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10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2021

1.

President Biden addressed world leaders at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, assuring them “the transatlantic alliance is back” while stressing the need to defend democracy around the world. Biden hoped to send “a clear message to the world” that “America is back,” affirming that the United States is “fully committed to our NATO alliance.” He sought to contrast his administration’s foreign policy agenda with that of former President Donald Trump. “I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship,” Biden said. “But the United States is determined to re-engage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” Biden warned that “democratic progress is under assault” around the world, specifically calling out Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s “recklessness,” while also saying that challenges posed by China are “just as real.” [CBS News, NPR]

2.

House Democrats unveiled the final version of their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Friday, ahead of a House Budget Committee vote on Monday and a House floor vote later in the week. The bill, called the American Rescue Plan of 2021, contains many measures Democrats have been talking about for weeks, including $1,400 stimulus checks for any adult making $75,000 or less per year, a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, and an extension of the $400/week unemployment boost through Aug. 29. It also includes $219 billion for states, territories, and tribal governments, and another $10 billion for small businesses. Democrats need only a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass the measure as part of the Budget Reconciliation process. [House Budget Committee]

3.

A Russian court on Saturday rejected leading Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s appeal against his prison sentence. The decision, which was expected, did reduce the term by about six weeks, but the opposition leader is now facing around two-and-a-half years in prison. It’s unclear whether Navalny will be moved from the high-security Moscow prison where he’s currently being held to a penal colony, but the squashed appeal does pave the way for such a transfer, The New York Times reports. The Kremlin is expected to face international backlash over the latest development. Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top rivals, was detained for violating parole (Navalny has said the charges are politically motivated) in January upon returning to Moscow from Berlin, where he spent months recovering from a poisoning, which he and others allege was carried out by Russia’s FSB spy agency. [The New York Times, Reuters]

4.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which controls the majority of the state’s power, said Friday that it has returned to normal conditions, restoring power to millions of people who had had lost it during a deadly, out-of-the-ordinary winter storm earlier this week. Additionally, temperatures are expected to rise in Texas on Saturday, but the situation remains very serious, with millions of people still facing difficulties accessing clean water. President Biden said he plans to visit Texas as long as his presence is not a burden on relief efforts, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed Biden has asked his team to expedite the Lone Star state’s request for a disaster declaration. [CNBC, BBC]

5.

Two people protesting Myanmar’s military coup were shot and killed by police in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, local media reported, per The Associated Press. Several other serious injuries were reported. The mass demonstrations have taken place across the country for days now in wake of the military junta seizing power from Myanmar’s elected government leaders earlier this month. While the atmosphere around them was initially calm, security forces have since been increasing their efforts to curb the movement, reportedly using water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds. On Friday, a woman who was shot by police earlier in the week died, marking the first confirmed fatality since the protests began. Despite the increasing violence, the demonstrations reportedly show no signs of slowing down. [The Associated Press, The Guardian]

6.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said on Friday he would oppose the confirmation of Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden, one of President Biden’s more controversial Cabinet picks, has faced unified opposition from Senate Republicans, who have cited her past inflammatory comments and policy stances in arguing she’s not the right fit. Without all Democrats voting in favor of Tanden’s confirmation, she likely no longer has the necessary votes to move forward, as no Republican is expected to come support her nomination. Explaining his planned vote, Manchin said “I believe 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 [OMB] … For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.” [CNN]

7.

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine faced severe limitations for the first few months of its distribution because it had to be stored in an ultracold freezer — something everyday clinics and impromptu vaccine centers don’t have. But the two companies revised that guidance on Friday, saying the vaccines only need to be stored in a regular freezer. They’re now looking to officially change the vaccine’s storage guidance with the Food and Drug Administration. Researchers on Thursday also found Pfizer’s vaccine grants 92.6 percent immunity against the virus after just one dose, suggesting the U.S. should try to get first shots to more people before moving on with the second dose. Meanwhile, a peer-reviewed study from Israel published Friday found it was 85 percent effective in preventing infection 15 to 28 days after it’s administered. [The Wall Street Journal]

8.

NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars on Thursday as part of a mission to search for signs of ancient life on the red planet, and the agency released some new images from the mission on Friday. Among them was one taken during the landing; as NASA explains, “while NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover sent back a stop-motion movie of its descent, Perseverance’s cameras are intended to capture video of its touchdown and this new still image was taken from that footage.” According to CNBC’s Michael Sheetz, this is the first time NASA has ever “captured images of a spacecraft landing on another planet,” and engineer Aaron Stehura during a Friday news conference said the team was “awestruck” after getting this photo back. NASA also revealed the first color image from Perseverance, which NASA’s Hallie Gengl noted is “really high resolution compared to what we’ve seen before on other previous missions.” [The Week, NASA]

9.

Kim Kardashian on Friday filed for divorce from Kanye West after almost seven years of marriage. The couple has four children together, and Kardashian is reportedly asking for joint legal and physical custody. They reportedly have a prenuptial agreement that neither of them is contesting. Reports emerged in January that Kardashian and West were headed for divorce after numerous incidents in 2020 sparked concerns over West’s mental health. The rapper struggles with bipolar disorder and last year launched a bizarre campaign for president, broke down in tears during a political rally, and made headlines with numerous Twitter outbursts. Kardashian in July asked the public for “the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this.” [TMZ]

10.

Naomi Osaka won her fourth Grand Slam title Saturday, defeating Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in the Australian Open final. It’s the second time Osaka has emerged victorious in Melbourne, the first coming in 2019. She’s also captured two U.S. Open titles. The 23-year-old has the third-most Grand Slam championships of any active women behind Serena Williams (whom Osaka beat in the semifinals this week) and her sister, Venus, who have 23 and seven, respectively. In her post-match acceptance speech, Osaka noted the presence of the crowd, emblematic of Australia largely controlling the coronavirus pandemic within its borders. “I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans,” she said, referring to her 2020 U.S. Open run, “so just to have this energy, it means a lot.” [ESPN]

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