audience." Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

8:13 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday night set the timeline for former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

As expected, the House will send over the article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement of insurrection Monday at 7 p.m. ET. Senators will then be sworn in as members of the impeachment court on Tuesday, and then House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team will spend several days drafting their legal briefs while the Senate will continue with non-impeachment business before both sides begin their presentations the week of Feb. 8.

The GOP seems pleased with the scheduling agreement. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who opposes impeachment, said it's "fair to all concerned," and a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who seems open to voting to convict Trump, called it a "win for due process ... especially given the fast and minimal process in the House." Read more at CBS News and Axios. Tim O'Donnell

January 22, 2021

COVID-19 is spreading among the National Guard troops sent to protect the Capitol.

About 26,000 Guard members from every state were sent to the Capitol area after Trump supporters' Jan. 6 attack, and many have remained to protect the area in the week after President Biden's inauguration. Close to 200 of those soldiers have since tested positive for COVID-19, defense officials tell The Wall Street Journal. Hundreds more are quarantining in hotel rooms after being exposed to the virus, Politico reports.

Guard members who arrived in the days before the inauguration lined the halls of the Capitol to sleep between their 12-hour shifts. They didn't get coronavirus tests before arriving, one Guard member told Politico, saying "right after the holidays they packed us together like sardines in buses and rooms for this." And things got worse Thursday as Guard members were told to set up their base camps outside the Capitol complex — and take their breaks outside too — after Capitol Police seemingly removed them from the grounds. Dozens were relegated to rest in a parking garage Thursday night, packed close to rest once again.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spent Thursday night and Friday morning pointing fingers over the garage situation and offered up their offices for naps. Biden apologized to National Guard Bureau head Daniel R. Hokanson in a Friday call, and first lady Jill Biden dropped off some cookies. The Guard members have since been allowed back inside the Capitol, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) did call his troops back home. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 22, 2021

Tom Brokaw is signing off at NBC.

The 80-year-old veteran journalist announced Friday he's retiring from NBC News after 55 years with the network, CNN and Deadline report.

"During one of the most complex and consequential eras in American history, a new generation of NBC News journalists, producers and technicians is providing America with timely, insightful and critically important information, 24/7," Brokaw said. "I could not be more proud of them."

Brokaw served as NBC Nightly News anchor for 22 years, from 1982 to 2004. He first joined NBC in 1966, according to CNN, and the network noted in a press release he "has spent his entire journalism career with NBC News" after getting his start in its Los Angeles Bureau.

Brokaw in 2018 faced allegations of sexual harassment from two women, which he denied. He has been continuing to serve as a special correspondent for the network. NBC says Brokaw "will continue to be active in print journalism, authoring books and articles, and spend time with his wife, Meredith, three daughters and grandchildren."

NBC News' Kasie Hunt paid tribute to Brokaw on Friday, writing, "I'm still in awe I had the chance to learn from him and am so incredibly grateful for the interest he took in my career and the advice he gave so freely," while CNN's Brian Stelter described this as the "end of an NBC News era." Brendan Morrow

January 22, 2021

President Biden has issued another two executive orders aimed at the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout.

Millions of Americans have claimed unemployment insurance as they lost their jobs amid the pandemic, not to mention thousands of noncitizen workers who haven't been eligible for the benefits. Congress has so far passed two relief bills aimed at helping those who have lost their jobs, though many families are still struggling. Biden is pushing Congress to pass another $1.9 trillion stimulus program, but took initial and immediate relief steps Friday with another round of executive orders.

The first order would increase how much families are given through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program each week. About 12 million families rely on the program, and this order would boost food stamp benefits for a family of four by 15 percent, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese tells The New York Times. And while Biden has called for another round of $1,400 stimulus checks, this order would direct the IRS to ensure Americans are getting their $600 payments as well. Notably, the order will also let people claim unemployment benefits even if they quit their job because they feel unsafe working it during the pandemic, among other economic benefits aimed at low-income Americans.

The second order meanwhile lays the groundwork for ensuring federal workers and contractors are paid at least $15 per hour and can access paid leave, CNN reports. It also undoes some of former President Donald Trump's orders that let a president hire and fire employees for political reasons and limited federal workers' bargaining rights.

Biden has spent the first two days of his presidency issuing executive orders to combat Trump's policies on immigration, climate, the pandemic, and more. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 22, 2021

In the wake of this month's deadly attack on the Capitol building, the White House is pledging to confront the "serious and growing" threat of "domestic violent extremism."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced Friday that President Biden is requesting a "comprehensive threat assessment" from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on domestic violent extremism, which will be conducted in coordination with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

"The January 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat," Psaki said. "The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve."

Psaki said the threat assessment Biden has ordered is the "first step" toward doing so, and it will provide "fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy."

Additionally, Psaki said the National Security Council will launch a "policy review effort" focused on "how the government can share information better about this threat" and "support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more." Finally, she said, the Biden administration will work to coordinate "relevant parts of the federal government to enhance and accelerate efforts to address" domestic violent extremism.

A mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6 while Congress was meeting to certify Biden's election win, leaving five people dead. Biden condemned the rioters as "domestic terrorists," and CNN previously reported that his administration plans to "make domestic terrorism a significant focus of the National Security Council." Brendan Morrow

January 22, 2021

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that there's "some evidence" a surging COVID-19 variant may be more deadly than the original strain.

The B117 strain was first identified in London, and has since spread across the U.K. and arrived in other U.S. and other countries. "In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant ... may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," Johnson said in a Friday press conference.

Before Johnson's announcement, evidence suggested the variant was no more inherently deadly than the original COVID-19 strain. But evidence the U.K.'s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group assessed for the government shows that it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific advisor, cautioned that the data is "not yet strong," saying "there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it."

Even if the variant is not necessarily more deadly, its rapid transmission rate could allow it to infect — and therefore kill — more people. Still, research suggests both major COVID-19 vaccines currently in distribution will still be just as effective against the new strain. Kathryn Krawczyk

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