The world has recorded over 100 million cases of COVID-19. Global deaths now top 2.1 million. In the U.S., January is already the deadliest month since the start of the pandemic, with at least 80,000 lives lost. President Biden took new steps Tuesday to ramp up the rollout of vaccines, including the purchase of 200 million more doses; half of these will come from Moderna, the other half from Pfizer-BioNTech. Weekly vaccine supplies to states and tribes will also be increased. Officials from the Biden administration walked back the president’s statement earlier this week that any American who wanted the shot could get it by the spring, instead saying the end of summer was a more likely timeline. This is Biden speaking Tuesday.
President Joe Biden: “The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated. Months. In the next few months, masks, not vaccines, are the best defense against COVID-19.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools can safely reopen with precautions in place such as mask-wearing and social distancing. The CDC says local authorities would also need to impose more stringent restrictions elsewhere in the community, including indoor dining, to keep overall infection rates down.
In international news, Britain has topped 100,000 coronavirus deaths — the world’s fifth-highest death toll. Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation to mark the grim milestone.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost. And, of course, as prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything that the government has done.”
Several European countries, including Germany, are making medical-grade masks mandatory in some indoor public spaces. France is also recommending medical masks over fabric ones.
In the Netherlands, nightly riots have shaken towns and cities across the country following a curfew imposed Saturday to stem a new wave of infections. Police arrested nearly 200 people Monday night; local authorities have expanded police authority to counter the riots.
Canadian officials fined a casino mogul and his wife after they flew to a remote community in the Yukon territory in order to “cut the line” for vaccines. Rodney and Ekaterina Baker received coronavirus vaccines intended for Indigenous residents in Beaver Creek, including elders of the White River First Nation, after the couple claimed to be staffers at a local motel.
In Washington, D.C., all but five Senate Republicans backed an effort to dismiss Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Tuesday, voting in favor of an objection raised by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who argued the trial is unconstitutional since the goal of impeachment is to remove someone from office. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also backed Rand Paul’s move despite accusing Trump on the Senate floor of provoking the insurrection. Although the trial will still go ahead, Tuesday’s vote could indicate it will end in Trump’s acquittal.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy was briefly hospitalized after feeling unwell Tuesday, hours after he was sworn in to preside over Trump’s impeachment trial.
President Biden signed four executive orders Tuesday aimed at addressing racial inequities. One order directs the Justice Department to end its use of private prisons. As a senator, Biden authored the 1994 crime bill, which intensified mass incarceration, disproportionately targeting Black and Brown communities, but he expressed regret for his past policies on the campaign trail after intense scrutiny and pressure. Immigrant rights advocates are calling on Biden to also end the use of private immigration jails. Another executive order directs the Department of Housing and Urban Development to “redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies.” Two other orders commit to respecting and reinforcing tribal sovereignty, and combating xenophobia against Asian Americans.
President Biden is also placing racial justice at the center of his plan to combat the climate crisis. He is announcing major actions today, including a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, moves to cut carbon emissions and move the country away from dependence on fossil fuels, and investing federal funds in communities of color and other groups most vulnerable to pollution and the effects of the changing climate.
In immigration news, a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s 100-day moratorium on most deportations. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton ruled to suspend the policy for at least two weeks while a challenge by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is reviewed. Paxton’s suit argues the moratorium violates immigration law and a legal agreement between Texas and the Trump administration. Judge Tipton was appointed by Trump last year.
The Justice Department has so far charged over 150 people and identified another 400 as suspects in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. At least 19 suspected rioters have been tied to far-right groups including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Texas Freedom Force and the conspiracy group QAnon.
On Tuesday, top U.S. Capitol security officials issued an apology for “failings” before and during the deadly Trump-incited assault, as they appeared before the House Appropriations Committee, which is investigating the attack. Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said, “By January 4, the Department knew that the January 6 event would not be like any of the previous protests held in 2020. We knew that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would be attending. We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.” Pittman became the acting chief of the Capitol Police after her predecessor, Steven Sund, resigned following the riot. She is the first African American and first woman to assume the role.
This comes as the commander of the D.C. National Guard says the Pentagon restricted his authority before the riot, delaying the deployment of troops after the Capitol Police chief called asking for help.
CNN reports Georgia Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene, an open supporter of QAnon, repeatedly indicated support for violence against Democrats and intelligence agents on Facebook in 2018 and 2019, before she ran for Congress. In 2019, she liked a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In related news, calls are mounting from gun violence prevention groups for Greene to resign over posts from 2018 where she promoted harmful conspiracy theories that the school shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, were staged.
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, defended militia members in an article he wrote as a 15-year-old in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is urging global action against the spread of neo-Nazism and white supremacy, which he says has proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guterres spoke at the U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Service. Today marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Anti-Semitism continues to blight our world. It is sad, but not surprising, that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered yet another eruption of this poisonous ideology. We can never let down our guard.”
The U.S. Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as secretary of state Tuesday in a 78-22 vote. Blinken has said he will prioritize multilateralism and suggested during his confirmation hearing the U.S. is open to reentering the Iran nuclear deal. He has also promised a tougher stance against Russia and the continuation of a hard-line approach on China and Venezuela.
In other news from the State Department, a spokesperson said it is reviewing the designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels by the Trump administration as a terrorist group. On Monday, the Treasury Department said it was authorizing financial transactions with the Houthis for the next month, after aid groups and the U.N. warned the move would cut off Yemenis from much-needed aid and essential transactions.
Richard Mills, the acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Biden administration will restore diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and resume aid to Palestinians that was cut off during the Trump presidency. Mills also said the U.S. would continue to support a two-state solution, though many progressive regional experts oppose the strategy, saying it is no longer viable.
In related news, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced earlier this month parliamentary and presidential elections will be held this year — the first elections in the Occupied Territories in 15 years. Analysts say the move is an overture to the new Biden administration.
Mexican authorities have launched an investigation after 19 bodies were found shot and burned over the weekend in a town near the U.S.-Mexico border. Relatives of asylum seekers from Guatemala say they believe 13 of the dead could be their loved ones and include teenagers who were trying to reach the U.S.