Headlines: February 8, 2021
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Congress is gearing up for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump on Tuesday as the former President’s new lawyers vociferously denounced the Democrat-led attempt to hold him accountable for fomenting violence. In a 78-page memo filed with the Senate on Monday, Trump’s attorneys made several assertions including that impeaching former Presidents was unconstitutional, claiming Trump’s speech on January 6th was protected by the First Amendment, and that House Representatives did not afford Trump “due process” when they voted to impeach him. They are attempting to make the case that Trump’s speech on the day of the riot is the only part of his speech being linked to the violence and therefore, because the violence was planned days or weeks in advance of his January 6th address he could not be held accountable. But court documents filed in the charges against rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6th paint a different picture. Many of those accused specifically cited Trump by name before heading to Washington D.C. Most Senate Republicans are closing ranks around Trump making a conviction unlikely.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is close to an agreement with minority leader Mitch McConnell on the rules of the trial and so far, according to Axios, “Impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys will debate the issue of constitutionality of the trial, which the Senate will vote on at a simple majority threshold on Tuesday.” And then, “Starting Wednesday at noon, impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will have up to 16 hours per side for presentations.” Meanwhile a top conservative lawyers name Charles Cooper has broken with the pro-Trump faction of the GOP saying in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, that it is in fact constitutional to try former presidents in impeachment trials. A new Gallup poll released Monday found that a majority of Americans—52%–wants the Senate to convict Trump.
Those Republicans who have dared to oppose Trump have faced anger from GOP voters. House member Liz Cheney, who has faced calls from her own party to resign for daring to stand up to Trump, has refused to step down. State lawmakers in her home state of Wyoming have voted to censure her. In an interview on Fox News on Sunday she said, “I think that the people in the party are mistaken. They believe that [Black Lives Matter] and Antifa were behind what happened here at the Capitol. That’s just simply not the case, it’s not true.”
In other news, Democrats are fighting with one another over the contours of a Covid economic relief bill. One faction of the liberal party is siding with Republicans over stripping a $15 an hour federal minimum wage rider to the bill. Senate Budget committee Chair Bernie Sanders denounced the move saying it is, “not a radical idea,” and that, “Making $600 a week in the United States of America… that’s not a lot of money.” Another Democrat-supported effort echoes the Republican desire to link $1,400 stimulus checks to income. Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar warned, “Cutting the income cap will poison this bill,” and implied that Democrats would lose progressive House votes if they cut eligibility for the checks and leave middle class Americans out. Meanwhile House Democratic leaders are getting ready to unveil tax credits of $3,600 per child aged 6 or younger, and $3,000 for children between 7 and 17. The tax credits will only apply to those making less than $75,000 a year or couples making less than $150,000.
As the social impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt New York City announced this week that it would reopen middle school campuses this month. The decision would impact more than 60,000 children who are enrolled in remote school. There are currently no plans to reopen high schools. In Chicago where there has been a high-profile battle between the teachers union and city officials about returning to school, a tentative agreement has been reached ahead of a potential strike. The agreement is based on strict safety rules as well as a dedicated site for vaccinating educators and support staff. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “This agreement was about making sure everyone in our school communities just aren’t safe, but also that they feel safe.” Meanwhile in California, where cases and infections are dropping but not fast enough, some churches have reopened, but not schools. That is because a lawsuit brought by church groups successfully ended their closure in spite of continued risks.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden in his first network interview as President was asked about reopening schools. He also warned that it was unlikely that the U.S. would reach herd immunity against the coronavirus through vaccines and infections, until at least the summer. Biden and his vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to take a virtual tour of a mass vaccination site in Arizona this week. State healthcare providers are struggling to obtain enough vaccines based on the Trump Administration’s guidelines that one lawmaker likened to “the Hunger Games.” Meanwhile Republican Congressman Ron Wright of Texas just became the first sitting federal lawmaker to die from the virus. He was a 67-year old cancer survivor who was diagnosed last month. Health workers expressed dismay on Sunday watching maskless crowds in Tampa, Florida, congregate with one another as they celebrated the Superbowl game. Tampa mayor Jane Castor said, “At this point in dealing with COVID-19, there is a level of frustration when you see that.”
As cases of infection in the U.S. drop below a hundred thousand for the first time this year, health experts are warning of a new surge in deaths from new, far more transmissible variants of the virus are likely to spread like wildfire as the nation remains woefully behind the rest of the world in contact tracing and testing efforts. And, now some survivors of the virus are being saddled with massive healthcare bills after waivers of treatment costs for the virus are expiring. One woman profiled in the Los Angeles Times had treatments totaling to more than a million dollars and has now been served with a bill of more than $40,000 which she will simply not be able to pay.
In international news, South Africa has decided to not use the new Astra-Zeneca vaccine after finding that it is not effective against a new variant of the virus. Chaos reigns in Mexico where virus cases are rising out of control and per capita infections and deaths are the third highest in the world after the U.S. and Brazil. But a vaccine rollout that had begun last in December has stalled after Pfizer reduced its allotment citing global demands.
The U.S. is rejoining the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, three years after Donald Trump pulled out. It will initially return as a non-voting observer and its status as a full member will be decided on by the body later in the year.
And finally, dozens have died in northern India after a Himalayan glacier broke off on Sunday, trapping people working on a power plant in a tunnel. The glacier sent, what AP called, “a wall of water and debris rushing down a mountain in a disaster that has left at least 26 people dead and 165 missing.” Thousands of Indian troops are now conducting search and rescue operations. AP also said, “the disaster could be linked to global warming and a team of scientists was flown to the site Monday to investigate what happened.”