The Eight-Year-Old Accountability Office, meanwhile, is pushing for more chicken nuggets and tater tots.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- WNBA star Brittney Griner, whom Russia convicted on trumped-up drug trafficking charges after she was detained while carrying hashish vape cartridges at an airport near Moscow in February, was released Thursday after the U.S. agreed to a detainee swap for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a U.S. court in 2012. Bout gained notoriety during his career as one of the world’s most prolific suppliers of groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but the Biden administration said Thursday it had determined prior to the swap that he no longer posed a U.S. security threat. The exchange did not include the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained for four years on espionage charges the U.S. has called politically motivated.
- Mohsen Shekari, a 23-year-old protester, was hanged by Iranian authorities Thursday morning, becoming the first person executed in connection with widespread demonstrations over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody that have roiled Iran for months. Authorities accused Shekari of blocking a street during protests and stabbing a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
- Shanghai Disneyland reopened to the public Thursday, the latest sign that China is slowly rolling back pandemic restrictions in the wake of protests over its draconian “zero-COVID” policy regime. Xi Jinping’s government on Wednesday announced the latest batch of policy relaxations, including some quarantine and testing requirements. The changes followed growing complaints not only from citizens but also from major business players like tech manufacturer Foxconn, which argued in a letter to Chinese Communist Party officials last month that the restrictions were damaging China’s economic standing.
- The Biden administration announced action Thursday to bail out the cash-strapped pension fund used by many members of the influential Teamsters union, saying the action was necessary to protect the retirement benefits of hundreds of thousands of current union workers and retirees. The White House said that the relief for the Central States Pension Fund—at an estimated price tag of $36 billion—will come from money appropriated in last year’s American Rescue Plan.
- The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it had amended its emergency use authorization for Pfizer and Moderna’s updated, bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, allowing children as young as six months old to receive the booster two months after completing their primary series of the original vaccine.
- The House of Representatives voted 258-169 on Thursday to re-pass the Senate’s amended version of the Respect for Marriage Act Thursday, sending the legislation—which aims to protect same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide in the event either is eroded by a future Supreme Court ruling—to President Biden’s desk. Biden indicated he will quickly sign the legislation, which was supported by 39 House Republicans and all House Democrats.
- Senate Democratic leadership will remain largely unchanged in the new Congress. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was reelected by his conference Thursday, as was much of the rest of his leadership team—Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, Policy Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, and Outreach Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders. Sen. Patty Murray will serve as president pro tempore, replacing the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy.*
- U.S. gas prices continue to fall after their major surge earlier this year, with Gas Buddy’s estimated U.S. average of $3.29 for regular unleaded dropping below last December’s average price of $3.36. Crude oil futures also hit their lowest level of the year this week. Experts attribute the sagging prices, which spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to smaller-than-expected disruptions in Russian oil exports and cratering demand in China’s enormous market due to economy-stifling COVID restrictions.
The Basketball Star and the Arms Dealer Walk Free
For all of its geopolitical significance, the prisoner exchange on the tarmac of an Abu Dhabi airport yesterday looked fairly relaxed on camera: Two groups walked towards each other and exchanged a few handshakes before a tall woman in a red jacket and a mustached man in a baggy polo shirt switched groups as the cluster of people separated.