Headlines: December 15, 2020
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President Donald Trump on Monday announced by tweet that Attorney General William Barr submitted his resignation letter and that he would be leaving office one month ahead of his expected departure. Trump claimed, “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!” even though the resignation came after weeks of reporting that Trump was itching to fire Barr, angry that he didn’t echo the President’s demonstrably false claims of mass illegal voting. Trump also announced that Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen would take over Barr’s duties. Barr’s resignation letter, akin to a love letter to the President, was filled with praise for Trump. Barr lauded him for a “historic” record, “accomplished …in the face of relentless implacable resistance.” He spent much of his letter attacking the President’s critics and exaggerating his accomplishments in a manner very similar to Trump himself. Mr. Barr leaves behind a legacy marred by his obvious political loyalty to Trump in an office that is meant to be non-partisan, leading his critics to characterize him as the President’s personal lawyer rather than the nation’s top prosecutor. We’ll be examining Barr’s legacy in more detail on our program.
In other news, the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine safety panel has deemed a second company’s product to be safe and effective. Moderna, a U.S. company that uses a similar technology to Pfizer-BioNTech to develop its vaccine has passed the FDA’s initial step that all but ensures formal emergency approval. The FDA is expected to make its decision by Friday after which Moderna has plans to deliver 6 million doses. Although surveys indicate that American vaccine skepticism is falling, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported this week that about a quarter of all Americans vow not to take the shots. Vaccine skeptics include African Americans, rural white Americans and Republicans who likely have different reasons for their reticence. Internationally western nations have sparked an “arms race” for vaccines clearing out stocks before poorer nations can access them. In fact, some nations are hoarding supplies that far outnumber their populations, in particular Canada, which has reserved enough vaccines for four times the number of residents. The US is close to procuring twice as many vaccine doses as residents.
The death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise, hitting the grim milestone of 300,000, with 1 American dying every minute from the virus. The past month has seen a whopping 50,000 deaths alone. The Trump administration has taken a vaccine-only approach to the disease and while hope is on the horizon, there are likely to be hundreds of thousands more dead before the vaccines reach enough people to stop the spread. The disease has spread like wildfire through the White House and Trump’s orbit, sickening untold numbers of people. Among them is Crede Bailey, director of the White House security office, who got so sick he had to be hospitalized for 3 months and suffered an amputation of his lower leg. Bailey, who apparently asked the White House to keep his condition a secret, now has mounting medical bills over which friends have started a crowd-funding campaign. Meanwhile Tuesday is the last day for Americans to sign up for open enrollment at Healthcare.gov to take advantage of an “Obamacare” plan. Trump failed in his attempt to “repeal and replace” the signature law. Interest in new signups during the pandemic has reportedly been high.
On Monday electors from all over the nation cast votes to reflect their states’ election results, officially naming Joe Biden as “president elect.” As voting took place, Trump, who remains resolute in his refusal to concede, spent the day rage-tweeting claims like “Rigged Election!” and “massive fraud.” Mr. Biden gave a speech saying it was time for the nation to “turn the page” on the Trump chapter on the day that electors across the nation cast their votes giving him 306 electoral votes. He chastised Trump for refusing to concede even after he tried and failed every avenue to win at his “unprecedented assault on our democracy.” After refusing to acknowledge Biden’s win for weeks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday finally congratulated him, as did Russian President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now scheduled to meet Antony Blinken, his likely successor, marking the first formal recognition by the Trump administration that its time in power is over. The battle to back Trump in his coup attempt or not has thrown the Republican Party into disarray as two sides battle one another.
As negotiations over COVID-19 economic relief continue, Democrats are facing accusations of caving in to Republican pressure, dropping their demands for local and state government aid to be included in the package. They have backed a bill that will set aside only $748 billion – the larger of two bills that a $908 billion package was broken into. Meanwhile the second part of the bill that combines local and state aid with McConnell’s demand to protect corporations from liabilities includes retroactive immunity from lawsuits. Worker advocates slammed the provisions. California-based groups are worried that that aspect of the bill could undo the state’s worker protections. Missing from all bills are the $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders released a statement saying, “Congress cannot go home for the Christmas holidays until we pass legislation which provides a $1,200 direct payment to working class adults, $2,400 for couples, and a $500 payment to their children. This is what Democrats and Republicans did unanimously in March through the CARES Act. This is what we have to do today.” His sentiment is echoed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
In other news the New York Times on Tuesday reported that corporate TV networks like CNN and MSNBC are worried about their ratings in a post-Trump future. The President’s aberrant behavior and violent rhetoric has made for a ratings-boon for media entities. The paper spoke with numerous staff members at the two networks who shared their concerns.
In international news, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday announced that he was willing to reenter the Iran nuclear agreement during Biden’s tenure – the same agreement that the Obama Administration negotiated and that Trump decimated once in office. Mr. Rouhani said at a press conference in Tehran, “What can be on the table is that everyone will return to their full commitments.” Referring to the crippling sanctions that Trump imposed, he added, “I believe that the era of the economic war has come to an end.”
Finally, violence continues in war-torn Afghanistan where the U.S. longest official war carries on despite a “peace deal” between the U.S. and the Taliban rebel forces. On Monday, a bomb blast in the capital Kabul killed its deputy governor Mahbubullah Muhibbi. He became the latest and one of the highest profile figures in the U.S. backed Afghan government to be assassinated.