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10 things you need to know today: October 29, 2021

Biden announces 'historic' $1.75 trillion spending plan framework, Andrew Cuomo charged with groping aide, and more


Biden says 'historic' $1.75 trillion spending plan can pass Senate

President Biden announced Thursday that he and congressional Democrats have reached a "historic economic framework" for his plan to expand the social safety net and spend $555 billion to fight climate change. Biden described the $1.75 trillion deal hours before leaving for overseas summits, including next week's United Nations conference on climate change in Scotland, COP26. Biden urged Democrats to pass the scaled-down Build Back Better plan, saying it marked major progress. He said at the White House he believed the framework would pass the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats can't afford to lose a single vote from their caucus. But Democratic leaders still have to muster enough votes to pass the proposal, which has been scaled down from $3.5 trillion and lacks several things progressives want, including paid family leave.


Andrew Cuomo charged with groping former aide

New York authorities on Thursday filed a misdemeanor criminal complaint against former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accusing him of groping a female aide's breast. The aide, Brittany Commisso, previously accused Cuomo of forcible touching at the Governor's Mansion last year. The complaint filed in Albany City Court says Cuomo touched Commisso's breast "for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires." Commisso is one of about a dozen women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate touching. Cuomo resigned in August after a state attorney general's office report concluded that he had sexually harassed several women. Cuomo has denied the allegations, and contested the report's findings. His personal lawyer, Rita Glavin, said Cuomo "never assaulted anyone," adding: "This is not professional law enforcement. This is politics."


Economic growth slowed in the last quarter amid Delta surge

The U.S. economy slowed down in the third quarter, growing at an annualized rate of 2 percent, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones on average had predicted a rate of 2.8 percent. The slowdown came as the coronavirus surge fueled by the Delta variant caused Americans to curb spending, dragging economic growth to its slowest pace yet in the recovery from last year's pandemic lockdowns. Consumer spending increased at a 1.6 percent pace, down from 12 percent in the second quarter. Spending on long-lasting goods such as appliances and autos plunged by 26.2 percent. Government spending dropped by 4.7 percent as pandemic-era aid expired. "Overall, this is a big disappointment," wrote Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.


Biden meets with Pope Francis to kick off diplomatic trip

President Biden launches a five-day diplomatic tour on Friday in Rome, where he will discuss the pandemic, climate change, and other global issues with Pope Francis. This weekend, he moves on to the Group of 20 summit to talk with leaders of the world's 20 largest economies about the pandemic, widening inequalities, supply-chain problems, rising energy prices, and other shared economic threats. After that, he and other leaders head to next week's United Nations climate conference, COP26, which many environmental activists and political leaders have described as a make-or-break opportunity to get commitments to reduce emissions and avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. The events come as Democrats in Washington continue negotiations on Biden's domestic agenda, including programs to address climate change.


House Democrats delay vote on infrastructure bill 

House Democratic leaders postponed a planned Thursday vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill after progressives objected to passing the legislation before they see details on President Biden's $1.75 trillion spending bill. The larger spending plan, which includes climate measures and expanded social programs, is a key part of Biden's domestic agenda. Dozens of progressive House Democrats said they wanted to make sure the larger plan is ready to pass, with a deal on the details, before a vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she remained confident that most Democrats would back the infrastructure bill. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was confident Congress would soon pass both proposals. 


Judge slams DOJ for 'schizophrenic' prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters

Judge Beryl Howell, chief judge of the federal court in Washington, criticized the Justice Department on Thursday for what she called a "muddled" and "almost schizophrenic" approach to prosecuting Capitol rioters. She said prosecutors' rhetoric calling the riot an "attack on democracy . . . unparalleled in American history" didn't match their plea offers involving minor charges. "No wonder parts of the public … are confused about whether what happened on Jan. 6 at the Capitol was simply a petty offense of trespassing with some disorderliness, or shocking criminal conduct that represented a grave threat to our democratic norms," Howell said as she sentenced rioter Jack Griffith to three years of probation on charges often used for people who disrupt congressional hearings. "The rioters were not mere protesters."


DOJ settles lawsuit by families of Charleston church shooting victims

The Justice Department on Thursday agreed to a settlement in lawsuits filed by survivors and relatives of the nine people killed in the 2015 massacre at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by white supremacist Dylann Roof. The killer later confessed, saying he hoped to ignite a race war. The families of the people killed during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church sued after the FBI disclosed that its background-check system failed to prevent Roof from buying the gun he used in the slayings. His criminal record showed a felony conviction that should have blocked the sale, but the sheriff's office that recorded the arrest didn't show up in the FBI's database. The settlement calls for the families of the people killed to receive $63 million, and for the survivors of the shooting spree to get $25 million.


Facebook announces rebranding under the name Meta

Facebook is changing its corporate name to Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday. The rebranding comes as Facebook contends with a backlash over its handling of misinformation and harmful posts, following whistleblower allegations that the company put profits above user safety. Under the new branding, Facebook and its other apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, will keep their names, but all under the Meta umbrella. "It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do," Zuckerberg said. Skeptics said the name change makes it look like Facebook has something to hide. "Zuckerberg and his lieutenants can't shed the Facebook albatross with a clever brand adjustment," said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.


Oklahoma resumes executions after 6 years

Oklahoma executed John Marion Grant on Thursday for the 1998 murder of prison cafeteria worker Gay Carter. Grant, 60, was the first person put to death in the state in six years. He was convicted in 1999 of fatally stabbing Carter 16 times with a shank. At the time of the killing, Grant was serving a 130-year sentence for multiple armed robberies. Oklahoma had halted executions since botched lethal injections in 2014 and 2015, but last year announced it would end the moratorium using the same three-drug cocktail of the sedative midazolam, the paralytic called vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. On Wednesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted stays of execution for Grant and another death row inmate, Julius Jones, but those were lifted by the Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision. Jones' execution is scheduled for Nov. 18.


Chernobyl plant manager dies at 85

Viktor Bryukhanov, the plant manager who accepted professional responsibility for the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, died this month in Kyiv, a spokesman for the now-closed plant announced Thursday. He was 85. Bryukhanov denied criminal responsibility, attributing the explosion to design flaws dictated by Moscow and essentially blaming higher ranking officials for the explosion. Still, he was convicted of gross safety violations and served half of his 10-year sentence. He was released when the Soviet Union collapsed, and returned to government work in Ukraine, leading the technical part of its Economic Development and Trade Ministry and retiring in 2015. Bryukhanov was portrayed by Con O'Neill in the award-winning HBO series Chernobyl in 2019.


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