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

Congress nears a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, U.S. vaccination effort gets a boost as record hospitalizations continue, and more

A medical worker who was vaccinated
(Image credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

1. Congress nears deal on $900 billion coronavirus relief package

Congressional leaders said Wednesday that they were close to a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. The compromise appeared likely to include aid for struggling small businesses and jobless Americans, as well as money for vaccine distribution and schools. The latest version also would provide a one-time check of between $600 and $700 for millions of Americans, a benefit left out of earlier proposals. The relief bill is being linked to a massive federal spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown before a Friday deadline. Congressional Democrats had demanded a larger stimulus package, but agreed to trim it after President-elect Joe Biden's election victory, aiming for limited immediate relief with plans for more once Biden is inaugurated. "It's a down payment," Biden said.

The Washington Post The New York Times

2. Vaccination effort picks up as pandemic rages on

The massive U.S. coronavirus vaccine campaign widened on Wednesday as more health-care networks received doses and began administering them to front-line doctors and nurses. The effort got an unexpected boost as the Food and Drug Administration announced that pharmacists can draw more doses than expected from vials of the Pfizer vaccine, potentially adding millions of doses to the U.S. supply. The FDA also is expected to approve emergency use of a second vaccine, made by Moderna, as early as Thursday. The positive news came as the U.S. faces a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations, with more than 3,000 Americans dying daily of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and French President Emmanuel Macron became the latest leaders to test positive.

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Reuters The Washington Post

3. Prosecutors charge Kenyan man in 9/11-style hijacking plot

New York federal prosecutors have indicted a Kenyan man on allegations that he plotted to fly a commercial airliner into an American skyscraper in a 9/11-style terrorist attack. According to an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the suspect, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, took orders from a "senior" commander in al-Shabab — an al Qaeda affiliate — and attended a flight school in the Philippines from 2017 to 2019 so he could hijack a plane. He also allegedly researched how to breach the cockpit door of an airliner, and sought information "about the tallest building in a major U.S. city." According to the charging documents, Abdi Abdullah has been in custody in the Philippines since July 2019. He is being brought to New York to face the charges. He told a federal judge he is pleading not guilty.

NBC News USA Today

4. Pompeo quarantines after COVID-19 exposure

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone into quarantine, following contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the State Department said Wednesday. Pompeo tested negative but is being monitored by the department's medical team. The Trump administration did not identify the infected person for privacy reasons, but the case came after Pompeo and his department faced criticism for holding holiday parties as the nation faces record coronavirus hospitalizations and surging infections and deaths. Pompeo had been scheduled to attend a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and meet with President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to succeed him, Antony Blinken, on Thursday.

The Associated Press

5. Biden makes nomination of Buttigieg official

President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced that he was nominating former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be his transportation secretary. Biden praised Buttigieg, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination before dropping out and endorsing Biden, as "one of the smartest people you'll ever meet and one of the most humble." Biden also touted the diversity of his Cabinet, noting that Buttigieg, if confirmed, will be the first out LGBTQ Cabinet member to be approved by the Senate. Buttigieg thanked Biden for the opportunity to serve in the new administration, and vowed to get to work improving the nation's infrastructure. "Step one in building back better, literally, is to build," he said.

CNN The Washington Post

6. U.S. sees biggest annual jump in poverty rate in 60 years

About 7.8 million Americans have fallen below the poverty line — an income of $26,200 for a family of four — over the past five months, according to new data released Wednesday by the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. The change contributed to the biggest jump in poverty in a single year since the government started tracking the figures 60 years ago, although overall U.S. poverty levels remain low by historical standards. The poverty rate increased to 11.7 percent in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June, marking the fifth straight monthly increase. The situation stems from the coronavirus pandemic and the tough labor market it has created, as well as dwindling government aid.

The Washington Post University of Chicago

7. Winter storm hits as vaccine shipments go out

Snow continued Thursday in a winter storm expected to drop up to two feet of snow in some parts of the Northeast. The storm hit the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday and continued north, disrupting transportation as vaccine shipments were going out in the early days of a massive coronavirus vaccination campaign. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said they government was monitoring the situation but that the shipments were in good hands. "This is FedEx, this is UPS express shipping," Azar told Fox News' Fox & Friends. "They know how to deal with snow and bad weather." The heaviest snowfall is expected in central Pennsylvania, where the state capital of Harrisburg could break a six-decade-old December snowfall record.

The Associated Press

8. French court convicts 14 for helping Charlie Hebdo terrorists

A French court on Wednesday convicted 14 people for helping the Islamist extremists who carried out the 2015 terrorist attacks at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, and a Jewish market. Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo before being killed at the end of a two-day manhunt. On the same day, their associate Amedy Coulibaly, who had killed a policewoman a day earlier, killed four hostages at a Kosher grocery store before police fatally shot him. Prosecutors said the 14 accomplices provided the attackers with money and logistical support, including vehicles. Eleven of the accused were in custody. The others were tried in absentia. Among them is Hayat Boumeddiene, Coulibaly's former partner, who is believed to have fled to Syria several years ago.

NPR The Wall Street Journal

9. Texas leads GOP states in monopoly lawsuit against Google

Ten state attorneys general on Wednesday filed a lawsuit accusing Google of illegally abusing its monopoly over online ad technology, saying the internet giant overcharged publishers for ads and squeezed out rivals. The attorneys general, all Republicans, also said Google reached an agreement with Facebook to reduce competition for ad revenue. "If the free market were a baseball game, Google positioned itself as the pitcher, the batter, and the umpire," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a video on Twitter announcing the plans. Google called the suit "baseless," and vowed to fight it. The case came as Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook face numerous legal challenges to their dominant roles in the internet industry.

The New York Times

10. MLB recognizes Negro Leagues players as Major Leaguers

Major League Baseball said Wednesday that it was "correcting a longtime oversight in the game's history" by recognizing Black athletes who played in the Negro Leagues as Major Leaguers. Under the change, the statistics and records of roughly 3,400 professionals who played in the Negro Leagues from 1920 to 1948 will go onto the MLB books. MLB officials said they were still working on how to incorporate often incomplete Negro League statistics. Theoretically, slugger Josh Gibson could challenge the records for the best single season batting average, and career homeruns. Pitching great Satchel Paige, who currently has 28 Major League wins, could be credited with 146 more. "All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game's finest players, innovations, and triumphs against the backdrop of injustice," Commissioner Robert Manfred said in statement posted to social media.

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