10 things you need to know today: September 10, 2021
Biden announces vaccine mandates affecting tens of millions, the Biden administration sues to block Texas abortion law, and more
Biden announces new vaccine mandates
President Biden on Thursday announced two executive orders to push about 100 million Americans to get coronavirus vaccinations, warning the unvaccinated that "our patience is wearing thin." Biden said his administration would mandate vaccinations for federal workers and 17 million healthcare workers at institutions receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding. He also said he would have the Labor Department draft a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more workers to require employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly coronavirus testing. "We're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers," Biden said. That order would amount to mandating or encouraging 80 million workers to get coronavirus shots. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there would be religious and disability exceptions.
Biden administration sues to block Texas abortion law
The Biden administration on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Texas seeking to block the state's ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Texas law, the most restrictive abortion policy in the country, also encourages private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, which Attorney General Merrick Garland called the legislation's "bounty hunter" element. Garland said the Texas law was "clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent," which guarantees the right to an abortion up to the point of fetal viability at 22 to 24 weeks. A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) defended the law, saying the Biden administration's lawsuit was meant to distract Americans from the Afghanistan withdrawal and immigration across the Mexico border.
Biden calls Xi as U.S.-China tensions rise
President Biden spoke Thursday with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, hoping to jumpstart high-level communication between the leaders of the world's two largest economies. The White House said Biden used the 90-minute call, his second with Xi since taking office, to push for the two countries to work together to fight climate change and to prevent a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, and expressed concerns about cybersecurity breaches by Chinese hackers. The call, initiated by Biden, came at a time of escalating tensions over such issues as the South China Sea and Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House said the "two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion" about "areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge."
200 foreigners leave Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight
A Qatar Airways flight was allowed to leave Kabul's airport Thursday carrying more than 200 foreigners, including U.S. citizens, and fly to Qatar. It was the first commercial flight to take off from Afghanistan since the last U.S. military flight left last month, ending a chaotic evacuation following the Taliban's return to power 20 years after a U.S.-led invasion. The flight provided the first concrete signal that the Taliban would allow at least some of the foreign citizens stuck in the country after the U.S. military withdrawal to leave. U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Taliban officials "have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step."
McCarthy asks Supreme Court to reject House proxy voting rules
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday he was asking the Supreme Court to overturn the proxy voting rules that the House started using as a safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic. Although Republicans have used the tool to their advantage at times, McCarthy said the court should reject it to end what he described as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "perpetual proxy voting power grab." "Although the Constitution allows Congress to write its own rules, those rules cannot violate the Constitution itself, including the requirement to actually assemble in person," McCarthy said. Since May 2020, proxy voting has allowed lawmakers to cast votes remotely through colleagues, helping to limit the number of people in the House chamber and reduce the odds of coronavirus infection.
EPA to restore protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay
The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it would restore protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay. The policy change will block the construction of a controversial gold mine near the world's largest sockeye salmon run. The mine's opponents, who included Alaska Natives, environmentalists, fishing operators, and recreational anglers, had filed a lawsuit arguing that the mine project unnecessarily threatened a salmon fishery that is both an important food source and a tourism magnet. In a court filing, the EPA said it would protect the bay under its Clean Waters Act powers to prevent contamination from the proposed open-pit mine. Pebble Limited Partnership, the U.S. subsidiary of Canada's Northern Dynasty Minerals, argued the mine would provide huge economic benefits.
Poll: Veterans more likely than average voters to back Afghanistan withdrawal
Veterans who served in Afghanistan were more likely than the average voter to say they support President Biden's much-criticized Afghanistan withdrawal, according to a Morning Consult poll released Thursday. Nearly 3 in 5 — 58 percent — of Afghanistan veterans backed the decision, including 42 percent who did so strongly. On the other hand, 52 percent of all voters expressed a degree of support for the withdrawal, while just 27 percent of that group did so strongly, the Morning Consult poll found. Afghanistan veterans were also far more likely than the rest of voters to see the 20-year war as a success — 48 percent of veterans said they believed such, while just 27 percent of all voters agreed.
Judge blocks Florida 'anti-riot' law
A federal judge on Thursday blocked Florida from enforcing its new "anti-riot" law enacted after the George Floyd protests, calling it unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee said the law, which was championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, was "vague and overbroad" and violated First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, as well as constitutional due process protections by threatening criminal charges against peaceful protesters who happen to be near a demonstration that turns violent. "If this court does not enjoin the statute's enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians," Walker wrote. DeSantis said the state would appeal. "I guarantee you we'll win," he said.
Police reinstalling security fence around Capitol before rally
Police in Washington, D.C., will reinstall a fence around the U.S. Capitol to boost security during next week's planned "Justice for J6" rally by supporters of the 600 people charged for their alleged roles in the deadly Jan. 6 riot by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters, Reuters reported Thursday, citing two sources familiar with the plan. The fence was first erected after the riot, but it was taken down in July. One of the Reuters sources, a Democratic congressional aide, said intelligence gathered ahead of the demonstration, scheduled for Sept. 18, indicates that the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other right-wing groups might be "targeting policemen." Some of the Jan. 6 rioters, who hoped to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden's victory over Trump, fought with police.
L.A. school board votes to require vaccines for students 12 and up
The Los Angeles Board of Education on Thursday voted to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory for all children 12 and older in Los Angeles public schools. The decision made the nation's second-largest school district the first of the largest school systems to require vaccinations. About 225,000 students will be affected. "We've always approached safety with a multilayered approach: masks, air filtration, and coronavirus screening," L.A. school's interim Supt. Megan Reilly said. "But we are seeing without a doubt that the vaccines are one of the clearest pathways to protecting individuals from getting severe sickness as well as for mitigating transmission of the COVID virus." The policy triggered a protest by dozens of parents, who said they should be the ones to decide whether their children get an "experimental" vaccine.