Wednesday Roundup

Politics

DEB HAALAND CONFIRMED AS INTERIOR SECRETARY

The Senate voted to confirm New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary Monday by a vote of 51-40.

Haaland becomes the first Native American in U.S. history to lead a Cabinet department.

With a reputation as an effective lawmaker and a consensus builder, Haaland led, co-sponsored, and whipped votes for more bills than any other freshman representative, with five having been signed into law.

Haaland faced heavy opposition from Republicans, however, over her “radical” positions on the Green New Deal and hydraulic fracturing.

Said Republican Sen. Steve Daines, “I’m deeply concerned with the congresswoman’s support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs, and rural America.”

Haaland, for her part, expressed her commitment to advancing President Joe Biden’s environmental goals, not her own, striking a moderate tone during her confirmation hearing and saying that there is “no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.”

While just four Republicans ultimately joined Democrats in the vote, her confirmation was widely celebrated among the Native population.

Said Native advocate Rosalie Fish, “As Native people, we aren’t always used to having a seat at the table. Now somebody — one of our own people — has finally risen up against the odds and is taking a stance for us.”

ISABEL GUZMAN CONFIRMED AS SBA ADMINISTRATOR

The Senate confirmed Isabel Guzman by a vote of 81-17 Tuesday to be the next administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of California’s former Small Business Advocate and the deputy chief of staff during the Obama administration, “I have every confidence that under Ms. Guzman’s leadership, the SBA will help small business owners hold onto their dreams until our economy comes roaring back.”

KATHERINE TAI CONFIRMED AS U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE

By a vote of 98-0 Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Katherine Tai to become the next U.S. trade representative.

Tai, who previously served as the top Democratic trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and becomes the first woman of color to serve as the top U.S. trade negotiator.

Tai is the first Biden Cabinet official to be confirmed unanimously.

BIDEN ADMIN LIMITS WHAT BORDER PATROL CAN SHARE AMID MIGRANT SURGE

According to four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials, the Biden administration is restricting the information Border Patrol agents and sector chiefs can share with the media, in what is being seen as an unofficial “gag order.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said that Border Patrol has been told to deny all media requests for “ride-alongs;” local press officers have been instructed to direct all queries to Washington for approval; and those responsible for cultivating data about the number of migrants in custody have been reminded not to share information with anyone in an effort to prevent leaks.

And while DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas committed to being transparent with the media at the beginning of March, multiple news organizations have been denied access to the processing facilities, with requests for photographs denied, too.

A DHS spokesperson claims that the agency is following standards set in 2014.

Said the spokesperson, “Across the federal government, certain employees are designated spokespeople for their respective agencies and public statements are vetted to ensure accuracy. This standard and process has been followed at DHS since the Department’s inception and across bipartisan administrations. Customs and Border Protection continues to publicly provide the same monthly data on the same schedule as it has since 2014.”

According to a DHS document, the U.S. government had more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in its custody as of Sunday, and in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday, Biden addressed concerns about the surge.

“I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” the president said during the interview. “What we’re in the process of getting set up, and it’s not going to take a whole long time, is to be able to apply for asylum in place, so don’t leave your town or city or community.”

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE CALLS ON AG MERRICK GARLAND TO INVESTIGATE KAVANAUGH BACKGROUND CHECK

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse expressed concern that the FBI investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct may have been “politically-constrained and perhaps fake.”

Then-President Donald Trump had authorized an FBI investigation into allegations that then-nominee Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault and other misconduct. The FBI, however, failed to interview Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, or witnesses with “highly relevant” information, and, according to Whitehouse’s letter, did not assign anyone to gather evidence or respond to witnesses reaching out to testify.

“Some of these allegations were brought to the attention of committee members on behalf of witnesses who had ‘tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own,’ but could find no one at the Bureau willing to accept their testimony,” the letter said, adding, “When members made inquiries we faced the same experience: the FBI had assigned no person to accept or gather evidence. This was unique behavior in my experience, as the Bureau is usually amenable to information and evidence; but in this matter the shutters were closed, the drawbridge drawn up, and there was no point of entry by which members of the public or Congress could provide information to the FBI.”

Wrote Whitehouse, “If standard procedures were violated, and the Bureau conducted a fake investigation rather than a sincere, thorough and professional one, that in my view merits congressional oversight to understand how, why, and at whose behest and with whose knowledge or connivance, this was done.”

Read the letter below.

Coronavirus

WHO RELEASES STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO ASTRAZENECA VACCINE PAUSE IN GERMANY, FRANCE, AND ITALY

The World Health Organization released a statement Wednesday following Germany, France, and Italy’s pause of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The statement is published in full below.

“Some countries in the European Union have temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a precautionary measure based on reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in persons who had received the vaccine. Other countries in the EU – having considered the same information – have decided to continue using the vaccine in their immunization programmes. 

“Vaccination against COVID-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other causes. Thromboembolic events are known to occur frequently. Venous thromboembolism is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally. 

“In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization. This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them. It also shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place. 

“WHO is in regular contact with the European Medicines Agency and regulators around the world for the latest information on COVID-19 vaccine safety. The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is carefully assessing the latest available safety data for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Once that review is completed, WHO will immediately communicate the findings to the public.

“At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.”

DUKE ON LOCKDOWN AMID CAMPUS OUTBREAK

Thousands of Duke University undergraduate students are on lockdown after nine fraternities disaffiliated from Duke and ran their own recruitment process, leading to a coronavirus outbreak of 180 students, with another 200 in quarantine.

As a result, students are now are confined to their dorm rooms and apartments, except to get food, COVID-19 tests, or exercise, and are taking their courses exclusively online.

“It was entirely avoidable,” Duke Vice President of Public Affairs Mike Schoenfeld said. “The guidance and the commitment that everybody at Duke made was to avoid unmasked gatherings and avoid any type of gatherings per the public health advice.”

The university is investigating recent incidents, and students found to have violated policy will face disciplinary action, including suspension.

National News

IRS WILL PUSH TAX FILING DEADLINE BACK TO MID-MAY

The Internal Revenue Service will push back the tax filing deadline for federal income taxes from April 15 to mid-May, the agency confirmed to CNBC Wednesday.

“This extension is absolutely necessary to give Americans some needed flexibility in a time of unprecedented crisis,” Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. said in a statement. “Under titanic stress and strain, American taxpayers and tax preparers must have more time to file tax returns.”

Those living in declared disaster areas such as Texas will have until June 15 to file their taxes.

EIGHT KILLED IN A SERIES OF SHOOTINGS AT THREE ATLANTA SPAS

A suspect is in custody after a spate of shootings claimed the lives of eight and injured one more.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested after a brief chase Tuesday and was charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, with more charges expected to be announced. Long was stopped 150 miles south of Atlanta while driving to Florida — where he intended to commit similar violence at a business connected to the “porn industry” — after his parents told police that they identified him in surveillance footage released by the authorities.

The shootings, which occurred within an hour at three separate spas, took the lives of seven women, six of whom were of Asian descent. The suspect, however, denies that the attacks were racially motivated, claiming instead that he suffers from a “sexual addiction” and that he had frequented those same massage parlors in the past. The shootings, he said, were carried out in an attempt to eliminate “temptation.”

Long had purchased a firearm from a sporting goods store earlier that same day.

“Whatever the motivation here,” President Joe Biden said, “I know that Asian-Americans are very concerned. Because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s very, very troubling. But I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer from — as the investigation proceeds — from the F.B.I. and from the Justice Department. And I’ll have more to say when the investigation is completed.”

Watch Biden’s comments below.

TWO MEN CHARGED IN ASSAULT ON CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER BRIAN SICKNICK

The F.B.I. arrested George Pierre Tanios and Julian Elie Khater on charges of assaulting federal officers, conspiracy to injure officers, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, physical violence on restricted grounds, violent entry, and aiding and abetting, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The pair remain in custody and face up to 20 years in prison for assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon.

During the Capitol riot, Officer Brian Sicknick and two other officers were “sprayed in the face” with an unidentified substance, leaving them temporarily blinded and incapacitated.

Officer Sicknick was later rushed to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

His exact cause of death has not been released.

Special Agent Riley Palmertree’s newly unsealed affidavit can be read here.

THREE DEAD AFTER DRIVER HITS NINE IN HOMELESS CAMP

A San Diego driver killed three and injured six when he jumped a curb and drove through a sidewalk homeless encampment just after 9 a.m. Monday.

Craig Voss, 71, was arrested at the scene and charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter, five counts of causing great bodily harm, and a felony DUI.

According to San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, the driver exited his vehicle and attempted to assist the victims before identifying himself to police.

“He was cooperative, (and) did not try to run away,” the chief said.

Immediately preceding the wreck, police received a report of a possibly intoxicated driver that matched the description of the suspect’s Volvo. According to the chief, investigators believe that it was the same car that crashed onto the sidewalk minutes later.

Voss is suspected of being under the influence of drugs.

THREE KILLED AFTER SMALL PLANE CRASHES INTO VEHICLE

A single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza crashed into the SUV of 35-year-old Megan Bishop near North Perry Airport in Florida Monday, leaving Bishop and her 4-year-old son hospitalized.

The boy would later succumb to his injuries.

The occupants of the plane, 63-year-old Yaacov Nahom and 71-year-old Grant Hustad, also died in the crash.

While the cause remains under investigation, the plane attempted to return to the airport shortly after takeoff, after it experienced problems with its engine.

The crash was caught on a local resident’s Ring camera. You can view footage, with caution, below.

CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER SUSPENDED AFTER DISCOVERY OF ANTI-SEMITIC MATERIAL

Acting police Chief Yogananda Pittman announced Monday that a Capitol Police officer was suspended pending investigation after a congressional aide discovered a printed copy of the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion near the officer’s work station.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is a text favored by white supremacists, which claims that a cabal of Jewish people control the banks, media, and government in a plot for world control.

“We take all allegations of inappropriate behavior seriously,” Pittman said. “Once this matter was brought to my attention, I immediately ordered the officer to be suspended until the Office of Professional Responsibility can thoroughly investigate.”

NASHVILLE BOMBER DRIVEN BY CONSPIRACIES, PARANOIA; NO EVIDENCE MOTIVES WERE TIED TO POLITICAL, SOCIAL IDEOLOGY

The FBI released a report Monday concluding that the suicide bomber who set off explosives in Nashville on Christmas Day chose the location and timing so that it would be impactful while still minimizing the likelihood of “undue injury.”

Anthony Quinn Warner had been motivated to end his own life, authorities say, driven by “life stressors” such as “long-held individualized beliefs adopted from several eccentric conspiracy theories,” paranoia, and “the loss of stabilizing anchors and deteriorating interpersonal relationships.” 

Warner reportedly believed that shape-shifting reptiles take on human form in order to gain control over society and had discussed taking trips to hunt aliens.

Said the FBI in their report, “The FBI’s analysis did not reveal indications of a broader ideological motive to use violence to bring about social or political change, nor does it reveal indications of a specific personal grievance focused on individuals or entities in and around the location of the explosion.”

The FBI report can be read below.

World News

NORTH KOREA WARNS U.S. AGAINST ‘CAUSING A STINK’

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, sent a message to the United States Tuesday upon the arrival of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the region.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off [gun] powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement. “If it [the U.S.] wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

In response, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Our objective is always going to be focused on diplomacy and denuclearization in North Korea. Our focus right now is on working with and coordinating with our partners and allies on a range of issues and including security in the region.”

Blinken, for his part, did not yield to the threat, accusing North Korea on Wednesday of “systemic and widespread abuses” against its people.

“The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systemic and widespread abuses against its own people,” Blinken told South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. “We must stand with the people that demand fundamental rights and freedom against those who repress them.”

PRINCE PHILIP DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL AFTER MONTH-LONG STAY

Initially admitted to the hospital on Feb. 16, where he was treated for an infection, Prince Philip returned home Tuesday after a month-long stay that included two hospital transfers and a heart procedure on a preexisting condition.

“His Royal Highness wishes to thank all the medical staff who looked after him at both King Edward VII’s Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and everyone who has sent their good wishes,″ the palace said in a statement.

The 28-day stay was the 99 year old’s longest hospital stay yet.

ISRAELI ARCHEOLOGISTS DISCOVER DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENTS BELIEVED TO DATE BACK 1,900 YEARS

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday the discovery of 80 new pieces of parchment dating back to the first century.

The fragments, which were found in a desert cave in the West Bank aptly named the “Cave of Horror,” bear lines of Greek biblical text and are believed to have been hidden during the Bar Kochba Revolt, an armed Jewish uprising against Rome that occurred nearly 1,900 years ago.

The four-year archaeological project also uncovered the 6,000-year-old skeleton of a partially mummified child and a 10,500-year-old basket — potentially the oldest in the world.

“It is very exciting to see these finds and expose them to the public, finds which shed great light on our history,” said Avi Cohen, CEO of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage. “These finds are not just important to our own cultural heritage, but to that of the entire world.”

Sports

KEYSHAWN JOHNSON ANNOUNCES THE DEATH OF HIS DAUGHTER

Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson announced the death of his first-born daughter Monday in an emotional Twitter post.

“It is with incredible sadness that I have to share the news about the passing of my beautiful Daughter Maia. Maia, as my first born child, has been the joy of my, and her Mother Shikiri’s, life.

“She came into our lives just as we were both coming of age as adults and has been a constant beloved presence for both of us. We are heartbroken and devastated by her loss. Shikiri, Maia’s siblings, our family and me appreciate your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”

Maia was just 25 years old. No cause of death has been publicly released.

Pop Culture

YAPHET KOTTO DIES AT 81

Bond villain and “Alien” star Yaphet Kotto died on Monday at the age of 81.

Kotto was a celebrated actor, known for his roles in “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Alien,” “The Running Man,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Midnight Run.”

Wrote director Ava DuVernay, “Yaphet Kotto. My Mom’s favorite. He’s one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got. But he took those parts and made them wonderful all the same. A star. Rest well, sir.”

PRINCE HARRY HAS ‘UNPRODUCTIVE’ CONVERSATIONS WITH BROTHER, FATHER

“This Morning” co-host Gayle King revealed Tuesday that when she spoke to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the wake of the Oprah interview, they informed her that Harry had spoken to his brother and his father since but that the conversations were “not productive.”

“Harry has talked to his brother and he has talked to his father too. The word I was given was those conversations were not productive. But they are glad that they have at least started a conversation,” King said, adding, “I think what is still upsetting to them is that the palace keeps saying they want to work it out privately, but yet they believe [that] false stories are coming out that are very disparaging against Meghan still. No one in the royal family has talked to Meghan yet at this particular time, and I think it’s frustrating for them to see that it’s a racial conversation about the royal family when all they wanted all along was for the royals to intervene and tell the press to stop with the unfair, inaccurate, false stories that definitely have a racial slant. And until you can acknowledge that, I think it’s going to be hard to move forward.”

Watch King’s segment below.

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