Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 16, 2021

Biden and Putin meet amid U.S.-Russia tensions, Israeli jets strike Hamas targets as truce challenged, and more


Biden, Putin meet in Geneva 

President Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday for a closely watched summit that comes at a low point in U.S.-Russia relations. The two leaders have been sharply criticizing each other for several months. Biden has called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian hackers and the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin has responded by saying the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters showed that the U.S. is in no position to claim to be a model of democracy. No breakthroughs are expected, but Biden said the meeting was an important step toward stabilizing the two countries' relationship and making it clear to Moscow "what the red lines are."


Israeli jets strike Hamas sites in Gaza

Israel's military launched airstrikes against Hamas sites in Gaza early Wednesday in retaliation for incendiary balloons that entered Israel from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement that its jets targeted Hamas military compounds. The exchange came as tensions escalated over a demonstration in East Jerusalem by Jewish nationalists. Hamas had urged Palestinians to "resist" the march. The violence underscored the fragility of an Egyptian-brokered truce that ended 11 days of fighting last month, and marked an early test for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose coalition took power Sunday. Calm appeared to have returned later in the morning.


White House emails show pressure on DOJ over election fraud claims

Newly released emails reveal attempts by officials in former President Donald Trump's White House to pressure the Justice Department to investigate false allegations of election fraud following Trump's loss to President Biden in the 2020 election. Trump allies pushed then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to join in the Trump team's legal challenges to the election result, according to the emails, which were released by House Oversight Committee Democrats. Justice Department officials exchanged emails in which they derisively dismissed some of the requests, including one by Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to investigate bizarre claims that people in Italy were manipulating U.S. votes through satellites. "Pure insanity," then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue wrote in response to a New Year's Day email from Meadows.


NIH: Evidence suggests coronavirus reached U.S. in December 2019

A National Institutes of Health study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases uncovered evidence that the first coronavirus case in the United States might have occurred as early as December 2019, weeks earlier than previously believed. The report supported earlier studies that indicated that the pandemic reached the U.S. and spread undetected in January. A volunteer who donated blood on Jan. 7, 2020, for a study that wasn't related to COVID-19 tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, according to the NIH report. Antibodies typically take two weeks to develop, which "suggests the virus may have been present in Illinois as early as December 24, 2019," the report said.


New York ends most coronavirus restrictions

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Tuesday that the state would end most restrictions on businesses and gatherings that were imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19. The changes took effect immediately on what Cuomo described as a "momentous day." The state lifted the pandemic restrictions as it reached its goal of giving 70 percent of adults at least one dose of a vaccine. "What does 70 percent mean?" Cuomo said. "It means that we can now return to life as we know it. ... We can get back to living, and businesses can open because the state mandates are gone." The move came hours after California, the nation's most populous state, let most of its coronavirus restrictions expire, although businesses and institutions still have the right to require masks.


Gunman kills 2 workers at Alabama fire hydrant plant

A gunman fatally shot two workers inside a fire hydrant factory in Albertville, Alabama, on Tuesday. Two others were injured. The suspected attacker was found dead in his car about 26 miles away with what investigators described as a fatal gunshot wound. Police said the suspect also was an employee at the factory, the Mueller Co. "For an unknown reason an employee of the industry began firing a weapon at fellow employees" early in the morning, Albertville Police Chief Jamie Smith said. The shooting was the latest in a series of workplace mass shootings this year. Last month, a public transit employee shot and killed nine people at a northern California rail yard, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.


Senate unanimously backs making Juneteenth a federal holiday

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would make Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, when the last enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free. It was first celebrated in Texas in 1865, and today most states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The bill is expected to also pass in the House. "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognizing the wrongs of the past," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) had blocked an earlier attempt to pass a bill, citing the cost of giving federal employees another day off, but he backed down ahead of the vote.


Biden unveils slate of ambassador nominations

President Biden on Tuesday announced his group of political nominations for ambassadorships. Biden plans to nominate former State Department official Thomas Nides to be ambassador to Israel, and Julie Smith as ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Smith served as Biden's deputy national security adviser while he was vice president. Biden also will nominate former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, to be ambassador to Mexico, and UCLA psychiatry professor Dr. Cynthia Ann Telles as ambassador to Costa Rica. Biden picked C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who safely landed a jetliner in the Hudson River in 2009, to be the representative to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The news of the slate of nominees was released during Biden's first foreign trip as president, ahead of his Wednesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Harvey Weinstein to be extradited to face California sexual assault charges

A New York judge ruled Tuesday that disgraced movie producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein will be extradited to California for trial on sexual assault charges. Dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault and rape. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison last year after being convicted of rape in New York. Weinstein faces charges related to the alleged sexual assaults of five women in California. A Weinstein representative told The Hollywood Reporter that Weinstein was "disappointed" with the New York ruling, and would ask the court to delay extradition until Weinstein can receive medical care he needs. Prosecutors said Weinstein didn't "get to pick when and where" he gets medical treatment, adding that L.A. isn't "some remote outpost" without proper medical care.


MacKenzie Scott gives away another $2.7 billion

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and one of the richest women in the world, announced that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, had donated $2.74 billion to 286 charitable organizations in her latest bid to fulfill her vow to donate most of her fortune. The latest gifts bring the total Scott has distributed to $8 billion. As part of her divorce, she received 4 percent of Amazon's stock, which was then worth $36 billion. But her stake has continued to grow despite her contributions as Amazon shares soared during the pandemic, and her net worth has risen to about $60 billion. Scott did not list the amounts she gave each group. The recipients included the Apollo Theater and Ballet Hispanico and other arts groups, as well as colleges, racial justice advocates, and organizations fighting domestic violence.


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