Happy Tuesday! We hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend—and that you haven’t had to go outside since Thursday. The wind chill in Chicago is supposed to get back into double digits for a few hours later today!
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- President Joe Biden on Friday signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 and a continuing resolution funding the federal government through December 30. The House voted 225-201 Friday to approve a $1.7 trillion omnibus package funding the government on a longer-term basis, but the 4,000-page legislation must go through a lengthy enrollment process before it reaches Biden’s desk. The president is expected to sign the larger package into law once that process is complete, likely in the next few days.
- Chinese public health officials estimate a quarter of a billion people—18 percent of the country’s population—were infected with COVID-19 between December 1 and December 20, according to a Wednesday Chinese Center for Disease Control briefing leaked to the Financial Times over the weekend. As China continues to dismantle its COVID-Zero policies, the country’s National Health Commission said Sunday it would stop publishing daily COVID-19 case numbers and said Monday it would end mandatory eight-day quarantines for inbound travelers beginning January 8.
- Days after banning women from enrolling in universities, the Taliban on Saturday prohibited women from attending religious classes at mosques in Kabul and ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations to cut ties with any female employees—reportedly because some employees were not wearing their headscarves correctly. Four NGOs—Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE—have already suspended operations in Afghanistan in response to the move, and Taliban officials turned water cannons on women protesting the decision this weekend.
- Taiwan’s defense ministry said Monday that China sent 71 planes and seven ships toward the self-governing island over the weekend, with at least 47 entering its air defense identification zone. The aggression is almost assuredly a response to President Biden on Friday signing the NDAA into law, codifying some U.S. security assistance to—and cooperation with—Taiwan. This weekend’s exercises were the largest such display of force from the People’s Liberation Army since the aftermath of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August.
- U.S. Africa Command announced Friday that—at the request of the Somalian government—U.S. forces conducted a “self-defense” airstrike near the coastal Somali city of Cadale, killing six members of the al-Shabaab terrorist group. The strike was the third of its kind this month, and U.S. officials claimed no civilians were injured or killed.
- The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, increased 5.5 percent year-over-year in November, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Friday—down from a 6.1 percent annual rate one month earlier. Even after stripping out more volatile food and energy prices, core PCE increased at a 4.7 percent annual rate in May, well above the Fed’s 2 percent target. Consumer spending, meanwhile, increased just 0.1 percent last month after increasing an average of 0.75 percent in September and October.
- Erie and Niagara county officials confirmed Monday at least 28 people have died in western New York in recent days after a devastating winter storm swept through the area, bringing freezing temperatures and nearly 50 inches of snow. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state, and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport will remain closed through at least Wednesday morning. About 30 additional people have reportedly died elsewhere in the United States due to this week’s harsh blizzards.
- The Food and Drug Administration released a memo on Friday announcing it would overhaul packaging labels on Plan B, the emergency birth control pill, to make clear the contraceptive is not an abortifacient. “Plan B One-Step will not work if a person is already pregnant, meaning it will not affect an existing pregnancy,” the FDA said. “Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of a pregnancy after implantation, therefore it does not terminate a pregnancy.” Pro-life groups disputed the change, accusing the agency of ignoring science to protect access to the drugs as some states crack down on access to abortifacients.
- Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson issued a ruling on Saturday rejecting efforts by Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake to overturn Democrat Katie Hobbs’ victory last month. Lake, Thompson ruled, “failed to provide enough evidence” to support her claims that printer malfunctions in Maricopa County were intentional and/or meaningfully affected the outcome of the race. “The Court cannot accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence,” Thompson wrote.
- According to a court filing made public last week, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has agreed to pay $725 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica and other third-party groups to access private user data six years ago. The settlement—which does not require Meta to admit to any wrongdoing—still requires final approval from a federal court in the northern district of California.
Title 42 in Limbo
On Christmas Eve, while many Americans were bundling the kids in coats and braving the snow to head to candlelit church services, three buses pulled up outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C., and dropped off more than 100 migrants transported from Texas. Migrant aid groups and church volunteers fed them coffee and tamales, played Christmas carols in Spanish, and helped many reach friends or family in the United States.
The existence of Title 42—a pandemic-era policy that allows border officials to quickly expel migrants without allowing asylum applications otherwise required by law—hasn’t stopped the flow of people trying to enter the country. And as we discussed a few months ago, in the absence of substantive immigration action from Congress, some border states have resorted to chartering buses to take migrants north, while the fight over immigration policy has focused on whether to keep or ditch Title 42. A federal judge ordered the Biden administration to end Title 42 by December 21, but days before its scheduled expiration Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts paused its end pending further review, leaving migrants and border officials in limbo.
Activated in March 2020 purportedly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Title 42 has in the nearly three years since been used less as a public health tool than as a means for managing—and unintentionally increasing—migrant flows. Border officials have completed more than 2.5 million expulsions under Title 42. Because Title 42 expulsions don’t include the threat of deportation and other legal consequences, many solo adult migrants began crossing repeatedly, trying again each time border officials caught and ejected them—inflating the border encounter statistics.