The U.S. topped 25 million confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, over one-quarter of the world’s caseload, which is approaching 100 million. The U.S. has recorded over 419,000 deaths. President Joe Biden is expected to reinstate travel restrictions from Brazil, Britain and much of Europe, as well as impose a new ban on non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa, where health officials say a more transmissible variant is behind a devastating surge. Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said over the weekend there are concerns existing COVID vaccines could become less effective against new coronavirus variants. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said for the first time Friday the U.K. variant may be not just more infectious, but up to 30% more deadly, as well. Britain’s chief scientific adviser cautioned that evidence of the claim “is not yet strong” and that more research is needed.
President Biden and members of his team warned over the weekend the coming weeks and months will be tough. Biden addressed U.S. mayors at a conference Sunday.
President Joe Biden: “The brutal truth is that things are going to get worse the next several months before they get better. We didn’t get into this mess overnight. It’s going to take time for us to turn things around.”
In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” former President Trump’s COVID-19 task force coordinator Deborah Birx said Trump received “parallel” coronavirus data.
Dr. Deborah Birx: “I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made. So I know that someone, or someone out there or someone inside, was creating a parallel set of data.”
The Biden administration confirmed over the weekend they were essentially left with no national vaccination plan from the Trump team. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the administration is also concerned about “vaccine hesitancy,” which could prevent the U.S. from reaching herd immunity. Meanwhile, Moderna and Pfizer would need to nearly double the manufacturing and delivery of their vaccines in order to meet inoculation goals.
In Texas, Dallas County has reversed a plan to prioritize vaccinating people in its hardest-hit areas, largely communities of color, after state authorities threatened to cut their supply, saying it did not meet official distribution guidelines.
The pandemic is continuing to take a severe toll on children and young people. A new report finds one in six households with children have not been getting enough to eat. School closures have also meant many young people are not getting essential mental and emotional support from teachers and therapists.
In Nevada, a surge in student suicides has led officials in Las Vegas to move toward reopening schools, even with the risk of staff and students becoming infected with COVID-19.
President Biden signed more executive orders Friday to expand food assistance and to move toward raising federal wages to $15 an hour. Incoming Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders said the Senate will move to quickly pass an economic recovery package, bypassing Republican approval if necessary.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Reconciliation, which is a Senate rule, was used by the Republicans, under Trump, to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and large corporations. It was used as an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And what we are saying is, 'You used it for that. That's fine. We’re going to use reconciliation — that is, 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families.”
In other news from Washington, D.C., President Biden has rescinded Trump’s order banning federal agencies and recipients of federal funding from conducting diversity training. He is expected to lift Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military today.
In Cabinet news, Lloyd Austin was confirmed 93 to 2 by the Senate Friday, becoming the first Black defense secretary. He’s a retired Army general and board member with weapons maker Raytheon. Janet Yellen is expected to be confirmed as treasury secretary today.
The House is sending the article of impeachment against former President Trump to the Senate today for inciting the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The Senate trial will begin the week of February 8. Trump will become the first president to have an impeachment trial after leaving office.
Nearly 200 National Guard members have tested positive for the coronavirus after they deployed to Washington, D.C., for Joe Biden’s inauguration, following the deadly failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Guard members say they did not receive COVID-19 tests on their arrival in Washington and were left “packed like sardines” in cramped spaces in and around the Capitol — including in an unheated parking garage. The Guard says troops will remain in D.C. to protect the Capitol through Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
In Texas, federal prosecutors have charged 34-year-old Capitol insurrectionist Garret Miller with threatening to assassinate progressive New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Capitol Police are investigating Maryland Republican Congressmember Andy Harris after he tried to bring a concealed handgun onto the House floor. Harris was turned around last Thursday after he set off a metal detector.
The Washington Post reports the Justice Department and FBI are considering not bringing charges against hundreds of people who joined the insurrection inside the Capitol. The FBI has only arrested about 125 people in connection with the siege. Last summer, over 14,000 people were arrested for protesting for racial justice during the nationwide Black Lives Matter uprising.
Meanwhile, the White House has ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee a comprehensive assessment of the threat of domestic violent extremism, to be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI.
In international news, the World Health Organization has struck a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for up to 40 million vaccine doses for COVAX, the international effort to distribute the vaccine to poorer nations. COVAX is set to start distribution next month with a plan to deliver around 1.8 billion doses to 92 countries this year, which would cover just over one-quarter of their populations.
This comes as news that South Africa is paying nearly 2.5 times more for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine than EU countries has prompted stronger calls to halt vaccine nationalism and price gouging. EU nations are reportedly paying less because they funded research and development of the vaccine.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has tested positive for COVID-19 and is receiving treatment. He has come under fire for refusing to impose mandatory lockdowns. Mexico now has the fourth-highest death toll with nearly 150,000 reported fatalities.
In Brazil, motorcade rallies rolled through more than 20 cities Saturday, calling for the impeachment of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro over his mishandling of the pandemic.
Ana Claudia: “I feel as if Brazil doesn’t have a government. Brazil has been left to fend for itself. We have psychopaths in power. And the time has come. No one can take it anymore. We are not going to wait for a million of our people to die before the rest of us rise up. Nobody can take it anymore.”
Brazil has the world’s second-highest pandemic death toll, after the U.S., at 217,000 and the third-highest caseload with 8.8 million confirmed infections.
In New Zealand, officials reported its first suspected case of community transmission since November. The case has been identified as the variant first spotted in South Africa.
In Tunisia, protesters took to the streets of the capital Tunis Saturday to call out police repression, political corruption and economic conditions. Human rights groups say at least 1,000 people have been detained in ongoing demonstrations in recent days. This is one of the protesters.
Mahmoud Cherni: “We want the state to seek to serve the citizen, not to seek to beat them or bring them to prison and give wealth to people who are not worthy of it and suppress employees and people who are vulnerable. So we went out today as their voice and the voice of the oppressed and marginalized parties inside Tunisia.”
In Mozambique, at least four people have been killed and thousands displaced after Tropical Cyclone Eloise tore through the central coast of the country Saturday. The region is still recovering from two devastating cyclones in 2019 — Idai and Kenneth — as the area becomes increasingly subject to extreme weather due to the climate crisis.
In Kentucky, three grand jurors from Breonna Taylor’s case have filed a petition calling for the impeachment of the state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, accusing him of mishandling the case and misrepresenting their findings. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, was shot to death by police officers in her own home in March of last year. Former officer Brett Hankison was indicted by the jury for shooting into the apartment of a neighbor, but no one has been criminally charged over Taylor’s death.
The New York Times is reporting former President Trump plotted with Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark to oust then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in order to install Clark instead, a loyalist who would help coerce Georgia officials into overturning the state’s election results. Rosen reportedly had to argue against his own removal with Clark, before Trump, in a scenario akin to “The Apprentice.” Trump ultimately dropped the plan after Justice Department officials unanimously vowed to quit if Rosen was fired.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports Trump pushed the Justice Department to directly ask the Supreme Court to invalidate Biden’s victory.
Indigenous leaders, immigrant justice advocates and veterans held a national day of action in over a dozen U.S. cities yesterday urging President Biden to take further steps to stop the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. This is Stan Rodriguez, a Kumeyaay Indigenous leader, speaking from the California-Mexico border Sunday.
Stan Rodriguez: “This is a national call to action to the border wall and the damage that has been done, not just to the environment, but also cultural sites, spiritual sites, that are important for our people, the Kumeyaay people.”
In New York, over 1,400 essential workers at Hunts Point Produce Market — the largest wholesale produce market in the country — won a major victory this weekend after going on strike for a week demanding a $1-an-hour raise. Workers voted to end their strike Saturday after approving a new contract that includes a $1.85 wage increase over three years and ends out-of-pocket payments for family healthcare plans. We’ll have more on their victory later in the broadcast.
Veteran talk show host Larry King has died at 87, following his hospitalization with COVID-19 last month. His career spanned 60 years. For a quarter-century, he hosted “Larry King Live” on CNN.
Baseball legend Hank Aaron, whose 755 career home runs stood as a record for over three decades, has died at the age of 86. Aaron began his career as an 18-year-old in the Negro Leagues before joining the Major Leagues in 1954, following Jackie Robinson and several other Black players. As he approached Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record in the 1970s, Aaron and his family received a torrent of racist hate mail and death threats. He told The New York Times in 1994, “I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day. All of these things have put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of my heart away.”