5 things to know for February 17: Ukraine, Covid-19, government shutdown, Brazil, no-fly list

Here is what you need to know for today

By Alexandra Meeks

A Ukrainian serviceman carries an anti-tank weapon during military exercises this week.

1
Ukraine

Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders have increased by about 7,000 troops in recent days, despite claims from Moscow it was pulling back military units. That is according to a senior US administration official, who warned President Vladimir Putin’s public openness to diplomacy was a guise. New estimates indicate Russia now has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine. Western leaders have previously expressed skepticism about Moscow’s assertion it was sending some troops back to base, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview Wednesday that there is “a difference between what Russia says and what it does.” Separately, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this weekend to discuss new ways the US and allies can possibly deter Russia from an invasion.

2
Coronavirus

The US government plans to make high-quality masks available for kids, a senior adviser to the White House told CNN yesterday. The move appears to be an extension of the Biden administration’s ongoing effort to distribute 400 million free N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile for the public to access at pharmacies and community health centers nationwide. About 230 million of those masks have already been delivered to those locations. Last month, the federal government began distribution of 1 billion free Covid-19 tests directly to households. More than 50 million households have already received their tests, and millions more are on the way, officials said.

3
Government shutdown

US lawmakers have less than two days to pass a short-term funding extension to avoid a government shutdown on Friday. It remains unclear when the Senate will vote on the continuing resolution, which would keep the government open by extending funding through March 11. Discussions about the measure are being delayed by some Republicans who are making demands tied to the vote. A group of six conservative senators specifically said they would oppose the expedited passage of the resolution unless they get a vote to defund the remaining vaccine mandates the Biden administration imposed. Complicating matters further, some Democrats are absent due to personal and family reasons, causing concern the party may be short of votes needed to defeat the Republican amendments.

4
Brazil

At least 94 people have died in the Brazilian mountain city of Petropolis after heavy rains triggered landslides that washed out streets, swept away cars and buried homes, local officials said yesterday. The city, located in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state, had more rain in one afternoon than the historical average for the entire month of February, the Civil Defense of Rio said. The department also declared a state of public calamity. More people are missing, but it’s unclear how many at this time, Rio officials said. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently on a trip to Russia, said he had spoken to ministers and asked for “immediate assistance” to be sent to the victims.

5
No-fly list

Several major US airlines are asking the federal government to create a coordinated “no-fly list” for violent and disruptive passengers, but their request is being met by pushback from GOP lawmakers. A group of Republican senators is arguing the mandate would seemingly equate unruly passengers to terrorists “who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland,” the senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland this week. While airlines may ban an unruly passenger from their own flights, competition rules mean that information is not shared with other carriers, so unruly individuals can easily fly on different carriers after violent or disruptive incidents. Nearly 500 unruly passenger incidents have been reported in the first six weeks of 2022, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration, and 80 incidents have been referred to the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution.