Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 3, 2021

Congress approves funding deal to avert government shutdown, Biden unveils measures to combat Omicron coronavirus variant, and more

1

Congress approves deal to avert a government shutdown

Congress on Thursday approved a stopgap funding deal to prevent a partial government shutdown before a Friday deadline. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) unveiled the measure hours before House Democrats pushed it through with just one Republican vote. She said it would keep federal agencies funded through Feb. 18, with "virtually no changes to existing funding or policy." After the House vote, the Senate quickly passed the measure 69-28, despite an effort by conservative Republicans to block it unless funding for President Biden's vaccine mandates was removed. The White House urged Congress to use the time the bill would provide to "engage in robust bipartisan negotiations" on a long-term solution to avoid bouncing from one fleeting fix to another.

2

Biden announces measures to fight Omicron variant

President Biden on Thursday announced plans to fight the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States, focusing on campaigns to get more people vaccinated and provide booster shots for those eligible for them. Biden said new "family mobile vaccination clinics" would offer shots and boosters to all eligible members of a family. The Biden administration also is imposing tougher COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers and making at-home COVID testing free for more Americans. Biden said at the National Institutes of Health that the moves would help keep people safe while allowing schools and businesses to remain open. "We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," he said.

3

More states confirm their first Omicron cases

A Minnesota resident has tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant, marking the second case of the strain confirmed in the United States, authorities said Thursday. The second person infected was a fully vaccinated man who was recently in New York City for the Anime NYC 2021 convention. The event, which drew 53,000 people, was held at the Javits Center from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21. The patient developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and got tested two days later. His symptoms have since cleared up. By the end of Thursday, Omicron cases had been confirmed in five states, with five infections in New York. "We should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The first U.S. case was confirmed a day earlier in California.

4

U.S., allies sanction Belarus over migrant crisis, human rights 

The United States and allies on Thursday imposed new sanctions on Belarus over the country's role in creating a migrant crisis on its border with Poland and continuing human rights violations by authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The U.S., United Kingdom, European Union, and Canada targeted numerous Belarusian entities and individuals to increase pressure on Lukashenko. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Lukashenko of using "innocent migrants as a political weapon, as an effort at destabilization," by luring them to the borders of Poland and other neighboring countries with promises of easy passage into Western Europe. The sanctions came as tensions with Russia, Lukashenko's most powerful supporter, rose over its massing of troops on its Ukraine border.

5

Trump-allied lawyers ordered to pay Michigan and Detroit election lawsuit costs

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Thursday ordered Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and seven other lawyers allied with former President Donald Trump to pay Detroit and Michigan a total of $175,000 for abusing the court system with a baseless lawsuit claiming election fraud and seeking to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss in the state. The lawyers have a month to pay the sanctions, which will cover what the city and state spent fighting the lawsuits. Michigan is seeking the disbarment of four of the lawyers, including Powell, best known for vowing to "release the Kraken," a mythical sea creature, to destroy Biden's victory. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the sanctions show there are "consequences to filing meritless lawsuits."

6

GoFundMe removes crowdfunding campaigns for man convicted in Arbery murder

GoFundMe said Thursday it had shut down crowdfunding campaigns for William "Roddie" Bryan, who was convicted along with father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, for murdering Ahmaud Arbery in southeast Georgia. The three men, all of them white, were convicted last week of chasing down Arbery, who was Black, as he ran through their neighborhood. Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery with a shotgun as Bryan captured the killing on video. "GoFundMe prohibits raising money for the legal defense of a violent crime," a spokesperson for GoFundMe said, adding that the company had removed three campaigns for Bryan before they raised any money. Defense attorney Kevin Gough said Bryan will lose his constitutional right to counsel if he can't raise money for an appeal.

7

Missouri commissioned, then buried, report finding mask mandates save lives

Missouri's health department found in an analysis that mask mandates prevented coronavirus infections and saved lives, but the state did not release the data publicly, The New York Times reported Thursday after nonprofit news organizations acquired the analysis through a public records request. The Missouri Independent reported Wednesday that the health department's analysis found lower infection and death rates in the four areas of Missouri with mask mandates — St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County — from the end of April until the end of October, the peak of Missouri's Delta wave. "Masked" areas had 15.8 new COVID-19 cases per day for every 100,000 residents. Areas without mask mandates had 21.7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. Areas with mandates also had fewer deaths.

8

Germany announces national lockdown for the unvaccinated

Germany on Thursday said it was imposing a nationwide lockdown for people who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The unvaccinated are banned from entering non-essential businesses but can go to essential ones, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced. Unvaccinated people also are forbidden to meet with more than two people from another household. Crowds at large events, such as soccer matches, will be limited, and bars and restaurants in areas with high infection rates will have to shut down. "The fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved," Merkel said. 

9

'Lavern & Shirley' actor Eddie Mekka dies at 69

Eddie Mekka, the actor best known for playing Carmine Ragusa on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died. He was 69. An announcement on Mekka's Facebook page said Thursday that he "passed away peacefully" at his home in California. No cause of death was specified. Mekka played Carmine, Shirley's boyfriend nicknamed "The Big Ragoo," on the popular Happy Days spin-off that ran from 1976 through 1983. He also starred in the sitcom Blansky's Beauties, and he was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in The Lieutenant. Mekka's other TV roles included appearances on Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Moonlighting, Family Matters, ER, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

10

Alec Baldwin says he didn't pull trigger in movie set shooting

Actor Alec Baldwin told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired Thursday that he "didn't pull the trigger" of the gun he was holding on the set of the movie Rust when it fired a live round, killing the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding director Joel Souza. "I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them, never," Baldwin said. "Someone put a live bullet in a gun, a bullet that wasn't even supposed to be on the property," he said. Baldwin was holding an antique revolver rehearsing a scene for the Western in October at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico, when the gun went off. On Tuesday, the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office issued a new search warrant indicating that investigators might have determined where the live round came from.

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