January 13, 2021

Federal authorities on Wednesday issued a joint intelligence bulletin cautioning that last week's assault on the Capitol will be a "significant driver of violence" for white supremacists and armed militia groups.

The bulletin, dated Jan. 13 and sent by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, warns that extremists looking to trigger a race war or civil war "may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climatic conflict in the United States." Racist extremists and anti-government militias "very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021," the agencies said.

The breaching of the Capitol is emboldening extremists, the bulletin warns, and baseless conspiracy theories from QAnon will likely inspire some to "engage in more sporadic, lone-actor, or small-cell violence against" racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, government officials, and law enforcement. Additionally, individuals who have accepted President Trump's false claims that the election was "stolen" may also "adopt the belief that there is no political situation to address their grievances and violent action is necessary." Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

10:06 a.m.

As the streaming wars continue, Peacock hopes to make the competition tap out with a key new deal.

NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock will become the exclusive streaming home of the WWE Network in the United States as part of a multi-year agreement that The Wall Street Journal reports is valued at over $1 billion.

WWE Network is World Wrestling Entertainment's standalone streaming service that costs $9.99 a month and offers subscribers access to, among other things, WWE's pay-per-view events like WrestleMania. But starting in March, the WWE Network will be a part of Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service that launched last year, in the United States.

WWE Network will be available on Peacock Premium, which costs $4.99 a month, and it will also be available without ads on Peacock Premium Plus, which costs $9.99 a month. The separate WWE Network service will be shut down in the United States as part of the deal, according to the Journal.

"WWE Network is a transformative addition to the platform," Peacock Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer Rick Cordella said.

This deal allows NBCUniversal to further strengthen its streaming service, which at the beginning of 2021 also became the exclusive streaming home of The Office after the hit sitcom left Netflix; though Peacock has a free tier, all but two seasons of The Office are only available to paid subscribers.

The WWE Network is set to launch on Peacock on March 18 — less than a month before this year's WrestleMania. Brendan Morrow

9:57 a.m.

Merck, one of the world's most storied vaccine makers, is abandoning the development of its two COVID-19 vaccines after initial trials resulted in inadequate immune responses, Stat News reports. Both vaccines produced lower levels of coronavirus antibodies than have been found in the blood of individuals who recovered from natural COVID-19 infections. For reference, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines produced antibody levels several times higher than natural infections.

The unsuccessful trials are disappointing in large part because both Merck vaccines would have required just one dose, writes Stat. One of the candidates, which uses the same virus as the one in Merck's successful Ebola vaccine, was being developed in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which has said it will try to determine if using an oral or intranasal administration route will work better than the current intramuscular injection. It's unclear if Merck will continue to collaborate — IAVI's president Mark Feinberg told Stat he hopes they do — because the pharmaceutical company has suggested it will now turn its focus to developing COVID-19 therapeutics.

As Stat notes, the results show just how difficult vaccine development can be, especially in such a short amount of time, making the rapid success of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots seem all the more remarkable. Read more at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

9:51 a.m.

Moderna's coronavirus vaccine is still doing its job. But when it comes to the COVID-19 variant first found in South Africa, there could be some room for improvement.

More transmissible variants of COVID-19 first appeared overseas in the past month, and have since been found in the U.S. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found effective against the B117 variant that was first found in London, and Moderna has confirmed it found no reduction in antibodies when its vaccine was used against that strain. But when researching the B1351 strain, Moderna saw a sixfold reduction in antibodies produced, a study released Monday indicates.

Despite the shortfall, Moderna affirmed that the antibodies produced with the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective" against either strain. But "as an insurance policy," the company is working on a booster shot that could make the vaccine more effective against the South Africa-based strain, Moderna's chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks told The New York Times. "I don't know if we need it, and I hope we don't," he added.

So far, there has been no evidence to suggest the B1351 strain is more deadly than the more widespread virus, only that it spreads faster. The B117 variant also spreads up to 50 percent faster than the original strain, and the U.K. has found early evidence that it could be more deadly. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:28 a.m.

Rudy Giuliani has been hit with a $1.3 billion lawsuit over his false claims about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday filed a defamation lawsuit against Giuliani, personal attorney to former President Donald Trump, after he baselessly alleged the voting machine company was involved in a conspiracy to change votes from Trump to President Biden in 2020, The New York Times reports.

The lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court in Washington and charges Giuliani with making "demonstrably false" claims about the company as part of a "viral disinformation campaign," according to the Times. Dominion is seeking over $1.3 billion in damages.

This comes after Dominion previously filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Sidney Powell, a former Trump lawyer who also repeatedly made false claims accusing the company of being involved in an election fraud conspiracy. In an interview with the Times, Dominion lawyer Thomas A. Clare promised to bring additional lawsuits in the future.

"There will certainly be others," Clare said. "There are other individuals who have spoken the big lie and have put forward these defamatory statements about Dominion, but then there are also players in the media that have amplified it."

Clare also suggested to the Times the company could even sue Trump himself, saying, "We're not ruling anybody out. Obviously, this lawsuit against the president's lawyer moves one step closer to the former president and understanding what his role was and wasn't." Brendan Morrow

7:56 a.m.

President Biden plans to sign an executive order on Monday requiring government agencies to increase purchases of American-made products, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reports. The policy is part of the "Buy American" initiative Biden promised during his campaign. Biden reportedly hopes to harness the purchasing power of the U.S. government, the biggest buyer in the world, to boost domestic manufacturing and supply chains hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden's Buy American initiative shares some elements of former President Donald Trump's domestic preference policy under his America First plan, which centered around tariff hikes targeting China and other trading partners.

Canada's foreign minister, Marc Garneau, said Sunday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had expressed concerns to Biden about the Buy American program in a Friday phone call. A senior Biden administration official told the Journal that Biden's order seeks to strengthen the U.S. supply chain, after the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted critical weaknesses. "We remain very committed to working with partners and allies to modernize international trade rules to make sure that we can use our taxpayer dollars to stir investments in our own countries and strengthen supply chains," the official said. Harold Maass

7:30 a.m.

Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."

But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday.

"Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."

The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.

A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate. Peter Weber

5:10 a.m.

Former President Donald Trump first met Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, at a September 2019 photo op, the newly "liberated" Fauci told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday. Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit four months later, "he barely knew who I was," Fauci said. But once he started going to the White House "very, very frequently" to advise about the pandemic, things started going wrong between him and Trump almost immediately.

The first problem is that Trump would get ideas about the coronavirus and how to treat it from friends and acquaintances, and he would believe their evidence-free opinions, Fauci said. "It was always, 'A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.' That's when my anxiety started to escalate." Fauci said he felt obliged to speak the truth publicly after Trump said something false or misleading, and while he would get pushback from Trump's top aides for contradicting the president, Trump himself never confronted him or got angry.

Fauci said he never really believed Trump would try to fire him, and he never considered quitting. He explained why:

Someone's got to not be afraid to speak out the truth. They would try to play down real problems and have a little happy talk about how things are okay. And I would always say, "Wait a minute, hold it folks, this is serious business." So there was a joke — a friendly joke, you know — that I was the skunk at the picnic. ... I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic. Even if I wasn't very effective in changing everybody's minds, the idea that they knew that nonsense could not be spouted without my pushing back on it, I felt was important. [Dr. Anthony Fauci to The New York Times]

Read more about Fauci's experience working with Trump and his team during a once-in-a-century pandemic, including the serious death threats he and his family received, at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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