Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 20, 2022

Ukraine and allies respond to Russia's new offensive, Biden expands student-loan forgiveness program, and more

1

Ukraine, allies counter Russian offensive 

Russian forces have taken control of their first city in eastern Ukraine — Kreminna, population 18,000 — as part of their new offensive in the Donbas region, the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said in a Tuesday briefing. He said the defenders "have entrenched themselves in new positions and continue to fight the Russian army." Ukrainian officials rushed to evacuate civilians from densely populated areas in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions as Russia confirmed that it had launched a new phase of its war. The U.S. and other countries rushed to get more military aid to Ukraine. Russia gave Ukraine's last defenders in the besieged port city of Mariupol another deadline to surrender, but they vowed to keep fighting.

2

Biden administration to expand access to student-loan forgiveness program

The Education Department announced Tuesday that it would make it easier for millions of lower-income student-loan borrowers to get their debts forgiven by using a federal program that already exists. President Biden this month extended a pandemic-related pause in federal student loan payments until Aug. 31, but few people have been able to get their debt erased altogether. Progressive Democrats are pressuring Biden to forgive student-loan debt for more people. Under the changes announced Tuesday, about 3.6 million people, or about 10 percent of student-loan borrowers, will be able to get three years of credit toward debt forgiveness. The program lets people pay a percentage of their income for up to 25 years, then their balance is forgiven.

3

Independent autopsy confirms officer shot Patrick Lyoya in head

Patrick Lyoya, a Black man killed by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer during a traffic stop, was fatally shot in the back of the head, independent forensic pathologist Werner Spitz, who was hired by Lyoya's family, said Tuesday. The autopsy indicated that the officer shot Lyoya, a refugee from Congo, as his gun was pressed to the unarmed 26-year-old's head. "That is now scientific evidence of this tragic killing where his family believes was an execution," civil rights attorney Ben Crump said. Lyoya's family is calling for charges against the officer, who has not been publicly identified. In police video, the officer can be heard telling Lyoya to take his hand off the officer's Taser. 

4

Biden to again require agencies to consider projects' climate impact

The Biden administration is reinstating key pieces of a "landmark" environmental law requiring federal agencies to consider climate implications and speak with local communities before breaking ground on highways, pipelines, and other such projects, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Tuesday. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump rolled back parts of 1970's National Environmental Policy Act's implementation to cut down on "mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape." Under his changes, many projects were exempted from review and agencies skipped considering "indirect" climate impacts, the Post reported. Under Biden's changes, regulators will have to consider how government actions contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and burden communities — particularly poor and minority ones subject to disproportionate pollution levels.

5

Judge allows effort to disqualify Marjorie Taylor Greene to proceed

A federal judge has ruled that a group of liberal Georgia voters can move ahead with their effort to disqualify Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from running for re-election, due to their claim that she helped facilitate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The challenge, similar to an unsuccessful lawsuit by North Carolina voters against Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), cited a provision in the 14th Amendment barring people from serving in Congress if they swore to support the Constitution but "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States government. The amendment was ratified after the Civil War to prevent lawmakers who fought for the Confederacy from being elected to Congress again.

6

Uber, Lyft end mask requirement after judge's ruling

Uber and Lyft decided Tuesday to stop requiring U.S. drivers and riders to wear masks following a Monday decision by a federal judge in Florida that struck down the Biden administration's COVID-19 face-covering mandate in planes and public transit. "Remember: Many people still feel safer wearing a mask because of personal or family health situations, so please be respectful of their preferences," Uber said in a statement. "And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can always cancel the trip." Uber also said it would allow passengers to ride in the front next to the driver, lifting a requirement that they ride in the back to provide social distance and reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

7

DeSantis tells Florida lawmakers to consider ending Disney self-governing status

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said at a press conference on Tuesday that he was directing the state legislature to consider abolishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in 1967 and grants Disney the powers of a local government in the area around Disney World. The legislature is already in a special session to determine how Florida's congressional districts should be redrawn and will simply add DeSantis' new request to the agenda, according to a Florida CBS affiliate. Last month, DeSantis signaled his willingness to consider stripping Disney of "special privileges" after the entertainment company vowed to push for DeSantis' parental rights in education law — referred to by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill — to be repealed or struck down in court.

8

Moderna says new booster helps against coronavirus variants

Moderna reported Tuesday that preliminary data suggest its updated COVID-19 booster, which adds protection against the Omicron coronavirus variant to its original vaccine, shows promise in fighting Omicron and other coronavirus variants. Moderna hopes to offer a new version of the booster in the fall. It started developing the new version before the Omicron wave, aiming to combine protection against the original coronavirus and an earlier variant known as Beta. The company said people who got the combination vaccine produced more antibodies to fight Omicron and other variants than current, approved boosters did. The extra protection was limited, but Moderna hopes to fine-tune a booster to target Omicron specifically. "These results really give us hope," said Dr. Jacqueline Miller, a Moderna vice president.

9

DOJ says it will challenge ruling if CDC says mask mandate is needed

The Biden administration said Tuesday it would appeal a Florida judge's ruling voiding the federal mask requirement on airplanes and public transportation if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides the policy is necessary to curb rising coronavirus infections. The mask mandate applied to planes, trains, and buses, as well as airports and train stations. It was scheduled to expire on May 3. The decision by the Justice Department to hold off on an appeal even though it said it disagreed with the ruling will avoid sending the matter to a higher court, where a loss could set a precedent limiting the CDC's authority to impose similar policies in the future. The judge said the CDC had overstepped its authority and failed to justify the mandate.

10

School bombings target Afghanistan Shiite community

Back-to-back bombings at schools in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, killed at least six people and injured at least 11 others on Tuesday. The toll was expected to rise. Witnesses said dozens of wounded victims were rushed to hospitals. The explosions hit outside the prominent Abdul Rahman Shahid school as dozens of high school students were leaving morning classes. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted Kabul's minority Shiite Hazara community, but the blasts were similar to previous attacks. "They want us to give up hope," Reza Alizada, 18, who was wounded as he walked out the school gate with classmates, told The Washington Post. "But I want to go back, as soon as I can walk."

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