Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 5, 2022

Biden urges Americans to "use the tools" available against COVID, Chicago teachers force return to remote instruction, and more

1

Biden repeats plea for vaccinations, boosters as COVID cases soar

President Biden on Tuesday repeated his call for more Americans to get vaccinated and boosted, and to wear masks to increase protection against COVID-19, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant drives soaring coronavirus infections. "We have the tools to protect people from severe illness due to Omicron — if people choose to use the tools," Biden said before meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team. "There's a lot of reason to be hopeful in [2022], but for God's sake, please take advantage of what's available." The comments came after the U.S. reported a million new cases in a single day, a figure probably inflated by holiday backlogs but still far beyond the previous record of 591,000 set on Thursday. The surge is overwhelming many hospitals.

2

Chicago schools close after teachers force return to remote instruction

Chicago Public Schools canceled Wednesday classes after the Chicago Teachers Union voted late Tuesday not to show up for in-person work out of concerns that COVID-19 protections against the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant were insufficient. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D), CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, and public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a news conference that children need to be back in the classroom, and they insisted that schools were safe with proper mitigation. Seventy-three percent of the teachers union's members supported the proposal to force instruction online just two days after the return from holiday break. The union set a Jan. 18 target date for reopening schools.

3

Trump cancels Jan. 6 press conference

Former President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was canceling a press conference he had scheduled for Thursday, the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters aiming to prevent lawmakers from certifying President Biden's election victory. Trump had planned to deliver a speech about the election and his false claims of voter fraud, allegations that fueled the Capitol attack. Trump said in a statement he will instead talk about the matter during a Jan. 15 rally in Arizona. Four rioters died during the assault on the Capitol, and the next day, a police officer who was at the scene also died. Four other law enforcement officers who responded to the Capitol riot later died by suicide.

4

Poll: Majority in U.S. believe democracy in peril

Most Americans believe U.S. democracy is in danger ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Tuesday. More than 80 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents said they feared for the future of America's democracy. Eighty-five percent of Democrats said the rioters were "criminals"; two-thirds of Republicans said the mob "went too far, but they had a point." Fifty-eight percent of Republicans said President Biden wasn't legitimately elected, despite numerous investigations disproving Trump's allegations of voter fraud. Only about 4 in 10 Republicans remember the attack as very or extremely violent, according to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

5

Jan. 6 committee asks Fox News' Sean Hannity to cooperate

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot sent a letter Tuesday to Fox News host Sean Hannity requesting his cooperation. The committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), told Hannity in the letter that they had "no doubt that you love our country and respect our Constitution. Now is the time to step forward and serve the interests of your country." Thompson and Cheney asked Hannity to cooperate and tell the panel about any "relevant communications while the riot was underway and in the days thereafter. These communications make you a fact witness in our investigation." The panel released texts Hannity exchanged with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before and after the attack.

6

D.A. says Cuomo won't be prosecuted over groping allegation

The Albany County, New York, District Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo won't be prosecuted on criminal charges over allegations that he groped former aide Brittany Commisso in the Executive Mansion two years ago. David Soares, the Albany County district attorney, said that despite the decision, he was "deeply troubled by allegations" like those in this case. "While we found the complainant in this case cooperative and credible," Soares said, "after review of all the available evidence we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial." Prosecutors in Westchester and Nassau counties also recently said they wouldn't pursue charges over separate sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo, who resigned in August.

7

I-95 reopens after snowstorm leaves motorists stranded for 24 hours

Interstate 95 reopened in Northern Virginia late Tuesday after hundreds of motorists were stranded south of Washington, D.C. — many of them for more than 24 hours — after heavy snow, ice, and accidents, including jackknifed tractor-trailers, paralyzed traffic on the highway. Motorists stayed in their cars overnight Monday and much of Tuesday in sub-freezing temperatures, many without food or water. Some posted messages on social media describing their plight as they ran low on fuel to run their heaters. Many lashed out at state officials for what they saw as a weak effort to help stranded motorists. "Not one police [officer] came in the 16 hours we were stuck," said Meera Rao, who got stuck with her husband, Raghavendra, returning from visiting their daughter in North Carolina.

8

Prince Andrew's attorney calls for dropping lawsuit against him by Epstein accuser

Prince Andrew's lawyer on Tuesday asked a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by Virginia Roberts Giuffre because of her newly unsealed 2009 deal with the late sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew's attorney, Andrew Brettler, argued that Giuffre's settlement with Epstein shielded the prince from lawsuits over any sexual abuse connected to Epstein. Giuffre has said Epstein forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was underaged. The Duke of York was not mentioned in the settlement, but Brettler said the prince was protected as an "Other Potential Defendant." Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied molesting Giuffre.

9

Toyota surpasses GM as top-selling automaker in U.S.

Toyota said Tuesday it sold 2.3 million vehicles in the United States in 2021, surpassing General Motors by about 114,000 and becoming the top-selling automaker in the U.S. for the first time, measured by annual sales. Toyota's total for the year marked a 10 percent increase over 2020, despite a computer-chip shortage that has disrupted production for car makers around the world. The Japanese company benefited from a decision to stockpile chips needed to power its vehicle electronics. GM's total for the year fell by nearly 13 percent to 2.2 million. GM had led U.S. auto sales since 1931.

10

Record 4.5 million workers quit jobs in November

A record number of U.S. workers quit their jobs in November, according to federal data released Tuesday. More than 4.5 million people voluntarily walked away from their positions in the month, up from 4.2 million in October, the Labor Department said. November's figure was the highest since the government started tracking the figure two decades ago. Hiring edged down in December, according to data tracked by business payroll managers Homebase and UKG, suggesting that the COVID-19 surge driven by the fast spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant was squeezing the labor supply. Both firms recorded larger seasonal dips than last year. Homebase found a 15 percent drop at small businesses in the last days of 2021, up from a 10 percent drop in 2020.

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