Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 29, 2021

Biden issues orders to increase health-care access, the U.S. confirms 1st cases of South Africa coronavirus strain, and more


Biden temporarily reopens health insurance marketplace enrollment

President Biden on Thursday ordered the reopening of enrollment in the federal health law's insurance marketplace for three months as part of a flurry of actions to expand access to health care. Biden also ordered federal agencies to look into whether former President Donald Trump's policies had undermined protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Biden is trying to quickly shore up the Affordable Care Act, which Trump failed to overturn but sought to weaken with several executive actions. Biden said he wanted to "undo the damage Trump has done." The president also sought to expand protections for reproductive rights by overturning Trump's restrictions on using taxpayer money for clinics that refer patients for abortions in the United States or abroad.


U.S. confirms 1st cases of South Africa coronavirus variant

South Carolina's health department on Thursday confirmed the first detected U.S. cases of a new, highly contagious coronavirus strain first found in South Africa. The B.1.351 strain was found in two adults who had no connection to each other, and no history of travel. The arrival of the new COVID-19 variant "is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over," Dr. Brannon Traxler, the department's interim director, said in a statement. The South African strain is one of several new coronavirus variants that have recently been detected in the U.S. Minnesota on Monday reported the first case of a similar strain first detected in Brazil. AstraZeneca said Thursday that its coronavirus vaccine was highly effective against a strain discovered in Britain, but less so against the South Africa strain.


Democrats slam GOP leaders for putting Greene on education committee

Top congressional Democrats on Thursday harshly criticized Republicans for assigning Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to the House education committee despite reports that she called deadly school shootings "false-flag" operations. She also has backed the QAnon conspiracy theory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was concerned that the House GOP leadership would assign her "to the education committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary school." Some Democrats have called for censuring or expelling Greene from Congress. Republicans disavowed Greene. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (La.) said he had "consistently condemned the use of violent rhetoric in politics on both sides, and this is no exception. There is no place for comments like that in our political discourse."


Capitol Police chief calls for permanent fencing in wake of riot

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman on Thursday said that "permanent fencing" is needed at the Capitol to prevent a repeat of the recent deadly riot by a pro-Trump mob. "In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol," Pittman said. D.C. officials disagreed, saying the fencing should not be made permanent. The Jan. 6 riot left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued a terrorism warning of a "heightened threat environment across the United States," due to extremists who may have been "emboldened" by the Capitol attack.


McCarthy meets with Trump to discuss 2022 midterms

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with former President Donald Trump at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday to discuss Trump's plans to back candidates in the 2022 congressional elections. Trump's office said he and McCarthy "discussed many topics, number one of which was taking back the House in 2022." Two weeks ago, McCarthy angered Trump by saying the former president "bears responsibility" for the deadly Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. McCarthy's trip to see Trump was the latest sign that since Trump left office, leading Republicans have quickly dialed back their criticism and aligned themselves with Trump again, seeking his support even as he faces a second impeachment trial. Trump's allies have been criticizing GOP House members who backed impeachment.


Liquid nitrogen leak kills 6 at Georgia poultry plant

A liquid nitrogen leak killed at least six people Thursday at a Georgia poultry packing plant. Eleven others were hospitalized, at least three in critical condition. Foundation Food Group Vice President Nicholas Ancrum said that a nitrogen line apparently ruptured inside the building, which is in Gainesville, Georgia, about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta. "Those lost today include maintenance, supervisory, and management team members," Ancrum said. "Every team member is equally important to us and our hearts go out to their families." Hogg County Sheriff Gerald Couch said the tragedy hit the victims and their families with no warning. "They're not in a profession that you would expect something like this to happen," he said.


Facebook Oversight Board overturns 4 decisions in its 1st rulings

Facebook's Oversight Board on Thursday overturned four of the company's decisions to remove posts for violating policies against hate speech, promoting violence, and other issues. The rulings were the first ever by the board, which was formed last year and includes 20 journalists, politicians, and judges from around the world. The board is independent, but Facebook has said it will abide by its decisions. The board will take on bigger questions in the coming weeks, including whether to reverse Facebook's suspension of former President Donald Trump's account over comments he made before a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, leaving a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.


GameStop shares plunge, bounce back after restrictions lifted

GameStop shares continued their volatile run on Thursday, dropping by 44 percent after a days-long meteoric rise. The fall came after trading app Robinhood suspended purchases of GameStop stock Thursday. Robinhood, citing the volatility, said it was temporarily restricting transactions of shares of GameStop, AMC Theaters, BlackBerry, Nokia, and other nostalgic stocks that Reddit users have been buying in a battle with hedge funds that were betting the shares would fall. After the closing bell, Robinhood said it would allow some selling of the restricted stocks on Friday, and GameStop jumped by 119 percent in pre-market trading. Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated other online brokers suspended GameStop sales. It's been corrected. We regret the error.


GM plans to sell only electric vehicles by 2035

General Motors said Thursday that it would phase out gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035 and sell only zero-emission vehicles. The announcement was expected to trigger similar commitments from other automakers, signaling an industry-wide shift. A Ford spokesman declined to comment on GM's news but said Ford was "committed to leading the electric vehicle revolution in the areas where we are strong." GM's move could encourage President Biden to step up an already aggressive push to fight climate change. Electric cars already are the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry, although they still account for a small fraction of total vehicle sales.


Celebrated actress Cicely Tyson is dead at 96

Award-winning actor Cicely Tyson, whose long career was filled with memorable portrayals of strong Black women, died Thursday. She was 96. Tyson got her first major break at age 48, when she landed the role of a sharecropper's wife in Sounder, earning her critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination. She won two Emmys for her starring performance in the hit 1974 CBS TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and a third Emmy in 1994 for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Tyson also earned several Emmy nominations, including for Roots and King, and in 2013, at age 88, she won a best leading actress Tony for The Trip to Bountiful. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tyson, intensely private, was married to jazz legend Miles Davis in the 1980s.


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