Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 27, 2021

House passes Biden's COVID-19 relief bill, sending it to Senate, U.S. report blames Saudi Crown Prince for Khashoggi killing, and more


House passes Biden's COVID-19 relief bill, sending it to Senate

The House passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 219-212 vote nearly along party lines early Saturday. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) voted against the bill with Republicans, who consider it too expensive, taking particular opposition to measures like funding for state and local governments. The legislation, which includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning up to $75,000 per year (as well as couples earning a combined $150,000) and extends enhanced unemployment benefits through August, will now head to the Senate, where its contents could change. The bill includes a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, but the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian ruled against its inclusion. Democratic senators are exploring alternatives on that front, but they're otherwise aiming to pass the bill without Republican obstruction through the process of reconciliation.


U.S. report blames Saudi Crown Prince for Khashoggi killing

The U.S. on Friday released a report publicly pinning the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist who criticized the crown while writing for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered in 2018 after entering Turkey's Saudi consulate. The crown prince had been suspected of ordering the killing, and U.S. intelligence affirmed that in a declassified report. The report is not new, and is largely based on CIA intelligence gathered in 2018. President Biden's administration also announced new sanctions against Saudi operatives who were allegedly involved in the killing, but not against the crown prince, as The New York Times reports the president has "decided that the price of directly penalizing" him is "too high."


FDA panel unanimously endorses Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

A Food and Drug Administration panel unanimously decided on Friday to back Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. The endorsement from the panel is a key step in the FDA approval process. The agency will now take the panel's recommendation under consideration and is expected to likely approve the vaccine in the next few days. If approved, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine could immediately be distributed across the country, aiding in the effort to ramp up vaccinations. While 3 to 4 million doses are ready for shipment, the company expects to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, and has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of June.


Democrats debate overruling Senate parliamentarian for $15 minimum wage

Some progressives on Friday pushed to overrule Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who ruled the $15 minimum wage increase can't be included in Democrats' coronavirus relief package under budget reconciliation. "The White House and Senate leadership can and should still include the minimum wage increase in the bill," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). "We can't allow the advisory opinion of the unelected parliamentarian to stand in the way." Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "Vice President Harris can disregard the parliamentarian," adding, "This simply comes down to whether the VP will choose to include the $15 or not." Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) pushed for replacing the Senate parliamentarian. The White House said President Biden is "disappointed" in this outcome but "respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate's process."


Lawmakers split on whether U.S. airstrikes in Syria were appropriate

Democrats are criticizing U.S. airstrikes in Syria, while many Republicans are praising President Biden's move. Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. While Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the limited scope of the airstrikes "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq," many Democrats expressed concerns on Friday that the move has done just the opposite, and argued it was unconstitutional without congressional authorization. Many Republicans, meanwhile, called the U.S. response a necessary deterrent that was proportional. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the action, saying "there was a thorough, legal response" and the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership in advance.


FBI reportedly zeroing in on suspect in Capitol police officer's death

The FBI has zeroed in on a single unidentified suspect in its investigation into the death of Brian Sicknick, a police officer who was injured during the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot and later died, two law enforcement officials briefed on the inquiry told The New York Times. It's been a challenge for investigators to determine exactly what caused Sicknick's death. Officials initially said he had been struck with a fire extinguisher before later saying there was no evidence suggesting he died from blunt force trauma. Medical examiners are still waiting on toxicology results, but investigators now suspect Sicknick may have inhaled an irritant, like mace or bear spray, while trying to fend off the attack. Per the Times, the aforementioned suspect, who was seen on video, is believed to have attacked several officers, including Sicknick, with bear spray.


Myanmar envoy makes appeal to U.N. on behalf of overthrown government

Police continued to crack down on anti-coup protests across Myanmar on Saturday in what may have been the most sweeping effort to quell the movement yet, Reuters reports. One woman was shot and is reportedly being treated in a hospital, while dozens of people were reportedly detained. Protesters have taken to the streets repeatedly since the military seized power from Myanmar's elected government earlier this month. The demonstrations were initially calm, but security have forces have ramped up their response over time. On Friday, Kyaw Moe Tun, the overthrown government's ambassador to the United Nations, made an appeal to the U.N. General Assembly to "use any means necessary" to stop the coup and "return the state power to the people and ... restore the democracy." He received applause after his speech.


Reports accuse Ethiopian government of ethnic cleansing campaign, massacre in Tigray

Ethiopian officials and allied militia fighters are leading a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign in the northern region of Tigray, an internal United States government report written earlier this month and obtained by The New York Times, has found. Fighters who entered Tigray in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are "deliberately and efficiently rendering Western Tigray ethnically homogenous through the organized use of force and intimidation," the report says, per the Times. "Whole villages were severely damaged or completely erased." Amnesty International also issued a report that said soldiers from neighboring Eritrea systematically killed hundreds of civilians in the Tigrayan city of Axum over a 10-day period in November. Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to deny the accusations.


Republicans stand by Trump in CPAC speeches

Several prominent Republicans, including Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Friday. While former President Donald Trump isn't scheduled to speak until Sunday, he remained the focus of the event, with Cruz telling the crowd "Donald J. Trump ain't going anywhere." Hawley, meanwhile, reportedly received one of the most raucous ovations from the crowd when he stood by his decision to challenge the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6 ahead of the deadly riot at the Capitol that day. Both Cruz and Hawley are seen as potential presidential candidates in 2024. Their colleague and fellow CPAC speaker Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said the GOP "will not win the future by trying to go back to where" it used to be. "If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated," he added.


Tiger Woods reportedly in 'good spirits' as he recovers from crash

Tiger Woods is in "good spirits" as he recovers from successful follow-up procedures on injuries he sustained in a serious single-vehicle crash earlier this week in Los Angeles, a statement posted to his Twitter account Friday night said. The golfer suffered significant injuries as a result of the crash, which has been described as "purely accidental." He reportedly had a rod placed in his tibia and screws and pins inserted in his ankle during emergency surgery. Woods is currently at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which is home to the renowned Sports Medicine Institute and its rehabilitation program for sports-related and orthopedic injuries.


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