10 things you need to know today: March 3, 2021

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Harold Maass
·7 min read
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2.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday that his state would end its mask mandate and let businesses reopen now that daily coronavirus infections and deaths were falling, and vaccines are becoming more widely available. "It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," Abbott said flanked by local business leaders in Lubbock. "Everybody who wants to work should have the opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open." Abbott noted that the state had an "abundance" of personal protective equipment, testing facilities, and therapeutic drugs to treat COVID-19. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) also announced Tuesday that businesses can operate at full capacity and county mask mandates will be lifted starting Wednesday. Dr. Mark Escott, Travis County, Texas, Interim Health Authority, urged people to continue wearing masks and social distancing, saying the precautions "remain critical in our ongoing fight against COVID-19." [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Texas Tribune]

3.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that the agency was investigating about 2,000 domestic terrorism cases as it steps up its focus on the threat of further attacks like the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by a pro-Trump mob. "We have significantly grown the number of investigations and arrests," Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wray defended the bureau's handling of intelligence ahead of last month's insurrection, but he conceded that a review was necessary because what happened Jan. 6 was not an "acceptable result." He said an ominous warning of violence the night before the attack was "raw, unverified, uncorroborated information," but added that the FBI had alerted Capitol Police and others. At a hearing last week, D.C. police chief Robert Contee III said the FBI should have provided a clearer warning. [The Washington Post, USA Today]

4.

President Biden said Tuesday that the "stepped-up process" for producing and distributing coronavirus vaccines had put the country "on track" to have enough doses for every adult in the United States "by the end of May," several months earlier than he previously predicted. Biden said the federal government was giving Johnson & Johnson, maker of a vaccine just approved for emergency use, the support it needs for around-the-clock production. The Biden administration brokered a deal under which Merck agreed to produce Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to boost the nation's inoculation effort. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine gives the U.S. a third vaccine, along with those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. A Merck spokesperson said the drug maker "remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics." [The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal]

4.

Myanmar security forces on Wednesday opened fired on people protesting last month's military coup, killing nine people, Reuters reported, citing witnesses and media. At least 30 have died since the coup. Two people died Wednesday in Mandalay, the country's second largest city, and five deaths were reported in the central town of Monywa. One died in the main city of Yangon, and another in the central town of Myingyan. "One was killed, he's young, a teenage boy, shot in the head," said student activist Moe Myint Hein, who was wounded in the leg in Myingyan. The violence came a day after regional foreign ministers called on Myanmar's military for restraint but failed to unite behind a call to restore democracy and release jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. [Reuters]

5.

Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan Jr. died Monday at his Washington home, his daughter confirmed Tuesday. He was 85. Jordan began his career as a civil rights leader after graduating from Howard University School of Law. He was picked to run the National Urban League in 1971, surviving an assassination attempt while in that post in 1980. He went on to serve as a Washington power broker, becoming co-chairman of then-President-elect Bill Clinton's transition team in 1992. Jordan remained a Clinton confidant for years. He also served as a lobbyist and supported a host of rising Black leaders. Jordan "reminded my generation that we stood on the shoulders of people who shed blood and gave their lives so we could have an opportunity," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. [The New York Times]

6.

At least 10 rockets hit Iraq's Ain al-Asad airbase, which is used by U.S.-led coalition troops, on Wednesday, the coalition said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The Iraqi military said the attack didn't cause significant losses. An Iraqi military official said government forces had found the launch pad used for the strike in the al-Baghdadi area of western Iraq's Anbar province, where the base is located. The attack was the first since U.S. airstrikes hit Iran-aligned militia targets in Syria along the Iraqi border last week, killing a militiaman. Iran struck the same Anbar base in January 2020 in retaliation for the U.S.-directed drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport in January 2020. [The Associated Press]

7.

The White House announced on Tuesday evening it withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden faced bipartisan criticism for past comments on her Twitter feed. Republicans complained about "thousands of negative public statements" about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and others, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's decision not to support her threatened to derail her confirmation. Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, asked to have her name withdrawn to avoid distracting from President Biden's agenda. In a statement, Biden said he accepted Tanden's request but praised her "record of accomplishment, her experience, and her counsel," adding that he looked "forward to having her serve in a role in my administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work." [The Washington Post]

8.

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced sanctions against seven senior Russian officials and added 14 parties to the entities list in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was recently transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow known for abusive treatment of inmates. "With today's action we're sending a clear signal to Russia that there are clear consequences for the use of chemical weapons," said a U.S. official quoted in The Wall Street Journal. The sanctions represent President Biden's first major action against Russia, and they're the first real response by the United States in relation to Navalny since the Trump administration never followed through on the matter. The European Union joined the U.S., sanctioning four Russian officials. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]

9.

Kayleigh McEnany, former President Donald Trump's last White House press secretary, is joining Fox News as an on-air contributor. Some staff members reportedly were angry about the hire, but Fox News host Harris Faulkner welcomed McEnany "to the Fox family," saying, "We will be seeing much more of her in the future." McEnany was praised by Republicans during the less than one year she served as press secretary. Democrats harshly criticized her for defending misleading statements made by Trump, including telling Fox Business on Feb. 25, 2020, that the United States would "not see diseases like the coronavirus come here." On Tuesday, she told Faulkner that Trump was not responsible for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, saying that previous rallies "were nothing but peaceful events. We expected that day to be the same." [CNN]

10.

Bunny Wailer, the co-founder of the groundbreaking Jamaican reggae group the Wailers, has died after frequent hospitalizations for a stroke he suffered last year. He was 73. Wailer was the last living member of the group, which formed in 1963 and later became known as Bob Marley and the Wailers. Wailer, born Neville Livingston, became friends with Marley when they were small boys. They formed the core of their internationally acclaimed band along with Peter Tosh. The band attained stardom with its fifth album, Catch a Fire, in 1973, and followed up with Burnin', which featured one of Marley's best-known hits, "I Shot the Sheriff." Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness offered condolences to Wailer's family, saying his death was "a great loss for Jamaica and for reggae." [The Guardian]

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