The U.S. has recorded over 800,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers marked the sobering milestone with a moment of silence on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
This comes as the World Health Organization warned the Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate and is likely already present in most countries. While early data show Omicron appears to cause less severe illness, it may be more resistant to vaccines. U.S. officials say it could soon become the dominant variant. In upstate New York, Cornell shut down its Ithaca campus after over 900 COVID cases were detected over the past week. Many of the infections were of the Omicron variant in fully vaccinated students.
Meanwhile, the head of the European Union also warned Omicron cases were doubling every two or three days, and the variant is expected to become dominant in Europe by mid-January. On Tuesday, Greece recorded its second-highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic, with 130 fatalities.
In medical news, Pfizer said Tuesday its antiviral pill could reduce severe illness and death by nearly 90% if given within three days of the start of symptoms and that it is expected to work against the Omicron variant. The FDA could approve its use within days.
The House voted Tuesday to hold former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
In related news, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced a lawsuit Tuesday against white nationalist groups involved in the insurrection.
Attorney General Karl Racine: “The independent Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia is filing the first civil lawsuit by a state or municipal government to hold accountable the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and more than 30 other leaders and members for conspiring to terrorize the District of Columbia, for unlawfully interfering with our country’s peaceful transition of power and for assaulting our men and women in blue.”
Attorney General Racine says he plans to use a law derived from the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act to hold the hate groups accountable.
A federal judge blocked a bid by the former president to shield his tax returns to lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee. The Treasury refused to hand over the documents during Trump’s presidency.
Meanwhile, Trump’s longtime accountant, as well as a loan officer at Deutsche Bank, reportedly testified in recent weeks before a New York grand jury as part of the Manhattan district attorney’s ongoing probe into financial crimes by the Trump Organization. The DA’s Office is looking into whether Trump intentionally misled investors about the value of his assets.
The House passed a bill to combat Islamophobia Tuesday, which would establish a State Department office to monitor reports of Islamophobia worldwide. The bill was spearheaded by Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Rep. Ilhan Omar: “The United Nations commissioned a report and concluded that Islamophobia has reached, I quote, 'epidemic proportion,' and urged nations around the world to take all necessary measures to combat it. As a country that was founded on religious liberty, our leadership on international religious freedom depends on recognizing that Islamophobia is global in scope, and we must lead the global effort to address it.”
Omar has faced repeated anti-Muslim attacks since taking office, including from her Republican congressional peers Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. During the House debate over the bill Tuesday, another Republican, Representative Scott Perry, falsely claimed Congressmember Omar was “affiliated with” terrorists. Democrats objected to the statements, leading to his racist remarks being removed from the Congressional Record.
In more news from Capitol Hill, both chambers of Congress voted to increase the debt limit by $2.5 trillion, just hours before a deadline that would have sent the U.S. into its first-ever default. The increase was passed largely along partisan lines, with only one Republican in the House joining Democrats to pass the measure, which headed to President Biden’s desk in the early hours of this morning.
The United Arab Emirates said Tuesday it suspended talks on a $23 billion deal to purchase U.S.-made F-35 planes, drones and other equipment. The U.S. temporarily halted planned arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia earlier this year after coming under pressure over the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen. But the Biden administration has since said they were committed to the sales to the UAE.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met via video call today as part of a virtual summit. Putin hailed the cooperation between the two nations, citing mutual principles of “not interfering in [each other’s] internal affairs and respect for each other’s interests.” The talks come as both China and Russia are facing heightened tensions with the U.S. and other Western powers. Putin also said he plans to meet with his Chinese counterpart during the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. The U.S. and other governments have announced a diplomatic boycott of the games.
A Belarusian court sentenced opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky to 18 years in prison. Tikhanovsky helped rally major protests against President Alexander Lukashenko but was arrested and unable to run against him in the 2020 election. His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, took on the authoritarian leader instead, becoming the face of the opposition, but was forced into exile in Lithuania following the widely contested election, in which both she and Lukashenko claimed victory. She spoke following the verdict against her husband.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: “I will continue to defend the person I love, who has become a leader for millions of Belarusians. I will try to do something very difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring closer the moment when we will see him in the new Belarus.”
In Haiti, at least 62 people were killed and scores injured after a fuel truck exploded late Monday in the city of Cap-Haïtien. Dozens of homes were also damaged, and city officials said many would need to be demolished. The fuel tanker reportedly flipped over in the street, and bystanders gathered to collect leaking gas when the blast occurred. Haitians have been facing a severe fuel shortage, leading to power outages and protests.
In Mexico, family members of people who’ve been disappeared scattered soil across Mexico City’s National Palace Monday as part of a protest demanding justice for their missing loved ones. This is one of the relatives.
Relative of disappeared person: “If President Andrés Manuel López Obrador does not go to the graves, then the graves go to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, so that he realizes what we are suffering in the state of Guanajuato. It is not a lie. It is an issue at the national, state and municipal level. We are suffering.”
Mexico’s government estimates there are over 60,000 missing people in the country — the vast majority of them victims of the U.S.-backed so-called war on drugs.
The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed last summer’s Arctic heat wave smashed the region’s temperature record, which soared to 100.4 degrees in June 2020. The unprecedented high was recorded in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk. This is World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis.
Clare Nullis: “We saw devastating, very widespread Siberian fires, and we saw massive sea — Arctic sea ice loss at the end of the summer season. And this heat wave did play a major role in 2020 being one of the warmest three years on record. The heat that we saw in Siberia in 2020 would have been almost impossible without climate change.”
Muhammad Aziz, one of two men exonerated last month in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, is suing the state of New York for at least $20 million in damages. Aziz spent two decades in prison before being released on parole. He had been fighting to clear his name ever since. An investigation by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office and the Innocence Project found that prosecutors, the FBI and the New York Police Department omitted key evidence around the murder. A similar lawsuit is expected on behalf of the family of Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, and who was also exonerated last month.
In California, the police killing of Mario Arenales Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Latino father, has been ruled a homicide. In a report released Friday, the Alameda County Coroner’s Office listed the cause of his April death as methamphetamine toxicity with other “significant conditions,” including the “physiological stress of altercation and restraint.” Gonzalez’s family is disputing methamphetamine as a cause of death. Gonzalez was alone at a park when police arrived after receiving complaints of a man who was allegedly intoxicated. While arresting Gonzalez, one officer had his knee on Gonzalez’s back, while another kneeled on Gonzalez’s shoulder for nearly five minutes until he became unresponsive.
Disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been ordered to pay back $5.1 million he made from the book deal for his 2020 memoir about his handling of the pandemic. A New York state ethics board made the decision after it emerged Cuomo used his official staff and resources to produce the manuscript. Cuomo’s lawyer said he will not abide by the order, which requires him to surrender the funds to the Attorney General’s Office within 30 days.
An autopsy of former NFL player Phillip Adams has revealed Adams had “unusually severe” brain disease in his frontal lobe at the time he fatally shot six people and took his own life in April. Adams had stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has been linked to head trauma and concussions — often inflicted while playing football. The range of symptoms include violent mood swings and memory loss. Researchers also found that Adams’s pathology was similar to that of Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL player who died by suicide in 2017 while in prison on murder chargers. Phillips had repeatedly sought help from the NFL.
A group of young activists from across the country is on hunger strike to demand lawmakers pass the Freedom to Vote Act. The hunger strike started in Arizona last week and has since expanded, with striking activists protesting in front of the White House every day. Noted Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has also joined the hunger strike after being inspired by a meeting with some of the activists. This is Madison, speaking Tuesday, day nine of her hunger strike.
Madison: “My name is Madison, and this is day nine of my hunger strike. I’m feeling pretty tired and weak, but I’m still feeling empowered because I know that in order to pass any kind of legislation we need for this country, we have to get this bill passed first and this year, so I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”