Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 21, 2021

Israel-Hamas ceasefire begins, Biden promises to help Palestinians rebuild, and more


Israel, Hamas ceasefire begins

Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire that started early Friday after 11 days of fighting that has killed more than 200 Palestinians and at least a dozen Israelis. Israel halted airstrikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas militants stopped firing rockets into Israel. Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory, "will abide by this agreement" as long as Israel respects it, said Taher al-Nounou, a media adviser to the head of the Hamas political bureau. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said "reality on the ground" will determine what happens next. The two sides continued to launch projectiles as the ceasefire was announced. Thousands of Palestinians rallied early Friday to celebrate the ceasefire, which was brokered by Egypt after the United States pressed Israel to wrap up its airstrikes.


Biden praises ceasefire, says U.S. will help Palestinians rebuild

President Biden on Thursday praised the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, crediting "quiet, relentless diplomacy" for the breakthrough. Biden on Wednesday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he expected an immediate de-escalation of the conflict, but Netanyahu responded saying Israel would continue its airstrikes against Hamas targets until its goals were met. Biden spoke with Netanyahu six times in recent days, stepping up his push for an end to the airstrikes as international criticism mounted. Some Democrats urged the White House to do more to encourage a ceasefire as the death toll climbed from Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks. "I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely," Biden said after the ceasefire was announced. Biden administration officials said the U.S. would lead an international effort to help Palestinians rebuild.


House approves bill seeking $1.9 billion for Capitol security

The Democrat-controlled House on Thursday voted 213-212 to approve a $1.9 billion bill meant to reinforce Capitol security in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. The bill includes $43.9 million for the Capitol Police, $250 million for Capitol grounds security, and $162.7 million for reinforcing Capitol windows and doors. The bill's razor-thin passage came as several progressives withheld support. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) voted present, while Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) voted no. "I am frankly tired of any time where there is a failure in our system of policing, the first response is for us to give them more money," Omar said. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will likely face difficulty.


DOJ obtained phone records of CNN journalist in Trump-era hunt for leaks

The Justice Department in 2020 secretly obtained phone and email records from CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, CNN reported and the Justice Department confirmed Thursday night. The Justice Department informed Starr in a May 13 letter that it had obtained her records from 2017, early in the Trump administration. The revelation followed a May 3 letter to three Washington Post reporters that it had obtained their records in an apparent attempt to find their sources on Russian election interference. Seeking court permission to covertly obtain a journalist's work and home records requires sign-off from the attorney general. The attorney general for all but the last week of 2020 was William Barr. The Justice Department said its leaders would meet with journalists soon to discuss their concerns about the cases.


Treasury unveils plan to raise $700 billion by closing 'tax gap'

The Treasury Department announced Thursday that it plans to raise $700 billion in revenue by cracking down on taxpayers who owe the federal government more than they pay. Treasury officials said they would use several strategies to close the "tax gap," including increasing reporting requirements, giving auditors new tools, and imposing new rules on cryptocurrency. The effort will require billions of dollars in additional spending by the Internal Revenue Service, but is expected to yield a windfall that will help pay for some of the Biden administration's multi-trillion-dollar spending proposals, including President Biden's jobs and infrastructure proposal. Some of the initiatives would require approval by Congress. Tightening enforcement is considered a more politically palatable way to raise money than raising taxes.


Jobless claims fall to pandemic-era low of 444,000

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped to 444,000 last week, a new pandemic-era low, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected a slightly higher number, 452,000. The number was down from 478,000 the previous week in a sign that hiring was strengthening as progress in administering COVID-19 vaccines was helping businesses rebound. The new data offset April's stunningly disappointing jobs report, which indicated that U.S. employers had added just 266,000 jobs. Economists had estimated the figure would come in at 1 million. "The steady decline in initial unemployment insurance claims over the past few months ... suggest that the April report understated the improvement in the labor market," wrote PNC chief economist Gus Faucher.


Official: Equipment handled by Arizona audit contractor should be replaced

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) told Maricopa County officials that they should replace millions of dollars' worth of voting machines handled by the contractor auditing 2020 presidential election results due to "grave concerns regarding the security and integrity" in future elections. Maricopa voting equipment, including nine tabulating machines used at a central counting facility and 385 precinct-based tabulators, was handed over to the GOP-controlled state Senate and Cyber Ninjas, the firm the Senate hired to conduct the controversial recount. The company's CEO has echoed former President Donald Trump's false claims that the election was stolen. Hobbs noted in her letter that no election officials or observers were allowed to see what Cyber Ninjas did with the machines while it examined them.


NOAA predicts busier-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday said it's predicting a 60 percent chance of an "above-normal" 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, with a likely range of between 13 and 20 named storms. Six to 10 could become hurricanes, the agency said. The season, which begins on June 1, could also see between three and five major hurricanes. An average hurricane season sees 14 named storms with seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to the agency. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record, with 30 named storms and seven major hurricanes. Acting NOAA administrator Ben Friedman said "scientists don't expect this season to be as busy as last year," though it "only takes one storm to devastate a community."


CNN's Chris Cuomo apologizes, admits advising brother on scandal

CNN host Chris Cuomo apologized Thursday after news broke that he had advised his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on how to handle allegations of sexual harassment. Chris Cuomo said he recognized he had a "unique responsibility" to balance his role as a journalist and a brother, but he reminded his viewers that he had been up front with his viewers that he couldn't cover his brother's scandals because he couldn't be objective. "Like you, I bet, my family means everything to me and I'm fiercely loyal to them," he said Thursday during his show. CNN acknowledged that Chris Cuomo had participated in strategy sessions, in which he urged his brother to take a defiant position and not resign. CNN said "it was inappropriate to engage in conversations" that included Gov. Cuomo's staff, although it said Chris Cuomo would not face disciplinary action.


BBC apologizes over famous Princess Diana interview

The BBC is publicly apologizing over a famous interview with Princess Diana that an independent inquiry has concluded was secured using "deceitful" methods. A report released on Thursday found that BBC journalist Martin Bashir showed fake bank statements to Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, which "deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana" in 1995, CNN reports. Princess Diana famously spoke about her relationship with Prince Charles during the interview, saying there were "three of us" in the marriage, in reference to Camilla Parker Bowles. It had previously been alleged that Bashir, in securing the interview, "used forged documents that suggested the palace staff were working against Princess Diana and being paid to spy on her," according to CNN.


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