Headlines: March 2, 2021
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President Joe Biden met with Senate Democrats on Tuesday to discuss the details of his $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill that passed the House over the weekend and that must now pass the Senate, with a deadline of March 14th looming—the date when currently authorized unemployment benefits will run out. Centrist Democrats have added amendments to the bill to narrow the eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks from the government. And, the House bill includes an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which Senators are choosing to exclude in line with the Senate Parliamentarian’s view. Senator Bernie Sanders, head of the Budget committee, issued a statement saying, “I regard it as absurd that the parliamentarian, a Senate staffer elected by no one, can prevent a wage increase for 32 million workers.” Sanders is urging Senators to overrule the Parliamentarian.
The Vermont independent has joined other 9 Senate Democrats in writing a letter to the Biden Administration to consider backing, “recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions,” in a new bill that the President wants to pass, focused on a jobs program to revive American infrastructure called Build Back Better. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was among the signatories on the letter, says she wants to introduce a wealth tax to fund Biden’s infrastructure bill. Her legislation is called the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act of 2021.” Meanwhile millions of Americans are struggling during the pandemic and new analysis shows that even those benefits that are technically available are not reaching a majority of the unemployed.
In other news, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate Judiciary committee on Tuesday where he did not mince words in referring to the January 6th Capitol riot as “domestic terrorism.” Prosecutors have continued to unearth new information about the siege including that members of the Proud Boys group had planned to break into the Capitol building from multiple points that day. Still, a new report shows that the majority of people arrested in connection to the attack were not involved in specific groups, suggesting that they were instead buoyed by the common motivations repeatedly fed to them by former President Donald Trump. According to the George Washington University study about 142 of those arrested were, “inspired by a range of extremist narratives, conspiracy theories, and personal motivations.” In fact far right groups appear to be weakening right now, increasing the chances of individuals fomenting violent activity on their own as Trump continues to fan the flames as he did at his recent CPAC talk.
In addition to his speech Trump gave an interview to Fox News during which he expressed yet another one of his signature lies, this time saying in reference to the January 6th attack, “I requested … I definitely gave the number of 10,000 National Guardsmen, and [said] I think you should have 10,000 of the National Guard ready. They took that number. From what I understand, they gave it to the people at the Capitol, which is controlled by Pelosi. And I heard they rejected it because they didn’t think it would look good.” In fact, Trump did no such thing. The former President, who is under investigation in New York, is facing a probe into his chief financial officer at the Trump Organization: a man named Allen Weisselberg and his two sons. While Weisselberg is not facing charges it may mean that the Manhattan DA could be seeking to obtain his cooperation against Trump. There are currently five independent investigators in various states including New York that are examining the former President who no longer enjoys the legal immunity that his White House position had given him.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a landmark case on the Voting Rights Act that could potentially gut protections for minority voters enacted at the height of the civil rights movement. In effect the court is considering how difficult or easy it should be for states to pass laws that could restrict voting centering on two voting laws in Arizona. In a remarkable exchange with the Arizona GOP’s lawyer, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked what his party’s interest was in restricting voting rights. He answered truthfully, “Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero sum game. And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election.” In admitting that Republicans lose elections when people of color vote, the GOP exposed its real motivation: to win elections undemocratically even if it means disenfranchising people of color. Republican controlled state houses all over the nation are busy rewriting voting laws after Trump’s loss in 2020. In Georgia, the House just passed a major voting rights bill that would make it much harder to vote.
In news from the pandemic, global infection rates are slowly creeping back up after a significant drop over several weeks, while in the U.S. the drop in infections have leveled. A variant that emerged in Brazil is particularly concerning as it appears to be reinfecting those who have recovered from the disease. As many begin returning to “normal” in the U.S., the CDC is warning of a potential “fourth surge” in infections saying, “Now is not the time to relax safeguards.” To date there have been more than 28 million infections and 513,000 deaths in the U.S. Meanwhile President Biden just brokered a deal to have the pharmaceutical company Merck begin manufacturing the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. Calling it a “historic partnership,” the deal is intended to help Johnson & Johnson fulfill the massive orders for the vaccine as supplies continue to be used as fast as possible. Vaccines are still not reaching the hardest hit Black and brown communities as much as they should.
A third woman has accused Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate sexual behavior adding to the growing pressure on the New York Governor. The New York Times broke the story of a young woman named Anna Ruch who described Cuomo touching her bare lower back and then placing his hands on her cheeks asking if he could kiss her. He had just met her at a wedding. New York Attorney General Letitia James will name independent investigators to examine the incidents that Cuomo has been named in. But he faces the even greater charge of covering up the numbers of nursing home deaths in New York during the early months of the pandemic.
And finally, the Biden Administration has announced its first sanctions against Russia — in connection with the alleged poisoning of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. The sanctions match earlier EU sanctions against Russia and do not specifically target President Vladimir Putin or Russian intelligence officials who are the ones specifically accused of the poisoning. The reaction was in stark contrast to Biden’s decision not to punish Saudi Arabia over U.S. intelligence reports confirming that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman authorized the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.