Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking a Democratic effort to force a vote on upping direct payments to $2,000 per person as part of the new coronavirus stimulus package. The House voted Monday to approve the increase. McConnell said Tuesday the Senate may still consider the larger checks but will add Trump’s other demands to investigate unsubstantiated voter fraud in the presidential election and to remove liability protections for social media companies. But analysts say lumping all of Trump’s demands together makes passage of the $2,000 checks much more unlikely. Meanwhile, the Treasury said it is starting to send the $600 payments to Americans. Senators Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Sherrod Brown have vowed to filibuster a vote on overriding Trump’s veto of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act if McConnell refuses to hold an up-or-down vote on the $2,000 relief checks, forcing the Senate to stay in session over the New Year holiday.
The U.S. reported 3,725 coronavirus deaths Tuesday — the highest daily death toll yet — and 124,000 hospitalizations, also a world record. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now predicting the U.S. will hit 400,000 COVID-19 deaths by January 20, the day Trump leaves office.
The first U.S. case of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain has been reported in Colorado. The patient is in his twenties and has not traveled recently. Health officials say they expect to see more cases of the variant soon. British officials believe the variant is up to 70% more infectious, though this has not been experimentally verified.
In Los Angeles, at least five hospitals had to declare an “internal disaster” due to oxygen supply issues.
In Louisiana, Republican Congressmember-elect Luke Letlow has died of COVID-19 at the age of 41. He was due to be sworn in on Sunday.
COVID-19 continues its devastating surge among the U.S. prison population. Data from the Associated Press and The Marshall Project found that one in every five prisoners has tested positive for the coronavirus — a rate over four times higher than the general population. At least 275,000 prisoners have been infected since the start of the pandemic, and over 1,700 have died.
Washington state has started vaccinating prisoners and staff in an effort to curb coronavirus outbreaks. Meanwhile, New York state is temporarily suspending prison visitation amid the current surge. Advocates say the move just inflicts more trauma on an already vulnerable population.
President-elect Joe Biden slammed the Trump administration Tuesday for its slow rollout of the U.S. vaccination program.
President-elect Joe Biden: “I’ve directed my team to prepare a much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership to get things back on track. We will find ways to boost the pace of vaccinations.”
The U.S. has vaccinated around 2 million people, far short of its goal to vaccinate 20 million people before the end of the year. Biden reiterated his plan to ask Americans to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his administration. He said he is working with local officials to implement mask mandates across the country and will require mask-wearing for federal workers, in federal facilities, and for communal interstate travel. Meanwhile, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris: “I trust the scientists. And it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine. So I urge everyone: When it is your turn, get vaccinated. It’s about saving your life, the life of your family members and the life of your community.”
Harris received her shot from nurse Patricia Cummings, the daughter of Guyanese immigrants. In other vaccine news, Novavax has launched the late-stage U.S. trial of its COVID vaccine.
In international news, Britain has granted emergency authorization for the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine costs significantly less than the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech ones and does not require storage in ultra-cold freezers. Some trials showed it had a lower efficacy rate. The U.K. registered a record 53,000 new cases Tuesday.
Meanwhile, China’s Sinopharm says its coronavirus vaccine is 79% effective, and is seeking approval from regulators, although some 1 million or more people reportedly already received a Sinopharm vaccine as part of an emergency use program.
Germany reported its highest daily death toll at over 1,100 deaths. South Korea also reported its own new record of 40 deaths.
The World Health Organization is warning the COVID-19 pandemic should be a “wake-up call” and that an even more devastating pandemic could occur.
Dr. Mike Ryan: “This pandemic has been very severe. It’s spread around the world extremely quickly and has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one.”
In news from Latin America, Argentine lawmakers have approved a bill to allow abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy — becoming the largest Latin American nation to roll back anti-choice laws. President Alberto Fernández, who introduced the legislation, is set to sign it into law. Argentina is the home country of Pope Francis. Reproductive rights activists who spent years campaigning for Argentina’s bill hope other predominantly Catholic nations across Latin America will follow suit by overturning harsh anti-abortion laws.
A Chinese court has sentenced 10 Hong Kong activists to between seven months and three years in jail for illegally crossing the border. Two minors who are part of the group of 12 activists were returned to Hong Kong to face a court there. The 12 were arrested at sea in August after they allegedly tried to reach Taiwan by boat.
In related news, 19-year-old activist Tony Chung was sentenced to four months in prison for insulting China’s flag and unlawful assembly at a 2019 protest against the Chinese extradition law. Chung was arrested in October near the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, where he reportedly was planning to request asylum. He also faces charges of secession, which carries a possible life sentence under the new national security law.
In Papua New Guinea, 15 people are missing and feared dead after heavy rains triggered a landslide near an informal gold mine in a remote rural area. Three children are among those feared buried alive in their encampment at the base of a mountain, where miners pan for gold to scratch out a living. Some of the world’s biggest mining companies, including Rio Tinto, have extracted vast mineral wealth from Papua New Guinea for decades, leaving a path of environmental destruction behind, while most miners live in poverty.
In Bangladesh, authorities are moving a second group of over 1,800 Rohingya refugees to a remote island hours away from the mainland. Around 1,600 refugees were sent to the island earlier this month. Activists say the refugees are being forced into moving and that they were locked out of their homes at the camps in Cox’s Bazar. International journalists have been barred from visiting the island. Over 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after a brutal and deadly crackdown by Burma’s military.
In Croatia, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake killed at least seven people, injured scores of others and leveled buildings in the central town of Petrinja Tuesday. Some 25,000 people were left with no running water or electricity following the earthquake, and hospitals were forced to evacuate most of their patients.
In Kentucky, the Louisville Police Department has terminated two more officers involved in the March 13 police killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician who was shot to death in her own home. The officers are Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired the shot that killed Taylor, and Detective Joshua Jaynes, who prepared the search warrant that led to the fatal raid. Former officer Brett Hankison was indicted by a grand jury in September for wanton endangerment for shooting into the apartment of a neighbor, but no one has been criminally charged over Breonna Taylor’s death.
The Justice Department says it will not pursue criminal charges against the officers who killed Tamir Rice in 2014. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when then-Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot him and claimed he thought Rice’s toy gun was real.
In Boston, a statue depicting a formerly enslaved man kneeling before President Lincoln has been removed after the Boston Art Commission voted unanimously to take it down during the summer, at the height of the antiracist nationwide uprising. The vote came after a campaign spearheaded by Boston artist Tory Bullock, who responded Tuesday to the removal.
Tory Bullock: “This is a great day for the city of Boston. In case you didn’t know, this statue has been up for 141 years. And for Boston to be the first place to come up with any kind of legitimate process to decommission these controversial statues in a respectful manner, it warms my heart. It makes me proud. This is a proud day for me and for my city.”
The Kansas City Star, one of the most influential newspapers in the Midwest, has apologized for the paper’s racist history. The paper’s top editor admitted the Star and a sister paper had reinforced segregation, Jim Crow laws and redlining. The editor, Mike Fannin, wrote, “Decade after early decade it robbed an entire community of opportunity, dignity, justice and recognition.” The paper went on to admit that its coverage had “disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations” of Black residents.
In Tennessee, police records show both local and federal authorities were aware that Anthony Quinn Warner, Nashville’s Christmas Day bomber, was a possible threat for over a year. In August of last year, Warner’s girlfriend warned Nashville police he was building bombs. The explosion last Friday injured three people, destroyed dozens of buildings and killed Warner.
Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler faces fresh charges that she and her husband personally benefited from regulatory decisions she made as a lawmaker. Mother Jones reports that, while serving on the Senate’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Loeffler took several actions that impacted the Fortune 500 company Intercontinental Exchange, known as ICE. At the time, Loeffler held millions of dollars of stock in ICE; her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the company’s CEO, as well as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler faces Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock in a January 5 runoff election that will determine which party controls the Senate. So far 2.3 million people have cast ballots, which is a record for voting in a Georgia runoff election.
Here in New York, a Boeing 737 MAX landed at LaGuardia Airport Tuesday in the jet’s first commercial flight in the U.S. since it was grounded in March of last year following two deadly crashes that killed 346 people. The aircraft and updates to its automated flight control system were cleared by regulators in November.