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10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2021

Democrats focus on COVID-19 relief proposal after Trump's acquittal, winter storm blamed for at least 21 deaths, and more


Democrats push for coronavirus relief following Trump acquittal

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told lawmakers to be ready to work through the end of February to pass a new coronavirus relief package. The push signals that Democrats are refocusing on the stimulus legislation now that former President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial is over. The Senate acquitted Trump on Saturday on the charge that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters. The COVID-19 aid proposal includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and $400 per week in supplementary unemployment benefits. It also would provide $20 billion for vaccinations and $170 billion to help reopen schools. President Biden considers pandemic relief his "top priority," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.


Power outages continue as extreme cold blamed for 21 deaths

At least 21 deaths have been blamed on the extreme winter storm that left millions of Texans without power and hammered states across the South, mid-Atlantic, and Northeast with single-digit temperatures. Roughly 4 million customers in Texas remained without power Tuesday and authorities said some won't get it for several days following a blast of the coldest temperatures in decades. The arctic air led to record power demand, which caused Texas' electric grid to fail. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) ordered a hearing to investigate the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's power grid, to find out what "caused the lights to go off across the Lone Star State." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the weather delayed coronavirus vaccine shipments.


Israeli study shows Pfizer vaccine cuts symptomatic COVID-19 by 94 percent

Clalit, the largest of Israel's four health-care providers, reported Sunday that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has resulted in a 94 percent drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections among those who have gotten both doses, and a 92 percent decline in severe illness. Clalit compared 600,000 Israelis who have been fully vaccinated against an equal number who have not. "It is now unequivocal that Pfizer's vaccine against the coronavirus is incredibly effective in real life one week after the second dose, just as was found in the clinical study," said Ran Balicer, Clalit's chief innovation officer and one of the study's authors. Israel plans to inoculate most of its population by March.


NAACP suit accuses Trump, Giuliani, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers of inciting riot

The NAACP, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two white supremacist groups, accusing them of conspiring to incite the Jan. 6 insurrection to stop Congress from certifying President Biden's election victory. The lawsuit said Trump and Giuliani worked with the right-wing extremist Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups to incite riots intended to keep Trump in office. The lawsuit says the conspiracy violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era law passed to protect formerly enslaved African Americans as well as members of Congress from violent white supremacists. The lawsuit makes a case against Trump like the one made by House impeachment managers, saying he essentially summoned the insurrectionists to the Capitol.


Biden extends mortgage-foreclosure moratorium

President Biden signed an executive order Tuesday extending the moratorium on mortgage foreclosures by three months to June 30, a policy intended to help people unable to keep up with their mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden also ordered government agencies to extend the window for people to apply for mortgage forbearance, the White House said. With millions of Americans still unemployed due to the pandemic, 12 percent of homeowners with mortgages have missed payments. Biden's order will let anyone with a federally guaranteed mortgage apply for a pause or reduction in their payments until June 30, and will exempt them from foreclosure. The Trump administration paused foreclosures and evictions last March, and Biden extended the policy on his first day in office.


White House announces increased vaccine shipments

The White House announced Tuesday that it was doubling to two million the number of coronavirus vaccine doses it sends directly to pharmacies. States will receive 23 percent more doses this week compared to the previous week, the biggest such increase since President Biden took office in January. The new weekly total will mark a 57 percent jump since Biden was inaugurated. "This program will expand access to neighborhoods across the country," Jeff Zients, Biden's COVID-19 coordinator, told USA TODAY ahead of his weekly call with governors. States will be getting 13.5 million doses a week, up from 8.6 million in Biden's first week in office. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told CNN that lower priority Americans might not be able to get vaccinated until mid-May or even June. He previously had said the general public might get shots by April.


Myanmar junta promises to hold elections

Myanmar's military junta on Tuesday promised to hold elections and transfer power back to an elected government. The military ousted the civilian government on Feb. 1 and detained political leaders, including ruling party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faced a new charge on Tuesday. Military leaders have denied their power seizure was a coup as they faced escalating street protests demanding the restoration of the government. The military has not set a date for new elections, and has imposed a year-long state of emergency. "Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party," Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, said in the junta's first news conference. "We guarantee ... that the election will be held."


Trump attacks McConnell as 'unsmiling political hack'

Former President Donald Trump issued a lengthy statement through his Save America PAC on Tuesday that called on the GOP to ditch Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in order to regain control of the Senate. Calling McConnell a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack," Trump claimed Democrats have been able to "play McConnell like a fiddle." While McConnell didn't vote to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection, after the close of the trial on Saturday, he gave a blistering speech deeming Trump "practically and morally responsible" for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In a seeming response to the criticism, Trump indicated he'd step up to back primary challengers who might oust McConnell or his supporters in the future.


Fast-food workers strike in 15 cities demanding $15 minimum wage

Fast-food workers in 15 U.S. cities went on strike Tuesday to demand an increase of their minimum wage to $15 an hour. The strikes by McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's employees, who were joined by home care and nursing home workers, took place in Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; Flint and Detroit, Michigan; Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; Houston; Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, Florida; St. Louis; Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose, California; and Milwaukee. Low-wage workers have been participating in the Fight for $15 movement since 2012, but this year's push comes as the Biden administration is trying to increase the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25, for the first time since 2009.


Judge rules U.K. family's wrongful death suit can proceed in U.S.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Harry Dunn, who died after being hit by a vehicle driven by the wife of a U.S. intelligence officer in the U.K., can proceed in Virginia. Dunn's family accuses the alleged driver, Anne Sacoolas, of causing Dunn's death and failing to call police or an ambulance. Sacoolas has admitted that she was driving on the wrong side of a road in the U.K. when her SUV hit Dunn, who was 19. But she claimed diplomatic immunity and left the country. She has refused to return for depositions and the U.S. has refused to extradite her, so Dunn's family filed the lawsuit in Virginia last September. Sacoolas' lawyers had asked the judge to dismiss the case so Dunn's family would have to sue in the U.K.


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