Headlines: January 4, 2021
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President Donald Trump was caught on tape issuing coercive threats to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a phone call on Saturday. Audio of the phone call was obtained by the New York Times and Washington Post and revealed the on-going and desperate months-long attempt by the President to engineer a reelection for himself. Trump brazenly asked Raffensperger to recalculate the vote tally. He also asked about the voting machines by a company called Dominion. President Trump in a phone call with Georgia’s Secretary of State incorrectly referred to as ‘Brian’ instead of ‘Brad.’ Trump went on to accuse the Secretary of engaging in a criminal offense and eventually asked him to simply come up with the specific number of votes that would show him winning. The interaction was stunning even by Trump’s standards and drew comparisons with the political threats he had issued to Ukraine’s President Zelensky which led to his impeachment a year ago.
Trump’s words warrant investigation and possible charges say several figures including Mr. Raffensperger himself, as well as the sole Democrat on Georgia’s State Board of Elections, David Worley. Some Democratic members of Congress have asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to open an investigation as well, saying that Trump “engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes.” The phone call came just days before the make-or-break Senate races in Georgia which could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. GOP candidate David Perdue defended Trump’s phone call and said that he supports Trump’s effort to overturn the election. His colleague Kelly Loeffler who is the other GOP Senator battling for reelection says she is “seriously looking” into doing the same. Meanwhile President-elect Joe Biden headed to Georgia to show his support for the Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
Trump is not alone in seeking what can only be described as a “coup attempt.” He is supported by several Republican Senators including Ted Cruz who is leading a charge to not certify Biden’s win this week. Cruz’s move has buttressed a similar effort by 3 dozen GOP Representatives. Vice President Mike Pence has also indicated that he supports the effort. The New York Times explained that, “neither Mr. Pence nor any of the senators who said they would vote to invalidate the election has made a specific allegation of fraud, instead offering vague suggestions that some wrongdoing might have occurred and asserting that many of their supporters believe that it has.” But a bi-partisan group of Senators including 4 Republicans, has urged its colleagues to certify Biden’s win. On Sunday all 10 former Defense Secretaries that are still living signed on to an op-ed in the Washington Post warning that, “Involving the military in election disputes would cross into dangerous territory.” The secretaries include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Robert Gates, as well as John Mattis who served under Trump.
Meanwhile the 117th Congress convened for the first time on Sunday and reelected Representative Nancy Pelosi to the position of House Speaker with a narrow win of 216 votes. Democrats narrowed their House majority in the November 3rd races and now control 222 of 435 seats, making Pelosi’s task more challenging. The cadre of young progressives of color known as “the Squad” welcomed two newcomers into its ranks: Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush.
The coronavirus continues to rage across the U.S. with more than 350,000 people dead over the past year even as several new vaccines offer hope on the horizon. Trump, who has all but ignored the growing death toll under his watch finally spoke up but only to dismiss the deaths as “fake news.” Dr. Anthony Fauci pushed back saying, “The deaths are real deaths,” and warned that the latest surge in holiday travel will manifest soon making the situation even worse and adding to pressures felt by overwhelmed hospital facilities. To combat the ever-climbing infections scientists are considering whether to limit the new Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to just one dose instead of two in order to offer at least limited immunity to a wider group of people. But Health Secretary Alex Azar has shot down the idea. Even though there have been more than 13 million vaccine doses distributed across the U.S. so far only about 4 million have been vaccinated in a nation of more than 350 million. Even by the government’s own standards the vaccine rollout is falling short.
In other news more than a million Americans are still waiting for their unemployment checks months after applying for them, as per an investigation by the Washington Post. Many qualified for aid but were told by the government that they had to prove their identity—except that the process of ID verification has taken many months. Among those waiting for the government to issue checks are people who have lost their homes to eviction, racked up large debts, and put off healthcare treatments. And Associated Press conducted an analysis showing racial discrimination in the granting of PPP loans. White business owners qualified on average earlier than Black business owners for the government loans.
In international news, a UK judge has denied the U.S.’s request to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange over numerous charges related to violations of the Espionage Act. The judge ruled that Assange was at extreme risk of suicide and therefore could not be extradited. Advocates of Mr. Assange were disappointed however that the judge did not validate the defense’s arguments that Assange was being politically targeted. The U.S. Justice Department issued a statement saying, “we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised. In particular, the court rejected all of Mr. Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offense, fair trial, and freedom of speech.” The DOJ says it will continue to seek Assange’s extradition.
Violence broke out in Niger over the weekend when an estimated 100 civilians—mostly men and boys—were killed in what are believed to be revenge attacks. The bloodshed came a week after a Presidential election was held in the west African nation and is considered one of the worst attacks in the history of Niger. The election results were expected to mark Niger’s first ever peaceful democratic transfer of power but the recent violence has imperiled the situation.
Finally, Iran has been found to be enriching uranium at 20%, a violation of the nuclear peace agreement that the US and Europe had reached in 2015 but that President Trump cancelled. At the same time Iranian authorities have seized an oil tanker bearing a South Korean flag. South Korea is considered a close U.S. ally. Both moves are seen as Iran’s leadership attempting to leverage its position in the days before President elect Joe Biden takes his place in the White House. Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL,” referring to the peace deal that Iran is eager to rejoin.