Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 21, 2021

Biden vows to get Americans in Afghanistan home, FDA reportedly set to grant Pfizer vaccine full approval next week, and more

1

Biden vows to get Americans in Afghanistan home

Speaking from the White House amid the chaos that has unfolded since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Biden said the United States has evacuated about 13,000 people from the country since Aug. 14th amid "one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history." He promised that, "Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," vowing to "mobilize every resource necessary" in this effort. The president also said the United States will be making this "same commitment" to Afghans who assisted in the war effort. Biden said, though, that he "cannot promise what the final outcome" of the "dangerous" evacuation mission will be, or "that it will be without risk of loss," and he did not commit to the evacuation being completed by the end of August.   

2

FDA reportedly set to grant Pfizer vaccine full approval next week

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine next week, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post report, citing people familiar with the planning. The agency previously cleared the two-dose shot for emergency use in December. Public health officials are hopeful removing the emergency tag will convince some Americans who remain hesitant about getting vaccinated to receive their shots, and it's also expected that the FDA ruling will prompt more businesses and institutions to impose vaccine mandates. Meanwhile, Moderna is still completing rolling data submissions before it files for full approval for its vaccine, while Johnson & Johnson said it plans to file for full approval later this year.

3

Hurricane Grace makes landfall in Mexico

Hurricane Grace made landfall on the eastern coast of Mexico early Saturday as a category 3 storm. The National Hurricane Center said strong winds will continue to batter the region through the morning and heavy rainfall — which in some areas reportedly could reach up to a foot — will bring the risk of flash floods and mudslides over the course of the weekend. Grace had already hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula earlier this week before weakening to a tropical storm and restrengthening again. The northeastern United States is also bracing for a potential hurricane as Tropical Storm Henri heads that way — the gale is expected to strengthen before making landfall either in New York's Long Island or southern New England, the NHC said.

4

Taliban co-founder arrives in Kabul for government talks

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in Kabul on Saturday for talks on establishing a new government, Agence France-Presse and BBC report. A senior Taliban official told AFP that Baradar, who arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from Qatar last Tuesday after the insurgency had retaken Kabul, will meet with "jihadi leaders and politicians" to discuss "an inclusive government setup." The Taliban claims its rule will be different from the last time it was in control of most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. The group, however, has not given many details on what this means, or who else will be included in the government, though Afghan political leaders like Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai remain in Kabul and are talking with Taliban leaders.

5

Resistance fighters claim to have forced Taliban out of 3 districts

Groups of Afghan resistance fighters, including both civilians and former Afghan service members, reportedly drove the Taliban out of three districts in the northern Baghlan province, which is 100 miles north of Kabul, on Friday. Local anti-Taliban commanders claimed they killed as many as 30 Taliban fighters and captured 20 others during the skirmishes. Per The Washington Post, images shared online showed the red, green, and black Afghan national flag was raised over government buildings. Coupled with various protests throughout the country, the fighting reflects the obstacles the Taliban will face as it tries to form a government, though it's unclear whether Friday's events signals a sustained military resistance, the Post writes.

6

California judge rules gig worker measure unconstitutional

A California judge on Friday ruled that Proposition 22, a 2020 ballot measure that exempted ride-share and food delivery drivers from a California labor law requiring more companies to hire workers as employees and provide them benefits, is unconstitutional. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch wrote that Proposition 22 "limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers' compensation law," making the measure "unenforceable." Proposition 22 is aimed at cementing drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Doordash as independent contractors rather than employees, though they would still have additional benefits. 

7

Supreme Court temporarily halts Trump border policy reinstatement

The Supreme Court is temporarily halting a federal judge's order that would have forced the government to reinstate a Trump administration policy forcing migrants seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico during processing. The Supreme Court's temporary stay, issued by Justice Samuel Alito late Friday night, will remain in effect until Tuesday night while the justices consider filings in the case. President Biden suspended the Trump-era program, commonly known as the "Remain in Mexico"  policy, before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee, ordered the White House to reinstate the program earlier this month. The Biden administration filed an emergency interview request before the Supreme Court on Friday after the Fifth Circuit of Appeals declined to pause Kascsmaryk's order.

8

Biden nominates veteran diplomat as Beijing ambassador

President Biden has nominated veteran United States diplomat Nicholas Burns to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China, the White House said Friday. The move marks a shift for the role, Reuters notes. Over the past decade, former politicians have filled the posting in Beijing, but Burns is a retired career foreign service officer who served as under secretary of state between 2005 and 2008 during the second term of the George W. Bush administration. Before that he was the U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2001 to 2005, and the ambassador to Greece from 1997 to 2001. Burns is not considered a China policy specialist, but if he's confirmed by the Senate he'll head to Beijing at a crucial time, as tensions remain high between Washington and Beijing.

9

University of Virginia disenrolls 238 students for failing to comply with vaccine mandate

The University of Virginia has disenrolled 238 students for not complying with its COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The students do have one week to comply with the mandate, which was announced in May and applies to all students living, attending classes, and working on campus in the fall. But a spokesman for the university said that only 49 of the students had enrolled in classes for the upcoming semester, so the others likely weren't planning on returning anyway. All told, only a small number of students have so far failed to comply with the mandate — 99 percent of eligible students have done so, and a few others have religious or medical exemptions, though the latter group will have to undergo testing at least once a week.

10

Mike Richards steps down as Jeopardy! host shortly after hiring

Mike Richards, the executive producer of Jeopardy!, announced Friday he will no longer be the quiz show's new permanent host after a report from The Ringer revealed he made numerous offensive comments on resurfaced podcast episodes. "Over the last several days it has become clear that moving forward as host would be too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show," Richards said. After a lengthy search for Alex Trebek's replacement that saw the quiz show bring in a series of guest hosts, Sony announced on Aug. 11 that Richards had been tapped for the gig, while The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik was also hired to host "primetime and spinoff series." Richards' selection was considered a surprise and sparked questions over how involved he was as producer in the process that led to his hiring.

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