5 things to know Friday

House Republicans to decide Rep. Cheney replacement

Several lawmakers are expected to reconvene Friday to decide who will replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the chair of the House Republican Conference. The overwhelming expectation is Rep. Elise Stefanik will be voted to take over the position. The New York congresswoman has already been endorsed by party leaders like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and former president Donald Trump, who called her the “superior” choice to Cheney. Cheney was removed from her leadership position Wednesday amid her continued outspoken criticism of Trump. 

Israeli tanks pound Gaza ahead of possible incursion

Israeli artillery pounded Gaza early Friday as part of a large operation to attempt to destroy a vast network of tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and airstrikes, the military said. The operation has brought the front lines closer to dense civilian areas and paves the way for a potential ground invasion. Israel has troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists following days of fighting with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three apartment blocks. An exiled senior Hamas leader said his group has turned down a proposal for a cease fire, adding that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.

More states begin lifting mask mandates after updated CDC guidance

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday he would sign executive orders Friday ending the mask mandate he enacted by emergency authority last July. The move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier Thursday new masking guidelines that carry welcome words: Fully vaccinated Americans, with just a few exceptions, no longer need to wear masks indoors. The agency also said fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks outdoors, even in crowded spaces. The announcement represents a quantum shift in recommendations and a major loosening of the mask restrictions that Americans have had to live with since COVID-19 became a major part of U.S. life in early 2020. States across the nation – including Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania  – already have adopted the CDC guidelines and loosened their mask mandates after Thursday’s announcement.  

WNBA’s 25th season tips off

The 2021 WNBA season — the league’s 25th — gets started Friday with eight of the league’s 12 teams in action. The first game of the night will see the Indiana Fever take on the New York Liberty in Brooklyn, New York (7 p.m. ET on NBA TV). However, the game of the night appears to be the Phoenix Mercury traveling to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Lynx, a matchup of two teams that made the playoffs last season. Fans will also get a first look at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, Charli Collier, when the Dallas Wings take the floor against a new-look Los Angeles Sparks team that traded star forward Candace Parker in February.  

Barry Jenkins’ ‘The Underground Railroad’ streams on Amazon

The Oscar-winning director of “Moonlight” brings Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” to TV in a hard-to-watch adaptation that’s a huge achievement, our critic writes. In Barry Jenkins’ new miniseries, which streams on Amazon Friday, the metaphorical Underground Railroad in the antebellum South becomes a literal one. “As a kid, when I first heard the words ‘Underground Railroad,’ I imagined something like this show, trains with conductors. It made my ancestors seem super-heroic to me, but in a very grounded way,” Jenkins said. 

Contributing: The Associated Press