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The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, and 10 other members or associates have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Despite hundreds of charges already brought in the year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, these were the first seditious conspiracy charges levied in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

It marked a serious escalation in the largest investigation in the Justice Department’s history – more than 700 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes – and highlighted the work that has gone into piecing together the most complicated cases. The charges rebut, in part, the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers who have publicly challenged the seriousness of the insurrection, arguing that since no one had been charged yet with sedition or treason, it could not have been so violent.

The indictment alleges Oath Keepers for weeks discussed trying to overturn the election results and preparing for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans. They repeatedly wrote in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one text, “to scare the s—-out of” Congress. And on Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers and smashed windows, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers running.

Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their associates worked as if they were going to war, discussing weapons and training. Days before the attack, one defendant suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.

Two brand-new COVID-19 pills that were supposed to be an important weapon against the pandemic in the U.S. are in short supply and have played little role in the fight against the omicron wave of infections.

The problem, in part, is that production is still being ramped up and the medicines can take anywhere from five to eight months to manufacture.

While the supply is expected to improve dramatically in the coming months, doctors are clamoring for the pills now, not just because omicron is causing an explosion of cases but because two antibody drugs that were once the go-to treatments don’t work as well against the variant.

“This should be a really joyous time because we now have highly effective antiviral pills,” said Erin McCreary, a pharmacist and administrator at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Instead, this feels like the hardest and most chaotic stretch of the pandemic.”

The pills — and other COVID-19 drugs, for that matter — are being carefully rationed, reserved for the highest-risk patients.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans, along with “high-quality masks,” as he highlighted his efforts to “surge” resources to help the country weather the spike in coronavirus cases.

Biden also announced that starting next week 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant. Speaking at the White House, he said six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.

Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.

Biden acknowledged that, “I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year” as virus cases reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people test positive for the virus, but Biden noted medical figures showing that people are far less likely to suffer serious illness and death if they’ve received a shot: “What happens after that could not be more different.”

Prince Andrew has been stripped of his honorary military roles as the growing furor over allegations that he sexually abused a teenage girl trafficked by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein threatened to taint the House of Windsor.

Buckingham Palace said late Thursday that Queen Elizabeth II had also agreed that Andrew, 61, will give up his honorary leadership of various charities, known as royal patronages.

He will also no longer use the title “his royal highness in official settings, British media said.

The decision is an effort to insulate the monarchy from the fallout from potentially years of sordid headlines as Andrew vows to fight a lawsuit filed by an American woman, Virginia Giuffre, who alleges she was forced to have sex with the prince when she was 17. A New York judge on Wednesday rejected Andrew’s effort to have the suit dismissed, increasing the chances that he will have to testify in the case if it goes to trial.

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“With The Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen,” the palace said, using the prince’s formal title. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”

Earth simmered to the sixth hottest year on record in 2021, according to several newly released temperature measurements.

And scientists say the exceptionally hot year is part of a long-term warming trend that shows hints of accelerating.

Two U.S. science agencies — NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and a private measuring group released their calculations for last year’s global temperature on Thursday, and all said it wasn’t far behind ultra-hot 2016 and 2020.

Six different calculations found 2021 was between the fifth and seventh hottest year since the late 1800s. NASA said 2021 tied with 2018 for sixth warmest, while NOAA puts last year in sixth place by itself.

Scientists say a La Nina — natural cooling of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns globally and brings chilly deep ocean water to the surface — dampened global temperatures just as its flip side, El Nino, boosted them in 2016.

California’s governor on Thursday rejected releasing Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan from prison more than a half-century after the 1968 slaying that the governor called one of America’s “most notorious crimes.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has cited RFK as his political hero, rejected a recommendation from a two-person panel of parole commissioners. Newsom said Sirhan poses an unreasonable threat to public safety.

“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” Newsom wrote in his decision. “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”

He said factors in his decision including Sirhan’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crime, his lack of insight and the accountability required to support his safe release, his failure to disclaim violence committed in his name, and his failure to mitigate his risk factors.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is considering allowing the nation’s largest school district to return to some form of virtual instruction as the city weathers a wave of coronavirus cases, a reversal from his pledge a week ago to keep children in schools.

Adams said at a news conference Thursday that he still believes the safest place for children to be is in school, “but we do have to be honest that there’s a substantial number of children, for whatever reason, parents are not bringing them to school.”

Attendance levels since students returned from winter break have been lower than usual, with anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of students not showing up to class most days. As of Wednesday, attendance district-wide was 76 percent, according to city Department of Education numbers. In a district of nearly a million students, that means about 220,000 were either out sick or otherwise missing school.

More than 100 schools reported attendance of less than 60 percent, and more than 50 reported less than half of all students attending class Wednesday.

All but acknowledging defeat, President Joe Biden said Thursday he’s “not sure” the Democrats’ major elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year. He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle the bill past a Republican filibuster.

Biden had come to the Capitol to prod Democratic senators in a closed-door meeting, but he was not optimistic when he emerged. He vowed to keep fighting for the sweeping legislation that advocates say is vital to protecting elections.

“The honest to God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” Biden said. He told reporters, his voice rising, “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”

Sinema all but dashed the bill’s chances minutes earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support a “short sighted” rules change.

She said in a speech on the Senate floor that the answer to divisiveness in the Senate and in the country is not to change filibuster rules so one party, even hers, can pass controversial bills.

Navient, a major student loan collecting company, agreed to cancel $1.7 billion in debt owed by more than 66,000 borrowers across the U.S. and pay over $140 million in other penalties to settle allegations of abusive lending practices.

The settlement with 39 state attorneys general was announced Thursday.

Navient “engaged in deceptive and abusive practices, targeted students who it knew would struggle to pay loans back, and placed an unfair burden on people trying to improve their lives through education,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who helped lead the negotiations, said in a statement.

Among other things, he said, Navient misled borrowers who were having trouble making payments into entering what are known as long-term forbearances, which caused them to run up even more debt.

— The Associated Press

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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