Headlines: December 16, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:37 — 7.9MB)
Congressional leaders say they are nearing a deal on a $900 billion COVID-relief economic aid package after weeks of gridlock. According to sources speaking to the New York Times, “The top two Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill appeared to be coalescing around a plan that would include both another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans and additional unemployment benefits.” The bill is being worked on simultaneously with an omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government ahead of a Friday deadline. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who has famously been prioritizing corporate liability protections above all else, told reporters on Tuesday night at 10 pm as he emerged from negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that, “We’re making significant progress.” Pelosi also appeared optimistic saying, “We’re talking about going forward.” The stimulus checks had been left out of a compromise bill presented by centrists from both parties but now appear to be back in play.
The depth of the economic crisis was on display as new data showed retail sales falling by 1.1% last month, the largest drop in 7 months, made all the more dramatic because the month of November is traditionally shopping season in the U.S. According to AP, “The biggest drop was at department stores, down 7.7%. Restaurant sales fell 4%.” As CARES Act benefits ran out Americans naturally had less money to spend with millions remaining jobless during the pandemic.
After Senator McConnell finally decided to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the Presidential race the Republican leader has been busy squelching the pro-Trump parade of lawmakers willing to back the President on baseless claims of election fraud. The Senate Majority leader is apparently telling fellow lawmakers privately to back down on amplifying Trump’s claims. Mr. Trump, predictably disagreed with McConnell’s posture saying it was “too soon to give up.” But Trump continues to command allegiance and inspire extremism among GOP lawmakers with North Carolina State Senator Bob Steinburg publicly calling on Trump to remain in power by declaring a national emergency and invoking the “Insurrection Act.” One of Trump’s strongest loyalists in the Senate, Ron Johnson is apparently planning on Wednesday to introduce a last-ditch coup effort, demanding an investigation of “election irregularities.” Also on Wednesday will be a hearing featuring Christopher Krebs, the former Cybersecurity chief that Trump fired for refusing to manufacture election fraud. Krebs, who has said the November 3rd election was one of the most secure in U.S. history, will be a witness before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The lies that Trump and his allies have spread to explain his election loss have had serious consequences. News is now emerging of a former Texas law enforcement officer who held a man at gunpoint on the road believing that he had in his possession hundreds of thousands of stolen ballots. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said of the former cop, “He crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime and we are lucky no one was killed.” Now, as more Republicans accept the reality that Biden won the election, election conspiracy theorists are pivoting to another far-fetched idea: that the new COVID-19 vaccines being developed are dangerous. Former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell who repeatedly claimed to have evidence of massive voter fraud that she somehow never managed to present publicly, tweeted that vaccine distribution efforts were, “more authoritarian communist control imported straight from #China.” The New York Times explained, “Election misinformation peaked on Nov. 4 at 375,000 mentions across cable television, social media, print and online news outlets…. By Dec. 3, that had fallen to 60,000 mentions. But coronavirus misinformation steadily increased over that period, rising to 46,100 mentions on Dec. 3, from 17,900 mentions on Nov. 8.”
Misinformation around vaccines has a large overlap with anti-mask propaganda. Now the mayor of a Kansas town is resigning after repeated threats against her over a mask mandate. Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw reported receiving a steady stream of death threats and in her resignation letter on Tuesday wrote, “I do not feel safe in this position anymore,” She is one of many women leaders being targeted by pro-Trump male supporters. Meanwhile vaccinations in the U.S. are ramping up with healthcare workers at hospitals being among the first to get a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The FDA is getting ready to formally sign off on a second vaccine, by Moderna. “Widespread acceptance of the vaccine is critical to eventually protecting enough of the U.S. population to defeat the outbreak,” explained AP. The FDA has also just authorized the first rapid, over-the-counter at-home coronavirus test kit. The test was developed by an Australian company and is expected to become available in the U.S. in January for around $30 each. Officials worry however that industries relying on testing in order to resume business will buy up tests before ordinary Americans can access them.
Two former Trump appointees to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are going public over political interference they saw from the White House over scientific research and information. Kyle McGowan, the former CDC chief of staff and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, both young Republicans, spoke to the press about their experiences. McGowan explained “Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the C.D.C. was sidelined. It didn’t happen that way…It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the C.D.C.” McGowan and Campbell both resigned from their positions at the CDC in August.
In other news, President elect Biden’s climate team is taking shape and two new appointees have received high marks from the climate justice movement. Biden reportedly plans to nominate former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary and Gina McCarthy, the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council as a national climate adviser. On Tuesday Biden named former South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as his Transportation Secretary nominee. The position is considered a “consolation prize.” Buttigieg is the first openly gay nominee for a federal cabinet position in U.S. history. His pick leaves LA Mayor Eric Garcetti with fewer options on the Biden team.
Garcetti has been facing daily relentless protests by Black Lives Matter LA who say he has not done enough to address racist police brutality in Los Angeles. On Tuesday the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled that LAPD officer Toni McBride was in violation of policy for two of her six shots that hit and killed a man named Daniel Hernandez. It is rare for the commission to ever find fault with police who kill civilians. And in Chicago, police finally released a harrowing video of a botched raid of a house where an African American woman named Anjanette Young resides. The raid, captured on body camera footage that Chicago officials tried to block, shows Ms. Young being arrested while she was stark naked. She had just undressed when officers broke into her home and surrounded her and arrested her. It turns out they had the wrong house. Young has demanded the release of the footage for nearly two years and shared the trauma she continues to experience from the arrest.
And finally, residents of Palm Beach County, Florida, who are neighbors of Trump’s resort Mar-A-Lago, say they don’t want the president living near them when he leaves the White House. Trump who had been a New York city native when he became President, formally changed his official residence to Florida and plans to live at his resort. Now his neighbors have delivered a letter saying he does not have the right to live at the resort after his presidency ends.