Another 4,000 people across the United States died from COVID-19 Wednesday in what’s been the deadliest month since the pandemic began. The Biden administration projects as many 90,000 more U.S. residents will die in the next four weeks as the virus continues to spread out of control in communities in all 50 states.
On Wednesday. President Biden’s coronavirus task force met publicly for the first time – remotely over Zoom and live-streamed from the White House YouTube channel. Biden was notably absent, allowing scientists to lead the discussion. Senior adviser Andy Slavitt tamped down public expectations about rapid vaccinations for most U.S. residents.
Andy Slavitt: “We are taking action to increase supply and increase capacity. But even so, it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”
The race to vaccinate the U.S. comes as new coronavirus variants are spreading across the globe — with mutations that may make them more infectious and more likely to evade existing COVID-19 vaccines. After headlines, we’ll go to Houston, Texas, to speak with Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
The Department of Homeland Security is warning of a heightened threat posed by “ideologically-motivated violent extremists” angry over Joe Biden’s inauguration and “fueled by false narratives” — a clear reference to former President Trump’s lies about a stolen election. The National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin came as federal prosecutors announced indictments against three members of the far-right paramilitary group Oath Keepers for conspiring to obstruct Congress during the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. All three are U.S. military veterans.
Separately, federal agents have arrested Robert Lemke, a former Air Force captain from California, who sent death threats to the families of Democratic Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries and journalist George Stephanopoulos during the Capitol riot.
Elsewhere in California, the FBI arrested 44-year-old Ian Rogers in Napa County for allegedly plotting attacks on prominent Democrats and Twitter. An FBI affidavit says Rogers had dozens of weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.’s acting police chief told Congress that two police officers have died by suicide since the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The second death — of a D.C. Metropolitan Police officer — had not previously been reported. A third officer, Brian Sicknick, died January 7 after he was attacked by the mob.
Reuters revealed Wednesday that Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys hate group, which played a major role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, has a past as a “prolific” informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012.
President Joe Biden is set to issue a memorandum today reversing the so-called global gag rule — a federal ban on funding for foreign nonprofits that provide reproductive counseling or referrals for abortions. Biden’s order also reverses a Trump-era rule barring abortion referrals by healthcare providers in the federally funded Title X family planning program. Biden is also set to order the expansion of reproductive healthcare through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. The order also expands a special enrollment period for people to purchase health insurance from the federally run marketplace.
Senate Democrats have reintroduced a bill to establish Washington, D.C., as the 51st U.S. state. A matching bill was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month by Democratic Congressmember Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia as a non-voting delegate.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton: “This is a bill that could easily pass, and it would allow the president to send a message about democracy that cannot be sent in any other way — democracy in our own country, democracy for our nation’s capital.”
Voting rights reporter Ari Berman noted on Twitter, “Wyoming has 578,000 people, is 92% white and has 2 senators. DC has 705,000 people, is 46% Black and has 0 senators.”
Worldwide confirmed coronavirus cases have topped 100 million, and COVID-19 deaths in the Americas have passed 1 million people.
Mexico’s wealthiest billionaire, Carlos Slim, one of the world’s richest people, has been hospitalized with COVID-19. Mexico’s coronavirus death toll passed 150,000 this week.
In Colombia, President Iván Duque led a funeral ceremony Wednesday for Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died of COVID-19 at the age of 69.
Zimbabwe’s government held funerals Wednesday for two Cabinet members who died of COVID-19 — the third and fourth Cabinet officials to fall to the virus during the pandemic.
In Wuhan, China, a team of scientists with the World Health Organization has cleared quarantine and will begin its long-delayed investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has extended tough border controls through the end of 2021. New Zealand has largely stamped out coronavirus, though it recently reported its first case of community spread in months.
The Biden administration has frozen U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and is examining sales to the United Arab Emirates, including the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets, which were approved by the Trump administration as part of UAE’s normalization deal with Israel last year. The Biden administration has vowed to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen.
Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar tweeted, “Good. This is an important first step in ending our material support for war globally, and the genocide in Yemen in particular. I encourage the Biden administration to continue down this path. Next step: an end to ALL arms sales to countries that violate human rights.”
Human rights groups are demanding the immediate release of Ashraf Hamdi, an Egyptian political cartoonist. Hamdi was arrested at his home in Giza on Sunday, shortly after he published a video marking the 10th anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. He faces charges of misusing social media sites and spreading false news. Amnesty International reports Egyptian officials are subjecting political prisoners to torture, cruel and inhumane detention, and are deliberately denying them healthcare to punish dissent, resulting in deaths and permanent injury.
Poland has put into effect its near-total ban on abortions. Thousands poured onto the streets Wednesday night to decry the move.
Gabriela Stepniak: “I want us to have our basic rights, the right to decide about our bodies, the right to decide what we want to do and if we want to bear children and in what circumstances to have children.”
The ban comes three months after Poland’s highest court declared almost all abortions to be unconstitutional, prompting the largest protests since the Solidarity movement of the 1980s.
Honduras has imposed some of the most draconian anti-choice laws in Latin America by voting to lock in the country’s ban on abortions so future governments will not be able to legalize the procedure. Abortions are banned under any circumstance in Honduras, and those who receive them can be put in jail. The recently passed legislation, which also bans same-sex marriage, comes less than a month after Argentina legalized abortion.
In Newark, New Jersey, city and state officials reached a settlement over the city’s water crisis. Newark residents were regularly exposed to illegally high levels of lead in the city’s water supply, leading the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Newark Education Workers Caucus to sue in 2018 for violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Florida police officials say they will investigate after a video started circulating of a school resource officer body-slamming a high school student into the concrete. The student appears to lose consciousness after she hits the pavement, but the officer still proceeds to handcuff her behind her back. The attack took place at Liberty High School in Kissimmee.
Newly resurfaced video shows far-right Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene confronting Parkland mass shooting survivor David Hogg on Capitol Hill as he lobbied lawmakers to enact gun controls. The video was filmed in March of 2019, before Greene’s election to Congress last November.
Marjorie Taylor Greene: “Look, I’m an American citizen. I’m a gun owner. I have a concealed carry permit. I carry a gun for protection for myself. And you are using your lobby and the money behind it and the kids to try to take away my Second Amendment rights.”
The video concludes with Greene calling Hogg a “coward.” She wrote on Facebook in 2018 that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre was a “false flag” operation, meaning it was staged.
David Hogg responded on Twitter, “It’s so frustrating that we have people like Marjorie Taylor Greene in Congress that would rather spread conspiracies about mass shootings than confront the reality people are dying everyday from gun violence. I just want to do the work and help end gun violence.” Marjorie Taylor Green has been named to the House Education and Labor Committee.
In Washington, D.C., immigrant activists and their allies staged an action in front of the Washington Monument Wednesday, marking the fourth anniversary of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Immigrant rights groups are calling for major reforms to modernize and humanize the country’s immigration system. They are also asking lawmakers to back Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal’s Roadmap to Freedom Resolution, which was introduced Wednesday. This is Congressmember Jayapal.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “The Roadmap to Freedom invests in border policy that protects the rights of communities in the borderlands. Not only do we want to stop building walls, but we need to end the mass militarization of the region, while upholding the civil rights of those who call it home.”
In more immigration news, President Biden is expected to sign an executive order as early as this week that would pave the way for tens of thousands more refugees to be admitted to the United States.
Chicago city officials have granted landmark status to the South Side home of Emmett Till and his mother. A local nonprofit hopes to turn the home into a museum. Emmett Till was lynched 66 years ago when the 14-year-old boy was on a trip to Mississippi. It remains one of the most horrific examples of racial terror in the Jim Crow South. Chicago city councilmember and community organizer Jeanette Taylor said, “A lot of times, history involving African Americans gets forgotten about. We will repeat history if we don’t remember it and have these hard conversations.”