Joe Biden’s cabinet nominee bows out | First Thing

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One of Joe Biden’s cabinet picks, Neera Tanden, has withdrawn her nomination amid a backlash over controversial past tweets. Tanden, who was nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget, faced opposition from Democratic and Republican senators after tweets surfaced in which she attacked members of both parties. After Joe Manchin, a conservative Democratic senator, announced he would oppose her nomination, she fell short of the number of lawmakers needed to confirm her in the Senate. This marks the first failure for Biden in getting Senate approval for his cabinet; so far, 11 of 23 have been confirmed.

Her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget,” Manchin said.

  • The US has announced sanctions against seven Russian officials and 13 Russian and European companies, over the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Nalavny and his continued imprisonment. A US intelligence report confirmed that Russia’s Federal Security Service was behind the poisoning.

The vaccine rollout is ahead of schedule – and Biden is turning his attention to teachers

Biden says US on track for enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May – video
Biden says US on track for enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May – video

The US should have enough coronavirus vaccines for all American adults by the end of May, two months earlier than planned, Biden said yesterday. The White House announced that drugmaker Merck would help put Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine into production, a move the president described as a “major step forward”. With this boost in supply, Biden said he would direct states to prioritise teachers, encouraging at least one dose by the end of March.

But the news comes as many states move to relax restrictions, in spite of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning of another surge of the virus and with the vaccination programme still relatively young. In Texas, where less than 7% of the population have been fully vaccinated, Governor Greg Abbott announced yesterday that it was “now time to open Texas 100%”. He said Texas would end its mask mandate and open businesses to full capacity.

  • Catholic leaders have told people to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it used “morally compromised cell lines created from two abortions”. The archdiocese in New Orleans and Roman Catholic leaders in St Louis differ from Pope Francis on this, with the Vatican saying in December that it was “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted foetuses in their research and production process” because it doesn’t mean you’re formally engaging with the abortion process.

  • Dolly Parton got vaccinated with the jab she helped to fund, breaking into song as she adapted her smash hit Jolene to replace the name with “vaccine”. Parton donated $1m to Vanderbilt University medical centre in Nashville, helping to fund the Moderna vaccine.

The FBI director called the Capitol attack ‘domestic terrorism’

FBI chief calls Capitol attack 'domestic terrorism' and defends US intelligence – video highlights
FBI chief calls Capitol attack ‘domestic terrorism’ and defends US intelligence – video highlights

The director of the FBI condemned the Capitol attack as “domestic terrorism”, saying that tolerating the siege would “make a mockery of our nation’s rule of law”. Chris Wray also defended his organisation’s handling of intelligence in the run-up to the siege, amid claims from Capitol police that they never received a report from the FBI warning that a “war” was coming on 6 January.

Wray said the FBI was pursuing those behind the attack, with investigations unfolding in 55 of the 56 FBI filed offices. Discussing the bureau’s wider work on domestic terrorism, Wray said that agents were pursuing 2,000 domestic terrorism investigations, up from 1,400 at end of 2020, and that white supremacists were the primary threat.

Andrew Cuomo is remaining silent as he faces sexual harassment claims

Demonstrators gather outside the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office calling for his resignation, in the Manhattan borough of New York, 2 March 2021.
Demonstrators gather outside the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office calling for his resignation, in the Manhattan borough of New York. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has avoided public appearances for days, amid calls for him to resign over allegations of sexual harassment – including from within his own party. Cuomo has not taken questions from reporters since a 19 February briefing, and neither the governor nor his spokespeople commented on the latest allegation made against him on Monday; the third woman to come forward.

As of yesterday, one Democratic congress member, four state senators and several left-leaning members of the assembly, along with leaders of the Working Families party, said Cuomo should resign. New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has long had a difficult relationship with the governor, said Cuomo “cannot govern” if the allegations are true. However, most Democrats have suspended their judgment, waiting on the results of an investigation from the attorney general before taking a stance.

In other news…

The crash left 13 dead and several others injured.
The crash left 13 dead and several others injured. Photograph: Nelvin C Cepeda/REX/Shutterstock
  • A crash in California has left 13 dead after a truck hit an SUV carrying 25 passengers in Holtville, near the US-Mexico border. The driver of the SUV was among those killed, as were minors as young as 15, and authorities confirmed that 10 were Mexican nationals. The SUV was a Ford Expedition designed to hold five to eight people

  • A Japanese billionaire is taking eight people to space on a private lunar expedition, for which is he paying. Yusaku Maezawa, an online fashion tycoon, was the first man to book a spot on board the lunar spaceship being developed by SpaceX in 2018, for an undisclosed fee. In a video posted on Twitter on Wednesday, he said he had bought all the seats and was inviting eight individuals to join him.

  • The Tokyo Olympics has added 12 women to its board after long-running controversy over allegedly sexist comments made by its former president. The changes were the brainchild of Seiko Hashimoto, who took over as president last month following the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, after a backlash against derogatory comments he made about women.

Stat of the day: up to 18 states haven’t prioritised homeless people for a coronavirus vaccine

As many as 18 states have not explicitly prioritised homeless people for coronavirus vaccinations, a study has found, despite recognition from the CDC that the population is at notably high risk. Homeless people often don’t have access to medical care, or protective measures such as masks, nor the ability to quarantine, one expert said. Many also have underlying health conditions.

Don’t miss this: how emotion recognition software is used in China

Emotion recognition is on the rise, using biometric data, movements and expressions to determine people’s emotions. Some hail it as a way of predicting dangerous behaviour and criminal activity, or people experiencing dementia, but rights groups say action must be taken against the technology now. Michael Standaert explores its use in China.

Last Thing: a yard sale bowl turned out to be worth up to $500,000

The bowl will be offered in Sotheby’s Auction of Important Chinese Art, in New York, on 17 March 2021.
The bowl will be offered in Sotheby’s auction of important Chinese art, in New York, on 17 March 2021. Photograph: AP

It’s every bargain hunters dream; a small porcelain bowl bought for $35 at a yard sale in Connecticut turned out to be a 15th-century Chinese artefact worth between $300,000 and $500,000. The piece is one of only seven such bowls known to exist around the world, and was snapped up by an antiques enthusiast who thought it might be valuable. It will now go on sale at Sotherby’s auction in New York.

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