Friday morning news – March 19, 2021

Senate confirms Bacerra as HHS secretary » The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Xavier Bacerra as Health and Human Services Secretary on a nearly straight partyline vote. 

AUDIO: On this vote, the yeas are 50, the nays are 49. The nomination is confirmed. 

Only one Republican voted yes, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. 

GOP senators had numerous concerns about Bacerra—none greater than his record on abortion and religious liberty. As California’s attorney general, Becerra led the prosecution of pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for their hidden camera investigation of Planned Parenthood. 

He also sued the Little Sisters of the Poor in an attempt to force them to provide contraception to employees under Obamacare. 

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters…

MCCONNELL: Yeah, I think he’s uniquely unqualified for that particular position from a variety of different points of view. 

Republicans noted that Becerra has no medical training or experience. 

Before serving as California’s attorney general, he served more than two decades in the U.S. House. 

But senators confirmed another nominee on Thursday with zero controversy. Without opposition, the chamber confirmed veteran diplomat William Burns as CIA director. 

Burns served at the State Department for more than 30 years under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Blinken, Sullivan meet with top Chinese diplomats in Alaska » Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in Anchorage today for meetings with top Chinese diplomats. 

National security adviser Jake Sullivan is joining him for two days of meetings. Both arrived in Alaska on Thursday. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters… 

PSAKI: This meeting, we certainly anticipate, will have difficult components of the conversation. We expect it to be frank. They plan to cover areas where we have concerns.

The top diplomats from both countries are expected to discuss concerns over trade, human rights, COVID-19, and China’s aggression in the South China Sea. 

The White House framed the meeting as a chance for the Biden administration to open a dialogue with Beijing. 

Blinken is just back from meetings with U.S. allies in Japan and South Korea. And before heading home, he had this to say about China: 

BLINKEN: We are clear-eyed about Beijing’s consistent failure to uphold its commitments, and we spoke about how Beijing’s aggressive and authoritarian behavior are challenging the stability, security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry quickly responded, saying—quote—“There’s no room for China to compromise on issues related to sovereign security and core interests.”

Putin reacts angrily over Biden “killer” remark » Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted angrily Thursday to recent remarks by President Biden calling Putin a killer.

Putin shot back, saying, in effect it takes one to know one. He referenced the U.S. history of slavery and injustices against Native Americans. 

Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden is not afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the Kremlin. 

PSAKI: We are confident that we can continue to look for ways where there’s a mutual interest, a mutual and national interest, but the president is not going to hold back, clearly, when he has concerns. 

Biden’s remarks came during an interview with ABC’s Geoge Stephanopoulos who asked if he believes Putin is a killer. Biden responded “I do.” 

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Russian government was behind the near-fatal poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navlany. 

Biden also hinted at forthcoming penalties against Russia. That follows declassified intel reports that Moscow again tried to interfere with last year’s U.S. election. 

EU agency: AstraZeneca vaccine safe, will add clot warning » Health officials in the European Union say that after days of scouring all available data on the AstraZeneca vaccine, they’ve reached a “clear scientific conclusion”… 

COOKE: This is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s benefits in protecting people from COVID-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalization outweigh the possible risks. 

The head of the European Medicines Agency, Emer Cooke, said the EMA studied data related to a small number of cases in which people developed blood clots after receiving the vaccine. She said she found no evidence that the AstraZeneca shots increase the risk of clots. But they also can’t rule it out. 

With in mind, the EMA’s Dr. Sabine Straus said that the agency’s risk assessment committee… 

SABINE: Has recommended to add a warning to the SMPC and the patient leaflets so that the information should be provided to the healthcare professionals and to the public. 

Several EU nations had suspended their use of the vaccine over the past week as health officials investigated reports of clots. 

But with only a few dozen cases out of millions who have received the shot and no confirmed link to the vaccine, Emer Cooke said “If it were me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow.”

Severe storms strike Southeastern U.S. » Severe thunderstorms ripped through the Southeast on Thursday, knocking out power to more than 70,000 homes and businesses. 

In southeastern Mississippi, residents today are cleaning up broken glass, twisted metal and toppled trees after a tornado touched down in Wayne County.   

AUDIO: When I seen it I knew and I jumped behind the recliner and just hung on and in 10 seconds it was gone, but if it would have lasted a little bit longer, I probably wouldn’t be here. 

Several states reported possible tornadoes and more than a half-dozen states received hail and damaging winds. In Alabama, some reported baseball-sized hail. 

As of early this morning, the severe weather system was pushing up the Atlantic seaboard.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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