In our news wrap Thursday, the Biden administration pledged a $3 billion investment in the nation's COVID-19 vaccine supply chain. First-time claims for unemployment benefits in the U.S. have fallen to a new low during the pandemic. Calmer winds in Northern California are giving firefighters the break they need to step up their efforts against the sprawling Caldor Fire.
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In the day's other news: The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Texas law that bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
In a 5-to-4 vote before midnight Wednesday, the court denied an emergency appeal from abortion providers to block enforcement of the law. Today, in a statement, President Biden called the decision — quote — "unprecedented assault on a woman's constitutional rights."
But the unsigned majority opinion did suggest other legal challenges could be brought. We will have more on this after the news summary.
Calmer winds in Northern California are giving firefighters the break they need to step up their efforts against the sprawling Caldor Fire. The flames are creeping closer to Lake Tahoe and neighboring Nevada, and are only 25 percent contained. But fire officials say they hope to gain more ground as weather conditions improve.
Jim Dudley, Meteorologist, Caldor Fire Incident:
Getting into Friday, the winds get even lighter. Friday is a very, very light wind day across the entire fire.
So the issues and conditions that weather was causing, especially for the last couple of days, are going to be mitigated by much lighter winds across the fire.
The fire has destroyed more than 800 structures and threatens 33,000 more.
Late yesterday, President Biden declared a state of emergency in California and ordered federal assistance to help with the disaster relief efforts.
The Biden administration today pledged a $3 billion investment in the nation's COVID-19 vaccine supply chain. It will focus on manufacturers of items like syringes and companies that fill and package vaccine vials.
White House COVID adviser Jeffrey Zients said that the funding will start to be disbursed in the coming weeks.
Jeffrey Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator:
This $3 billion investment in our vaccine supply chain will create thousands of good-paying American jobs, help us deliver on the president's commitment to be the arsenal of vaccines for the world, and strengthen our long-term capabilities to respond to future threats.
Also today, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged that it's possible Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will need a third shot to be considered fully vaccinated.
But he said that a final decision would have to be made by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits have fallen to a new low during the pandemic. The Labor Department reported 340,000 Americans filed jobless claims last week. That's down 14,000 from the previous week. This comes as millions of out-of-work Americans will lose their federal unemployment aid when it expires on Monday.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban said they intend to reopen Kabul's civilian airport within days, with help of Turkey and Qatar. Armed Taliban fighters are now guarding the gates at Hamid Karzai International Airport, conducting vehicle checks, and patrolling the area.
The Qatari foreign minister said they're preparing to resume flights soon.
Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatari Foreign Minister:
There is no clear indication when it is going to be fully operational yet but we are working very hard and also engaging with Taliban to identify what are the gaps and the risks for having the airport back up and running.
That comes as the United Nations says that its humanitarian air service has resumed operations in Afghanistan. Three flights have already landed at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, allowing 160 aid organizations to continue working in the country.
Back in the United States, Virginia's Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that the state can take down a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in its capital, Richmond. Two lawsuits had been filed by Virginia residents trying to block its removal. Governor Ralph Northam announced his intent to remove the statue last year. That was days after the police killing of George Floyd triggered protests against racial injustice both in Richmond and across the country.
Prosecutors in Minnesota have filed a more serious charge of first-degree manslaughter against a white former suburban Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop in April. She had already been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
And, in Georgia, a grand jury indicted a former prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery case for misconduct. She's accused of preventing the men who killed Arbery from being charged with crimes right after his shooting.
And today's better-than-expected unemployment report pushed stocks higher on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 131 points to close at 35444. The Nasdaq rose 22 points, to set a new record high. And the S&P 500 added 13 for another record.