President Joe Biden pledged Thursday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, describing it as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” The war, which began six years ago and was supported by both Presidents Obama and Trump, has devastated Yemen, leaving at least 100,000 people dead. According to the United Nations, 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people need some form of aid or protection. Biden’s pledge came during a major foreign policy speech Thursday in which he vowed to get tough on adversaries like China and Russia, while declaring “America is back.”
In Tampa, Florida, the NFL has set official attendance at the Super Bowl at 25,000 fans. Thirty thousand cardboard cutouts will fill the other seats. It will be the densest crowd of any pro football game since the start of the pandemic, raising fears the Super Bowl could become a superspreader event. A quarter of U.S. adults who responded to a Seton Hall Sports Poll said they were planning on gathering with people from outside of their household to watch the game — despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New York, Yankee Stadium is opening today as a mass vaccination site in the Bronx, one of the poorest areas of the country and which has the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in New York City. Vaccinations will include frontline workers — including restaurant employees and taxi and ride-share drivers — and will be limited to Bronx residents to prevent “vaccine tourism.”
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the Senate this morning to approve a budget bill, clearing the way for Democrats to pass a coronavirus relief package. The vote capped 15 straight hours of amendment votes in an all-night session nicknamed a “vote-a-rama.”
Overnight, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders deflected a bid by Iowa Republican Joni Ernst to force a vote on immediately doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which she thought would fail. Sanders’s move preserves a bid by Democrats to gradually double the minimum wage by 2025. At least one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is on the record opposing a minimum wage of $15.
Next week, House Democrats expect to introduce a coronavirus relief package similar to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. Democrats are planning to pass the legislation using the budget reconciliation process, which needs the approval of a simple majority of senators.
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers have proposed a resolution demanding President Biden use executive action to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt for all borrowers. Such a move would wipe out student debt for 36 million people. The resolution was unveiled Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Elizabeth Warren and several progressive House Democrats. This is Congressmember Ilhan Omar.
Rep. Ilhan Omar: “Millions of Americans can’t afford to put food on the table and feed their families. Millions can’t pay rent and face housing insecurity. Millions lost their jobs during the pandemic and can’t afford basic necessities. The last thing people should be worried about is their student debt.”
The House of Representatives voted Thursday to strip Georgia Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments over her history of violent and racist rhetoric. Two hundred nineteen House Democrats voted in favor of sanctioning Congressmember Greene. All but 11 House Republicans voted against taking such action.
Ahead of the vote, Congressmember Greene refused to apologize for her past remarks — including support for murdering House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments. During an eight-minute speech from the House floor, Greene said “school shootings are absolutely real,” “9/11 absolutely happened,” and claimed she had stopped believing in the QAnon conspiracy theory “later in 2018.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: “What shall we do as Americans? Shall we stay divided like this? Will we allow the media, that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies, to divide us?”
According to the QAnon conspiracy theory promoted by Congressmember Greene, Donald Trump was working secretly to overthrow of a cabal of “deep state” officials and a child sex trafficking ring of satanic pedophiles and cannibals.
During Thursday’s debate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer displayed a poster showing an image which then-candidate Greene shared to Facebook in September. In the photo, Greene brandishes an AR-15 assault rifle next to the faces of Congressmembers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The post was captioned “Squad’s worst nightmare.”
This is Democratic Congressmember Cori Bush of Missouri — who last month moved her office away from Marjorie Taylor Greene’s for her team’s safety.
Rep. Cori Bush: “We cannot build an equitable, antiracist education system if a seated House Education and Labor Committee member incites violence through the perpetuation of racist lies in an attempt to overturn an election. We cannot build an equitable, antiracist society if a member of Congress endorses white supremacy.”
New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling on Congressmember Greene to be expelled from Congress after she sent out a fundraising email filled with lies about progressive Democrats, including that AOC told protesters to “punch a cop.” Ocasio-Cortez spoke from the House floor Thursday about the danger of ignoring or minimizing survivor accounts of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “Some are already demanding that we move on or, worse, attempting to minimize, discredit or belittle the accounts of survivors. In doing so, they not only further harm those who were there that day and provide cover for those responsible, but they also send a tremendously damaging message to survivors of trauma.”
In related news, former President Trump has refused a House call to testify next week at his impeachment trial for inciting an insurrection.
In Brazil, the prosecutor-general is investigating the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for possible negligence in its response to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak in the state of Amazonas, which saw hospitals in Manaus run out of oxygen and stretched beyond breaking point.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has come under attack from officials across the political spectrum after Brazil scrapped its “Car Wash” operation — an anti-corruption task force started in 2014. Last year, Bolsonaro announced it was being disbanded because there is no corruption in his government.
The Biden administration suspended the deportation of dozens of African asylum seekers at the last minute Wednesday, following new allegations that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents tortured them into signing their deportation orders. The Guardian reports the asylum seekers, who are Congolese, Cameroonian and Angolan, may now be interviewed as witnesses while the allegations are looked into.
One of the asylum seekers was reportedly placed in a room with darkened windows as agents grabbed them by the neck and back. He said, “I told them: 'Please, I can't breathe.’ I asked them to release me. They said that they didn’t care; what they need is my fingerprint.”
A new congressional report has found some baby foods have “dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals,” including arsenic, mercury and lead. The House Oversight committee panel found the metals in rice cereals, juices, sweet potato purée and other products made by Gerber, Nurture, Hain Celestial Group and Beech-Nut Nutrition. Some of the products are branded under the names Happy Family Organics and Earth’s Best Organic. Campbell Soup, Walmart and Sprout Foods declined to cooperate in the investigation. The FDA is reviewing the report’s findings, as the congressional committee is urging stricter standards on baby food.
Consulting giant McKinsey has agreed to a $573 million settlement in a lawsuit over the company’s work advising Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers to aggressively market highly addictive opioid painkillers. The deal, made with 47 states, Washington, D.C., and five territories, is the first national settlement as part of sweeping litigation filed by state, county and local officials in recent years to hold companies responsible for the devastating opioid epidemic.
The incarcerated activist Kinetik Justice, whom Democracy Now! interviewed in 2016 during a nationwide prison strike, was severely beaten last Saturday by guards at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. Witnesses say Justice tried to defuse an altercation after guards struck a mentally ill prisoner unconscious with an “ax-like” baton. Video shows pools of blood and a dislodged tooth in the cell. Both men were airlifted to a trauma center in Birmingham before being returned to prison Monday. Democracy Now! spoke to Kinetik Justice’s mother Ernestine Council after he was allowed to call her Wednesday and described his injuries.
Ernestine Council: “And his eye was swollen shut, where he had got hit in his eye, and that he had broke ribs, had two broke ribs, and bruises where they had beat him on the back of his head, his shoulder, his back and on his thigh. Those are the injuries that I know, that he told me that he had, and severe. They beat him badly. But thank God that he’s yet alive.”
In December, the Justice Department filed a major lawsuit against Alabama’s Department of Corrections for excessive use of force by staff in a dozen prisons, after an investigation detailed incidents such as a guard beating a handcuffed prisoner in a medical unit while shouting, “I am the reaper of death, now say my name!” Guards involved in last weekend’s attack are now “on leave,” and the FBI may investigate.
In labor and education news, the Chicago Teachers Union and the country’s third-largest school district remain at an impasse over a return to in-person teaching, as teachers consider a possible strike over demands for safe working conditions during the pandemic. The teachers union and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is pushing to reopen schools, traded barbs Thursday, with the mayor saying talks are moving “backwards.” This is Mayor Lightfoot speaking at a press conference Thursday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot: “Do the right thing for our kids in this difficult time, Black and Brown kids who look like me, coming from circumstances like the one that I grew up in, who are struggling and are failing. We are failing those children by not giving them the option to return to school.”
The Chicago Teachers Union responded on Twitter, “One of the more disappointing moments from the mayor’s press conference was her accusation of 'fear mongering,' when there have been 230,000 positive cases and nearly 5,000 deaths from COVID in her city. How do you explain 'fear mongering' to those families?”