Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 15, 2021

The House votes to recommend contempt charge against Mark Meadows, Pfizer says its COVID pill helps prevent severe illness, and more

1

House recommends contempt charge against Mark Meadows

The House voted Tuesday night to recommend that the Department of Justice charge former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) were the only Republicans to join Democrats in the 222-208 vote. Meadows initially cooperated with the committee, handing over texts and other documents about the White House's reaction to the insurrection by a mob of then-President Donald Trump supporters, who wanted to prevent Congress from certifying Trump's election loss. The Justice Department has already charged another Trump ally, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, with contempt.

2

Pfizer says its COVID pill effective in preventing severe illness

Pfizer said Tuesday that a study confirmed its coronavirus pill helps prevent severe COVID-19. The drug maker said the antiviral pill also proved effective in laboratory studies against the new Omicron variant, which is expected to overtake the Delta variant as the dominant strain in the United States within weeks. "We are confident that, if authorized or approved, this potential treatment could be a critical tool to help quell the pandemic," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. Pfizer, which recently said its coronavirus vaccine with a booster shot helped prevent severe COVID-19 from Omicron, last month submitted preliminary data to the Food and Drug Administration, requesting authorization to distribute its antiviral pill, known as Paxlovid. 

3

D.C. attorney general sues Proud Boys, Oath Keepers over insurrection

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The lawsuit holds the far-right groups responsible for the violence by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters trying to prevent lawmakers from certifying Trump's election loss. The lawsuit invokes a modern version of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act to seek large financial penalties. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and police officers who battled the rioters have filed similar lawsuits, but Racine's complaint is the first such suit by a government agency. An attorney representing two of the defendants called the lawsuit "a fantasy" targeting the wrong people. 

4

Senate votes to raise debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion

The Senate voted Tuesday to take up a proposal to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, a move necessary to avoid an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic default until at least early 2023. All Democrats in the evenly divided chamber backed the legislation; all Republicans opposed it. Party leaders agreed to a deal letting Democrats push through the measure with a simple majority thanks to a one-time exemption from the filibuster rule. The Treasury Department has warned that the government would be unable to borrow enough to avoid a default within days unless lawmakers raised the debt ceiling. "The American people can breathe easy and rest assured there will not be a default," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

5

Judge rejects Trump effort to shield tax returns from House committee

U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden ruled Tuesday that the Treasury Department can release former President Donald Trump's tax records to the House Ways and Means Committee. McFadden, a former Trump Justice Department official, put the ruling on hold, however, pending a likely appeal. Trump's attorneys argued that the records were only requested by House Democrats as a way to expose Trump's finances. McFadden said Trump's lawyers were "wrong on the law. A long line of Supreme Court cases requires great deference to facially valid congressional inquiries. Even the special solicitude accorded former presidents does not alter the outcome." The committee wants Trump's tax records for an inquiry into the effectiveness of the Internal Revenue Service's presidential audit program.

6

AP: Far too few fraudulent votes to change 2020 election

There were fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud in the six battleground states that former President Donald Trump disputed, far too few to change the results of the 2020 presidential election, The Associated Press reported Tuesday after a review of every flagged ballot. President Biden beat Trump in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by a total of 311,257 votes. The allegedly fraudulent votes weren't all for Biden, but most were spotted and never added to official vote counts. The AP also found that there was no collusion among the people who cast the fraudulent ballots. Trump responded to the AP report by repeating his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him through voter fraud.

7

Producer prices to suppliers jump by a record 9.6 percent

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that its producer-price index, which measures prices suppliers charge businesses, rose by 9.6 percent in November compared to a year earlier. The jump was the biggest since records began in 2010. The so-called core PPI, which excludes volatile food and fuel prices, rose by 7.7 percent, also a record. Sharply rising prices from producers show that costs remain unusually high throughout the supply chain, suggesting that consumers will face sharply higher prices into 2022. "This is a testament to the fact that inflation continues to broaden out," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont.

8

N.Y. ethics panel says Cuomo must return $5.1 million in book proceeds

New York's Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Tuesday ordered former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return $5.1 million he received for his 2020 pandemic memoir after concluding that he had violated state ethics laws. The board previously determined that he got authorization for the book deal under false pretenses and was therefore not entitled to be paid for it. His lawyer had assured he would use "no state property, personnel, or other resources" to work on the book, but he wound up having administration employees help write it. Cuomo has vowed to fight the decision, which one of his lawyers, Jim McGuire, called "unconstitutional." Cuomo has already given $500,000 of the money to charity and put $1 million into a trust for his daughters.

9

Health officials warn fast-spreading Omicron could peak in January

Federal health officials warned Tuesday that the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant could peak with a "big wave" of infections that could overwhelm hospitals as soon as January. The dire predictions, based on new modeling analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, came after Omicron's prevalence increased sevenfold in a week, and the United States reached 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began, a once-unimaginable milestone. Pharmaceutical companies aren't in favor of creating an Omicron-specific vaccine, and believe that individuals with both vaccine doses and a booster shot are still well protected against severe illness and death, even with the new strain.

10

House passes Omar's anti-Islamophobia bill

The House on Tuesday passed Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D-Minn.) bill seeking to create an office at the State Department dedicated to tracking and fighting Islamophobia. The vote came as Democrats push back against Rep. Lauren Boebert's (R-Colo.) anti-Muslim rhetoric against Omar. Boebert has referred to Omar and other progressives as a "Jihad Squad," and joked that Omar posed a terror threat to the Capitol. Progressive Democrats have called for the House to strip Boebert of her committee assignments. The bill passed along party lines, with no Republicans joining Democrats in favor of it. That suggests the legislation faces an uphill battle in the evenly split Senate, where Democrats need 10 Republican votes to get past a likely GOP filibuster.

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