October 11, 2020

Just one day after a federal judge blocked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order that designated one absentee ballot drop-off locations per county in the Lone Star state, a U.S. appeals court issued a temporary stay on the limitation ahead of the November election.

Absentee voting is expected to surge this election cycle because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has become a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats. Abbott says his order was designed to enhance election security because of the increase in mail-in ballots while Democrats argue it's a disguised form of voter suppression. On Friday, a U.S. district judge struck down the order by ruling that the limitation placed an undue burden on older and disabled Texas voters who could be forced to travel further and increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but the state was expected to appeal, and the limitation will go forward for now.

Another federal judge, meanwhile, tossed out a lawsuit filed by President Trump's re-election campaign, which wanted the court to bar Pennsylvania's use of drop boxes or mobile sites to collect mail ballots that aren't "staffed, secured, and employed consistently within and across" the Keystone State's 67 counties. The campaign is expected to appeal the decision, The Associated Press reports. Tim O'Donnell

2:06 p.m.

It looks like Sacha Baron Cohen's attempt to prank Rudy Giuliani for his new Borat film was a great success.

The comedian's sequel, in which Borat travels to America in hopes of gifting his daughter to someone close to the Trump administration, drops on Amazon this Friday. But spoiler-filled details emerged on Wednesday about a shocking scene in which Baron Cohen dupes President Trump's personal lawyer.

In the movie, The Guardian reveals, Giuliani speaks with the actress who portrays Borat's daughter for what he thinks is a conservative news show, after which "the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras." From there, Giuliani "can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt" and then "reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals," The Guardian writes.

At that point, Borat reportedly interrupts the two, bursting in to say, "She's 15. She's too old for you."

In reviews for the film published on Wednesday, critics were naturally gobsmacked by the Giuliani moment, with the Los Angeles Times speaking of a "what-the-hell-am-I-seeing" sequence that will likely lead to "indignant lawsuits," while Deadline said that the "big Giuliani finale is a stunner" and Vanity Fair wrote that "you cannot help wondering exactly what Giuliani may have done next" had he not been interrupted.

Giuliani actually revealed earlier this year that he called the police on Baron Cohen over a prank interview, at the time telling Page Six, in a statement that didn't exactly age well, "I felt good about myself because he didn't get me." Perhaps he meant to conclude that sentence with a Borat-style "not!" Brendan Morrow

12:56 p.m.

Mel Brooks is ripping President Trump for his COVID-19 response and backing Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president in what is evidently his first political video ever.

The icon of comedy in a video shared Wednesday by his son Max endorsed the Democratic nominee for president, doing so while his son and grandson stood outside behind him.

"They can't be with me," Brooks explained. "Why? Because of this coronavirus, and Donald Trump's not doing a damn thing about it. So many people have died, and when you're dead, you can't do much!"

Brooks went on to endorse Biden, saying he's voting for the former vice president because "Joe likes facts, because Joe likes science" and because he "will keep us going."

Max Brooks previously shared a hilarious social distancing PSA in March featuring the Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles director in isolation, but he noted on Wednesday that at 94, his father "has never made a political video. Until now." Brendan Morrow

12:51 p.m.

Michael Bloomberg isn't just outspending President Trump in Florida. He's dragging the president into a "money pit," a former a former Florida Democratic Party spokesman tells Politico.

After his brief and pricey failed presidential run, the former New York City mayor threw his support and his billions behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Bloomberg has specifically focused on the critical swing state of Florida, pledging to spend at least $100 million there, mostly on TV ads, to boost Biden's candidacy. Both Republicans and Democrats aren't quite sure why Bloomberg is spending so much on TV versus social media and voter outreach. But Max Steele, a former Florida Democratic Party spokesman, tells Politico the point is rather to "keep [Trump] mired down" because "Florida is a money pit."

Steve Schale, who leads the pro-Biden Unite the Country super PAC, agreed. Because of Bloomberg and other PACs' overhwleming spending, "Trump has now been committed to the equivalent of land war in Asia by having to spend so much of his money in Florida," Schale told Politico. In turn, Trump hasn't had the money he needs to compete in the north and midwest, namely Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And with Florida covered by Bloomberg, other Democratic PACs have been able to head for the northern battlegrounds where Trump is falling behind.

The idea that Trump is hemorrhaging money to keep up with Biden is boosted by the fact that his campaign reported having just $63 million in the bank at the end of September, even after raising $1.5 billion since the 2016 election. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:24 a.m.

The Department of Justice and Purdue Pharma have reached an $8.3 billion settlement regarding the OxyContin maker's role in the opioid crisis, the DOJ announced during a Wednesday press conference. In addition, Purdue will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, The Associated Press reports.

Purdue will plead guilty to offering doctors kickback payments if they wrote more prescriptions for Purdue's painkillers, as well as using health record software to push for those prescriptions. The company will also have to admit it held up Drug Enforcement Administration investigations into the company as part of the settlement. It will forfeit at least $2 billion to the federal government, pay at least a $3.54 billion criminal fine, and fork over $2.8 billion in damages, among other charges. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, preventing it from paying the criminal fine right away.

The settlement doesn't absolve Purdue's owners and executives from criminal liability, as a criminal investigation into them and the company is still ongoing. It will turn Purdue into a public benefit company managed by a trust and remove its owners, the Sackler family, of any involvement. The company also still has to deal with thousands of claims from local and state officials over the opioid epidemic as they dealt with more than 450,000 overdose deaths in the past 20 years. Purdue has suggested paying $10 billion to settle them all. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:47 a.m.

Pope Francis has reportedly backed civil unions for same-sex couples in a "major step" for the Catholic Church.

The pope in a documentary that premiered on Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival expressed support for creating "a civil union law" for same-sex couples so that "they are legally covered," Catholic News Agency reported.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," Francis reportedly says in the film Francesco. "They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."

The pope also reportedly says in the documentary, "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

This, Catholic News Agency noted, was a significant departure from the Vatican's stance on the issue and from the position of Francis' predecessors. The remarks were confirmed by The Associated Press, which noted that Francis had supported civil unions for same-sex couples as archbishop of Buenos Aires but had never done so as pope.

Jesuit priest and America Magazine editor James Martin praised the pope's remarks, describing them as "a major step forward in the church's support for LGBTQ people."

David Gibson, director of Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture, also told The Washington Post, "This is huge. Looking behind all this, he's basically saying, again, we're not out here to be culture warriors. We're not out here to pick fights. We are out here to build up the family." Brendan Morrow

10:14 a.m.

After months of fruitless negotiations to develop and pass a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly told the White House on Tuesday to give up until after the election. But the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, is still trying to talk McConnell out of it.

The caucus' 18 Republican and 25 Democratic members declared in a Wednesday statement that "it is critical Congress act immediately to pass bipartisan relief legislation," as "time is running out for the American people." If talks stop until after the election, it could be February until they begin again, the caucus noted. So it's encouraging the Trump administration to include a national testing strategy in the next relief bill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed for. And it wants McConnell to take a vote on the House and White House's proposal. Without these measures, families and businesses "will continue to suffer needlessly as a result of Congress failing to do its job," the caucus said.

The last coronavirus relief package expired in July, ending boosted unemployment insurance for millions of Americans who remain without jobs. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:44 a.m.

A pair of peer-reviewed studies suggest there has been a "sharp" drop in COVID-19 death rates among patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, NPR reports.

One of the two new studies, which will be published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, looked at NYU Langone Health system hospitalizations and found "mortality has dropped among hospitalized patients by 18 percentage points," from 25.6 percent to 7.6 percent, since March, according to the report. Another study that will be published in Critical Care Medicine observed "an unadjusted drop in death rates among hospitalized patients of around 20 percentage points since the worst days of the pandemic" in England, NPR writes.

A number of factors may be contributing to this apparent decline, NPR reports, including doctors improving their ability to treat COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. Leora Horwitz, one of the authors on the first study, also suggested that mask-wearing may help lessen the severity of coronavirus cases.

At the same time, Horwitz pointed out that even with this decline, the COVID-19 death rate is "still higher than many infectious diseases, including the flu," and while "I do think this is good news," it "does not make the coronavirus a benign illness." She added that COVID-19 "still has the potential to be very harmful in terms of long-term consequences for many people." But Bilal Mateen, who conducted research for the second study, told NPR, "I would classify this as a silver lining to what has been quite a hard time for many people." Read more at NPR. Brendan Morrow

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