Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 28, 2021

Tim O'Donnell
Food and Drug Administration.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

1.

FDA grants emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, which means there will soon be three effective shots available for Americans. The Johnson & Johnson candidate registered a 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial. That falls short of the roughly 95 percent rates seen in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna trials, but experts are still very pleased with Johnson & Johnson's results, especially since it also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe COVID-19 infections, and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalizations and deaths, suggesting it will be a crucial tool in the fight to end the pandemic. Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the U.S. with 100 million doses by June, but four million doses should be ready to go as soon as possible now that the FDA has signed off, with another 16 million available by the end of the March. [The New York Times]

2.

Trump to return to spotlight with CPAC speech

Former President Donald Trump will make his first major return to the political stage Sunday with a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. Trump has only been out of office for a few weeks, but he's reportedly determined to show he remains a significant force in American politics and within the Republican Party. The speech will reportedly focus heavily on criticizing President Biden, including his immigration policies, though there's an expectation Trump will also go after some of his GOP critics like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). While polls indicate Trump would be the favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination again in 2024, he has not announced a campaign, and it's unclear if he'll bring up the possibility at all during his speech. [The Guardian, The Week]

3.

2nd former aide accuses Cuomo of sexual harassment

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by a second former aide. Charlotte Bennett, who worked as a senior briefer and executive assistant in Cuomo's administration in 2019 and 2020, told The New York Times that Cuomo harassed her in June 2020, asking her questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age gaps mattered in relationships and if she ever had sex with older men. The 25-year-old Bennett said the governor never tried to touch her, but she "absolutely" felt he was making an entreaty to a sexual relationship, which made her "horribly uncomfortable and scared." In response to the allegations, Cuomo said he has requested an independent review into the matter and believed he was acting in a mentor role, but did not dispute asking Bennett personal questions. Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, accused Cuomo of harassing her several times from 2016 to 2018. [The New York Times]

4.

Biden urges Senate to act quickly on COVID-19 relief

The House passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 219-212 vote nearly along party lines early Saturday. Later in the day, Biden called for quick passage in the Senate. "If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again," he said. The contents of the legislation could change once it reaches the upper chamber, especially after the bipartisan Senate parliamentarian said the bill could not include a proposal to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour because of the strict limitations that come with budget reconciliation, the tool Democrats aim to use to avoid Republican obstruction and pass the measure with a simple majority vote. [The Associated Press, The New York Times]

5.

Myanmar experiences deadliest day since anti-coup protests began

At least 11 people have been killed during nationwide anti-coup protests in Myanmar on Sunday, marking the deadliest day since the demonstrations began earlier this month, BBC reports. Dozens more people were reportedly injured. Deaths were reported in the cities of Yangon, Dawei, and Mandalay, where police allegedly fired live rounds, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The military regime that overthrew Myanmar's elected government in February has ramped up its response to the pro-democracy rallies over the last few weeks. Security forces have reportedly utilized increasingly violent tactics to disperse the crowds and hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been detained. But the protesters have so far shown no sign of slowing down. Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's civilian leader who has not been seen in public since she was detained by the military, is scheduled to appear in court Monday. [BBC, Reuters]

6.

Biden says a further announcement about U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship is coming

President Biden said Saturday that "there will be an announcement on Monday as to what" his administration is "going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally" in response to the release of an official United States intelligence report that found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The Biden administration on Friday announced sanctions against dozens of Saudis allegedly involved in the operation, but no direct penalties against the crown prince were included, despite bipartisan calls from U.S. lawmakers for a harsher response. Biden's Saturday comments did not specify whether that would change, but they did suggest Friday's sanctions won't be the final action the White House takes. [The New York Post, NPR]

7.

47 pro-democracy activists charged with violating security laws in Hong Kong

China's efforts to quell the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong continued on Sunday when 47 campaigners and activists, many of them prominent leaders, were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion. The charges mark the largest single crackdown under a Beijing-imposed national security law that was implemented last year. The individuals facing charges, some of whom reportedly pumped their fists in defiance when reporting to police stations across the city, are scheduled to appear in court Monday. They have been accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial primary last July. The security law has presented a significant challenge for democratic activists in Hong Kong. All told, the Hong Kong police say 99 people have been arrested for suspected violations so far. [Reuters]

8.

Biden explains decision behind Syria strike in letter to congressional leadership

President Biden sent a letter to congressional leadership Saturday explaining his decision to launch an airstrike against facilities linked to Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria last week. Biden said the groups "were involved in recent attacks against United States and coalition personnel in Iraq" and remain "engaged in ongoing planning for such future attacks." The U.S., he wrote, "always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense." Several Democratic lawmakers criticized the move, especially because it was carried out without congressional approval, but some Republicans supported Biden's decision. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the strikes, calling them a "violation of Syria's sovereignty." [CNN, Axios]

9.

Buffett says 'never bet against America' in annual letter

In his annual letter to shareholders Saturday, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said he remains confident about the United States' economic future despite a pandemic-related downturn, citing the country's history of progressing even amid hardship. "Never bet against America," Buffett wrote. "There has been no incubator for unleashing human potential like" the U.S., he added. The letter wasn't entirely optimistic, however. Buffett issued a warning for "fixed-income investors worldwide — whether in pension funds, insurance companies, or retirees," predicting they "face a bleak future." Per USA Today, that's partly because the bond market is ailing while the global economy picks up speed. [USA Today, Yahoo Finance]

10.

78th Golden Globe Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET

The 78th Golden Globe Awards will air Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The ceremony will be virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic, with Tina Fey hosting from New York City and Amy Poehler joining her from Los Angeles. The longtime collaborators will be returning to helm the show for the fourth time after hosting together for three straight years between 2013 and 2015. Honorees will all be at home during the ceremony. Streaming services are expected to dominate, The New York Times reports. Netflix productions, for example, combined for a leading 42 nominations, including six for Mank, the David Fincher-directed film about Old Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Most of the films nominated this year had to bypass theaters because of the pandemic. [CBS News, The New York Times]