Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 22, 2021

Biden says U.S. will distribute free at-home COVID tests to help fight Omicron, Michael Flynn sues the Jan. 6 committee, and more

1

Biden says government to distribute 500 million home COVID tests

President Biden on Tuesday unveiled his plans for fighting the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant, saying his administration would buy 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests and send them to Americans free of charge. He also said the government would set up more vaccination and testing sites, and dispatch 1,000 military medical personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals manage a surge of infected patients. Biden also tried to comfort Americans frustrated after two years of the pandemic, with no end in sight. "We all want this to be over, but we're still in it," Biden said. Still, he said, vaccinated people should feel comfortable spending the holidays with friends and family. Health officials in Texas reported what was believed to be the first U.S. death from Omicron.

2

Trump ally Michael Flynn sues Jan. 6 committee

Michael Flynn, who served as former President Donald Trump's national security adviser, filed a lawsuit in Florida on Tuesday seeking to block the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack from obtaining his phone records. Flynn argued the committee's subpoena was too broad and sought to punish him for constitutionally protected speech. He also claimed the panel "has no authority to conduct business because it is not a duly constituted Select Committee," although an appeals court has ruled the committee was set up properly and has the right to obtain White House records Trump was trying to keep secret. The committee has called for Flynn to provide information regarding a "command center" at Washington's Willard Hotel that oversaw efforts to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss.

3

Biden promises to work with Manchin to 'get something done'

President Biden vowed Tuesday that he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would work out their differences on a major spending package to expand the social safety net and the fight against climate change. Manchin this week said he couldn't support Biden's $2 trillion Build Back Better proposal, effectively killing it just days after offering a counterproposal that reportedly came in around $1.8 trillion. Democrats need Manchin's vote, along with every other Democrat's, to pass the measure in the 50-50 Senate. Biden told reporters at the White House that he didn't hold a grudge against the more conservative Democrat, but that he would keep working to push through policies that would help families and lift people out of poverty. "Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done," Biden said.

4

Israel approves 4th COVID vaccine shot for people over 60

Israelis over age 60 and medical teams who have received a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster will be eligible for a fourth shot to increase their protection against the highly infectious Omicron variant, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced Tuesday. Studies have shown that the new, fast-spreading strain is resistant to initial vaccination, but that boosters can restore significant protection. "The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well," Bennett said. He urged all eligible people to "go and get vaccinated." Israel's pandemic expert committee recommended making the additional doses available. People with compromised immune systems also will be eligible.

5

Walter Reed military scientists test vaccine that could protect against Omicron

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research spent nearly two years developing a COVID-19 vaccine that should protect against the new Omicron variant, plus all past and presumably future SARS-origin coronaviruses, Defense One reported Tuesday. The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine showed promising results in animal trials and Phase 1 human trials that wrapped up this month; it still must undergo Phase 2 and Phase 3 human trials. "We decided to take a look at the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of SARS, and instead understand that viruses mutate," said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed's infectious diseases branch. "Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that." 

6

Population growth fell to record low in 1st year of pandemic

U.S. population growth fell to the lowest rate in the nation's history during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to estimates released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. The population increased by 392,665, or about 0.1 percent, from July 2020 to July 2021, bringing the country's population to 331.8 million people, the Census Bureau said. It was the first year since 1937 that the population increased by less than one million people. The slowdown came as the pandemic curbed immigration, delayed pregnancies, and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths beyond what would normally have been expected. "I was expecting low growth but nothing this low," said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's metropolitan policy program, Brookings Metro.

7

NHL says it won't participate in Olympics due to COVID concerns

The National Hockey League announced Tuesday that its players will not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. The league has also announced that it plans to pause its season starting Wednesday, ahead of its Christmas break, due to COVID-19 concerns, which have intensified as the new Omicron variant spreads explosively around the world. The NHL is the first major sports league in North America to halt is season because of the fast-spreading Omicron strain. Before the announcement, the league had already postponed 50 games due to COVID-19 cases. Ten teams had shut down by Monday night, and 15 percent of the league's players were under pandemic protocols.

8

Kellogg workers approve contract ending 11-week strike

Kellogg's workers voted on Tuesday to ratify a tentative labor contract, ending a strike at four cereal plants that began in early October. The contract covers about 1,400 employees at Kellogg plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee who are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union. Union president Anthony Shelton said the agreement "makes gains and does not include concessions." Kellogg said the contract gives all workers immediate wage increases and cost of living adjustments, as well as a faster and clearer track to higher wages for new hires. Kellogg CEO Steve Cahillane said the employees will go back to work on Monday. The company had hired outside workers to help keep the plants operating during the strike.

9

Jury finds Harvard professor guilty of hiding payments from China

A Boston jury on Tuesday found Harvard professor Charles Lieber guilty of hiding ties to China. Lieber, a 62-year-old nanoscience expert, had pleaded not guilty to charges of filing false tax returns, making false statements, and failing to report on a foreign bank account in China, but was found guilty on all six counts. Lieber's defense attorney Marc Mukasey had argued that prosecutors lacked proof that Lieber "willfully" hid payments he received or lied, and emphasized that Lieber wasn't accused of illegally transferring technology to China. Prosecutors said Lieber tried to protect his career and reputation by hiding his involvement in China's Thousand Talents Plan, which aims to recruit people with knowledge of foreign intellectual property to China.

10

Southern U.S. could see record warm Christmas

The Southeast and south-central United States could get record warm temperatures this week, with some big cities in Texas, including Dallas and Houston, potentially experiencing all-time highs for Christmas Day, according to forecasters. The highest temperatures in many places could start Christmas Eve as a high-pressure system becomes centered in the Southeast and a storm moves over the northern Rockies. "Due to the position of these two systems, very warm air originating from Mexico will be pulled northward into the south-central U.S., leading to the record-breaking weather," AccuWeather Meteorologist Isaac Longley said in a report posted Tuesday. Current record high temperatures for Christmas Day in much of the region were set in 2015 and 2016, including Dallas' 2016 Christmas high mark of 80 degrees.

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