Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 25, 2021

Biden puts Harris in charge of effort to curb border rush, mourners hold vigils to honor Boulder shooting victims, and more

1

Biden puts Harris in charge of border efforts

President Biden announced Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration's effort to curb a surge of migrants trying to cross the southern border into the United States. Harris will work with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to figure out ways to work together to reduce the flow of migrant families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S. "This new surge that we are dealing with now started with the last administration but it is our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to stop what is happening," Biden said. Biden has said he wants Harris' role in the administration to be like the one he played when he served as former President Barack Obama's vice president and headed the administration's efforts on key issues, like supporting the U.S. economy in the wake of the financial crisis.

2

Mourners honor Boulder shooting victims with vigils

Mourners held vigils on Wednesday to honor the 10 people killed in a Monday shooting rampage at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket. Police and members of the community lined a parkway as the body of Officer Eric Talley, who was killed as he responded to reports of gunfire, was transported from Boulder to a funeral home in nearby Aurora. Candlelight vigils were held in Boulder for all the victims: Talley, 51; Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jodi Waters, 65. The suspected shooter, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. He is scheduled to make his first appearance in court early Thursday.

3

AstraZeneca says updated analysis found COVID-19 vaccine 76 percent effective

AstraZeneca on Wednesday released an analysis with updated data that found that its coronavirus vaccine was 76 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, down slightly from the initial claim of 79 percent effectiveness. It is 100 percent effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. Days earlier, government scientists said AstraZeneca had cherry-picked data from a predominantly U.S. study of 32,000 people, relying on "incomplete information" to come up with the initial estimate of its effectiveness. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Wednesday before AstraZeneca released its update that the controversy was an "unforced error," but he was confident that when all of the data was vetted it would "turn out to be a good vaccine."

4

Daily COVID-19 deaths fall to lowest level since November

Public health experts at a Wednesday White House briefing touted mounting signs of progress in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Dozens of states are opening vaccinations to all adults or plan to do so within weeks, and 70 percent of Americans 65 or older already have received at least one dose. COVID-19 deaths have fallen below 1,000 a day on average, dropping to levels last seen in November. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday it was still too early to declare victory, noting that new cases have remained above 50,000 per day. "I'm often asked, are we turning the corner?" Fauci said. "My response is really more like we are at the corner. Whether or not we're going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen."

5

Rachel Levine becomes 1st openly transgender official confirmed by Senate

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rachel Levine as the top assistant secretary for health, making her the highest ranking openly transgender person to serve in the U.S. government. Before becoming the first openly transgender person confirmed by the Senate, Levine served as Pennsylvania's top health official. The Senate approved her on Wednesday in a 52 to 48 vote, with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining all of the chamber's Democrats and independents. "I firmly believe that turning points, such as today's Senate confirmation vote for Dr. Levine's appointment, are powerful indications that this nation is truly heading down the pathway to lasting transgender equality," said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who served in the Obama administration and was the first openly transgender official to work in the White House.

6

Virginia abolishes the death penalty

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday signed a law making the state the 23rd to abolish the death penalty. Virginia's ban marked a huge shift. It has put to death more people in its history than any other state, and it is the first state in the South to end capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. "We can't give out the ultimate punishment without being 100 percent sure that we're right. And we can't sentence people to that ultimate punishment knowing that the system doesn't work the same for everyone," Northam said before signing the bill at the Greensville Correctional Center, where Virginia's death chamber is located.

7

Myanmar releases hundreds detained in junta's crackdown

Myanmar's ruling military junta on Wednesday released hundreds of people arrested in its crackdown on protesters demanding a return to democratic rule. Several buses took prisoners out of Yangon's Insein Prison, although the military did not confirm how many were being freed. "All the released are the ones arrested due to the protests, as well as night arrests or those who were out to buy something," said a member of a legal advisory group. Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw, who was arrested last month, was among those released. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said at least 2,000 people had been detained since protests erupted in response to the Feb. 1 coup. United Nations officials in New York said they remained concerned about ongoing arbitrary arrests.

8

Gas prices rise as demand rebounds from pandemic plunge

Gasoline prices hit an average of $2.88 per gallon over the past week, up by about one-third compared to the same time last year, according to AAA. Fuel prices have gotten a boost from rebounding oil prices as the global economy recovers from the devastation of coronavirus lockdowns. Crude oil prices, which had already been rising, jumped by 5.9 percent on Wednesday as a massive container ship went aground in the Suez Canal, blocking shipping traffic in a waterway that is vital to the international oil market. The jump in gas prices ahead of the summer driving season is helping energy companies recover after being clobbered by a drop in demand as the pandemic halted most travel last year. Shares of fuel company Valero rose by 2.4 percent, and those of Phillips 66 gained 3.9 percent on Wednesday.

9

Democrats start push to expand voting rights

Senate Democrats on Wednesday held a Senate Rules Committee hearing to launch an effort to expand voting rights and counter efforts by Republican state legislators to impose new restrictions. "Today, in the 21st century, there is a concerted, nationwide effort to limit the rights of citizens to vote," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The bill, called the For the People Act, seeks to make it easier for Americans to vote and end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts. It also includes new campaign finance rules. Republicans are united in their opposition to the legislation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the bill a "brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats," falsely claiming it would let millions of undocumented immigrants register to vote.

10

Rapinoe tells Congress gender pay gap 'unacceptable'

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe told lawmakers on Wednesday that it is "unacceptable" that women still have to fight to close the gender pay gap. "There's no level of status, and there's no accomplishment or power, that will protect you from the clutches of inequality," Rapinoe said in a House Oversight Committee hearing on Equal Pay Day. "One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind," said Rapinoe, a star in a U.S. women's national team whose players earned far less than their male counterparts despite performing far better on the world stage. "We can change that right now. We just have to want to."

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