Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 30, 2020

Harold Maass
A health-care worker in Maryland
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

1.

U.S. coronavirus death toll surpasses 150,000

The United States coronavirus death toll surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Florida on Wednesday reported 216 new coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, setting a state single-day record for new infections for the second consecutive day. The previous day the state recorded 186 deaths. Florida health authorities confirmed 9,446 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state's total to more than 450,000. Three Florida universities — the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, and the University of South Florida — are among the seven U.S. universities with the most coronavirus cases this year. Florida, California, and Texas all have set seven-day records for virus deaths this week. [The Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times]

2.

Federal agents to withdraw from Portland, governor says

The Trump administration on Thursday will start a "phased withdrawal" of federal agents who have clashed with anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced Wednesday. Brown tweeted that the agreement came after she spoke about the matter with Vice President Mike Pence. "They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence," Brown said in a Twitter post. "Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland." Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the agents would leave if there is a significant easing of the "violent activity" that had been directed at officers protecting the federal courthouse. He said the deal calls for "a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland." [CNBC, The Washington Post]

3.

Fed vows to keep interest rates near zero to aid recovery

Federal Reserve policy makers said Wednesday that they had agreed to keep their benchmark interest rate near zero to boost the economy as a renewed rise in coronavirus cases threatens the recovery. "The increase in virus cases and the renewed measures to control it are starting to weigh on economic activity," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said. The U.S. central bank's policy statement directly linked the prospects for an economic recovery to the resolving of the coronavirus crisis, as the expiration of extra unemployment benefits and other relief programs looms with lawmakers still debating whether to end, extend, or replace them. Fed leaders renewed their promise to use their "full range of tools," including keeping interest rates near zero, to keep the economy afloat. [Reuters]

4.

Gohmert tests positive for coronavirus, blames mask

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert tested positive for COVID-19 early Wednesday. Gohmert's infection was detected when he was tested at the White House before he was to travel to Texas with President Trump. Attorney General William Barr came into contact with Gohmert during a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill. Gohmert wore a mask during the much of the hearing but was later seen without one near Barr, who will undergo testing. Gohmert has frequently refused to wear a face covering on Capitol Hill. He said he had worn one frequently in recent weeks, and speculated that he might have put "some of the virus on the mask and breathed it in," which is not how doctors say COVID-19 is transmitted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was "sorry" for Gohmert, "but I'm also sorry my members are concerned because he has been showing up at meetings without a mask and making a thing of it." [CNBC, The Hill]

5.

Tech leaders grilled in House antitrust hearing

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified via videoconference before Congress on Wednesday, facing questions from members of a House subcommittee investigating their business practices as part of a 13-month antitrust probe. Committee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said the investigation had convinced him that the tech giants have abused their power to "shake down small businesses and enrich themselves while choking off competitors" and putting democracy at risk. "Our founders would not bow before a king. Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy," Cicilline said. The CEOs argued they faced plenty of competition and defended their roles in modern society. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

6.

Pelosi makes masks mandatory on House floor

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that all lawmakers and their staffers are now required to wear masks while in the House chamber. Members of Congress won't be allowed to enter without a face covering, although they will be able to remove them briefly while speaking or drinking. Pelosi said she wants to see everyone "adhere to this requirement as a sign of respect for the health, safety, and well-being of others present in the chamber and surrounding areas." Failure to comply will be a "serious breach of decorum" that could result in removal from the floor, according to a memo announcing the policy. The mandate came after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who often declined to wear a mask, announced he tested positive for the coronavirus. [CNN, The Washington Post]

7.

U.S. to move 12,000 troops out of Germany

The United States is cutting its troops in Germany from 36,000 to 24,000, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday. Some of the military service members will be moved to Belgium and Italy. About 6,400 will be sent back to the U.S. President Trump said Germany is "delinquent" on fulfilling its commitment to spend two percent of its gross domestic product on defense. The move was expected to anger members of both parties, European leaders, and others who believe the move will undermine a key alliance. "This is so clearly a punitive move against Germany that it's hard to see any benefit from this," said Rachel Rizzo, the director of programs at the Truman Center for National Policy. [The New York Times]

8.

Temperature reaches record 125 degrees in Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, endured its two hottest days on record Tuesday and Wednesday, 125 and 124 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. The previous record of 123.8 degrees was set on July 30, 2015. The heat forced many residents indoors, and failing power grids left many residents depending on generators to power their refrigerators, fans, and air-conditioners. When the temperature hit 123 degrees on Monday, two people protesting shortages of power and basic services were fatally shot by security forces. Several other cities in the Middle East also have experienced extreme heat. The temperature in Beirut, Lebanon, hit a record 113.7 degrees, and Damascus, Syria, tied its high of 114.8 degrees. Baghdad is expected to get another day of high heat on Thursday before temperatures drops slightly over the weekend. [The Washington Post]

9.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg back in hospital for non-surgical procedure

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to a New York hospital on Wednesday for a minimally invasive nonsurgical procedure to "revise a bile duct stent," a Supreme Court spokeswoman said. "The justice is resting comfortably and expects to be released from the hospital by the end of the week," the spokeswoman, Kathleen Arberg, said in a statement. Ginsburg, the 87-year-old senior member of the court's liberal minority, has been hospitalized several times in recent months, and recently announced she was receiving chemotherapy to treat a recurrence of cancer. In July, she was treated for a possible infection and in May she participated in oral arguments from a hospital room at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore while under treatment for a gallbladder condition. [The New York Times]

10.

Court rules Ashley Judd can pursue Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment suit

A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday said actress Ashley Judd, who has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing her in his hotel room in the 1990s, can go forward with a sexual harassment claim against him that had been thrown out. A lower court previously decided Judd couldn't pursue her sexual harassment claim against the disgraced producer because she was not an employee of his at the time. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, saying the district court "erred." Judd came forward with her claims against Weinstein in 2017 and sued him in 2018, alleging he damaged her career after she denied his advances. Weinstein has since been convicted of rape and sentenced to more than two decades in prison in a separate case. [Bloomberg, Variety]