Headlines: January 27, 2021
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President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a sweeping new executive order on climate change, that includes a moratorium on oil and gas leasing for drilling on public lands. In a 1-page fact sheet released by the White House, the Biden Administration announced a “Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day” of this year, and establishes a “White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy,” and a, “National Climate Task Force.” The executive order also, “directs the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change,” and “directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to the extent possible.” There will also be a “review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters.” Significantly the order also includes an emphasis on environmental justice, “delivering justice for communities who have been subjected to environmental harm.”
In other news, 45 out of 50 Republican Senators on Tuesday voted to block the Senate Impeachment trial of Donald Trump, saying it was unconstitutional because he was no longer in office. Democrats need 17 Republicans to join them in order to convict Trump and so far there it does not appear if that will happen. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected the GOP logic saying it is, “flat-out wrong by every frame of analysis — constitutional context, historical practice, precedent and basic common sense.” The only Republican Senators to join Democrats in the test vote were Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Patrick J. Toomey. Former Labor Secretary and progressive activist Robert Reich responded to the vote by suggesting a secret ballot.
Indicating the depth of Republican fear of Trump and his loyalists, several GOP Senators have announced their retirement ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, including Rob Portman of Ohio. Meanwhile, one House Republican named Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who is openly critical of Trump is speaking out about the political fallout he knows will come from being the only representative from his party urging former Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment against Trump. He told the Washington Post, “I’ve felt very isolated in my party.” Meanwhile, a new report found that 30,000 registered Republicans left their party in the state of Colorado alone in the week after the January 6th Capitol riot. Among those who remain, 50% say in a new survey that they want Trump to play a serious role in the future.
In other news, Senate Democrats, fresh from their victory against minority leader Mitch McConnell, are hoping to push through an ambitious Covid-relief stimulus package. Majority leader Chuck Schumer expects to hold a vote on a $1.9 trillion bill as early as next week. He said, “The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues but without them if we must.” Meanwhile President Biden announced the return of regular White House coronavirus press briefings, saying, “We’re bringing back the pros to talk about COVID in an unvarnished way…Any questions you have, that’s how we’ll handle them because we’re letting science speak again.” He also announced a potential deal to purchase 200 million new vaccine doses.
So far, the month of January has been the worst in the U.S. since the pandemic started in terms of deaths. A whopping 80,000 people died in this country alone since the New Year began. A top scientific expert, Dr. Michael Osterholm warned, “The very worst of the pandemic is yet before us,” and referenced a new variant of the virus that is far more transmissible than the original. Although the Biden administration’s approach to the pandemic is far more systematic than that of Donald Trump, it is still overly dependent on manufacturing and distributing vaccines. In Florida, the vaccine rollout has been chaotic and even racially unequal. The same is true in the worst hit County in the nation: Los Angeles. In the Washington D.C. area, including Maryland and Virginia, a large percentage of nursing home workers who were offered the vaccine last month simply refused it—even as there is a massive demand nationwide that cannot keep up with supply.
President Biden on Friday is expected to sign a new wave of immigration-related executive orders including restoring entry policies for asylum seekers and refugees that his predecessor had decimated. He also plans to end the “remain in Mexico” policy and the “public charge rule,” which is basically a wealth test for immigrants. It is not known yet if Biden will reverse the green card bans enacted by Trump last year that keep families separated via curbs on legal immigration. The Justice Department has also, per Biden’s direction, formally ended its “Zero tolerance” policy for immigration offenses that formed the basis of Trump’s family separation debacle. Meanwhile, a federal judge appointed by Trump has just blocked Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium signed last week on Inauguration day.
On economic policy, the Federal Reserve is meeting on Wednesday and its chair Jerome Powell is, as per the New York Times, “expected to leave interest rates near zero while continuing to buy about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month.” Meanwhile the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was hobbled under Trump, is set to renew its work of overseeing corporations and playing an effective watchdog role. The Biden Administration has touted Rohit Chopra, the CFPB’s former student loan ombudsman, to lead the agency.
On the foreign policy front, Biden had his first phone call as President with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The topics of the phone call, as per the Washington Post, were centered on Biden, “airing allegations of human rights abuses, cyberspying and more while making a hard pivot away from the deference that former president Donald Trump often displayed toward Russia.” He raised the issues of the incarceration of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia’s role in a recently discovered cyber hacking incident in the U.S. Meanwhile Russia’s parliament just voted to approve of a new extension of a U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty called START.
In news from the Middle East, Biden has just halted all weapons sales from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in order to review billions of dollars’ worth of deals signed by Trump. Officials say the review is intended to ensure that U.S. weapons are not being used in the Saudi-U.A.E. war on Yemen. And, Biden’s government has restored aid to Palestinians which was halted by Trump. So far there is no indication of Biden’s intent to reverse Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem or recognize Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights.
And finally, survivors from Auschwitz of the Jewish Holocaust on Wednesday marked the 79thanniversary of the liberation of the death camp. Commemorations of International Holocaust Remembrance Day were largely held online this year due to the pandemic. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “The greatest danger for all of us begins with forgetting. With no longer remembering what we inflict upon one another when we tolerate anti-Semitism and racism in our midst. We must remain alert, must identify prejudice and conspiracy theories, and combat them with reason, passion and resolve.”