March 25, 2020

Fox is set to air what sounds like the most entertaining Zoom conference call of all time.

Elton John this weekend will host a benefit concert amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic featuring performances from Alicia Keys, the Backstreet Boys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mariah Carey, Tim McGraw, and more, Entertainment Weekly reports.

But given the social distancing guidelines being followed throughout the country to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, these stars will all be performing "from their own homes, filmed with their personal cell phones, cameras and audio equipment, to ensure the health and safety of all involved," the announcement said. They're calling it the Living Room Concert for America.

This concert is airing on Fox, as well as iHeartMedia radio stations, instead of the iHeartRadio Music Awards, which had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes after The Late Late Show host James Corden also set a special for next week filmed from his garage in which celebrities will join him from their homes, including Billie Eilish and John Legend.

The hour-long Living Room Concert for America will air without commercials and will call on viewers to support Feeding America and First Responders Children's Foundation, as well as "pay tribute to the front line health professionals, first responders and local heroes who are putting their lives in harm's way to help their neighbors and fight the spread of the virus," the announcement said. The stars will have their performances beamed from their living room to yours this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Fox. Brendan Morrow

8:49 a.m.

With a flying leap off a balcony, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski became a WWE champion on Sunday night.

Gronk, who was the host of the two-day WrestleMania 36 in Orlando, Florida, had said earlier in the show that "I've won three major championships in my life and that's cool and all, but that's in the past. I wouldn't mind winning the 24/7 title before the end of tonight." And that he did, by vaulting over a balcony railing to flatten a crowd of wrestlers and pin his friend, Mojo Rawley, in order to take the 24/7 championship belt — which, as the name suggests, can be defended anytime anywhere.

ESPN reports that "Gronk relinquished his hosting duties and left the event immediately after winning the title." Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m.

Wisconsin's presidential primary remains scheduled for Tuesday with in-person voting even amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an idea a group of mayors is calling "irresponsible and contrary to public health."

Amid calls for Wisconsin to postpone its primary as other states have done in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers (D), who previously issued a safer-at-home order, recently called a special session of the GOP-held legislature to consider canceling in-person voting and extending the deadline to mail in ballots. The legislature ultimately didn't do so. Wisconsin general elections are also set for Tuesday.

Now, a group of 10 Wisconsin mayors, including the mayor of Milwaukee, have written to the state's top health official, Department of Human Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, asking her to take action and close the buildings where voting is to take place, Politico reports.

"We need you to step up and stop the state of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads," the letter, signed by 10 Wisconsin mayors representing 1.3 million people, reads. "...We believe it would be irresponsible and contrary to public health to conduct in-person voting throughout the state at the very time this disease is spreading rapidly."

Politico notes that in Ohio, the governor's top health official shuttered polling places when that state's primary was scheduled for March 17. In that case, Ohio subsequently extended absentee voting until April 28.

The Wisconsin mayors in their letter also urge the state's legislature to meet before Tuesday in order to "craft a procedure that protects public health and protects the right to vote," which they suggest would be "to mail every registered voter a ballot."

As the voting remains set to go ahead for now, NPR reports that "clerks are now dealing with a shortage of about 7,000 poll workers across the state." Brendan Morrow

8:10 a.m.

Ukrainian firefighters battled two wildfires on Sunday and Monday near the Chernobyl nuclear power station, which was evacuated during the Soviet era after a 1986 nuclear-reactor explosion, The Associated Press reports. Radiation levels at blazes, which covered dozens of acres in the 1,000-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, rose to 16 times above normal, said the head of the state ecological inspection service, Yehor Firsov.

The zone has been unpopulated, except for about 200 people who refuse to leave, since the disaster at the plant produced a cloud of radioactive fallout that drifted over Europe. Fires in the forests around the shuttered plant have been common. Radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, remained within the normal range. Harold Maass

6:47 a.m.

President Trump informed Congress late Friday that he intends to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson after a mandatory 30-day period but also said he was placing Atkinson on immediate administrative leave. "Inspectors general are traditionally removed for 'cause' — usually involving misconduct," The Washington Post notes. "In Atkinson's case, there was no apparent misconduct. Rather, Trump said in a letter to Congress on Friday night that it was 'no longer the case' that Atkinson had his 'fullest confidence.'"

In a press conference Saturday, Trump strongly suggested he was sacking Atkinson for informing Congress about the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that, once largely confirmed, led to Trump's impeachment. "I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible," Trump told reporters. "He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress." Atkinson released an unusual statement Sunday night defending his handling of the Ukraine matter and saying "it is hard not to think that the president's loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial inspector general."

Democrats and some Senate Republicans criticized the late-night sacking, and Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general and chairman of a council of federal inspectors general, said Atkinson was known by his peers for "integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight," including "his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then-acting director of national intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done 'by the book' and consistent with the law."

Trump also announced Friday night he intends to nominate a White House lawyer, Brian Miller, as special inspector general for a $500 billion coronavirus relief fund and replace Glenn Fine, the well-regarded acting inspector general of the Defense Department, with Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Horowitz had tapped Fine as inspector general of the entire $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package. Peter Weber

5:28 a.m.

President Trump "has made no secret of his disdain for the media," but his COVID-19 press conferences have "highlighted the fact that there is one media outlet he seems to really enjoy calling on," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "OAN stands for One America News, and when you hear the kinds of questions that they ask, you begin to see why Trump calls on them so much." He showed some of the moments that "explain why Trump has such a love affair with OAN," explained "they're punching way above their weight right now," and took "a look at who they are and what they do."

For starters, "OAN is the brain-child of Robert Herring, conservative millionaire," and "since its birth, OAN has been a home for extreme conservatism" and even conspiracy theories, including that the coronavirus originated as a bioweapon in North Carolina, Oliver said. "The whole selling point for OAN is that they are Fox News with even less shame and even fewer scruples. In fact, they're so flagrantly smitten with Trump their network account actually tweeted a "pathetically thirsty" complaint about Trump not thanking them, his "greatest supporters."

"I know that it is easy to dismiss OAN as just a stupid, little-watched, borderline self-parody," Oliver said. "The problem is, if we're learning one thing right now, it's that toxic things that start small can get big fast, and it's dangerous to ignore them. And right now, the president's putting a lot of energy into boosting OAN's profile," even inviting back OAN's White House correspondent after the White House Correspondents' Association revoked her seat for flouting social-distancing rules.

This Trump-OAN symbiosis "is a problem," Oliver said. "In the best of times, you can laugh at an almost Anchorman-esque parody of right-wing news, but much like the problem with Anchorman 2, it's just not the right time for Ron Burgundy right now. OAN's weird combination of far-right-wing talking points and dirt-stupid reporting is incredibly dangerous at a time like this." In fact, some of the "misinformation OAN is spewing right now could end up getting people killed," he said. "And sadly, their message is getting actively spread by the White House." (There is NSFW language.) Peter Weber

3:53 a.m.

President Trump has made it pretty clear he doesn't think the federal government has more than an advisory and support role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to ensuring U.S. states and health-care systems have adequate medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight the coronavirus. State officials have gotten the message. Procuring ventilators and PPE has proved especially tricky, though, with state and local governments forced to bid against each other — and the federal government.

And the bidding isn't fair. Trump has used the Defense Production Act to compel companies to sell medical supplies to the federal government before states or hospitals, Kaiser Health News reports, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) is the most prominent, but not the only, state official to say federal authorities seized shipments of masks the state had ordered from private wholesalers. It isn't clear what the federal government plans to do with these supplies.

"Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it's supposed to be shipped and it's typically the federal government has bought it," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said Saturday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has described trying to buy ventilators and masks as "like being on eBay with 50 other states," while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Sunday's Meet the Press that "it literally is a global jungle that we're competing in now" and he'd "like to see a better way."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a news conference last week that states are starting to band together "to see if we can help procure not only a reduction in costs per unit, but also procure a mindset where we're not playing in the margins of a zero sum where it's us versus them" on buying needed supplies. Cuomo suggested "we need a nationwide buying consortium."

"By delegating significant responsibility to state leaders and the business community, Trump can continue to approach his job as he often has: as a spectator pundit-in-chief, watching events unfold on television with the rest of the nation and weighing in with colorful Twitter commentary," The Associated Press notes. But letting the governors take charge carries political risks, too. Peter Weber

2:02 a.m.

With their lights flashing and sirens blaring, fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars made their way through the streets of Osseo, Wisconsin, on Saturday, putting on a parade for kids celebrating their birthdays inside while in quarantine.

First responders with the Osseo Rural Fire Department, Trempealeau County Sheriff's Department, Osseo Police Department, and Mayo Clinic all participated.

Firefighter Chris Cuddy told WQOW that being in quarantine is "very hard on the children. They can't go to school to see their friends. They're having these birthday parties with just what they have at home and their friends aren't able to come. Maybe what we're doing today will bring some joy to them, make them a little bit happy on their birthday."

This wasn't a one-time only event — parents can request birthday parades for their children through the Osseo Rural Fire Department. Catherine Garcia

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