10 things you need to know today: July 22, 2021
Pelosi rejects two GOP picks for Jan. 6 committee, Republicans block first vote on starting infrastructure debate, and more
Pelosi rejects 2 GOP nominees to Jan. 6 committee
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday rejected two of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) nominees to the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. McCarthy called the move to keep Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) off the panel "an egregious abuse of power," and said none of his picks would participate in the "sham process" unless Pelosi seated all his nominees. Banks and Jordan are staunch Trump allies who questioned the select committee's legitimacy, and voted to reject the certification of President Biden's win in some states hours after the insurrection. Pelosi said keeping them off the committee would protect the investigation's "integrity."
Republicans block vote on starting debate on infrastructure compromise
Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked Democrats' attempt to start considering a still-developing bipartisan infrastructure plan. The 49-51 vote, with all Republicans opposed, left Democrats well below the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster and start debate on a potential compromise on a key element of President Biden's agenda. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) forced the test vote despite pleas from centrist Republicans for more time to cement a proposed compromise. All 50 Democratic Caucus members initially backed the opening of debate, with all 50 Republicans opposed, but Schumer ultimately voted no, which will allow him to bring up the measure later.
Economists predict recovery to withstand Delta variant surge
The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is unlikely to trigger an economic downturn in the United States, according to economists cited in a Wednesday report by The Wall Street Journal. Many economists are forecasting robust growth in the second half of 2021 with strong hiring and heavy consumer spending, despite surging Delta variant infections. "The variant is a significant downside risk for the economy, but that risk is more than offset by what are still very strong fundamentals," said Oren Klachkin, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. "Consumers have a lot of cash and seem eager to spend on activities they couldn't do for 18 months. And, for now, it seems like the vaccines should be able to keep the spike in cases fairly low."
U.S., Germany reach deal on Nord Stream 2 pipeline
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced that it had reached an agreement with Germany paving the way for the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. The U.S. has opposed the pipeline for some time because it threatens Ukraine's energy security and provides Russia with significant geopolitical leverage. But President Biden is prioritizing Washington's alliance with Berlin. In the announcement, the White House said both Germany and the U.S. are still "united in their determination to hold Russia to account" should it step out of line and will continue to support Ukraine's energy security. The agreement also aims to support investments of at least $1 billion for renewable energy infrastructure in Ukraine.
Daily coronavirus infections triple as Delta variant spreads
New U.S. coronavirus infections tripled over the last two weeks as health officials and the Biden administration struggled to counter a barrage of misinformation over COVID-19 and vaccines. The surge, from less than 13,700 new cases on July 6 to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, has strained hospitals and overwhelmed public health officials. "Our staff, they are frustrated," said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective procedures following a jump in cases to 134 from a mid-May low of 16. "They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine."
Opioid distributors, J&J agree to $26 billion settlement
Three major drug distributors — Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson — and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday reached a $26 billion settlement with states, counties, and cities over the firms' role in the opioid epidemic, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced Wednesday. The deal came after two years of negotiations stemming from allegations that the distributors ignored evidence that painkillers were being diverted to the black market, fueling addictions and deadly overdoses. Every state and municipality next will have the opportunity to approve the agreement. If enough support it, the companies could start releasing the money to help affected communities cover epidemic costs, including addiction treatment and prevention services.
U.S. extends curbs on nonessential travel from Canada, Mexico
The Biden administration on Wednesday renewed bans on nonessential travel across the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders through at least Aug. 21 to curb the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The Department of Homeland Security tweeted that it was "in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably." The decision came several days after Canada said it would start letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens make discretionary trips to Canada starting Aug. 9, with fully vaccinated people from other countries allowed in starting Sept. 7.
Weinstein pleads not guilty to L.A. sexual assault charges
Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges in Los Angeles, including four counts of rape. Weinstein, a convicted rapist, appeared in a wheelchair wearing a brown jumpsuit and a face mask. He is accused of assaulting five women from 2004 to 2013, mostly in hotels in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Convictions on all the charges could result in a sentence of 140 years. Weinstein's attorney, Mark Werksman, said the allegations "are baseless, they're from long, long ago, they're uncorroborated." A New York jury found Weinstein guilty of raping an aspiring actress in 2013, and forcibly performing oral sex on a production assistant in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment.
PG&E to bury power lines in areas facing wildfire risk
Pacific Gas and Electric, a major California utility, said Wednesday that it would start burying 10,000 miles of power lines in areas at high-risk for wildfires. PG&E equipment might have sparked the Dixie Fire, one of the dozens of blazes scorching vast areas in the West. The company was found criminally responsible after a faulty electric transmission line ignited the 2018 Camp Fire, which was the deadliest fire in state history with 85 deaths. Moving lines underground has long been recommended as a solution, but it's expensive, with PG&E estimating a cost of $3 million per mile. "It's too expensive not to do it," said the company's recently hired CEO, Patricia Poppe. "Lives are on the line."
U.S. women's soccer team streak ends in 1st Olympic match
The long-dominant U.S. women's soccer team on Wednesday lost to Sweden on the first day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Before the 3-0 defeat, the United States team had not lost in 44 matches over two and a half years, picking up a World Cup along the way. The Swedes knocked the U.S. out of the last Olympics. On Wednesday, they cast doubt over the U.S. team's ability to become the first reigning World Cup champion to take Olympic gold. "There's no time to dwell and think about if Sweden is living in our heads or not," U.S. star Megan Rapinoe said. "We've got another game in three days." The match took place in an empty 50,000-seat Tokyo Stadium without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.