Wednesday Roundup

Politics

HOUSE PASSES $1.9 TRILLION CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL

The House gave final passage Wednesday to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by a vote of 220-211.

The bill — which is one of the largest relief measures in American history and is favored by 70 percent of Americans — was unanimously opposed by Republicans and by Democratic Rep. Jared Golden.

The vote sends the bill to the desk of President Joe Biden, who is slated to sign it Friday.

Read more about the cause for optimism or concern.

SENATE CONFIRMS MERRICK GARLAND AND MARCIA FUDGE

The Senate confirmed Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development Wednesday by a vote of 66-34.

Merrick Garland was also confirmed as U.S. Attorney General by a vote of 70-30.

Said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prior to the vote, “I’m voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight-shooter and legal expert. His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream.”

McConnell, who also voted to confirm Fudge, went on to say, “These aren’t the nominees that any Republican would have picked for these jobs. But the nation needs presidents to be able to stand up a team so long as their nominees are qualified and mainstream.”

Next up: The Senate will vote on the confirmation of Michael Regan, whose nomination for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was advanced by a vote of 65-35 Wednesday. If confirmed, Regan would become the first Black man to lead the agency.

NUMBER OF MIGRANT CHILDREN DETAINED AT THE BORDER TRIPLES IN TWO WEEKS

The number of unaccompanied migrant children detained in Customs and Border Protection holding cells has tripled in the last two weeks to more than 3,250 — roughly 1,400 of which have been detained beyond the 72 hours permitted by law before they are required to be transferred.

U.S. law states that migrant children must be transferred to one of the shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services within three days of arrival, where they are held until case managers can place them with a sponsor. These shelters are better equipped than the CBP holding cells, which are typically small concrete rooms with concrete or metal benches and no beds. A week ago, the average time that a migrant child would be held in one of these facilities was 77 hours; today, that number is 107.

After receiving a briefing last week warning of record numbers of child migrants at the border, President Joe Biden moved to allow HHS shelters to operate at 100 percent capacity, in spite of the threat of coronavirus spread. But, as of Sunday, Health and Human Services already had more than 8,100 unaccompanied children in its shelters, with space for only 838 more.

Said Roberta Jacobson, the Biden administration’s coordinator for the southern border, “We’ve seen surges before. Surges tend to respond to hope, and there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of, you know, pent up demand.”

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY OFFERS PROTECTION STATUS FOR VENEZUELANS LIVING IN U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it would grant Temporary Protection Status to the 320,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S., extending legal protections for 18 months.

In order to qualify for the status, Venezuelans must have arrived by Monday, show continued residency, and pass a criminal background check.

According to the Associated Press, “on his final day in office, Trump issued an order deferring deportation for 18 months for more than 145,000 Venezuelans. Republicans in recent days had urged the Biden administration to formalize Trump’s executive order, but the temporary protected status issued Monday provides immigrants a more formal status that cannot be as easily reversed.”

GOP SEN. ROY BLUNT WILL NOT RUN FOR REELECTION

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt announced Monday that he will not seek reelection, becoming the fifth Republican senator to do so in recent months.

Blunt, who is the No. 4 member of GOP Senate leadership as chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, has served in the Senate since 2011 and had served in the House for 14 years prior to that.

Said Blunt on Monday, “I think the country in the last decade or so has sort of fallen off the edge, with too many politicians saying, ‘If you vote for me I’ll never compromise on anything,’ and the failure to do that — that’s a philosophy that particularly does not work in a democracy. We’ve seen too much of it in our politics today at all levels, and rather than spending a lot of time saying what I’d never do, I’d spend more time saying what I’d try to do and be willing to move as far in the direction of that goal as you possibly could rather than saying, ‘I’ll never do this.’ “

According to the Cook Political Report, Blunt’s seat is solidly Republican.

Watch his announcement below:

NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COURT DISMISSES TRUMP LAWSUIT

The New York Supreme Court dismissed the Trump campaign’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times Tuesday, ruling that the campaign failed to prove that the Times intentionally defamed Trump.

The campaign had sued the Times over a 2019 opinion piece, in which a former executive editor argued that there was an “overarching deal” between Russia and the Trump campaign to help the former president gain election.

The court noted that the piece was included in the opinion section, not in news, signaling to the reader that the verbiage included was not meant to be taken as fact, and further ruled that the campaign failed to establish actual malice, as it had not shown that the Times had knowledge that the statements were false or were made with a “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Wrote Judge James E. d’Auguste in his ruling, “This heavy burden exists because news organizations function as a platform for facilitating constitutionally protected speech on issues of public concern and courts will not impose defamation liability against these entities absent a clear showing of actual malice.”

SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO TAKE UP FINAL TRUMP ELECTION BID

In an unsigned order without noted dissent, the Supreme Court declined to take up former President Donald Trump’s final pending appeal Monday over the results of the 2020 election. 

Trump had argued that Wisconsin election officials violated the Constitution by expanding absentee voting amid the pandemic. Establishing absentee ballot drop boxes, he claimed, illegally usurped the state legislature’s sole power over election rules.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled against the former president, finding that he waited too long to challenge the relevant policies.

The Supreme Court’s decision officially brings Trump’s election challenges to an end, as no further decisions are pending.

Meanwhile, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis hired a RICO expert to serve as a special assistant district attorney and assist with racketeering cases.

In connection with Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Willis had written in letters to state officials back in February that her office had opened a criminal investigation into “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”

TRUMP SENDS CEASE-AND-DESIST TO GOP

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump sent cease-and-desist letters Friday to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senate Committee, asking that they cease use of his name and likeliness in fundraising correspondence and on merchandise.

“President Trump remains committed to the Republican Party and electing America First conservatives, but that doesn’t give anyone — friend or foe — permission to use his likeness without explicit approval,” a Trump adviser said.

Said RNC chief counsel J. Justin Riemer, “The RNC, of course, has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals.”

Meanwhile, Trump made a further request to his donors, imploring them by email to donate to his political action committee, Save America, rather than to “RINOS” who “do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and … base.”

“I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP Committees,” Trump said in a statement issued Tuesday, “but I do not support RINOs and fools.”

Coronavirus

LOS ANGELES AND ITS TEACHERS’ UNION REACH AGREEMENT TO REOPEN CLASSROOMS

The Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers’ union reached a tentative agreement Tuesday, enumerating a number of safety parameters that would allow for the reopening of schools.

Under the terms of the agreement, preschool and elementary schoolers would return in mid-April, with middle and high school students to follow, contingent on the vaccination of teachers, the implementation of extensive health measures such as testing and upgraded ventilation, and an exit from the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 tier.

The agreement, which was negotiated over the course of eight months, is subject to approval by the district’s school board, who signaled a readiness to proceed.

“It’s been a long tough year but this is truly the best possible outcome,” member Jackie Goldberg said.

AUSTRIAN OFFICIALS SUSPEND ASTRAZENECA VACCINE FOLLOWING DEATH; NO EVIDENCE OF CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP

According to an Austrian health agency, authorities suspended inoculations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Sunday as a “precautionary measure” after one person who received the vaccine died and another fell ill.

“The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) has received two reports in a temporal connection with a vaccination from the same batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” the health authority said in a statement, adding, “Currently there is no evidence of a causal relationship with the vaccination.”

The deceased is a 49-year-old woman who died as a result of severe coagulation disorders, and the recipient who fell ill is a 35-year-old woman who developed a pulmonary embolism and is recovering.

Blood clotting is not a known side effect of the vaccine, and trials suggest that it is safe and effective.

National News

JURY SELECTION BEGINS IN DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL

The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began with jury selection Tuesday, after a request by prosecutors to reinstate the third-degree murder charge caused a brief delay earlier in the week.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with the death of George Floyd, but the Court of Appeals ordered Judge Peter Cahill to consider reinstating a third-degree murder charge that he had previously dismissed pursuant to new precedent.

According to the Associated Press, “for the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a ‘substantial causal factor’ in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and that his actions were reckless and without regard for human life.”

12 jury members and four alternates will be selected from a pool of eligible local citizens — a process that is expected to take three weeks, with opening arguments due to begin the week of March 29.

Six potential jurors were dismissed and three chosen on Tuesday, with two more seated Wednesday.

THREE OFFICERS INJURED IN UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER RIOT

Students were tear-gassed, two vehicles damaged, and three SWAT officers injured Saturday after a block party that hosted as many as 800 people devolved into a riot.

The three officers were struck with bricks and rocks, according to the Boulder Police Department, and the windshield of an armored vehicle that had been deployed to the scene was shattered. And, according to a resident of the neighborhood, partygoers suffered gashes to their foreheads after being injured by glass bottles, rocks, and other projectiles that were hurtled toward police vehicles, officers, and firefighters.

No arrests were made Saturday, but the Boulder Police Department says that it is reviewing footage in an effort to identify and charge those involved, and the university has vowed to expel any student found to have committed acts of violence toward law enforcement or first responders.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS FILES FIRST SOLO DISSENT IN 16 YEARS, ACCUSES COURT OF TURNING JUDGES INTO ‘ADVICE COLUMNISTS’

Following an 8-1 Supreme Court decision siding with a former Georgia Gwinnett College student who sued his school for $1 for violating his religious rights, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a scathing dissent, calling the decision a “radical expansion” of the judiciary and likening judges to “advice columnists.”

“The Court sees no problem with turning judges into advice columnists,” Roberts wrote. “In its view, the common law and (to a lesser extent) our cases require that federal courts open their doors to any plaintiff who asks for a dollar.

“Today’s decision risks a major expansion of the judicial role. Until now, we have said that federal courts can review the legality of policies and actions only as necessary incident to resolving real disputes. Going forward, the Judiciary will be required to perform this function whenever a plaintiff asks for a dollar.”

Lower courts had dismissed the lawsuit of the former student, who had sued his college for repeatedly blocking him from making religious speeches and distributing religious literature on campus in what he says was a violation of his First Amendment rights. Lower courts had ruled that because the school had removed the offending speech clause from their code, the case was moot, but the Supreme Court ruled that because the student also sought nominal damages, the lawsuit could proceed.

“Nominal damages are not a consolation prize,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. “Despite being small, nominal damages are certainly concrete. … a person who is awarded nominal damages receives ‘relief on the merits of his claim.’ “

FORMER PAPA JOHN’S CEO WORKING TO REMOVE N-WORD FROM HIS VOCABULARY

Papa John’s founder and former CEO John Schnatter said in an interview with One America News Network that he has been working “to get rid of this N-word in my vocabulary” over the past 20 months.

The former executive, who has required nearly two years worth of work to stop saying a racial slur, denied that he is racist.

World News

IRAN RELEASES BRITISH-IRANIAN AID WORKER NAZANIN ZAGHARI-RATCLIFFE FROM HOUSE ARREST

Iran released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest Sunday, marking the end of her five-year prison sentence.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in 2016 and charged with and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment, served most of her sentence in Tehran before being released last March and kept under house arrest.

On Sunday, her ankle tag was removed.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, however, now stands accused of propaganda against the Iranian regime and faces a new court date Sunday. According to her attorney, the charge is “for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time.”

Said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable. She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this.”

Sports

LES MILES OUT AT KANSAS AS HEAD FOOTBALL COACH AMID ACCUSATIONS OF PAST INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

Les Miles and the University of Kansas “mutually agreed to part ways,” three days after the head football coach was placed on administrative leave amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward female students during his time at LSU.

“I am extremely disappointed for our university, fans and everyone involved with our football program,” Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “There is a lot of young talent on this football team, and I have no doubt we will identify the right individual to lead this program.”

Said Miles, “This is certainly a difficult day for me and for my family. I love this university and the young men in our football program. I have truly enjoyed being the head coach at KU and know that it is in a better place now than when I arrived.”

Last week, LSU released a report revealing the results of a 2013 internal investigation, which accused Miles of inappropriate behavior toward female students, including allegations that he contacted some via social media and text, met them off campus, made them feel uncomfortable, and kissed at least one, suggesting they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career.

A second investigative report showed that former LSU athletic director Joe Alleva had recommended that Miles be fired in response to the allegations.

“I believe he is guilty of insubordination, inappropriate behavior, putting the university, athletic dept and football program at great risk,” Alleva wrote in an email at the time. “I think we have cause. I specifically told him not to text, call or be alone with any student workers and he obviously didn’t listen. I know there are many possible outcomes and much risk either way, but I believe it is in the best interest in the long run to make a break.”

Instead, Miles was issued a letter of reprimand, and the school had ordered him to stop hiring student employees to babysit, cease being alone with them, and attend eight, one-hour sessions with an attorney, which were to be paid for out of his own pocket.

DAK PRESCOTT SIGNS 4-YEAR, $160M DEAL WITH DALLAS COWBOYS

Quarterback Dak Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys Monday, which included a record $66 million signing bonus, a record $75 million due in Year 1, and $126 million guaranteed.

The deal, which is technically for six years but voids to four for salary cap purposes, has a maximum value of $164 million and includes a no-trade clause and a no-tag provision.

Watch the press conference below:

Pop Culture

PIERS MORGAN LEAVES ‘GOOD MORNING BRITAIN’ FOLLOWING CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS ON MEGHAN MARKLE

Piers Morgan announced his departure from ITV News Tuesday, one day after he made comments about Meghan Markle that drew widespread criticism.

“I don’t believe a word she says” Morgan said in response to Markle’s revelation that she experienced suicidal thoughts during her time as a member of the royal family. “I wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report and the fact that she fired up this onslaught against our royal family, I think is contemptible.”

The segment spawned complaints by more than 41,000 people, including Markle herself, who expressed concerns about the impact that Morgan’s comments could have on others and about the potential for them to degrade the seriousness of the conversation around mental health.

The response prompted broadcasting regulator Ofcom to launch an investigation, which ultimately led to Morgan’s resignation.

“Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain,” ITV said in a statement. “ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add.”

While this is the part where we would normally link to the video in question, we will not be doing so out of respect for the subject matter and our readers.

If you need help, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

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