President Trump signed the $900 billion coronavirus relief measure and the government funding bill Sunday evening, after threatening to derail the bipartisan package last week, and narrowly averted a government shutdown. Millions were plunged into uncertainty over the Christmas holiday as Trump held up the signing of the bill, allowing unemployment programs to lapse, which will lead to delays in benefits for out-of-work Americans. The relief package includes direct payments of $600 per person, expanded unemployment benefits, and aid for small businesses. Trump released a statement upon signing the bill, reiterating his demand for $2,000 checks, and said he was sending back a redlined version of the bill to cut wasteful items. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there will be a full House vote today on increasing direct payments, after Republicans blocked a move to pass the proposal by unanimous consent on Thursday. In his statement, Trump also said the Senate was to investigate voter fraud in the November election, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not mention this in his own statement about the legislation being signed. Trump has been calling for protests in D.C. on January 6 — despite the worsening pandemic — when Congress meets to validate the election. Trump is also calling on lawmakers to review Section 230, a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act which offers liability protection to social media companies. Trump vetoed that bill last week. Lawmakers are expected to vote on overriding his veto this week.
COVID-19 continues to ravage the United States, with cases now topping 19.1 million and over 333,000 deaths. One in every 1,000 Americans has now died from the coronavirus. December has been the deadliest month in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, as experts warn things will likely get worse and post-holiday season travel will lead to new spikes. California became the first state to top 2 million cases last week as hospitals in Southern California are reporting just a handful to no ICU beds available.
In Indiana, the death of a Black doctor from COVID-19 is shining a stark new light on racism in medical care. Dr. Susan Moore posted a now-viral video on Facebook earlier this month, describing racist treatment by medical staff who did not respond to her pleas for care despite being in intense pain and being a doctor herself.
Dr. Susan Moore: “You have to show proof that you have something wrong with you in order for you to get the medicine. I put forth, and I maintain: If I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that. … This is how Black people get killed, when you send them home, and they don’t know how to fight for themselves.”
Dr. Moore died last Sunday, just over two weeks after she posted the video.
In New York, officials are investigating ParCare Community Health Network, a healthcare provider which may have fraudulently obtained doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and administered it to nonprioritized groups.
As coronavirus vaccination efforts continue across the country, federal officials and the head of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed acknowledged the goal of vaccinating 20 million people by year’s end won’t be possible. Nearly 2 million people in the U.S. have gotten their first dose of the vaccine.
In international news, the European Union has begun a coordinated rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine after it was approved last week. In Latin America, which has been suffering a devastating second wave of the virus, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica have begun their mass vaccination programs.
Canada, Japan and South Korea are some of the latest countries to detect cases of the highly infectious new COVID variant which was originally identified in Britain. Japan announced it is temporarily banning nonresident foreigners from entering the country.
Meanwhile, officials in Nigeria say they are investigating a new variant of coronavirus, days after South African officials blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on another variant, which they claim is more contagious. South Africa just passed 1 million cases, and health workers say they are quickly becoming overwhelmed.
Dean Yago: “Yeah, we’re dealing with the COVID, nothing else now. There’s no longer any sickness that we know; it’s COVID all the time. You know that you are at a risk with a patient all the time now.”
In China, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was given a four-year jail sentence for her social media reporting from Wuhan as the virus took hold at the start of the year.
Last week, the first COVID cases were recorded in Antarctica at a Chilean research base.
Britain and the European Union have reached a Brexit trade agreement after months of contentious negotiations and with just days left before the current transition period ends on December 31. The key points of the deal include no tariffs and no quotas on traded goods, the end of free movement for U.K. citizens within the EU, and no “hard border” between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Both sides expressed relief after the deal was reached. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters, “Europe is now moving on.”
In Ethiopia, the death toll from a mass shooting attack in the west of the country last Wednesday has surpassed 220 people, according to humanitarian workers. The Ethiopian military killed dozens of suspects the day after the attack. The region has been plagued by increasing ethnic violence, which has caused tens of thousands to flee amid recent fighting.
This comes as Ethiopia’s military is still locked in a battle with Tigray forces in the north of the country in a conflict which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
In Bosnia, refugee rights groups are warning of a humanitarian crisis after a massive fire tore through an encampment for hundreds of asylum seekers, forcing them to shelter in tents despite the winter cold. The camp near Bosnia’s border with Croatia is home to nearly 1,000 people hoping to cross into Western Europe to seek asylum. Aid groups say many of the refugees are already suffering from frostbite and hypothermia. This is Sajid Ali, a refugee from Afghanistan.
Sajid Ali: “There isn’t any heater inside the tents. It’s really dangerous to live here. We got snow yesterday. And the tent might fall down because you can see that all the snow has gathered on the top of the tents, so they might fall down. And there are more than 500 immigrants now living inside the tents. If they die, who will be responsible?”
At least 20 asylum seekers from countries in sub-Saharan Africa drowned after their boat capsized off Tunisia’s coast on Thursday. Over 620 migrants have died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Over 3,000 migratory deaths were recorded around the world throughout 2020, though the actual number is expected to be much higher.
In Niger, election officials are counting ballots after Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which could lead to Niger’s first-ever transfer of power between two democratically elected governments. Former Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum hopes to avoid a runoff by winning an outright majority against 29 other candidates.
In the Central African Republic, three United Nations peacekeepers were killed in two separate attacks Sunday, just as presidential and parliamentary elections got underway. The attacks came hours after a coalition of Nigerien rebels called off a ceasefire with the government, demanding a halt to voting. In the capital Bangui, hundreds of women marched ahead of Sunday’s election, calling for an end to political violence in the Central African Republic.
Linda Adeline Fekere: “Women are tired of war. We don’t want war anymore. So this march is to support the U.N.’s peacekeeping force so it can fulfill its mandate, which is to protect the population, because we no longer want war. We are tired.”
One of Afghanistan’s top election monitors has been assassinated. On Wednesday, gunmen opened fire on Yousuf Rasheed as he was driving to his office at the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan in Kabul. The U.S. State Department condemned Rasheed’s killing as a “barbaric and senseless assassination.” His death comes ahead of another round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government scheduled to be held in Qatar next month.
In Saudi Arabia, authorities have sentenced prominent women’s right activist Loujain al-Hathloul to five years and eight months in prison on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda and using the internet to harm public order. Al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 after leading a movement to lift Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers and overhaul its male “guardianship” system. Her family says she has been held in solitary confinement and was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, flogging and threats of sexual violence. Al-Hathloul’s sister says authorities may suspend part of her sentence, making her eligible for release in two months. She’s also banned from traveling for five years.
The Trump administration has formally notified Congress that it intends to authorize the sale of nearly a half-billion dollars’ worth of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the weapons could be used on civilians in Yemen. In 2019, President Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
President Trump has pardoned more former members of his inner circle. Just ahead of Christmas, Trump pardoned his disgraced former campaign chair Paul Manafort. Last year, a federal judge ruled Manafort violated terms of a plea agreement by intentionally lying to special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, after he was convicted on charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.
Trump also pardoned his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted on seven criminal counts, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
And Trump pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Charles Kushner was convicted in 2005 on charges of tax fraud, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. So far, 60 of Trump’s 65 pardons have gone to people he personally knows or who aided him politically.
In Tennessee, authorities say a 63-year-old white man whose body was found at the scene of a Christmas morning explosion in downtown Nashville was responsible for the blast. Anthony Quinn Warner was a self-employed computer worker. Before the blast, an RV with a recorded message warned area residents to evacuate.
Recorded voice: “If you can hear this message, evacuate now.”
Authorities say Warner’s DNA was found among the wreckage. No motive has been identified, and no other fatalities were reported. Three people were injured. The blast damaged dozens of structures and caused at least one building to collapse. The bomb went off outside an AT&T transmission building, disrupting services, including some 911 calls.
In Columbus, Ohio, protesters are calling for justice over the police killing last week of Andre Hill, a 47-year-old Black man. Hill was fatally shot by an officer just seconds into their encounter. Bodycam footage shows Hill was walking toward officer Adam Coy with a cellphone in his hand before Coy shot him. Columbus’s director of public safety is deciding today whether to heed the recommendation of the city’s mayor and police chief to terminate officer Coy. This is Alvin Williamson, the brother of Andre Hill, speaking at a community vigil Saturday.
Alvin Williamson: “You used my brother as a target practice. You didn’t even give him a chance to peacefully present himself to even ask the question of what was going on. You didn’t even give him a chance of life as far as that minute that you opened fire in a reckless nature.”
In Illinois, three people were killed and three others wounded Saturday after an active-duty Special Forces soldier opened fire at a bowling alley in the city of Rockford. Thirty-seven-year-old U.S. Army Sergeant Duke Webb was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder. Police believe Webb had no ties to the victims; they’re describing the shootings as a “completely random act.” Nearly 42,000 people across the U.S. have been killed in gun violence in 2020 — a record toll.
A judge has delayed the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. Montgomery suffers from mental illness caused by a life of abuse, and her lawyers are asking for clemency. She was convicted for the gruesome 2004 murder of a pregnant woman. Her execution this month was delayed after her lawyers got COVID-19; a D.C. district judge ruled Thursday the Justice Department can’t move ahead with a January 12 execution because the stay order will still be in place. Advocates hope Montgomery’s life will be spared by Joe Biden, who has vowed to abolish the federal death penalty.