Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 19, 2021

The House delays vote on $2 trillion spending plan to let GOP leader speak, Belarus clears a controversial migrant camp, and more

1

House vote on $2 trillion spending plan delayed by McCarthy marathon speech

The House opened debate Thursday on President Biden's $2 trillion spending proposal, which would expand the social safety net, but Democratic leaders pushed back a planned vote to Friday as House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy made a marathon overnight speech. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members of the Democratic caucus in a letter that the spending plan would "create millions of good-paying jobs, lower families' costs, and cut their taxes, while making the wealthiest few and big corporations pay their fair share." The timetable for approving the bill, called the Build Back Better Act, was not clear. Moderates were awaiting the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which was released Thursday evening and estimated the package would increase the deficit by $367 billion over a decade.

2

Belarus clears controversial migrant border camp

The Belarusian government on Thursday cleared out makeshift migrant camps near the country's main border crossing with Poland. European Union leaders had accused the government of Belarus' autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, of luring the migrants with the promise of easy passage to Western Europe to destabilize neighboring E.U. countries. Days ago, migrants clashed with Polish security forces, who responded with water cannon blasts. Belarusian authorities moved the migrants out of freezing conditions and into a warehouse, but it was not immediately clear what would happen to them next. At least one group was repatriated on a flight to Iraq. "I wish I had died and they were bringing my corpse back," said Awara Abbas, 30, after spending $5,500 to leave the country only to be sent back to Kurdistan in northern Iraq. 

3

Defendant concedes he wasn't threatened before pointing shotgun at Ahmaud Arbery 

Travis McMichael, the white man who killed Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, conceded during his trial Thursday that Arbery did not threaten him, say anything, or show a weapon before he pointed his shotgun at the 25-year-old Black jogger. Cellphone video replayed in court Thursday showed McMichael pointing the shotgun at Arbery as he runs around McMichael's pickup truck, then raising it again when the two come face to face in front of the truck, and McMichael fires. "All he's done is run away from you," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. "And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him." McMichael was one of just seven witnesses defense lawyers representing him, his father Gregory McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan called before resting their case on Thursday.

4

Biden meets with Mexico, Canada leaders in 1st summit in 5 years

President Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House on Thursday to discuss trade, migration, and other key issues. The leaders of the three North American nations used to hold these trilateral summits regularly, but this was the first one in five years because the Trump administration halted the tradition. Biden first talked separately with Trudeau, saying, "This is one of the easiest relationships that we have." His discussion with Mexico's leader covered the recent surge of migration toward the U.S.-Mexico border and creating more humane pathways and asylum or jobs for migrants displaced by climate change. "We can meet all of the challenges if we just take the time to speak with one another," Biden said during a Thursday evening meeting with both leaders.

5

U.S. charges 2 Iranians with trying to influence 2020 election

The United States on Thursday announced that it was filing criminal charges against two Iranians accused of trying to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election through an online disinformation campaign. The Treasury Department also said it was imposing sanctions on six Iranian individuals and one Iranian organization for meddling in the election. Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, were charged with obtaining confidential U.S. voting information from a state election website and conspiring to spread disinformation to undermine voter confidence in election integrity. The indictment also says the hackers breached an unnamed media company's computer, aiming to spread false information. Iran's United Nation mission did not immediately comment.

6

U.S. to pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million courses of COVID drug

The U.S. government has agreed to pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for enough of its COVID-19 antiviral treatment for 10 million people if regulators authorize distributing it. If all goes as planned, it will be the biggest purchase yet of a coronavirus therapy. Pfizer on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of the experimental treatment, which Pfizer said cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent among high-risk adults with early COVID symptoms. The FDA also is reviewing a similar pill developed by rival drug maker Merck. Pfizer's drug costs $529 per course. The federal government also has agreed to buy 3.1 million of Merck's treatments at a cost of $700 each. President Biden said his administration is working to make the treatments "easily accessible and free."

7

Oklahoma governor grants last-minute clemency to Julius Jones 

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) granted clemency to high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones hours before he had been scheduled to be executed. "After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones' sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," Stitt said in a statement. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had recommended reducing Jones' sentence to life, but with the possibility of parole. Jones' supporters say he was wrongfully convicted for the 1999 fatal shooting of insurance executive Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones has maintained his innocence and said his co-defendant fatally shot Howell, then pinned the murder on him. 

8

Judge exonerates 2 men convicted of killing Malcolm X

Two men convicted of assassinating Malcolm X were exonerated Thursday afternoon after a renewed investigation uncovered evidence proving authorities had withheld evidence that they were not the ones who gunned down the civil rights activist who had risen to prominence as a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. "There can be no question that this is a case that calls out for fundamental justice," said Manhattan judge Ellen Biben, who threw out the convictions of both Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam. "The event that has brought us to court today should never have occurred," Aziz said. "I am an 83-year-old man who was victimized by the criminal justice system." Aziz and Islam had long maintained their innocence. Both were paroled in the 1980s. Islam died in 2009.

9

Florist who refused order for same-sex wedding drops Supreme Court challenge 

Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist who refused to make an arrangement for a same-sex wedding, is withdrawing her pending Supreme Court appeal and retiring. The decision came after Stutzman settled with the two men, agreeing to pay them $5,000. Her lawyers said she was "at peace" about the case's conclusion, and able to "finally retire with her conscience intact." The dispute came when Stutzman, citing her religious objection to same-sex marriage, refused a 2013 request from Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed for wedding flowers. The state Supreme Court ruled that Stutzman violated a state law against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ingersoll and Freed said leaving the state ruling in place ensures that "same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else."

10

Scientist says 1st person infected with coronavirus was Wuhan market vendor

A scientist who has tracked the early spread of the coronavirus said in a report published Thursday in the journal Science that the first case was a vendor in a Wuhan, China, animal market. The finding contradicted a World Health Organization investigation's conclusion that the first person infected was an accountant who lived miles away. The report by the University of Arizona's Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing virus evolution, could revive debate over whether the pandemic started at the market or leaked from a Wuhan virology lab. "In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that's the size of a soccer field," Dr. Worobey said. "It becomes very difficult to explain that pattern if the outbreak didn't start at the market." 

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