Daily briefing

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

Biden signs the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, Bannon faces contempt charges but vows to fight, and more

1

Biden signs bipartisan infrastructure bill into law

President Biden on Monday signed the more than $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The package was pared down from Biden's original proposal to spend $2.3 trillion to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, ports, power lines, and broadband internet, but Biden said the version that passed showed that Republicans and Democrats can work together for the good of the nation. "America's moving again, and your life's going to change for the better," Biden said, promising that the upgrades would help America compete with China and other nations in emerging industries. The law contains $550 billion in new funds, including $66 billion for Amtrak and other rail lines, $65 billion for broadband, $47 billion for responding to wildfires and increasingly frequent storms, and $7.5 billion for electric-vehicle charging stations.

2

Bannon vows to fight contempt charges

Steve Bannon surrendered Monday to face federal contempt charges for his refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by a mob of former President Trump's supporters. Bannon, a former Trump strategist who no longer worked in the White House when the insurrection occurred, was released pending his trial. He faces two counts of defying a House subpoena seeking documents and testimony. If convicted, he could get from 30 days to a year in jail on each charge, plus a fine of up to $100,000. Bannon was defiant as he left the courthouse, saying the Justice Department was going after the "wrong guy this time." "I'm telling you right now, this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden," Bannon said. U.S. Magistrate Robin Meriweather required Bannon to surrender his passport and report weekly to court authorities until his trial.

3

Biden and Xi pledge better communication after virtual summit

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to improve communication between the U.S. and China after discussing a wide range of issues in a three-and-a-half-hour virtual meeting Monday. The leaders of the world's two biggest economies covered topics that included human rights, climate change, trade, and Taiwan, as well as geopolitical tensions over Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran. The meeting did not yield any breakthroughs. Biden raised concerns about human rights abuses in China, and about Beijing's "unfair trade and economic policies," the White House said. Xi warned that the U.S. was "playing with fire by supporting Taiwan," which China views as a rebel province. But both sides called for calm and cooperation: "It seems to me we need to establish some common-sense guardrails," Biden said. Xi said he was ready to push relations between the two countries, which have been tense, "in a positive direction."

4

Judge rules Infowars' Alex Jones liable in Sandy Hook defamation lawsuits

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled Monday that conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones is liable for all damages in the defamation lawsuits the families of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting filed against him for claiming that the massacre was a hoax. Jones — who has since acknowledged that the shooting really happened — and entities he owns failed to turn over financial and web analytics data in "callous disregard of their obligation" in the discovery process, Bellis said. She found them liable by default for withholding the information "the plaintiffs needed to prove their claims." The ruling "shows just how unwilling Mr. Jones was to have his conduct exposed to the light of day in front of a jury," said lawyer Chris Mattei, who represents Sandy Hook families. The defendants plan to appeal.

5

Sen. Patrick Leahy says he won't seek re-election

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who at 81 is the longest-serving member in the Senate, announced Monday that he will not run for re-election when his eighth term ends in 2022. "It's time to put down the gavel," said Leahy, who was first elected in 1974. "It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter to carry on this work for our great state. It's time to come home." In announcing his retirement, Leahy noted what he said were some of the highlights of his career. The list included making school lunches available to lower-income children, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Leahy told The Washington Post that he and his family discussed his future at his Vermont farm over Labor Day weekend, and he made the decision to step aside a month ago after a long call with President Biden, a former Senate colleague.

6

Liverpool taxi driver praised for quick response to bomber

Liverpool, England, Mayor Joanne Anderson on Monday credited the driver of a taxi that burst into flames outside a hospital with preventing a worse disaster. The driver, identified locally as David Perry, fled the vehicle and locked the alleged bomber inside after spotting explosives. "The taxi driver, in his heroic efforts, has managed to divert what could have been an absolutely awful disaster at the hospital," Anderson said. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the driver's "incredible presence of mind and bravery." The driver picked up the passenger about a 10-minute drive from the Liverpool Women's Hospital. As the taxi arrived at the facility's drop-off area, the passenger detonated a homemade bomb, killing himself and injuring Perry, who was treated and released from a hospital.

7

Judge denies defense request to remove Jesse Jackson from courtroom in Arbery case

A judge on Monday denied a request to remove the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom made by the lawyer of one of the three white men on trial in the killing of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. Lawyer Kevin Gough, who represents defendant William "Roddie" Bryan, said Jackson is "an icon of the civil rights movement" whose presence could influence the jury in a case where race has been a focus. Jackson was sitting in the back of the courtroom with Arbery's parents. "How many pastors does the Arbery family have?" Gough said. "We had the Rev. Al Sharpton here earlier, last week." Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he would not "single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed to be in this courtroom as a member of the public." He added: "If there is a disruption, you're more than welcome to call that to my attention." 

8

Myanmar releases U.S. journalist Danny Fenster

Myanmar on Monday released American journalist Danny Fenster, who was held for a half-year by the Southeast Asian nation's military junta and was sentenced to 11 years on Friday with the possibility of another 40 years on murky allegations. Fenster promptly left the country with Bill Richardson, the former U.S. diplomat who helped negotiate Fenster's freedom. "This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work," said Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Fenster told reporters on a stopover in Qatar that he had been "arrested and held in captivity for no reason." He said he was not "starved or beaten." It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. promised the junta anything in exchange for Fenster's release. The military has cracked down on pro-democracy protesters since a February coup.

9

Biden administration proposes Chaco Canyon drilling ban

The Biden administration on Monday proposed banning new oil and gas drilling projects for 20 years in and around Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. The area is rich in oil and gas, but it's also a sacred tribal site. Biden announced the move at the White House Tribal Nations summit where he also signed an executive order telling his Cabinet to come up with a strategy to improve public safety, health, education, and justice for Indigenous Americans. He also promised that his administration would work with tribes to incorporate their "tribal ecological knowledge into the federal government's scientific approach." "No group of Americans has created and cared more about preserving what we inherited than the tribal nations," Biden said. "We have to continue to stand up for the dignity and sovereignty of tribal nations."

10

Judge drops gun charge against Rittenhouse, jury starts deliberations

Kenosha County, Wisconsin, Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder on Monday dropped the gun possession charge against Kyle Rittenhouse shortly before lawyers gave closing arguments in the teen's trial for fatally shooting two men and wounding another during a protest sparked by the police shooting of a Black man last year. Rittenhouse had faced a misdemeanor charge for illegal possession of the AR-15-style rifle he used to kill Joseph Rosenbaum and Kyle Huber and wound Gaige Grosskreutz, but Schroeder said the law on rifle possession could be interpreted to mean that people who are 17 years old, as Rittenhouse was at the time of the killings, can legally carry firearms unless they are short-barreled rifles. It was not Schroeder's first controversial decision. Before the trial started, he faced criticism for barring prosecutors from calling Rosenbaum and Huber "victims," but allowing the defense to call them "rioters" and "looters." The jury starts deliberating Tuesday.

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