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10 things you need to know today: December 14, 2021

The House Jan. 6 panel recommends holding Mark Meadows in contempt, gymnasts reach $380 million settlement over Nassar abuse, and more


House Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Mark Meadows in contempt 

The special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack voted Monday to recommend holding former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying the panel's subpoena. The unanimous vote by the committee's seven Democrats and two Republicans referred the matter to the full House, which is expected to take it up as soon as Tuesday. The committee released evidence indicating that Meadows was deeply involved in Trump's push to overturn President Biden's election victory. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) read texts from Fox News hosts and Donald Trump Jr. urging Meadows to get the then-president to speak out against the mob violence. "These text messages leave no doubt," Cheney said. "The White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol."


Hundreds of gymnasts reach $380 million settlement over Larry Nassar abuse

More than 500 gymnasts sexually abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar have agreed to a $380 million settlement with USA Gymnastics. The settlement was revealed Monday during a USA Gymnastics bankruptcy hearing. "No amount of money will ever repair the damage that has been done and what these women have been through," former gymnast Rachael Denhollander told The New York Times. "But at some point, the negotiations have to end because these women need help — and they need it right now." Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman are among the women who qualify for compensation under the settlement, which is among the largest ever for a sexual abuse case.


Supreme Court rejects request to block NY vaccine mandate for health workers

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block New York's vaccine mandate covering workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and other medical facilities. The unsigned order did not spell out the court's reasoning. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented, with Gorsuch writing that the state was violating religious freedom by declining to offer a religious exception for abortion opponents who object to the current vaccines because they "depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines" in production or testing.  The high court now has rejected requests to block state mandates in Indiana, Maine, and New York, giving states considerable leeway in fighting COVID-19 during the Delta variant surge.


Kentucky tornado death toll rises

Kentucky's death toll from weekend tornadoes that obliterated factories, homes, and other buildings rose to more than 70 on Monday as search crews rushed to find about 100 people still missing. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said the number of fatalities was expected to climb, possibly to about 80, down slightly from his earlier estimate as more missing workers from a Mayfield candle factory were determined to be alive. Rescuers said Monday they had a "high level of confidence" no more victims were buried in the rubble. A company spokesperson said eight of the 110 employees who were in the candle factory when the tornado hit were killed, and 102 survived. President Biden has declared a major disaster, making federal money available to the hardest-hit areas.


Pentagon: No U.S. troops to be punished for botched Afghanistan drone strike

No U.S. military personnel will be punished for an August drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, the Pentagon said Monday. A Pentagon review found that U.S. intelligence struck the wrong vehicle thinking it was carrying ISIS-K-led suicide bombers targeting the Kabul airport. The review concluded that the incident "did not violate any laws of war," and left the decision on punishment to two senior commanders, who found no grounds for disciplinary action. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly agreed with the two senior officials. The driver of the car, Zemari Ahmadi, was killed. He worked for a California-based aid organization. Steven Kwon, the founder of the organization, called the decision not to hold anyone accountable "shocking."


Derek Chauvin expected to change plea on George Floyd civil rights charge

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin indicated in a Monday court filing that he plans to change his not-guilty plea on federal charges that he violated the civil rights of George Floyd, the unarmed Black man Chauvin was convicted of killing by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for the murder conviction. A grand jury earlier this year also indicted Chauvin and former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao for allegedly abusing their power to deny Floyd of his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable force. All four pleaded not guilty, but Chauvin is now scheduled to enter a new plea in a Wednesday hearing. Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests against police mistreatment of Black Americans.


California renews statewide mask mandate

California on Monday ordered a new statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces due to rising coronavirus infections and concerns that the highly infectious new Omicron variant could fuel a new surge. The requirement takes effect Wednesday. New cases have been increasing in California since Thanksgiving, with COVID-19 hospitalizations up by nearly 15 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified California as a state with a high level of coronavirus transmission, the most urgent ranking on the agency's four-tier scale. Several big counties — including Los Angeles, Ventura, San Francisco, and Sacramento — already have local indoor mask mandates, so the new statewide policy affects about half of California's population.


Boris Johnson confirms U.K.'s 1st Omicron death

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that the United Kingdom had confirmed its first known death from the Omicron coronavirus variant. The news came after Johnson, warning of a "tidal wave" of COVID-19 cases stemming from the newly emerged variant, said his government would expand a booster campaign by making all vaccinated adults eligible. Public health officials have said that Omicron can evade a full vaccination course, but that boosters can increase coronavirus resistance enough to provide substantial protection against Omicron. "If you want to be optimally protected, absolutely get a booster," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's top medical advisor, said Sunday. Fauci told ABC News that it remained unclear how long the protection from boosters would last.


Harris announces investments to ease Central America migration root causes

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday announced that seven private companies have committed to investments in Central America to help address the root causes of a wave of migrants seeking to enter the United States over the southern border. Harris, who is overseeing the Biden administration's response to immigration issues, said PepsiCo, Mastercard, and Cargill were among the companies that had pledged to invest $1.2 billion in the region, which is struggling with poverty and violence. The news came as Harris faces increasing pressure to show results as recent staff departures have fueled concerns that her office is being hampered by internal turmoil.


South Africa study finds Omicron vaccine resistant but causes milder COVID

A study released Tuesday by Discovery Health, South Africa's largest private health insurer, found that the newly emerged Omicron coronavirus variant appears to cause less severe COVID-19 than other strains, but is more resistant to vaccines. The study found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine widely used in South Africa provided just 33 percent protection against Omicron infection, down from 90 percent protection from the original variant. Pfizer's shots provide 70 percent protection against severe disease, which the researchers said was "very good" even though it was down from 95 percent protection against severe disease from the Delta variant. Pfizer-BioNTech research suggests that a booster dose can restore, at least temporarily, original protection levels.


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