Headlines: February 23, 2021
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The U.S. Senate on Tuesday began its inquiry into the January 6th Capitol riot of Trump supporters that claimed 5 lives and got within minutes of lawmakers scrambling to escape the violent mob bent on ensuring Trump’s continued reign. Among those who testified in the televised hearings were former security officers for the Capitol police who blamed federal law enforcement and the Justice Department for delays in sending in the National Guard and failing to anticipate the level of violence that was planned. Captain Carneysha Mendoza was among those who spoke. Republicans, many of whom have remained firmly supportive of Trump, attempted to trivialize the serious nature of the attack. Among them, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin went as far as perpetuating the increasingly popular conspiracy theory that there were leftwing activists posing as Trump supporters. Senator Johnson failed to acknowledge that there have been hundreds of confirmed Trump supporters arrested and charged in connection to the riot that have spoken out openly about their loyalty to Trump.
Tuesday was a busy day on Capitol Hill with several hearings taking place including a confirmation hearing for Xavier Becerra as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Republicans sought to paint Mr. Becerra as unqualified, ignoring the fact that Trump’s last HHS Secretary Alex Azar had no experience in the field of health other than being an executive at a pharmaceutical firm. Becerra has in the past expressed support for enacting a Single Payer healthcare system in the United States. Several Republicans were worried about his respect for the “sanctity of life,” by which they referred to unborn fetuses rather than living human beings who may not have access to healthcare.
Also facing a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico who is being considered to lead the Interior Department. If confirmed Haaland would become the nation’s first indigenous Interior Secretary, a fact she acknowledged in her opening statement. But conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia has expressed reluctance over supporting her. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called him out on Twitter saying, “Jeff Sessions was so openly racist that even Reagan couldn’t appoint him. Manchin voted to confirm him. Sessions then targeted immigrant children for wide-scale human rights abuses w/ family separation. Yet the 1st Native woman to be Cabinet Sec is where Manchin finds unease?”
President Joe Biden’s pick for Attorney General, Merrick Garland also faced his second day of hearings. On Monday’s hearing he took the time to ensure Senators he would not act as the “President’s lawyer,” a direct reference to former Attorney General William Barr who faced credible accusations of bending the Justice Department to Donald Trump’s will. Republicans by and large appeared to support Garland, but writing in the Nation magazine, commentator Elie Mystal pointed out that on Monday GOP Senators spent more time attacking the women of color that have been named to lower positions at the DOJ, than Garland himself. At one point Republican Senator John Kennedy spent 5 minutes asking Garland to define terms like “system racism,” and “implicit bias,” in an evident attempt to claim the AG Nominee might fall into a rhetorical trap.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday where he asserted that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, “remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain.” He added, “the economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved.”
President Biden on Monday evening marked with a White House ceremony the great American tragedy of half a million deaths from the coronavirus. Lighting candles to mark the largest national death toll of any country in the world, Biden alluded to the internal political turmoil in the US as part of the problem. Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview with Reuters echoed a similar sentiment saying he was shocked that, “a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world,” and that in reference to the Trump Administration, “the lack of involvement at the very top of the leadership in trying to do everything that was science-based was clearly detrimental to the effort.”
Representatives from vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna, and other companies faced questioning on Capitol Hill on Tuesday over the on-going struggle to provide enough doses to meet the high demand in the U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that, “The most pressing challenge now is the lack of supply of vaccine doses,” and that she wanted to hear, “a straightforward assessment of where the manufacturing process stands.” The company representatives said they plan on being able to deliver 140 million more doses of the vaccine over the next five weeks.
In news from Texas where residents are still reeling from devastating winter storms, blackouts and water shortages, Attorney General Ken Paxton is the latest Republican official found to be failing in his duties. Paxton jetted off to Utah while his state was experiencing its worst crisis in decades. Meanwhile Senator Ted Cruz, who has earned the nickname “Cancun Cruz” for vacationing in Mexico during the outages, made an appearance on Fox News where he, like Gov. Greg Abbott, blamed the Green New Deal for the debacle. Texas has not enacted the GND, nor are green energy sources to blame. Unsurprisingly Fox News failed to point out to Cruz that Texas could simply winterize its wind turbines and that frozen natural gas pipelines and a deregulated energy grid are the main culprits. President Biden has just announced that he plans to visit Texas on Friday.
The first migrant detention center for children has opened under Biden. The emergency facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, was built during Trump’s term but was only open for about a month in 2019. It is designed to hold up to 700 children between the ages of 13 to 17. According to the Washington Post, “immigration lawyers and advocates question why the Biden administration would choose to reopen a Trump-era facility that was the source of protests and controversy.” Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer who represents unaccompanied minors told the Post, “It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do…It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.”
And finally, this week marks the one year anniversary of the vigilante killing of the Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. The 25-year old man was allegedly killed by 3 armed white men who are now awaiting trial in his murder after a national outcry led to their arrest. Initially police had interviewed the suspects but then let them go free—representing exactly the kind of racist double standard that Black Lives Matter activists decry. Arbery’s killing pre-dated the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but laid the groundwork for last summer’s mass protests. On Tuesday Arbery’s mother filed a civil lawsuit against the men charged with killing her son.