Headlines: January 26, 2021
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House impeachment managers on Monday evening delivered their article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the U.S. Senate, formally kicking off the process for a Senate trial. The New York Times conducted a survey of all Senate Republicans on where they stood with respect to convicting Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” and found that out of 50 lawmakers 27 have already decided to acquit. None have committed to conviction including those who are openly critical of Trump like Mitt Romney, or privately critical like Mitch McConnell. Sixteen Republican senators say they are undecided and ten did not respond. Democrats need all those in their ranks to vote yes and 17 Republicans to join in, in order to convict Trump over the January 6th riot. A conviction would be the first step in ensuring that the twice impeached president could never run again for the nation’s highest office. President Joe Biden said it was important for the Senate trial to take place even if it hampered his ability to enact his agenda quickly. Biden said there would be, “a worse effect if it didn’t happen.” Meanwhile Trump, stripped of his social media bullhorns, sent a message to his fellow Republicans, essentially threatening them to fall in line behind him.
Democrats won a victory on Monday evening after Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell moved to end a standoff between the two parties over ending the filibuster. The former Majority leader cited two Democratic Senators: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who had verbally supported preserving the filibuster, as enough assurance to move forward. A spokesperson for the new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand…We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”
The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for State Secretary. Blinken was confirmed in a vote of 78 to 22 and follows Janet Yellen’s Monday confirmation as the new Treasury Secretary. The nominee for Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimundo, on Tuesday appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for a hearing ahead of a full Senate vote.
President Biden is preparing to sign a series of executive orders to fight climate change, including a federal ban on new oil and gas leases of public lands. The New York Times explained that, “An eventual ban on new drilling leases would fulfill a campaign promise that infuriated the oil industry and became a central theme in the fight for the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania, where…fracking, has become big business.”
Biden also plans to sign several orders related to racial justice and criminal justice reform. On Tuesday he tweeted, “America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we’ve never stopped trying. Today, I’ll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we’ve always strived to be.” Among the actions he plans to take are ending federal government contracts with private prisons, renewing a ban to end the transfer of military equipment to police departments, working through the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to end anti-Asian bias around the response to the pandemic, and directing the Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) to promote equitable housing. He also plans to revive the push to put the face of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill—a move that was in the works but that Trump blocked as part of his racist agenda.
Responding to the crisis in healthcare wrought by the pandemic, Biden moved to reopen the insurance marketplaces selling insurance plans via the Affordable Care Act. Trump and the Republican Party had relentlessly attacked the ACA. Biden will also reportedly try to reverse Trump’s restrictions on the Medicaid program. Mr. Biden remains resolute in opposing an expansion of the Medicare program to all Americans in spite of the great need.
In news from the pandemic, more variants of the novel coronavirus have been detected, including a new one traced to Brazil that has been documented in the U.S. Across the world Western nations stricken by the virus are imposing travel bans including the U.S., the U.K., Europe, and Australia. Meanwhile the Biden administration indicated that it could increase its vaccination goals to 1.5 million inoculations a day to tackle the virus, up from 1 million a day. Biden warned however that there could be a total of “600,000 and 660,000 deaths [overall] before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.” So far more than 400,000 people have died from the disease in the U.S. In California, where infections and deaths have apparently started to drop Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted several restrictions on Monday in spite of ICU bed shortages. Now the state says it has changed its already confusing vaccine schedule and will prioritize only by age, not vocation. And, the Institute for Policy Studies just announced its latest research on Pandemic profiteering, concluding that the wealth of billionaires increased by more than a third over the past year and could pay entirely for a new coronavirus relief package.
In news from the Capitol riot investigations, the Oregon state Republican Party has decided that the entire violent pro-Trump mob was actually a “false flag” operation meant to discredit Donald Trump. The state party passed a resolution to that effect through its executive committee. But Capitol rioters are proudly proclaiming who they are. Associated Press reported that, “In dozens of cases, supporters of President Donald Trump downright flaunted their activity on social media on the day of the deadly insurrection,” and “Their total lack of concern over getting caught and their friends’ willingness to turn them in has helped authorities charge about 150 people as of Monday with federal crimes.” Meanwhile the D.C. Capitol police department has apologized to Congress over its failures on January 6th. The new acting police chief Yogananda D. Pittman, who was not in charge at the time of the riot, said in a House committee hearing that Capitol Police, “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.” She added, “I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the department.”
The Vatican has just cleared a U.S. bishop named Joseph Hart of more than a dozen accusations over sexual abuse of children. Hart, who is from Cheyenne, Wyoming, is 89 years old. His successor Bishop Steven Biegler was apparently disappointed in the decision and maintains that the exoneration does not mean that Hart is innocent. The QAnon conspiracist group backing President Trump, appear uninterested in documented sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church even as they seem convinced of Democratic plots of child sex trafficking rings.
One person is dead and at least 30 are injured after a massive tornado ripped through Birmingham, Alabama this week. The victim was a teenager who was taking shelter in his basement.
And finally, in international news Indian farmers continue to protest privatization laws passed by the government of Narendra Modi. For many weeks now thousands of farmers have laid siege to the outskirts of the capitol Delhi and on Tuesday which is “Republic Day,” farmers used their tractors to tear apart police barricades. Police deployed tear gas and at least one person has died. According to the New York Times, “Prime Minister … Modi oversaw a lavish military parade, and news channels showed surreal scenes of Mr. Modi saluting officers as chaos broke out in several parts of the city just a few miles away.”