The main lesson from the scandal over his flight to Cancún while Texas froze, Senator Ted Cruz said on Tuesday, is that people should not be “assholes”, and should treat each other with respect.
The Texas Republican, who ran for the presidential nomination in 2016, is known for his caustic and brutal attacks on Democrats and willingness to buck even the appearance of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate in order to achieve his own goals, even by causing a government shutdown.
He was speaking, without discernible irony, today on Ruthless, a podcast which offers “next-generation conservative talk”.
The subject at hand was Cruz’s decision to take his family to warmer climes while his state shivered, and the decision thereafter of an unknown friend to leak the senator’s wife’s text messages to the press.
Cruz landed in political hot water while at least 30 Texans died in the cold. Temperatures have now risen but water supplies are still affected by power outages which hit millions because the state energy grid was not prepared for the freeze. Many Texans also face exorbitant bills as power companies seek to profit from the disaster.
Cruz’s most passionate complaint was about how the press treated him and his family in an affair in which he first blamed his young daughters for wanting to go to Cancún, then flew home solo and admitted his mistake.
“Here’s a suggestion,” he said. “Just don’t be assholes. Just, you know, treat each other as human beings, have to some degree some modicum of respect.”
The former USCP chief Steven Sund and the former House sergeant at arms Paul Irving offered conflicting accounts of when National Guard assistance was first requested.
According to Sund, he called Irving at 1:09 pm on January 6 to tell him that National Guard troops were urgently needed at the Capitol.
But Irving claimed that Sund’s request did not come until after 2 pm. The exact timing is crucial, given that Vice-President Mike Pence was escorted out of the Senate chamber at approximately 2:14 pm, just minutes before the rioters reached the room.
Senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, said the panel would request the officials’ phone records to clear up the discrepancy.
An AstraZeneca executive told a House subcommittee that he believes his company could receive emergency authorization to distribute 300 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by early April. This week, drug regulators are expected to consider authorizing a one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
These vaccines would be in addition to the more than 600 million doses (enough to vaccinate 300 million people) that the US government has already purchased from Moderna and Pfizer. These are the only two vaccines currently authorized in the US.
“It appears by mid-summer we may have a surplus of vaccines,” said Representative Morgan Griffith, a Republican representative from Virginia, at a House subcommittee hearing on vaccine availability.
“By July, we may have enough that we have a surplus in the US, because there only about 260 million people are vaccine eligible,” in the US, said Griffith. Griffith asked whether surplus doses in the US could be donated to other countries.
“I truly hope and believe there will be a surplus if everyone is available,” said Dr. Ruud Dobber, an executive with AstraZeneca. “There’s a huge need” in low- and middle-income countries, said Dobber.
USCP chief was 'literally pleading' for National Guard help, MPD chief says
Robert Contee, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, recounted a call that occurred on January 6 with Steven Sund, then the US Capitol Police chief, and Pentagon officials.
Contee said Sund was “literally pleading” with defense department leaders to deploy National Guard troops to the Capitol.
The MPD chief recalled that the Pentagon officials did not formally decline the request, but there was “not an immediate yes”.
“I was just stunned,” Contee said. “I have officers who are out there literally fighting for their lives.”
A subcommittee of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard from executives of Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers Tuesday morning.
The committee members said the hearing was part of an effort to more quickly vaccinate Americans. One day prior, the US marked the death of more than 500,000 Americans from the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the most notable appearances at the committee was from Dr. Richard Nettles, vice president of medical affairs at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen. The company’s single-dose vaccine is being considered for authorization by drug regulators this week.
“We believe that our single-dose vaccine will be a critical tool for fighting this global pandemic,” said Nettles. If authorized, Janssen’s vaccine would be the only single-dose vaccine available in the US. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses.
Janssen’s vaccine would also be significantly easier for medical personnel to handle. It only requires storage at common refrigeration temperatures, rather than the sub-zero temperatures required for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“Assuming necessary regulatory approvals, we are ready to begin shipping it immediately,” said Nettles. He said the company expects to deliver enough doses to vaccinate “more than 20 million Americans” by March.
An advisory committee of the US Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to recommend approval of the vaccine Friday. While the agency will ultimately decide whether to authorize the vaccine on an emergency basis, it often takes the recommendations of its advisory panels.
“We must vaccinate the majority of the population,” said Representative Frank Pallone, Democratic chairman of the committee from New Jersey. “Unfortunately, the initial vaccine rollout under the Trump administration was marred by poor planning.”
USCP chief says he did not see FBI report warning of 'war' at Capitol
The former chief of the US Capitol Police, Steven Sund, said he did not see an FBI report warning about potential right-wing violence at the Capitol before the insurrection occurred.
Sund said the FBI report made it to the USCP headquarters on January 5, but it did not get into the hands of agency leaders before the violence on January 6.
The Washington Post reported on the existence of the report last month:
A situational information report approved for release the day before the U.S. Capitol riot painted a dire portrait of dangerous plans, including individuals sharing a map of the complex’s tunnels, and possible rally points for would-be conspirators to meet in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina and head in groups to Washington.
‘As of 5 January 2021, FBI Norfolk received information indicating calls for violence in response to ‘unlawful lockdowns’ to begin on 6 January 2021 in Washington, D.C.,’ the document says. ‘An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating ‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.’
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate rules committee, asked former USCP chief Steven Sund whether he believed there were issues at the Pentagon that resulted in the delayed deployment of the National Guard on January 6.
Sund said he could not speak to specific issues at the Pentagon, but he added, “I was certainly surprised at the delays that I was hearing and seeing.”
Pentagon leaders are expected to testify at a separate Senate hearing on the Capitol insurrection next week.
Irving acknowledges inadequate preparation for Capitol insurrection
Paul Irving, the former House sergeant at arms, echoed other law enforcement officials in saying that they thought they had adequately prepared for the pro-Trump rally on January 6.
“Based on the intelligence, we all believed that the plan met the threat, and we were prepared,” Irving said. “We now know we had the wrong plan.”
Irving also pushed back against claims from the US Capitol Police chief, Steven Sund, who said the House sergeant at arms expressed “optics” concerns bout deploying National Guard troops at the Capitol in the days leading up to the attack.
Irving said media reports had mischaracterized his concerns, and “optics” did not play a role in his decisions on how to keep the Capitol safe.
Michael Stenger, the former Senate sergeant at arms, said law enforcement leaders in Washington always need to be prepared for the possibility of civil disobedience.
“The events of January 6th went beyond disobedience,” Stenger said. “This was a violent, coordinated attack where the loss of life could have been much worse.”
Stenger also resigned from his post after the Capitol insurrection.
Steven Sund, the former chief of the US Capitol Police, said his officers were outnumbered by the insurrectionists, who deployed dangerous weapons against law enforcement on January 6.
“These criminals came prepared for war,” Sund said.
Sund announced his resignation from the USCP the day after the Capitol insurrection, amid widespread criticism of his handling of the attack.
DC police chief says he was 'surprised' by reluctance to deploy National Guard
Robert Contee, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, offered an hour-by-hour timeline of how his officers responded to the Capitol insurrection.
The MPD chief said his officers “immediately” responded when the US Capitol Police requested assistance.
Contee added he was “surprised” by the reluctance from the department of the army to deploy the National Guard to respond to the Capitol attack after the building was breached.
USCP Captain Carneysha Mendoza noted that reports have indicated the Capitol attack lasted for about three hours, but Mendoza said her Fitbit informed her she was in the exercise zone for four hours and nine minutes while responding to the insurrection.
The captain described January 6 as “by far the worst of the worst” of all the days she has worked for the Capitol Police.
“We could have had ten times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating,” Mendoza told the two Senate committees holding today’s hearing.
USCP captain recalls horror of January 6
Captain Carneysha Mendoza of the US Capitol Police testified to the Senate committees about her experiences on January 6.
Mendoza said the USCP has anticipated that the January 6 rally, which culminated in the attack on the Capitol, would be similar to the pro-Trump march in Washington on November 14.
The captain was spending time with her son on the afternoon of January 6, when a colleague called to tell her that “things were bad, and I needed to respond in”.
By the time Mendoza responded, there were six active scenes around the Capitol, including the response to a reported explosive at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
Mendoza said she saw “countless rioters” banging on the doors of the Capitol when she arrived, and the insurrectionists deployed dangerous weapons against law enforcement officers.
“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Mendoza said.
Senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate homeland security, noted that three law enforcement officers have died since the Capitol insurrection.
One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died as a result of his injuries from the insurrection. Another Capitol Police officer and a Metropolitan Police Department officer have died by suicide since the January 6 attack.
“We will never forget the service and sacrifice” of those officers, Portman said in his opening remarks.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chairwoman of the Senate rules committee, noted the chamber will be holding additional hearings on the Capitol insurrection.
“This is certainly not the last hearing we will have on this attack,” Klobuchar said.
The Minnesota senator added that the Senate would be hearing testimony from the FBI, the department of homeland security and the Pentagon next week.
Senate holds hearing on security failures from Capitol insurrection
The Senate homeland security committee and the Senate rules committee is now holding the joint hearing on the security failures that caused the Capitol insurrection.
Several law enforcement leaders -- former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, acting Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee, former House sergeant at arms Paul Irving and former Senate sergeant at arms Michael Stenger -- will testify at the hearing.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chairwoman of the Senate rules committee, opened the hearing by saying she wanted the proceedings to be as “constructive as possible” so that Congress could learn valuable lessons from the failures on January 6.
“We want to make sure that nothing like this happens every again,” Klobuchar said.
The blog will have more updates and analysis from the hearing as it unfolds, so stay tuned.
Perdue announces he will not run for Georgia Senate seat next year
Former Republican Senator David Perdue has announced that he will not run for the Senate in Georgia next year.
“After much prayer and reflection, Bonnie and I have decided that we will not enter the race for the United States Senate in Georgia in 2022. This is a personal decision, not a political one,” Perdue said in a statement to supporters.
Perdue had said earlier this month that he was considering running against Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, who just won his seat but will be up for reelection next year because he’s serving out the remainder of Johnny Isakson’s term.
Perdue served in the Senate for one term, but he lost his own runoff race to Democrat Jon Ossoff last month.
In his statement, Perdue reiterated his belief that Ossoff and Warnock, the first African American from Georgia to serve in the Senate, do not truly represent the state.
“As we saw in my race in November, Georgia is not a blue state,” Perdue said. “These two current liberal US senators do not represent the values of a majority of Georgians.”
Warnock’s campaign will likely celebrate the news that Perdue, someone with very high name recognition in the state, is getting out of the race.
In his opening statement, Steven Sund, the former chief of the US Capitol Police, will say the security failures on January 6 were a failure of resources rather than planning.
“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” Sund will say, according to his prepared statement shared by the Senate rules committee.
“No single civilian law enforcement agency – and certainly not the USCP – is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent, and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs Without the intelligence to properly prepare, the USCP was significantly outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent mob.”
Sund says that he rose the possibility of calling in the National Guard on January 4, but Paul Irving, the former House sergeant at arms, dismissed the idea because he was worried about “optics”.
In his own testimony, Irving will claim that reports of his “optics” concerns are “categorically false”.
This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Martin Belam.
Two Senate panels, the Senate homeland security committee and the Senate rules committee, will soon hold a hearing on the security failings that led to the Capitol insurrection.
Senators will hear from several law enforcement leaders who were involved in the security response on January 6, including former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund and acting Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee.
The hearing comes more than a month after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol as lawmakers certified Joe Biden’s election, resulting in five deaths.
The blog will have updates and analysis from the hearing once it begins, so stay tuned.
Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary, faces a busy couple of days of Senate hearings. Democrats have accused Republicans of playing politics with his nomination, despite it being a key appointment in the midst of a pandemic.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar notes for the Associated Press that Republican opposition has grown louder ahead of his nomination hearings. On Monday, Sens John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas released a letter in which they asked Biden to withdraw the nomination, calling Becerra “unfit for any position of public trust.”
Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – a man not noted for his bipartisan approach to politics – has called Becerra “famously partisan.” And the political group Heritage Action for America launched a cable and digital ad campaign against Becerra.
Republicans say Becerra is a radical supporter of socialized medicine, abortion and curbs on religious liberty and that he has no medical experience.
Why might Republicans be quite so vexed?
Becerra was California’s early face of opposition to the Trump administration. He was appointed by Gov Jerry Brown and took over as attorney general in early 2017 as Trump became president.
Over four years, he filed 124 lawsuits, challenging the Trump administration on immigration, environmental and health care policies. California took pride in viewing itself as the resistance to Trump, and Becerra embodied that ethos.
He will be grilled by two panels. Today it’s the health committee’s turn, followed Wednesday by the Finance Committee, which will vote on sending Becerra’s nomination to the Senate floor. If confirmed, he’d be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1.4 trillion agency with a broad portfolio that includes health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research and the welfare of children.
There was a lot of talk about how Joe Biden was willing to work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion, particularly around Covid relief efforts. That’s maybe not a feeling that is getting reciprocated right now.
Also at Congress today, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will appear to provide lawmakers an update on an economy that is still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic but which, many hope, is perhaps poised to take off later this year if the US vaccination program hits its stride.
The hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, one of the Fed chief’s mandated twice-a-year appearances on Capitol Hill, is scheduled to begin at 10am EST (1500 GMT) and, Reuters report, it will be Powell’s first since Democrats won the White House and control of both chambers of Congress.
It is likely to focus on the tension between a pandemic that has claimed more than half a million US lives and left millions unemployed, and an economy flush with savings and central bank support, and about to get additional federal spending.
The growing likelihood that Congress will pass Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has raised concerns about a possible spike in inflation and overheating in asset markets, but Powell’s message to lawmakers will likely be a familiar one: don’t let off the gas.
Even with Americans being vaccinated at a rate of more than 1.5 million a day and coronavirus caseloads dropping, Powell and his fellow Fed policymakers are focused instead on the nearly 10 million jobs missing from the economy compared to a year ago, and the potent risks still posed by the virus.
They’ve pledged to keep interest rates low and use other monetary policy tools to speed up a labor market recovery. Two weeks ago, Powell pushed for a “society-wide commitment” to that goal - a nudge to lawmakers debating Biden’s stimulus plan.
Despite the concerns of fiscal hawks – many of them who suddenly found their voice on the subject again after backing Republican efforts to provide Covid economic relief last year – Fed officials don’t think inflation is a risk, and regard much of the recent rise in stock prices, for example, as a sign of markets’ confidence in a post-pandemic economic rebound.
The hearing today will be followed by Powell’s appearance before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. President Joe Biden will have to decide in coming months whether to reappoint Powell, who was chosen for the job by former president Donald Trump.
At least 160 public Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020, according to a new count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, report the Associated Press.
The law center, which keeps a raw count of nearly 2,100 statues, symbols, placards, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederacy, will release the latest figures from its Whose Heritage? database on Tuesday. It has been tracking a movement to take down the monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist entered a South Carolina church and killed several black parishioners.
“These racist symbols only serve to uphold revisionist history and the belief that white supremacy remains morally acceptable,” said Lecia Brooks, SPLC chief of staff. “This is why we believe that all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces.”
When rioters tore through the US Capitol last month, some holding Confederate battle flags, they didn’t encounter a statue of the most famous rebel general, Robert E Lee. The Lee statue, which represented Virginia as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection for 111 years, had been removed weeks before.
Sometime after visitors and tourists are welcomed back to the Capitol, there will be a statue saluting Virginia’s Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old black girl who staged a strike in 1951 over unequal conditions at her segregated high school in Farmville. Her actions led to court-ordered integration of public schools across the US, via a landmark supreme court decision, Brown v Board of Education.
Each state legislature can choose two representatives to honor in the Capitol. In December, a Virginia commission recommended replacing Lee with Johns. A statue of George Washington remains. Joan Johns Cobbs, Barbara Johns’ younger sister, is ecstatic about the honor.
“You can’t imagine how sad I was seeing what was happening in the Capitol building,” Cobbs said. “I was saying to myself, ‘Oh, my God. I’m kind of glad her statue wasn’t there already.’ I wondered what would have happened.”
A judge plans to hear arguments today by lawyers for former Michigan governor Rick Snyder that he has been charged in the wrong county for misdemeanors over the Flint water supply.
Snyder’s lawyers argue that the paperwork specifies that the events took place in the locale of the affected water supply – Genesee County – but that Snyder was actually in his office in Ingham County at the time.
Snyder, a Republican, is charged with willful neglect of duty, report Reuters. Emergency managers who were appointed by Snyder to run Flint switched the city’s water source to the Flint River in 2014-15 while a new pipeline was being built from Lake Huron.
Snyder was one of nine people charged in January. Two people who were senior health officials in his administration were charged with involuntary manslaughter for nine deaths linked to Legionnaires’ disease.
The river water wasn’t treated to reduce corrosion, resulting in lead contamination from old pipes. Separately, the water was blamed for a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. The catastrophe in the impoverished, majority-Black city has been described as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
Understandably prosecutors have given Snyder’s argument short shrift. “The indictments are sound. ... It is incoherent to suggest that breaching a duty owed to the people of a particular city does not entail a sufficient connection to that city to establish venue there,” prosecutors said last week in a response to Snyder’s motion.
And if Genesee is not the right county, they added, then the case should simply be transferred to Ingham, and not dismissed.
Politico has this today teeing up the Senate hearing into the 6 January Capitol riot:
The story of the day has become clearer as hundreds of rioters have faced charges, but high-level decision-making by top congressional security officials has so far remained a black box.
That lack of transparency from the upper echelons of the Capitol Police leadership in particular has sparked pushback from the police force’s union. It’s also clouded congressional efforts to increase security and ensure the Hill learns from the insurrection chaos. Senators expect Tuesday’s hearing to be only the first step in their efforts to investigate the run-up and response to the siege.
One major question: Why did political considerations appear to have delayed approval to provide National Guard backup to an overwhelmed police force, more than 100 of whom were injured during the siege?
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned after the attack, could shed light on all aspects of the security response. He has suggested in media interviews that urgent efforts to secure a National Guard response became tangled in confusing chain-of-command issues, with the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms delaying approval, and Pentagon officials worrying about “optics” of heavily armed troops ringing the Capitol.
Those former sergeants-at-arms, Michael Stenger of the Senate and Paul Irving of the House, will also testify today, in their first public pronouncements about the deadly attack.
The Stephen Collinson analysis piece for CNN today is on that subject – Joe Biden’s confirmation battles. He writes:
Growing intrigue over a trio of controversial presidential picks is also underscoring the power of individual senators such as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, when the partisan balance is so evenly divided.
Another bruising hearing is looming on Tuesday, for interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland, whose opposition to fossil fuels has GOP members branding her as extreme. And Xavier Becerra, chosen by the President to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has emerged as a culture war lightning rod over his stance on abortion and Obamacare.
It’s not at all unusual for new presidents to run into trouble with some nominees. Blocking a pick is one easy way for senators to flex their power and signal to a new White House that they can’t be taken for granted.
For now, the problem concerns individual Cabinet nominees. But in months to come, when it comes to sweeping and electorally radioactive issues such as climate change and immigration, his entire presidency will be on the line. While the situation is fraught now, it is not out of the question that an illness, incapacitation or even death among elderly senators could erase his governing majority for good.
Read more here: CNN – Mounting confirmation battle sends warning sign to Biden
One of Biden’s cabinet picks, Neera Tanden for the director of the office of management and budget, has hit choppy waters with at least four senators already coming out with a ‘no’ vote – including Democrat Joe Manchin.
Yesterday White House press secretary Jen Psaki was still vocal in backing Tanden for the job. Overnight though Axios have published what they’ve labelled a scoop on a “plan B”:
House Democratic leaders are quietly mounting a campaign for Shalanda Young, a longtime congressional aide, to replace Neera Tanden as nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The nascent campaign for Young, who would be OMB’s first Black female leader, reflects a stark reality taking hold in the Democratic Party: Tanden’s prospects are rapidly fading.
Young is a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee.
“Ms Young is a proven budget expert and is well qualified for the job,” said Rep Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Read more here: Axios – Biden’s OMB Plan B
Donald Trump used to promise his supporters that they would be winning so much, they would get sick and tired of winning. But the former US president is now on a seemingly endless losing streak.
He lost the presidential election, lost more than 60 legal challenges to the result, lost his bid to overturn the electoral college, lost control of the Senate and lost an impeachment trial 43-57, though he was spared conviction on a technicality. On Monday, Trump lost yet again – with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The supreme court rejected an attempt by his lawyers to block Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney (DA) in New York, from enforcing a subpoena to obtain eight years of his personal and corporate tax records.
The ruling did not mean the public will get to see Trump’s tax returns, which have gained near mythical status due to him being the first recent president to conceal them, any time soon.
But it did remove an important obstacle from Vance’s dogged investigation. The DA has said little about why he wants Trump’s records but, in a court filing last year, prosecutors said they were justified in seeking them because of public reports of “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” – Trump’s family business empire – thought to include bank, tax and insurance fraud.
Now that investigation is gathering momentum. Vance, who earlier this month hired a lawyer with extensive experience in white-collar and organised crime cases, will be able to find out whether the public reports were accurate by studying actual financial records, spreadsheets and email correspondence between the Trump Organization and accounting firm Mazars USA.
If wrongdoing is established, it raises the spectre of Trump some day in the future standing in the dock in a New York courtroom and even facing a potential prison term. No wonder he fought so hard to cling to power and the immunity from prosecution that it conferred.
The threat, however real or remote, casts a shadow over Trump’s chances of making a political comeback. On Sunday he is due to make his first speech since leaving office at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, reasserting his command of the Republican party and teasing a new run for president in 2024.
Read more of David Smith’s analysis here: Ruling on Trump tax records could be costliest defeat of his losing streak
The future of the Republican party is handwritten notes apparently, according to this tweet by NBC’s Henry Gomez.
The South Carolina Republican party is one of those that censured their Congressman Tom Rice for failing to back Donald Trump and instead voting for impeachment back in January.
Canadian prime ministers are traditionally the first foreign leader to visit the White House when a new president takes office. It’s slightly different this time around, as due to Covid, Joe Biden’s first official bilateral with another world leader will be over videocall. Aamer Madhani and Rob Gillies at the Associated Press have set out how things are expected to unfold.
The two leaders — Joe Biden in the Oval Office in Washington and Justin Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa — will first deliver brief remarks in front of the media at the start of their meeting.
Then Biden, secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will hold a 45-minute session with Trudeau, deputy prime minister and finance minister Chrystia Freeland, foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau and Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman.
The small meeting will be followed by an extended session that will include vice president Kamala Harris as well as several of Biden’s Cabinet-level advisers and Trudeau’s ministers.
The agenda – apart you imagine from a lot of introductions and “Sorry, you’re on mute, can you say that again?” – includes the two countries’ Covid-19 responses, climate change, economic issues and more. Biden and Trudeau plan to deliver joint closing statements at the end of their meeting. The White House said that the leaders also plan to issue what they are calling a “road map” outlining how the neighboring countries will work together to fight Covid-19, curb climate emissions and pursue other shared priorities.
Although there are some issues between the two countries, Canadian officials expect Trudeau to have a far more productive relationship with Biden than he did with Donald Trump. Trump once maligned the Canadian prime minister as “dishonest and weak” after he had voiced objections to Trump raising tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. That era of US diplomacy by Twitter insult seems over.
We are expecting some better news about vaccine manufacture supply to be delivered in Congress today. As Tim Stelloh reports for NBC News, executives with Pfizer and Moderna will say they are able to ramp up supplies in the coming weeks.
In a prepared statement to be made before a House subcommittee Tuesday, John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, is expected to say the company plans to increase its delivery capacity of 4 million to 5 million doses a week to more than 13 million by mid-March.
Moderna expects to double its monthly delivery capacity to 40 million doses by April, according to Dr. Stephen Hoge, the company’s president.
With the US having reached the grim total of over 500,000 Covid deaths, Sam Levin in Los Angeles reports for us on issues with the vaccine roll-out:
California, the largest state in the US, has administered more than 7.3m vaccine doses but is lagging behind other states in vaccine administration. Eligibility is due to dramatically expand in March, but with supplies limited and many doses being used for second shots, essential workers could likely be waiting weeks or longer to get appointments.
The lack of access is particularly frustrating for workers who have faced increasing risks over the last month, as California has moved to reopen parts of the economy and remove restrictions. While infection rates are significantly improving after a catastrophic winter surge, an average of more than 6,000 new cases and 320 deaths are still reported each day.
Facing severe economic strain eleven months into the pandemic, low-wage workers across the state say they can’t afford to stay home from dangerous jobs – and can’t afford to lose income if they get infected. They are exhausted with stressful work conditions and customers who refuse to comply with Covid rules, and are struggling to get basic information on when they might get vaccines.
Dominique Smith, a 33-year-old rideshare driver in Silicon Valley, said he regularly checked his Uber app in hope of an update about vaccine eligibility. He fears he could lose his housing if he contracts Covid from a passenger and then has to stay home: “I do not have enough money saved up to weather three weeks of being sick and out of a job.”
Dr Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of global health and infectious diseases at Stanford, said the Trump administration had not made significant investments in infrastructure to administer vaccines, making the initial rollout especially challenging in a state like California, which has 58 counties and two dense metropolitan regions.
The state has broad guidelines to prioritize immunocompromised people and those with occupational risks, “but the problem is that it’s such a high-level framework that how you operationalize it becomes really tricky”, Maldonado said. “These are tough choices … because you’re judging whose life is worth more. You could make an argument for all kinds of groups.”
Read more of Sam Levin’s report here: ‘We’re risking our lives’ – California’s slow vaccine rollout leaves essential workers exposed
The hearing into appointing Merrick Garland as US attorney general will continue today. Alex Rogers and Jeremy Herb for CNN identified six key takeaways from yesterday, of which this is perhaps one of the more significant for a certain former president:
Democrats largely didn’t mention Donald Trump by name when they asked about the investigation into the January 6 riot at the Capitol, but they touched on the question of whether the Justice Department should examine the former president’s role for encouraging the mob, which led to his impeachment. Even Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, after voting to acquit Trump in the Senate trial, suggested that the criminal justice system is the right venue in which to consider those allegations.
Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, encouraged Garland to look “upstream” and “not rule out investigation of funders, organizers, ringleaders, or aiders and abettors, who were not present in the Capitol on 6 January.”
“We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who were involved and further involved,” responded Garland. “We will pursue these leads wherever they take us.”
CNN also suggested that Garland’s disquiet over the death penalty, pledge to ‘protect’ the Justice Department from political pressure, and his suggestion that there is no reason special counsel John Durham’s investigation of the FBI’s Russia probe wouldn’t continue were all important moments.
Read more here: CNN – 6 takeaways from Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing
I mentioned it was a busy day in Congress today, here’s how Chuck Schumer laid out the agenda last night.
Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian write for the Washington Post that what it is at stake today in the Senate is who gets to write the narrative of what happened on 6 January. While there has been a push to make the hearing as bipartisan as possible, it is inevitably going to surface divisions. They write:
Sen Amy Klobuchar said in an interview that preparations for the hearing have been strictly bipartisan and that she expected a “constructive tone” to prevail. “This is a moment to get the actual facts about what happened at the Capitol,” she said. “The issues we identify and the answers we get are part of the solution, so this isn’t just about throwing popcorn at a movie screen to try to get sound bites. We actually have to make decisions in the coming months.”
But she acknowledged that other senators may focus on contested aspects of the narrative surrounding the riot. At least one senator who will ask questions Tuesday has shown a willingness to challenge the prevailing evidence showing that the Capitol attack was conducted by Trump supporters.
Sen Ron Johnson has publicly suggested that Nancy Pelosi is to blame for the riot and last week questioned whether the events of 6 January could be fairly considered an “armed insurrection,” despite the fact that several rioters were carrying weapons and a cache of weapons was found near the Capitol grounds.
Today’s hearing is not likely to be the last, either:
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters said in an interview Monday that he expects Tuesday’s hearings to “lead to even more questions” about what contributed to the security failures on 6 January. Both he and Klobuchar said that at least one additional hearing will be called featuring senior officials of the federal agencies who were involved in the preparations and response to the insurrection.
You might think that an impeachment trial was enough of an investigation into the events of 6 January and to put them on the record in Congress, but today there will be more delving into what happened. Here’s a reminder of the video montage that Democrats used when presenting their evidence that Donald Trump was responsible for what unfolded.
The session today will start at 10am EST (1500 GMT) and we are expecting four witnesses:
- Robert J. Contee III, the acting chief of police of the Metropolitan Police Department in DC
- Steven A. Sund, former chief of the Capitol Police (2019-2021)
- Michael C. Stenger, former sergeant at arms and doorkeeper of the Senate (2018-2021)
- Paul D. Irving, former sergeant at arms of the US House of Representatives (2012-2021)
You’ll notice a lot of 2021 dates in that list – Sund, Stenger and Irving all resigned after the Capitol attack. Neither Stenger or Irving have spoken publicly about the 6 January assault before.
Welcome to our live coverage of US politics for Tuesday. Here’s a catch-up on what is happening, and what we might expect to see later today…
- The Senate will begin a hearing on the 6 January Capitol attack, with witness testimony from law enforcement officers, three of whom have subsequently resigned over security failings on the day.
- It’s likely to be contentious – among those on the Senate panel are Republican Ron Johnson, who has said the events did not amount to an armed insurrection, and Sens Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, both of whom continued to dispute the election result and chose to discount states’ electoral votes after the riot.
- Yesterday, president Joe Biden held a ceremony at the White House to mourn those lost to Covid as the US reached the grim milestone of over half a million deaths, the first country in the world to do so.
- The US recorded 56,044 new cases and 1,413 further deaths yesterday. The total US death toll, according to figures collated by the Johns Hopkins University, stands at 500,071.
- The supreme court agreed that Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr could obtain years of former president Donald Trump’s federal tax records.
- The court also said it would not hear an appeal from Pennsylvania Republicans trying to disqualify mailed ballots in the 2020 presidential election.
- Emma Coronel, the wife of El Chapo, was arrested in Virginia on drug trafficking charges.
- In Joe Biden’s diary today he will be meeting with Black essential workers at 1.15pm EST (1815 GMT).
- Biden will then virtually meet Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at 4pm. There might be a little bit of frostiness in the air after his Keystone order halted work on the pipeline between the two countries, although you expect Trudeau will find Biden easier to work with than Donald Trump. They are expected to give a joint statement at 5.45pm.
- Jen Psaki will give the White House press briefing at noon today.
- It’s a busy day in Congress. Today will see further hearings in the lengthy process of confirming Joe Biden’s cabinet – Xavier Becerra and Deb Haaland will be up today. It is also the concluding day of the Senate hearing into appointing Merrick Garland as US attorney general.