Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 9, 2021

The U.S. surpasses 200 million vaccinations as Omicron boosts demand, Biden calls for making government carbon neutral by 2050, and more

1

U.S. surpasses 200 million vaccinations as Omicron spreads

The United States' vaccination push has reached a major milestone, with more than 200 million Americans now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The total amounts to more than 60 percent of the population. Concerns about the spread of the newly discovered Omicron variant have increased demand for shots, although the current rate of 1.78 million doses per day is far below the April 13 peak of 3.38 million. Scientists and the public have expressed concerns that the fast-spreading new strain could be resistant to existing vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that laboratory tests showed that Omicron partially evaded their COVID-19 vaccine, but three doses — two initial shots and a booster — provided significant protection from the new strain.

2

Biden calls for making federal government carbon neutral by 2050

President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday calling for making the United States government carbon neutral by 2050. The Biden administration said it planned to pursue the goal by spending billions to replace its 600,000 cars and trucks with an all-electric fleet, buy power to support cleaner energy, and make more efficient federal buildings. Biden's order aims to use the government's buying power to slash its carbon emissions by 65 percent by 2030. The government would stop buying gas-powered vehicles by 2035, and make most buildings owned or leased by the federal government carbon neutral a decade later. Left-leaning groups said Biden wasn't going far enough, while conservatives like Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said his plan would hurt states with big fossil-fuel reserves.

3

Senate approves resolution against Biden vaccine mandate for big employers

The Senate voted Wednesday in favor of scrapping President Biden's mandate on large businesses to require coronavirus vaccinations or regular testing for their employees. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the mandate "blatant overreach." Two Democrats — Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — voted with all the Senate's Republicans to pass the measure seeking to repeal the order. The bill is unlikely to become law, because it faces an uphill battle to get a vote in the Democratic-controlled House, and Biden is certain to veto it if it reaches his desk. Biden said in September that he wanted the Labor Department to make businesses with 100 or more employees require vaccinations or weekly testing, and wear masks. A federal appeals court last month temporarily blocked the rule, which was set to take effect Jan. 4.

4

N.C. Supreme Court delays primaries to allow time for electoral map challenge

North Carolina's state Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the state to delay primary elections from March 8 to May 17 to provide time for litigation over new congressional and state legislative districts to be resolved. The decision halted candidate filing in a state expected to have one of next year's most competitive Senate races. The ruling applies even to races not affected by the maps. Liberal-leaning groups challenging the maps say they are partisan gerrymanders and violate the state constitution. The state Supreme Court called for lower courts to "hold proceedings necessary to reach a rule on the merits" of the challenges by Jan. 11, with expedited appeals for any lower court rulings to clear the way for elections on the new primary date.

5

Mark Meadows sues to block Jan. 6 committee subpoenas

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal court to block a subpoena for his cooperation from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. Meadows also named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the lawsuit. The filing came after the Jan. 6 committee indicated that it would pursue a vote to ask the Justice Department to determine whether to charge Meadows with criminal contempt for refusing to give a deposition about the riot. Meadows says the subpoenas are "overly broad and unduly burdensome." He also claims the committee "lacks lawful authority to seek and to obtain" the information it's demanding.

6

California leaders propose boosting abortion access

California legislative leaders on Wednesday proposed making the state a sanctuary for women seeking abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the ruling that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion. The plan calls for increasing funding for abortion providers and making it easier for women to access abortion services, including funding the procedure for low-income women who come to California for abortions. The Supreme Court's conservative majority recently expressed openness to upholding a Mississippi abortion law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Precedents allow the procedure up to the point of viability at about 24 weeks. Twenty-one conservative states have bans in place that would take effect if the court overturns Roe.

7

U.K. toughens COVID restrictions in response to new variant

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday tightened COVID-19 restrictions, ordering people in England to work from home, wear masks in public, and show proof of vaccination as part of an effort to fight the spread of the newly discovered Omicron coronavirus variant. Critics called Johnson's "Plan B" a "hammer blow" to London restaurants and shops that were hoping Christmas sales would help them recover from the damage caused by the pandemic. As Johnson imposed the tougher rules, he faced criticism, even from lawmakers in his own party, over accusations that his staff attended a party at Downing Street during last year's Christmas lockdown. In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin apologized as she faced a backlash for going clubbing in Helsinki last weekend after being exposed to COVID-19, although she has tested negative.

8

California attorney general investigates Torrance officers' racist, homophobic texts

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday launched a review of excessive force and discriminatory conduct allegations in the Torrance Police Department, after the surfacing of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by more than a dozen current and former officers. In the texts, officers joked about lynching Black people, "gassing" Jewish people, assaulting gay people, and lying during the investigation into a police shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported. The comments have led to the dismissal of at least 85 criminal cases involving the officers. The department's new chief of police, Jay Hart, requested the review after the texts were found during an investigation into two former Torrance officers accused of painting a swastika on an impounded vehicle.

9

3 Northeast states tap National Guard to help fight COVID surge

The governors of three Northeast states — Maine, New York, and New Hampshire — are calling on the National Guard to help address surging COVID-19 cases overwhelming hospitals. The New York National Guard announced Wednesday it deployed 120 medics and medical technicians to a dozen long-term care facilities across the state in response to a call issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul due to staffing shortages. Hochul said she might also deploy Guard members to hospitals that are running out of beds. Maine Gov. Janet Mills activated the National Guard after a spike in cases strained hospitals. New Hampshire Gov. Christopher Sununu called on the Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard for help "preparing for the winter surge."

10

Court sentences Scott Peterson to life after death sentence overturned

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo of California resentenced Scott Peterson to life in prison on Wednesday, months after the state Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. The decision came nearly 17 years after Peterson was convicted of killing his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child, and dumping them in San Francisco Bay. Peterson, who is not eligible for parole, also will serve a concurrent 15-year sentence for the death of the unborn child. Three of Laci Peterson's relatives testified during the hearing that he was "evil" and a "coward." Peterson didn't say anything. His attorney said was innocent.

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