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10 things you need to know today: March 11, 2021

The House passes a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general, and more


House passes $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package

The House on Wednesday passed the nearly $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package as adjusted by the Senate, sending it to President Biden for his signature, expected on Friday. House Democrats pushed through the legislation in a 220 to 211 vote, without Republican support. The package includes another round of stimulus checks for most Americans, as well as extended extra unemployment benefits. It also sends billions of dollars to city, state, and tribal governments, and small businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Schools will get money to help them reopen classrooms. The package includes provisions such as expanded tax credits and food aid that could cut child poverty in half. Republicans argued that the plan was too expensive, but a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday found that 70 percent of Americans supported it.


Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, to be President Biden's attorney general. The 70-30 vote came nearly five years after then-President Barack Obama nominated Garland to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court. Republicans controlled the Senate at the time, and they refused to even consider the nomination, keeping the seat open until Obama was out of office and his successor, Donald Trump, took over. This time, Garland was confirmed with support from 20 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others instrumental in keeping the judge off the Supreme Court. "I'm voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert," McConnell said. "His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream."


Biden plans tour to promote coronavirus relief plan

After President Biden signs the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Friday afternoon, he's planning to embark on a tour across the country promoting the COVID-19 relief package, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. Biden has received calls from Democratic lawmakers and strategists to make it clear he and the party should receive credit for the stimulus. In response to the 2008 financial crisis, Congress passed a major stimulus bill in 2009, former President Barack Obama's first year in office, but Democrats believe the plan never got the recognition it deserved for revitalizing the economy. The White House wants to get ahead of Republican opposition this time. "It will really take a sustained drumbeat to make sure everyone understands what's in that package," said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist close to the White House.


Biden orders 100 million more doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

President Biden said Wednesday that his administration was ordering another 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's single-shot coronavirus vaccine. The news came after Biden, who has made speeding up vaccine distribution a priority, said the nation would have enough vaccine for all American adults by late May, at least two months earlier than previously expected. The urgency of the vaccine push reflected concerns that highly contagious new coronavirus variants could disrupt manufacturing and trigger another COVID-19 surge. The new order, which Johnson & Johnson suggested still needed to be finalized, will bring the federal government's total order for the company's vaccine to 200 million doses. The government also has ordered 600 million doses of the two-dose vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Biden said his goal is to make sure the U.S. has enough vaccine, then share doses with other countries.


Hackers breach feeds from 150,000 security cameras

Hackers said Wednesday that they breached security-camera data collected by startup Verkada Inc. for a host of companies, including Tesla and software provider Cloudflare. The compromised data included live feeds from 150,000 surveillance cameras at companies, hospitals, police departments, prisons, and schools, as well as Verkada's offices. The hackers belonged to an international collective seeking to expose the pervasiveness of video surveillance, and how easy it can be for outsiders to access the images, said Tillie Kottmann, one of the hackers claiming responsibility for the breach of the Silicon Valley firm. One video, Bloomberg reported, showed a Tesla warehouse in Shanghai. The hackers reportedly obtained footage from 222 cameras in Tesla factories and warehouses.


Minnesota Supreme Court clears path for new murder charge against Chauvin

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's appeal to prevent prosecutors from adding another murder charge in his trial for the killing of George Floyd. Chauvin already faces charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes. Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill announced the ruling on the additional charge as jury selection in Chauvin's trial continued for a second day on Wednesday, with five jurors chosen so far. Cahill said he would consider the state high court's ruling on Thursday. Three other former officers charged with aiding and abetting are scheduled to go on trial in August.


Senate confirms Marcia Fudge as HUD secretary

The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as President Biden's secretary of housing and urban development. The 66-34 vote made Fudge, 68, the first Black woman to run HUD in more than 40 years. Morale at the agency reportedly sank in recent years as the Trump administration's secretary, Ben Carson, sharply cut back fair housing enforcement. "The past year has reminded us just how important it is to have a safe and stable place to call home," Fudge, who entered Congress in 2008, said in a video statement released after she was sworn in. "But, right now — for millions of Americans — that sense of security and peace of mind is out of reach." Fudge said during her January confirmation hearing that she would push to end discriminatory housing practices under Biden's push for racial justice and increased Black homeownership.


Brazil overtakes U.S. as nation with most new coronavirus cases

Brazil has surpassed the United States as the country with the most daily coronavirus infections and deaths. The South American nation's daily death toll on Wednesday reached 2,286, its highest level yet. The U.S. daily death total on Tuesday was 1,947, down from a January peak of more than 3,400. Brazil, which faces a surge fueled by a highly infectious new coronavirus variant, has a seven-day average death toll of 1,573. The rate in the U.S. has fallen to 1,566 as infections decline and the rate of vaccinations accelerates. Brazil is facing a mounting humanitarian crisis as hospitals fill up and some patients who could have been saved have been left to die. "It seems like a nightmare," said Mohamed Parrini, chief executive of the Moinhos de Vento Hospital in the southern city of Porto Alegre.


Biden restarts program for Central American children fleeing violence

President Biden on Wednesday restarted the Central American Minors program to help children fleeing violence in Central America as the administration faces a surge of migrants trying to cross the U.S. southern border. Between 2014 and 2017, the Central American Minors program let children hoping to escape violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras apply from their home countries for a chance to enter the United States. The program applied to those under age 21 with parents lawfully living in the U.S. Then-President Donald Trump halted the program in 2017. Biden's reinstatement of the program is part of a push the administration says will create a more humane situation at the border. Republicans accused Biden of encouraging migrants to make dangerous attempts to get into the U.S.


New details emerge of Trump call to Georgia's elections investigator

Then-President Donald Trump pressed Frances Watson, chief investigator in the Georgia Secretary of State's office, in December to look for fraud in mail-in ballots that were under audit, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The call was first reported by The Washington Post in January, but the Journal reported new details after the audio was released for the first time. Trump told Watson "something bad happened," adding, "when the right answer comes out, you'll be praised." Watson told Trump "we are only interested in the truth." The audit found no evidence of fraud. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is conducting a criminal investigation into alleged pressure on Georgia officials to overturn President Biden's 12,000-vote victory in the state.


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