President Biden said the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May. The statement comes after a deal was struck with Merck to help produce the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which U.S. residents started receiving Tuesday. Biden also announced a new plan to get educators vaccinated more rapidly.
President Joe Biden: “We want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March. To help make this happen, starting next week and for a month, the month of March, we will be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-through-12 educators and staff and child care workers.”
Texas is lifting mask mandates and fully reopening businesses starting next week, despite warnings from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that it’s still too early and cases could pick up again. Mississippi announced a similar move.
On Capitol Hill, as the Senate moves to debate the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, Senator Bernie Sanders announced he will force a vote on an amendment to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and called on fellow senators to ignore the Senate parliamentarian’s recommendation to remove it from the bill.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops advised Catholics to avoid getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying the company used abortion-derived fetal cells to create, test and produce the shot. Fetal cells are not actually contained in the distributed vaccine, however, and Pope Francis and the Vatican have said they deem it “morally acceptable” to use cells from aborted fetuses in the research and production of vaccines.
The White House has pulled Neera Tanden’s nomination, at her request, to head the Office of Management and Budget, after several key senators said they would not vote to confirm her. Biden said Tanden would still serve in his administration. Tanden came under fire from both the right and many progressives who opposed her cozy relationship with corporate America, her support for welfare cuts, and aggressive foreign policy views.
In other Cabinet news, the Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Princeton University economist Cecilia Rouse, who will be the first Black woman to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. The Senate also confirmed Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department. At the time of her nomination, the Revolving Door Project said, “Raimondo has a record of promoting fracking and cuts to public assistance programs, selling public pensions to Wall Street, and grossly mishandling Rhode Island’s COVID-19 outbreak.”
Seth Harris, the former acting labor secretary under President Obama, has reportedly been tapped as a top labor adviser. While working at the corporate law firm Dentons, Harris co-wrote a paper which helped shape California’s anti-worker Prop 22. Prop 22 exempts companies like Uber and Lyft from having to classify their workers as employees, depriving them of basic wage and labor protections.
FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, where he defended the FBI’s handling of intelligence in the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection. He also told lawmakers “domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country,” and rebuked a far-right lie, that is also supported by some Republican lawmakers, that the rioters were “fake Trump” or left-wing protesters.
Christopher Wray: “We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6th. … Racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall.”
D.C. law enforcement agencies are increasing security around the Capitol this week as Qanon supporters believe Trump will be inaugurated on March 4, which they call “true Inauguration Day.”
In Afghanistan, three women who worked for a local broadcast station were shot dead in the eastern city of Jalalabad while heading home from work Tuesday. The young women had reportedly all recently graduated from school. Local police said the Taliban was responsible, though the group denied involvement. At least 15 media workers have been killed in Afghanistan over the last six months.
Protests erupted across Lebanon Tuesday after the value of the Lebanese pound plunged to a record low on the black market, the latest in the ongoing economic crisis. The turmoil has also triggered a fuel shortage that has led to extended power cuts. In some areas, people have been left without electricity for over 12 hours.
In Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, the family of a political prisoner who has been on hunger strike since early January was denied access to see him and warned he could be in critical condition or even dead. Mohamed Lamin Haddi has also reportedly been threatened with retaliation and death. This is Haddi’s mother.
Mohamed Lamin Haddi’s mother: “If he is still alive, they should allow us to visit him. And if he is dead, they should give us his remains. I will not move from here until I meet my son. Let them arrest or kill me or blow me away. I just can’t bear life without him.”
Haddi is part of a group of political prisoners who received harsh sentences after the violent dismantlement of the protest camp known as Gdeim Izik, which Noam Chomsky called the first uprising of the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, 100 Sahrawi organizations published an open letter to President Biden asking him to reverse Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. They wrote, “The issue of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, is easy to understand. It is not an ethnic conflict or a civil war, but a basic issue of decolonization not yet resolved.”
Reporters Without Borders has filed a criminal case against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the persecution and murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The case was filed in a German court, days after the Biden administration declined to directly sanction the crown prince, even after releasing an intelligence report reaffirming bin Salman approved the killing.
A new report by the International Energy Agency says global carbon dioxide emissions have not only returned to pre-pandemic levels, but had surpassed them by the end of last year. IEA’s executive director said, “If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions.”
The Biden administration has withdrawn an environmental review for a massive copper mine in eastern Arizona, temporarily blocking a multinational mining corporation, Resolution Copper, from taking over a parcel of land sacred to the San Carlos Apache Nation and other Native communities. The U.S. Forest Service said it needs more time to consult with Native people about the mine’s impact on Oak Flat, an ancient forest with spiritual and cultural significance. Advocates say the proposed mine would destroy Oak Flat and contaminate a large swath of southern Arizona. Arizona Democratic Congressmember Raúl Grijalva is set to reintroduce the Save Oak Flat Act, which would repeal the appropriation of the site.
State Republicans around the country are ramping up the legislative attack on transgender rights. The Alabama Senate voted Tuesday to pass a bill that would make it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. The bill now goes to the House. Meanwhile, Tennessee, Wisconsin and North Dakota are just some of the states where Republicans are pushing bans on transgender students taking part in sports, with the bill likely to pass this week in Tennessee. Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers is expected to block such an effort in his state.
In California, at least 13 people are dead after a tractor-trailer crashed into an SUV packed with over two dozen people in an agricultural area near the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of the victims were from Mexico, though further details remain unclear. Thousands of farmworkers cross into the U.S. daily to work on fields. Authorities are also looking into whether the passengers may have been victims of human smuggling.
Democrats reintroduced legislation Tuesday to require universal background checks for all gun sales. Biden called on Congress last month to pass gun control legislation, but 10 Republican senators would need to join Democrats in backing the expansion of federal background checks for the bill to pass. Meanwhile, another gun control bill was also introduced Tuesday, which would prevent people convicted of domestic violence from buying or owning firearms.