Headlines: March 3, 2021
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Hearings on the January 6th Capitol riot continued on Wednesday before the Senate Rules Committee and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard explained to Senators that “unusual” restrictions on deployment prevented him from sending in the guardsmen that were needed to the Capitol building. He had expressed the same concerns earlier in a Washington Post interview. Had those “unusual” restrictions not been made by the Pentagon, D.C. National Guardsmen might have arrived in time to help D.C. Capitol Police who were overrun by a massive, violent crowd of Trump supporters. AP explained that, “That delay stood in contrast to the immediate approval for National Guard support granted in response to the civil unrest that roiled American cities last spring as an outgrowth of racial justice protests.” In a separate hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said that threats to lawmakers have increased by 93.5% in the first two months of this year compared to the first two months of last year. Additionally threats made to lawmakers in 2020 were more than double the number in 2017 and that the majority were made by people outside D.C. Police have also uncovered what they are calling a “possible plot” by a militia group against the Capitol this Thursday by people linked to the QAnon conspiracy theorists.
In other news, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was completely lifting all coronavirus-related restrictions in his state. Texans are still reeling from the devastating winter storm, power failures and water shortages, that Abbott faced public outrage over. Additionally, Texas has among the lowest rates of vaccination in the nation. Abbott apparently made his announcement soon after the federal government warned states against reopening too quickly. According to Reuters, “Employees at General Motors, Toyota Motor, Target Corp, and Macy’s Inc in Texas will keep face masks on at work.” Soon after Texas, Mississippi followed suit.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced by the end of May there would be enough vaccine doses for all Americans. Biden’s promise followed a deal that he brokered with Merck to produce a new vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson and approved by the FDA. The President also called on states to prioritize vaccines for teachers so that children could get back to school in person. So far 30 out of 50 states have already been doing so. Meanwhile, hampered by the complicated criteria for prioritization that the CDC has offered, some states have decided to break down eligibility by age alone, which has left some groups of essential workers angered.
In news from the economic relief bill that Congress is still struggling to pass, President Biden has capitulated on limiting $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans based on income. The “means-testing” was a demand from conservative Democrats in the Senate, whose votes are needed in order to pass the Covid-relief. According to the New York Times, “The proposal would disqualify individuals earning more than $80,000 — and households whose incomes exceed $160,000 — from receiving stimulus checks of up to $1,400.” This means that some people who had received checks from the government under Trump would not get them under Biden.
The House is readying a vote on a massive federal voting rights overhaul bill, known as the “For the People” Act or H.R. 1, just as GOP-controlled states around the nation are passing laws restricting voting rights and as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering gutting the Voting Rights Act. Now some Democratic lawmakers are supportive of the idea of exempting bills around things like voting rights from the Senate filibuster so that it can pass without Republican support. Not a single GOP member is expected to support the bill in either chamber. Georgia’s voter restrictions that just passed their state House would hit Black voters particularly hard and it is those sorts of undemocratic and racist laws that H.R. 1 aims to address.
President Biden’s pick to head the Office of Budget and Management Neera Tanden has withdrawn her name from consideration after facing weeks of opposition from Republican lawmakers and progressive activists. Shalanda Young, the woman who was slated to be Tanden’s deputy, and who faced her own confirmation hearing on Tuesday is now being touted as her possible replacement.
Biden’s pick of former California congressman Xavier Becerra to head the Health and Human Services Department is also facing Republican opposition – over his support for reproductive choice. The opposition is unusual considering that Biden himself is pro-choice, as is most of his party and a majority of the nation. It is also unusual considering that while Becerra did vote in support of the right to an abortion as a California lawmaker, his signature issues were health care access, education, and immigration. Meanwhile Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland is finally seeing some support from Republicans, winning over GOP Senator Susan Collins’ vote.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will not resign from his position in spite of 3 women now coming forward to reveal inappropriate sexual behavior and his role in a cover-up of nursing home virus-related deaths in his state. Even though many Democratic Party leaders such as Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they are troubled by the allegations, they have not joined calls demanding his resignation. Two of his top aides have just resigned however.
Federal authorities are examining a deadly car crash in Southern California near the border with Mexico on Tuesday that claimed the lives of more than a dozen people. Ten out of the 13 people killed were apparently Mexican nationals and were in an SUV that was filled with 27 people when a semi-truck hit the vehicle. A California Highway Patrol spokesperson said this at a press conference.
And finally, nearly a dozen rockets hit an Iraqi military base where U.S. troops are stationed, less than a week after the Biden administration bombed Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in Syria. According to press, a U.S. contractor died of a heart attack during the incident. The rocket attacks came just before Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Iraq. The capital Baghdad is now on a full lockdown and the entire nation on heightened security.