It has been an eventful week, and we’re here to catch you up on what you might have missed.
So without further ado, here are the week’s top stories.
SENATE ADVANCES $1.9 TRILLION STIMULUS PACKAGE
The Senate passed a budget reconciliation resolution in a pre-dawn vote Friday after 14 hours of debate. While this will largely be seen as a win for Democrats, Republicans notched a few victories of their own.
Sen. Joni Ernst’s amendment to prohibit the increase of the federal minimum wage, for example, won support in a voice vote, and the Senate agreed by unanimous vote to Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott’s amendment to block tax increases on small businesses during the pandemic. Senators also backed a bipartisan measure by Sens. Roger Wicker and Kyrsten Sinema to establish a fund to provide grants to food and drinking establishments affected by the pandemic, and agreed by a vote of 58-42 to prohibit stimulus money from going to undocumented immigrants. Amendments to maintain the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, to restrict stimulus checks from going to high earners, and to establish a new form of child allowance were also approved.
Conversely, measures that failed included one to reduce funding to New York, one to prohibit funding for schools that do not reopen for in-person classes once teaches are vaccinated, and one to prohibit funding for sanctuary jurisdictions.
The resolution now goes to the House for a final vote, expected to occur later today.
LATEST EXECUTIVE ORDERS
This week, President Biden signed a series of executive orders on immigration designed to address and manage migration and provide for the safe and orderly processing of asylum seekers, to establish an interagency task force on the reunification of families separated at the border, and to strengthen integration and inclusion efforts for new Americans.
Biden has now signed 28 executive orders, four substantive proclamations, one ceremonial proclamation, 10 presidential memoranda, and two letters rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement.
JANUARY JOBS REPORT
The U.S. added 49,000 jobs last month, falling just short of economists’ forecast of a 50,000-job gain, and unemployment fell to 6.3%.
“The tunnel we’re in does have a light,” economist Nela Richardson said. “It’s later this year when the U.S. economy is reopened, and after widespread inoculation and maybe stimulus. This is not the end of the story by any means. But it does show the recovery could use more support.”
HOUSE LEADERSHIP MOVES
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former Department of Defense and CIA official, was named chairwoman of the House Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee on Tuesday, and GOP Rep. Liz Cheney held on to her leadership post on Thursday after Republicans failed to oust her over her support for Trump’s impeachment. Cheney survived the effort by a vote of 145-61 (with one brave soul voting “present” in what was a secret vote).
Meanwhile, the House voted to strip GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments in a 230-199 vote on Thursday. Greene had previously been named to the Education and Budget Committees but had come under fire for spreading conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and misinformation in recent years.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune said on Tuesday, “The House Republicans are going to have to decide who they want to be. Do they want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength, and pro-life, or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and Qanon, and I think that is the decision they’ve got to face. It’s a big distraction for them right now and not in a good way.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mitch McConnell denounced Greene’s “looney lies” as a “cancer for the Republican Party,” and Sen. Mitt Romney said that the GOP’s “big tent is not large enough to accommodate both conservatives and kooks.”
In the end, 11 House Republicans chose to join Democrats in the vote.
NEW YORK INVESTIGATION INTO TRUMP ORGANIZATION
A New York judge ordered a law firm serving as counsel for the Trump Organization to turn over documents to New York Attorney General Letitia James, determining that at least some of them were not privileged. Prosecutors are investigating the former president’s business to ascertain whether he inflated the value of one of his properties in order to gain a $21.1 million tax deduction in 2015.
All five of Trump’s former impeachment lawyers — Butch Bowers, Deborah Barbier, Josh Howard, Johnny Gasser, and Greg Harris — left his team last week, prompting Trump to announce a new legal team of David Schoen and Bruce L. Castor Jr.
Schoen previously represented Roger Stone and met with Jeffrey Epstein to discuss possible representation mere days before his death. Castor, for his part, served as Montgomery County district attorney and is perhaps best known for his decision not to prosecute Bill Cosby.
In a letter to Trump, impeachment managers called on him to testify either before or during his Senate trial in an effort to question him under oath — a request that Trump has since denied.
- Prosecutors announced the first federal conspiracy charges in connection with the Capitol riot last week, charging members of the Proud Boys with conspiring to obstruct Congress and interfering with law enforcement officers at the Capitol. An additional member of the Proud Boys was arrested Thursday on charges of impending an official government proceeding, aiding and abetting, knowingly entering restricted grounds, and violent entry.
- The FBI announced last week that pipe bombs found near the RNC and DNC on Jan. 6 were planted the night before the insurrection. The FBI has no suspects at this time and is offering a $100,000 reward for tips that would lead to the suspect’s arrest.
- While the investigation is not yet complete and no formal recommendations have been made, the Metropolitan Police Department’s preliminary findings suggest that there is not enough evidence to charge anyone in the death of Ashli Babbitt. Babbitt was shot to death while breaching the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.
BIDEN’S FOREIGN POLICY
In the first foreign policy speech of his administration, President Biden announced the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen, marking the reversal of a policy started under the Obama administration. Biden also warned Russia against disrupting American democracy and halted the withdrawal of troops from Germany originally ordered under Donald Trump.
STATE REPUBLICAN PARTIES MULL CENSURES FOR U.S. LAWMAKERS
South Carolina Republicans issued a formal censure to Rep. Tom Rice on Saturday for his vote supporting the second impeachment of Donald Trump.
Elsewhere, the Nebraska Republican Party State Central Committee considered censuring GOP Sen. Ben Sasse for his rebuke of Trump in the wake of the insurrection. In response, Sen. Sasse released a five-minute YouTube video in which he said, “You are welcome to censure me again, but let’s be clear about why this is happening: It’s because I still believe — as you used to — that politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude.”
The video can be viewed in full below.
PENTAGON ORDERS MILITARY-WIDE STAND-DOWN
The U.S. military announced plans on Wednesday for military-wide stand-downs to occur in the next 60 days. These stand-downs would pause regular activity in an effort to address the problem of white nationalism and other extremism in its ranks. The move comes on the heels of the revelation that current and former servicemembers were found to have participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
SMARTMATIC SUES FOX NEWS
Voting technology company Smartmatic filed suit against Fox News on Thursday, claiming $2.7 billion in damages over the network’s “disinformation campaign” that propagated unfounded claims of election rigging. Smartmatic asserts that Fox News’ defamatory statements have undermined its business relationships around the world, threatened the safety of its employees, and contributed to a sizable drop in its parent company’s projected profits.
LINCOLN PROJECT CO-FOUNDER CAUGHT IN SCANDAL
Lincoln Project co-founder John Weaver has been accused of sending nearly two dozen men suggestive messages offering professional help in exchange for sex in a campaign of online harassment. One of the victims was reportedly 14 years old at the time the messages began. While fellow members of the organization claimed to be unaware of their colleague’s misconduct, summarily denouncing him in statements on social media, journalists claim that his predilections were known to many in D.C.
FORMER F.B.I. ATTORNEY SENTENCED
Former F.B.I. attorney Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months probation and 400 hours of community service after pleading guilty to falsifying an email used to support the surveillance of Trump’s former campaign aide Carter Page.
Clinesmith was the sole person to be charged in the John Durham investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
CUOMO AT ODDS WITH HEALTH OFFICIALS
Nine top New York health officials have resigned in light of Gov. Cuomo’s continued refusal to accept the advice of COVID-19 experts and his decision not to use longstanding vaccination plans developed by the state Department of Health.
“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts. Because I don’t. Because I don’t,” Cuomo said at a recent news conference.
New York is currently 20th in the nation in percentage of residents vaccinated.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY IN THE AGE OF COVID-19
According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by mid-2021, accelerating previous estimates for the suspected rebound, thanks to large sectors of the economy adapting better and more rapidly than originally expected.
Jobs, however, will not return to pre-pandemic numbers until 2024, and unemployment numbers are expected to remain above pre-pandemic levels through the decade.
AT-HOME COVID TESTS SET TO BECOME AVAILABLE
The Pentagon and HHS awarded Australian company Ellume a $230 million contract to make millions of at-home nasal swabs. The contract will make available a test authorized by the FDA back in December, which is sold over the counter and taken at home, with results available by app within 15 minutes of the sample’s receipt.
The test is expected to be priced around $30 and will be available for purchase at pharmacies and online.
DEATH OF COVID-19 TEST DEVELOPER
Andrew Brooks, who led the development of the first approved COVID-19 saliva test, has died of a heart attack at the age of 51. A neuroscientist and the chief operating officer of a medical laboratory at Rutgers University, he and his colleagues devised a saliva test that would go on to receive emergency-use approval by the FDA and be used some 4.8 million times.
Brooks is survived by his wife, his three daughters, his mother, and his sister.
ANDREW YANG TESTS POSITIVE
Andrew Yang announced on Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Yang, who is currently running for mayor of New York City, will suspend campaign activities until his quarantined is completed.
WISCONSIN PHARMACIST PLEADS GUILTY TO SABOTAGING VACCINES
A newly unsealed FBI search warrant application reveals that Wisconsin pharmacist Steven Brandenburg, who intentionally sabotaged 570 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine because he believed COVID to be a hoax, is also a flat-Earther who believes that the sky is merely a “shield put up by the Government to prevent individuals from seeing God.”
Last week, Brandenburg pled guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard and now faces up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison on each charge.
Brandenburg is due back in court on February 9.
Read the search warrant application below.
WORLD CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Perth’s lockdown is ending today, five days after it confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in 10 months, causing three of Western Australia’s nine regions to go into lockdown and institute mask mandates.
Western Australia conducted 50,000 tests during lockdown and found no additional cases.
BEZOS STEPS DOWN
Jeff Bezos announced on Tuesday that we still step down as Amazon’s C.E.O. this summer, transitioning into the role of executive chairman while Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon’s cloud computing division, assumes his former role.
Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookstore in 1995, guiding the company through a series of stages that ultimately led to its $1.7 trillion valuation today.
MCKINSEY REACHES $573 MILLION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 47 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories over claims that its advisory work for the pharmaceutical industry helped to fuel the opioid crisis. According to the 2019 complaint filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General, McKinsey consultants suggested “turbocharging” sales of OxyContin with no regard for the foreseeable effects.
The settlement represents more than 5% of McKinsey’s reported global revenue.
NOMINATIONS FOR NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
Stacey Abrams has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work to promote nonviolent change through voting. Abrams’ voting rights organization Fair Fight Action raised millions of dollars, registered hundreds of thousands of voters, and has been credited with Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff’s wins in the state.
Norwegian Parliament member Lars Haltbrekken said of the nomination, “Abrams’ work follows in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in the fight for equality before the law and for civil rights … Abrams’ efforts to complete King’s work are crucial if the United States of America shall succeed in its effort to create fraternity between all its peoples and a peaceful and just society.”
Other nominees this year include former President Donald Trump, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and climate activist Greta Thunberg.
COUP IN MYANMAR
In an announcement on military-run television on Monday, Myanmar’s army declared a state of emergency and seized power over the country, following an early morning raid that ended in the detainment of Myanmar’s civilian leader, president, and other senior ruling party figures.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed civilian leader, now faces up to three years in prison on an obscure charge of illegally importing walkie-talkies.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced on Tuesday to more than two years in prison. Navalny had been arrested upon his return to Russia for alleged parole violations.
In related news, the doctor who treated Navalny following his poisoning has died of a suspected heart attack, and Russia expelled diplomats from Sweden, Poland, and Germany for allegedly attending pro-Navalny protests.
TWO F.B.I. AGENTS FATALLY SHOT
Two F.B.I. agents were fatally shot and three others injured on Tuesday while executing a search warrant related to crimes against children. The suspect, 55-year-old David Lee Huber, died by his own hand at the scene.
Special Agents Daniel Alfin, 36, and Laura Schwartzenberger, 43, had dedicated their careers to helping children, curbing child abuse through their investigative efforts and educating students on sex crimes.
Alfin is survived by his wife and child, and Schwartzenberger is survived by her husband and two sons.
POLICE OFFICER CHARGED IN UNARMED BLACK MAN’S MURDER
A former Columbus, Ohio police officer was indicted by a grand jury on Wednesday following a monthlong investigation into the fatal shooting of Andre Hill. Adam Coy, a white man and 19-year-member of the force, shot Andre Hill, an unarmed black man, after he was summoned to a neighborhood on a non-emergency call from a neighbor who saw someone sit in an SUV and turn the car on and off.
Upon exiting the garage of a friend’s residence, Hill was confronted by Coy who proceeded to shoot him several times.
Coy has been charged with murder, felonious assault, and dereliction of duty.
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY
The Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, as Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in the final game of the NFL season.
Should the Chiefs prove victorious, it would be their second championship in as many years. Should the Buccaneers win, it would be Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl ring, and he would join Peyton Manning as the only starting quarterbacks to win the title with two different teams.
DUSTIN DIAMOND DIES AT 44
Dustin Diamond, best known for his portrayal of Screech on “Saved By The Bell,” lost his battle with Stage 4 lung cancer on Monday, just three weeks after his diagnosis.
The family asks that all donations go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in honor of Dustin’s mother, who died of breast cancer.
TONY BENNETT BATTLING ALZHEIMER’S
Grammy Award-winning singer Tony Bennett revealed in an interview with AARP that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.
The neurologist who diagnosed him says that he has some “cognitive issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well.”
CHADWICK BOSEMAN MAKES SAG AWARDS HISTORY
Chadwick Boseman became the first person ever to receive four SAG Awards nominations in a single year, garnering recognition for his lead performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” his supporting role in “Da 5 Bloods,” and his work in the ensembles of both films.
Boseman died in September of 2020, at the age of 43, following a four-year fight with colon cancer. He had completed production on “Ma Rainey” and “Da 5 Bloods” while silently undergoing treatment.