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February 28, 2021

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday defended President Biden's response to a United States intelligence report that directly linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but questions over whether the administration went far enough seem likely to remain.

The Biden administration announced sanctions on dozens of Saudis involved in Khashoggi's killing, but did not include any direct penalties on the crown prince. Psaki said "historically" presidential administrations have not imposed sanctions on leaders of foreign governments with whom the U.S. has diplomatic relations. "We believe there are more effective ways to make sure this doesn't happen again," she told CNN's Dana Bash, adding that the White House wants to leave room to work with Riyadh on areas where the two governments agree.

Bash seemed unconvinced by Psaki's explanation, questioning if Biden's response really holds the crown prince accountable, and she wasn't alone. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Biden deserves "credit" for the sanctions that were announced and acknowledged it's a challenging situation for the new administration, but said "there ought to be something additional" focused on Salman. Portman's fellow Ohioan Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) agreed further steps are needed to hold the Saudi royal family accountable, though he told a skeptical Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press that he doesn't think Friday's sanctions represent the final say on the matter. Tim O'Donnell

February 28, 2021

There are now three COVID-19 vaccines with approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said people shouldn't overthink which one to get.

Making the network rounds on Sunday, Fauci repeatedly assured audiences all three were highly "efficacious," even though the trial numbers from Johnson & Johnson's recently-authorized single-dose shot appear less impressive than the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech candidates. He explained that while it's understandable that someone might prefer to wait until a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available based on the numbers, the candidates really haven't been compared head-to-head.

Fauci said multiple times Sunday that he would take the Johnson & Johnson shot without hesitation. Fauci did acknowledge he's already been fully inoculated with the Moderna vaccine, but told CNN's Dana Bash that "if I were not vaccinated now, and I had a choice of getting a J & J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible."

Fauci wasn't alone in encouraging people to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also said he would take it, explaining the trial data was indeed "quite strong." Tim O'Donnell

February 21, 2021

Bad weather wreaked havoc across much of the United States last week, especially in Texas. The resulting power outages and water shortages proved to be serious consequences on their own, but, like everything else in the past year, the deadly storm did not occur outside the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and it led to a slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday acknowledged the setback, but was optimistic it was only a temporary one. Indeed, 2 million of the 6 million doses that were delayed are already making their way to vaccination sites, Fauci said. He then predicted things will be back on track by the middle of the week.

Of course, delivery is just one aspect of distribution, but Houston, Texas, Mayor Sylvester Turner said vaccination sites were up and running again in his city, which was hit hard by the weather, on Saturday, and the major Federal Emergency Management Agency site will open Monday. He anticipates more than 100,000 people will get vaccinated in Texas' largest city this week. Tim O'Donnell

February 21, 2021

"It will be weeks, not months," before the United States has prepared a response to a major cyberattack allegedly carried out by the Russian government that included breaches of several U.S. federal agencies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Sunday.

Sullivan said the Biden administration has first asked the American intelligence community to keep gathering information on "how precisely this hack occurred" and to get a better sense of what the "scope and scale" of the damage is, but once that gets done, the U.S. will make its move.

Brennan, pointing out that simply sanctioning the Kremlin hasn't deterred Russian President Vladimir Putin over the years, asked Sullivan if the U.S. will consider other actions, as well. Sullivan did confirm the response "will not simply be sanctions because a response to a set of activities" like the hack "requires a more comprehensive set of tools," but he didn't provide any specifics, stating only that the U.S. will use "a mix of tools seen and unseen." Tim O'Donnell

February 14, 2021

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Sunday that there needs to be a "plan B" in areas where the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is widely used.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be quite effective in trials, but early findings suggest a drop in its ability to protect against the so-called South African variant. That's troubling because the vaccine is widely seen as a game-changer due to its lower-cost and easy storage method, making it the most likely to candidate to reach harder-to-access communities around the world, especially in developing nations. If the South African variant eventually becomes the dominant source of infections in those areas, that could put things back at square one.

The problem is, Gottlieb explained, the most logical replacement shot — the Johnson & Johnson candidate (which isn't on the market yet) — may be rendered ineffective in people who have already taken the Oxford vaccine since both rely on adenoviruses to draw an immune response. Gottlieb clarified that the latter point is not proven, but the risk is there until data becomes clear. In that case, he said the answer may be to turn to the vaccines that use mRNA technology, such as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, instead, but they present significant distribution challenges. Tim O'Donnell

February 14, 2021

There was a moment Saturday when it looked like former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial would extend into next week. The Senate had surprisingly voted to consider hearing from witnesses, and it appeared as if both sides were going to call people into testify. But after a quick recess, the Democratic House impeachment managers entered one final piece of evidence into the record, and the trial moved into the closing argument phase before Trump was acquitted by the upper chamber, as many expected.

Democrats were criticized for caving, but several impeachment managers pushed back on that idea Sunday. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) told CNN's Jake Tapper that she understands the frustration, but said gathering testimony from individuals who were near Trump on Jan. 6 during the Capitol riot would have required a lengthy subpoena process, and many of them would have been "hostile witnesses." Plaskett argued the impeachment managers had put forth "sufficient evidence" to prove Trump incited an insurrection, either way. "We didn't need more witnesses," she said. "We needed more senators with spines."

Her colleagues, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), agreed. Raskin told NBC's Chuck Todd that even if "a thousand witnesses" had testified, he doesn't think they would have been able to persuade enough Republican senators to flip their votes. Dean put it simply to ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "America witnessed this. We were in a room full of witnesses and victims." Tim O'Donnell

February 7, 2021

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) does not appear to be fazed by the backlash she's facing in her home state. A day after the Wyoming GOP formally censured Cheney and threatened to withhold future political funding for her because she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, the No. 3 House Republican continued to speak out against Trump, telling Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday that her party "should not be embracing the former president."

"We're the party of Abraham Lincoln, we're the party of Ronald Reagan," she said. "We have to really take a hard look at who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe in."

Trump's actions leading up to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot disqualify him from leading the GOP in Cheney's eyes. "We have to make sure that we are able to convey to the American voters we are the party of responsibility, we are the party of truth ... that's going to require us to focus on substance and policies and issues going forward," she said.

Cheney does appear to have the support of most of her Republican colleagues in the lower chamber, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), but as her criticism of Trump strengthens, it doesn't look like the faction of the party that opposes her will be going away quietly. Tim O'Donnell

February 7, 2021

President Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei do not appear to be on the same page, potentially leaving Washington and Tehran in a stalemate.

Iranian state television on Sunday quoted Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran, as saying the U.S. "must lift all sanctions" if it wants Iran to return to the commitments it made under the 2015 nuclear deal. "This is the definitive and irreversible policy of the Islamic Republic, and all of the country's officials are unanimous on this, and no one will deviate from it," he said.

Biden, meanwhile, in a pre-taped interview with CBS News' Norah O'Donnell that will air Sunday ahead of the Super Bowl, said the opposite. And he sounded pretty definitive, providing O'Donnell with a simple, but authoritative "no" when she asked if the U.S. would consider lifting sanctions first.

Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear pact, and Iran has recently begun enriching its uranium, raising concerns it could soon reach weapons-grade levels. Biden wants to revive the agreement, which set limits on Iran's uranium, and Khamenei signed off on the deal in 2015, when Biden was vice president, so there's reason to believe both sides remain open to it. But it doesn't look like the impasse will end any time soon. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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