Biden: Strikes in Syria sent warning to Iran to ‘be careful’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” Biden said when a reporter asked what message he had intended to send with the airstrikes, which the Pentagon said destroyed several buildings in eastern Syria but were not intended to eradicate the militia groups that used them to facilitate attacks inside Iraq.
Administration officials defended the Thursday night airstrikes as legal and appropriate, saying they took out facilities that housed valuable “capabilities” used by Iranian-backed militia groups to attack American and allied forces in Iraq.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, said members of Congress were notified before the strikes as two Air Force F-15E aircraft launched seven missiles, destroying nine facilities and heavily damaging two others, rendering both “functionally destroyed.” He said the facilities, at “entry control points” on the border, had been used by militia groups the U.S. deems responsible for recent attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq.
In a political twist for the new Democratic administration, several leading Congress members in Biden’s own party denounced the strikes, which were the first military actions he authorized. Democrats said the airstrikes were done without authorization from lawmakers, while Republicans were more supportive.
US advisers endorse single-shot COVID-19 vaccine from J&J
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.
The acting head of the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that the agency will move quickly to follow the recommendation, which would make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. Once FDA issues a final decision, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday.
“There’s an urgency to get this done,” said Dr. Jay Portnoy of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. “We’re in a race between the virus mutating — and new variants coming out that can cause further disease — and stopping it.”
More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays due to winter storms.
US implicates Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that instantly ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage.
The intelligence findings were long known to many U.S. officials and, even as they remained classified, had been reported with varying degrees of precision. But the public rebuke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is still a touchstone in U.S-Saudi relations. It leaves no doubt that as the prince continues in his powerful role and likely ascends to the throne, Americans will forever associate him with the brutal killing of a journalist who promoted democracy and human rights.
Yet even as the Biden administration released the findings, it appeared determined to preserve the Saudi relationship by avoiding direct punishment of the prince himself despite demands from some congressional Democrats and Khashoggi allies for significant and targeted sanctions.
Questioned by reporters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the approach.
“What we’ve done by the actions we’ve taken is not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values,” he said. “I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.”
House nears relief bill passage; Dems mull wage hike rescue
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats edged a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package to the brink of House passage early Saturday, even as party leaders sought to assure agitated progressives that they’d revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.
A virtual party-line House vote was expected on the sweeping measure, which embodies President Joe Biden’s plan to flush cash to individuals, businesses, states and cities battered by COVID-19. Passage would send the measure to the Senate, where Democrats may try resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.
Democrats said that the still-faltering economy and the half-million American lives lost demanded quick, decisive action and that GOP lawmakers were out of step with a public that polling shows largely views the bill favourably.
“I am a happy camper tonight,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. “This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you’re not, we’re going without you.”
Republicans said the bill was too expensive, spent money too slowly to quickly reopen schools, was laden with gifts to Democratic constituencies like labour unions and funneled funds to struggling pension systems and other projects irrelevant to battling the pandemic.
Biden surveys Texas weather damage, encourages virus shots
HOUSTON (AP) — President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans clobbered by this month’s brutal winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them “for the long haul” as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he took office.
Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God’s work.” He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it’s not a Republican or Democrat that’s hurting,” Biden said. “It’s our fellow Americans that are hurting and it’s our job to help everyone in need.”
With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived later.
The president’s first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local emergency management officials.
At conservative conference, Trump is still the golden boy
WASHINGTON (AP) — A conference dedicated to the future of the conservative movement turned into an ode to Donald Trump on Friday as speakers declared their fealty to the former president and attendees posed for selfies with a golden statue of his likeness.
As the Republican Party grapples with deep divisions over the extent to which they should embrace Trump after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress, those gathered at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference made clear they are not ready to move on from the former president — or from his baseless charges that the November election was rigged against him.
“Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of several potential 2024 presidential contenders who spoke at the event, being held this year in Orlando to bypass COVID-19 restrictions.
Trump on Sunday will be making his first post-presidential appearance at the conference, and aides say he will use the speech to reassert his power.
The program underscored the split raging within the GOP, as many establishment voices argue the party must move on from Trump to win back the suburban voters who abandoned them in November, putting President Joe Biden in the White House. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worry Trump will undermine the party’s political future if he and his conspiracy theories continue to dominate Republican politics.
Judge approves $650M Facebook privacy lawsuit settlement
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Friday approved a $650 million settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly using photo face-tagging and other biometric data without the permission of its users.
U.S. District Judge James Donato approved the deal in a class-action lawsuit that was filed in Illlinois in 2015. Nearly 1.6 million Facebook users in Illinois who submitted claims will be affected.
Donato called it one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation.
“It will put at least $345 into the hands of every class member interested in being compensated,” he wrote, calling it “a major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy.”
Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, told the Chicago Tribune that the checks could be in the mail within two months unless the ruling is appealed.
Highlights of the COVID-19 relief bill advancing in Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is expected to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package early Saturday that includes $1,400 checks for most Americans and billions of dollars for schools, state and local governments and businesses.
Republicans are overwhelmingly against the bill, raising concerns that the spending is vastly more than necessary and designed to advance policy priorities that go beyond helping Americans get through the pandemic. Democrats and President Joe Biden counter that a robust aid package is necessary to prevent a long and painful recovery from the pandemic.
The Democrats’ goal is to have COVID-19 relief approved by mid-March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires. The Senate, which Democrats control with a tie-breaking vote from the vice-president, will consider the bill next.
A look at some highlights of the legislation:
Lady Gaga’s dogs recovered safely after theft, shooting
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, which were stolen by thieves who shot and wounded the dog walker, were recovered unharmed Friday, Los Angeles police said.
A woman brought the dogs to the LAPD’s Olympic Community Police Station, just northwest of downtown, around 6 p.m, said Capt. Jonathan Tippet, commanding officer of the department’s elite Robbery-Homicide Division.
Lady Gaga’s representative and detectives went to the station and confirmed that they were the dogs, Tippet said.
The singer is currently in Rome to film a movie.
The woman who dropped off the dogs appears to be “”uninvolved and unassociated” with Wednesday night’s attack, Tippet said.
White House climate czar to AP: Texas storm ‘a wake-up call’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The deadly winter storm that caused widespread power outages in Texas and other states is a “wake-up call” for the United States to build energy systems and other infrastructure that are more reliable and resilient in the face of extreme-weather events linked to climate change, President Joe Biden’s national climate adviser said Friday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gina McCarthy said the storm that devastated Texas and other states “is not going to be as unusual as people had hoped. It is going to happen, and we need to be as resilient and working together as much as possible. We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient as well.”
McCarthy said the scientific evidence is clear that more frequent and more dangerous storms are likely, “and if we really care about keeping our people working and keeping our kids healthy and giving them a future we’re proud of, then we’re not going to ignore these wake-up calls. We’re going to take action.”
McCarthy’s comments came as Biden and his wife Jill were in Texas to survey damage caused by the storm, which caused millions of homes and business to lose heat and running water. At least 40 people in the state died.
“We need to envision a future and an optimistic way of giving people hope again — that we are building back better,” she said, using Biden’s slogan for a plan costing at least $2 trillion to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and create clean-energy jobs.
The Associated Press