President Trump threatened to thwart the $900 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package, which he called a “disgrace” in a video released on Twitter Tuesday night.
President Donald Trump: “I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple. I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package. And maybe that administration will be me.”
Trump did not say whether he would veto the bill, which passed with a veto-proof majority. Top Democrats seized on Trump’s remarks Tuesday night to repeat their own calls for higher direct payments. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reminded Trump that Republicans blocked the move. Pelosi tweeted, “Democrats are ready to bring this to the floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” And progressive Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last night they already prepared an amendment to add the $2,000 payments to the bill. Senator Schumer responded to AOC’s tweet, “I’m in. Whaddya say, Mitch?”
This comes as the U.S. is averaging over 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, with record-breaking deaths and hospitalizations. 2020 was the deadliest year ever in U.S. history, mostly due to the pandemic. The country is on track to top 3.2 million deaths this year — over 400,000 more deaths than in 2019.
President Trump issued 15 pardons and five commutations Tuesday, including pardons for four former Blackwater contractors involved in a massacre in Iraq, three corrupt former Republican lawmakers, two people convicted in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and two Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting an undocumented immigrant.
The Blackwater guards included Nicholas Slatten, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when he and other Blackwater mercenaries opened fire with machine guns and grenades on a crowded public space in Baghdad, killing 17 unarmed civilians, including women and children. The youngest victim was a 9-year-old named Ali Kinani. This is Ali’s father Mohammed speaking to Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley in a short documentary called “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim.”
Mohammed Kinani: “It was horrific, extremely terrifying. I still wake up from sleep startled. 'Why?' I ask. 'Why would they do this?' We were civilians sitting in our cars. Most of the cars had families in them. So why did this happen? I kept hearing 'Boom! Boom! Boom!' in my car. Bullets were flying everywhere. It was horrific. Horrific. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, a close ally of President Trump. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary. Click here to see our full coverage of the Nisoor Square massacre.
Trump also pardoned Ignacio Ramos and José Compeán, two former Border Patrol agents who were convicted in 2006 of shooting an unarmed Mexican man and then covering it up. A pardon was also given to George Papadopoulos, a 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its Russia investigation. The three former congressmen given pardons or commutations are all allies of President Trump: Duncan Hunter, who had pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds; Chris Collins, who pleaded guilty to insider trading; and Steve Stockman, who was convicted for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations. Trump was pushed to commute Stockman’s 10-year sentence by the conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell, who has been helping Trump try to overturn the November election. Trump also reduced the sentences of three women convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.
Trump is expected to grant more pardons in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, urged Trump to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly considering granting legal immunity to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is facing a federal lawsuit over a plot to assassinate a former top Saudi intelligence officer who now lives in Canada. Such a move may provide the legal basis to protect bin Salman over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
A new report has revealed at least 36 journalists at Al Jazeera were hacked using spyware made by the Israeli firm NSO. The hack was uncovered by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which tracks use of the software known as Pegasus that allows users to remotely exploit and monitor hacked devices. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are believed to have been behind the attacks.
The number of journalists killed in retaliation for their work more than doubled this year, with Mexico being the most dangerous country for journalists in 2020, followed by Afghanistan and the Philippines, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which found at least 30 journalists have been killed around the world this year.
In related news, in Mexico, the former mayor of a small town in the state of Chihuahua has been arrested for complicity in the 2017 murder of La Jornada journalist Miroslava Breach. Hugo Amed Shultz is accused of providing information about Breach, who covered the drug war, to an organized crime group suspected of her murder.
Israel is headed toward its fourth election in under two years, after lawmakers failed to pass a national budget by a Tuesday deadline, triggering an automatic dissolution of parliament. This comes as weekly protests continue against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over corruption charges and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Canada, exiled Pakistani human rights activist Karima Mehrab Baloch was found dead in Toronto this week. Her husband says she went out on a walk Sunday and never returned home. Her body was found the next day. Baloch fled Pakistan after receiving threats due to her human rights work in her home region of Balochistan. In 2016, the BBC named Baloch as one of the 100 most influential women working in human rights. Earlier this year, another exiled activist from Balochistan, the journalist Sajid Hussain, was found dead in Sweden.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate. Padilla will be the first Latino senator to represent California, a state which is 40% Latinx. His parents immigrated from Mexico. In a video posted by Governor Newsom to Twitter, Padilla talks about how his family’s background has shaped his political work.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla: “I can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us, or the many, many years of my mom cleaning houses, doing the same thing. It’s why I try so hard to make sure that our democracy is as inclusive in California as we built. And it’s a hell of an important perspective to bring to Washington.”
After Kamala Harris leaves the Senate, there will be no Black women U.S. senators. We’ll have more on Alex Padilla later in the broadcast.
The Justice Department is suing Walmart for its role in fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. The lawsuit accuses Walmart of filling thousands of invalid prescriptions, failing to report “suspicious” opioid prescriptions, and pressuring employees to fill orders quickly, even when they were not written for valid medical purposes. Some 450,000 people have died from opioid overdoses in the past 20 years.
In Tacoma, Washington, the immigration advocacy group La Resistencia is reporting guards at the Northwest Detention Center have threatened a hunger striker with forced feeding. Victor Fonseca, an asylum seeker from Venezuela, has been on hunger strike for over a month, protesting the ICE jail’s dangerous conditions during the pandemic and demanding prisoners with underlying medical conditions be released. Fonseca is currently awaiting deportation. Here he is speaking from prison at the start of his hunger strike.
Victor Fonseca: “What do I have to lose? I have already lost everything. I lost my freedom. I lost my family, my children. Enough is enough. … I need to do this because, otherwise, I will die here.”
According to La Resistencia, at least 20 prisoners at Northwest Detention Center are currently on hunger strike.
In Chicago, over 1,500 essential workers staged a one-day strike Tuesday to demand safer conditions and hazard pay during the pandemic for all essential workers. Hospital health and maintenance workers, Cook County Clerk’s Office workers, and employees from the Sheriff’s Office say county officials have been refusing to negotiate as workers continue to serve essential frontline roles amid the pandemic. This is Reverend James Phipps, who serves on SEIU’s executive board for Cook County and was an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement.
Rev. James Phipps: “They disrespect us. They disrespect our union. But at the same time, they want us to support them financially for them to attain their goal. We’re fighting for our families. We’re fighting for economic justice for the community at large. And we understand that in this country, most of the Black and Brown people don’t know what generational wealth is. Nothing ever trickled down to them.”