October 20, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke for about an hour Monday as they scrabble to reach agreement on a COVID-19 stimulus package before Pelosi's Tuesday night deadline. They reported some progress. "We have finally in the last 24 hours ... come to a place where they are willing to address the crisis," Pelosi said on MSNBC Monday night. She laid out the sticking points with the White House in a private call with House Democrats on Monday.

"I want this as soon as possible because I don't want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency," Pelosi said on the call, Politico reports. "We've got to get something big and we've got it done soon and we've got to get it done right." The financial markets seem skeptical. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 411 points, or 1.5 percent, on Monday as hopes faded for a deal.

President Trump also says he wants a big deal, but if Pelosi and Mnuchin manage to negotiate one, he will have to lean on Senate Republicans for them to even take it seriously. "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said only the Senate would 'consider' any such agreement, with no promise of a floor vote or whether it would have his support," Politico reports. A significant number of Senate Republicans are balking at the price tag, between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion, and "if all Senate Democrats supported the legislation, it would still need more than a dozen Republicans to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster."

Republicans' "natural instinct, depending on how big it is, and what's in it, is probably going to be to be against it," Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Monday. "I think we're going to have a hard time finding 13 votes for anything." Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said the package "would divide Republicans if it's anything like the kind of contours we hear about."

"Given the number of Republican senators in tough re-election races, it's conceivable that some of them would support a massive spending deal," Politico notes, but Senate Republicans would clearly prefer that negotiations fail. "You'll lose a lot of Republicans on whatever that is," said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). But "If they bring it up for a vote, I'm guessing there will be enough to get it across the finish line." Peter Weber

5:13 p.m.

The publisher of The Washington Post is slamming President Biden for not directly punishing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying he's "falling far short" of fulfilling a campaign promise.

In a Monday opinion piece, Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post, was highly critical of Biden for sanctioning Saudi operatives but not Mohammed bin Salman after declassifying a report that found the Saudi crown prince "approved an operation" to "capture or kill" the late Post journalist.

Ryan notes Biden vowed to make the crown prince's regime "pay the price" during his presidential campaign. Now, Ryan writes, the president is "facing his first major test of a campaign promise and, it appears, he's about to fail it."

"The Biden administration now seems ready to move on while proposing some sanctions falling far short of honoring Biden's campaign promise to hold Mohammed accountable," he says. "It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a 'one free murder' pass."

The Post publisher argued there's "no legal, moral or logical reason" to sanction the "lower-level players" in Khashoggi's killing while "letting the criminal mastermind get away without consequence," adding that leaving the Saudi crown prince unpunished leaves others "emboldened to do the same."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this week defended the administration's lack of sanctions on bin Salman, arguing "there are more effective ways to make sure that this doesn't happen again and also to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement." But Biden has been facing criticism over this decision, and the Post's editorial board previously pushed back against giving the Saudi crown prince a "pass," writing that "if the criminal apparatus MBS employed against Khashoggi is not dismantled, there will be more victims." Brendan Morrow

4:48 p.m.

Wealthy alumni are threatening to pull their donations from the University of Texas at Austin because students have been protesting the university's controversial alma mater song, The Texas Tribune reports.

"The Eyes of Texas," which plays after football games, is a cherished tradition for many, but it was historically performed at campus minstrel shows, and the title is linked to a saying from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Students, therefore, have criticized the song as racist for a while now, the Tribune notes, but action has increased over the last year amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

It appears, however, many donors consider the movement to be the product of "cancel culture" and "Marxist ideology," and emails obtained by the Tribune show they're willing to pull their financial support for the university over the issue. UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell has publicly confirmed the school will keep the song, but the emails suggest they want him to take an even stronger stand. A few donors even called for Black students to leave the university if they didn't appreciate the tradition.

"It's time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost," one donor whose name was redacted wrote to Hartzell. "It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it's time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor."

Larry Wilkinson, a donor and 1970 graduate of UT-Austin, argued in an email to Hartzell and an interview with the Tribune that because Black students make up only 6 percent of the student body, "the tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog ... Nothing forces those students to attend UT-Austin." Read more at The Texas Tribune. Tim O'Donnell

2:59 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump never ended up getting his COVID-19 vaccine publicly before he left office — but he reportedly did so off camera.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, Trump encouraged supporters to get their COVID-19 vaccine, renewing questions over whether the former president has done so himself. Numerous officials, including former Vice President Mike Pence, got vaccinated on live television as part of an effort to demonstrate to Americans that it's safe. Trump never did so.

But The New York Times' Maggie Haberman on Monday reported that according to an adviser, Trump actually did get vaccinated at the White House in January, as did former first lady Melania Trump, even though they didn't say so publicly at the time. The report was confirmed by CNN and Axios. The Los Angeles Times' Chris Megerian noted it was "noteworthy that the former president didn't do this publicly to boost public confidence in the vaccine."

In December, then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Trump had a "medical reason" for not getting the vaccine yet, as he "received monoclonal antibodies" when he had COVID-19, "and that is actually one scenario where we tell people, 'Maybe you should hold off on getting the vaccine, talk to your health provider to find out the right time.'"

CNN's Betsy Klein notes the White House had repeatedly declined to comment when asked if Trump had gotten the vaccine or intended to do so, even "as recently as January 18."

After Trump's CPAC speech, The Washington Post's Aaron Blake flagged his comments encouraging his supporters to get vaccinated as "perhaps the most significant thing he said," noting this was "something he avoided forcefully advocating for when he actually commanded the most powerful office in the world." Brendan Morrow

2:55 p.m.

It's not a foregone conclusion that the Biden administration will soon have to grapple with multiple market bubbles bursting, Politico reports, but there are potential culprits all across the board.

One of the more worrisome bubbles, per Politico, comes in the form of special-purpose acquisition companies, also known as SPACs or "blank check companies." They exist with the goal of acquiring private companies, generally intriguing startups, and taking them public without having to go through the normal initial public offering process. Larry Kudlow and Wilbur Ross, both former Trump administration officials, are setting up their own SPACs, as is former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal.

Joseph Brusuelas, the chief economist at at the consulting firm RSM US, said the SPAC bubble, along with cyber assets and gold, feels particularly high-risk. "I mean Shaq has a SPAC," he told Politico. "What could go wrong?"

Politico also lists the "huge surges" in cryptocurrencies as something that has market watchers concerned. Bitcoin is probably the most famous example in this category, and it's up 420 percent over the last year, but other cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin, which Politico notes was "created as a joke based on an internet meme," are also skyrocketing. And the real estate market could be vulnerable, too; data from Realtor.com showed median home listings are up 14.5 percent over the last year, marking the 28th straight week of double-digit price gains.

A recent survey of institutional investors carried about by the investment management firm Natixis seems to back up those fears, since 41 percent expect a market correction in real estate prices, and 39 percent are anticipating corrections for cryptocurrencies. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

1:20 p.m.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning states against rolling back COVID-19 restrictions as she expresses concern about a possible fourth surge of cases.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a COVID-19 briefing on Monday said she's "deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic," noting that data suggests recent declines in daily coronavirus cases have "leveled off at a very high number" and "appear to be stalling" at about 70,000 a day.

With this in mind, Walensky said she's "really worried" about states rolling back COVID-19 restrictions, especially given the spread of coronavirus variants, and she warned that "now is not the time" to do so.

"We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths," she said. "Please hear me clearly: at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress."

Walensky added that "we have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases" by continuing to follow public health guidelines. Her comments come after President Biden during an event last week warned Americans that even as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out throughout the country, new cases could potentially start to rise again.

"While COVID-19 vaccinations are up, COVID cases and hospitalizations are coming down," Biden said. "But I need to be honest with you: cases and hospitalizations could go back up with new variants as they emerge. So I want to make something really very clear: this is not a time to relax." Brendan Morrow

1:20 p.m.

The Biden administration is seeking to give separated migrant families the option of reuniting in either the United States or their country of origin, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday. And, he added, if the families choose the former, "we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain" in the United States and "address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible."

President Biden established a task force focused on the reunification effort earlier this month via executive order. Under the Trump administration, The Hill notes, around 2,800 families were separated in 2018; some were reconnected, but around 550 children had not yet been reunited with their parents. Mayorkas said the Biden administration has brought 105 families together so far. Tim O'Donnell

12:12 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is far from satisfied with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) latest response to the sexual harassment allegations against him.

The New York mayor at a press conference Monday discussed Cuomo's Sunday response to a second former aide accusing the governor of sexual harassment. Cuomo said he "never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm" by teasing people "about their personal lives and relationships," and he expressed regret after saying comments he made may have been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." De Blasio, who previously called for an independent investigation into the allegations against Cuomo, slammed this statement.

"That's not an apology," De Blasio said. "He seemed to be saying, 'Oh, I was just kidding around.' You know, sexual harassment is not funny. It's serious. It has to be taken seriously. And he just, clearly, was letting himself off the hook for something that, for the women involved, sounded pretty terrifying."

The mayor added that anyone who "purposely tried to use their power to force woman to have sex with them" should "no longer be in public service." After previously saying that allegedly threatening a lawmaker is "classic Andrew Cuomo," de Blasio also predicted there will be "more and more evidence" of Cuomo's alleged "pattern of abuse" that will come out.

Former Cuomo aide's Charlotte Bennett allegations of sexual harassment came after another aide, Lindsey Boylan, also accused the governor of harassment, alleging he kissed her on the lips without consent and asked her to play strip poker. Cuomo has been facing some calls to resign amid the scandal, and on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the allegations as "serious and credible." Brendan Morrow

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