Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 4, 2021

Harold Maass
President Biden
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

1.

Biden raises U.S. refugee cap from 15,000 to 62,500

President Biden said in a statement Monday that he was raising the annual cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 from the record low of 15,000 set by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump. Less than a month ago, Biden signed an executive order saying the cap would be kept at the Trump-era level, sparking a backlash from refugee advocates and progressive Democrats. "It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin," Biden said. The change came as Biden faces intensifying pressure to confront a surge of would-be refugees trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. [The Wall Street Journal]

2.

Times: U.S. might not be able to reach coronavirus herd immunity

Experts now believe the United States may not reach herd immunity to COVID-19, although the virus can be controlled to the point where it is a manageable threat, The New York Times reported Monday. Experts once thought the U.S. may be able to reach the herd immunity threshold when 60 to 70 percent of the population had immunity to COVID-19, but now estimate that reaching 80 percent or more might be required due to the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant. This level may be out of reach, partly due to vaccine hesitancy. However, vaccines can help turn the virus into a milder threat that could be like the seasonal flu. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said by protecting those most at risk, COVID-19 can be turned "from a society disrupter to a regular infectious disease." [The New York Times]

3.

At least 23 dead after Mexico City commuter train overpass collapses

A Mexico City rail overpass collapsed onto a road Monday night as a train passed overhead, killing at least 23 people and injuring 70 others. The accident occurred when "a support beam gave way" on the Metro 12 line overpass, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said. One person was freed from a car trapped underneath rubble. Early Tuesday, people remained trapped on the train, which split in two and was suspended precariously, hindering rescue efforts. "We don't know if they are alive," Sheinbaum said of the trapped passengers. This is the third serious accident on the five-decade-old Mexico City Metro, one of the largest and busiest commuter rail systems in the world. The other two, in 2015 and 2019, involved two trains colliding. [CNN, The Associated Press]

4.

Mourners at Andrew Brown Jr.'s funeral call for releasing police video

Family members and civil rights leaders mourned Andrew Brown Jr. on Monday at an invitation-only funeral. The event was held two weeks after the Black man was fatally shot outside his North Carolina home by deputies serving search and arrest warrants. Last week, a judge ruled against making all the deputies' body-camera videos public, a decision that angered the family and civil rights leaders. "I know a con game when I see it," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a eulogy at the funeral in Elizabeth City. "Release the whole tape and let the folks see what happened to Andrew Brown." An independent autopsy done for the family found that Brown was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. [The Associated Press, NPR]

5.

EPA to impose new rule to cut common greenhouse gases

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a new regulation designed to sharply reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a powerful class of greenhouse gases used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and building insulation. The rules marked a concrete step to cut emissions linked to climate change following President Biden's announcement 10 days ago that the U.S. would aim to reduce emissions by half over the next decade. The EPA's new regulation would aim to cut HFC production, import, and use by 85 percent over the next 15 years, beginning in 2022. HFCs trap heat in the atmosphere more efficiently than carbon dioxide, and the EPA estimates that the new regulation could cut the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2036. [NPR]

6.

DeSantis issues order against local COVID-19 mandates in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Monday he was issuing an executive order barring local governments in the state from imposing COVID-19 emergency mandates starting July 1. DeSantis said with vaccine supply now outstripping demand, there was no need to continue the restrictions. DeSantis announced the executive order as he signed a bill passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature barring private businesses and other entities from requiring "vaccine passports" from customers and visitors. DeSantis said the moves were "the evidence-based thing to do," adding that they would help people "enjoy themselves" and "live freely in the state of Florida." [CBS News]

7.

Cheney criticizes Trump for calling Biden victory 'Big Lie'

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Monday renewed her pushback against former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that he would have beaten President Biden in the 2020 election had it not been for "fraudulent" votes. Trump released a written statement on Monday saying: "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Cheney responded by tweeting that the election "was not stolen," and "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system." Cheney survived a bid to oust her from her role as the No. 3 House Republican after she voted to impeach Trump on allegations that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. [CNN]

8.

Report: FDA on verge of authorizing Pfizer vaccine for ages 12 to 15

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the use of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine on 12- to 15-year-olds within days, possibly as early as this week, ABC7 NY reported Monday, citing health experts. Pfizer has said clinical trials show the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech to be 100 percent effective in this age group. The vaccine already has been approved for people aged 16 and up. If regulators grant emergency approval, early teens could start getting vaccinated as soon as late May, setting the stage for many middle schoolers and young high-school students to be vaccinated before the next school year. [ABC7 NY]

9.

McConnell: No Republicans back Biden infrastructure plan

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that he didn't expect any Republicans to back President Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, which he has proposed alongside a $1.8 trillion families and education package. Republicans have proposed an alternative bill worth roughly $600 billion that would focus on physical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. The White House and GOP lawmakers are discussing the possibility of a compromise this week. "If it's going to be about infrastructure, let's make it about infrastructure," McConnell said. Along with sharp differences over the price tag, Republicans and Democrats disagree over Biden's plan to raise taxes on the rich to help pay for the programs. [The Hill]

10.

Bill and Melinda Gates divorcing after 27 years of marriage

Bill and Melinda Gates announced Monday that they were divorcing after 27 years of marriage. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft and long served as the software giant's CEO. He owns about 1.4 percent of the company's outstanding shares, a stake worth more than $26 billion, according to FactSet. The couple, along with Warren Buffett, co-created the Giving Pledge, which has brought together billionaires committed to giving away more than half their wealth. Bill Gates stepped away from Microsoft's board last year to focus more on the nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The couple released a statement saying they "continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple." [CNBC]