Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The Senate voted 80-15 on Thursday to pass a resolution implementing a labor agreement that was negotiated in September by freight rail companies, labor leaders, and the Biden administration, overriding four of twelve unions whose workers rejected the deal over demands for additional paid sick days. The measure—once signed into law by President Joe Biden—will avert a freight rail strike that was set to begin in the coming days. “I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country,” Biden said in a statement. “Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities.”
- After days of anti-lockdown protests across the country, Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan—largely responsible for China’s COVID-19 response—said Wednesday that China is entering a “new stage and mission” of its pandemic controls due to “the decreasing toxicity of the Omicron variant, the increasing vaccination rate, and the accumulating experience of outbreak control and prevention.” Reuters reported yesterday that, in the coming days, CCP officials are set to announce a reduction in the use of mass testing and allow some infected people (and close contacts) to quarantine at home rather than mass facilities. Several cities—including Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Zhengzho—have lifted lockdowns in recent days.
- In response to North Korea’s recent barrage of missile testing, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday it will impose additional sanctions on three North Korean officials over their support for the country’s development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
- The Supreme Court announced Thursday it will take up a challenge to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program brought by several Republican-led states after a federal appeals court in Missouri temporarily blocked the program last month. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case in February, and the disbursement of loan forgiveness will remain on hold until at least that point.
- In a scathing opinion released Thursday night, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that District Court Judge Aileen Cannon erred in blocking the Justice Department’s access to material seized at Mar-a-Lago in August and in appointing a special master to review the seized material for documents that could be protected by executive privilege. “The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant,” wrote the three judges, two of whom were appointed by Trump. “Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our case law limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations.”
- After looking into allegations that former President Donald Trump or a Trump appointee may have directed the Internal Revenue Service to conduct rare and invasive audits of former FBI officials James Comey and Andrew McCabe, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report on Thursday noting the office “did not identify misconduct” in the audit selection process. “Our assessment of the original sample selection process concluded that the IRS randomly selected TYs 2017 and 2019 tax returns for NRP audits,” the report read.
- The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, increased 6.0 percent year-over-year in October, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported Thursday—down from a 6.3 percent annual rate in September. Core services inflation—a category Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday might be the “most important” indicator of future inflation—rose 0.3 percent month-over-month, the smallest such increase in three months. The Bureau of Economic Analysis also reported Thursday that Americans’ personal savings rate fell to 2.3 percent in October—the lowest level since 2005—as higher prices and higher interest rates chip away at consumers’ disposable income.
- The average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the United States fell to $3.47 on Thursday according to AAA, the lowest level since early February—before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Patrick De Haan—head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy—projected recently the national average price could fall below $3.00 by Christmas.
- The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—fell by 16,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 225,000 last week. The measure—still near historic lows—signals the labor market remains tight, but it comes as many major companies (Amazon, Meta, DoorDash, Salesforce, Redfin, Gap) have announced significant layoffs or hiring freezes.
- The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday it was pulling the emergency use authorization of bebtelovimab—the Eli Lilly COVID-19 therapeutic—because the monoclonal antibody is not effective against the emerging Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants, which combined accounted for between 53 and 62 percent of new COVID-19 infections in the United States last week. The Department of Health and Human Services is putting any pending requests for the antiviral on hold until further notice, but encouraged healthcare providers to keep existing stock on hand in case future variants are more susceptible to the treatment.
- The average number of weekly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States increased about 8 percent over the past two weeks according to CDC data, while the average number of weekly deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 21 percent. About 28,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, up from about 21,600 two weeks ago.
Order or Overreach?
New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday announced a new plan intended to address the city’s crisis of untreated severe mental illness—a plan he said is the product of eleven months of work by his administration since he was sworn in this past January.
In his speech, Adams said that New Yorkers encounter people with serious but untreated mental illnesses—many of them homeless—on a daily basis.
“The man standing all day on the street across from the building he was evicted from 25 years ago, waiting to be let in. The shadow-boxer on the street corner in Midtown, mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary. The unresponsive man unable to get off the train at the end of the line without assistance from our mobile crisis team. … New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them. And help them we will.”