October 23, 2020

Developers will start rolling out their COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months, leaving U.S. health officials to test their long-term safety. But that won't be easy, especially given that the Trump administration quietly shut down the office responsible for ensuring the safety of vaccines last year, The New York Times reports.

Before the late 1980s, vaccine safety relied on parents, doctors, vaccine makers, and hospitals to step forward and report symptoms they feared were connected to a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then worked out a new system that sought out clusters of symptoms among people who receive a vaccine, and expanded that oversight during the H1N1 epidemic of 2009. This system helped the U.S. figure out which symptoms actually popped up long after a vaccine was injected, and which were just coincidental.

But in 2019, the National Vaccine Program Office was shut down in an effort to cut costs and "eliminate program redundancies," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote at the time. The shortsightedness of that shutdown has come into clear view amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Dr. Nicole Lurie, who who was assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS during the 2009 pandemic. FDA and CDC staffers have reportedly been meeting up on their own time to cobble some safety projects together. "There's no sort of active coordination to bring all the information together," Lurie told the Times.

Other vaccine experts and political scientists have their own concerns: foreign disinformation campaigns, a lack of transparency, proper communications to clear up health issues unrelated to vaccines, to name a few. A coordinated vaccine office would be tasked with handling all of that. Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:16 a.m.

Guitar Center filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Saturday, with CEO Ron Japinga saying this is "an important and positive step in our process to significantly reduce our debt."

Based in California, Guitar Center opened in 1959, and is the largest musical instrument store in the U.S. The company, which has more than 13,000 employees, said it will keep all 510 of its stores open through the holidays.

Guitar Center declared in court documents that it was on "extraordinarily sound footing" before the pandemic, and its sales dropped primarily because of stores having to close due to the coronavirus. Company officials said Guitar Center has more than $1.3 billion in debt, and under a reorganization plan, that number will be reduced by nearly $800 million, CBS News reports.

Several major retailers have filed for bankruptcy protection amid the pandemic, including Neiman Marcus, Hertz, and J.C. Penney. Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for a cruise missile attack against an oil facility in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The missile hit a fuel tank at a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. facility on Monday morning, and an Energy Ministry official said the strike caused a fire. The facility is near the King Abdulaziz International Airport.

In 2015, the Iranian-backed Houthis seized Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Since then, a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the rebels, resulting in a humanitarian catastrophe. The Houthis have used cruise missiles against Saudi targets before, The Associated Press reports, with United Nations and Western officials accusing Iran of supplying the weapons, allegations Tehran has denied.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Col. Turki al-Maliki, called the missile attack "cowardly," adding that it "not only targets the kingdom, but also targets the nerve center of the world's energy supply and the security of the global economy." Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

The White House is still going to hold indoor parties this holiday season, with first lady Melania Trump's spokeswoman saying attending the celebrations "will be a very personal choice."

The number of coronavirus cases is surging across the United States, with the highest-ever number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, but invitations still went out for a Nov. 30 event hosted by the first lady, ABC News reports. The White House has held events linked to coronavirus outbreaks before, including a ceremony in September to introduce President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's spokeswoman, told NBC News in a statement that the holiday celebrations will be held in the "safest environment possible," with masks "required and available" and plenty of hand sanitizer. The guest lists will be smaller, she continued, and attendees will be served "food individually plated by chefs at plexiglass-protected food stations," with all passed beverages covered.


"Attending the parties will be a very personal choice," Grisham said. "It is a longstanding tradition for people to visit and enjoy the cheer and iconic decor of the annual White House Christmas celebrations."

If he receives an invitation, Surgeon General Jerome Adams is probably going to RSVP "no," seeing as how earlier Monday he said it was important for people to "understand that these holiday parties can be superspreader events." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends holding any celebration outside with just a handful of people, and Adams said these guidelines "apply to the White House, they apply to the American people, they apply to everyone." Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday said she will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position of any committees next year.

Feinstein is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and if the Democrats take control of the Senate in January, she would have been in line to become its first female chairman, the Los Angeles Times reports. Feinstein said she will remain on several committees next year, including judiciary and intelligence.

In a statement, Feinstein said California is "a huge state confronting two existential threats — wildfire and drought — that are only getting worse with climate change. In the next Congress, I plan to increase my attention on those two crucial issues. I also believe that defeating COVID-19, combating climate change, and protecting access to health care are critical national priorities that require even more concentration."

Feinstein faced heavy criticism from progressive lawmakers and organizations last month after she embraced Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the end of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She also stated, "This has been one of the best set of hearings that I've participated in." After fielding complaints about Feinstein and whether she is tough enough on Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had a "very serious" conversation with her.

Feinstein is 87 years old, and the Times notes her announcement will likely renew speculation that she won't finish the entirety of her term. Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

President Trump has yet to concede the election, and New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman thinks his Monday evening tweet about what is in "the best interest of our country" is "the closest to a concession Trump is going to get."

Trump wrote that he spoke to Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, and recommended that she "do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols," adding that he has "told my team to do the same." Murphy needed to ascertain the election in order to formally start the transition process, and after weeks of delays, she sent President-elect Joe Biden a letter on Monday telling him the transition can officially start.

Haberman tweeted that she's been told some of Trump's advisers "had been urging him" to let the transition begin before Thanksgiving, "even if he never said the word 'concede.'" Between the Trump campaign and other Republicans, more than 30 lawsuits have been filed in six swing states, in an attempt to contest the election results, NBC News reports. Despite Trump and members of his legal team claiming there has been widespread voter fraud, no court has found a single piece of evidence.

Trump's election legal team is being led by his longtime friend and personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City. Giuliani has been "key in stoking Trump's conspiracy theories," Haberman said, but people with knowledge of the matter told her that a recent court loss in Pennsylvania made Trump realize "Giuliani was not painting an honest picture" of his chances of actually changing the election results. Giuliani, she added, took control of Trump's legal team after the campaign dropped a lawsuit in Maricopa County, Arizona, and he warned Trump that "other advisers were lying to him." Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, notified President-elect Joe Biden in a letter on Monday that her office is prepared to start the formal presidential transition process.

The transition was delayed by several weeks because Murphy would not ascertain that Biden presumptively won, a decision Democrats and Republicans alike criticized for harming national security and slowing down the fight against the coronavirus. Biden can now receive federal funds and have access to government agencies and resources.

Murphy wrote in her letter that she was "never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA." Shortly after her letter was made public, President Trump tweeted his thanks to Murphy for her "steadfast dedication and loyalty to our country." He claimed she has been "harassed, threatened, and abused," adding that while he will "keep up the good fight" in his attempt to overturn the election results, he is "recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same." Catherine Garcia

November 23, 2020

What does the future of Jeopardy! look like after the death of Alex Trebek? We just got a better idea.

The game show on Monday announced plans to resume production on Nov. 30 with a "series of interim guest hosts from within the Jeopardy! family" following Trebek's death earlier this month. The first interim host will be Ken Jennings, who holds the Jeopardy! record for highest winnings in regular-season play and in January won the show's "Greatest of All Time" tournament.

"Alex believed in the importance of Jeopardy! and always said that he wanted the show to go on after him," executive producer Mike Richards said in a statement. "We will honor Alex's legacy by continuing to produce the game he loved with smart contestants and challenging clues. By bringing in familiar guest hosts for the foreseeable future, our goal is to create a sense of community and continuity for our viewers."

Producers didn't announce who any of the subsequent interim hosts after Jennings will be but said more will be revealed "in the weeks ahead." It's also unclear when Jeopardy! might select a host to replace Trebek permanently, although this run of guests could potentially serve as a series of auditions for the gig. Jennings, who already joined Jeopardy! as a producer this year, has been widely seen as among the most likely contenders for the job.

Jennings' first episode is set to air on Jan. 11. Brendan Morrow

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