April 8, 2021

Americans are getting vaccinated — and professionally groomed, finally — but COVID-19 isn't done with us yet, Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "The U.K. variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S., making it the most sickening British import since Piers Morgan."

"Speaking of awful things about to go away," Colbert said, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) "is currently under investigation for violating federal sex-trafficking laws for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. ... Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing, but sources say that just before the previous president left office, Gaetz asked for a blanket pardon" for "any illegal activity he's ever done — like innocent people do." Thanks to his close relationship with Trump, Gaetz "had reason to believe he might get that pardon," but White House lawyers reportedly shot down the request as a bad precedent, he said. "Do you know how shady you have to be for No. 45's lawyers to go, 'No that's a bad look'?" He turned that into a Rudy Giuliani joke.

But Gaetz isn't a total pariah — he's a featured speaker at a pro-Trump women's group conference, Colbert said. "You could say that's putting the fox in the hen house, but Gaetz would rather hang out with the eggs."

The Late Show had some other ideas for mismatched speakers.

Gaetz asking Trump for a pardon, "that's not suspicious," Jimmy Kimmel deadpanned on Kimmel Live. "You know you haven't done anything wrong when you check in with the president to ask for a pardon in case you happen to get accused of a sex crime somewhere down the line." Trump "weighed in on the story with a two-sentence statement" insisting Gaetz never asked him for a pardon, he said, but that's after his advisers reportedly "talked him out of a full-throated defense of Gaetz. Which is sad, because Matt Gaetz really was the son Donald Trump never had, even though he had a couple."

"Aides say that Trump is focused on getting friendly Republicans elected in the 2022 midterms, and if Republicans can take the House, Trump loyalists have said that they would push to install Trump as the new speaker of the House," James Corden said at The Late Late Show. "Yeah, because that's what Trump's good at, speaking." You can watch him imagine how aides would try to sell that idea to Trump below. Peter Weber

1:22 a.m.

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Biden's pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, 53 to 45. Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs partner who cracked down on Wall Street as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission after the 2008 financial crisis, has laid out an ambitious ramping up of regulatory enforcement after four years of deregulation.

Along with policing Wall Street banks, Gensler will also have to contend with the rise of "stonks," or meme stocks like GameStop, and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). The Chamber of Commerce endorsed Gensler's nomination, suggesting he will be "a balanced leader of the SEC and strong supporter of competitive capital markets." But only three Republicans — Susan Collins (Maine), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) — voted to confirm him. Peter Weber

12:44 a.m.

In 2015 and 2016, former President Donald Trump's Republican primary rivals and other GOP officials tried to dodge his withering personal insults "while hoping that external events and news media coverage would ultimately lead to his downfall," Maggie Haberman recalls at The New York Times. That strategy obviously failed. But many Republican leaders are once more hoping, mostly in private, that time or some heaven-sent deus ex machina makes Trump fade into retirement, despite his clear intention to retain control over the GOP.

Some Republicans "are privately hopeful that the criminal investigation into Mr. Trump's business by the New York district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., will result in charges that hobble him from running again or even being a major figure within the party," Haberman reports, adding that Trump is said to be "agitated about the investigation." Others say they believe he is losing relevance his own, now that he is out of office and kicked off Twitter.

David Kochel, a Republican strategist and Jeb Bush supporter in 2016 campaign, is not among them. "We've seen this movie before — a bunch of GOP leaders all looking at each other, waiting to see who's going to try and down Trump," he said, adding that Trump and Fox News are making sure the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is "being stuffed down the memory hole" for conservatives.

"It is Groundhog Day," another GOP Trump critic, Tim Miller, told Haberman. It seemed "like a rational choice in 2015," but "after we all saw how the strategy fails of just hoping and wishing for him to go away, nobody learned from it."

In the meantime, most GOP leaders and 2024 hopefuls are going out of their way to stay on Trump's good side. One reason is Trump's ability to steer huge sums of money to friendly Republicans, Politico notes. But Trump also holds sway over a sizable faction of the GOP electorate — though just how sizable is a matter of dispute — and he seems to relish savaging Republican critics.

Trump "intimidates people because he will attack viciously and relentlessly, much more than any other politician, yet somehow people crave his approval," Mike DuHaime, a Chris Christie adviser in 2016, told the Times. "Trump did self-destruct eventually, after four years in office," he said. "But he can still make or break others, and that makes him powerful and relevant." Peter Weber

April 14, 2021

The Senate on Wednesday voted 92-6 to open debate on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which addresses the rising number of hate crimes being perpetrated against Asian Americans.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would instruct the Justice Department to expedite its review of hate crimes and coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of how to report a hate crime.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), and Roger Marshall (Kansas) voted against opening debate. Cotton and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a statement before the vote saying they "believe the Senate should have the benefit of hearing from the Department of Justice before blindly acting on this issue."

Democrats have indicated they are open to Republican amendments, and Hirono on Tuesday addressed the concern that by having "COVID" in the name, the bill is too narrow in focus. "The whole point is that there is a connection between COVID and the rise of these hate crimes," she said. "We wanted to make sure that everyone understood there's a cause and effect here, but I'm open to eliminating that so that we can get to the real issue, which is the rise in hate crimes against [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] and what we can do about it." Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

The United States is prepared to sanction dozens of Russian individuals and entities and expel as many as 10 Russian officials and diplomats in response to election interference and hacks, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

The sanctions, which could be announced as soon as Thursday, would target about 12 individuals, including government and intelligence officials, and 20 entities, with several linked to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that meddled in the 2016 election, or the SolarWinds hack, Bloomberg News reports.

Shortly after President Biden was inaugurated, he ordered a review of reports that Russia placed bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; Russian interference in U.S. elections; the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny; and the SolarWinds hack, which is believed to have been orchestrated by Russia.

On Tuesday, Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone, and the White House said Biden "made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia's actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference." Russia has denied meddling in U.S. elections and the bounty report. Read more at Bloomberg News. Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

On Thursday, four Democratic lawmakers will stand on the steps of the Supreme Court to introduce legislation expanding the country's highest court from nine to 13 justices.

The bill is being proposed by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), The Washington Post reports. The Constitution does not state how many judges should sit on the Supreme Court, and it could be expanded by an act of Congress. There have been nine justices since 1869; now, there are six nominated by a Republican president and three by Democrats.

Those in favor of expanding the Supreme Court say having more justices would help prevent major decisions coming down to one "swing" justice, while also serving as a stronger check on the presidency. Last week, President Biden signed an executive order creating an independent commission to examine the structure of the Supreme Court. Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Wednesday said if "something really formal" happens with the Justice Department's investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Republican leadership will "of course react and take action."

The Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz, 38, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel out of state with him, allegations that Gaetz denies. Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican leader, told reporters that he hasn't talked to Gaetz about the investigation, but will likely meet with him later this week.

"It's serious things alleged," Scalise told reporters. "Obviously we want to get the facts." Gaetz is a member of the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees, and Scalise said GOP lawmakers who find themselves facing serious charges are removed from their committees.

Last week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) became the first Republican member of Congress to call on Gaetz to resign, and on Sunday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House GOP leader, said the allegations against Gaetz are "sickening." Catherine Garcia

April 14, 2021

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel decided in an emergency meeting on Wednesday that members need more data before voting on how to proceed with Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, the CDC and Federal Drug Administration recommended a pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women who received it developed rare brain blood clots. One of the women died. The panel is seeking more information on the clots, including the risk factors and frequency, and will reconvene in the next seven to 10 days.

Dr. Lynn Batha, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health and a member of the CDC advisory panel, said she supported extending the pause because "by having more robust information, I think we can be more confident about how we talk about the safety of this vaccine."

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is one of three authorized for use in the U.S., and because only one shot is needed and doses can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, it is considered the best option for people who are vulnerable, like those who are incarcerated or homeless. Catherine Garcia

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