September 23, 2020

Republican senators' investigation into Joe Biden and Ukraine has come up empty.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee had been conducting an investigation into the former vice president's dealings with Ukraine, and committee chair Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) admittedly hoped to prove Biden's "unfitness for office." But an interim report of their ongoing investigation released Wednesday doesn't do that.

Republicans have long sought to find some kind of collusion between Biden's vice presidency and his son Hunter Biden's work at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, seeing as Biden led Ukraine policy during the Obama administration. Attempts to dig up dirt about Biden and Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and after that concluded with no conviction, Republicans have been trying to turn the tables on Biden.

But as Johnson told The New York Times in the days before the report's release, the investigation found no "massive smoking guns" regarding Biden. The report relies largely on a quote from career diplomat George Kent, who said Hunter Biden's work with Burisma made things "awkward" for State Department officials focused on Ukraine. But it doesn't relay any improper influence or wrongdoing by Biden, nor does it confirm Republicans' accusations that Biden tried to oust Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son from an investigation. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:06 p.m.

The Secret Service has reportedly started to prepare for providing protection to President Trump, who still hasn't conceded the 2020 election, after he leaves the White House in January.

Secret Service agents who work in Trump's detail "are being asked whether they're interested in transferring to Palm Beach, Florida," in a "clear sign" that Trump's "post-presidency life is taking shape," ABC News reports. Additionally, the Secret Service has reportedly been looking at "physical reinforcements" to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.

The report notes that these are unofficial moves by the Secret Service because Trump has not yet conceded the election to President-elect Joe Biden, and a Secret Service spokesperson only told ABC that the agency doesn't discuss the "means, methods or resources we utilize to carry out our protective mission."

Meanwhile, ABC also reports that renovations to living quarters at Mar-a-Lago that are "expected to be occupied" by the president and by first lady Melania Trump after they leave the White House are underway, although Trump is also reportedly expected to spend time in New York and at his New Jersey golf club. Read more at ABC News. Brendan Morrow

4:56 p.m.

Aaron Van Langevelde, a Michigan GOP canvassing board member, on Monday voted to certify the state's election results. And with that, Michigan's 16 electoral votes, as expected, will go to President-elect Joe Biden.

The four-person board, which is split between Democrats and Republicans, certified the vote 3-0, with the other GOP member abstaining, Politico's Tim Alberta reports.

Biden won Michigan by around 150,000 votes, but it wasn't always clear until recently that the board would certify because of President Trump's unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the state.

Langevelde put that to rest, stating "we have a clear legal duty to certify the results of the election as shown by the returns that were given to us. We cannot and should not go beyond that." Tim O'Donnell

4:08 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to lead the Treasury Department, people familiar with the decision told The Wall Street Journal. Yellen declined to comment, the Journal notes.

If confirmed, Yellen would become the first woman to fill the role, as well as the first person to head the Treasury, the central bank, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Yellen oversaw the Fed between 2014 and 2018. She was originally nominated by former President Barack Obama and was confirmed by the Senate with bipartisan support, including three sitting Republican lawmakers — Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). That seemingly increases her chances of getting through the process again, even if the GOP holds on to its majority.

Per the Journal, the Biden transition team views Yellen as a "credible authority on the dangers of prematurely withdrawing government stimulus and as someone who could collaborate closely with the Fed and executive-branch agencies to engineer more support if Congress remains hesitant to act" on coronavirus relief legislation. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

3:46 p.m.

Another awards show, another new ratings low.

The 2020 American Music Awards on Sunday drew an average of 3.8 million viewers and a 0.9 rating among adults 18-49, both of which were new lows for the ceremony, Variety reports. The AMAs experienced a 50 percent rating decline, as well as a 43 percent viewership decline. Last year's AMAs, Variety notes, only fell four percent in the ratings, and viewership ticked up that year by about 200,000.

But awards shows have been fairly consistently declining in the ratings recently. The 2020 Emmys in September again drew its smallest audience of all time with about 6.1 million viewers, while this year's Billboard Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, and Country Music Association Awards also all hit ratings lows.

Sunday's American Music Awards, which took place in Los Angeles with a limited audience amid the pandemic, featured performances from artists including Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish, and the show's top prize of Artist of the Year went to Taylor Swift. But despite Swift's record-extending win, it seems not a huge amount of TV viewers showed up at this party. Brendan Morrow

3:26 p.m.

The coronavirus almost certainly originated in another species before jumping to humans (perhaps infecting a third party species in between), but new research is suggesting that humans could also play the role of vector, National Geographic reports.

A new study led by Harris Lewin, a professor of ecology and evolution at University of California, Davis, found that humans could potentially spread the virus to wild animals, and they probably already have among animals in captivity. For example, Lewin said it's likely lions and tigers that contracted the virus at the Bronx Zoo in New York were infected by human zookeepers.

That could put endangered species — especially close human relatives like the western lowland gorilla, the Sumatran orangutan, chimpanzees, and bonobos — at high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, especially in places where wild animals are more likely to come into close contact with humans, Lewin told Nat Geo.

Lewin's co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli singled out Africa's eastern gorilla as another high-risk species because the fewer than 5,000 remaining individuals live in close-knit family groups, making them more vulnerable to their own pandemic.

The good news is there's no evidence the virus is spreading among wild animal populations, and the animals that have been infected in experimental settings have mostly exhibited mild cases. But the risk remains, so Koepfli and Lewin are calling for a focus on preventative methods such as national park staffers getting regularly tested to mitigate the threat. Read more at National Geographic. Tim O'Donnell

1:49 p.m.

Somewhere in Virginia, a turkey by the name of Carrots is feeling vindicated.

Two years ago this week, President Trump conducted the annual White House turkey pardon, which let the American people vote online to decide the fate of birds Peas and Carrots. The president, lest he pass up an opportunity to roast, jokingly mocked the losing turkey, Carrots.

"Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount," Trump said in 2018. "We're still fighting with Carrots."

Replace "Carrots" with "Trump" and we essentially have the story of the 2020 election. As President-elect Joe Biden proceeds with filling his Cabinet, Trump remains steadfast in his refusal to concede, despite winning 74 fewer electoral votes. Also similar to Carrots, Trump has called for recounts in several states, including Georgia, where taxpayers will fund a third recount.

It's unclear whether Carrots ever officially conceded his 2018 loss, or whether Trump has any plans to do so, either. Carrots did, however, make his way to the nation's premier retirement spot for former White House turkeys, so there's certainly hope for Trump's post-presidential life. Marianne Dodson

1:37 p.m.

Snapchat is launching a brand new TikTok competitor and unveiling plans to distribute $1 million among some lucky users on a daily basis.

On Monday, Snapchat began rolling out Spotlight, a new video tab that will highlight popular videos in the app as the company looks to compete with both TikTok and Instagram Reels, Axios reports. For at least the rest of the year, Snapchat said it will be giving out $1 million daily to users who submit the most popular Spotlight videos. Users have to be 16 or older to be eligible for the money, which can be split up among various people.

"Many Snapchatters will earn each day, and the ones who create the top Snaps within that group will earn the most for their creativity," Snapchat said.

It wasn't entirely clear how much money one person could earn from Spotlight in a day other than Snapchat saying the amount would be "significant," according to CNN. The minimum amount will be $250, BuzzFeed News reports.

Snapchat said earnings will be based on a formula rewarding users "primarily based on the total number of unique video views a Snap gets in a given day" compared to "the performance of other Snaps that day," and it pledged to "actively monitor for fraud to ensure that we only account for authentic engagement with Snaps."

This, Variety wrote, was a "bid by Snap to keep top creative talent on its platform" rather than TikTok and Instagram, which rolled out the TikTok competitor Reels earlier this year. The $1 million a day program, Snapchat said, will "run through the end of 2020, and potentially beyond." Brendan Morrow

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