10 things you need to know today: March 26, 2021
Biden doubles vaccine target in 1st news conference as president, judge orders Boulder shooting suspect held without bail, and more
Biden doubles vaccination target in 1st news conference as president
President Biden said Thursday in his first solo news conference as president that his new target for coronavirus vaccinations is 200 million in his first 100 days in office, double the original target that his administration surpassed weeks ahead of schedule. Biden said he had been focusing on fighting the spread of the coronavirus and providing economic relief, but he is now adding several other priorities, including immigration reform, gun control, and protecting and expanding voting rights. He called efforts by Republican state lawmakers to impose new voting restrictions "un-American" and "sick." Biden touched on a broad range of topics in the hour-long conference, signaling support for reforming the filibuster to curb what he described as decades of abuse, and confirming that he intended to run for re-election in 2024.
Judge orders Boulder shooting suspect held without bail
A judge on Thursday ordered Boulder, Colorado, mass shooting suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa held without bail. It was Alissa's first court appearance since he was arrested Monday shortly after the shooting at the King Soopers grocery store. Ten people, including a police officer responding to reports of gunfire, were killed. Defense attorneys said they needed time to have Alissa's mental health assessed. Prosecutors have charged Alissa with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for allegedly firing at another police officer who was not injured. Prosecutors said they expected to file more charges soon. Alissa allegedly bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol about a week before the attack.
Kemp signs Georgia bill tightening voting restrictions
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Thursday night signed a Republican-sponsored bill, passed hours earlier, that restricts voting by mail and reforms elections in several ways in response to the 2020 elections. The bill will require a photo ID to vote absentee by mail, cut the time voters have to request an absentee ballot, and limit where ballot drop boxes can be placed. It also reduces the runoff election period from nine to four weeks. It will replace Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who stood up to former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn Georgia's election results, as chair of the state election board, giving the job to a legislature appointee. Voting rights groups have said the bill will disenfranchise voters of color.
Initial jobless claims reach pandemic low
The number of Americans filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell to 684,000 last week, the lowest number since the coronavirus pandemic triggered widespread business shutdowns in the United States, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The last week with fewer than 700,000 initial jobless claims was in March 2020. Last week's figure was down from 781,000 the previous week, and significantly below the 735,000 expected by economists. Continuing claims fell by 264,000 to just under 3.9 million. "Things have improved over the last year, but there are still millions of people dealing with real economic pain," said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. "Increased vaccinations are hopefully the beginning of the end. Once the public health situation is improved, a full recovery can finally take place."
N.Y. leaders reach deal on legalizing recreational marijuana
New York officials on Thursday sealed a deal seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. If the legislature passes the bill and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs it, the law will make it possible to establish a $4.2 billion industry that could create tens of thousands of jobs, while potentially ending years of drug policing that resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests of Black and Latino suspects. The agreement between lawmakers and Cuomo calls for legalizing cannabis for adults 21 and older. It also would allow deliveries of the drug and club-like lounges where marijuana, but not alcohol, could be consumed. Individuals would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.
Pfizer starts trial of vaccine in children
Pfizer announced Thursday that it had begun testing of its COVID-19 vaccine in healthy children 6 months to 11 years old. Public health officials consider the clinical trial a crucial step toward curbing the coronavirus pandemic by getting federal regulatory approval to start vaccinating children. The first participants in the trial's first phase, which will include 144 participants, have received their shots. Pfizer is testing the vaccine it developed with German drugmaker BioNTech to identify the best dosing level for three age groups, kids between 6 months and 2 years, between 2 and 5, and 5 through 11. The tests will start out with 10 microgram doses and move on to higher doses, although participants will have the option of getting 3 microgram doses, New York-based Pfizer said. Adults get two shots of 30 micrograms each.
Cuomo vaccine prioritization added to impeachment inquiry
The New York State Assembly has expanded its impeachment inquiry to consider whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration sent top health officials to conduct then-scarce coronavirus tests on Cuomo's relatives and associates. Members of Cuomo's family, including his mother, at least one of his sisters, and brother Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, were tested several times by top health department officials, sources told the Albany Times Union. State Assemblyman Charles Lavine of Long Island, chair of the Assembly's Judiciary Committee, said that despite the change, "the investigation's primary focus remains questions related to sexual harassment, nursing homes, and bridge safety." Under the priority testing, the samples were expedited, sometimes delaying daily data runs to get rapid results on the "critical samples." The state Public Officers Law bars officials from using state resources to benefit individuals, including family members.
USC agrees to $852 million settlement in Tyndall sexual assault lawsuits
The University of Southern California has agreed to pay $852 million to settle lawsuits by hundreds of women who say administrators did not adequately address complaints of sexual abuse of student health patients by former USC gynecologist George Tyndall. The university previously agreed a $200 million-plus settlement of a 2018 federal class-action case, so its legal settlements involving allegations against Tyndall, who has been accused of abuse by 710 women, now exceed $1 billion. USC and plaintiffs' attorneys disclosed the new settlement terms on Thursday after a Los Angeles County Superior Court hearing. Tyndall is awaiting trial on criminal charges stemming from allegations that he touched patients unnecessarily and inappropriately.
5 die in Alabama tornado as storm sweeps South
At least five people died Thursday when a tornado hit Calhoun County, Alabama, County Sheriff Matthew Wade told CNN. "There's numerous homes damaged, numerous people injured, and at least five fatalities," Wade said. Three of the people killed were adult members of the same family. Fourteen tornadoes were reported across the state as a storm system swept across the South. A tornado damaged about 60 homes, 22 of them with "major damage" in Pelham just south of Birmingham, Pelham Fire Chief Michael Reid said. In Georgia, the National Weather Service had to warn residents near the town of Newnan just south of Atlanta to "take cover now" as a large tornado touched down there in what the NWS described as a "particularly dangerous situation."
Jessica Walter, Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth, dies at 80
Jessica Walter, who was nominated for Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards for her portrayal of Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, has died at age 80. Walter died in her sleep at her New York City home, her daughter Brooke Bowman confirmed Thursday. "A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off," Bowman said. "While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class, and overall joie de vivre." Walter also voiced Malory Archer on the animated series Archer, appeared in Clint Eastwood's 1971 film Play Misty for Me, and won an Emmy in 1975 for Amy Prentiss.