Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 6, 2021

Biden says Democrats might revise filibuster to raise debt ceiling, whistleblower says Facebook weakens democracy, and more

1

Biden says Democrats could revise filibuster to raise debt ceiling

President Biden said Tuesday there was a "real possibility" that Democrats would try to change the Senate's filibuster rule to prevent Republicans from blocking them from raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that lawmakers must raise the debt limit by Oct. 18 to avert a catastrophic default. With the filibuster rule in place, Democrats would need 10 Republican votes to get past a GOP filibuster and approve the measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said Democrats are trying to push through Biden's economic agenda without Republican votes, so they will have to suspend the debt limit the same way. Democrats are due to make a third attempt to raise the debt limit on Wednesday. 

2

Whistleblower: Facebook boosts profits with harmful content

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen on Tuesday testified to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection that the company's platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, harm children, and spread misinformation and hate. "Facebook's products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy," said Haugen, a data scientist hired at Facebook's civil integrity unit in 2019. "The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people." Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called coverage of Haugen's claims misleading, saying it would be "deeply illogical" for Facebook to prioritize harmful content because that would drive away advertisers. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who led the hearing, said he would call for federal regulators to investigate Facebook.

3

Missouri executes man despite pope's plea

Missouri conducted its first execution since May 2020 on Tuesday night, killing Ernest Lee Johnson, 61, with a lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) on Monday night had declined pleas to commute Johnson's death sentence, including from Pope Francis and two members of Missouri's congressional delegation. In a final statement shared by the Missouri Department of Corrections, Johnson expressed remorse for killing three people during a 1994 convenience store robbery and thanked those who supported him. Johnson's lawyers had argued that executing him was unconstitutional, citing a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, because he was intellectually disabled since birth, noting his IQ was between 67 and 77, and his mental capacity declined further after 20 percent of his brain tissue was removed in a 2008 surgery to remove part of a tumor.

4

Capitol Police pull man out of suspicious SUV outside Supreme Court

Capitol Police on Tuesday pulled a man out of a "suspicious vehicle" parked near the Supreme Court and detained him. The arresting officers closed roads in the area and deployed a flash bang device before taking the man into custody. "One of our teams just moved in and extracted the man from the SUV," Capitol Police said on Twitter. "Everyone is safe." The Supreme Court returned Monday to start a new term with several critical issues on the docket, including a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion. Other issues coming before the court, now with an expanded 6-3 conservative majority, include gun rights and the separation of church and state.

5

Controversial N.Y. police union head steps down after FBI raid

The board of the New York Police Department's Sergeants Benevolent Association, one of the city's main police unions, said Tuesday it had requested the resignation of its controversial president, Ed Mullins, who is "apparently the target" of a federal investigation. Mullins agreed to step down. Earlier Tuesday, the FBI had raided the SBA's Manhattan headquarters and Mullins' home on Long Island. Agents removed at least 11 large cardboard boxes from the union office. The FBI said its agents "were conducting a law enforcement operation pursuant to an ongoing investigation," without providing details. The search was part of an investigation by the FBI and public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, The New York Times reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

6

Supreme Court sends Trump wall challenge back to lower courts

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told lower courts to revisit rulings that froze funding then-President Donald Trump was trying to use to build a wall on the Mexico border, now that President Biden has taken steps to spend the money elsewhere. The decision effectively halts the challenge to the wall itself, and sends the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others who challenged the spending back to lower courts to "seek relief for the damage the wall has already inflicted," said Dror Ladin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU's National Security Project. Trump tried to divert military funding to wall construction, but the Biden administration has designated $3.6 billion from the pot to 66 military construction projects that Trump deferred.

7

Biden trims agenda as Democrats seek agreement

Democrats on Tuesday started narrowing their differences over President Biden's $3.5 trillion proposal to expand the social safety net. Biden suggested trimming it to $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), leader of the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus, reportedly countered by saying the spending plan should be no smaller than $2.5 trillion, with $2.9 trillion necessary to cover key programs. Moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has called for spending no more than $1.5 trillion, reportedly have hinted they would go up to $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion. The back and forth came after disagreements over the larger bill forced House Democratic leaders to postpone a separate-but-linked $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

8

3 win Nobel physics prize for work on climate change

Three scientists — Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome — received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for their work on climate change. Manabe in 1967 came up with a computer model that confirmed carbon dioxide's link to warming. Hasselmann's model connected rain and other kinds of weather to long-term changes like ocean currents. Mann's work helped show how climate change influenced such events as droughts and heat waves. "The discoveries being recognized this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on a rigorous analysis of observations," said Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

9

Trump falls off 'Forbes' list of richest Americans

Former President Donald Trump's fortune has fallen to about $2.5 billion, enough to get him bumped off of Forbes' list of America's richest people. Trump was $400 million short of enough to make the list, which was released Tuesday. It was the first time in 25 years he failed to make the cut. Trump was on the top half of the list from 1997 to 2016. Trump's financial decisions played a role in his fall. For example, he decided to hold onto his assets when he took office in 2017, costing him about $2 billion. If he had put his money into an index fund, he could have piled up $4.5 billion by 2021. The coronavirus pandemic also reduced his wealth, much of which is in big-city properties that were hit hard by lockdowns that kept people out of offices.

10

Russia sends filmmakers into orbit

Russia launched a rocket Tuesday to send Russian actress Yulia Sherepild and director Klim Shipenko to the International Space Station. Their mission is to film scenes for the first feature-length movie shot in space. The filmmakers will be accompanied by a veteran Russian astronaut guide, Anton Shkaplerov. Their trip into orbit marked the latest in a series of firsts for non-professional astronauts as companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin rush to push boundaries in private space flight. Before Tuesday's launch, Shipenko held up the script for his film, The Challenge, and waved, saying, "We didn't forget to take it with us." 

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