10 things you need to know today: July 17, 2020

The U.S. accuses Russia of trying to hack COVID-19 research, U.S. coronavirus infections break single-day record, and more

A health-care worker in Florida
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

1. Intelligence agencies accuse Russia of trying to steal coronavirus research

Hackers linked to Russian intelligence services are trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research, the National Security Agency and its counterparts in the United Kingdom and Canada said Thursday. The same informal group of Russian hackers, known as Cozy Bear or APT29, was blamed for hacking Democratic Party emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election. "APT29 has a long history of targeting governmental, diplomatic, think-tank, health-care, and energy organizations for intelligence gain so we encourage everyone to take this threat seriously," said Anne Neuberger, the NSA's cybersecurity director. Moscow denied involvement in the alleged hacking attempts. The Western intelligence agencies did not provide details on what organizations were targeted, or indicate that the hackers had accessed any information.


2. U.S. breaks single-day record for new coronavirus cases

The U.S. hit a single-day record for COVID-19 infections on Thursday. Reuters counted 77,217 new cases, while The New York Times' data showed just over 75,600. The previous record, about 69,000, was set last Friday. The seven-day average of daily infections is now above 63,000, from about 22,200 a month ago. The death toll on Thursday, 969, was the highest since June 10. The nationwide death toll rose above 138,000. Florida, Texas, and South Carolina all had their biggest one-day increases. It was the second time in three days that Florida's 24-hour death toll set a record. Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been hesitant to push statewide restrictions like mask mandates, which are now in place in more than half of U.S. states.

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Reuters The Miami Herald

3. Georgia sues Atlanta over mask requirement

The administration of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block Atlanta from enforcing its mask requirement. The state is challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' (D) July 10 decision to roll back the city's reopening plan to "phase one" due to surging coronavirus cases. Bottoms called for restaurants to close dining rooms, and for residents to stay home except for essential trips. Kemp said in a statement that the city policies hurt businesses and workers "struggling to survive during these difficult times." Bottoms said the city would defend the order, noting that she was among the more than 100,000 people in the state infected with the virus and saying taxpayer money would be better spent on expanded testing and contact tracing.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

4. GOP scales back Florida convention plans as coronavirus cases rise

The Republican Party is scaling back its August presidential nominating convention being held in Jacksonville, Florida, as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the Sunshine State. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel on Thursday announced that the GOP would limit admittance for the first three days of the convention to the roughly 2,500 regular delegates only, with attendance expanding to around 6,000 to 7,000 people for the last day. McDaniel also said the convention would "utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues." Organizers are reportedly considering having President Trump deliver his acceptance speech outside. The decision comes as Florida broke its one-day COVID-19 death toll on Thursday, where 156 died in the last 24 hours.

The Washington Post CNN

5. Another 1.3 million Americans file 1st-time jobless claims

The Labor Department on Thursday reported that another 1.3 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, slightly more than expected. Another 920,000-plus filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in 47 states. Factoring the two figures together, the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz noted that it was the 17th straight week with more than twice as many Americans filing for unemployment benefits than did during the worst week of the Great Recession, when the most jobless claims filed in one week was 665,000 in March 2009. Over the course of the past 17 weeks, more than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

CNN MarketWatch

6. 15 ex-Redskins employees say they were sexually harassed on the job

Fifteen women told The Washington Post that they were subjected to sexual harassment while working for the Washington Redskins football team. Emily Applegate said on the record that the former chief operating officer called her "f---ing stupid" and once asked her to wear a tight dress to a meeting "so the men in the room have something to look at," the newspaper reported on Thursday. The other 14 accusers spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a fear they would be sued for violating nondisclosure agreements. The NFL team declined a request from the Post to authorize the women to speak, but said it had hired a D.C. lawyer "to conduct a thorough independent review ... and help the team set new employee standards for the future."

The Washington Post

7. USA Today says Navarro op-ed criticizing Fauci didn't meet standards

USA Today on Wednesday acknowledged that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro made errors in his Tuesday op-ed attacking Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, and said the piece "did not meet USA Today's fact-checking standards." The newspaper faced intense criticism over Navarro's comments, which included the allegation that Fauci "fought against the president's courageous decision" to limit travel from China to slow the spread of the outbreak in its early days. That sentence now links to a fact-check site that says available evidence indicates it is "not accurate to say that Fauci criticized the president's decision to restrict travel with China." President Trump has distanced himself from Navarro, saying he "made a statement representing himself," and "shouldn't be doing that."

USA Today The Washington Post

8. U.S. executes 2nd federal prisoner after two-decade hiatus

The federal government on Thursday carried out its second execution in three days, after the Supreme Court ruled that the executions could go forward. It had been nearly two decades since the last federal execution. Lawyers for the inmate executed by lethal injection on Thursday, Wesley Ira Purkey, had argued that he was unfit to be put to death because he had dementia. Purkey was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing 16-year-old Jennifer Long, then dismembering her and dumping her body in a septic pond. His last words in the Indiana execution chamber were: "This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever. Thank you." Long's father, William Long, said he was glad the wait for justice was over, and he hoped Purkey "rots in hell."

The Associated Press

9. Democratic challengers outraise Republican senators in key races

Democratic challengers outraised Republican senators up for re-elections in at least a dozen races in the second quarter of 2020, according to newly filed reports. In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham brought in nearly three times as much as Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis. In Maine, Democrat Sara Gideon raised $9.4 million compared to Republican Sen. Susan Collins' $3.6 million. Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly hauled in $24 million, doubling GOP Sen. Martha McSally's total on hand at the end of June. The Democrats' advantage came as President Trump's poll numbers have fallen as he faces criticism for his response to the coronavirus crisis and protests against police brutality and racial injustice that erupted after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

USA Today

10. Trump's niece says he has used anti-Semitic and racist slurs

Mary Trump, author of a new tell-all family memoir, said in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday that she has heard her uncle, President Trump, use both racist and anti-Semitic slurs. She told The Washington Post earlier Thursday that growing up, she witnessed "knee-jerk anti-Semitism" and "knee-jerk racism" in her family. Maddow asked Mary Trump about this, and whether she ever heard her uncle "express either anti-Semitic slurs or the n-word or other racist slurs." Trump quickly responded, "Oh yeah, of course I did. I don't think that should surprise anybody given how virulently racist he is today." Maddow followed up by asking if she heard the president use the n-word, and Trump replied, "Yeah." Within the last month, President Trump has defended Confederate statues and retweeted a video of a supporter yelling, "White power!"

MSNBC The Washington Post

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.