July 22, 2019

There's apparently some agreement in Washington, D.C.

The Democrat-led House and the GOP-run Senate and White House are getting close to finalizing a deal that would lift the debt ceiling for another two years, multiple sources reported Monday morning. The near deal likely won't include major spending cuts, people familiar with negotiations have said, spelling a likely defeat for deficit hawk and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Deficit ceiling talks roll around every few years, with Congress and the White House constantly having to hammer out a budget deal that usually includes lifting the federal government's debt limits. This year's deal is set to include $1.3 trillion in spending across government agencies and a two-year extension on the government's ability to borrow, The Associated Press reports. If all works out as reported, the government will likely avoid a shutdown that could've happened this coming fall.

This deal means government spending will increase "by tens of billions of dollars in the next two years," The Washington Post reports — the exact opposite of spending cuts a White House budget request spelled out earlier this year. That's quite possibly because Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is heading the talks for the White House instead of debt-reducing hardliner Mulvaney. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is meanwhile negotiating for Democrats, and both sides want to see a deal reached before Congress breaks for recess this week until late August. If a deal isn't orchestrated by September, $126 billion in automatic spending cuts will start in January, likely hitting Mnuchin's own agency. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:34 p.m.

New York's social distancing measures are working, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday, but the state is still far from being "out of the woods."

Cuomo opened his daily briefing on Wednesday with "good news," saying that "what we have done, and what we are doing, is actually working and it's making a difference," citing the fact that the state's number of new hospitalizations is down.

"We are flattening the curve by what we are doing," Cuomo said.

At the same time, the governor stressed that this flattening can only continue if New York, the hardest hit U.S. state amid the coronavirus pandemic, keeps its social distancing up.

"If we continue doing what we're doing, then we believe the curve will continue to flatten," Cuomo said. "But it's not a time to get complacent. It's not a time to do anything different than we've been doing. ... We have to remain diligent."

But then there was the "terrible" news, Cuomo said: New York has again reported its deadliest day yet with an increase in 779 fatalities in 24 hours. The governor warned the death toll will keep rising.

Later, Cuomo again stressed, "We still have more to do. We are by no means out of the woods. And do not misread what you're seeing in that data and on those charts. That is a pure product of our actions and behavior. If we behave differently, you will see those numbers change. ... If anything, we have to get more diligent, not less diligent."

Cuomo's remarks come after a similar message from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, who said Wednesday Americans should not take some "early signs of hope" as a signal to stop social distancing.

"If people start going out again, and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early," she warned. Brendan Morrow

2:31 p.m.

On Thursday, three astronauts will launch from Kazakhstan to make their way to the International Space Station, and the team has been "super vigilant" so as not to bring the novel coronavirus with them.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian astronauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will orbit Earth four times, reaching their destination six hours later, per NASA.

Having to quarantine is nothing new to astronauts. Even when there isn't an ongoing global pandemic, they are required to isolate for two weeks before launching to ensure they don't bring an illness with them, The Verge reports. But this time, when they entered quarantine, so did the rest of the world, Cassidy said.

In a normal quarantine, the astronauts could have gone to restaurants as long as they were "smart" about where they went, Cassidy told the press, but this time they were isolated to their cottages and only allowed to go get essential food.

Cassidy thought he'd be able to say goodbye to his wife on the day of the launch, but due to the pandemic, she headed back home. The crowds cheering on the astronauts and the media coverage will be noticeably absent on launch day, too. "It'll be completely quiet. There won't be anybody there," Cassidy said, per The Verge. "We'll just kind of walk out. Maybe we'll still play the music and fire the three of us up ourselves. But who knows?"

But even in space, Cassidy can't escape the reality of what is happening on Earth. "I certainly am not going to be disengaged from it thinking it's not my problem," he said. "My family is living it and my friends and my co-workers are living it in real time."

Read more at The Verge. Taylor Watson

2:31 p.m.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) called out her political opponents and the media for their "baseless" claims against in her an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Loeffler recently came under fire after it was revealed she and other lawmakers sold significant stock holdings after a closed-door briefing about novel COVID-19 coronavirus in January. Later, a financial disclosure showed that in February and March she invested in DuPont, a company that makes personal protective equipment used by first responders in the fight against the pandemic.

The senator has consistently denied any ethics violations or that she bought and sold stocks after receiving privileged information, and she doubled down in Wednesday's op-ed. Loeffler explained her investments are managed by third-party advisers who buy and sell stocks on her family's behalf and that those trades are disclosed routinely and in compliance with transparency laws.

Still, though, she said she's had enough of the "distraction" the accusations have caused, and even though they're not required to, both she and her husband are "liquidating our holdings in managed accounts and moving into exchange-traded funds and mutual funds."

Loeffler is currently facing a challenge from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who polls show is surging despite Loeffler's previous standing as the GOP's clear preference, leaving some to suggest that her latest denial and divestment may have been sparked by concerns over losing her seat as much as anything. Tim O'Donnell

Tim O'Donnell

1:09 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is out, and former President Barack Obama is maybe, possibly in.

Sanders dropped out of the 2020 race on Wednesday, saying his "path toward victory is virtually impossible" but pledging to stay on primary ballots through the Democratic National Convention to gain influence in the party. That makes former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee, and leaves Obama free to campaign for his former second in command.

Obama has refused to endorse a primary candidate since the 2020 Democratic race's jam-packed beginnings, though reports did suggest he was quietly backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Other reports suggested he wasn't thrilled about Biden getting in the race, and told Biden's campaign staff to make sure he didn't "embarrass himself." Biden meanwhile maintained he specifically asked Obama not to endorse him, though he has promised his presidency would essentially be a third Obama term.

But Sanders' departure leaves Obama with just one choice, effectively compelling him to take a stand as a Biden surrogate. Obama did reportedly expect to perform a lot of party unifying this summer, after all. There's just one problem: Obama didn't end up turning the tides when he did the same for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:07 p.m.

President Trump wasted no time commenting on Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) decision to end his Democratic presidential bid.

Trump took a shot at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for staying in the primary too long, suggesting she prevented Sanders from developing a wider coalition, and claimed the Democratic National Committee got what it wanted with Sanders' exit.

The president even went so far as to try to lure Sanders voters — many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party over the years — across the aisle and support Republicans going forward. That seems unlikely, but analysts view Trump's offer as an attempt to further divide Democrats ahead of the general election in November, when Trump will square off with former Vice President Joe Biden. Tim O'Donnell

12:30 p.m.

Chelsea Handler wants all her fans to be practicing proper precautions when leaving their homes, but she acknowledged that with "masks in short supply, we have to take matters into our own hands."

To help out anyone who's found themselves in a bind, the comedian demoed on Instagram how to transform a bra into a face mask. "Go like this," Handler said, wrapping the undergarment around her face, "and then just hook it together, like that."

Admittedly, going to the grocery store with a bra wrapped around your face could draw some stares, but Handler seemed convinced her method was good enough for anyone — "men included." Jeva Lange

12:29 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday officially conceded the Democratic presidential primary to former Vice President Joe Biden but said he will still stay on the ballot and continue to gather delegates through the party's convention.

After suspending his campaign for president, Sanders addressed supporters in a live stream, describing his decision to exit as "very difficult and painful." But he admitted it has become "virtually impossible" for him to win the Democratic nomination and he "cannot in good conscience continue" running, especially in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"If I believed that we had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign, but it's just not there," Sanders said.

Sanders also congratulated Biden, who is now the only Democratic candidate left in the race, describing him as a "very decent man." At the same time, Sanders said he will remain on the ballot in all remaining states and not stop gathering delegates.

"While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions," Sanders said.

Biden in a lengthy statement on Wednesday praised Sanders and told his supporters, "I see you, I hear you. and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us." Brendan Morrow

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