Headlines: February 1, 2021
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A group of ten Republican Senators unveiled their draft legislation of a Covid-relief bill on Monday, paring down by more two thirds a proposal by President Joe Biden and Democrats. The GOP lawmakers, who consider themselves “centrist” and are led by Susan Collins of Maine, want to pass a $618 billion package, down from the $1.9 trillion that Democrats say is needed to help those devastated economically by the pandemic. Their counter proposal includes $1,000 stimulus checks to Americans, rather than the $1,400 that Biden promised. Their logic is that if all 50 Democrats joined their group of ten, there would be the 60 votes needed to pass such a bill. Biden agreed to meet them in person on Monday afternoon saying he was open to, “a full exchange of views.” But Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders countered in an interview that there was enough support among Democrats to pass the original bill. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, already indicated that he preferred to work with Republicans rather than side with his own party to pass the popular bill. The White House has now reached out to Senator Manchin.
In news from the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last year was hailed for his leadership on curbing the virus, is now under fire after 9 state level health officials quit over the past several months. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy.” The paper quoted his Friday press conference where Cuomo said, “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts…Because I don’t. Because I don’t.” Meanwhile, the Wisconsin pharmacist who is facing charges over his destruction of more than 500 COVID-19 vaccine doses says he did so because he thought they were harmful to humans. He apparently has other outlandish views that include believing that the earth is flat. Similarly uneducated people helped to shut down Dodger Stadium, a mass vaccination site in Los Angeles, over the weekend. A group of people holding signs that claimed vaccines were dangerous, attempted to stop people from getting them and resulted in the vaccinations being halted for about an hour on Saturday. Many people hoping to get vaccinated had driven hours to the stadium and expressed outrage that the anti-vax mob had been allowed to stop vaccinations without even suffering arrest. According to the LA Times, anti-vax gathering was organized by far-right Trump supporters who advised attendees to not flaunt their support for the former anti-democratic and racist president.
Meanwhile, more people were hospitalized from Covid-19 in January than in any other month since the pandemic began. And nearly 100,000 people died during that same month – the highest monthly total to date. On Sunday, top infectious diseases expert Dr. Michael Osterholm warned that in light of the new variants of the virus, a “category 5 hurricane” was metaphorically about to hit the United States.
In other news, former President Trump was forced to hire new lawyers for his impeachment defense after five people quit his legal team. Apparently the rift centered on his desire to revive debunked false election claims during his defense. According to the Washington Post, “Trump wanted them to make the case during the trial that he actually won the election. To do so would require citing his false claims of election fraud — even as his allies and attorneys have said that he should instead focus on arguing that impeaching a president who has already left office is unconstitutional.” The former president has to meet a Tuesday deadline to deliver a formal response to the Senate about his defense. The new lawyers that have joined his legal team come with their own baggage. One is known for refusing to charge actor Bill Cosby over sexual assault and rape charges and then suing one of Cosby’s victims. Another Trump lawyer had defended convicted sex offender and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and maintains publicly that the deceased defendant was murdered when he died by suicide in jail. In other Trump news, the former president has raised tens of millions of dollars for a Political Action Committee that was centered on disputing the 2020 election results and helping Republicans keep their Senate majority. Apparently none of the money raised went toward the stated goals.
Meanwhile the Lincoln Project, which is a prominent anti-Trump group of Republicans, has disavowed one of its co-founders John Weaver. Mr. Weaver has been found to have solicited sexual favors from young men in exchange for political opportunities. Weaver had worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and John Kasich.
Joe Biden’s immigration agenda is being thwarted in the courts by Trump-appointed judges. A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the U.S. could continue to deport unaccompanied children at the southern border. All three judges on the court were appointed by Trump. According to the Washington Post, “It’s unclear whether Biden will implement expulsions of unaccompanied children now.” Earlier a Trump-appointed judge had refused to allow Biden to bar deportations for 100 days. Meanwhile a Biden adviser announced late last week that the President was likely to rescind Trump’s green card bans on family sponsorship and work visas enacted last year under cover of the pandemic. The bans expire on March 31st but Biden has refused to overturn them so far.
Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar met with indigenous activists in the northern part of her state recently to express solidarity with them over opposition to an oil pipeline. The Line 3 pipeline project by Enbridge has been targeted by activists for closure. They say that just as Biden canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline, he should also halt Line 3. Congresswoman Omar said this during her visit.
In international news, Myanmar appears to be in the middle of a coup as the military has taken over the nation claiming a 1-year state of emergency. Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been denounced by the international human rights community for working within a genocidal regime, has apparently been detained alongside her top staff. Military leaders claim that an election held last November was marred by fraud.
And finally, in Russia, mass protests and arrests over jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny continue. Russian authorities arrested more than 5,000 people on Sunday alone across the country as tens of thousands of people protested. Among them was Navalny’s wife Yulia who was also fined. Antony Blinken, the U.S.’s new State Secretary, has issued a strong criticism saying he was, “deeply disturbed by the violent crackdown” in Russia. He did not commit to specific actions such as sanctions however.