Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 21, 2022

Biden clarifies U.S. won't accept "minor" Russian incursion into Ukraine, House Jan. 6 panel requests Ivanka Trump interview, and more

1

Biden says U.S. won't accept 'minor incursion' in Ukraine

President Biden on Thursday sought to clarify remarks that critics said suggested the United States would accept a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine. Biden warned that the U.S. would unleash a "severe and coordinated economic response" to any invasion. "I've been absolutely clear with President [Vladimir] Putin. He has no misunderstanding," Biden told reporters, adding: "If Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price." At a news conference marking the end of his first year in office a day earlier, Biden had said the U.S. response if Putin decides to "move in" to Ukraine "depends on what it does." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to Biden's earlier remarks by tweeting that "there are no minor incursions." 

2

House Jan. 6 committee requests Ivanka Trump's cooperation

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Thursday requested an interview with Ivanka Trump, former President Donald Trump's daughter and ex-senior adviser. The committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said in a letter to Ivanka Trump that it had collected evidence that she had twice urged her father to call off the mob of his supporters rioting at the Capitol in an attempt to block the certification of his election loss to President Biden. The request suggested the panel had stepped up efforts to determine what the former president said and did during the attack. In the letter, Thompson indicated that the committee already had substantial evidence about Trump's refusal to condemn the violence.

3

Georgia prosecutor calls for special grand jury for Trump election inquiry

Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to help her investigate then-President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his narrow loss in the state's 2020 presidential vote. Willis said she was making her request because multiple witnesses had refused to cooperate. Willis, a Democrat, singled out Georgia's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, as an "essential witness" who had made it clear he would only submit to an interview if subpoenaed. Raffensperger was recorded in a phone call with Trump in which the president pressured him to overturn President Biden's victory in the state because of baseless voter fraud claims. Trump said the grand jury should look into voter fraud, not his "perfect phone call."

4

9 million stay home from work due to COVID-19

Nearly 9 million Americans had to stay home from work because they or someone they were caring for had COVID-19 in early January, CBS News reported Thursday, citing data collected by the Census Bureau. The surge of workers calling in sick came as the highly contagious Omicron variant drove infections and hospitalizations to record levels. Vital businesses including hospitals and airlines faced staffing shortages in what has been called the "great American sickout." The Census Bureau has been tracking workplace absences since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. two years ago, and the January numbers marked a record of about 6 percent of the workforce staying home. "Time and time again, we see that this economic recovery is tied to the pandemic and public health measures," noted Luke Pardue, an economist at payroll services company Gusto.

5

Munich report accuses Pope Benedict of mishandling abuse cases 

A report commissioned by the Catholic Church in Germany accused Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI of "wrongdoing" in his handling of at least four sexual abuse cases when he ran the Munich Archdiocese from 1977 to 1982. In one case, Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, knew that a priest had been convicted of sexual abuse in a criminal court, but accepted him into his archdiocese, anyway, the law firm that conducted the investigation said Thursday at a news conference where it unveiled its 1,900-page report. Matthias Katsch, a spokesman for the Eckiger Tisch victims' group, reacted to the report by saying "the building of lies to protect Pope Benedict has just collapsed with a crash." Benedict's personal secretary made no immediate comment, but the Vatican said it would pay "appropriate attention" to the findings.

6

Blinken, Lavrov meet to discuss Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are meeting in Geneva on Friday in high-stakes talks aiming to defuse escalating tensions over Ukraine. The U.S. is trying to avert a Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but negotiations at a series of meetings in Europe last week failed to produce a breakthrough, largely due to Russia's demand for a guarantee from NATO not to expand in Eastern Europe. Blinken on Thursday tried to douse expectations of a quick resolution in Geneva, saying a fix "won't happen quickly." The U.S. and its allies in Western Europe have threatened "severe" sanctions and other consequences short of military action if Russia, which has massed 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, invades.

7

U.S. imposes sanctions on 4 Ukrainians for role in Russian propaganda

The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions against four Ukrainians for allegedly helping Russia create the pretext for another invasion. The targeted individuals included parliament members Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn, and two former government officials. The Treasury said they had been deeply involved in a disinformation campaign by Russia's FSB federal security service. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Kremlin started the effort in 2020 "to degrade the ability of the Ukrainian state to independently function." "The United States is taking action to expose and counter Russia's dangerous and threatening campaign of influence and disinformation in Ukraine," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. "We are committed to taking steps to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing actions."

8

Mortgage rates rise to highest in 22 months

Mortgage rates this week jumped to their highest level in 22 months as Treasury yields rose. The rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose from 3.45 percent last week to 3.56 percent. Homebuyers rushed to lock in rates before they went any higher, with mortgage applications to purchase homes increasing by 8 percent last week. The changes followed recent increases in Treasury yields as investors factored in expectations that the Federal Reserve would raise its target interest rates faster and farther than previously predicted as the central bank tries to counter high inflation. The 10-year Treasury has risen to its highest point since December 2019. 

9

China limits Winter Olympics torch relay in latest anti-COVID change

China is limiting the Winter Olympics torch relay to three days in the latest change in response to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of the Games said Friday. The flame will only be displayed in "safe and controllable" enclosed venues, and no public transit routes will be disrupted by the Feb. 2-4 relay, officials said. China also said recently that it was halting ticket sales and allowing only selected and vetted spectators to attend events. Athletes, officials, staff, and journalists are required to remain within a bubble. ESPN said Thursday it would not send news personnel to the Winter Olympics, and would instead "focus on covering the Games remotely." NBC will anchor its coverage from the U.S.

10

Singer Meat Loaf is dead at 74

Meat Loaf, the singer and actor best known for his 1977 album Bat Out of Hell and his role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, died Thursday night, according to a statement on his official Facebook page. He was 74. No cause of death was given. Meat Loaf, born Marvin Lee Aday, and composer Jim Steinman released Bat Out of Hell, which included the hit singles "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," in 1977, then came together again in 1993 with Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell. That album included "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)," which reached No. 1 in 28 countries and won Meat Loaf a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.

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