Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 19, 2022

The Biden administration's website offering free COVID tests goes live, the Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, and more


Biden administration launches website offering free COVID tests 

The Biden administration on Tuesday quietly launched COVIDTests.gov, the website designed to help distribute free at-home coronavirus tests to American families. People can use a link on the site to access an order form allowing them to order four at-home tests per residential address. The United States Postal Service will deliver them. The program is part of President Biden's push to make tests more widely available to help fight a COVID-19 wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the website was in "beta testing" and functioning with "limited capacity" before its official, full-scale launch Wednesday morning.


Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Tuesday subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Boris Epshteyn, all of whom defended former President Donald Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The Jan. 6 committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said in a statement the "four individuals we've subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former president about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes." Giuliani, Ellis, and Powell claimed in a November 2020 news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters that Trump had been the victim of "centralized" voter fraud. Giuliani and Powell did not immediately comment on the subpoenas.


New York AG pushes for Trump testimony, citing pattern of fraud

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed court papers Tuesday accusing former President Donald Trump's family business of "falsely and fraudulently" valuing properties to banks for economic benefit. James also sought to compel Trump and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, to give sworn testimony in her ongoing civil investigation of the Trump Organization's financial dealings. James had subpoenaed Trump in December and Don Jr. and Ivanka earlier in January, and Tuesday's motion was in opposition to the Trumps' attempts to quash those subpoenas. James said her office had "uncovered significant evidence" of the phony valuations — including tripling the value of Trump's own Trump Tower apartment. James said the Trumps must comply because nobody "can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them."


Senate starts debate on voting rights legislation

The Democrat-controlled Senate began debating President Biden's ambitious — and likely doomed — voter protections on Tuesday. Under current Senate rules, Democrats would need a supermajority of 60 votes to stop a GOP filibuster, but they don't have them. All 50 Senate Republicans oppose the legislation. The Democrats would need every member of their caucus to change the chamber's filibuster rules to advance the bill to a vote with a simple, 51-vote majority, but moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) both oppose any change to the filibuster rule. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that any attempt by Democrats to circumvent the filibuster to pass their voting-rights legislation will not be "cost-free," even if it fails, ABC News reported.


Texas synagogue gunman had been investigated by British intelligence

The British man identified as the gunman killed after holding four people hostage at a Texas synagogue for 11 hours over the weekend was investigated by British security services in 2020 as a potential Islamist terrorist threat, according to U.K. media reports Tuesday. Two U.S. officials briefed on the matter confirmed that the man, identified by the FBI as Malik Faisal Akram, was a "subject of interest" on the watch list of Britain's MI5 security service. Akram, 44, was from England but arrived in the United States just before the New Year. Investigators are still trying to determine why he targeted the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, during Saturday prayers.


1st images of Tonga volcano, tsunami damage show communities covered in ash

The New Zealand Defense Force on Tuesday released the first images of Tonga since the South Pacific archipelago was hit by a tsunami triggered by the eruption of an undersea volcano. The aerial photos showed trees, homes, and fields in Tonga's central Ha'apai islands coated in gray ash emitted from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano, which erupted Saturday. Rescue operations continued through the day as authorities confirmed the first three deaths in Tonga from the disaster. Aid workers warned that the toll could rise much higher as communication is restored and search crews reach isolated areas.


Microsoft to acquire game-maker Activision Blizzard

Microsoft announced Tuesday that it would acquire Activision Blizzard, the publisher behind hit games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Overwatch, in a deal valued at $68.7 billion. Microsoft said the acquisition would bolster the offerings on its Game Pass subscription service. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick will continue in his role. The deal comes after Activision Blizzard was hit with a bombshell lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing last year, which alleged the company created a "breeding ground" for sexual harassment and discrimination" that "was akin to working in a frat house, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussion." Activision Blizzard has denied the claims.


Blinken to push for Ukraine diplomacy in meeting with Russian counterpart 

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken plans to meet Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to keep diplomatic efforts alive to prevent Moscow from invading Ukraine, the White House said Tuesday. A series of three negotiating sessions in Europe ended last week in a deadlock, primarily due to Russia's demand for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to pledge not to expand in Eastern Europe. The United States and Western Europe flatly rejected that condition. The White House said Blinken would urge Russia to "de-escalate." "We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point want an attack in Ukraine," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and Secretary Blinken will "highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward."


Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin, Jerry McNerney won't seek re-election

Two more House Democrats announced Tuesday that they would not run for re-election in the 2022 midterms, bringing the number of retiring Democrats to more than two dozen and hurting the party's chances of retaining control of the House. Rep. Jerry McNerney of California said he would not run to represent the state's newly drawn 9th Congressional District, a seat Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) is running for. Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island wrote in the Providence Journal that he did not "come to this decision lightly, but it is time for me to chart a new course, which will allow me to stay closer to home and spend more time with my family and friends." Rhode Island has yet to finalize its new congressional map.


Former Vogue editor André Leon Talley dies at 73

Trailblazing fashion journalist André Leon Talley, the former creative director of Vogue, died Tuesday. He was 73. Talley's death after recent health struggles was confirmed by his friend Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, who described Talley as a "creative genius." Talley was the first Black person to hold his position at Vogue, where he was the right-hand of editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. He advocated for diversity and encouraged designers to include more Black models on the runway. Known for his wit, over-the-top outfits, and height — he was 6-foot-6 — Talley served as a judge on America's Next Top Model for four seasons and wrote two memoirs, 2003's A.L.T.: A Memoir and 2020's The Chiffon Trenches.


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