Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 19, 2020

Tim O'Donnell
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers remarks at the Georgetown Law Center on September 12, 2019, in Washington, DC. Justice Ginsburg spoke to over 300 attendees about the Supreme Court's previous term.
Tom Brenner/Getty Images

1.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at age 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at age 87, the court announced. She died of metastatic pancreatic cancer, after previously beating cancer four times. Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, the second-ever female justice, and was well known for championing gender equality, abortion rights, affirmative action, and other progressive causes. She was a part of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court; with her seat vacant, President Trump will have the opportunity to further solidify the court's conservative majority. Days before Ginsburg's death, she said "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said "Trump's nominee will receive a vote" on the Senate floor. [CNN, NPR]

2.

Trump, Biden among current and former politicians to pay tribute to Ginsburg

President Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden were among the many current and former U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle to pay tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday night at 87. Trump didn't find out about Ginsburg's passing until after he finished giving a rally speech in Minnesota on Friday night. Upon hearing the news, he called her an "amazing woman who led an amazing life." He later released a formal statement, describing Ginsburg as a "titan of the law" who was "renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court." Biden, who voted to confirm Ginsburg's nomination in 1993 when he was still a senator, called her "a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law." [Joe Biden, Donald Trump]

3.

CDC reverses controversial asymptomatic COVID-19 testing guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday walked back its controversial COVID-19 testing guidance change, which was reportedly not written by the agency's scientists and was published against their objections. The CDC website now recommends testing "all close contacts" of anyone infected with COVID-19. In August, the CDC's recommendation was controversially tweaked to say not everyone exposed to the coronavirus "necessarily" needs to be tested if they don't have symptoms. The guidance change last month was reportedly published despite serious objections from CDC scientists, since experts have emphasized the importance of testing anyone exposed to COVID-19 given the number of asymptomatic carriers. The agency now says "due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons." [CNN, The New York Times]

4.

Trump makes fresh vaccine promises, claiming to know better than experts

President Trump on Friday claimed there will be 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready before the end of the year, and "we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April," breaking with what experts and vaccine officials have said. No vaccine has been proven safe and effective for humans yet, making specific timelines impossible. Moderna, a company developing a vaccine in the U.S., has found it hard to prove the vaccine candidate's effectiveness as COVID-19 cases decline, but suggested vaccines could be widely available early next year. "How is it that you don't trust your own experts? Do you think you know better than they do?" Trump was asked at the Friday conference. "Yeah, in many cases I do," Trump claimed without evidence or explanation. [ABC News]

5.

Commerce Department to ban TikTok and WeChat downloads

The Trump administration will ban downloads of TikTok and WeChat in the United States beginning on Sunday. President Trump last month ordered ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, to sell the app's U.S. operations or face a ban due to national security concerns, and the Commerce Department on Friday said it's issuing an order that will ban TikTok from U.S. app stores beginning on Sept. 20. Those users who have TikTok downloaded will reportedly still be able to use it. U.S. downloads of the Chinese-owned WeChat will also be banned. ByteDance has reportedly reached a deal for Oracle to take over TikTok's U.S. operations, but the president and officials in China still need to approve. [The Financial Times, Reuters]

6.

Trump to approve relief funding for Puerto Rico, 3 years after Hurricane Maria

President Trump will reportedly approve an $11.6 billion package to aid Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island three years ago. It will go toward rebuilding Puerto Rico's power grid that was largely destroyed during the hurricane, leaving some people without power for nearly a year, as well as to the island's education systems. In a Thursday statement, Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.), who is from Puerto Rico and championed the relief measure after Hurricane Maria, suggested Trump's motivations were largely political. Trump "dragged his feet and resisted allocating these badly needed funds" for the past three years, but "47 days before the election," seemed to have a change of heart, Velasquez said. Asked about the timing, Trump claimed the package took a long time to put together. [CBS News]

7.

Navalny shares update on recovery

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Saturday posted a photo to his Instagram account in which he is walking down a flight of stairs as part of his recovery after he was poisoned last month. In the photo's caption, Navalny, one of Russia's most prominent Kremlin critics, said he has a "clear path" to recovery, but suggested it will be a long one. He was removed from a ventilator five days ago and said he is still having trouble climbing stairs, pouring water, and using his phone. He fell ill in August while in Siberia and was airlifted to a hospital in Berlin while in a coma. Multiple labs in Europe have confirmed he was poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok. His supporters suspect Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the assassination attempt, but Moscow has denied any involvement. [Deutsche Welle, The Guardian]

8.

Hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season continues with 3 named storms in 1 day

Tropical Storm Beta formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday night right after Tropical Storm Wilfred and Subtropical Storm Alpha in the Atlantic, marking the first time since certainly 1953 — when storms were first named — and possibly 1893 that three new storms were named in one day. There have been 23 named storms during the 2020 hurricane season. Because the World Meteorological Organization skips the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z, forecasters officially ran out of planned names for the season with Wilfred, forcing them to turn to the Greek alphabet. It's only the second time that the Atlantic hurricane season has made it through the alphabet and the earliest that has happened as well, underscoring this year's hyperactivity. Wilfred is expected to fizzle out before hitting land, Alpha is headed toward Europe, and Beta could become a Hurricane that poses a serious threat to the Texas coast. [The Week, The Sun Sentinel]

9.

No reports of injuries, serious damage after earthquake rattles Southern California

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake rattled much of Southern California on Friday night. It was felt across the Los Angeles area and reached as far as San Diego, The Los Angeles Times reports. So far, despite shaking buildings, there have been no reports of serious damage or injuries. Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, said the temblor produced "a pretty good jolt" near the epicenter, about 10 miles from South Pasadena. That location is very close to the epicenter of a 1987 magnitude 5.9 earthquake that caused multiple deaths and more than $200 million in damage. The Greater Los Angeles area averages five earthquakes with magnitudes between 4.0 and 5.0 per year. [The Los Angeles Times, CNN]

10.

Firefighter dies in blaze sparked by gender reveal party

A firefighter in California died while working to extinguish a blaze that was set off by a gender reveal party, officials said Friday. The El Dorado fire, which broke out in Southern California on Sept. 5, has been blamed on a gender reveal celebration that went awry when a smoke-generating device meant to signal a baby's sex instead caught some nearby grass on fire, which quickly spread. Officials had previously suggested the family may be responsible for the costs of fighting the fire, and criminal charges were already being considered even before the firefighter's death. The El Dorado fire is one of several across the state; this summer's fires have burned through a record-breaking 3.4 million acres. [The New York Times]