January 14, 2021

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a memo Wednesday that he is indefinitely halting a Trump administration effort to gather the citizenship status of everyone in the U.S., telling workers struggling to comply with a Friday deadline to "'stand down' and discontinue their data reviews."

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department's inspector general's office had reported that bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees, Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, to produce data on who is in the U.S. illegally. Any such data would be incomplete, misused, and detrimental to the Census Bureau's reputation, the inspector general said.

Dillingham's decision effectively ends, again, President Trump's unprecedented two-year effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census. A Trump administration lawyer said Monday that the apportionment data won't be processed until at least early March, weeks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The census numbers are used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is divided up. A prominent Republican operative had advocated stripping out non-citizens to help Republicans and white Americans.

"President Trump tried and failed throughout his entire presidency to weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It appears he has failed yet again." Before Dillingham released his memo Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights groups had called on him to resign. His five-year term is not up until the end of 2021. Peter Weber

12:57 p.m.

The wizarding world may be coming to television.

A Harry Potter live-action TV show is in early development at HBO Max, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety reported on Monday.

Executives from the WarnerMedia streaming service have been holding meetings with writers to explore ideas for a possible Harry Potter show, the Reporter says, although no one has been attached, and no specific project has been ordered. Indeed, Variety emphasized the talks are "very" early, and in a statement, HBO Max and Warner Bros. said "there are no Harry Potter series in development at the studio or on the streaming platform."

But the Reporter writes that "expanding the world of Harry Potter remains a top priority for HBO Max and Warner Bros," even if there's no word yet on what a potential TV project might look like. This comes after it was reported last week that WarnerMedia is also interested in expanding another one of its fictional worlds, Game of Thrones, as Entertainment Weekly reports HBO wants to "go big on Thrones for HBO and HBO Max," potentially with "several" more prequel shows in addition to one that's already in the works.

For now, the Harry Potter franchise is continuing by way of the Fantastic Beasts prequel films, though the second entry in that series, The Crimes of Grindelwald, grossed less than expected at the box office in 2018. The films have also faced controversy both due to Johnny Depp's presence in them amid domestic abuse allegations that he has denied and due to anti-trans statements made by J.K. Rowling. A third entry, in which Mads Mikkelsen will take over Depp's role, is set for release in 2022. Brendan Morrow

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 from foreign governments. 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

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