Headlines: January 22, 2021
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President Joe Biden continues his streak of taking aggressive action through executive power. On his third day in office he signed an executive order to, “provide equitable emergency economic relief to working families, communities, and small businesses across the nation.” The action includes extending food stamp programs and speeding up the delivery of stimulus checks. He also signed an order requiring face coverings to be worn during travel on planes, buses, trains and in airports as part of his pandemic mitigation plan. Meanwhile conservatives are pushing back against an order that Biden signed on his first day in office restoring protections for LGBTQ Americans in schools, workplaces and healthcare centers. Rightwing groups bizarrely claimed that such an order would “erase women.”
Meanwhile, as Democrats ready themselves for an ambitious legislative agenda in the Senate after four long years of Mitch McConnell blocking hundreds of bills, the former Majority Leader seems intent on stymying them. He has been blocking a Democratic resolution on Senate rules demanding that the majority party leave a 60-vote requirement in place to filibuster. Such a move would essentially give Republicans veto power over most bills. Democrats say they plan to reject the move. At stake is the “aggressive” plan that the new Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders has for progressive economic legislation. Senator Sanders has vowed to use the procedural power of “budget reconciliation” to move bills forward with a simple majority.
Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would send the House-passed Article of Impeachment against the previous President to the U.S. Senate on Monday. Schumer rejected an attempt by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to try to delay an impeachment trial until January 29th. Republicans Senators are claiming there is not enough support in their party to vote to convict Donald Trump over his incitement of insurrection in a violent mob attack on January 6th. There is also a question of if Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would indeed preside over the trial. Meanwhile the Senate Ethics committee has filed complaints against Republicans Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley for leading an attempt to overthrow democracy as represented by the 2020 election. Leader Chuck Schumer is being urged to deny the two men committee seats as well.
In the House, Minority leader Kevin McCarthy has changed his tune on Trump’s responsibility over the Capitol riot. Here is what he said in at a news conference on Thursday compared to what he said on the House floor a week earlier. His colleague in the opposition party, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar told the Guardian in an interview that she feared for her life on January 6th. “I didn’t know if I would make it out that day,” she said, citing that she called her ex-husband to, “request to him to make sure he would continue to tell my children that I loved them if I didn’t make it out.” Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CNN that a lot of House members “still don’t yet feel safe around other members of Congress.” Her fears are very real considering that Republican Congressman Andy Harris just attempted to bring a gun into the House Chamber. He and several GOP lawmakers have bitterly complained about new metal detectors at the Capitol. The Huffington Post reviewed reporting on the January 6th riot and concluded that more than 20 GOP state and local officials directly participated in the D. C. rally that turned into a riot.
In news from the coronavirus pandemic, President Biden’s new chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci made his first official public appearance in weeks to brief reporters. Fauci had been deliberately sidelined by the previous administration for daring to use a scientific rather than political approach to the pandemic. He contrasted the two administrations saying it was a “liberating feeling,” to be working under Biden. He also said in a CNN interview that the lies of the previous president likely cost lives. More than 4,000 people died of the coronavirus for the second day in a row on Thursday in the United States. Among the plans that the Biden administration has discussed to curb the disease are 100 government-run mass vaccination sites across the nation operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Meanwhile President Biden has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue proper COVID-19 related guidance to employers. Workers in many industries deemed “essential” have been hard hit, among them union members at Hunt’s Point Produce Market in the Bronx, which is the nation’s largest such wholesale market. Workers at the market say they kept New York City fed during the worst of the pandemic and lost 6 people to Covid-19 with hundreds falling ill– but they remain grossly underpaid.
Biden’s nominee to lead the Defense Department, ret. General Lloyd Austin, won a waiver from Congress, just before a Senate vote to confirm him. Austin is the first Black Defense Secretary in the nation’s history. The Senate Finance Committee just approved Biden’s Treasury Secretary pick Janet Yellen, ahead of her full Senate confirmation vote which is expected soon. And, the President has chosen two critically important interim chairs for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). His picks of Rebecca Kelly Slaughter at the FTC and Jessica Rosenworcel at the FCC suggest a hardline approach to restoring net neutrality and holding tech companies accountable. Meanwhile Democratic lawmakers have just reintroduced a crucial Constitutional Amendment to overturn the seminal Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United that has unleashed unaccountable moneyed forces to influence government.
In international news, the Russian government has welcomed Biden’s proposal to extend the last remaining nuclear treaty with the U.S. The 2010 treaty signed by President Barack Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put limits on the number of nuclear warheads and other weapons both nations could have. Biden’s predecessor dismantled many such treaties during his term. And, North Korea has signaled it is willing to work with the U.S. after Biden’s election. The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had made progress with the previous U.S. president–but then relations soured. It should be noted that in the cases of Russia and North Korea, Democratic Presidents have traditionally had hostile postures.
And finally, the Islamic State has taken credit for two deadly attacks in Iraq of the kind that had become increasingly rare. The U.S. had declared the militant group to be defeated many times over the past four years. It remains to be seen what the Biden administration’s position on Iraq will be, especially considering Mr. Biden’s own leading role in championing a devastating U.S. war there decades ago.