Friday Roundup

Politics

HOUSE SET TO PASS $1.9 TRILLION CORONAVIRUS RELIEF PACKAGE

The House is expected to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday night, paving the way for $1,400 stimulus checks, a $400-a-week federal unemployment bonus, a per-child allowance of up to $3,600, $20 billion for vaccine distribution, and $350 billion in assistance for state and local governments.

The bill will then move to the Senate, where it is expected to be amended, with the $15 minimum wage hike removed.

SENATE OFFICIAL RULES THAT THE $15 MINIMUM WAGE HIKE BE REMOVED FROM RELIEF BILL

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that a key provision of the Democrats’ relief package must be struck from the bill, as its inclusion violates the strict budgetary rules that govern reconciliation.

“This decision reinforces reconciliation cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change — by either party — on a simple majority vote,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “This decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate.”

The provision was unlikely to pass the Senate, regardless, as two Senate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, had already expressed opposition to such a large increase. Manchin has expressed support for an $11 minimum wage.

The White House said Friday that it would respect the parliamentarian’s ruling.

HOUSE PASSES EQUALITY ACT

The House passed the Equality Act on Thursday by a vote of 224-206.

The Equality Act, which amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to provide protections for LGBTQ individuals, secured unanimous support amongst Democrats, as well as the support of three Republicans (Reps. John Katko, Tom Reed, and Brian Fitzpatrick). Other Republicans opposed the measure due to its perceived infringement on religious freedom.

The bill seeks to ban discrimination in various areas — including the workplace, housing, education, and in federally funded programs — and would expand the 1964 bill to cover public accommodations to include places like shopping malls, sports arenas, and even websites. Republicans fear that these “places of accommodation” could be construed to include places of worship, which, they argue, would infringe religious freedom.

SENATE CONFIRMS JENNIFER GRANHOLM AS ENERGY SECRETARY

The Senate confirmed former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary Thursday by a vote of 64-35.

The Senate also voted to advance the nomination of education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona, 66-32. Cardona’s final confirmation vote is expected to take place Monday.

ACTING U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS, WARNS OF CONTINUED THREATS OF VIOLENCE

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman testified before Congress Thursday and revealed that Capitol Police are aware of continued threats of violence by militia groups present at the January 6 insurrection.

According to Pittman, militia groups have stated a desire to “blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union.”

The State of the Union has yet to be scheduled.

Read Pittman’s testimony below:

National News

EX-U.S. OLYMPICS COACH CHARGED WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING, COMMITS SUICIDE

John Geddert was confirmed dead by suicide Thursday, just hours after 24 criminal charges were outlined against him.

Geddert, who was head coach of the women’s gymnastics team in 2012 and worked closely with team doctor Larry Nassar, had been charged with:

  • 14 counts of human trafficking, forced labor causing injury, a 15-year felony; 
  • Six counts of human trafficking of a minor for forced labor, a 20-year felony; 
  • One count of continuing criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony; 
  • One count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a life offense felony; 
  • One count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, a 15-year felony; and
  • One count of lying to a peace officer during a violent crime investigation, a four-year felony.

“I am thankful that the survivors will not have to endure a lengthy and painful trial, but I am saddened that the chance to see justice served has been stolen from us,” former gymnast Sara Teristi said. “We deserve better.”

COSTCO TO ADOPT $16 MINIMUM WAGE

Starting next week, Costco will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $16 per hour.

The change brings their minimum wage above competitors like Target ($15), Amazon ($15), and Walmart ($11).

“I want to note this isn’t altruism,” CEO W. Craig Jelinek said. “At Costco we know that paying employees good wages … makes sense for our business and constitutes a significant competitive advantage for us. It helps us in the long run by minimizing turnover and maximizing employee productivity.”

NASA RELEASES NEW PHOTO OF VENUS

NASA released an image of Venus taken on a passerby mission to the sun in July of 2020.

“Parker Solar Probe’s camera detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside,” the agency wrote on Instagram. “The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface.”

View the stunning image below:

PALM BEACH COUNTY DECLINES TO FOLLOW DESANTIS ORDER TO FLY FLAGS AT HALF-STAFF IN HONOR OF RUSH LIMBAUGH

Gov. Ron DeSantis put out a memo this week directing flags to be lowered to half-staff in memory of the late conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Palm Beach County has chosen not to comply.

In a statement released Wednesday, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said, “The lowering of flags should be a unifying gesture during solemn occasions, such as in remembrance of the young lives lost during the Parkland High School massacre or first responder line of duty deaths. Although Rush Limbaugh was a significant public figure, he was also an incredibly divisive one who hurt many people with his words and actions.”

World News

U.S. MAKES TARGETED AIRSTRIKE IN SYRIA

In response to a recent attack that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member, President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes on buildings said to be connected to Iranian-backed militant groups, in the first known use of military force by the Biden administration.

According to London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strikes killed at least 22 people, 17 of whom were pro-Iran fighters.

While Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the strikes “proportionate” and “defensive,” the Syrian government characterized them as a “cowardly U.S. aggression” that “will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region.”

The move not only angered the Syrian government, it drew criticism from Democrats in Congress, as well.

“This makes President Biden the seventh consecutive U.S. president to order strikes in the Middle East. There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna said, adding, “We need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate.”

Said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, “Congress should hold this administration to the same standard it did prior administrations, and require clear legal justifications for military action, especially inside theaters like Syria, where Congress has not explicitly authorized any American military action.”

Republicans, conversely, praised the strike, with Rep. Michael McCaul — the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — calling the response a “necessary deterrent.”

U.S. INTEL REPORT: SAUDI CROWN PRINCE APPROVED OPERATION TO CAPTURE OR KILL U.S. JOURNALIST JAMAL KHASHOGGI

 According to a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The previously classified information cited bin Salman’s control of decision making in Saudi Arabia, the involvement of a key advisor to the crown prince and members of his protective detail, and bin Salman’s “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad” as the basis for their conclusions.

The report comes on the heels of a revelation uncovered through court documents that private jets used by Jamal Khashoggi’s assassins were owned by a company seized by bin Salman the year prior.

In spite of the report’s conclusions, the Biden administration has decided not to penalize the crown prince, as his national security team concluded that there would be no way to formally bar bin Salman from entering the U.S. or weigh criminal charges against him without breaching the relationship with a key Arab ally.

Prince Mohammed, however, will not be invited to the United States anytime soon, and travel bans have been placed on Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was deeply involved in the Khashoggi operation, and on the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard. The Biden administration is also adding a new category of sanctions, called the “Khashoggi ban,” to restrict visas to anyone determined to be participating in state-sponsored efforts to harass, detain, or harm dissidents and journalists around the world.

View the declassified report below:

SIX DEAD IN INDONESIAN GOLD MINE COLLAPSE

An illegal gold mine on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island collapsed on 23 workers Thursday, killing at least six and leaving one missing.

Disaster officials said intense rainfall and unstable soil structure at the site may have contributed to the collapse.

Landslides are known to be a common hazard of mining.

AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW OBLIGATING FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE TO PAY FOR NEWS CONTENT

The Australian Parliament has approved a one-of-a-kind law that will obligate tech companies like Facebook and Google to compensate media companies for news content.

Facebook had blocked news content for users in Australia last week but pledged to restore news articles within the next 48 hours, in light of the compromises made in advance of the bill’s passage.

Both Facebook and Google have announced partnerships with Australian media organizations, pursuant to the new code.

Pop Culture

LADY GAGA’S DOG WALKER SHOT, DOGS STOLEN

Two men shot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and stole two of her French bulldogs Wednesday night, before fleeing the scene by car.

The dog walker is now in stable condition, and Lady Gaga has offered a $500,000 reward for the safe return of her dogs, “no questions asked.”

Watch surveillance footage of the attack below:

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