Headlines: February 16, 2021
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:35 — 7.9MB)
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is defending his acquittal vote for Donald Trump on Saturday which came just before he gave an impassioned speech denouncing the former President and drawing a clear line between Trump and the January 6th rioters. Democrats are not accepting McConnell’s continued claim that an impeachment trial for a departed President is not constitutional. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others cited that McConnell, as Senate Majority leader in Trump’s last days in office, refused to allow the Senate to take up the impeachment trial after the House voted. She said, “It was not the reason that he voted the way he did. It was the excuse that he used.” In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday McConnell continued an ardent defense of his acquittal vote saying, “the Senate’s ‘sole power to try all impeachments’ would constitute an unlimited circular logic with no stopping point at former officers.” But critics have pointed out that Trump was in office when he committed the crimes he has been accused of and was also impeached by the House while in office. The Senate then voted that it was indeed constitutional to try the President after he left office because not doing so would amount to a “January exception” for future presidents who might consider breaking the law just before leaving office. The final Senate vote tally of 57 to 43 to convict Trump fell 10 votes short of the margin needed for conviction but almost reflected the public’s sentiment. About 58% of Americans surveyed think that Trump should have been convicted. Meanwhile Speaker Pelosi has said there will be a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6th Capitol riot.
House Homeland Security Committee chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi has just filed the first of what is expected to be a wave of lawsuits against Trump over his incitement of violence. Meanwhile those Republican lawmakers who dared to vote against Trump in the House and Senate are facing censure in their home districts, including Representative Adam Kinzinger, Senators Pat Toomey, Richard Burr, Mitt Romney, and Susan Collins. Trump loyalists like Senator Ron Johnson are going as far as saying the January 6th riot was not really a big deal. Johnson said, “This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”
Trump lawyer Michael Van Der Veen meanwhile has now claimed that House impeachment managers “doctored” evidence in a confrontational interview on CBS. While the host was trying to clarify what he meant by “doctored” Van Der Veen repeatedly interrupted her and devolved into a diatribe against “biased” media coverage. But critics have unpacked his loaded claims and found there to be nothing of substance.
In other news, progressives have pointed out that the mere fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence there were not even 10 Senators who voted to convict Trump means that Democrats cannot rely on Republicans to join them to pass any legislation. California Representative Ro Khanna called it, “a clarion call for eliminating the filibuster!” The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate justice organization has also suggested the same thing.
Meanwhile President Joe Biden has directed the healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act to reopen enrollment starting on February 15th through May 15th. The Healthcare.gov website which Biden’s predecessor undermined, is now re-enrolling people into paid health insurance plans but rules differ state-by-state leading to confusion. In a televised townhall meeting on Tuesday the President hopes to redirect attention to the on-going coronavirus pandemic where he will promote a proposed economic stimulus package and the COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S., whose infection and death toll leads the world, has finally seen its 7-day average of daily new cases drop to below 90,000. This is the first time the figure has dropped since last November and indicates an easing up of the winter peak. However, a deadly syndrome seen in children and linked to the virus is growing in incidence and severity.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has apologized for hiding data in the early months of the pandemic that showed a far higher death rate in nursing homes in his state. More than 13,000 people are now known to have died in nursing homes and long-term health care facilities in New York over the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to ration scarce N-95 masks a year into the pandemic. Associated Press reports that there are warehouses overflowing with N95 masks, produced by U.S. manufacturers, so much so that they are now exporting the masks to other nations even as American demands remain high. The media outlet laid the problem at the Trump administration’s feet, explaining that, “The logistical breakdown is rooted in federal failures over the past year to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment. Internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press show there were deliberate decisions to withhold vital information about new mask manufacturers and availability.”
In other news, a newly formed coalition of organizations advocating for criminal justice reform is urging the Biden Administration to pardon all non-violent offenders who have been incarcerated over Marijuana-related convictions. In a letter, the leaders of the organizations said, “The protests and civil unrest that dominated the news following the murder of George Floyd revealed historic levels of mistrust and eagerness for bold new leadership.” They added, “A general pardon of all former and current federal non-violent cannabis offenders would be the kind of grand, ambitious, and impactful action that would effectively signal to marginalized communities that their suffering is seen and that the government seeks to remedy their harms.” Meanwhile the Los Angeles Police Department is once more under fire – this time for a mock-Valentine photo of George Floyd as he was being murdered by officer Derek Chauvin. The photo was captioned “you take my breath away.” Floyd’s family and the newly seated LA District Attorney George Gasçon have denounced the incident and called for swift action to discipline the officers involved.
New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who has been tapped to lead the U.S. Interior Department, continues to face Republican opposition to her confirmation. The GOP, which has embraced gun toting violent extremists into its ranks, is apparently unhappy with the fact that Haaland opposes fracking and had participated in anti-pipeline protests. Haaland’s supporters say that is precisely what would make her an excellent Interior Secretary.
At least 14 people have died in four states during a series of harsh winter storms that has blanketed the south in snow and left millions without power. The affected states include Texas, Nebraska, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In Texas 4.3 million residents have been without power as freezing temperatures are threatening to burst pipes and homes and infrastructure not built for snow are under severe stress. A record breaking 200 million Americans were under winter advisories. North Carolina had a violent tornado added to the mix leaving 3 people dead and 10 injured.
In international news, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been arrested and charged by military generals during the latest coup, is now facing a secret trial. Suu Kyi, who once had international support during the last dictatorship, is now isolated after having backed her country’s genocidal pogroms aimed at Rohingya Muslims. Resistance to the military remains high even as generals are now saying they guarantee new elections soon.
And finally in Afghanistan, the Taliban is once more taking over large swaths of the country as U.S. troops wind down their presence. The militant group that was once demonized and driven into hiding, and then feted as opposition leaders worthy of negotiations, has positioned its soldiers around main population centers in the war-torn nation. The strategy is apparently aimed at the Biden administration to pressure it to withdraw the last remaining U.S. troops.