Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 7, 2021

Tim O'Donnell
Capitol building.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

1.

Senate passes COVID-19 relief bill along party lines

The Senate on Saturday passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan along party lines, 50-49. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was absent, so Vice President Kamala Harris was not needed to cast the tie-breaking vote, as expected. Democrats, despite having only a narrow majority in the upper chamber, were able to push the bill through thanks to a procedural tool called budget reconciliation, which allowed them to avoid Republican filibusters and pass the legislation with a simple majority. The best chance for a surprise vote disappeared after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of the most moderate voices in the GOP Senate, stood with her colleagues and voted against the bill. Because the Senate amended the bill, it will now be sent back to the Democratic-majority House, where it's likely to get a second stamp of approval on Tuesday, before Biden can sign it into law. [The Washington Post, NPR]

2.

Biden to sign executive order that promotes increased voting access

President Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Sunday that will direct all federal agencies to promote voter registration and reduce barriers for certain voting groups, including military and overseas voters, Native Americans, incarcerated citizens, and people with disabilities. The agencies will be prompted to use their websites and social media platforms to share registration information, and the order will also seek to modernize the federal government's official voter registration site, Vote.gov. Biden will reportedly announce the order virtually during the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast, which will mark the 56th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. Biden's push to increase voting access comes just days after the House passed HR1, a sweeping voting reform bill that would require states to implement mail-in voting and same-day voter registration, among other things. Republicans have fiercely resisted its passage. [The Hill, CNN]

3.

3rd former aide accuses Cuomo of inappropriate behavior

Ana Liss became the third former aide to accuse New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of inappropriate workplace behavior. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Liss said that during her tenure as a policy and operations aide in the Cuomo administration between 2013 and 2015, the governor asked her about her dating life, called her sweetheart, touched her lower back at a reception, and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk. Two other former aides, Charlotte Bennett and Lindsey Boylan, have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment, and New York Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing an investigation into the matter. Liss did not appear to directly allege sexual harassment, but she did describe Cuomo's behavior toward her as inappropriate and patronizing. She said her experience working for Cuomo prompted her to begin mental health counseling. [The Wall Street Journal]

4.

Trump announces plans to campaign against Murkowski ahead of mid-terms

Former President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he is planning to travel to Alaska and campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a frequent Trump critic and one of the 17 congressional Republicans to vote to impeach him earlier this year, ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections. In a statement to Politico on Saturday, Trump said he will not be endorsing "the failed candidate from the great state of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski" and will actively campaign against her. "She represents her state badly and her country even worse," Trump said. Murkowski is the only GOP senator who voted to impeach Trump who is up for re-election next year, but even if the former president does launch an offensive against her, she'll likely be difficult to beat. She's held her seat since 2002, and Alaska's new ranked-choice primary system means she won't have to secure the Republican nomination first. [Axios, Politico]

5.

Pope Francis travels to former ISIS strongholds on 3rd day of Iraq visit

Pope Francis on Sunday visited parts of northern Iraq that were once held by the Islamic State, including the major city of Mosul. "How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism," Francis said in Mosul while surrounded by four hollowed-out churches nearly destroyed in the war to oust ISIS. "Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war." Francis will conclude his day by presiding over a large Mass in Irbil in semi-autonomous Kurdistan. Francis traveled to Iraq for a multi-day visit to show support for the country's dwindling Christian minority and urge interreligious tolerance. [The Associated Press, BBC]

6.

Trump lawyers send cease-and-desist letters to GOP committees over name use

The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee all received cease-and-desist letters Friday from lawyers representing former President Donald Trump for using his name and likeness in fundraising emails and merchandise. Per Politico, Trump has always been sensitive about how his name has been used in relation to other political candidates, but it appears to have ramped up in this case because he doesn't want to be associated with Republicans who voted to impeach him. This doesn't change the fact that Trump "remains committed to the Republican Party," an adviser told Politico, but "that doesn't give anyone — friend or foe — permission to use his likeness without explicit approval." [Politico]

7.

China's foreign minister denies Uighur genocide

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday denied allegations that his country is carrying out genocide against the Uighur population in the northwestern Xinjiang province. "The so-called 'genocide' in Xinjiang is ridiculously absurd," Wang said during his annual news conference. "It is a rumor with ulterior motives and a complete lie." Several countries, including the United States, have used the term to describe Beijing's treatment of Uighurs, an ethnic minority that largely practices Islam. China claims that its "re-education camps" provide vocational training and are designed to eradicate extremism, but there are allegations of forced labor and sterilization and systematic rape and torture at the concentration camps. In addition to the genocide denial, Wang defended China's plans to reform Hong Kong's electoral system, which critics believe will ensure Beijing loyalists are in charge, and he also called on the United States to remove "unreasonable" curbs on China to improve bilateral cooperation. [BBC, Reuters]

8.

Myanmar party official reportedly dies in police custody

An official from Myanmar's National League for Democracy, the party of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died overnight in police custody, Reuters reports. The cause of Khin Maung Latt's death is not known, but Ba Myo Thein, a member of Myanmar's dissolved parliament, told Reuters there are reports indicating he may have been "tortured severely." Myanmar's military wrested power from the elected government in a February coup and subsequently detained numerous political officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, civilians have continuously staged protests in defiance of the junta. On Sunday, Myanmar's major trade unions called for a full strike to shut down the economy starting Monday. "To continue the economic and business activities as usual ... will only benefit the military as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people," the nine-union alliance said in a joint statement. [Reuters]

9.

HFPA promises to increase diversity after Golden Globes criticism

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association issued a statement Saturday night announcing a commitment to "transformational change" in the next 60 days following criticism of the organization's lack of diversity in the wake of the 78th Golden Globe Awards. The HFPA said it plans to add Black and other underrepresented professionals to the group, hire an independent law firm to establish a process for reporting and investigating ethical violations, create a transparent voting process, and support Black and underrepresented students who are pursuing careers in international journalism. The Los Angeles Times recently revealed the HFPA, which awards the Golden Globes, had no Black members, which led to more speculation about the exclusion of Black-led films such as Da 5 Bloods or Ma Rainey's Black Bottom from the Globes' best picture categories this year. [NBC News, USA Today]

10.

NBA All Stars to square off without fans

The NBA All Star Game will tip off in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on TNT. The Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James and the Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant, the top vote-getters among fans in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively, selected the teams, though Durant will miss the game due to a hamstring injury. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will join James in his starting five. Durant's starting five will include his Brooklyn teammate Kyrie Irving, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. The game will be played without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. [ESPN, Slam]