Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 14, 2021

Biden slams GOP voting bills, Senate Democrats announce $3.5 trillion budget package, and more

1

Biden says laws to restrict voting rights are 'an assault on democracy'

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, President Biden called on Americans to challenge efforts to restrict voting rights, saying the United States is undergoing "the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War." Since the 2020 presidential election, when former President Donald Trump falsely claimed that there was widespread voter fraud, at least 14 states have enacted strict voting laws. Biden called this "attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in free and fair elections" an "assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are as Americans." Lawmakers must pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Biden said, and he asked "my Republican friends in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up for God's sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?"

2

Senate Democrats announce $3.5 trillion budget package

Senate Democrats on Tuesday night announced they had reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that would fight climate change and boost health care and family service programs over the next decade. These measures have been sought by President Biden, and the budget could be pushed through without Republican support by using the reconciliation process — this sidesteps the 60 votes needed to advance, but every Democrat would have to vote for it. The Democrats spent the last several weeks working together and with the White House to reach the agreement, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters they are "very proud of this plan." Schumer said the agreement will finance Biden's priorities "in a robust way," and will expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing services, something that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives have requested. 

3

COVID-19 cases rise in nearly every state

With the highly-contagious Delta variant spreading across the country, the number of new coronavirus cases is surging in 45 states, with just Maine, South Dakota, and Iowa reporting decreases in new cases over the past week versus the previous week. In Delaware and Arkansas, the rates of new cases remain steady. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that in 34 states, the number of new cases in the past week compared to the previous week are at least 50 percent higher. Doctors say a vast majority of the new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are among people who have not received COVID-19 vaccines. Missouri has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with about 45 percent of residents receiving at least one dose, and the state is dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of the Delta variant. The seven-day average of new cases is close to 1,400 per day, up 150 percent from last month. 

4

Biden to nominate former GOP Sen. Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey

President Biden intends to nominate former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as ambassador to Turkey, the White House said on Tuesday. "With this nomination, the Biden administration reaffirms the best tradition of American foreign policy and diplomacy: the credo that partisan politics should stop at the water's edge," Flake said in a statement. "U.S. foreign policy can and should be bipartisan. That is my belief as well, and my commitment." Flake was a critic of former President Donald Trump, and endorsed Biden in 2020. While in Congress, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. In addition to Flake, Biden also plans to nominate Kent Doyle Logsdon, a career member of the Foreign Service, as ambassador to Moldova.

5

Iranian intelligence operatives charged in plot to kidnap author living in Brooklyn

Four Iranian intelligence operatives have been charged with plotting to kidnap a Brooklyn journalist, author, and human rights activist who has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday. A fifth person has been accused of providing financial support to the operatives; she was arrested earlier this month in California. The court documents did not reveal the name of the person the operatives were allegedly planning to abduct and bring back to Iran, but Masih Alinejad told NBC News she was the focus of the operation, saying that she's been "targeted for a number of years, but this is the first time that such an audacious plot has been hatched and foiled." Alinejad has criticized the Iranian government for its human rights abuses and mandatory dress codes for women. She left Iran in 2009. 

6

Tennessee to stop vaccine outreach for minors

The Tennessee Department of Health announced Tuesday it will stop all vaccination outreach targeted at children following pressure from conservative state lawmakers, the Tennessean reports. The move will cover vaccines for all diseases, including flu and COVID-19. Tennessee's health department had held pop-up vaccination drives targeting adolescents and recommended vaccinations for teens on social media, but Republican lawmakers have accused the agency of "attempting to circumvent parents and peer pressure minors to be vaccinated," the Tennessean reports. The change comes as the state sees a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant. On Monday, the state government fired its top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, without explanation. In a memo, Fiscus wrote that "some of our politicians have bought into the anti-vaccine misinformation campaign rather than taking the time to speak with the medical experts."

7

The Crown, The Mandalorian tie for most nominations at the 2021 Emmys

The Television Academy announced the nominees for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards on Tuesday, and Netflix's The Crown and Disney's The Mandalorian tied for the most nods with 24 each. Disney's Marvel show WandaVision also picked up 23 nominations. Both The Crown and The Mandalorian were nominated in the top category of Outstanding Drama Series alongside The Boys, Bridgerton, The Handmaid's Tale, Lovecraft Country, Pose, and This Is Us. Counting HBO Max, HBO had the most nominations with 130, just ahead of Netflix's 129. Disney+ also picked up 71 nominations. The Emmys are set for Sept. 19.

8

Ransomware gang REvil vanishes from the internet

REvil, a Russian-linked ransomware gang that has hacked more than 360 U.S. targets this year, vanished from the dark web Tuesday without explanation. The group's blog and payment-processing infrastructure are both offline, and it's unclear if REvil did this itself. REvil encrypts computers and then demands that its victims pay up, threatening to release sensitive files to the dark web if they don't. The group recently targeted global meat supplier JBS, which paid $11 million in May to keep REvil from leaking its confidential files. President Biden on Friday said there would be consequences to REvil's actions, and the U.S. may conduct an operation against the servers used to carry out its attacks, NBC News reports. He also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to do something about cyber criminals operating in Russia. There are cases of ransomware gangs disbanding, but then coming back under a new name, NBC News reports.

9

At least 72 killed in violent looting in South Africa

At least 72 people are dead in South Africa following violent unrest sparked by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma last week. What began as protests by Zuma's supporters escalated into looting in KwaZulu-Natal province and Johannesburg. Many of the dead were trampled in stampedes as looters rushed through stores while the military tried to intervene. More than 2,500 soldiers have been deployed, and about 1,200 people have been arrested. South Africa faces a high unemployment rate and rising poverty made worse by the pandemic. "This looting is undermining ... our economy, our community. It is undermining everything," Premier David Makhura of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, told The Associated Press. The outburst of violence is the country's worst since since the 1994 all-race election that ended apartheid rule, The Washington Post explains.  

10

Italy bans cruise ships from Venice lagoon

Italy will ban cruise ships from the Venice lagoon starting Aug. 1 in a move to preserve the site from throngs of tourists expected to return this summer. The Venice lagoon gives access to the city's historic city center, but critics have argued for decades that large vessels erode the city's foundation and contribute to pollution. Recently U.N.'s UNESCO threatened to put the city on its list of World Heritage in Danger sites. The ban means cruise companies will have to nix Venice from their itineraries until another port is available, but the industry welcomed the decision, The Wall Street Journal reports. "The cruise industry has been supportive of a new approach for many years, so this is a major step forward," said the Cruise Lines International Association. Venice usually sees 20 million tourists a year, but lost some $237 million in revenue in 2020 due to the pandemic.

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