Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 17, 2021

Biden travels to rally public support for infrastructure law, the U.S. will buy enough Pfizer pills for 10 million COVID patients, and more

1

Biden, Democrats rally public support for infrastructure law

President Biden and other Democratic leaders went on the road Tuesday to rally public support for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed into law this week. "This is not something abstract," Biden said at a decrepit bridge in rural New Hampshire. "This is real. This is real stuff." Democratic members of Congress have planned 1,000 events in November and December to publicize "what we're doing in this package," said the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.). The bill passed with the support of some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Biden and Democrats are proudly touting their role, but a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found that most Americans aren't giving Biden credit for pushing the bill through Congress. 

2

U.S. to buy enough Pfizer COVID pills for 10 million people

The Biden administration plans to buy 10 million courses of Pfizer's COVID-19 pill to help treat infected people and reduce severe illness and death from the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing two people with knowledge of the deal. As the two sides negotiated final details for the $5 billion purchase, Pfizer asked federal regulators to authorize the five-day antiviral treatment with the pill, Paxlovid. The drug, which Pfizer has agreed to license so it can be produced around the world, would join a pill developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics as the second oral treatment to help newly infected people avoid hospitalization. Health officials hope COVID drugs will help reduce the pandemic's toll by protecting people from severe symptoms.

3

Biden, Xi agree to explore arms control talks

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to take steps to renew nuclear-arms control talks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday, a day after the two leaders held a virtual meeting. If the arms control talks happen, they will be one of just a few concrete achievements coming out of the more than three-hour discussion, which covered trade, Taiwan, and a host of other issues that have contributed to rising tensions between the two superpowers. The U.S. and China also announced Tuesday they would ease restrictions on foreign journalists. China last year expelled several U.S. reporters. Under the deal, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times will be able to send journalists back to China.

4

Frustrated migrants in Belarus clash with Polish border forces

Hundreds of frustrated Middle Eastern migrants in Belarus stormed a border checkpoint and clashed with Polish security forces. Some of the migrants said they were pushed by Belarusian officials to press toward the border fence, where some of the people seeking entry into Poland threw stones and debris at border guards, who responded with water cannons and tear gas. "I am angry. Everyone is angry. This is the last thing we could do. There is no other solution if we ever want to get to Europe," said Rawand Akram, a 23-year-old Iraqi Kurd. Tuesday's confrontation came after a month-long impasse. European officials have accused the government of Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, of luring refugees to the border with the promise of passage to Europe in a bid to destabilize Poland and neighboring countries. 

5

Fauci warns of winter 'double whammy' from Delta variant, waning vaccine protection

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning of a possible "double whammy" from the coronavirus this winter as the highly infectious Delta variant spreads and vaccines' protection wanes, putting "even the vaccinated people" at risk of infection. "You're going to see breakthrough infections, even more so than we see now among the vaccinated," Fauci said in a pre-taped interview aired Tuesday at the 2021 STAT Summit. Fauci's statement added to concerns about a renewed rise in COVID-19 cases following a decline from the summer surge, with people preparing to gather for the holidays. He added that because immunity from vaccines decreases over time, a third shot with a booster dose might become the standard for "full" COVID-19 vaccination.

6

Yellen tells lawmakers to act or U.S. could default on debts Dec. 15

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress on Tuesday that the federal government probably will run out of ways to avoid a first-ever debt default on Dec. 15. That's 12 days later than she predicted in October when Congress passed a stop-gap $480 billion increase in the federal debt limit. Yellen urged Congress in a new letter to act fast to eliminate any possibility of a potentially catastrophic default on the nation's obligations. "To ensure the full faith and credit of the United States, it is critical that Congress raise or suspend the debt limit as soon as possible," Yellen wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. Yellen has repeatedly warned lawmakers that letting the government default would probably trigger a recession.

7

Suicide bombers target Uganda's capital, killing at least 3

Suicide bombers on Tuesday attacked the heavily guarded central business district of Uganda's capital, Kampala, killing at least three people with two blasts during morning rush hour. Three bombers also died. Police fatally shot a fourth suspected would-be bomber during a search of a residence in a suburb north of Kampala. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the explosions. Police blamed the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist group that launched an insurgency in the 1990s and pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2017. ISIS leaders recognized the ADF as an affiliate two years later. Western security officials say the ADF is one of many local terrorist groups ISIS has strengthened ties with since its caliphate in Iraq and Syria collapsed.

8

Retail sales surged in October despite high inflation

Retail sales rose by 1.7 percent in October, a significant improvement compared to September, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. The surge, which came despite new data showing consumer confidence at a 10-year low, came as Walmart and Home Depot reported third-quarter sales that beat expectations. Consumers spent mostly on goods, including cars, electronics, fitness equipment, and other big purchases, rather than services. The data showed that despite complaints about rising gas and grocery prices, Americans are willing to pay more as they return to more normal lives with coronavirus infections down since the summer surge. "The fact is, the world shut down for the better part of 2020 and people have savings because they haven't been out and about," said Mark Cohen, director of retail sales at Columbia Business School. "They have a lot of disposable cash — and now that things are coming back to normal, they're going to dispose of it."

9

New York City announces Times Square New Year's event is back

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that the city will bring back its famous Times Square New Year's Eve celebration at "full strength" in a sign of a return toward pre-pandemic life. One hitch: Anyone who wants to be there to watch the ball drop at midnight in person must be vaccinated against COVID-19. "We want to welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks, but everyone needs to be vaccinated," de Blasio said. "Join the crowd, join the joy, join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100 percent back." The famous event was scaled down last year due to the pandemic. It will be de Blasio's last New Year's Eve celebration as mayor as he prepares to leave after eight years in office and possibly run for governor.

10

Las Vegas man who made vote-fraud claim pleads guilty to voting twice

A Las Vegas man who claimed he had evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election pleaded guilty Tuesday to voting twice in the election. Last November, Donald "Kirk" Hartle told a local TV station, KLAS, someone cast a ballot for his wife, Rosemarie Hartle, who died of breast cancer in 2017. The Nevada Republican Party publicized the case, tweeting that "this isn't the only case of a deceased person voting in NV." State officials investigated and found Hartle had cast his late wife's ballot, and his own ballot, too. Hartle agreed to plead guilty to avoid serving prison time. Judge Carli Kierny told Hartle his "cheap political stunt" backfired and showed "our voting system actually works because you were ultimately caught."

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