News Headlines 3/3/21

BIDEN SAYS WILL BE ENOUGH VACCINE FOR ALL U.S. ADULTS BY END OF MAY, TWO MONTHS EARLIER THAN PREVIOUSLY EXPECTED: President Biden said yesterday (March 2nd) that the U.S. expects to have received enough coronavirus vaccines for all American adults by the end of May, two months earlier than had previously been expected. Contributing to that, he said that drugmaker Merck will help produce the newly-approved one-shot vaccine from rival Johnson & Johnson. Actually getting Americans vaccinated, however, will take longer, with officials saying it could go well into the summer. Biden also pushed states yesterday to have teachers receive at least one shot of vaccine by the end of March to help speed up the reopening of schools for in-person learning, stating, “Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is.”

States Ease Restrictions Despite Warnings: Several states and localities announced easing or even elimination of coronavirus restrictions yesterday, joining the growing number of places doing so around the country as cases have come down drastically since their peak in January. But they’re doing so as top health officials have warned against easing the restrictions until more people are vaccinated, pointing out that the declines in cases and deaths have stalled in recent days and even started rising slightly, as well as that the coronavirus variants are spreading. Despite that, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that mask mandates are being eliminated and businesses will be allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity, including restaurants and bars. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves made a similar announcement, and the governors of Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana and the mayor of San Francisco all eased restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses.

FBI HEAD WARNS OF GROWING THREAT IN U.S. FROM DOMESTIC TERRORISM: FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday (March 2nd) about the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling what happened an act of domestic terrorism and warning of a quickly growing threat to the country from such homegrown violent extremists, including militias and white supremacists. Wray said, “January 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.” Wray defended the FBI’s handling of an intelligence report from its Norfolk, Virginia, field office the day before the Capitol attack that warned of the potential for violence on January 6th. Capitol Police leaders have said they were unaware of the report, but Wray said, “We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and [Metropolitan Police Department] in not one, not two, but three different ways.” However, Wray said they are looking at what the FBI could have done differently. He additionally said there was no evidence the attack was planned or carried out by antifa or by Trump opponents pretending to be his supporters.

TANDEN WITHDRAWS NOMINATION TO BE HEAD OF OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Neera Tanden, who President Biden had chosen to head the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew her nomination yesterday (March 2nd) in the face of opposition from key Republican and Democratic senators because of controversial tweets she’s posted in the past, including criticism of members of both parties. Tanden had apologized during her Senate hearing to those, quote, “hurt by what I’ve said,” but wrote in a letter to Biden yesterday, “Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain [Senate] confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities.” Biden praised Tanden and said he would found another role for her in his administration.

U.S. SANCTIONS RUSSIAN OFFICIALS OVER NERVE AGENT ATTACK ON OPPOSITION LEADER NAVALNY: The U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials Tuesday (March 2nd), as well as more than a dozen Russian government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny last summer, as well as him being jailed, as he is currently, after he recovered. The actions were the first sanctions against associates of President Vladimir Putin by the Biden administration. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman condemned the sanctions as part of the U.S., quote, “meddling in our internal affairs,” and said they would “respond in kind.”

13 OF 25 PEOPLE PACKED INTO SUV KILLED IN CALIFORNIA CRASH: Thirteen of 25 people who were packed into an SUV were killed in a crash with a tractor-trailer in southeastern California near the Mexican border early yesterday (March 2nd), and authorities are investigating whether human smuggling was involved. AP cited a Mexican official as saying that most of those killed were Mexican. The 1997 Ford Expedition reportedly had its middle and back seats removed, allowing more people to pack in. It wasn’t clear if the people in the SUV were migrants who’d crossed the border, farmworkers being taken to fields, or if they were being transported for another reason.