Wednesday Roundup

Politics

BIDEN, SENATE AGREE TO LIMIT ELIGIBILITY FOR STIMULUS CHECKS

Senate Democrats struck a deal with President Joe Biden Wednesday that will limit the number of Americans who will qualify for the $1,400 stimulus checks included in the coronavirus relief package.

The Senate bill, currently under negotiation, will cut off payments at $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers. For reference, the last COVID relief bill cut single filers off at $100,000 and joint filers at $200,000.

According to an estimate by Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, eight million people who would have received payments under the House bill stand to lose them in the Senate. Even more will receive smaller payments.

The new caps are expected to save approximately $15 billion in a nearly $2 trillion piece of legislation.

While moderate Democrats and Republicans are likely to support the more targeted approach, the new limits drew criticism from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said, “It’s a move that makes little-to-no political or economic sense, and targets an element of relief that is most tangibly felt by everyday people. An own-goal.”

WHITE HOUSE TO ALLOW MIGRANT FAMILIES SEPARATED BY TRUMP ADMIN TO REUNITE IN U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that the White House will allow migrant families separated under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy the opportunity to reunite in either the United States or their native country.

“We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a press briefing. “We hope to be in a position to give them the election and, if in fact, they seek to reunite here in the U.S., we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States — and to address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible.”

Under the Trump administration policy, U.S. officials were encouraged to forcibly separate children from their parents at the border, resulting in the separation of more than 5,500 families.

The task force that President Joe Biden formed by executive order last month has reunited 105 of those families thus far; however, the parents of 600 children still have yet to be located.

MIGUEL CARDONA CONFIRMED AS EDUCATION SECRETARY

The Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education Monday night by a vote of 64-33.

A former public school teacher, principal, superintendent, and state commissioner, Cardona has extensive experience in education but faced opposition from a number of Republicans based on his support for transgender rights in girls’ athletics and his lack of a hard stance on school choice.

Republicans, however, applauded Cardona’s efforts to reopen schools, which he identified as a top priority.

Read Cardona’s op-ed in which he lays out his five-point plan here.

NEERA TANDEN NOMINATION PULLED

The White House announced on Tuesday that Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden requested that her nomination be withdrawn after it became clear that she did not have the requisite support in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and moderate Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins had previously expressed their opposition to Tanden’s nomination based on partisan and personal criticisms that she had made on social media in the past.

“I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel,” President Joe Biden wrote in a statement. “I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”

Look for Shalanda Young, the first Black woman to serve as the staff director for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, or Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council director, to secure the nomination now that Tanden has withdrawn from consideration.

Coronavirus

GOVERNORS OF TEXAS AND MISSISSIPPI OPEN RESPECTIVE STATES, LIFT MASK MANDATES

The governors of Texas and Mississippi announced on Tuesday that they would lift their states’ mask mandates and roll back a number of their restrictions, one day after the CDC warned against premature rollbacks in the face of variant spread.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott’s executive order would rescind “most” of his prior COVID-19 executive orders, allowing for businesses to open “100 percent,” effective March 10.

While Texas is averaging 1 million inoculations per week, health officials warn that premature rollbacks could, nonetheless, threaten progress.

“Please hear me clearly,”  CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday. “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard earned ground we have gained.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, for his part, said, “Executive orders that interfered with peoples’ lives were the worst, but the only possible, intervention for much of the last year. Now, we are putting our focus towards rapid vaccine distribution. We are getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.”

BIDEN ADMIN ACCELERATES TIMELINE FOR FULL VACCINATION OF ADULT AMERICANS

President Biden announced Tuesday that there would be enough doses of the coronavirus vaccine for the entire adult United States population by the end of May, accelerating the timeline of a previous estimate of July.

The accelerated timeline is made possible by the authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as a deal brokered by the White House between Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co, which will help scale up production.

Biden also directed states to prioritize educators for vaccination, as the administration continues its push to reopen schools.

National News

13 KILLED IN MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH AT THE BORDER

Over a dozen people were killed when a semi-truck t-boned a Ford Expedition packed with migrants on a California road 10 miles north of the Mexican border on Tuesday. According to Border Patrol, the SUV had earlier entered the United States through a hole cut into Southern California’s border fence with Mexico.

Of the 25 occupants in the vehicle, 13 lost their lives, including at least 10 Mexican nationals. 12 individuals died on scene, and one died later at an area hospital.

According to a statement issued by a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, special agents with the Homeland Security Investigations office in San Diego are investigating to see if human smuggling was involved.

REP. MADISON CAWTHORN FACES MULTIPLE SCANDALS

Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican out of North Carolina, has been accused of both sexual harassment and lying about his past.

The 25-year-old is facing resurfaced claims that he was aggressive and misogynistic toward women in college, frequently asking them inappropriate sexual questions and making unwanted advances, causing resident advisers to warn women to avoid him.

Of the three women who came forward with allegations, Cawthorn’s spokesman Jonathan Hart said, “Madison has no recollection of the anonymous accusation and denies being forceful in the other two circumstances.”

Classmates and alumni from Cawthorn’s college penned an open letter last year describing him as having a “reputation for predatory behavior” and alleging that he would invite women on “joy rides” and then “make unwanted sexual advances” after locking the doors of his car. 

The letter was signed by more than 150 of Cawthorn’s former schoolmates.

The freshman representative is also accused of being less than forthright about the circumstances surrounding his injuries. Cawthorn said, for example, that the car accident that left him partially paralyzed derailed his plan to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and join the military. Depositions have since revealed, however, that Cawthorn was rejected by the military academy long before the accident occurred.

Cawthorn also claimed that he was left to die following his accident and that he had been declared dead in the wake. But an accident report shows that Cawthorn was declared “incapacitated,” not dead, and Brad Ledford — the driver — has since come forward to reveal that Cawthorn lied about being left to die, as Ledford and a bystander pulled him from the vehicle and carried him to safety 200 yards away — an account that Cawthorn’s own father confirmed in television interviews at the time.

“[Ledford] wasn’t scared, didn’t run from the fire,” Roger Cawthorn said then. “He helped. He pulled Madison out of the car because he was unconscious.”

How did Cawthorn later recount the tale?

“And [Ledford] leaves me in a car to die in a fiery tomb. He runs to safety deep in the woods and just leaves me in a burning car as the flames start to lick my legs and curl up and burn my left side,” Cawthorn said in a speech at a chapel.

Of the lie, Ledford said, “It hurt very badly that he would say something as false as that. That is not at all what happened … I guess he hasn’t maybe made a public statement yet [about the truth about the crash] because he doesn’t want to go back on it or prove that he was falsely speaking before? I don’t know.”

CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST VERNON JORDAN DIES AT 85

Vernon E. Jordan Jr. died on Monday at his home in Washington at the age of 85.

Jordan was an American business executive and civil rights activist who was part of a team of lawyers that desegregated the University of Georgia, and who worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Regional Council, the Voter Education Project, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Urban League.

Jordan is survived by his daughter, his wife, two grandsons, and three stepchildren.

SETH ROGEN LAUNCHES MARIJUANA COMPANY

When Seth Rogen is not writing and directing films or fighting Ted Cruz on Twitter, he enjoys passing the time by smoking marijuana.

“If you know anything about me at all, I am going to assume it’s that I really love weed,” Rogen said in a video posted to Twitter.

Well, Rogen has channeled that passion for pot and turned it into a business venture, as Houseplant prepares to launch in California dispensaries next week. Houseplant will offer three strains of flower — including Rogen’s personal favorite: Pancake Ice — along with a line of ashtrays, lighters, and ceramics.

The announcement was so well-received that the Houseplant website crashed Monday afternoon, shortly after Rogen shared the news with his 9+ million Twitter followers.

Watch Rogen’s announcement below:

World News

279 KIDNAPPED GIRLS RELEASED IN NIGERIA

Hundreds of girls were released Tuesday after being abducted by unidentified gunmen from a boarding school in northwest Nigeria on Feb. 26.

The 279 pupils were seized in a raid on Friday night and taken to a forest where they were beaten with guns.

In exchange for the girls’ release, the captors were offered amnesty, as well as assistance to resettle at a site with newly built schools, a hospital, and other facilities.

“The process means amnesty for those who repent and will be assisted to resettle,” Zailani Bappa, a media adviser to the state governor, said. “Those who surrender their arms will be assisted to start a new life. Since they are herders, they will be supported with a few cows each.”

The approach angered Nigerians who worry that the lack of punishment will encourage future abductions at Nigerian boarding schools, who have become targets for mass kidnappings by armed criminal gangs. Just last December, 344 boys were abducted in a similar kidnapping, and Friday’s raid was the second school abduction in just over a week.

BIDEN ADMIN DECLASSIFIES INTELLIGENCE, SANCTIONS RUSSIA

The Biden administration sanctioned seven Russian officials on Tuesday, along with more than a dozen government entities, in relation to the poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The sanctions come in response to a declassified intelligence report that said that the F.S.B., one of Russia’s leading intelligence agencies, orchestrated the 2020 nerve-agent attack on Navalny.

Under the terms of the sanctions, property belonging to sanctioned individuals will be subject to seizure by the U.S., and U.S. citizens will be prohibited from doing business with them. The sanctions also include export controls on nine Russian parties, three German parties, and one Swiss party, along with three Russian government research institutes.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled the sanctions evidence of a “hostile anti-Russian lunge” and expressed its intent to retaliate.

“All this is just an excuse to continue overt interference in our internal affairs,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “We do not intend to put up with this. We will respond based on the principle of reciprocity, but not necessarily symmetrically.”

SECOND WORLD WAR BOMB DETONATED IN EXETER

A World War II bomb was discovered on a building site on private land and was safely detonated in a controlled explosion in Exeter, England last week.

The detonation of the 2,200-pound German air bomb necessitated the evacuation of 2,000 homes and a nearby university.

While no injuries were reported, nearby buildings suffered structural damage, including blown-out windows and cracks in brickwork.

Watch drone footage of the explosion below:

Sports

J.J. WATT SIGNS WITH ARIZONA CARDINALS

Free agent J.J. Watt announced his decision to sign with the Arizona Cardinals Monday, following weeks of speculation.

The defensive end — who signed a two-year, $28 million deal, with $31 million possible with sack incentives — is a decorated athlete and consummate philanthropist, having raised over $37 million for those recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Watt’s deal includes a $12 million signing bonus and $23 million guaranteed.

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