February 23, 2021

On Tuesday, the former leaders of the Capitol Police and other authorities entrusted with protecting the Capitol building testified about the Jan. 6 attack, telling conflicting stories about what happened that day. One thing that clearly didn't happen was what Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) shared during his chance to question the law enforcement leaders: An account of the day published in the conservative publication The Federalist alleging those who broke into the Capitol were seemingly professional provocateurs and not the "working-class" people seen protesting outside early in the day.

That suggestion flew in the face of testimony from former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who said Tuesday that the attack was "pre-planned," and insurgents were "well equipped, coordinated, and prepared to carry out a violent insurrection at the United States Capitol." And when the hearing ended, Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made it clear that Johnson's allegations weren't correct.

At around the same time Johnson was sharing the conspiracy theory, federal prosecutors unsealed a case against a Capitol attacker who, in the weeks after the attack, had made it clear left-wing provocateurs weren't behind the siege, HuffPost reports. Jose Padilla, prosecutors said, used online forums to detail his experiences at the insurrection, making it clear that "the guy breaking the windows weren't antifa," but rather "patriots." Kathryn Krawczyk

1:23 p.m.

Please call them Potato Head — Mr. Potato Head was their father.

On Thursday, the toymaker Hasbro announced that their classic Mr. Potato Head toy will no longer use the male honorific, and instead go by the gender-neutral "Potato Head." The new name is set to appear on boxes as soon as this year. As Fast Company explains, Hasbro's decision is intended to "break away from traditional gender norms, particularly when it comes to creating Potato Head families," and allow for young kids to have "a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families."

The classic Mr. Potato Head toy famously appeared in the Toy Story films — in which he comically insisted on the "mister" — and was voiced by Don Rickles, who died in 2017. "I busted my bird for 60 years in the business," the comedian once joked to Maxim, "but my grandkids only know me as Mr. Potato Head." Jeva Lange

12:35 p.m.

The U.S. is reportedly preparing to publicly pin the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist who criticized the crown while writing for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in 2018 after entering Turkey's Saudi consulate. The crown prince had been suspected of ordering the killing, and U.S. intelligence will affirm that in a declassified report released Thursday, sources tell Reuters.

The report is not new, and is largely based on CIA intelligence gathered in 2018, U.S. officials tell NBC News. But its release is sure to be controversial as Biden prepares to have his first talks with Saudi rulers.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was recently asked if President Biden would soon talk to bin Salman, but she said he would only speak with King Salman soon, as he was Biden's counterpart. Psaki also confirmed Wednesday the report on Khashoggi's killing was being prepared for public release, while Biden later said he had read it. Other U.S. officials have been in contact with Saudi officials since the beginning of Biden's term, Psaki said.

Saudi Arabia at first denied having a part in Khashoggi's murder, but later said a rogue team accidentally killed Khashoggi as they tried to extradite him. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:52 a.m.

President Biden's scramble to undo former President Donald Trump's immigration promises isn't pleasing anyone.

Trump, of course, isn't happy that his successor has issued executive orders aimed at evaluating and dismantling the dozens of intricate actions his team took to curb immigration to the U.S. He sent allies to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby against Biden's newly debuted immigration reform bill, and is expected to attack Biden's plans in his Conservative Political Action Conference speech this weekend, The Washington Post reports.

But Trump's team also orchestrated its immigration overhaul in such a way that Biden can't simply undo its actions piece by piece. A massive reduction in the number of immigrants crossing America's borders whittled away at the U.S.'s immigration infrastructure, and Trump also left behind a massive backlog of migrants seeking asylum and awaiting court hearings. Conservative-packed courts also stand in the way of Biden's plans; A Texas judge on Wednesday indefinitely blocked his 100-day moratorium on deportations, for example.

Biden has had a few immigration successes so far. He allowed the first asylum seekers into the U.S. after they were forced to wait in Mexico, and on Wednesday allowed foreigners to once again seek green cards in the U.S. These measures have left Immigration and Customs Enforcement preparing for a surge at the border, a memo obtained by the Post revealed.

That increase, combined with Biden's end of a pandemic policy rapidly expelling migrants, has left the administration afraid of running out of shelter space for children. Biden already reopened a facility for migrant children, to the ire of the left, and is now authorizing shelters' purchases of plane tickets to quickly send children to relatives elsewhere in the U.S., the memo reveals. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:45 a.m.

Lady Gaga is reportedly offering a reward of $500,000 for the return of her two French bulldogs after they were stolen and her dog walker was shot.

The pop star's dog walker was shot on Wednesday night while walking her three bulldogs in Hollywood, "and the gunman made off with two of the dogs," Koji and Gustav, TMZ reports.

Gaga's dog walker was reportedly taken to a hospital and is expected to make a full recovery, while the third dog has been recovered, the report says.

Police say that a "male suspect took the two bulldogs from the victim, used a semi-automatic handgun and fled the scene in a white sedan," CNN reports. Gaga, who TMZ says is in Rome working on a movie, is reportedly offering a reward of half a million dollars for the return of the dogs and asking anyone who might have them to email KojiandGustav@gmail.com. It reportedly isn't clear if the suspect specifically targeted Lady Gaga's dogs.

"French bulldogs are in demand and expensive," TMZ writes, "so our sources say it's possible the gunman did not know the dogs were owned by Lady Gaga." Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

The number of Americans filing first-time jobless claims has sharply fallen, remaining historically high but coming in under expectations.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 730,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline of 111,000 claims from the revised level of the week before. The previous week's number of claims was revised down by 20,000, the Labor Department said. Economists were expecting about 845,000 jobless claims to be filed last week, CNBC reports.

The drop in jobless claims came as welcome news after a spike last week, even as the latest number still remained higher than the pre-pandemic record of 695,000. At the same time, experts warned of a potential rebound to come, noting recent winter weather could be a factor in the decline.

"The sharp drop in jobless claims likely is due to people in states hit hardest by last week's huge storm, especially Texas, having better things to do than make jobless claims," Pantheon Macroeconomics chief economist Ian Shepherdson said, per CNBC. "We expect a rebound next week. The trend seems to be about flat, but we remain of the view that claims will soon start to trend down, slowly at first but then more quickly as the reopening of the economy accelerates in April and May." Brendan Morrow

9:21 a.m.

Kenneth Branagh is headed to Downing Street in a new drama set to take on some very recent events.

The award-winning actor is starring as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the new Sky drama This Sceptred Isle, and he looked unrecognizable in the first image revealed Thursday as filming began.

From director Michael Winterbottom, this five-part drama series is set to "chart the events surrounding Johnson and his government in the face of the first wave of" the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Variety reports.

"Our series weaves together countless true stories — from Boris Johnson in Number 10 to front line workers around the country — chronicling the efforts of scientists, doctors, care home workers and policy makers to protect us from the virus," Winterbottom said.

This Sceptred Isle will debut in fall 2022, by which point one can only hope it will no longer be about an ongoing pandemic. See the first image — and try to convince yourself it's actually Branagh you're looking at here — below. Brendan Morrow

9:02 a.m.

When Texas deregulated its electricity market two decades ago, proponents promised that consumers would get better service at lower prices. Long before the service half of that equation proved spectacularly wrong during last week's freeze, the 60 percent of Texans required to buy their electricity from retail power companies, not local utilities, were already getting a lousy deal, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Those deregulated Texas residential consumers paid $28 billion more for their power since 2004 than they would have paid at the rates charged to the customers of the state's traditional utilities," the Journal found, based on its analysis of federal Energy Information Administration data. "From 2004 through 2019, the annual rate for electricity from Texas' traditional utilities was 8 percent lower, on average, than the nationwide average rate, while the rates of retail providers averaged 13 percent higher than the nationwide rate."

The theory behind deregulating the electricity market was that forcing retail power companies to compete for customers would lead to innovation and lower prices. "In other states that allow retail competition for electricity, customers have the option of getting their power from a regulated utility," the Journal notes. Large parts of Texas don't have an incumbent utility to compete against, and the retail industry has been consolidating under two major retailers, Vistra and NRG Energy, which now control at least 75 percent of the retail market.

On the power generation side, Texas deregulation has rewarded companies that can sell cheap power to retailers and utilities — or sometimes really expensive power — but it provides little incentive and no requirements to invest in infrastructure that would have prevented last week's widespread blackouts. Now, "Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wants to force power plants to winterize," The Associated Press reports, and the GOP-led Texas Legislature will start lashing the state's grid operators in hearings Thursday.

"In a lot of respects, we're victims of our own attempt to let free market forces work," state Rep. Drew Darby (R) told AP. "Typically, you know, the Texas Legislature pushes back on overregulation," but "my view on something as basic to human survival and need is we need to have reliable power and water." State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) agreed that "regulation is a four-letter word in this building at times," but said "four million people without power and 12 million people without drinkable water, right, that gets everybody's attention." Peter Weber

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