10 things you need to know today: September 11, 2020

Trump says downplaying the coronavirus showed "strength as a leader," Republicans' "skinny" coronavirus relief bill fails, and more

Trump in Michigan
(Image credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

1. Trump says downplaying coronavirus threat showed 'calm,' 'strength'

President Trump on Thursday pushed back at Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward's revelation that Trump admitted to downplaying the pandemic threat in February, arguing that Woodward would have come forward with the news sooner if he thought Trump was endangering public safety. Woodward taped Trump in February and March for his forthcoming book, Rage. Trump said in the on-the-record interviews that he knew the coronavirus was "deadly stuff," but he minimized the threat to prevent a panic. "We had to show calm," Trump said, adding that he displayed "strength as a leader." The offensive came as Trump faced a backlash, with his Democratic rival in the November election, Joe Biden, leading the charge. "He waved a white flag!" Biden said. "He walked away. He didn't do a damn thing."


2. Western fires death toll reaches at least 23

The death toll from West Coast wildfires rose to at least 23 on Thursday as dozens of blazes continued to spread in California, Oregon, and Washington state. The August Complex fire burning in northern California became the largest fire in state history, covering 471,185 acres in the Mendocino National Forest. The fire continues to rage largely uncontained, and the state's third and fourth largest fires are burning, too. As of Thursday, the August Complex — 37 fires that merged — was 24 percent contained. California's fires have killed at least 19 people and destroyed 3,900 structures. Oregon is battling its most intense fires on record as well. Authorities told 500,000 people, or 10 percent of the state population, to evacuate their homes.

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USA Today San Francisco Chronicle

3. Democrats block Senate Republicans' 'skinny' coronavirus relief bill

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked Republicans' "skinny" coronavirus relief bill, keeping the proposed stimulus package from meeting the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster and advance. The bill's failure made it highly unlikely Congress would approve more aid before the November election. Senate Democrats said the $650 million package wasn't close to being enough. House Democrats originally wanted $3 trillion but have said they would accept $2.4 trillion. Republicans said the limited relief targeted the needs most lawmakers agreed about. All present Democrats and Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted no, and the vote fell short 52-47. "It's a sort of a dead end street, and very unfortunate," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan). "But it is what it is."

The Associated Press The New York Times

4. Judges block Trump order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census

A three-judge federal court panel on Thursday blocked a memorandum signed by President Trump seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count for the purpose of reapportioning seats in the House of Representatives. The judges, based in New York, said Trump's order would violate the statute governing congressional apportionment, which says congressional seats must be allotted based on everyone living in the United States. The ruling came hours after another federal judge ordered the Trump administration to hand over documents connected to the government's abrupt decision to end the 2020 census count a month earlier than the Census Bureau previously planned.

The Washington Post

5. Deadly protest erupts in Colombia over police killing

Violent demonstrations in Bogota, Colombia, continued into a second day Thursday over the death of a man police officers shocked with a stun gun for more than two minutes after they stopped him for allegedly violating coronavirus social distancing rules by drinking publicly after 9 p.m. A video showed the man, Javier Ordonez, pinned down by officers as he said, "Please, no more." At least nine people have died in the violence sparked by Ordonez's death, and 175 have been injured, the Bogota health department said. Protesters have set cars and police stations on fire, releasing frustrations that have built over months of pandemic-related lockdowns. Colombia's conservative president, Iván Duque Márquez, condemned the killings but defended security forces as "heroic."

The New York Times The Wall Street Journal

6. Microsoft: Russian hackers targeting 200 groups involved in election

Hackers from Russia, China, and Iran are trying to influence the 2020 presidential election, Microsoft announced Thursday. Microsoft said it "detected cyberattacks targeting people and organizations," including "unsuccessful attacks" on people associated with the campaigns of both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Russian hackers reportedly responsible for attacks on the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign have targeted "more than 200 organizations," including political campaigns and parties, and their tactics have "evolved." Microsoft also said Chinese hackers have attacked "high-profile individuals associated with the election," and Iranian hackers have attacked personal accounts of people associated with Trump's campaign. Microsoft said the activity "makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts" to interfere.

Microsoft The Washington Post

7. Senators reach rare bipartisan agreement on reducing greenhouse gas

Senators on Thursday agreed on a proposal to phase out planet-warming chemicals commonly used in air conditioners and refrigeration. The measure will be offered as an amendment to a bipartisan energy bill. Key Senate Republicans joined Democrats to move the proposal forward in a rare split with the Trump administration encouraged by both American companies and environmentalists. "This agreement protects both American consumers and American businesses," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Environment and Public Works Committee chair. "We can have clean air without damaging our economy." It wasn't immediately clear whether the bill would pass with time for President Trump to sign it before Congress adjourns in January.

The Washington Post

8. 884,000 file new unemployment claims, more than expected

The Labor Department on Thursday reported that 884,000 people filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week, more than the 850,000 that economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected. The total was unchanged from the previous week, although without adjusting for seasonal factors there was an increase of 20,140. The numbers signaled a possible slowdown in improvement in the labor market seen over the summer as many businesses reopened after spring coronavirus lockdowns. The pandemic triggered unprecedented job losses when it hit the U.S. Non-farm payrolls declined by 22 million at the start of the crisis, although half of those jobs have been recovered.


9. U.S. marks 9/11 anniversary in ceremonies altered by pandemic

Americans are marking the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with gatherings at New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Family members will be on hand as they have been every year to honor the nearly 3,000 people who died, but the ceremonies this year will be altered, with fewer people due to precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Bells will toll in New York City as in previous years, but instead of a rotation of people reading the names of those who died, a recorded list will be broadcast over loudspeakers. There will be no platform at Ground Zero for speeches from dignitaries, but Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to make appearances.

The New York Times

10. Diana Rigg, The Avengers and Game of Thrones star, dies at 82

Diana Rigg, the actress known for her roles in movies and TV shows like The Avengers, Game of Thrones, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, has died at 82. Rigg's death was confirmed by her daughter on Thursday, who said she "died peacefully" at home with her family. Rigg rose to fame after starring as Emma Peel in the classic British series The Avengers beginning in 1965. "Rigg's character became an icon for the growing feminist movement," BBC writes. In 1969, she starred in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service as "Bond girl" Tracy di Vicenzo, and in the 2010s, she played Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones. She also won the Tony for Best Actress in a Play in 1994 for her role in Medea.

BBC News Variety

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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.