Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2021

Manchin says he won't vote for spending bill in setback for Biden, health officials warn of record Omicron-fueled surge, and more

1

Manchin says he won't vote for Biden's spending proposal

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Sunday he will not vote for President Biden's $2 trillion Build Back Better spending and tax bill, which would expand the social safety net and fight climate change. Manchin, a key centrist swing vote, has objected to the cost. The White House and leading congressional Democrats have been negotiating with Manchin to seek his support, which they must have to push the bill through the evenly divided Senate. "I can't get there," he said on Fox News Sunday. "This is a no." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Manchin was reneging on a promise with his "sudden and inexplicable" reversal, noting that as recently as Tuesday he had pledged to work out a compromise with the White House.

2

Health officials warn of potential record COVID surge

Leading public health officials said Sunday that the U.S. is likely to face record numbers of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations as the Omicron variant spreads explosively. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's top health-care adviser, said on CNN's State of the Union that the "extraordinary" transmissibility of the new strain will cause "a significant stress" on some hospitals, "particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination." Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on CBS News' Face the Nation that the nation could soon see a million new Omicron cases a day, far beyond the record of about 250,000 new daily cases set in January, although it was unclear how many of those cases would require hospitalization.

3

Warren, Booker test positive in breakthrough COVID cases

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said Sunday that they had tested positive the coronavirus. Warren said via her official Twitter account that she was experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms. Warren, who lost her older brother to the virus in May 2020, is fully vaccinated and has received a booster shot. She said the fact that she was vaccinated and boosted had protected her from more severe illness. With U.S. infections surging, Warren urged everyone to "get the vaccine and the booster as soon as possible — together, we can save lives." Booker also has been vaccinated and boosted, and said his symptoms were "relatively mild."

4

Moderna says booster dose effective against Omicron in lab study

Moderna said early Monday that a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine significantly increased immune responses against the Omicron variant in lab tests, adding more preliminary evidence that booster shots restore protections eroded by the new variant. Moderna said the half-dose it has been using as a booster increases levels of neutralizing antibodies, a first line of defense against the coronavirus, 37-fold versus pre-booster levels. Pfizer reported earlier that its third dose boosted neutralizing antibodies against Omicron more than 25-fold. The lab results have not yet been confirmed in real-world studies. Pfizer and Moderna have both reported that their original two-dose regimens were not very effective at preventing Omicron infections, though they do significantly cut down on severe illness and hospitalization.

5

Chile elects 35-year-old leftist Gabriel Boric as president

Gabriel Boric, a leftist millennial who gained influence during anti-government protests, won Chile's presidential election Sunday after a polarizing campaign against conservative lawmaker José Antonio Kast, a fan of Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who has been likened to Donald Trump. Boric was ahead by 10 percentage points with more than half of the votes counted. During the campaign, Kast tried to scare voters by saying Boric would be controlled by allies in Chile's Communist Party, and would destroy the South American nation's stable and advanced economy. Boric, surrounded by thousands of mostly young supporters, repeated promises to fight climate change and no longer "permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile's inequality." When Boric, 35, takes office in March, he will be Chile's youngest modern president.

6

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai tells newspaper she never accused anyone of sexual assault

Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai reversed her allegation that a former Chinese Communist Party leader sexually assaulted her, telling Chinese-language Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in a Sunday interview that there were "a lot of misunderstandings" about the November social media post in which she made the claim. "I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me," Peng told Lianhe Zaobao. "This point must be emphasized very clearly." She also said she personally wrote the Chinese version of an email to the Women's Tennis Association retracting her accusation against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and assuring the WTA that everything is fine. The WTA said it welcomed Peng's appearance "in a public setting," but reiterated its "call for a full, fair, and transparent investigation."

7

Philippines typhoon death toll rises above 200

The death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year rose to at least 208 people on Sunday. About 52 people remained missing as of Monday, and 239 others sustained "considerable injuries," the Philippine National Police said. Hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their homes since the Super Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette, hit Thursday on Siargao Island, a popular tourist and surfing destination on the central east coast. The typhoon tore west across the Philippines with 160 mile-per-hour winds, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. About 75 percent of the homes in Bohol province were damaged, Casiano Monilla, assistant secretary at the Office of the Civil Defense, said Monday.

8

Rapper Drakeo the Ruler fatally stabbed at festival

West Coast rapper Drakeo the Ruler was stabbed to death Saturday during a fight at a Los Angeles festival, a publicist for the late performer confirmed on Sunday. He was 28. The stabbing occurred near the Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park, the festival venue. Drakeo the Ruler, whose real name was Darrell Caldwell, had been scheduled to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. Saturday during the Once Upon a Time in L.A. festival. Several other artists, including 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg, also were appearing. Organizers called off the rest of the show after the rapper's death. In February, Caldwell released "The Truth Hurts," his biggest album yet. He said in a statement early this year that the album covers "everything that I have gone through," including spending much of his youth in correctional facilities.

9

'Spider-Man: No Way Home' crushes expectations with a $253 million debut

Spider-Man: No Way Home smashed box office expectations over its debut weekend, bringing in $253 million in ticket sales at 4,336 North American theaters. It was by far the biggest opening weekend for any film since the coronavirus pandemic started. In an era when COVID-19 fears force studios to release many films for streaming and theaters simultaneously, Tom Rothman, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group chairman and CEO, said the Sony comic-book sequel's success reaffirmed "the unmatched cultural impact that exclusive theatrical films can have when they are made and marketed with vision and resolve." The new Spider-Man film is the first movie released during the pandemic to bring in more than $100 million in a weekend.

10

Former Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson dies at 76

Former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) died early Sunday after battling Parkinson's disease for nearly a decade. He was 76. His political career began when Republicans were far outnumbered in Georgia. He suffered some early losses at the polls, but eventually became one of the state's most popular politicians. Isakson helped put together the No Child Left Behind education law, and pushed reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs, immigration policy, and health care, retiring in 2019 due to health problems after 15 years as a senator. Isakson used his deal-making skills to win fans in both parties. "If all Republicans were like Johnny," former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, once said, "I would be a Republican."

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