Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 12, 2022

Biden backs filibuster change if necessary to pass voting rights bill, Fed officials defend COVID response as Omicron infections soar, and more

1

Biden backs changing filibuster to pass voting rights bill

President Biden on Tuesday called on lawmakers to pass voting rights and election reform bills to counter new voting restrictions in some GOP-led states, and urged them to alter Senate rules, if necessary, to prevent Republicans from blocking the legislation with a filibuster. "I'm tired of being quiet!" Biden said. Passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would "restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed, on 'Bloody Sunday,'" Biden said. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Biden of invoking "the brutal racial hatred of Jim Crow Segregation to smear" new state voting laws. Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to pass federal voting laws to gain unfair advantages.

2

Federal officials defend COVID response hampered by test shortage

Top Biden administration health officials defended the government's efforts to fight the Omicron coronavirus variant as lawmakers grilled them about a shortage of coronavirus tests and shifting guidance on how long infected people should wait before resuming normal activities. "This is an extraordinary virus, the likes of which we have not seen even close to in well over 100 years," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told lawmakers. "We're doing the best we possibly can." Lawmakers said during the hearing that the Biden administration had not accurately assessed the need for tests and would not be able to distribute the 500 million tests it was buying until the Omicron wave has started to subside.

3

CDC weighs changing mask guidance to urge N95, KN95 use

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidance on masks to urge people to wear the N95 or KN95 face coverings that health workers wear, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing an official close to the discussions. The move would be part of an effort to increase protection for Americans as the Omicron coronavirus variant spreads quickly across the country, driving a record wave of infections and raising daily hospitalizations and deaths. "We know these masks provide better filtration," the official said. The CDC's initial mask guidance stopped short of recommending the highly protective face protection due to fear of shortages at hospitals and other medical facilities.

4

Fauci clashes with Sen. Rand Paul over coronavirus misinformation

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's top medical adviser, clashed with Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday, accusing the Kentucky Republican of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic that has sparked death threats against him. Fauci also said Paul was distorting the truth about COVID-19 "for political reasons," including fundraising. "It distracts from what we're all trying to do here today, [which] is get our arms around the epidemic and the pandemic that we're dealing with, not something imaginary," Fauci said. Paul's website accuses Fauci of "lying about everything from masks to the contagiousness of the virus." Paul said Fauci was trying to smear anyone who disagreed with him.

5

Arctic air brings coldest weather in 3 years to Upper Midwest, Northeast

Millions of Americans faced the coldest day in three years on Tuesday in parts of the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast. Air temperatures fell below zero in some areas, with a blast of Arctic air sending wind chills as low as 30 degrees below zero in northern New England. High temperatures were as much as 30 degrees below average. Boston's public school system was closed on Tuesday due to extreme cold. New Hampshire's Department of Health had to close four COVID-19 testing sites. Temperatures were expected to rise on Wednesday, with warmer days at the end of the week. The cold snap followed the warmest December on record, which helped make 2021 the fourth hottest year on record.

6

DOJ forms new domestic terrorism unit as threats rise

The Justice Department is creating a domestic terrorism unit to counter rising threats from U.S.-based extremists, Matthew G. Olsen, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, said Tuesday. Olsen told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new unit would "augment our existing approach," which has assigned counterterrorism attorneys to work on domestic and international cases. The news came days after the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which some lawmakers have pointed to as proof that the FBI has failed to do enough to address domestic terrorists and violent far-right groups.

7

House Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Trump speechwriter, 2 other allies

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack has subpoenaed records and testimony from Andy Surabian and Arthur Schwartz, strategists who advised Donald Trump Jr., and Ross Worthington, a former White House official believed to have helped draft former President Donald Trump's speech at a rally before the insurrection. "We have reason to believe the individuals we've subpoenaed today have relevant information and we expect them to join the more than 340 individuals who have spoken with the Select Committee as we push ahead to investigate this attack on our democracy and ensure nothing like this ever happens again," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the panel's chair.

8

Powell says Fed will counter inflation threat with rate hikes as needed

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in Tuesday's Senate hearing on his confirmation to a second term that the U.S. economy is strong enough that the Fed can start ending its aggressive stimulus measures. Powell said high inflation had become a "severe threat" to the recovery from the damage of the coronavirus pandemic, and the central bank would start tapering its asset purchases and raising interest rates to prevent the economy from overheating. Powell said supply-chain bottlenecks that have contributed to rising prices should ease this year, but that if inflation persists and "we have to raise interest rates more over time, we will." Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he feared "the Fed missed the boat on addressing inflation sooner." 

9

Pfizer moving ahead with plans for Omicron-targeted vaccine

Pfizer officials said this week that they were pushing to produce 50 million to 100 million doses of a version of the company's coronavirus vaccine adapted to target the new Omicron variant that is driving an unprecedented wave of infections. The drugmaker is testing larger doses and hybrid vaccines to fight multiple strains. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company is developing the vaccines "at risk," meaning it will absorb the costs if they are not needed. The weeks it will take to develop and distribute the vaccines mean that they won't be available until after the point later this month when public health officials have predicted the Omicron surge will peak, but Bourla said if the Omicron-targeted vaccine is needed, Pfizer will have it ready.

10

Djokovic acknowledges mistake on travel documents he gave Australia

Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1-ranked men's tennis player, conceded Wednesday that the travel documents he gave Australian border officials falsely claimed he hadn't traveled internationally before he arrived in Australia last week. He blamed an "administrative mistake." Djokovic also acknowledged participating in an interview and a photoshoot in his native Serbia after he tested positive for a coronavirus infection last month, contrary to the country's COVID-19 protocols. Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, won an appeal of a decision by Australian authorities to revoke his visa, but immigration officials are continuing to investigate whether he poses a public health threat and should be deported. Djokovic is in the country seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

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