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10 things you need to know today: February 21, 2021

1.

President Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state struggles to recover from deadly winter storms, the White House announced in a Saturday statement. That paves the way for federal assistance “to supplement state and local recovery efforts” in affected areas. All 254 counties in the Lone Star State are eligible to receive public assistance, while people living in 77 counties are eligible to receive individual assistance, which “can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.” In his own statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) thanked Biden, who has said he intends to travel to Texas next week unless his visit is seen as a hindrance to recovery efforts. [CNN, The Dallas Morning News]

2.

Former President Donald Trump will make his first public appearance since leaving the White House last month next week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, sources familiar with the matter told The New York Times and CNN. Trump, who has been permanently banned from Twitter, has mostly kept a low profile since the end of his term, and he hasn’t spoken in a public setting since the rally preceding the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6, the Times notes. At CPAC, Trump reportedly plans to talk about the future of the Republican Party and President Biden’s immigration policies, which are largely aimed at undoing Trump’s. Of course, the former president often goes off script in his speeches, so the contents may change. Former Vice President Mike Pence reportedly declined an invitation to attend the event. [The New York Times, Politico]

3.

A United Airlines flight landed safely at Denver International Airport on Saturday after experiencing engine failure over northern Colorado. The Boeing 777 was carrying 10 crew members and 231 passengers en route to Hawaii from Denver, when one passenger described hearing an explosion and seeing a flash of flight. The engine appeared to have caught fire, and debris fell from the aircraft, some of it landing in parks and people’s yards. There have been no injuries reported either on board or on the ground. In a video from inside the plane, passengers can be heard cheering as it touched down safely. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident. [The Denver Post, Fox News]

4.

Three people are dead and two others were injured, but are in stable condition after a shootout inside a gun store in Metairie, Louisiana, on Saturday, authorities said. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said one suspect shot and killed two victims in the store before multiple people fired on the suspect, who was killed. It’s unclear if the people returning fire were employees or customers of the store, and authorities need time to determine exactly how the shooting unfolded. “We are trying to put it all together and piece it together from what we have in this developing scene,” Lopinto said at a press briefing outside the store Saturday. [ABC News, CNN]

5.

Israel began easing its COVID-19 restrictions Sunday as infections continue to decline following a national lockdown and a rapid vaccination effort. Social distancing and masks will still be required, but libraries, gyms, restaurants, and museums can open their doors. The entire education system is expected to return to normal in March. Israel has the highest vaccination rate in the world, with more than 49 percent of its population already having received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The country’s health ministry and health services organizations have reported promising data on the vaccine’s efficacy, and it appears to be playing a role in driving down the infection rate. Subsequently, Israel has unveiled its plan to allow vaccinated people to attend cultural events and fly abroad using a “green badge” app, which will show proof of their inoculation. [BBC, The Associated Press]

6.

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for his confirmation hearing. In his prepared opening statement, which was released Saturday, Garland listed providing “equal justice” for minority communities, confronting “extremist” violence, and “protecting the independence” of the Justice Department “from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations” while “strictly” regulating communications with the White House as some of his top priorities. Garland is expected to be confirmed to the post five years after former President Barack Obama nominated him for a Supreme Court seat. The Republican-led Senate blocked his path to confirmation then, arguing that it was too close to the 2016 presidential election. [CNBC, CBS News]

7.

Crowds gathered at a cemetery in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw for a funeral for Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, a 19-year-old woman who was shot by police last week at an anti-coup protest. She died from her wounds Friday, marking the first confirmed fatality since pro-democracy demonstrations began earlier this month after the military junta seized power from Myanmar’s elected government. Mourners raised their hands in a silent three-fingered salute, which has become a symbol of resistance, as the hearse carrying Mya Thwet Thwet Khine’s body arrived. The funeral took place one day after security forces shot and killed two more protesters amid an increasingly violent state response to the movement, which has nevertheless shown no signs of slowing down. [The Associated Press]

8.

President Biden visited former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, on Saturday. Biden and Dole, who is 97, served together in the Senate between 1973 and 1996, and despite hailing from different sides of the aisle, the two have said they consider each other friends. In a December interview, Dole said Biden was a “good chairman of the Judiciary Committee” when he was in the upper chamber, adding that the fact that he “knows how the government works and the Congress works” will benefit him during his presidency. After the Saturday visit, which was not on the president’s public schedule, Biden said Dole was “doing well.” Dole is expected to start treatment Monday. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]

9.

Friedrich Karl Berger, a 95-year-old former German concentration camp guard who had settled in Tennessee, was deported Saturday after U.S. authorities determined he once served at a subcamp of the Neuengamme system near Hamburg. The camp held Jewish prisoners, as well as Russian, Dutch, and Polish prisoners, and political opponents from France, Italy, and other countries, per The Washington Post. Justice Department historians linked Berger to the camp thanks to an index card found on a sunken ship that was mistakenly bombed by British warplanes in 1945 while carrying prisoners who were forced to evacuate to the main camp as British and Canadian forces approached. It is unclear whether German authorities will take steps against Berger, who has been in the U.S. since 1959. [The Washington Post, NPR]

10.

Novak Djokovic won his third consecutive and ninth overall Australian Open on Sunday after defeating Daniil Medvedev, who was on a 20-match winning streak, in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. The 33-year-old Serbian has never lost a finals match in Melbourne in his storied career. He’s appeared in the tournament 17 times now, coming away with the trophy more than half the time. The win also marks Djokovic’s 18th Grand Slam title overall — he has five Wimbledon championships, three U.S. Open titles, and one French Open victory — putting him two shy of his longtime rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who are tied for the most all time at 20. Djokovic is younger than both of them and appears to be in a solid position to make a run at the record. [ESPN]

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