Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 20, 2021

Afghans protest Taliban rule, a suspect is arrested after Capitol Hill bomb threat, and more

1

Taliban meets Afghanistan protests with gunfire 

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan on Thursday to protest the ouster of the country's democratic government by the Taliban. Members of the crowds waved the red, green, and black flag of the republic, chanting "our flag, our pride" and "God is great." Taliban forces dispersed some of the peaceful demonstrations with gunfire, killing at least two protesters and injuring at least six others in Asadabad. Taliban fighters took down the republic's flag and replaced it with their own as they rapidly conquered territory across the country. Many women, who fear losing civil rights under the Taliban, participated in a demonstration in Kabul, where at least two dozen people were injured.

2

Suspect arrested after Capitol Hill bomb threat

A man in a black pickup parked on the sidewalk of the Library of Congress near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, claiming to have a bomb. The man surrendered to police after hours of negotiations. Workers had to evacuate several nearby government buildings. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger identified the suspect as Floyd Ray Roseberry of North Carolina, and said he appeared to have acted alone. Roseberry, 49, streamed himself from Facebook Live during part of the standoff, referencing bogus allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Technicians were examining the truck to determine whether the alleged bomb actually contained explosives. One officer reported seeing something that appeared to be a detonator in the driver's hand.

3

U.S., NATO struggle to speed up Afghanistan evacuation

The United States and NATO struggled to speed up the evacuation effort at Kabul's international airport on Friday as criticism mounted over the handling of the crisis. Armed Taliban checkpoints, paperwork problems, and other issues contributed to ongoing chaos and delays as thousands of people clogged the airport, desperate to flee following the Taliban's Sunday takeover of Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 2,000 passengers were flown out of the country over each of the past two days. State Department spokesman Ned Price said 6,000 more people were cleared for evacuation Thursday, marking an acceleration of the effort to get Americans and Afghans who worked with U.S. troops out of the country. A NATO official said more than 18,000 people have been flown out since Taliban forces seized Kabul and toppled Afghanistan's government.

4

Texas Supreme Court clears schools to ignore mask-mandate ban

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected state Attorney General Ken Paxton's (R) request to overturn a lower court ruling that allowed Harris County and eight school districts to require face coverings in public schools despite Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order seeking to ban local mask mandates. The state high court, an elected body made up entirely of Republicans, did not rule on the legal merits of the case, instead deciding Paxton's petition "must be presented first to the court of appeals unless there is a compelling reason not to do so." The Texas Education Agency said it would suspend enforcement of Abbott's order during ongoing litigation. About 58 school districts and eight counties have instituted mask requirements despite Abbott's directive.

5

3 U.S. senators test positive for COVID-19

Three U.S. senators announced separately on Thursday that they tested positive for COVID-19. All three of the lawmakers — Angus King (I-Maine), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) — were fully vaccinated. King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he tested positive early Thursday after "feeling mildly feverish" on Wednesday. "While I am not feeling great, I'm definitely feeling much better than I would have without the vaccine," King said. Wicker's office said he tested positive "after immediately seeking a test due to mild symptoms." Hickenlooper said he experienced mild symptoms but was "feeling much better and will continue to isolate at the direction of the Congressional Attending Physician."

6

Texas voting-restrictions bill advances after Democrats end boycott

Texas House Democrats on Thursday ended a boycott that had delayed a vote on new voting restrictions for months. The walkout had deprived the chamber of a quorum, preventing Republicans from holding a vote. GOP leaders had sought to have absent Democrats arrested. Democrats walked out in May to block a vote on the legislation for the first time, then staged a mass exodus to Washington, D.C., in July, setting a record for the longest quorum break in state history. The move forced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to call a second special session. After the House reached a quorum Thursday night, the GOP-led chamber promptly referred the voting restriction proposal to a committee, a key step toward passage.

7

Judge in Texas blocks Biden administration limits on migrant arrests

A federal judge in Texas on Thursday blocked a Biden administration guidance that limited Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests and deportations. Texas and Louisiana had challenged the guidance, which the Biden administration put into place in January. Judge Drew Tipton of the Southern District of Texas ruled that the states had shown a "substantial likelihood that the policy concerning detention of certain aliens set forth in the Memoranda is arbitrary and capricious under the [the Administrative Procedure Act]." The ruling was the latest legal setback for President Biden's immigration policies, which Texas has challenged with several lawsuits. Last week, a different federal judge ordered the administration to revive former President Donald Trump's policy requiring migrants to stay in Mexico to await their U.S. immigration court dates.

8

Amazon to launch department-store-style outlets

Amazon plans to open several large brick-and-mortar retail locations similar to department stores in a bid to expand its sales of clothing, household items, electronics, and other items, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. Some of Amazon's first stores are expected to open in Ohio and California. The outlets are expected to have about 30,000 square feet of space each, significantly smaller than the typical 100,000-square-foot department store. The Amazon stores reportedly will offer top consumer brands, although it wasn't immediately clear which ones. Amazon's private-label brands also are expected to be featured prominently. Department stores have been struggling for decades, partly due to online competition from such companies as Amazon.

9

Mexico braces for second landfall of Hurricane Grace 

Hurricane Grace hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with top sustained winds of 80 miles per hour and heavy rains on Thursday. The storm ripped roofs off houses and knocked out power to thousands of people. Grace weakened to tropical storm strength after making landfall in Tulum and making its way across the peninsula. It was expected to regain hurricane strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Friday before an expected second landfall in central Mexico. Tropical Storm Henri churned in the Atlantic, threatening to brush the Northeast coast in several days. The remnants of former tropical storm Fred triggered tornado warnings in New York. About 20 people remained unaccounted for in the North Carolina mountains, where Fred caused severe flooding earlier in the week.

10

Artist Chuck Close dies at 81

Painter Chuck Close, one of the most prominent artists of the past half-century, died Thursday in a New York hospital, his lawyer confirmed. He was 81. Close was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia in 2015. The immediate cause of death was congestive heart failure, said Adriana Elgarresta, director of public relations at the Pace Gallery in New York. Close was widely known for his larger-than-life portraits, many of them composed of small, intricate paintings that acted as pixels in a larger image. Close continued to paint after a 1988 spinal artery collapse left him severely disabled. Four years ago, several women accused Close of sexually harassing them between 2005 and 2013. He apologized. His neurologist said the artist's dementia was linked to "inappropriate" behavior.

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