Biden warns of growing cost of delay on $1.9T econ aid plan
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden warned Friday of a steep and growing “cost of inaction” on his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan as the White House searched for “creative” ways to win public support for a package that is getting a cold shoulder from Senate Republicans.
In the age of COVID, it’s not as simple as jumping on a plane to travel the country and try to gin up a groundswell. And at a time of deep polarization, Biden may struggle to convince Republican voters of the urgency when Congress already has approved $4 trillion in aid, including $900 billion last month.
Biden signalled on Friday for the first time that he’s willing to move ahead without Republicans.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” he told reporters. “But the COVID relief has to pass. No ifs, ands or buts.”
His message so far has been that a fresh $1.9 trillion in aid would be a bargain compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy if it doesn’t pass. An aggressive push for vaccinations and generous aid to individuals would help put parents back to work and let children return to school and improve their lifetime earnings, Biden said at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. They met in the Oval Office, where the fireplace was lit to protect against the chill in Washington.
‘Simple is beautiful’: One-shot vaccine proves effective
The first one-shot COVID-19 vaccine provides good protection against the illness, Johnson & Johnson reported in a key study released Friday, offering the world a potentially important new tool as it races to stay ahead of the rapidly mutating virus.
The pharmaceutical giant’s preliminary findings suggest the single-dose option may not be as strong as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s two-dose formula, and was markedly weaker against a worrisome mutated version of the virus in South Africa.
But amid a rocky start to vaccinations worldwide, that may be an acceptable trade-off to get more people inoculated faster with an easier-to-handle shot that, unlike rival vaccines that must be kept frozen, can last months in the refrigerator.
“Frankly, simple is beautiful,” said Dr. Matt Hepburn, the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine response leader.
J&J plans to seek emergency use authorization in the U.S. within a week. It expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. by June — and a billion doses globally by year’s end — but declined to say how much could be ready if the Food and Drug Administration gives the green light.
Fauci sees vaccination for kids by late spring or the summer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s top infectious disease expert said Friday he hopes to see some kids starting to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in the next few months. It’s a needed step to securing widespread immunity to the virus.
Vaccines are not yet approved for children, but testing already is underway for those as young as 12.
If those trials are successful, Dr. Anthony Fauci said they would be followed by another round of testing down to those 9 years old.
“Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Fauci said at a White House coronavirus briefing.
Fauci was looking ahead to a time vaccines will be plentiful. Even older adults are having difficulty getting shots at the moment. As of Thursday, only about 1.3% of Americans had been fully vaccinated with the required two doses of the currently available vaccines.
GameStop soars again; Wall Street bends under the pressure
Another bout of selling gripped the U.S. stock market Friday, as anxiety mounts over whether the frenzy behind a swift, meteoric rise in GameStop and a handful of other stocks will damage Wall Street overall.
The S&P 500 dropped 1.9%, giving the benchmark index its biggest weekly loss since October. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq each fell 2%.
GameStop shot up nearly 70%, clawing back much of its steep loss from the day before, after Robinhood said it will allow customers to start buying some of the stock again. GameStop has been on a stupefying 1,600% run over the last three weeks and has become the battleground where swarms of smaller investors see themselves making an epic stand against the 1%.
The assault is directed squarely at hedge funds and other Wall Street titans that had bet the struggling video game retailer’s stock would fall. Those firms are taking sharp losses, and other investors say that’s pushing them to sell other stocks they own to raise cash. That, in turn, helps pull down parts of the market completely unrelated to the revolt underway by the cadre of smaller and novice investors.
The maniacal moves for GameStop and a few other formerly beaten-down stocks has drowned out many of the other issues weighing on markets, including the virus, vaccine rollouts and potential aid for the economy.
Judge blocks Trump rule to limit health studies in EPA regs
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has blocked a last-minute rule issued by the Trump administration to limit what evidence the Environmental Protection Agency may consider as it regulates pollutants to protect public health.
Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Jan. 6 rule was aimed at ending what he and other Republicans call “secret science.? Some industry and conservative groups had long pushed for the change, saying public health studies that hold confidential and potentially identifying data about test subjects should be made public so the underlying data can be scrutinized before the EPA issues rules aimed at protecting public health.
Wheeler called the rule an attempt to boost transparency about government decision-making, but critics said it was hastily imposed and would threaten patient confidentiality and the privacy of individuals in public health studies that underlie federal regulations.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ruled late Wednesday that the EPA had unlawfully rushed the regulation, saying its decision to make it final just two weeks before then-President Donald Trump left office was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” Morris delayed the rule until at least Feb. 5, giving the new Biden administration time to assess whether to go forward with it or make changes.
An EPA spokesman said Friday the agency is “committed to making evidence-based decisions and developing policies and programs that are guided by the best science.”
EU tightens vaccine export rules, creates post-Brexit outcry
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union introduced tighter rules Friday on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could hit shipments to nations like the United Kingdom, deepening a dispute with London over scarce supplies of potentially lifesaving shots.
But amid an outcry in Northern Ireland and the UK, the European Commission made clear the new measure will not trigger controls on vaccines shipments produced in the 27-nation bloc to the small territory that is part of United Kingdom bordering EU member Ireland.
Under the post-Brexit deal, EU products should still be able to travel unhindered from the bloc to Northern Ireland.
“In the process of finalization of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement late Friday.
Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British leader Boris Johnson had an unexpected phone call, during which the UK prime minister “expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have,” a statement from the British government read.
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
False claims target Bible used for Biden’s presidential inauguration
CLAIM: President Joe Biden swore on a “Masonic/Illuminati” Bible during his inauguration last week.
THE FACTS: Following Biden’s inauguration, false social media posts spread about the Bible he used to take his oath of office. Some social media users falsely suggested that the several-inches thick Bible, a Biden family heirloom, was “Masonic” or associated with an Illuminati conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists suggest the Illuminati, a purported secret society, wants world domination. Freemasons, a fraternal organization, have been the subject of conspiracy theories since the group was founded over 300 years ago. Some founding fathers were even part of the group. “Sooo has anyone else realized this yet or???? Masonic/Illuminati Bible that Biden swore on yesterday…” wrote one Facebook user along with a photo of Biden’s hand on the Bible. The false post had 19,000 shares. But in fact, Biden was sworn in on a Douay-Rheims Bible, an English translation of a Latin Bible. The Bible has been in the Biden family since the 1890s. He used the same Bible when he was sworn in twice as vice-president and seven times as a senator from Delaware, The Associated Press reported. “Nothing even vaguely Masonic would have been anywhere near these Bibles,” Robert Miller, professor of biblical studies at The Catholic University of America, told the AP in an email. “Same thing for the ‘Illuminati,’ to the extent that such a thing existed: repeatedly condemned by the Popes and certainly coming nowhere into contact with Catholic Bibles.” Rev. Brent A. Strawn, a professor of Old Testament and law at Duke University, told the AP in an email that there’s “no conspiracy” behind the Bible. He explained that the Douay-Rheims Bible is a translation of the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. “Douay-Rheims is simply an English translation of the Latin Bible so popular in Catholic piety and worship,” he said.
John Chaney, commanding Temple basketball coach, dies at 89
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — John Chaney’s raspy, booming voice drowned out the gym when he scolded Temple players over a turnover — at the top of his basketball sins — or inferior effort. His voice was loudest when it came to picking unpopular fights, lashing out at NCAA policies he said discriminated against Black athletes. And it could be profane when Chaney let his own sense of justice get the better of him with fiery confrontations that threatened to undermine his role as father figure to scores of his underprivileged players.
Complicated, cranky, quick with a quip, Chaney was an imposing presence on the court and a court jester off it, all while building the Owls perched in rugged North Philadelphia into one of the toughest teams in the nation.
“He wrapped his arms around you and made you a part of his family,” said Chaney’s successor, Fran Dunphy.
Chaney died Friday, just eight days after his 89th birthday, after a short, unspecified illness.
Chaney led Temple to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances over 24 seasons, including five NCAA regional finals. Chaney had 741 wins as a college coach. He was twice named national coach of the year and his teams at Temple won six Atlantic 10 conference titles. He led Cheyney, in suburban Philadelphia, to the 1978 Division II national championship.
Seattle hospitals rush out vaccines after freezer failure
SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle hospitals rushed out COVID-19 vaccines to hundreds of people in the middle of the night after a freezer they were being stored in failed.
It’s not clear what caused the freezer failure Thursday night, but the UW Medical Center’s Northwest and Montlake campuses and Swedish Medical Center received more than 1,300 doses that needed to be used before they expired at 5:30 a.m. Friday, The Seattle Times reported.
Word of the unexpected doses spread on social media, and a line of hopeful vaccine recipients snaked out the clinic door and through a parking lot at UW Medical Center-Northwest. A hundred people lined up at Swedish Medical Center’s clinic at Seattle University. The hospital tweeted at 11:59 p.m. that it had 588 doses to give out, and by 12:30 a.m., all the appointment slots had been taken.
At the UW Medical Center-Northwest, assistant administrator Jenny Brackett walked along the crowd calling out and asking if anyone was over 65. Many of those who showed up were too young and healthy to qualify under Washington state’s current prioritization categories for vaccine distribution. Brackett said the hospital was doing its best to vaccinate those eligible, but that the main objective was to get it into arms and avoid waste.
Anyone who received a first shot Thursday night will also receive the second shot in the two-dose regimen, regardless of age, said Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Biden visits wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, where son died
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden made his first major foray outside the White House on Friday with a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to meet with wounded soldiers.
Biden met with both active duty and retired service members receiving treatment at the facility, before touring the vaccine distribution centre there.
“These kids are amazing, and thank God there’s not as many people to visit,” he said, calling those at the hospital ”real heroes.”
Biden has a long and personal history with the hospital, which treats thousands of military service members, veterans and their families. His son Beau, who served as a major in the Delaware Army National Guard, died at Walter Reed in 2015 of brain cancer. Biden said Friday that the hospital took care of Beau “in his final days with great grace and dignity.”
Even before Beau’s treatment at the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were frequent visitors during his time as vice-president, making multiple Christmas Day stops to meet with soldiers there. Jill Biden focused in part on promoting awareness of issues affecting military families during that time, and on Friday, she participated in a virtual event with military-connected students.
The Associated Press