Biden, Yellen say GOP virus aid too small, Democrats push on
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden panned a Republican alternative to his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan as insufficient Tuesday as Senate Democrats pushed ahead, voting to launch a process that could approve his sweeping rescue package on their own, if Republicans refuse to support it.
Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting, both declaring the Republicans’ $618 billion offer was too small. They urged big fast action to stem the pandemic crisis and economic fallout.
As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, Democrats marshaled their ever-slim Senate majority, voting 50-49, to start a lengthy process for approving Biden’s bill with or without GOP support. The goal is passage by March.
“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the lunch meeting.
“If we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the COVID crisis for years.”
Capitol Police officer who died after riot lies in honor
WASHINGTON (AP) — Slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick lay in honor in the building he died defending, allowing colleagues and the lawmakers he protected to pay their respects and to remember the violent attack on Congress that took his life.
Sicknick died after defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 against the mob that stormed the building and interrupted the electoral count after then-President Donald Trump urged supporters on the National Mall to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. The U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that Sicknick, who died the next day, was injured “while physically engaging with protesters,” though a final cause of death has not yet been determined.
President Joe Biden traveled to the Capitol to pay tribute to Sicknick shortly after the ceremony began Tuesday night, briefly placing his hand on the urn in the center of the Capitol Rotunda, saying a prayer and sadly shaking his head as he observed a memorial wreath nearby. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a handful of other congressional leaders also paid their respects.
The arrival of Sicknick’s remains at 9:30 p.m. was solemn, with dozens of Capitol Police standing at attention as his urn was carried up the Capitol steps. There was a viewing period for his Capitol Police colleagues overnight, and lawmakers were to pay tribute at a ceremony Wednesday morning. A ceremonial departure for Arlington National Cemetery was planned later in the day.
Members of Congress remain shaken by the riots and are grappling with what it means not only for the future of the country, but for their own security as elected representatives. While lawmakers were united in denouncing the riots, and Trump’s role in them, the parties are now largely split on how to move forward.
Biden signs immigration orders as Congress awaits more
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a second spate of orders to undo his predecessor’s immigration policies, demonstrating the powers of the White House and its limitations without support from Congress.
His orders on family separation, border security and legal immigration bring to nine the number of executive actions on immigration during his first two weeks in office. With proposed legislation to give legal status and a path to citizenship to all of the estimated 11 million people in the country who don’t have it, Biden has quickly taken aim at many of former President Donald Trump’s sweeping changes to deter immigration, both legal and illegal, and established a vision that is likely to far outlast his tenure if he’s able to muster enough support in a deeply divided Congress.
Biden rescinded some Trump actions and laid a foundation for more far-reaching repeals depending on the outcome of policy reviews over the next few months.
“I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy,” he said during a signing ceremony.
Alejandro Mayorkas, who was sworn in as Homeland Security secretary after his nomination was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate, will lead a task force on family separation, focused largely on reuniting parents and children who remain apart. It is unclear exactly how many, but about 5,500 children have been identified in court documents as having been separated during Trump’s presidency, including about 600 whose parents have yet to be found by a court-appointed committee.
WHO team visits Wuhan virus lab at center of speculation
WUHAN, China (AP) — World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a research center in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus, with one member saying they intended to meet key staff and press them on critical issues.
The WHO team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a highlight of their mission to gather data and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread.
“We’re looking forward to meeting with all the key people here and asking all the important questions that need to be asked,” zoologist and team member Peter Daszak said, according to footage run by Japanese broadcaster TBS.
Reporters followed the team to the high security facility, but as with past visits, there was little direct access to team members, who have given scant details of their discussions and visits thus far. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch along the facility’s gated front entrance, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research center.
One of China’s top virus research labs, the institute built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. That has led to unproven allegations that it may have a link to the original outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in late 2019.
Biden boosting vaccine allotments, financing for virus costs
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday that it is moving to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states and beginning to distribute them to retail pharmacies next week. The push comes amid new urgency to speed vaccinations to prevent the spread of potentially more serious strains of the virus that has killed more than 445,000 Americans.
Starting next week, 1 million doses will be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the country, the White House said. The administration is also boosting by 500,000 the weekly allocation of vaccines sent directly to states and territories for the coming weeks, up to 10.5 million. It is allowing state and local governments to receive additional federal dollars to cover previously incurred expenses relating to the pandemic.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients announced the moves on a call with the nation’s governors Tuesday morning and then detailed them to the public in an afternoon news conference.
Drugstores have become a mainstay for flu shots and shingles vaccines, and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly. “This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” Zients said.
“This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities,” he added.
EXPLAINER: Myanmar, Burma and why the different names matter
This week, the military upended years of quasi-democratic rule in Myanmar, with soldiers taking control of the country in a carefully orchestrated coup. The military said the seizure of power was necessary because the government had failed to act on its unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in November elections, which the party of the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won in a landslide. It claims the takeover was constitutional.
But where exactly did the coup happen? Was it in Myanmar, as the the country is officially called? Or was it in Burma, the name Washington continues to use?
The answer is complicated. Because when it comes to Myanmar, pretty much everything is political. Including language.
WHY ARE THERE TWO NAMES FOR ONE COUNTRY?
For generations, the country was called Burma, after the dominant Burman ethnic group. But in 1989, one year after the ruling junta brutally suppressed a pro-democracy uprising, military leaders suddenly changed its name to Myanmar.
House Dems make case for conviction; Trump denies charges
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump endangered the lives of all members of Congress when he aimed a mob of supporters “like a loaded cannon” at the U.S. Capitol, House Democrats said Tuesday in making their most detailed case yet for why the former president should be convicted and permanently barred from office. Trump denied the allegations through his lawyers and called the trial unconstitutional.
The dueling filings offer the first public glimpse of the arguments that will be presented to the Senate beginning next week. The impeachment trial represents a remarkable reckoning with the violence in the Capitol last month, which the senators witnessed firsthand, and with Trump’s presidency overall. Held in the very chamber where the insurrectionists stood on Jan. 6, it will pit Democratic demands for a final measure of accountability against the desire of many Republicans to turn the page and move on.
The impeachment trial, Trump’s second, begins in earnest on Feb. 9.
The Democratic legal brief forcefully linked Trump’s baseless efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election to the deadly riot at the Capitol, saying he bears “unmistakable” blame for actions that threatened the underpinnings of American democracy. It argued that he must be found guilty on a charge of inciting the siege. And it used evocative language to conjure the day’s chaos, when “terrified members were trapped in the chamber” and called loved ones “for fear they would not survive.”
“His conduct endangered the life of every single member of Congress, jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security,” the Democratic managers of the impeachment case wrote. “This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office.”
McCarthy meets with Rep. Greene; GOP faces Cheney decision
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met late Tuesday with hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as Republicans wrestled over how to handle a bipartisan outcry over her endorsement of outlandish conspiracy theories and of violent, racist views.
Aides to McCarthy and Greene offered no immediate comment after the two spent around 90 minutes together in his Capitol office. Their session came as the GOP faced unrest from opposing ends of the party’s spectrum over Greene and Rep. Liz Cheney, whom far-right lawmakers want to oust from her leadership post after she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
The strife underscores Republican fissures as the party seeks a path forward two weeks after Trump left office as the only twice-impeached president. House Republicans are effectively deciding whether to prioritize the former president’s norm-shattering behavior and conspiracy theories and retain the loyalty of his voters over more establishment conservative values.
“At the very moment that Joe Biden is lurching to the left is the moment that the Republican Party is lurching out of existence,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz said of the new Democratic president, who is preparing to try muscling a mammoth COVID-19 relief package through the narrowly divided Congress.
But pro-Trump forces remain powerful.
FBI: 2 agents killed, 3 wounded, suspect dead in Florida
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Two FBI agents were killed and three wounded in a shooting that erupted on Tuesday when they arrived to search an apartment in a child pornography case, a confrontation that marked one of the bloodiest days in FBI history. The suspect is believed to have killed himself.
The violence forced residents in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Sunrise to huddle inside their homes as a SWAT team stormed the apartment building and police helicopters circled overhead.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray identified the two slain agents as Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, both of whom specialized in investigating crimes against children.
Two of the wounded agents were taken to hospitals to be treated and were in stable condition, said Miami FBI Agent Michael D. Leverock. The third did not require hospitalization, Wray said.
The suspect opened fire on the agents when they arrived to serve a federal search warrant, George Piro, who leads the FBI’s Miami field office, said at a news conference.
Pentagon chief purges defense boards; Trump loyalists out
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered hundreds of Pentagon advisory board members to resign this month as part of a broad review of the panels, essentially purging several dozen who were appointed last-minute under the Trump administration.
During the last two months of his tenure, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller removed a number of longtime members from several defense policy, health, science and business boards and replaced many with loyalists of former President Donald Trump. More than 30 of those replacements will now be forced to resign, including former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“I am directing the immediate suspension of all advisory committee operations until the review is completed unless otherwise directed by myself or the deputy secretary of defense,” Austin said in a memo released Tuesday. And he ordered all committee members who were appointed by the defense secretary to resign no later than Feb. 16.
Austin said the review will assess whether each board provides value and make sure its focus aligns with “our most pressing strategic priorities and the National Defense Strategy.”
Tata, a former Fox News commentator, failed to get through Senate confirmation for the top Pentagon policy job early last year because of offensive remarks he had made, including about Islam. In November, however, Trump appointed him to that same post, just days after firing then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and putting Miller in the job.