HOUSE PASSES $1.9 TRILLION CORONAVIRUS RELIEF PACKAGE
Working into the wee hours of Friday night, the House passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by a vote of 219-212.
The bill was opposed by every Republican in the House, along with Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Kurt Shrader.
Rep. Golden said in a statement that the bill “buries [urgent needs] under a mountain of unnecessary or untimely spending.” And Rep. Shrader’s vote was widely anticipated, as back in December, he voted against increasing stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 per person, stating that the measure was being pushed by “extremists on both sides of the political spectrum” and that it wasn’t targeted enough in its approach.
Senators will consider the bill in earnest this week and hope to have it on President Biden’s desk no later than March 14, when unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire.
The Senate version of the bill is likely to mirror the House version absent the $15 minimum wage increase, which the parliamentarian says violates the rules governing reconciliation.
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE VOTES TO ADVANCE MERRICK GARLAND NOMINATION
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Attorney General nomination of Judge Merrick Garland Monday by a vote of 15-7.
Sens. Grassley, Graham, Cornyn, and Tillis joined Democrats in voting to advance the pick to the Senate floor, while Sens. Sasse, Lee, Hawley, Cotton, Kennedy, Cruz, and Blackburn voted in opposition.
GEORGIA HOUSE PASSES ELECTION REFORM BILL
The Georgia House of Representatives passed an election reform bill Monday by a vote of 97-72.
Widely criticized as a tool of voter suppression, the bill will cut weekend voting days, limit access to drop boxes, require voter ID for absentee applications, provide voters with less time to request and return ballots, ban non-profits from distributing grants to help fund elections, and reduce the time between the general election and ensuing runoffs.
While the bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, said that the bill is “an attempt to restore the confidence” in elections, Democrats and voting rights groups claim that the bill is an overreaction to Trump’s “Big Lie,” which stands to create unnecessary obstacles to voting that will reduce turnout and disproportionately affect voters of color.
As Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said, “We are reviewing bills. Once we see something that prioritizes the security and accessibility of elections, we’ll throw in support. At the end of the day, many of these bills are reactionary to a three-month disinformation campaign that could have been prevented.”
JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE RECEIVES EMERGENCY APPROVAL
The Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend, making it the first single-dose vaccine and third overall to receive authorization in the United States.
The company has begun shipping nearly 4 million doses of its vaccine across the U.S., with plans to further scale up supply in the coming months. CEO Alex Gorsky expects 100 million doses to be delivered by the end of June and “up to a billion” by the close of the year.
AUCKLAND TO GO INTO SEVEN-DAY LOCKDOWN
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a seven-day lockdown on Auckland, a city of 2 million, following the discovery of a single new COVID-19 case.
While many credit the nation’s success at controlling the spread with their strict, “go hard, go early” approach, others criticized the decision to go into the city’s fourth lockdown of the pandemic.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, for one, said that the city stood to lose an estimated 200 jobs and more than NZ$30 million per day under the new restrictions.
“We need the vaccine roll-out to be prioritised in Auckland to help avoid future lockdowns, protect jobs and incomes, and ensure Auckland can play its role in supporting the national economic recovery,” Goff said in a statement.
NEW SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS AGAINST GOVERNOR CUOMO
A second former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come forward with sexual harassment allegations.
Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration, accused the governor of asking questions about her personal life, such as whether she was monogamous in relationships and if she had “been with an older man.”
Bennett disclosed the interaction to Cuomo’s chief of staff less than a week after it took place and was transferred to another job with an office on the opposite side of the Capitol.
Cuomo conceded that he may have had personal conversations that were “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation” but denied inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone and called for an independent review of the matter.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement of his own, calling for Cuomo’s emergency powers to be revoked and an independent investigation to be held.
Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James made clear that Gov. Cuomo would have no say in who was appointed to oversee the inquiry, asserting her control over the investigation.
Ultimately, Cuomo agreed to grant subpoena power to whomever Ms. James designated as the outside investigator and offered the referral letter as requested.
U.S. REPORT: ETHIOPIAN OFFICIALS AND MILITIA FIGHTERS LEADING AN ETHNIC CLEANSING CAMPAIGN IN TIGRAY
An internal United States government report accused Ethiopian fighters and officials of “deliberately and efficiently rendering Western Tigray ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation,” documenting the rape, plunder, and massacre of the ethnic Tigrayan population.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported a potential crime against humanity on Friday, accusing Eritrean soldiers of conducting house-to-house searches in northern Ethiopia, shooting civilians in the street, and conducting extrajudicial executions of men and boys, resulting in hundreds of deaths over a mere 24 hours.
According to a readout of President Joe Biden’s phone call with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya last week, “Presidents Biden and Kenyatta discussed the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights crises in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the need to prevent further loss of life and ensure humanitarian access.”
While former President Donald Trump paid little attention to Africa, declining to visit the continent, President Biden has promised a more engaged approach, and this serves as his administration’s first major test in the region.
AT LEAST 18 KILLED DURING MYANMAR PROTESTS
According to the United Nations, at least 18 people were killed when military forces opened fire on crowds of peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar, in what was the largest single-day death toll since the Feb 1. coup.
“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman with the U.N. human rights office.
The protests come in response to a military coup that has seen military rulers shut down the country’s internet, kill protesters, and detain elected officials.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, was removed from his post one day after he expressed solidarity with protesters and called for the “strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup.”
ZLATAN AND LEBRON BATTLE OVER SOCIAL ACTIVISM
Soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic criticized LeBron James last week over the basketball star’s social activism.
In an interview with UEFA and Discovery+ in Sweden, Ibrahimovic said, “Do what you’re good at. Do the category that you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football, I’m no politician. If I’d been a politician, I would be doing politics. This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous and come into a certain status. For me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you’re best at doing, because otherwise it doesn’t look good.”
Taking issue with James specifically, Ibrahimovic said that he doesn’t “like when people with ‘status’ speak about politics at the same time as what they’re doing.”
In a postgame news conference, James responded to Ibrahimovic’s remarks by saying:
“At the end of the day, I will never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression, things that go on in our community because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that were going on, and I know what’s still going on because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing and they need a voice. I’m their voice and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that might be going on, not only in my community but in this country and around the world.
“There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand this platform and how powerful my voice is. He can just ask Renee Montgomery if I would have shut up and just dribbled, just seeing that beautiful Black woman today be part of a group — she’s part of the ownership group with the Atlanta Dream.
“It’s funny he’d say that because I believe in 2018 he was the same guy who said, when he was back in Sweden, talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a certain last name, that he felt like it was racism going on when he was out on the pitch. Right? He did say that, right? I thought he said that. I speak from a very educated mind. I’m kinda the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework.”
Ibrahimovic had previously complained of the media’s undercover racism over his Muslim background.
CHADWICK BOSEMAN WINS BEST ACTOR AWARD AT GOLDEN GLOBES
Chadwick Boseman won his first Golden Globe for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” released three months after his death. Boseman died last August at the age of 43 from colon cancer.
Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, accepted the award for best actor in a motion picture drama on his behalf, saying, ““He would say something beautiful, something inspiring, something that would amplify that little voice inside of all of us that tells you you can. That tells you to keep going, that calls you back to what you are meant to be doing at this moment in history.”
Watch the emotional acceptance speech below: