Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 17, 2021

Tim O'Donnell
Coronavirus test samples.
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin

1.

Global COVID-19 death toll eclipses 3 million

The global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 3 million on Saturday, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University reveals. As The Associated Press notes, the true number is believed to be higher based on suspicions that some governments have downplayed their countries' cases and fatalities, as well as the likelihood that many infections were missed early in the pandemic. Daily deaths are on the rise again worldwide, AP notes, with the average currently sitting at 12,000. Cases are also on the upswing; World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that weekly infections have "nearly doubled over the past two months." The increase comes amid a global vaccine drive, albeit a patchy one. Some countries, including the United States, have ramped up their efforts, but immunization rates remain low elsewhere. [The Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University]

2.

Indianapolis FedEx shooter was former employee, previously investigated by FBI

The man suspected of fatally shooting eight people at a FedEx facility on the grounds of the Indianapolis International Airport late Thursday was formerly an employee at the location, a FedEx spokesperson said Friday. The suspected mass shooter, identified as 19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole, was also reportedly known to federal and local authorities prior to the attack. CNN reports that before the gunman allegedly opened fire at the facility, a family member reached out to authorities to warn about his potential for violence. The FBI reportedly launched a preliminary investigation, but dropped it after concluding there wasn't sufficient evidence. The shooter killed eight people, and at least four other victims have been hospitalized, police said, also reporting the gunman shot and killed himself after officers arrived at the FedEx facility. [The Associated Press, CNN]

3.

Biden administration will increase refugee cap after Democratic criticism

The Biden administration said Friday afternoon it would set numbers for an increased refugee cap, lifting the cap from a historic low set by the Trump administration. The announcement came after officials had walked back a pledge to welcome more than 60,000 refugees, rather than the 15,000 maximum set by Biden's predecessor, which drew swift criticism from Democrats and advocates. The apparent reversal on his pledge had been "the subject of some confusion," the White House said, adding that Biden would set a "final, increased refugee cap" by May 15, though "given the decimated refugee admissions program we inherited," Biden's "initial goal of 62,500 seems unlikely." Many of Biden's allies in Congress and progressives had blasted news of the lowered cap, calling it "unacceptable." [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

4.

Large crowd gathers in Chicago to protest Adam Toledo police shooting

More than 1,000 people gathered Friday night in Chicago's Logan Square Park and marched through the surrounding area in remembrance of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino boy who was shot and killed by a police officer on March 29. Since body camera footage of the shooting was released on Thursday, many people in Chicago, including Friday night's crowd, have called for an overhaul of the city's police department and its use of force policies. The protest mostly went without incident, although there were a few arrests, USA Today reports. Demonstrations also continued for the sixth straight day in Minneapolis on Friday in response to the police shooting of Daunte Wright. Police reportedly made about 100 arrests and fired pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd, per The New York Times. [The New York Times, USA Today]

5.

Russia will expel U.S. diplomats in response to sanctions

Russia will expel 10 U.S. diplomats and blacklist eight U.S. officials in response to new sanctions from the Biden administration, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday. The Biden administration said Thursday it would impose sanctions on Russian individuals and entities in response to election interference and hacks and expel 10 Russian diplomats. Many of those targeted are linked to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that meddled in the 2016 election, or the massive SolarWinds hack, which is believed to have been orchestrated by Russia. President Biden told reporters he was "clear" with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a recent phone call that "we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate." Lavrov said Russia would soon announce which eight U.S. officials will be barred by Russia, and called Biden's sanctions "absolutely hostile and unprovoked." [The Washington Post]

6.

1st Capitol riot defendant pleads guilty and will 'cooperate fully'

Jon Schaffer, a founding member of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, pleaded guilty on Friday to charges stemming from his participation in the riot at the Capitol building on Jan. 6. He is the first Capitol riot suspect to plead guilty, and under the deal, he will "cooperate fully with the United States," per Politico. Schaffer pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing an official proceeding of Congress and entering and remaining in a restricted building while armed with a weapon. Schaffer admitted he was "among the first individuals to push past" a set of damaged doors into the Capitol building. He was one of over 400 people charged over the riot; a dozen Oath Keepers have been charged. Former federal prosecutor Peter Skinner explained this plea deal is "trying to send a strong signal to other Oath Keepers and leaders that there's somebody in the organization that is going to be telling them everything they know." [Politico, The Washington Post]

7.

Raúl Castro will step down as head of Cuba's Communist Party

Raúl Castro on Friday confirmed he will step down from his role as leader of Cuba's ruling Communist Party. He's expected to name his replacement Monday, stating in a speech Friday that he aims to hand the reins to a younger generation "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit," The New York Times reports. The 90-year-old Castro previously served two terms as Cuba's president, succeeding his late brother Fidel, but the younger Castro stepped down from that role in 2018. Now, for the first time in over 60 years, the Times notes, Cuba will be without a Castro in a formal, day-to-day leadership position, though Raúl is expected to maintain significant influence. Going forward, the country is expected to announce further reforms — set in motion by the younger Castro — that will likely allow for more free-market activity, the Times reports. [The New York Times, NBC News]

8.

NASA hands SpaceX lunar lander contract

NASA announced Friday that SpaceX's Starship vehicle will serve as the agency's lunar lander for its Artemis Program, which is focused on returning humans to the moon later this decade. The contract is worth $2.89 billion. SpaceX beat out Dynetics and Blue Origin, thanks to a combination of the company's "technical proficiency, management, and cost," Ars Technica reports, though "budget appears to have been the biggest factor." SpaceX's bid was about half the price of Dynetics', and a quarter of Blue Origin's. NASA officials added that Starship has a spacious cabin for astronauts, a large payload capacity that will allow it to bring a large amount of experiments to the moon and samples back to Earth, as well as an innovative design that could one day be used to get to Mars. [Ars Technica, NASA]

9.

Helen McCrory, Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter star, dies at 52

Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter actress Helen McCrory has died at 52 after a battle with cancer, her husband, actor Damian Lewis, has announced. Lewis said on Friday that McCrory, whom he married in 2007, died "peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family," following a "heroic" cancer battle. McCrory was known best for her roles as Polly Gray on Peaky Blinders and as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. She also starred in films like The Queen, Skyfall, and Hugo. Her stage work included Macbeth and Pride and Prejudice. McCrory and Lewis had two children together. "She died as she lived," Lewis said. "Fearlessly ... She blazed so brightly." [Variety, Entertainment Tonight]

10.

British royals gather for Prince Philip's funeral

Prince Philip's funeral is taking place Saturday. The ceremony, which is scaled back because of coronavirus restrictions, is being held at St. George's Chapel in Windsor. The 30 attendees, including Prince Harry, will be socially distanced and wearing face masks while seated in household bubbles, The Guardian reports. The Duke of Edinburgh's coffin was carried to the chapel from Windsor Castle by a Land Rover, surrounded by pallbearers representing the principle organizations of the United Kingdom's armed forces. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died earlier this month at 99. [The Guardian]