Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 21, 2020

Congress reaches $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal, panel says essential workers and people over 74 should be vaccinated next, and more


Lawmakers reach deal on $900 billion COVID-19 relief package

Congressional Democrats and Republicans reached a deal late Sunday on a new $900 billion coronavirus relief package. The legislation will include stimulus checks of $600 per person, with smaller benefits for those who earned more than $75,000 last year. The package also includes enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week starting as early as Dec. 27. Negotiators have been pushing for financial relief as record numbers of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have stoked concerns of more economic damage as previous benefits expire. "More help is on the way," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. The deal is considerably smaller than the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed in March, but still one of the largest ever.


Federal panel advises essential workers, people over 74 get vaccines next

A federal advisory panel said Sunday that front-line workers — including teachers, day-care staff, and grocery store employees — along with people age 75 and over should be next in line to get coronavirus vaccines. Under the recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, these groups, totaling about 49 million people, would be eligible for vaccinations after those in the first-priority group, which includes health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities. The panel's recommendations came as trucks delivered the first doses of Moderna's vaccine, which on Friday became the second, after Pfizer's, to receive emergency-use authorization from federal regulators.


Canada, European countries ban travel from U.K. over new coronavirus variant

Several European countries and Canada on Sunday closed their borders to British travelers fleeing strict new lockdown restrictions ordered by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The new wholesale lockdown covers London and surrounding areas. It was imposed to deter a new, fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus. Britain's health secretary, Matt Hancock, called crowds that packed trains over the weekend "clearly irresponsible" for trying to slip out to avoid the lockdown, which could separate the London area from the rest of the United Kingdom for months. The Netherlands said it was suspending flights from Britain through Jan. 1. Italy also halted air travel, and Belgium banned British travelers for 24 hours. Many other nations followed.


Biden aide: Cyberattack response will go beyond sanctions

President-elect Joe Biden's White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, said Sunday that the Biden administration's response to a suspected Russian hacking campaign would include more than just financial repercussions. "It's not just sanctions. It's steps and things we could do to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to engage in this sort of attack," Klain said on CBS's Face the Nation. The hackers accessed the computer systems of several U.S. government agencies, with thousands of American companies possibly exposed, too. Biden's team is reportedly considering options including financial penalties and retaliatory hacks against Russian infrastructure. The Kremlin denies responsibility for the cyberattack. President Trump downplayed the significance of the attack and suggested China, not Russia, might be behind it.


U.S. airport traffic high despite calls to avoid holiday travel

Airport travel is surging ahead of Christmas and New Year's despite surging COVID-19 cases and pleas from public health officials for Americans to avoid traveling over the holidays. More than 1 million people passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints daily over the weekend, a level not seen since Nov. 29 at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. Experts say Thanksgiving travel and gatherings contributed to the December surge in coronavirus infections. The seven-day rolling average of new cases has jumped from 176,000 a day before Thanksgiving to more than 215,000 a day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory telling Americans that "postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19."


Trump campaign files another longshot appeal to Supreme Court

President Trump's campaign on Sunday filed a longshot appeal to the Supreme Court, asking the high court to reverse the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's rejection of Trump's mail-in ballot challenge. Trump's team said revisions to the state's election law were unconstitutional. The filing marked the latest development in a series of lawsuits Trump's lawyers and allies have filed, and lost, in an ongoing bid to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election. Numerous courts have rejected the cases, and members of the Electoral College from all 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their votes last week, formalizing Biden's win over Trump by a 306-232 margin. The House and Senate will meet Jan. 6 in a joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College results.


U.S. Embassy in Baghdad damaged in rocket attack

At least eight Katyusha rockets hit Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" in an attack on the U.S. Embassy, American diplomatic sources and Iraq's military said Sunday. The attack killed at least one local civilian and caused minor damage to the embassy compound, diplomats said. No embassy personnel were injured. The Iraqi military said an "outlaw group" fired the rockets. U.S. diplomats blamed "Iran-backed militias." Secretary of State Michael Pompeo strongly condemned the attack. The rocket fire came ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 3 U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. The U.S. withdrew staff from the Baghdad embassy this month in anticipation of possible retaliatory strikes as the anniversary of the assassination approached.


Report: U.S. to announce new criminal charges in Pan Am Flight 103 bombing

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr is expected to announce criminal charges on Monday against former Libyan intelligence officer Abu Agila Masud in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, CNN reported, citing three U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Masud is believed to be in Libya. U.S. officials are talking with their Libyan counterparts about how to take him into custody, CNN reported. Flight 103 was en route from London to New York when a bomb downed the plane over Lockerbie, Scotland. The terrorist attack killed 270 people. Most of the victims were from the U.S. Monday is the 32nd anniversary of the bombing. In 2003, late Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi accepted responsibility for the bombing but claimed he did not order the attack.


Tesla makes its S&P 500 debut

Tesla on Monday makes its debut in the S&P 500, becoming the most valuable company ever admitted to Wall Street's main benchmark index. Tesla shares jumped to a record high on Friday in busy trading ahead of the move. The surge came as index-tracking funds bought $90.3 billion Tesla shares to keep their portfolios in lockstep with the S&P 500. The electric-car maker's stock has gained 70 percent since mid-November, when its admission to the S&P 500 was announced. The shares are up by 700 percent in 2020. The stock gains have lifted Tesla's market value to $660 billion. It is now the sixth most valuable publicly traded company in the world.


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle work with Chef Jose Andres on disaster relief

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced Sunday that their new charity would work with the World Central Kitchen and its celebrity chef, Jose Andres, to provide meals in disaster-hit areas around the world. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex's Archewell Foundation will help the relief group build community relief centers, with four opening in 2021. The first will be on Dominica, a Caribbean island hit in 2017 by hurricanes Maria and Irma. The next center will be in Puerto Rico, which also was devastated by the storms. The centers will be ready to serve as service kitchens plus aid distribution hubs, schools, and medical clinics.


U.S. reportedly mulling Ukraine evacuation for diplomats' families
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