1/ Biden signed legislation to keep the government funded through Feb. 18 after Republicans dropped a threat to force a shutdown over the administration’s vaccine mandates. The House passed the measure 221-212, sending it to the Senate, where a handful of Republican senators threatened to hold up the measure over the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate on private employers. Senators, however, voted down an amendment on the issue on a 48-to-50 vote, with two Republicans absent. The Senate then voted 69-28 to approve the spending bill. “Funding the government isn’t a great achievement,” Biden said. “It’s a bare minimum of what we need to get done.” Democrats and Republicans will now turn to several must-pass items in the coming weeks, which include increasing the debt limit and passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Chuck Schumer has also promised a vote before Christmas on Biden’s roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation. (NPR / Wall Street Journal / New York Times / ABC News / Washington Post / CNBC)
2/ The U.S. added 210,000 jobs to the economy in in November – the smallest gain since December 2020 – while the unemployment rate fell to 4.2% from 4.6% – a new pandemic-era low. Economists had expected more than half a million new jobs in November. So far the U.S. has recovered about 82% of the jobs lost during the pandemic. “Simply put, America, America is back to work,” Biden said. “Because of the extraordinary strides we’ve made, we can look forward to a brighter, happier New Year, in my view.” (CNBC / NBC News / CNN / Politico / NPR / New York Times / CBS News / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / Bloomberg)
3/ New research indicates that the Omicron variant is spreading more than twice as quickly as Delta, which was previously the most contagious form of the coronavirus. Researchers concluded that the Omicron mutation has a “substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection” and that the variant is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than previous variants, such as Beta and Delta. In the U.S., Omicron has been detected in five states. The CDC also reported that nearly 2.2 million vaccine doses were administered over a 24-hour period ending Thursday – the largest single-day total since May. Roughly half of those shots were booster doses. The Biden administration, meanwhile, announced that it is sending an additional 9 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa, bringing the total U.S. donation to 100 million vaccines. (New York Times / Washington Post / CNBC)
4/ The Biden administration reinstated the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting their immigration hearings. While the Biden administration had tried multiple times to roll back the policy, a federal judge in August ordered the program restored. The administration appealed to the Supreme Court which refused to block the order. Mexico agreed to restart the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, after the Biden administration agreed to address “humanitarian concerns” at the border, such as providing Covid-19 vaccines for migrants, secure shelters in Mexico, transportation to U.S. ports of entry, and access to essentials like health care and work permits in Mexico. Unaccompanied minors and other “particularly vulnerable individuals” will not be included in the program. (New York Times / Politico / CNBC)
5/ The attorney who helped Trump pressure Pence to overturn the 2020 election asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. John Eastman joins former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in asserting the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. While Clark appeared before the committee in response to a subpoena for records and testimony on Nov. 5, he refused to answer questions, citing Trump’s claims of executive privilege. The committee then recommended holding Clark in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with its inquiry. Clark, however, informed the committee that he “now intends to claim Fifth Amendment protection.” Eastman laid out six steps in a memo that he claimed Pence could take to attempt to overturn the 2020 election results and throw the election to Trump. One of them involved Pence unilaterally rejecting Biden’s victory in a handful of swing states and instead appointing alternate electors to the Electoral College, effectively denying Biden’s victory. (Politico / Washington Post / ABC News / CNN / Business Insider)
6/ At least 11 U.S. State Department employees had their iPhones hacked with spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group. The attacks come a month after the U.S. added NSO Group to a federal blacklist amid allegations that its phone-hacking tools had been used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” government officials, activists, human rights workers, journalists, academics, embassy workers, and others. The hacks are the first confirmed cases of NSO surveillance software, known as Pegasus, being used to target American officials. (Reuters / Washington Post)
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