Lawmakers grill Facebook exec over Instagrams impact on teens after internal research leak

Facebook’s safety head was questioned by lawmakers on Thursday over what the company knew about the potential for Instagram to be harmful to young users’ mental health.

The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security convened the hearing in the wake of a Wall Street Journal investigation citing Facebook’s own internal research, allegedly leaked by a whistleblower, that found Instagram adversely impacted mental health issues in teens, especially girls. Among the findings were that Instagram made body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teens.

The Journal’s reporting has sparked a fierce backlash amid accusations the tech giant publicly downplayed what it knew about how potentially harmful Instagram could be while also doing nothing to prevent it.

“We’re here today because Facebook has shown us once again that it is incapable of holding itself accountable,” Committee Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in his opening remarks. “This month, a whistleblower approached my office to provide information about Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to documents provided by that whistleblower, as well as extensive public reporting by The Wall Street Journal and others, we now have deep insight into Facebook’s relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users.”

“We now know that Facebook routinely puts profits ahead of kids’ online safety,” he added. “We know it chooses the growth of its products over the well-being of our children, and we now know that it is in defensively delinquent in acting to protect them.”

In the wake of the Wall Street Journal expose, Facebook announced earlier this week that it was “pausing” development of an Instagram for Kids platform, but stopped short of scrapping it.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, faced bipartisan scrutiny as she defended the company during the hearing that lasted some three hours. She denied Blumenthal’s claims.

“We understand that recent reporting has raised a lot of questions about our internal research, including research we do to better understand young people’s experiences on Instagram,” Davis stated in written testimony. “We strongly disagree with how this reporting characterized our work, so we want to be clear about what that research shows, and what it does not show.”

“We undertook this work to inform internal conversations about teens’ most negative perceptions of Instagram,” she added. “It did not measure causal relationships between Instagram and real-world issues.”

Davis said the reporting “implied that the results were surprising and that we hid this research,” which she said wasn’t true and that the company has discussed the “strengths and weaknesses of social media and well-being publicly for more than a decade.”

She also highlighted aspects of Facebook’s in-house research that she said the Journal didn’t include in recent stories, such as reports that Instagram made “sadness” and “loneliness” better for a majority of teenage girls.

Davis said they have removed some 600,000 accounts on Instagram alone between June and August for not meeting the age requirement of 13 years old. She also said the company has “put in place multiple protections to create safe and age-appropriate experiences for people between the ages of 13 and 17.”

The hearing comes as Big Tech has come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over myriad issues, from allowing the spread of misinformation to allegations of political censorship. Lawmakers on Thursday compared Instagram’s policies to Big Tobacco’s previous tactics to attract users before there was government intervention.

Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of communication at Cornell University whose research focuses on the intersection of media, culture and technology, told ABC News via email on Thursday that Big Tech’s self-regulation hasn’t worked.

Remarks from Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., referring to “traditional media’s regulation of material for children — including limitations on advertising that have long guided the television industry — attest to a growing recognition that external regulation of the platforms is critical,” Duffy said. “While Big Tech has long flaunted its mechanisms of self-regulation, these have failed — and continue to fail — its users.”

Duffy said another key takeaway from Davis’ testimony was “a refusal to agree to a long-term promise to abandon plans of further developing Instagram for Kids.” She called the initiative “part of a long-term strategy by Big Tech to court younger — and less witting — users who the platforms can inevitably collect data from.”

Lawmakers on Thursday called for the need to update the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

In prepared remarks, Davis defended building an Instagram “for tweens,” noting that other companies such as YouTube and TikTok already have developed versions of their app for those under 13.

“The principle is the same: It’s much better for kids to use a safer, more age-appropriate version of social media apps than the alternative,” Davis said. “That said, we recognize how important it is to get this right.”

“We have heard your concerns, and that is why we announced that we are pausing the project to take more time,” she added. “We’ll keep listening to parents, keep talking with policymakers and regulators, keep taking guidance from experts and researchers, and we’ll revisit this project at a later date.”

Anti-DeSantis PACs new ad mocked as unintentionally helpful to Florida governor

A left-wing PAC’s new ad attacking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R., over his coronavirus leadership was roasted Thursday as an unintentional ad for moving to his state.

The ad from “Remove Ron” features a plane entering Florida’s airspace as passengers are required to listen to DeSantis discuss COVID-19 policy, such as his opposition to vaccine passports, and how he won’t force Floridians into lockdowns, mandates, and COVID restrictions.

Comparing the scene in Florida to the dystopia of “The Purge” movie franchise, the ad’s narrator notes visitors don’t have to get a vaccine or wear masks, and features fake headlines from made-up newspapers like “The Tampa Bay Terror Times.”

Yet the ad’s dark tone juxtaposed with DeSantis’ rhetoric about trusting Floridians to make their own decisions regarding COVID-19 measures amused conservatives.


“This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke tweeted.

“I feel like I’m being punk’d and this is actually a pro-DeSantis ad,” the New York Post’s Karol Markowicz tweeted.

GOP strategist Matt Whitlock likened the ad to one from the left-wing Lincoln Project, known for its vitriolic, melodramatic ads that often failed to reach the voters it claimed to target but delighted liberal media members.

DeSantis has weathered fire from the Biden administration and mainstream media for his opposition to lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates to combat the virus, while keeping the Florida economy largely open throughout the pandemic. 


DeSantis’ outspoken press secretary Christina Pushaw couldn’t resist weighing in.

“What scares Very Online Liberals the most: The freedom to think for themselves,” she tweeted.

Florida ranks 20th among the 50 states in the percentage of fully vaccinated people, according to a New York Times tracker, while ranking 10th-highest in coronavirus deaths per capita.

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during a news conference at a Regeneron monoclonal antibody clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during a news conference at a Regeneron monoclonal antibody clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images
( Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The state experienced a dramatic surge in COVID cases this summer amid the rise of the delta variant, but its cases and hospitalizations have dramatically fallen in the past two weeks, as it has across much of the south. DeSantis is widely viewed as a 2024 Republican presidential contender but has said he’s focused on running for re-election in Florida next year.


“Remove Ron” was started by left-wing attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, known online as the “Grim Reaper” who stalked Florida beaches last year in full costume to scold visitors. His antics were widely mocked due to the comparative lack of outdoor transmission of the virus.

Iran state media promotes video of Kamala Harris not pushing back on Israel ethnic genocide claim

An Iran state media outlet promoted a clip Thursday of Vice President Kamala Harris praising a student who had just accused the United States of funding Israel’s “ethnic genocide” against Palestinians.

Press TV, an Iran-affiliated international outlet, tweeted out the exchange Harris had at Virginia’s George Mason University Tuesday with a female student, who raised questions about U.S. monies provided to allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“I see that over the summer there have been, like, protests and demonstrations in astronomical numbers” about the Palestinian cause, the student said. She went on to note how “just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s ethnic genocide and displacement of people, the same that happened in America, and I’m sure you’re aware of this.”

The student claimed money that could help Americans struggling with housing and health care costs goes instead “to inflaming Israel and backing Saudi Arabia and whatnot.”


Harris said she was “glad” the student voiced her concerns.

“And again, this is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth, should not be suppressed and it must be heard, right? And one of the things we’re fighting for in a democracy, right?” Harris said.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris attends a joint news conference with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris attends a joint news conference with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)
(Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

Harris came under fire for allowing the student’s comment to pass unchecked. Anti-Israel sentiments in the left flank of the Democratic Party have boiled over in recent weeks, particularly over a wrenching debate within the party over whether to provide $1 billion to Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system. 


Press TV frequently pushes anti-Israel propaganda on its outlet, recently expressing hopes that other Middle East countries would not normalize ties with its enemy.

Press TV is a division of the state’s Islamic Republic of Iran broadcasting, which controls television and radio broadcasting in the oppressive country. It has been cited by the Anti-Defamation League for its dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. 

It’s the second time this week Iran state media has promoted a clip involving Harris. After the Biden administration ran with unfounded rumors last week that Border Patrol agents had used their reins to whip or attack Haitian migrants, Harris said the images evoked “slavery” to her.


Press TV eagerly repeated those claims.

Fox News’ Jon Brown contributed to this report.

Mother and 2-year-old who died after falling at Petco Park in San Diego identified

Investigators said the victims’ deaths “appeared to be suspicious.”

The mother and toddler who fell to their deaths at Petco Park before a Padres game in San Diego on Saturday have been identified.

Police identified the victims as Raquel Wilkins, 40, and her 2-year-old son Denzel Browning-Wilkins, residents of San Diego.

Detectives said the mother and son were at the dining and concession area on the third-floor concourse level of the stadium prior to falling to the sidewalk level below.

However, cops have been tight-lipped on how the tragic fall unfolded.

San Diego Police officers assigned to the baseball game were alerted that two people fell at 3:51 p.m. Saturday. Two officers arrived and found the bodies on the sidewalk and performed CPR on the two.

“Due to their traumatic injuries, both were pronounced deceased at the scene,” San Diego Police said in a statement.

Investigators said the victims’ deaths “appeared to be suspicious.”

Police said the investigation is ongoing and detectives are still in the process of interviewing witnesses and attempting to locate evidence.

“How and why this happened are questions on the mind of many, especially the investigators looking for answers in this heartbreaking case,” police said. “Due to the large crowd present at the time of the incident, detectives have been interviewing numerous witnesses and more are coming forward,” police said.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call the Homicide Unit at (619) 531-2293 or Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

Joe Manchin gave topline number of $1.5T for reconciliation bill to Schumer

Sen. Joe Manchin is floating a $1.5 trillion topline for the hotly debated multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation package after a new report revealed he warned Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would only support that number earlier this summer.

In July, Manchin (D-W.V.) and Schumer (D-NY) came to an agreement to start debate on the budget reconciliation “no earlier than October 1, 2021,” with a topline of $1.5 trillion, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by POLITICO. 

Manchin spoke with reporters on Thursday, sticking by that number. 

“As you’ve seen, I think by now, the 1.5 (trillion dollars) was always done from, from my heart, basically [as] what we could do and not jeopardize–not jeopardize our economy,” he said.

Manchin revealed his concern that the current multi-trillion dollar pair of infrastructure bills could harm the economy as well as increase inflation in the “geopolitical fallout” from the Afghanistan withdrawal. 

“I’ll give you a perfect example in West Virginia. I just saw today where Dollar General is no longer a dollar. It’s a dollar and a quarter or a dollar and 50 cents. That’s hard for West Virginia, a lot of people just shop there and it’s all that we have,” he said. 

The Democratic senator revealed he shared his topline with President Biden “in the last week or so,” and confirmed that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who has also said she will not vote for the $3.5 trillion price tag, is aware of his topline.

Following Manchin’s Thursday remarks, Sinema’s office confirmed that she has “shared detailed concerns and priorities, including dollar figures, directly with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and the White House. Claims that the Senator has not detailed her views to President Biden and Senator Schumer are false.”

“While we do not negotiate through the press – because Senator Sinema respects the integrity of those direct negotiations – she continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Senator Schumer to find common ground,” her office said in a statement.

According to POLITICO, Manchin had been distributing the July agreement to his Democratic colleagues to show that he delivered his terms on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. 

Pramila Jayapal along with several other senators have signaled that they will also vote against the infrastructure deal and the budget reconciliation bill if certain demands are not met.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal along with several other lawmakers have signaled they will vote against the infrastructure deal and the budget reconciliation bill if certain demands are not met.

Both Manchin and Schumer signed the agreement, which outlined several spending conditions related to “families and health” and “climate.” 

The document outlines Machin’s proposal of raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, the top tax rate on ordinary income to 39.6 percent, and raising the capital gains tax rate to 28 percent.

The agreement added that “any revenue exceeding $1.5T” would be used for deficit reduction.

“Senator Manchin does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement,” the agreement states. 

Underneath their signatures, there appears to be a note that states “will try to dissuade Joe on some of these.” 

Manchin’s proposal mirrors some of Biden’s proposed tax hikes, including the same top tax rate for individual income. However, they disagree when it comes to the corporate or capital gains tax rate –Biden’s plan would raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and the capital gains tax rate to 39.6 percent. 

Sen. Joe Manchin reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he will not vote in favor of the budget reconciliation bill with a price tag higher than $1.5 trillion.
Sen. Joe Manchin reportedly told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he will not vote in favor of the budget reconciliation bill with a price tag higher than $1.5 trillion.

Earlier this month, House Democrats proposed a separate plan that would increase the corporate tax rate to 26.5 percent, the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent, and the capital gains tax to 25 percent.

A spokesperson for Schumer told POLITICO said that while the Majority leader never “agreed” to Manchin’s conditions, “he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time. 

“Sen. Manchin did not rule out voting for a reconciliation bill that exceeded the ideas he outlined, and Leader Schumer made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill — as he has been for weeks,” the spokesperson added.

The top line number comes as House Democrats scramble to pass the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal. Democratic progressives have said they will not pass the infrastructure deal unless they have an agreement for passage of the massive $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.

Moderates like Manchin and Sinema and progressives like caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have signaled their willingness to kill both in recent days. 

On Wednesday, Manchin said that he would not support $3.5 trillion in social spending, reiterating his calls for Democrats to pause the process. Sinema, too, has said the price tag is too high.

“Every Member of Congress has a solemn duty to vote for what they believe is best for the country and the American people, not their party. Respectfully, as I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party, must ask the simple question – how much is enough?” he said in a statement.

Following Manchin’s comments, Jayapal told reporters that she believes his remarks sparked more progressives to attempt to block the bipartisan bill, singling that it would be dead on arrival in the House. 

While progressives have vowed to vote against the infrastructure deal if the reconciliation package is not passed first, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured Thursday’s vote on the bipartisan bill would move forward, saying, “we are on a path to win the vote.”

On Thursday, Jayapal affirmed that progressives invited Manchin and other Democrats against the bill to “put forward their vision,” but reiterated that they will not vote for the infrastructure bill until the reconciliation package is passed. 

“We’re gonna stay here all weekend if we need to, to see if we can get to a deal,” she told reporters. “But if we can’t, then you know, then we’ll have to continue to work on it until we do.”

Despite Manchin’s new topline, Jayapal vowed to deliver on the “entirety of the president’s agenda. 

“Those negotiations are going on, as I understand it and the White House, the speaker has committed to us that nothing will be agreed to, and because she knows that we have to, we have to sign off on it,” she said.

“I don’t have an offer in front of me, my number is 3.5, our number is 3.5,” she added of Manchin’s topline. “[If] somebody has a different offer than they can put it on the table.”

Justice Samuel Alito says Supreme Court is not a dangerous cabal

Alito said the goal of his lecture at the University of Notre Dame was to “dispel some imaginary shadows” and push back on a notion that he claimed was put forward recently by the media and those in the political sphere that the court was acting in a way, he said, that was “sneaky or dangerous.”

He said the recent criticism was geared to suggest “that a dangerous cabal is deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way, in the middle of the night, hidden from public view.”

Alito’s speech — almost an hour long and coming on the eve of a new term — marked a rare instance of a Supreme Court justice lashing out not only at the media and the political branches, but even at the sentiments that had been expressed by one of his own colleagues.

Alito called the criticism “very misleading,” adding that “there is absolutely nothing new about emergency applications.” The justice then launched into a 10-point rebuttal directed specifically at times at the media and some political actors, defending the court’s practices of late.

He noted the complications surrounding the emergency docket — often referred to as the “shadow docket” and said that the justices do “the best we can” under the time constraints imposed by the situation.

Alito acknowledged that the court has had to resort to the emergency docket more in recent years and said that was due to a series of factors, including that during the Trump administration, “a number of the President’s important initiatives were enjoined by a district court judge.” He also attributed the recent increase to the challenges related to restrictions put in place to combat Covid.

But he defended the factors the court uses to consider the petitions, stressing that the justices weigh the harms claimed by the parties and the probable outcome of the case.

Alito spoke briefly about several issues that had come to the court on the emergency docket in recent months, including those related to Covid restrictions, the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium as well as a controversial order from earlier this month that allowed a Texas abortion law that bars most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy to go into effect.

That order, issued on September 1, caused a firestorm among supporters of abortion rights, effectively barring all abortions in the second-largest state.

How the Supreme Court crafted its Roe v. Wade decision and what it means today How the Supreme Court crafted its Roe v. Wade decision and what it means today

Abortion clinics had asked the justices to block the law while the appeals process played out, and the court declined to do so. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal justices in dissent.

Alito did not mention that in her dissent at the time, Justice Elena Kagan actually did take the opportunity to criticize the majority and the court’s use of the emergency docket.

She noted that the law was written to block Texas officials from enforcing it, and instead allows anyone to bring civil suit against an individual that may have helped someone obtain the procedure.

“Without full briefing or argument, and after less than 72 hours’ thought, this Court greenlights the operation of Texas’s patently unconstitutional law banning most abortions,” Kagan said.

She said the court’s ruling illustrated how far the Court’s ‘shadow docket ‘ decisions may depart form “the usual principles of appellate process.”

In the shadows: Why the Supreme Court's lack of transparency may cost it in the long runIn the shadows: Why the Supreme Court's lack of transparency may cost it in the long run

She noted the ruling was of “great consequence” but that it had only been “hastily” considered by the court. She said the majority barely bothered to explain its conclusion “that a challenge to an obviously unconstitutional enforcement scheme is unlikely to prevail.”

“In all these ways, the majority’s decision is emblematic of too much of this Court’s shadow docket decisionmaking — which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend, ” she said.

In concluding his speech, Alito said he wasn’t suggesting the process was perfect, but that the “political talk” about the shadow docket “feeds unprecedented efforts to intimidate the court or damage it as an independent institution.”

He said he was going to take advice in a book written by Justice Stephen Breyer recently to just “do the job.”

“And I’m confident that is what the court will do in the upcoming term,” Alito concluded.

California synagogue shooter sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole

Under a plea agreement accepted by San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh in July, Earnest, 22, avoided the death penalty.

The stipulated sentence was life in prison without parole, plus 121 years to life and another 16 years in prison.

Armed with an AR-15 style rifle, Earnest, 19 at the time, killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye, who was there to honor her late mother, and injured three others, including the rabbi and an 8-year-old girl, as they worshiped inside a synagogue in the San Diego suburb of Poway. They were among more than four dozen people inside the synagogue at the time.

On Thursday, the court heard from victims and their families.

Kaye’s daughter, Hannah, said she hoped her victim impact statement painted a picture “of what white supremacist, bigoted, racist violence looks, smells, sounds, feels and, yes, even tastes like in America in the 21st century — two years ago and now.”

Feds say man driven by hatred of Jews pleaded guilty to all charges after deadly 2019 assault on California synagogueFeds say man driven by hatred of Jews pleaded guilty to all charges after deadly 2019 assault on California synagogue

“The voice of my mother is reclaimed within my own,” she added. “John Earnest, your bullets will not wreck through my body today as they did my mother’s. She is here. She is alive within my words… You are unable to destroy the truth of my experience as much as you may want to.”

Hannah Kaye remembered her mother was in the hallway of the synagogue waiting for friends when gunfire erupted.

‘I felt my mother die,” she said. “I died with my mother in spirit, watching my father try to revive my mother and fail not only as her husband but as a doctor of 40 plus years.”

Still. Hannah Kaye said, she refused to dehumanize or hate Earnest the same way he did her mother.

“I would like to take this opportunity to recognize, humbly, the possibility of opportunity in being able to stand in front of my mother’s assassin and to be able to speak directly to him and to honor my mother,” she said.

Dr. Howard Kaye, the victim’s husband of 32 years, called Earnest an “evil” man who took the life of a “superior person,” an “accomplished woman” and a “daughter of charity” known for her acts of kindness.

“This takes the bite out of her murder,” he said.

Ellen Edwards recalled the day she was told her sister had been killed. She let out a scream. She remembered struggling to break the news to their 92-year-old father, and the sadness and horror that filled those days.

“I’ll never forget the look on his face when we told him,” she said of her father. “Lori was the apple of his eye.”

She added, “We want you, Mr. Earnest, to rot in prison and never walk a free man. We want you to experience hate, pain and you yourself become a victim to the violent acts that go on in prison… May your life be pure hell on earth.”

Another sister, Randi Grossman, called Earnest the “worst example of humanity” who went after “the best of humanity.”

“Lori was the center of her family, the center of her community,” she said.

California synagogue congregants relive horror of shooting in courtCalifornia synagogue congregants relive horror of shooting in court

Others spoke of the long-term effects of the attack, including pain, trauma and recurring nightmares. Some lamented that Earnest was spared the death penalty, but others wished him a long life in the isolation and loneliness of a prison cell.

Almog Peretz, who was wounded that day, said he still suffers anxiety and panic attacks and that Earnest had “killed both my body and my soul.”

Earnest was not allowed to look at the victims and their families. He sat in a chair, staring at the front of the courtroom and wearing a white mask and green prison uniform.

Judge Deddeh denied Earnest a chance to address the court, saying he didn’t want the proceeding to become “some political forum for him to start making White supremacist or White racist statements.”

In a statement in July, the district attorney’s office said it hoped life in prison for Earnest is “an appropriate resolution to this violent hate crime and we hope it brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the wider community. “

The decision to accept his plea, the office said, came after they consulted with the shooting victims’ families.

Earlier this month, Earnest pleaded guilty to more than a hundred federal hate crime charges — including 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and bodily injury and involving the attempt to kill — in connection to the shooting.

That’s one count for every person who was inside the synagogue, according to federal prosecutrors. As part of that case, prosecutors referenced an open-letter posted online shortly before the shooting that bore Earnest’s name.

The letter was filled with anti-Semitic and White nationalist sentiments, and the author talked about planning the attack in Poway, citing as inspiration the gunman in the 2018 deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh — and the shooter who killed congregants at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

California enters a new phase of the pandemic

Today marks a massive inflection point in California’s pandemic response.

The state is shifting from a phase of protection — marked by the implicit recognition that people had very little control over COVID-19 — to one of action, underscoring that vaccines are free, widely available to most of the population and key to bringing the pandemic to a close. Ending today: California’s statewide eviction moratorium, its ban on power shutoffs and its expanded paid sick leave program. (Its ban on water shutoffs, also originally set to end today, was recently extended through Dec. 31.) Starting today: California health care workers must be fully vaccinated or face consequences.

The expiration of three key pandemic safety net programs comes a few weeks after benefits were cut off to 2.2 million of the 3 million Californians receiving some form of unemployment insurance. And although protections remain — the state is rolling out $2 billion to help residents cover unpaid utility bills and $2.6 billion in rent relief — it may not be enough to keep people afloat. A recent National Equity Atlas analysis, for example, found that about 724,000 California households still owe $2.5 billion in rent.

Perhaps to lessen the sting of the eviction moratorium ending, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed into law a package of bills to connect homeless Californians with housing and behavioral health services. He also emphasized that some cities and counties are keeping local eviction bans in place and that tenants can still get help paying rent. To learn more, check out this comprehensive FAQ from CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias.

Meanwhile, fears of an employee exodus due to California’s vaccine mandate for health care workers appear to have been mostly unfounded. Major hospital systems — including Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, Stanford Health Care, UC Davis Medical Center and Keck Medicine — say they have vaccination rates of 90% or higher, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. But hospitals and health care facilities aren’t required to routinely report staff vaccination and exemption rates to the state or to the public — making it difficult to determine how many exemptions were granted and whether certain regions or sectors of workers are lagging behind.

Other mandates are facing more pushback. Los Angeles County employees are facing a Friday deadline to be fully vaccinated — which union representatives are calling “a scare tactic rather than a reasonable personnel policy.” They’re pushing for an extension — something the city of San Diego granted its workers this week, bumping the vaccination deadline from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1. The San Francisco Police Department is preparing to potentially lose hundreds of personnel ahead of an Oct. 13 vaccination deadline. And an Oct. 15 inoculation deadline is looming for employees of Los Angeles Unified School District — 20% of whom are currently unvaccinated.

For the record: This article was updated to clarify that the deadline for water shutoffs was recently extended.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 4,482,881 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 68,517 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 49,280,271 vaccine doses, and 70.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters is tracking the results of the Newsom recall election and the top 21 bills state lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk.

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1. A sluggish economic recovery

Photo via iStock

California’s economy will recover more slowly than expected due to the unpredictability of the delta variant, according to a quarterly report released Wednesday by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Despite having by far the nation’s lowest coronavirus positivity rate, California’s unemployment rate has essentially remained stagnant for months and in August was the second-highest in the country at 7.5%. The UCLA economists predict the Golden State’s unemployment rate will average 7.6% this year before improving to 5.6% in 2022 and 4.4% in 2023 — still above its pre-pandemic level of 4.2%. That’s a slower pace of improvement than forecasted for the national economy, in part because of California’s reliance on the hard-hit tourism, leisure and hospitality industries.

In an apparent bid to boost both consumer and worker confidence, California is turning to stricter safety measures — but not all parts of the state are following suit. The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday delayed until next week a vote on whether to require adults to show proof of vaccination to enter nearly any indoor establishment, while the county eased vaccine and testing requirements for theme parks. Also Wednesday, Santa Cruz County lifted its indoor mask mandate and Sacramento County signaled it might soon follow suit — a day after San Francisco expressed openness to the idea.

2. Thurmond in hot water

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond at a press conference at Blue Oak Elementary School in Shingle Springs on Oct. 31, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

It hasn’t been a good week for California’s statewide elected officials. On Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported that Treasurer Fiona Ma — who is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former employee — frequently shared hotel rooms with staff, a practice she said saved the state money. And on Wednesday, Politico reported that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond allegedly created such a hostile and toxic work environment that nearly two dozen top officials have fled the agency since 2019, when he took over as California’s schools chief. It’s the latest story to raise questions about how Thurmond is wielding the power of his office — in March, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reported that Thurmond had remained largely behind the scenes during the pandemic, despite the disruption to 6 million students’ education.

A few examples illustrating the level of turnover at the California Department of Education since Thurmond took over:

  • Nine officials have been assigned to help oversee State Special Schools, which leads education for deaf and blind students.
  • Thurmond has had three directors of communications and three chief deputies of public instruction — the department’s No. 2 officer — in less than three years.

In a sign that Thurmond is taking the allegations seriously ahead of next year’s election, he retained Nathan Click, a longtime Newsom spokesman, as a crisis communications consultant. And a Wednesday press conference at which Thurmond was scheduled to unveil “a new effort to improve African American student achievement in the state” was cancelled, though the superintendent did visit a wildfire-affected school to pass out face masks and gift cards.

3. Chiu to vacate Assembly seat

Assemblymember David Chiu speaks to the press on Sept. 11, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California’s nonstop game of political musical chairs revved up on Wednesday, when San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed Assemblymember David Chiu as San Francisco’s next city attorney. Chiu is slated to take over on Nov. 1 for Dennis Herrera, whom Breed nominated to lead the city’s Public Utilities Commission after its previous director was charged by the FBI for accepting bribes. Although Chiu — who represents the eastern side of San Francisco and is one of the state Legislature’s most progressive Democrats — hasn’t yet submitted his official resignation, his imminent departure has set off a flurry of activity in San Francisco, with four candidates already announcing their intention to run for his Assembly seat. And it will likely cause a tumult in Sacramento as Democrats angle to replace Chiu as chairperson of the Housing and Community Development Committee, one of the highest-profile housing posts in the state. In addition to spearheading California’s 2019 cap on rent hikes and its pandemic eviction ban, Chiu was one of the legislature’s most vocal critics of the beleaguered unemployment department

In other San Francisco news, a judge took the unusual step Wednesday of blasting District Attorney Chesa Boudin for running an office marred by “disorganization” and “constant turnover,” accusing Boudin of focusing more on the “national or state stage” than on the “unglamorous yet necessary work of public prosecution.”

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Women on corporate boards is good for business: A federal judge’s recent decision to reconsider challenges to California’s law requiring public companies to appoint women to their boards is bad news for investors, argues California State Controller Betty Yee.

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Other things worth your time

Local complaints, state investigation dogs COVID-19 test company Medivolve. // Santa Rosa Press Democrat

California school boards to Newsom: Protect us from abuse. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s ban on all-white-male boardrooms is spreading. // Los Angeles Times

Britney Spears’ father is suspended as her conservator. // New York Times

California fire chief’s pension reduction could go to state Supreme Court. // Sacramento Bee

Former S.F. Realtors president illegally started construction on home —potentially twice, city says. // San Francisco Chronicle

Former Oakland building inspector fined for bribery in city’s largest-ever ethics investigation. // Mercury News

Why ADUs have made little progress in solving Sacramento’s housing crisis. // Sacramento Bee

New high-rise will house homeless people on city’s skid row. // Los Angeles Times

A design history of Los Angeles’ dingbat apartment buildings. // Bloomberg

Fate of Berkeley’s historic but crime-riddled People’s Park goes to UC regents. // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland councilmember who’s called for more police resources is first to enter mayor’s race. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inside the San Francisco Bay Area’s pandemic murder surge: ‘No one knows this pain but us.’ // The Guardian

In the Antelope Valley, sheriff’s deputies settle schoolyard disputes. Black teens bear the brunt. // LAist

Animal rights activists protest outside Gavin Newsom’s Fair Oaks home. // Sacramento Bee

As animal hospitals struggle with vet shortages, pet owners worry about access to care. // San Francisco Chronicle

Lake Tahoe, sequoias survived wildfires thanks to forest thinning, but much more is needed, researchers say. // Wall Street Journal

Southern Sierra wildfires wiping out giant sequoia trees for second year in a row. // San Francisco Chronicle

4th graders can get a free annual pass to visit California parks. //

Bay Area teen’s idea lost a science fair, but now it’s saving babies’ lives. // Mercury News

See you tomorrow.

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Government shutdown and Infrastructure bill vote in Congress: Live updates

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to weigh in on Sen. Joe Manchin’s $1.5 trillion top line on a reconciliation package during Thursday’s White House briefing, telling reporters, “As we’ve said many times, we’re not going to outline private negotiations or private discussions, and we’ll let the senators speak for that, as Senator Manchin did earlier today.”

“The way the President sees it, is that this is an ongoing discussion, an ongoing negotiation. Here’s what we know. We know that timelines helped make progress. We’ve seen that play out over the course of the last couple of days. We know that compromise is inevitable. We’ve also seen that play out over the last couple of days. And right now, we’re clearly in the thick of it,” Psaki said.

Earlier Thursday, moderate Democratic Sen. Manchin made clear Thursday that $1.5 trillion was the price tag he was willing to settle on for his party’s plan to expand the social safety net, putting him $2 trillion away from the lowest number progressive Democrats have said they would accept. Manchin said he informed President Biden that was his number, and Biden said he needed more than that. “I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” Manchin said. “I’m willing to come from zero to 1.5 (trillion).”

Pressed by CNN’s Phil Mattingly on the wide gap between Manchin’s proposal and the White House’s proposed $3.5 trillion price tag, Psaki struck an optimistic tone, saying, “I think the President views this as the last several days, and even longer than that, his view is we’ve made some progress. You’ve seen some members come down, you’ve seen some members come up. You’ve seen active negotiations, he’s obviously been hard at work with them himself.”

“And what we clearly see is an agreement about the need to get this done, whether it’s the infrastructure bill, or the reconciliation practice package, which has key priorities for the president,” Psaki added.

Psaki would not say if Biden planned to remain in Washington this weekend, telling reporters, “we’re taking it hour by hour here on making a decision and determination about what’s most needed.” 

“So, as it relates to what’s even going to happen this afternoon, we’re open, he’s available, he’s been making calls this morning, he’s open to having visitors, he’s open to going places, but we’re going to make those decisions, hour by hour, so the weekend’s a little bit away, but I will tell you that this is the President’s top priority right now,” she said, adding the White House is “working towards,” a framework that can unlock the infrastructure vote later today.

Olympic gold medalist Klete Keller pleads guilty to felony after joining Capitol riot

The former Olympic swimmer pleaded guilty to a single felony charge.

Former U.S. Olympic swimmer Klete Keller pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single felony charge for his participation in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Keller, a two-time gold-medalist, was seen in videos wearing a Team USA jacket in the Capitol rotunda surrounded by other members of the pro-Trump mob.

He was indicted on seven federal counts in February, but in a deal reached with prosecutors he pleaded guilty to only a single count of obstructing an official proceeding, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. Keller, however, is likely to receive a far lighter sentence after entering into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors.

A separate Jan. 6 defendant who pleaded guilty to the same obstruction charge, Paul Hodgkins, was sentenced to eight months in prison in July.

In charging documents, prosecutors said that while in the Capitol rotunda, Keller filmed law enforcement officers who were seeking to block the crowd from advancing through the building and at one point shook officers off him who were trying to remove him from the area.

He also was captured on video yelling, “F*** Nancy Pelosi,” and “F*** Chuck Schumer,” prosecutors said.

Following his participation in the riot, Keller said that that he destroyed his phone and memory card and threw away his Team USA jacket.

Keller is next set to next appear before a judge in December, when prosecutors and his attorney will provide an update on the progress of his cooperation with the government. It’s not clear when Keller will be sentenced.

More than 80 individuals have so far pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the riot at the Capitol. At least 620 have been arrested for crimes relating to the Capitol breach, according to an ABC News analysis of public court documents, and the FBI is continuing to seek tips on the identities of hundreds more.