Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 23, 2021

The FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for seniors and high-risk people, Biden and Macron talk to ease tensions over submarine deal, and more

1

FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for seniors, people at high risk

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine booster for people 65 and older, and those at risk of serious illness. Health-care workers also are eligible under the first emergency-use approval for a COVID-19 booster. The ruling was not as broad as the Biden administration had hoped, but the CDC estimates it covers 53 million older Americans, up to 20 million health-care workers, and as many as 100 million people with medical conditions putting them at risk of severe illness if they get infected. Pfizer's is the first vaccine to be cleared for an additional shot, although data for Johnson & Johnson and Moderna boosters will be considered next.

2

Biden, Macron talk to soothe tensions over submarine deal

President Biden on Wednesday talked with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since France objected strongly to a U.S. deal to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. The plan, part of a new security pact involving the United States, Britain, and Australia, left France feeling betrayed by its allies, because it prompted Australia to scrap a $66 billion contract with France to buy diesel-power submarines. Biden reportedly acknowledged mistakes in the way his administration handled the matter. In a joint statement, the U.S. and France said Biden and Macron "agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners." France had recalled its ambassador over the incident, but said after the call it was sending him back.

3

Texas sends state vehicles to border to make 'steel wall'

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sent hundreds of state-owned vehicles to form a "steel wall" on the border to discourage a wave of migrants, most of them Haitian, trying to cross the border from Mexico to seek asylum. Abbott told Fox News that the miles-long barrier of Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles was among the "unprecedented steps" Texas was taking to prevent people from "walking into the state of Texas." About 15,000 migrants have crossed the Rio Grande to a makeshift camp under an international bridge near Del Rio, Texas. Several thousand have been flown back to Haiti. White House officials met Wednesday with nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus who called for halting deportations of the migrants to the Caribbean nation, which is overwhelmed as it responds to an earthquake and the assassination of its president. In Miami, Haitian Americans have protested in the street, waving signs reading, "Stop the racism at the border!"

4

Lawmakers say police-reform talks have collapsed

Congressional negotiations on a bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul officially collapsed on Wednesday. Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.), the lead Democratic negotiator, said the talks ended with no breakthrough in sight. "We weren't making any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform for Americans' policing," Booker said at a news conference. Lead Republican negotiator Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) blamed Democrats for the failure, saying they let their "misguided idea of perfect be the enemy of good, impactful legislation." The two sides started talks in April as public support rose for addressing systemic racism in law enforcement. One of the sticking points was possible changes to criminal and civil penalties to make it easier to punish police officers for abuses.

5

Biden meets with Democrats seeking unity on spending bills

President Biden met with divided congressional Democrats on Wednesday in an urgent push to salvage two major spending bills that form the heart of his economic and social agendas. Biden held talks with party leaders, and leaders of the party's progressive and moderate factions, hoping to unify them behind a $3.5 trillion spending package Democrats can pass without Republican support, provided all 50 of the Democrats in the evenly divided Senate vote for it. "We are in a pivotal period of our negotiations and discussions" requiring "deeper engagement by the president," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. "This is a messy, sausage-making process ... He's rolling up the sleeves." The push is heading for a crucial deadline on Monday, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans a vote on an infrastructure bill that liberals say they won't support unless the broader spending bill goes through, too.

6

New EPA climate rule to slash use of hydrofluorocarbons

The Biden administration plans Thursday to finalize Environmental Protection Agency regulations cutting the use and production of chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years. The administration's first new climate rule, which implements a law Congress passed last year, goes after greenhouse gases warming the planet far faster than carbon dioxide. White House officials said curbing such super-pollutants often used in refrigeration and air conditioning will address global warming while creating jobs by encouraging the manufacturing of alternative technologies. "It's a win on climate and a win on jobs, and American competitiveness," Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate coordinator, said Wednesday. "It's really — frankly, folks — a very big deal."

7

Teen killed in drive-by shooting at Louisville school bus stop

A drive-by shooting at a Louisville, Kentucky, school bus stop left a 16-year-old boy dead and another teenager wounded on Wednesday. The surviving victim's injuries were not life-threatening. A girl suffered minor injuries, although she was not shot. Police did not immediately release the victims' names. Investigators asked people in the area to come forward with any security-camera footage that might help identify a suspect. "The biggest thing we're taking away right now is that we had kids that couldn't even wait at a bus stop this morning without getting shot, and that is horrifying and devastating," Louisville Metro Police Maj. Shannon Lauder said. "And we're going to throw all our resources into finding out who did this."

8

Powell says Fed to start tapering stimulus soon

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the central bank would be able to start tapering the $120 billion in monthly asset purchases it has been using to stimulate the economy as soon as November. "Participants generally viewed that so long as the economic recovery remains on track, a gradual tapering process that concludes around the middle of next year is likely to be appropriate," Powell said. The comments came after a two-day policy meeting concluded with the Fed saying it would only start easing back on its stimulus if the economy makes "substantial further progress" toward the Fed's goals of maximum employment and stable prices. Powell noted that inflation was still significantly higher than the Fed's target rate of 2 percent.

9

Melvin Van Peebles, 'godfather of modern Black cinema,' dies at 89

Melvin Van Peebles, the trailblazing independent filmmaker, composer, musician, playwright, author, and Wall Street options trader, died Tuesday evening at his home in Manhattan, his family announced Wednesday. He was 89. Van Peebles, sometimes called the "godfather of modern Black cinema," is best known for 1971's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which The Associated Press describes as a "frenzied, hyper-sexual, and violent tale of a Black street hustler on the run from police after killing white officers who were beating a Black revolutionary." He wrote, directed, financed, and starred in the groundbreaking film. It proved lucrative for an independent film, hauling in $14 million despite its X rating. Hollywood followed up with films like Shaft, Superfly, and Foxy Brown. "What Hollywood did — they suppressed the political message, added caricature — and blaxploitation was born," he said in 2002.

10

Petito case sparks calls for attention to missing women of color

Intense media coverage of the death of Gabby Petito, a white woman who disappeared during a cross-country van trip with her boyfriend, has prompted calls for more attention to be focused on the cases of missing people of color, including hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women. "It does make you feel, you know, 'Well, what about us?'" said Kimberly Bryan, whose sister Tiffany Foster, a 35-year-old Black mother of three from Georgia, has not been seen since March 1. At least 710 Indigenous women were reported missing between 2011 and 2020 in Wyoming, the state where Petito's body was found days after a search started. The disparity in responses is "kind of heart-wrenching," said Lynnette Grey Bull, who is Northern Arapaho and advocate for missing indigenous women. 

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