Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 16, 2021

Women's gymnastics stars condemn FBI abuse investigation, Biden unveils a new military pact with Britain and Australia, and more

1

Women's gymnastics stars blast FBI abuse investigation

Four U.S. women's gymnastics stars — Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman — harshly criticized USA Gymnastics and the FBI for failing to protect them and other gymnasts from sexual abuse by jailed former team doctor Larry Nassar. "I blame Larry Nassar but I also blame an entire system that enabled … his abuse," Olympic great Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Raisman, the captain of the 2012 and 2016 gold-medal winning Olympic team, said she was traumatized not just by the abuse, but by the delayed, inadequate response by authorities. "The FBI made me feel like my abuse didn't count," she said. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said if the stars' allegations were "not taken seriously by the FBI, what hope do other victims of sexual assault have?"

2

Biden unveils military pact with U.K., Australia to counter China

President Biden on Wednesday announced a new military pact with Britain and Australia, called AUKUS, to share advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, cyber operations, submarine systems, and long-range strike capabilities. The agreement was widely interpreted as a bid to counter China's expanding regional influence. "This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow," Biden said at the White House. He was joined virtually by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Australia will get nuclear-powered submarines under the alliance. "We must now take our partnership to a new level," Morrison said.

3

Colorado attorney general report found bias in Aurora policing

A one-year Colorado civil rights investigation found that officers in the Aurora Police Department showed a pattern of racially biased policing and excessive force, according to a report released by Attorney General Phil Weiser's office on Wednesday. Weiser plans to force the department to fix the problems. "These actions are unacceptable," he said. Under a new state accountability law passed after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, the two sides have 60 days to reach a legally binding agreement to address the findings. Weiser chose Aurora as the first department to be investigated under the law after the death of Elijah McClain, a young unarmed Black man who was forced to the ground and sedated by officers and paramedics in 2019.

4

Biden backs Milley after report of calls to China

President Biden said Wednesday that he has "great confidence" in Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who has faced criticism from conservatives over a report that he secretly spoke to his Chinese counterpart late in the Trump administration to prevent tensions from leading to war. Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa say in their forthcoming book, Peril, that Milley called Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng in October and January because he was "fearful Trump might spark war," according to the Post. Milley's spokesperson said the communications were part of Milley's normal duties to "maintain strategic stability." Former President Donald Trump told conservative television network Newsmax that Milley's actions, if true, amounted to "treason." He added: "I did not ever think of attacking China."

5

Michelle Wu leads as historic Boston mayoral race narrows

Boston city councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George were projected Wednesday as the two candidates who will advance to the city's November mayoral election. The contest will be historic, with two women of color vying for the job in a city that has elected only white men as mayor for two centuries. "It's been an honor to be part of this historic field," Wu told reporters early Wednesday after the Tuesday nonpartisan primary. Wu, an Asian American, led the field with 33 percent of the vote, followed by George, a first-generation American whose father emigrated from Tunisia, who took 22.5 percent. Both are Democrats. "For the last year, we have seen an incredible conversation all across every neighborhood, across every community, so I am humbled to be part of this moment in Boston," said Wu.

6

FDA staff declines to take clear stand on Pfizer booster

Food and Drug Administration staff on Wednesday declined to take a position on whether to endorse Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine booster shots. "There are many potentially relevant studies, but FDA has not independently reviewed or verified the underlying data or their conclusions," they wrote in a document posted on the agency's website. The officials said that later this week they will review some of the studies, including one from Israel's vaccination program. Pfizer, arguing for FDA approval of its booster, has said the Israel date indicates that a third shot restores protection from infection to 95 percent. But the FDA staff wrote that data overall "indicate that currently U.S.-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death."

7

Judge refuses to delay Trump defamation lawsuit

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan on Wednesday refused to delay a lawsuit accusing former President Donald Trump of defaming former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll after she claimed he raped her in the mid-1990s. Trump's lawyers had asked to put the case on hold while they appealed an earlier ruling by Kaplan. The order could let Carroll's lawyers obtain documents from Trump, unless he appeals the latest ruling to block it. Carroll's lawyers also want to obtain a DNA sample from Trump. Carroll sued Trump in 2019 after he denied her allegation that he raped her in a Manhattan Bergdorf Goodman department store. The former president said Carroll wasn't his type and made up the story to sell her new book.

8

SpaceX sends 1st all-tourist crew into orbit

SpaceX on Wednesday launched the first space mission with an all-civilian crew, a milestone in private spaceflight. The company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk used a reusable Falcon 9 rocket to send tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, geoscientist Sian Proctor, aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski, and physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux into orbit. They will spend three days in space before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of payment processor Shift4 Payments, paid an unspecified amount for his spot in the Inspiration4 mission, which took off from the same Cape Canaveral, Florida, launchpad as NASA's Apollo moon missions. Isaacman also donated the other three seats and donated $100 million to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

9

2nd Oath Keeper pleads guilty to Capitol riot conspiracy

A second Oath Keepers member pleaded guilty Wednesday in a conspiracy to participate in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. Jason Dolan, a former security guard at the Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach, Florida, admitted to being part of a group that forced its way through the Capitol's East Rotunda doors wearing camouflage vests and helmets, and to stashing weapons at a hotel in case they were needed by a "Quick Reaction Force." Dolan, 45, is one of 18 alleged associates of the Oath Keepers, a loosely organized right-wing anti-government group, who were charged in the conspiracy. He could face a sentence of 63 to 78 months, but agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, hoping to get a reduced prison sentence. 

10

Pope Francis urges bishops to be 'pastors,' not politicians, on abortion

Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops should not let politics determine who should receive Communion, telling them to minister to politicians who support abortion rights with "compassion and tenderness." The remarks came in response to a question about an agreement by U.S. bishops to draft a "teaching document" expected to rebuke President Biden and other Catholic politicians who receive Communion despite the church's position against abortion. He did not take a direct position in the debate on whether Biden should receive communion, but said he had "never refused the Eucharist to anyone." Francis reiterated his belief that abortion is "murder," but said bishops should be "pastors, and not go condemning."

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