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Today’s top stories
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved the operation to "capture or kill" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Driving the news: The White House also announced sanctions on entities implicated in the murder, though not on MBS directly. Officials also announced a new "Khashoggi ban" under which individuals accused of harassing journalists or dissidents outside their borders can be barred from entering the U.S.
President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.
Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."
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- Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
- Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
- Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
- Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
- Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.
Driving the news: The Pentagon said the strikes, which were authorized by Biden, were carried out "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq" and were intended to "de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq."
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday recommended the authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.
Why it matters: The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days on the J&J vaccine, which was found to be 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID. An emergency use authorization would allow distribution to immediately begin, helping streamline and speed up the vaccine rollout across the U.S.
The report released Friday on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was short on evidence or new information, but Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tells Axios that the “definitive” statement assigning responsibility to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) speaks volumes.
What he’s saying: Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, says that while some intelligence couldn’t be published because of the need to protect sources and methods, “we rarely see something published that is this definitive and I think that's an important accomplishment for the administration.”
Local and federal law enforcement officials are backing Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, according to letters sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained by Axios.
Why it matters: The Major County Sheriffs of America noted Gupta “emphasized that she does not support efforts to ‘defund the police'” and highlighted her desire to improve criminal justice through methods that include increased training for law enforcement officials.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of Americans 65 and older have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on Friday.
The big picture: The Biden administration has previously said it has secured enough doses to vaccinate most of the American population by the end of July.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) are among the Democrats criticizing the Biden administration for Thursday night's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, demanding that Congress immediately be briefed on the matter.
Why it matters: The strikes, which the Pentagon and National Security Council say were a response to threats against U.S. forces in the region, constitute the Biden administration's first overt military action.
The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.
Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.
Nations' formal emissions-cutting pledges are collectively way too weak to put the world on track to meet the Paris climate deal's temperature-limiting target, a United Nations tally shows.
Driving the news: This morning the UN released an analysis of the most recent nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — that is, countries' medium-term emissions targets submitted under the 2015 pact.
President Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for the people of Ukraine and vowed to hold Russia accountable for its aggression in a statement on Friday, the 7th anniversary of Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Why it matters: The statement reflects the aggressive approach Biden is taking to Russia, which he classified on the campaign trail as an "opponent" and "the biggest threat" to U.S. security and alliances.
The labor market is showing some signs of improvement: Jobless claims fell to 730,000 — a dramatic drop from 841,000 the previous week. And the latest jobs report showed a pandemic-era low unemployment rate of 6.3%
But, but, but: That's not the full story, experts say.
A milestone was reached in the markets Thursday: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to match the dividend yield on the S&P 500
Why it matters: The two yields have been inverted since the beginning of last year, which is historically unusual.
Business Roundtable, the voice of America's top CEOs, today launched "Move the Needle," a campaign to support President Biden in rolling out COVID vaccines, increasing vaccine uptake and encouraging masks.
What they're saying: "Masks and vaccines are working. Now is the time to keep at it, overcome pandemic fatigue, and double down on the measures that will end this public health and economic crisis, said Business Roundtable president and CEO Josh Bolten.
The Biden administration notified Israel in advance about the airstrike against an Iranian-backed Shiite militia base on the Syrian-Iraqi border Thursday evening, Israeli officials told me.
Why it matters: The airstrike was the first overt military action by the U.S. in the Middle East since Biden assumed office, and one that Israeli officials see as a positive signal about the new administration's posture toward Iran.
Facebook's 3 billion monthly active users, its mountain of money and its control over the flow of information all put the company on an equal footing with governments around the world — and, increasingly, it's getting into fights with them.
Why it matters: Facebook's power alarms governments fearful that the tech giant could tilt the political scales inside their borders, and regulators around the world are seeking ways to rein the company in.
In a swift reversal from 90 days ago, Democrats are now the ones with overpowering social media muscle and the ability to drive news.
The big picture: Former President Donald Trump’s digital exile and the reversal of national power has turned the tables on which party can keep a stranglehold on online conversation.
New research is bolstering the case for delaying second doses of coronavirus vaccines.
Why it matters: Most vulnerable Americans remain unvaccinated heading into March, when experts predict the more infectious virus variant first found in the U.K. could become dominant in the U.S.
Passenger rail could be the big winner if Congress moves ahead with President Biden's ambitious infrastructure plan.
Why it matters: There's long been bipartisan support for rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, but under Biden, the focus has shifted to sustainable projects that fulfill both his climate and equity goals, such as rail transit.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is privately saying he can pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus package but wants to avoid any last-minute changes jeopardizing its trajectory, three sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.
Why it matters: While the president hoped to enlist Republican support for the measure, Schumer has worked to ensure he has a solid 50 votes to muscle it through if necessary. A parliamentary ruling Thursday improved his chances.
A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.
Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.
The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.
The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.
Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.
President Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman this evening ahead of the release of a CIA report expected to implicate the king's son, and the kingdom's de facto ruler, in the murder of a U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Why it matters: In one month, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) by declining to speak with him directly.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News on Thursday that he would "absolutely" support Donald Trump if the former president is the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.
The big picture: Trump has not officially said whether he will run in 2024, but as Axios' Mike Allen reports, the former president "plans to send the message [during his CPAC speech on Sunday] that he is the Republicans' 'presumptive 2024 nominee' with a vise grip on the party's base."