January 14, 2021

An "increasingly isolated, sullen, and vengeful" President Trump is serving his final few days in office in an emptying White House, taking out his anger on his shrinking inner circle, The Washington Post reports. "Trump has never been more isolated than this week," The New York Times confirms, "and the White House Counsel's Office is not preparing to defend him in the Senate trial" after he was impeached Wednesday for incitement of insurrection.

Trump is specifically furious at Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), both newspapers report, but he's also angry that his allies in conservative media and politics aren't forcefully defending him after a mob of his supporters laid siege to the Capitol last week. "His relationship with lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most steadfast defenders, is also fracturing," the Post reports, adding:

Trump has instructed aides not to pay Giuliani's legal fees, two officials said, and has demanded that he personally approve any reimbursements for the expenses Giuliani incurred while traveling on the president's behalf to challenge election results in key states. They said Trump has privately expressed concern with some of Giuliani's moves and did not appreciate a demand from Giuliani for $20,000 a day in fees for his work attempting to overturn the election. [The Washington Post]

Trump was "offended" by Giuliani's $20,000-a-day request "and told aides not to pay him at all," the Times confirms, adding that Giuliani denied making that request but it "was in writing." And "White House officials have started blocking Mr. Giuliani's calls to the president," the Times adds, citing a Trump adviser. Read more about Trump's deteriorating relationships and shrinking circle of allies at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Peter Weber

11:51 a.m.

Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) have drawn some sharp pushback from her spokesperson.

Gaetz has been slamming Cheney over her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, and he's planning a trip to her home state of Wyoming for an event as he demands she step down as House Republican Conference chair. Now, a spokesperson for Cheney is hitting back.

"Rep. Gaetz can leave his beauty bag at home," a spokesperson for Cheney told the Washington Examiner on Sunday. "In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up."

Cheney, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, voted to impeach Trump earlier this month for incitement of insurrection following a deadly attack on the Capitol by his supporters, saying, "The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack." Since then, Politico writes she has been "fighting to keep her political career alive."

Before his planned Thursday trip to Wyoming, Gaetz said on Twitter over the weekend that he does "not want her job" and is "unequivocally" not "seeking a position in House Leadership" — but he added, "I also know Wyoming can do better." Cheney has defended her vote and her statement condemning Trump, saying, per the Washington Examiner, "All of us have an obligation to the Constitution and an obligation to do what we believe is right, what our oath compels us to do, that is above politics, above partisanship."

In response to the statement from Cheney's spokesperson, Punchbowl News' Jake Sherman wrote that while it might be "easy to rag on people like" Gaetz on background, the "risk is someone on the fence is taken aback by this." Brendan Morrow

11:31 a.m.

The Supreme Court has dismissed the long-running case claiming former President Donald Trump illegally profited off his businesses while in office.

Two cases alleged Trump violated the Constitution's emoluments clause as he continued to hold his businesses while in office, including by making money off of foreign governments. But now that Trump is out of office, the court dismissed the cases as moot on Monday.

A range of hotels and businesses in New York sued Trump years ago as they "found themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with businesses owned by the president of the United States," The Associated Press reports. They demanded financial records to see just how much Trump had made off state and foreign governments who utilized his properties, especially given that Trump did not put his business interests into a blind trust when he took office. Two lower courts let the cases proceed to the Supreme Court.

The emoluments issue stretched throughout most of Trump's presidency, and would've established a legal precedent for a part of the Constitution that hadn't really been challenged in the past. But as Bloomberg reports, both sides of the case agreed it became "legally moot" when Trump left office last week. The Supreme Court solidified that decision on Monday, giving no comment as it dismissed the case. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:23 a.m.

Ohio will have a new senator after the 2022 midterm elections.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday that he won't seek re-election after his second term ends in 2022, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer. It sounds like the political polarization in Congress is a major reason for his departure. In a statement, Portman, who has built a reputation as one of the more bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate, said "it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy." He also told the Enquirer that "if we continue pushing out to the right and to the left, there's not going to be much left in the middle to solve the real problems we face."

Portman said he isn't sure who will run to replace him, but noted "there's plenty of candidates out there." The Enquirer reports the seat is expected to remain safely Republican, and possibilities include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, former Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel, and J.D. Vance, the author of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy. Read more at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Tim O'Donnell

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

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