Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 16, 2021

Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to violating George Floyd's civil rights, Biden promises to cover emergency costs in Kentucky, and more

1

Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to violating George Floyd's civil rights

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating the civil rights of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after Chauvin restrained him by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin, who is white, has already been convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges and sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. The move allowed Chauvin to avoid another high-profile trial that could have ended with a life sentence, although he likely extended the time he will be locked up beyond the years he will serve on the state charges. During the hearing, the judge asked Chauvin to confirm he was changing his plea from not guilty, and Chauvin said, "Guilty, your honor." Chauvin is expected to serve about 15 years of his state sentence, with good behavior and parole.

2

Biden vows to cover emergency costs in tornado-ravaged Kentucky

President Biden traveled to Kentucky on Wednesday to visit areas devastated by a band of tornadoes that struck six states last weekend. The twisters killed scores of people and left more than 1,000 families homeless. Biden surveyed the damage in Mayfield, Kentucky, from his helicopter and on the ground. He spoke to local officials and praised people for setting aside political differences to come to the aid of hard-hit communities. "There's no red tornadoes. There's no blue tornadoes," Biden said. He pledged that the federal government would cover "100 percent of the cost for the first 30 days for all the emergency work." The president has approved disaster declarations for Kentucky, as well as Illinois and Tennessee. 

3

U.K. reports highest daily coronavirus cases of pandemic

The U.K. on Wednesday reported 78,610 new COVID-19 cases, its highest number of new infections in a single day since the pandemic began, BBC News reported. The country hit its previous daily case record — 68,053 — on Jan. 8. Now, Britain is experiencing a surge as families prepare to gather for the holidays, and the newly emerged Omicron variant spreads so fast it is expected to soon become the dominant strain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the British public to get booster shots. Johnson said weekly hospitalizations were up by 10 percent nationally and by almost a third in London. Chief Medical Officer Prof. Chris Whitty said the U.K. is experiencing "two epidemics on top of one another," one driven by the Omicron variant and the other by Delta.

4

Putin, Xi jointly reject Western pressure on security matters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a Wednesday video call to jointly reject Western interference in their security matters. "At present, certain international forces under the guise of 'democracy' and 'human rights' are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, and brutally trampling on international law and recognized norms of international relations," Xi said, as quoted by China's state-run Xinhua news agency. Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said Xi offered Putin support in his call for security guarantees from the West. The call came after a similar virtual meeting between Putin and President Biden, suggesting that tensions with the West were prompting closer cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.

5

Senate approves $768 billion defense spending bill

The Senate on Wednesday passed the annual defense spending bill, authorizing a record $768 billion in funding for the Defense Department. The bill passed the House earlier this month, so it now goes to President Biden for his signature. The legislation includes historic changes to the ways in which the military deals with prosecutions of sexual assault, moving them outside of the chain of command of the personnel involved. It also paves the way for establishing an independent commission to review mistakes made during the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill also provides "robust funding to deter Russia in Europe." It did not include several expected provisions, including the repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.

6

9 killed when Miami-bound private jet crashes in Dominican Republic

A private Gulfstream IV jet crashed Wednesday while making an emergency landing in the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo, killing nine people, according to the plane's operator, Helidosa Aviation Group. Puerto Rican music producer Flow La Movie, whose given name was Jose Hernandez, was among the seven passengers who died when the plane went down shortly after taking off from a nearby airport, headed for Miami. Flow, who produced numerous hits including the chart-topping "Te Boté" featuring Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Ozuna, was traveling with his partner of seven years, Debbie Von Marie Jiménez Garcia, 31, and their 4-year-old son, Jayden Hernandez; they were also killed. Helidosa said it was working with authorities to determine what caused the crash.

7

Fed to taper bond purchases faster to fight inflation

The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it will taper the bond purchases it has used to boost the economy during the coronavirus pandemic faster than previously planned to fight rising inflation. The Fed has said it wants to end the asset purchases before raising historically low interest rates, so the change also will pave the way for the central bank to raise rates sooner than previously planned. The Fed signaled that it expects to raise rates three times next year. The policy shift came at the end of a two-day policy meeting and less than a week after it was reported inflation jumped to 6.8 percent in November compared to a year earlier, the biggest increase in nearly four decades.

8

Moderna says Omicron evades vaccine but booster restores protection

Moderna said Wednesday that a preliminary laboratory study found its coronavirus vaccine to be less effective against the Omicron variant, but that a booster shot restored strong protection. Researchers looked at blood samples taken from 30 people who were fully vaccinated with the two-shot Moderna vaccine, and found that the antibodies in their blood were 50 times less effective than they were against the original strain. But samples from 17 more people in the study who had received the Moderna booster dose had about as much protection against Omicron, with their antibodies about as effective against the new variant as they were against the Delta variant. Pfizer has similarly said its vaccine was less effective against Omicron but a booster restored significant protection.

9

White House scales back holiday parties due to COVID concerns

The White House is cutting back on Christmas parties and other holiday celebrations this year due concerns about COVID-19, first lady Jill Biden's office said in a statement. The president and first lady normally entertain staff, friends, donors, media, and members of the Secret Service in dozens of events during the holiday season. This year, President Biden and the first lady will host just "a limited number of open-house style events" for guests to see the White House decorations in timed groups on self-guided tours, according to NBC News. "It is disappointing that we cannot host as many people as the Bidens would like to," said Jill Biden spokesman Michael LaRosa, "but as we have done since Day 1 of the Biden administration, we will continue to implement strong COVID protocols."

10

Author bell hooks dies at 69

Author and activist bell hooks died on Wednesday after an undisclosed illness. She was 69. She released her first collection of poems, And There We Wept, in 1978. hooks published her first book, Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, three years later. She was born Gloria Jean Watkins, and chose her pen name in honor of her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. In her writing, hooks frequently addressed the "intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, and geographic place," as well as the power of love, NPR reports. "I'm so moved often when I think of the civil rights movement," hooks said in a 2000 All Things Considered interview, "because I see it as a great movement for social justice that was rooted in love."

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