10 things you need to know today: August 11, 2021
Andrew Cuomo resigns, Senate approves $3.5 trillion budget plan, and more
Andrew Cuomo announces resignation in wake of sexual harassment allegations
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday announced his resignation, following multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Cuomo said his resignation would be effective in 14 days to allow for a smooth transition to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who will become the state's first female governor. The first allegations against Cuomo surfaced in late 2020 and more women came forward this year, prompting an investigation from New York Attorney General Letitia James' office. The findings, unveiled last week, took a definitive stance that the allegations were legitimate, but Cuomo continued to deny them and initially said he would stay on until the courts ruled on the matter. In a televised statement Tuesday morning, Cuomo didn't reverse his denial, but suggested he'd be a distraction if he stayed on the job and said leaving office would be the "best way I can help" New York.
19 GOP senators join Democrats to pass bipartisan infrastructure bill
The Senate on Tuesday passed the long-anticipated $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. After several weeks of arduous negotiations between the parties, the final 69-30 vote was definitive, with 19 Republican senators joining their Democratic colleagues in support of the package. It now heads to the House, where Democrats have the votes to pass it quickly. President Biden said he called each Republican who joined the Democrats to thank them for doing so and praised them for showing "a lot of courage." He also gave a shout out to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for casting his vote in favor of the package. "This bill shows that we can work together," Biden said. "I know a lot of people ... didn't think this could happen ... that bipartisanship was a thing of the past."
Senate approves $3.5 trillion budget plan
Less than 24 hours after the Senate approved a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package, 69-30, senators adopted a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint on a 50-49 party-line vote early Wednesday morning. Approval of the budget plan came after an all-night "vote-a-rama" session where senators considered a raft of non-binding amendments. "The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation for how our economy works for average Americans," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote. Lawmakers will now have to write the legislation on expanding Medicare, providing free community college, paid family leave, fighting climate change, and other priorities of President Biden's agenda. Wednesday's vote unlocks the budget reconciliation process that will allow Senate Democrats to pass their package with no Republican votes, but both bills still have to pass in the House.
Texas judge issues blow to Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates
Officials in San Antonio and Bexar County can temporarily issue mask mandates, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) order prohibiting local governments and school districts in the state from requiring masks, Judge Antonia Arteaga ruled on Tuesday. San Antonio and Bexar County filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning requesting a temporary restraining order. Arteaga said she did not take her decision lightly, citing the school year starting and public guidance from Dr. Junda Woo, health director of San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District, who said masks are necessary in schools as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads in the state. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez said that "for now, we're going to take a victory lap, we're very happy with the result that we got today."
Federal government sends hundreds of ventilators to Florida
Hundreds of ventilators from the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile have been sent to Florida, as the state deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases. An official with the Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News that Florida received 200 ventilators, 100 smaller breathing devices, and related supplies. As of Tuesday, there were 14,787 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Florida — 145 percent more than during the state's last peak in July 2020, the Florida Hospital Association said. Almost 90 percent of intensive care unit beds and 85 percent of all patient beds are full, with health officials saying most people hospitalized are unvaccinated. The equipment was requested by local and state health officials, NBC News reports, and when asked about the ventilators, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he would "have to check to see if that's true or not." Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, DeSantis says he will not reverse his ban on mask mandates.
Taliban captures 3 more Afghan provincial capitals
The Taliban seized control of three more of Afghanistan's provincial capitals on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to journalists and local officials, continuing the group's string of victories against the U.S.-backed Afghan military. The Taliban's capture of Faizabad, Farah, and Pul-e-Khumri give it control over nine of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals and, according to a senior European Official, at least 65 percent of Afghanistan. The Pentagon now believes Kabul, the national capital, could fall within 90 days, according to a military assessment reported by The Washington Post. But President Biden said Wednesday he does not regret withdrawing U.S. forces by the end of the month. "Look," he told reporters, "we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped, with modern equipment, over 300,000 Afghan forces. And Afghan leaders have to come together" now and "fight for themselves."
Wildfire smoke reaches the North Pole
With hundreds of blazes burning in Siberia, for the first time in recorded history smoke from wildfires has reached the North Pole. The smoke traveled more than 1,864 miles to get to the North Pole, NASA said in a press release. The smoke is also covering areas of Mongolia and is visible in some western regions of Greenland and Canada. The fires are burning in the Sakha Republic, an unusual occurrence because of how much snow covers the ground and the fact that its northern region is one of the coldest places on Earth, NASA said. Climate change has resulted in the area reporting higher temperatures, with the ground temperature reaching a record high of 118 degrees Fahrenheit and the air temperature hitting 89.4 degrees in June, NPR reports.
At least 42 killed in Algeria wildfires
At least 42 people, including 25 soldiers, have died in wildfires ripping through forests and villages east of Algiers, Algeria. The soldiers were killed while saving 100 residents of two neighborhoods, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said, referring to them as "martyrs." The fires are sweeping through the mountainous Kabyle region, killing cattle and chickens and destroying olive trees. The villages are not easy to get to and there is a limited supply of water, and some residents are staying behind to try to fight the fires using buckets and branches. Both Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane and Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud suggested the fires, which broke out on Monday, may have been set by arsonists.
Texas House speaker signs warrants to arrest 52 absent Democratic lawmakers
The Texas House voted 80-12 on Tuesday to approve the arrest of 52 Democrats who left the state in July so there wasn't the quorum needed to pass a strict election bill that would add new restrictions on voting. After the vote, House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) signed civil arrest warrants for the lawmakers, which will be delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday morning, Phelan's spokesman told The Dallas Morning News. Earlier Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court overturned an order signed by District Judge Brad Urrutia that would have prevented 19 Democratic House members from being subject to "a call of the House." Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement it is "fully within our rights as legislators to break quorum to protect our constituents. Texas House Democrats are committed to fighting with everything we have against Republicans' attacks on our freedom to vote."
China sentences Canadian to 11 years in case tied to Huawei
A court in Dandong, China, sentenced Canadian citizen Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison Wednesday on spying charges filed shortly after Canada detained well-connected Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018. Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and daughter of its founder, awaits a key ruling on her bid to avoid extradition to the U.S. to face criminal charges tied to violating Iran sanctions. Shortly after Meng's detention, China arrested Spavor and Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig on spying charges and abruptly increased the 15-year drug smuggling sentence for a third Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to a death sentence. Critics are calling China's court actions "hostage politics."