NPR News

Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm seized on the bruising winter weather that left millions of Texans without heat and electricity last week to press for reform of the state's power systems, arguing that pivoting to a clean energy economy can ensure a dependable grid and help create jobs.

An explosion ripped through the hull of an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman, reportedly leaving holes in each side of the vessel. Officials said the crew and vessel are safe, but there was no immediate explanation for the blast in a waterway that has a history of attacks on shipping blamed on Iran.

The National Hurricane Center says it will begin issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks in May, weeks before the June 1 beginning of hurricane season. The federal agency is also considering moving up the official start date of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Named systems have formed in the Atlantic prior to the official start of the season in each of the last six years. In 2020, there were two named systems before June 1, tropical storms Arthur and Bertha.

The Senate parliamentarian, a critical but often low-profile arbiter of the chamber's procedural actions, is the subject of frustration from some liberals after a crucial blow to Democrats' agenda late Thursday.

Elizabeth MacDonough is the unelected, nonpartisan interpreter of chamber rules, commonly referred to as the Senate referee. She nixed a Democratic push to add a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage increase to President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan.

The reason?

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

President Biden arrived in Texas on Friday to inspect the damage from a sequence of strong winter storms and intense cold. The system thrust much of Texas into record low temperatures, knocking out power and bursting pipes. Dozens of people died, including several who were reportedly killed by hypothermia in their homes.

Updated 2:12 p.m. ET

With coronavirus infections on a steady, six weeks long descent in the U.S., it's clear the worst days of the brutal winter surge have waned. Yet researchers are still not sure how sustainable the decline is. And a small but concerning uptick in cases in the last three days has health officials on edge.

The owner of British Airways is calling for digital health passes for passengers as a step toward getting airlines back in the sky after devastating losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nigerian authorities are searching for hundreds of schoolgirls who were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in a raid early Friday morning, according to police in the northwestern state of Zamfara.

Shamima Begum, who left London in 2015 to join ISIS, cannot return to Britain while she fights to restore her citizenship, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled on Friday. Begum was 15 when she ran away to Syria with two friends; she's now being held in a detention camp in northern Syria.

North Korea is using forced labor from its network of prison camps to mine coal and other minerals to boost exports and earn foreign currency, using the cash to support its nuclear weapons programs, according to a South Korean human rights group.

A report by the Seoul-based Citizens' Alliance for North Korea Human Rights said an intricate network of government ministries and other entities relies on prison labor and other illicit operations to bring in money to the isolated Asian country.

Two titans of Silicon Valley, Facebook and Apple, are in a bitter fight that centers on the iPhone data of millions of people and whether companies should be able to track that data as easily as they do now.

Facebook believes the answer is yes. On Wednesday, it even unveiled a video voiced by Grace Jones aimed at currying the public's favor.

Despite a lifelong struggle with panic attacks, Divya Singh made a brave move across the world last fall from her home in Mumbai, India. She enrolled at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., to study physics and explore an interest in stand-up comedy in Manhattan.

One of the key aims of President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is to send money to people who were already at risk of falling behind on bills or slipping into poverty.

Democrats say the relief bill set to pass the House Friday includes several new programs intended to create a new social safety net that some in the party are comparing to a new, smaller version of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

Nearly eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, Democrats in Virginia are poised to enact state-level legislation they say would boost voter protections.

Backers of the Virginia Voting Rights Act say it's the most comprehensive bill of its kind — and the first in the South. The legislation cleared a final vote on Thursday and now goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

For President Biden, it's a $1.9 trillion gamble.

If successful, his "American Rescue Plan" will help struggling families and businesses weather an unprecedented pandemic and provide a boost to a badly dented economy. It's also broadly popular with voters.

Critics, however, worry it will be end up being a poorly targeted plan that squanders trillions in borrowed money in ways that will do little to improve the nation's long-term economic outlook.

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