Lawmakers reached a deal Sunday on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package after months of stalled negotiations and just days before vital benefits were set to expire for millions across the country. The measure includes $600 direct payments for taxpayers earning under $75,000 a year. Qualifying parents will get another $600 per child. Undocumented immigrants will not receive benefits, but their spouses may qualify. The legislation also includes enhanced federal unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, schools and child care, and money for vaccine distribution. The bill also extends by one month a moratorium on evictions and $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters. The stimulus does not include state and local aid, which the Democrats had been fighting for, or corporate liability protections, which Republicans had demanded. Congress is expected to vote on the measure today. The White House said Sunday President Trump plans to sign the deal.
The first shots of the Moderna vaccine are expected to be injected today as millions of doses of the second COVID-19 vaccine approved in the U.S. started rolling out to more than 3,700 locations Sunday. The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the vaccine Friday for people 18 and over. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel said Sunday frontline essential workers, including teachers, grocery store workers, daycare staff, police and firefighters, and those over 75 should be the next in line to receive the vaccination after the first wave of frontline health workers and nursing home residents.
President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced the team he says is charged with tackling the “existential” threat of the climate crisis. This is Brenda Mallory, who has been tapped to run the Council on Environmental Quality.
Brenda Mallory: ”CEQ will work with a broad range of partners on a broad range of issues, tackle the full breadth of climate change, preserve the natural treasures of our nation, center environmental justice and help more communities overcome legacy environmental impacts.”
President Trump is reportedly mulling increasingly desperate ways to overturn the results of the election. In a heated Oval Office meeting Friday that included recently pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his attorney Sidney Powell, Trump considered appointing Powell, who promoted conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines, as special counsel to investigate alleged voter fraud. Powell had been ousted from the Trump campaign legal team over her outrageous remarks. Trump also reportedly discussed invoking martial law, which Flynn had suggested earlier in the week. Sidney Powell was seen back at the White House Sunday night.
In related news, the Trump campaign is asking the Supreme Court to overrule Pennsylvania judges and throw out over 100,000 mail-in ballots, in yet another last-ditch attempt to overturn his defeat.
In other voting news, a federal judge Friday rejected a request by Georgia’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, to prevent new Georgia residents from voting in the January 5 runoff election if they voted in another state in November.
In Iraq, at least one person was injured Sunday as attackers fired a volley of rockets at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. The embassy said an anti-missile system intercepted the rockets mid-flight, preventing more damage. The attack came ahead of the first anniversary of President Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3.
In Afghanistan, a car bomb exploded in the capital Kabul on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding 15 others, including a parliamentarian. The blast followed a bombing at a religious gathering in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province Friday that left 15 people dead and 20 injured, with children among the victims. The attacks came just days after the top U.S. general, Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley, held unannounced talks with Taliban peace negotiators in Qatar.
In India, over two dozen people have died since mass protests began last month against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to deregulate agricultural markets. Officials say around half of the deaths have been caused by the harsh winter as tens of thousands of farmers are camping out in the cold on the outskirts of New Delhi.
A state of natural disaster has been declared in Fiji after Cyclone Yasa flattened entire villages and killed at least four people, including a 3-month-old baby. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama sounded the alarm over the increasing frequency and strength of cyclones in Fiji. “This is not normal. This is a climate emergency,” he said.
Back in the U.S., a new watchdog report finds New York police officers used excessive force and were unprepared to respond to racial justice protests that rose up this summer following the police killing of George Floyd. Over 2,000 people were arrested at protests in May and June as a stream of reports and videos of police violence circulated online. This the New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett.
Margaret Garnett: “Tactics, which included encirclement, also known as kettling; mass arrests; baton and pepper spray use and other tactics, reflected a failure to calibrate an appropriate balance between valid public safety or officer safety interests and the rights of protesters to assemble and to express their views.”
In related news, a Boston police sergeant has been put on leave as an investigation is carried out into abuses during Black Lives Matter protests in Boston. The media outlet The Appeal last week published a report and bodycam footage showing police officers used excessive force on demonstrators, including liberal use of pepper spray, and boasted about attacking protesters.
In Georgia, new bodycam footage from the minutes after three white men murdered Ahmaud Arbery while he was out jogging show Arbery was still alive when police arrived at the scene, but officers did not immediately help him. They also declined to cuff Travis McMichael even though he admitted to shooting Arbery. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Arbery’s family, said of the recently released videos, “There has not been a Black murder suspect in history who got the deference that these men received.”
Seattle police raided and cleared an encampment of unhoused people at a public park Friday and arrested over 20 people. Residents of the camp were given just 15 minutes to gather their belongings. Police also used rubber bullets to disperse protesters at the site. Community organizer and attorney Nikkita Oliver tweeted, “Sweeping Cal Anderson Park in winter during a pandemic is inhumane. Why not actually offer people food, supports & services, rental assistance, places to live? @MayorJenny do better. Residents without homes are still humans & still residents.” The CDC has advised cities to leave encampments in place during the pandemic if they are not able to help rehouse people in safe places.
In Arizona, members of the San Carlos Apache Nation have called a day of action today in opposition to a proposed copper mine in a sacred portion of the Tonto National Forest. The tribe says the planned mine would raze an ancient forest, known as Oak Flat, and contaminate a large swath of southern Arizona.
The Trump administration is racing to approve the mine as part of a massive transfer of federal land to oil, gas and mining companies in the final days of Trump’s presidency. The plans include a proposed uranium mine in South Dakota, an open-pit lithium mine in Nevada, and a natural gas pipeline, which would run through Virginia and West Virginia and cross under the Appalachian Trail.
In cybersecurity news, a massive breach of U.S. government data continues to widen, with federal officials now saying the hack targeted the agency overseeing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and five other government agencies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday it was “clear” that Russia was behind the hack. Just hours after he made that claim, President Trump broke his silence on the issue and said that China — not Russia — may have been responsible, while downplaying the scope of the hack. Trump tweeted, “everything is well under control.” Trump’s former top adviser on homeland security, Tom Bossert, told The New York Times it may take years to root out the effects of the hack, and that “entire new networks need to be built.”
The Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit Friday challenging Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented people from the final census count. The court said it was “premature” to rule on the case which is “riddled with contingencies and speculation.” Immigrants’ rights groups vowed to keep fighting against Trump’s unconstitutional plan.