What to Know
- President Trump plans to bypass lawmakers and declare a national emergency to siphon billions from other federal coffers for his border wall
- The flu vaccine is doing a relatively good job this season, protecting about half the people who got it, U.S. health officials said
- Cops threw cold water on reports 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett staged his own attack in response to his character being written off
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This newsletter will return Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Congress OKs Border Deal; Trump Will Sign, Declare Emergency
Congress lopsidedly approved a border security compromise that would avert a second painful government shutdown, but a new confrontation was ignited — this time over President Trump's plan to bypass lawmakers and declare a national emergency to siphon billions from other federal coffers for his wall on the Mexican boundary. Money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the 200-plus miles he wanted. The White House said he'd sign the legislation but act unilaterally to get more, prompting condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority. The uproar over Trump's next move cast an uncertain shadow over what had been a rare display of bipartisanship to address the grinding battle between the White House and lawmakers over border security. The Senate passed the legislation 83-16, with both parties solidly aboard. The House followed with a 300-128 tally, with Trump's signature planned Friday. Trump will speak Friday morning in the Rose Garden about border security, the White House said.
William Barr was sworn in for his second stint as the nation's attorney general, taking the helm of the Justice Department as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm the veteran government official, mostly along party lines. Barr, who also served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 during President George H.W. Bush's administration, succeeds Jeff Sessions. President Trump pushed Sessions out of office last year after railing against his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. As the country's chief law enforcement officer, Barr will oversee the remaining work in Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and decide how much Congress and the public know about its conclusion. He'll also take over a department that Trump has publicly assailed, often questioning the integrity and loyalty of those who work there. Democrats, who largely voted against Barr, said they were concerned about his noncommittal stance on making Mueller's report public. Barr promised to be as transparent as possible but said he takes seriously the Justice Department regulations that dictate Mueller's report should be treated as confidential.
Flu Vaccine Doing a Relatively Good Job This Season
The flu vaccine is doing a relatively good job this season, protecting about half the people who got it, U.S. health officials said. Preliminary figures suggest the vaccine is 47 percent effective in preventing flu illness severe enough to send someone to the doctor's office. Health officials are generally pleased if a flu vaccine works in 40 to 60 percent of people. "These are early estimates, but they are encouraging," said Dr. Alicia Fry of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Somewhere between 10,000 and 16,000 people have died from flu and its complications so far this season, according to new estimates. Last winter was dominated by a nasty kind of flu, and the vaccine's weakness against it was one reason it was the deadliest flu season in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications. This winter, in most parts of the country, most illnesses are being caused by a somewhat milder virus that vaccines tend to perform better against.
Reports of Smollett Attack Being Hoax Are 'Inaccurate,' Cops Say
The Chicago Police Department threw cold water on reports "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett staged his own attack in response to his character being written off of the show. "Media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives," CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted. "Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate." A CBS reporter also tweeted the theory, citing "top sources." A statement from 20th Century Fox Television, which produces "Empire," also denied that Smollett was being taken off the show.
Alfonso Ribeiro Denied Copyright for the 'Carlton' Dance
"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star Alfonso Ribeiro has been denied a copyright for the "Carlton" dance, which he's suing two videogame makers over. The denial from the U.S. Copyright Office was revealed in a motion to dismiss Ribeiro's lawsuit against Take-Two Interactive, the makers of NBA 2K16, which Ribeiro says illegally makes use of the dance. The document denying the copyright says the moves in the "Carlton" represent a simple dance routine rather than a work of choreography, which can be copyrighted. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for March 18. Ribeiro's dance was popularized through his character, Carlton Banks, on the 1990s sitcom. He's also suing Epic Games over the use of the dance in "Fortnite," joining several rappers suing the game over dances.