Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 19, 2021

The U.S. plans to send surplus vaccine doses to Mexico and Canada, the House passes bill with citizenship path for DREAMers, and more

1

U.S. to send Mexico, Canada 4 million vaccine doses

The Biden administration plans to send 2.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, the White House said Thursday. The extra supply is sitting in warehouses because U.S. regulators have not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use. Mexico and Canada have cleared the AstraZeneca shots for use, so they could immediately start administering them. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the plan has not yet been finalized. The announcement came as the Biden administration asks Mexico to help curb a wave of migrants trying to get across the U.S.-Mexico border. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador requested during a recent video call that President Biden consider sending the surplus supply. Canada's vaccine supply has so far come from Europe and India.

2

House passes bills with citizenship path for DREAMers, farm workers

The House on Thursday approved an immigration bill seeking to create a path to citizenship for roughly 2 million DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children. The 228-197 vote was split mostly along party lines, with nine Republicans joining Democrats to push it through. A second bill seeks to give immigrants working in agriculture a path to legal status. The legislation faces a tough road in the evenly split Senate, where all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans would have to support it to get past a GOP filibuster and advance the bills. Passing bipartisan immigration legislation has become more difficult recently, as Republicans have pointed to a surge in unaccompanied minors arriving at the southern border as a sign that tougher immigration laws are needed.

3

Lawmakers, activists call out anti-Asian violence after spa shootings

Asian-American lawmakers and advocates said Thursday in a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing that violence and discrimination against Asian Americans had reached a crisis point with the shooting spree that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area spas. "For over a year, Asian Americans have been fighting an additional virus of hate and bigotry," Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said in the hearing, which was called before the attacks, on rising anti-Asian violence. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said anti-Asian bias grew worse over the past year as former President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" or "Wuhan flu." Some Republicans attributed rising crimes against Asian Americans to surging urban violence.

4

Biden says administration reaching goal of 100 million vaccine doses

President Biden said Thursday that his administration would meet his goal of administering 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Friday. Biden said before taking office that the U.S. would hit the mark in his first 100 days, but Friday is just his 58th day. Biden said 100 million is "just the floor. We will not stop until we beat this pandemic." Biden set the goal in December just before federal regulators approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use. The Trump administration's slow vaccine rollout threatened to make it hard for Biden to keep his promise, but by the time he took office the daily tally had risen close to the necessary pace of 1 million doses per day. The U.S. is now administering about 2.5 million shots daily. About 16 million doses were administered during the Trump administration.

5

U.S., China trade barbs at start of talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Thursday in Alaska with top China diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi to start the first direct high-level talks the Biden administration has had with Beijing. The two sides scolded each other in a rare public airing of their differences over trade and other policies. "We will ... discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies," Blinken said. "Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability." Yang criticized the United States for what he said was the nation's struggling democracy and mistreatment of minorities.

6

European regulators declare AstraZeneca vaccine safe, effective

The European Medicines Agency has concluded that the coronavirus vaccine AstraZeneca developed with Oxford University is safe despite decisions by several European countries to suspend its use due to suspicions it could be linked to blood clots. The EMA's executive director, Emer Cooke, said the drug regulator had "come to a clear scientific conclusion: This is a safe and effective vaccine." The EMA group found that the vaccine was "not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots," Cooke said, although the agency said it could not definitively rule out a link to a rare blood clotting disorder. Regardless, Cooke said, the vaccine's benefits outweighed any risk.

7

Senate confirms Becerra, Burns

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services secretary, making him the first Latino to lead the agency. The vote was 50-49. Becerra will have to implement parts of the American Rescue Plan, expand the Affordable Care Act, and run shelters for unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border. In a far more bipartisan vote, the Senate also confirmed William J. Burns as CIA director. Burns' nomination was approved by unanimous consent. Burns, one of the nation's most experienced career diplomats, worked in the Foreign Service for three decades before retiring in 2014. He takes over the spy agency at a moment of escalating tensions between the United States and Russia, a country where he once served as America's ambassador.

8

Labor Department says weekly new jobless claims rose to 770,000

The Labor Department said Thursday that 770,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims last week. That was up 45,000 claims from the level of the previous week, which was initially reported to be 712,000 but was revised up to 725,000. It was also about 70,000 claims higher than expected, as economists thought claims would decline this week to about 700,000. The number of new claims remains higher than the record prior to the pandemic, which was 695,000. The number of claims is also still higher than any week during the Great Recession. The most recent U.S. jobs report had surpassed expectations earlier this month. But Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote that while "the engine of economic recovery is restarting," there "is still a long way to go."

9

Georgia sheriff's spokesman removed from spa shooting case

The Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff's Office has removed a spokesman from the investigation into shootings that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area spas. The decision came after social-media posts emerged in which the spokesman, Capt. Jay Baker, promoted T-shirts calling COVID-19 an "imported virus from CHY-NA." Baker was already facing widespread criticism for seeming to dismiss the possibility that the attack was a hate crime and telling reporters that the murder suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, had "a really bad day" and "this is what he did." Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds issued a statement Thursday saying the department regrets "any heartache" Baker's remarks caused. Reynolds said Baker's comments were "not intended to disrespect any of the victims."

10

Woman alleges actor Armie Hammer 'violently raped' her in 2017

The Los Angeles Police Department said Thursday that it was investigating a woman's allegation that actor Armie Hammer sexually assaulted her. The woman, who identified herself as Effie, came forward in a Thursday press conference with attorney Gloria Allred to allege the Call Me By Your Name star "violently raped me for over four hours" in April 2017. She said Hammer slapped her head against a wall, and "committed other acts of violence against me to which I did not consent." Andrew Brettler, an attorney for Hammer, said the allegations were not true. Brettler did not deny that Hammer, who was married at the time, had a relationship with the accuser, but said his relations with her and all other sexual partners "have been completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory."

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