Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 18, 2021

Biden expresses support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Supreme Court takes up a major abortion case, and more

1

Biden expresses support for Israel-Hamas ceasefire

President Biden expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in a Monday call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel has been conducting airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza for eight days in response to rocket fire by Palestinian militants. More than 200 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The fighting has been the most intense since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. Biden's administration distanced itself from calls from other Democrats for an immediate ceasefire. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was reaching out to both sides hoping to de-escalate the situation, promising to "lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire."

2

Supreme Court takes up abortion case challenging Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court said Monday it would review a challenge to a Mississippi law seeking to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, setting up the first opportunity for the court's new 6-3 conservative majority to narrow the right to abortion established in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Mississippi is among several states where Republican-led legislatures recently passed restrictive abortion laws. Abortion opponents have called for conservative justices to use the Mississippi case to chip away at the 1973 precedent protecting a woman's right to an abortion up to the point of fetal viability, generally at least 22 weeks into a pregnancy. Abortion rights advocates expressed alarm. Mississippi's ban "unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent," said Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

3

Biden says U.S. to share 20 million more vaccine doses

President Biden announced Monday that the United States would send at least 20 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries. The commitment adds to the 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine the Biden administration already has promised to share by July 4. The new batch of vaccines to be sent overseas will include those made by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, which, unlike AstraZeneca's, have been approved for use in the United States. "We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing helping other people," Biden said. "It's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the strong thing to do."

4

Gaetz associate pleads guilty to sex trafficking of minor

An associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Gaetz was not mentioned in the agreement, but the pledge of cooperation by his friend, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, could deepen the congressman's legal troubles. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether the two men paid underage girls and prostitutes for sex. Gaetz has denied he ever paid for sex or had sex with a minor. Greenberg admitted under his plea deal that he paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men. Greenberg pleaded guilty to just six of the 33 charges he had been facing, but still faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 12 years.

5

'Extremely severe' Cyclone Tauktae makes landfall in western India

Cyclone Tauktae slammed into India's western coast on Monday, killing at least 12 people and forcing 150,000 to evacuate low-lying areas. The storm, classified by authorities as "extremely severe," hit as India's hospitals were already overwhelmed by the country's devastating second wave of COVID-19, although infection rates have been declining in the affected area. Tauktae, the strongest storm to hit the region since 1998, narrowly missed the massive city of Mumbai. The navy sent three warships to rescue 400 people on two commercial barges that were adrift in violent seas off the coast of Mumbai over the weekend.

6

Maricopa County officials denounce 'grift disguised as an audit'

The majority-Republican Maricopa County, Arizona, Board of Supervisors on Monday called the controversial recount of the state's 2020 election results a "sham" and a "grift disguised as an audit." In a letter to state Senate President Karen Fann, the board said the process the GOP-controlled Senate commissioned was a "spectacle that is harming all of us." The leader of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based consulting firm conducting the recount, has echoed former President Donald Trump's false claim that the election was stolen. Trump, the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the state since the 1990s, over the weekend falsely claimed that the audit revealed that Maricopa County's election database was "DELETED!" Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County recorder and a Republican, responded by tweeting that Trump's claim was "unhinged."

7

Biden: Coronavirus cases down in all 50 states

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, coronavirus cases are down in all 50 states, President Biden announced on Monday. This comes as 60 percent of Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Despite the gains, "we're still losing too many Americans" to COVID-19, Biden said, and people who refuse to get vaccinated "will end up paying the price." Biden also revealed that in June, the United States will send 20 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines abroad. "We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control," he said. "No ocean's wide enough, no wall's high enough, to keep us safe."

8

AT&T teams up with Discovery to create rival to Netflix, Disney

AT&T on Monday announced it had reached a $43 billion deal to spin off WarnerMedia and combine it with Discovery, creating an entertainment giant combining the HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services. The new company also will have content from WarnerMedia's sports-heavy cable networks TNT and TBS and Discovery's reality-based cable channels, including Oprah Winfrey's OWN, HGTV, the Food Network, and Animal Planet. The deal also includes CNN. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will lead the new company, which The New York Times reports would be "bigger than Netflix or NBCUniversal." This move "positions the new company to be one of the leading global direct-to-consumer streaming platforms," AT&T CEO John Stankey said. The deal is subject to regulatory approval. The companies expect it to take effect in mid-2022.

9

White House releases Bidens' 2020 tax returns

The White House on Monday released the 2020 federal tax returns of President Biden and first lady Jill Biden, showing that their income dropped as Biden campaigned for the presidency. The Bidens reported earning $607,336 last year and paying $157,414 in federal income taxes. That gave them a federal income tax rate of 25.9 percent. The average rate for all Americans is 14.6 percent. The White House also released the returns of Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. The move restored a tradition broken by former President Donald Trump, who said he couldn't release his returns because they were being audited. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration expected to continue releasing Biden's returns, "as should be expected by every president of the United States."

10

N.Y. racing authorities suspend Baffert from Belmont Stakes

New York horse-racing officials on Monday suspended trainer Bob Baffert, barring him from entering horses in next month's Belmont Stakes because his horse Medina Spirit failed a drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit's post-race test showed unacceptably high levels of the steroid betamethasone. The New York Racing Association said it was temporarily barring Medina Spirit and other Baffert horses from competing in the state due to "the fact that other horses trained by Mr. Baffert have failed drug tests in the recent past, resulting in the assessment of penalties against him by thoroughbred racing regulators in Kentucky, California, and Arkansas." The suspension was necessary to protect the "integrity of the sport," the racing association said.

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