July 23, 2020

Look what coronavirus quarantine made Taylor Swift do: put together a surprise new album.

Swift on Thursday revealed that at midnight, she's releasing a previously-unannounced eighth studio album that she wrote and recorded "in isolation" called Folklore.

"Most of the things I had planned this summer didn't end up happening, but there is something I hadn't planned on that did happen," Swift wrote. "And that thing is my eighth studio album, Folklore. ... Tonight at midnight I'll be releasing my entire brand new album of songs I've poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into."

Swift, who just released her seventh studio album Lover in 2019, said that although the music was recorded in isolation, she still managed to collaborate with Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver, William Bowery, and Jack Antonoff. In terms of the release, she described how she might have previously "overthought" when to put the album out, but "the times we're living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed." The album's standard edition will have 16 songs, and a music video for the song "Cardigan," which she directed, is coming out tonight.

Earlier this year, Swift canceled all of her scheduled 2020 performances due to the coronavirus pandemic including her Lover Fest, at the time telling fans, "I'll see you on stage as soon as I can." Brendan Morrow

9:04 p.m.

President Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, the Pentagon said. This is the Biden administration's first military action.

The strikes were in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq, including one earlier this month in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. This attack killed one non-American civilian contractor and injured a U.S. service member and several American contractors.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the strikes destroyed several facilities at a "border control point" used by the Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada militant groups. "President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel," Kirby stated. "At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq."

A U.S. official told Reuters by having airstrikes that are limited in scope, Biden sent a message to the Iranian-backed militias without sparking a bigger conflict. Kata'ib Hezbollah is the primary Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, and earlier this week the group said it wasn't behind any recent rocket attacks. Catherine Garcia

8:13 p.m.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday evening that Democrats cannot include a $15 per hour minimum wage increase in their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough determined that the policy did not meet the standard for it to be included under budget reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass bills with a simple majority.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats are "deeply disappointed in this decision. We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families." President Biden has said he will back a standalone bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Catherine Garcia

7:54 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will "absolutely" support the 2024 Republican nominee for president, even if it is someone he said was "practically and morally responsible" for provoking an attack on the Capitol.

During a Fox News interview on Thursday evening, McConnell was asked by host Bret Baier about the next presidential election. McConnell said he believes that at least four GOP senators will run, as well as a few governors "and others." Baier pressed McConnell or whether he would back former President Donald Trump if he wins the nomination, and McConnell responded that yes, he "absolutely" will.

Earlier this month, McConnell voted to acquit Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection, but just minutes later said the former president was "practically and morally responsible for provoking" the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Trump fed "wild falsehoods" to his base about a stolen election, McConnell said, because he was "angry" over losing, and his actions ahead of the riot "were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty." Catherine Garcia

6:45 p.m.

President Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Thursday, their first phone call since Biden's inauguration.

The conversation took place before the expected release of a U.S. intelligence report on the killing of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. In 2018, Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, with his body dismembered by Saudi agents. It was reported soon after that the CIA concluded with high confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto leader, ordered the murder. The Saudi government and former President Donald Trump pinned the blame on "rogue" agents.

The White House readout of Thursday's call does not mention Khashoggi, but says Biden "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law" and told King Salman "he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible." Catherine Garcia

5:32 p.m.

The House voted on Thursday to pass the Equality Act, an LGBTQ rights bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

The bill passed with a 224-206 vote, with three Republican lawmakers joining all Democrats in supporting its passage. The Equality Act is essentially an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, writes CNN, noting it's intended to expand protections against discrimination in housing, employment, and various public spaces. The act previously passed the House in 2019, but was not taken up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Even now that Democrats narrowly control the Senate, the bill is likely to hit some roadblocks, reports Bloomberg. It will likely need 60 Senate votes to overcome a legislative filibuster, not a simple majority, and many Republicans say it infringes on religious freedoms. Though President Biden has said he would sign it into law, Bloomberg's Steven Dennis predicts it "will likely need amendments to win over 10 Senate Rs."

The lead-up to the bill's passage brought some tensions between lawmakers to the surface. The Washington Post reports that after the bill was debated, Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) hung a transgender pride flag outside her office, only for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to see it and hang a sign reading "There are TWO genders: Male & Female. Trust The Science!" in direct response to Newman, who has a transgender daughter. Many Democrats and some Republicans were quick to castigate Greene, who later argued the Equality Act "is about causing discrimination against women and religious freedom." Summer Meza

5:03 p.m.

Former U.S. gymnastics coach John Geddert was found dead just hours after Michigan's attorney general announced 20 human trafficking charges against him.

The head coach of the U.S. gymnastics team at the 2012 Olympics was charged Thursday with 20 counts of human trafficking, including forced labor resulting in injury and trafficking involving a minor, as well as charges of racketeering, lying to police, and criminal sexual contact. Geddert had agreed to turn himself in to police Thursday afternoon, but never showed up, a spokesperson for the attorney general said. Police soon found he had died by suicide.

Geddert had close ties with Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for the U.S. and Michigan State gymnastics teams who was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for sexually assaulting and abusing patients, many of them minors. Geddert owned Twistars Gym in Michigan, where some of Nassar's victims said he assaulted them. One of the criminal sexual conduct charges also alleges Geddert assaulted a girl under the age of 16.

"John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told reporters Thursday. She then detailed the disordered eating, "suicide attempts and self-harm," and "extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse" the victims say they endured, adding that many "still carry these scars from his behavior to this day." Kathryn Krawczyk

4:21 p.m.

President Biden is urging Americans not to let their guards down as COVID-19 cases decline in the United States, warning they still "could go back up."

Biden spoke during an event on Thursday celebrating that 50 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the country since he took office, halfway to the administration's goal of 100 million doses in his first 100 days. But while the president hailed this milestone, he still cautioned against declaring premature victory in the pandemic.

"While COVID-19 vaccinations are up, COVID cases and hospitalizations are coming down," Biden said. "But I need to be honest with you: cases and hospitalizations could go back up with new variants as they emerge. So I want to make something really very clear: this is not a time to relax."

Biden urged Americans to continue to wash their hands, practice social distancing, and "for God's sake, wear a mask," as "the worst thing we could do now is let our guard down."

"This is not a victory lap," Biden went on to say. "Everything is not fixed. We have a long way to go."

The vaccination event came after the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday confirmed that Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine candidate is safe and effective, potentially clearing the way for it to be approved for emergency use by this weekend. Biden said Thursday that should the FDA approve this third vaccine, "we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it." Brendan Morrow

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