Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 26, 2021

U.S. airstrikes hit Iranian-backed militia target in Syria, the House passes Equality Act LGBTQ protections, and more

1

U.S. airstrikes target Iranian-backed militia in Syria

The U.S. military on Thursday conducted airstrikes on two Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria in the first known lethal operation under President Biden. The strikes killed "up to a handful" of militants, a U.S. official told CNN. The attack, which targeted a border-crossing station in eastern Syria, was "authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. The site was not directly tied to the rocket attacks but U.S. officials believed it was used by the Iranian-backed Shia militias that had fired the rockets at coalition forces. "The operation sends an unambiguous message," Kirby said. "President Biden will act to protect American coalition personnel."

2

House passes Equality Act to expand LGBTQ protections

The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The House previously voted to approve the legislation in 2019, but the Senate, then led by Republicans, blocked it. The bill's prospects are greatly improved this year because Democrats now control the House, the Senate, and the White House. The GOP still could block the legislation in the Senate, which is split 50-50 and Democrats would need 60 votes to get past a potential GOP filibuster. "Now, the ball is in the Senate's court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination," said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

3

Senate official says COVID-19 relief package can't include minimum wage hike

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that Democrats cannot include raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour in their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. MacDonough said the proposal did not meet the requirements to be included in the package under the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to approve the stimulus with a simple majority. That means they won't have to win over any Republicans, who want a smaller relief package. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) opposed raising the minimum wage, which has been set at $7.25 per hour since 2009. Manchin backed $11 an hour instead. The ruling only applies to the Senate, and the House is moving toward a Friday vote on a package that includes the wage hike.

4

Capitol Police chief says militia groups threatening to blow up Capitol

Militia groups tied to the deadly Jan. 6 Washington, D.C., riot have reportedly discussed a desire to "blow up the Capitol," Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman revealed during a congressional hearing Thursday about the insurrection. "We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union," Pittman said. Capitol Police would maintain "enhanced and robust" security as a precaution until "vulnerabilities" are addressed, she said. No date for President Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress has been set.

5

Biden warns it's too early to 'relax' about pandemic

President Biden on Thursday marked the 50 millionth dose of coronavirus vaccine administered since he took office just over a month ago by urging Americans to remain vigilant because falling infection rates "could go back up." The nation is now halfway to meeting Biden's goal of 100 million doses in his first 100 days, ahead of the pace needed to meet the mark. "While COVID-19 vaccinations are up, COVID cases and hospitalizations are coming down," Biden said. "But I need to be honest with you: Cases and hospitalizations could go back up with new variants as they emerge. So I want to make something really very clear: This is not a time to relax." The inoculation milestone came shortly after the U.S. death toll surpassed 500,000. "The more people get vaccinated, the faster we're going to beat this pandemic," Biden said at the White House ceremony.

6

Former U.S. gymnastics coach dies by suicide after sex-crime charges

Former U.S. gymnastics coach John Geddert killed himself at an interstate rest area in Michigan on Thursday hours after he was charged with human trafficking and criminal sexual conduct, as well as lying to police. The complaint said that in the two criminal sexual conduct counts Geddert, 63, was accused of "sexual penetration" of a girl under 16 in 2012. Geddert, who had ties to disgraced former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, had agreed to surrender at a sheriff's office but didn't show up. Geddert led the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. "The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

7

Manhattan prosecutor gets Trump tax records

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office has obtained former President Donald Trump's tax records and other financial documents that Trump had long fought to avoid handing over. Prosecutors reportedly obtained the documents hours after the Supreme Court on Monday denied efforts by Trump's lawyers to avoid disclosing the records. Vance's office now has millions of pages of Trump documents, CNN reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources. The records include Trump's tax returns from January 2011 to August 2019. The district attorney's office received the documents from Trump's long-time accounting firm, Mazars. Trump's returns are subject to grand jury secrecy rules and won't be released to the public. The documents now are part of an investigation into whether Trump and his company committed tax and insurance fraud.

8

Biden calls Saudi king ahead of expected Khashoggi report release

President Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman on Thursday, pledging to work to make bilateral ties between the two countries "as strong and transparent as possible," the White House said. Biden's conversation with the king, their first since Biden became president last month, came ahead of the expected release of a U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Sources have said that the report, a declassified version of a top-secret analysis, identifies Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the one who approved Khashoggi's killing. Saudi Arabia has denied that the 35-year-old crown prince had anything to do with Khashoggi's killing.

9

McConnell says he'd 'absolutely' support Trump if he's 2024 GOP nominee

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he would "absolutely" support the 2024 Republican nominee for president, even if it is former President Donald Trump — whom he has said was responsible for provoking the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. During the Fox News interview, McConnell said he believes that at least four GOP senators will run for the nomination, as well as a few governors "and others," but he didn't hesitate to say he would back Trump when asked whether he would support the former president if he became the GOP nominee. Earlier this month, McConnell voted to acquit Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection, but just minutes later said the former president was "practically and morally responsible for provoking" the attack.

10

Costco CEO says company will raise its minimum hourly wage to $16

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek announced Thursday that the company would raise its minimum wage to $16 an hour next week. The plan came as Democrats push for raising the federal minimum wage, which has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009, to $15 an hour. Target and Best Buy raised their minimum hourly pay to $15 last year, and Amazon did so in 2018. Jelinek said Costco, which has 558 discount warehouse clubs nationwide, has always offered "very competitive retail wages" and benefits. Its average hourly wage already is $24 an hour. "We try to take care of our employees because they play such a significant role in our success," Jelinek said at a U.S. Senate Budget Committee hearing on worker wages at large companies.

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