👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ The Department of Health and Human Services diverted millions of dollars in federal funds intended for vaccines research and public health emergencies to pay for unrelated salaries, administrative expenses, the removal of furniture, news subscriptions, and legal services. In 2018, an unidentified whistleblower alleged the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response had been misusing money since at least 2010 that Congress had allocated for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. A HHS inspector general report says the agency couldn’t account for $517.8 million from 2007 to 2016. And, as recently as fiscal year 2019, more than $25 million was improperly taken from BARDA. (Washington Post / Bloomberg / CNN / Axios)
2/ The Department of Homeland Security warned of “ideologically-motivated violent extremists” in the U.S. The DHS bulletin said the threat of violence – spurred by “grievances fueled by false narratives” about the unfounded claims about the 2020 election and “anger over COVID-19 restrictions … and police use of force” – will persist for “weeks” following Biden’s inauguration. The National Terrorism Advisory System was last used a year ago to warn of potential retaliation by Iran for the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. A year before that, DHS highlighted the threat from foreign terrorist groups, like ISIS or al-Qaida. (Washington Post / New York Times / ABC News / Politico / Axios)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly endorsed executing Democratic leaders and federal agents in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress. In January 2019, Greene “liked” a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and in other posts, Greene “liked” comments about executing FBI agents who, she believed, were part of a “deep state” working against Trump.(CNN / Washington Post)
A second police officer died by suicide following the insurrection at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. A third member of law enforcement died from injuries he sustained during the Capitol attack. (Politico)
3/ House and Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state. The bill, first introduced in 2013, would give the District full authority over local issues and grant it full representation in Congress. While the bill could pass the House, its unlikely to clear the Senate because Democrats would need to overcome a filibuster for the legislation to pass. Meaning, they’d need at least 10 Republicans to join them. Most GOP lawmakers, however, are opposed to the legislation because D.C.’s congressional representation would likely be Democratic. (NBC News / The Hill)
4/ Democrats reintroduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and hasn’t been increased since 2009. The majority of Republicans oppose the measure. (CNN / CNBC)
5/ The Biden administration started staffing a bipartisan commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary. Between nine and 15 members are expected to be appointed to the commission, which will study structural changes as part of a broader court review and reform effort. Biden, who is “not a fan of court packing,” proposed the commission in response to the Republican push to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court weeks before the November election. (Politico)
6/ The Biden administration will resume contact with Palestinian leaders and restore U.S. contributions to the U.N. agency which provides aid to Palestinians. Trump’s policies overwhelmingly favored the interests of Israel’s government, and the administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington, D.C., stopped contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty, and presented a peace proposal which left all Israeli West Bank settlements in place. (NPR)
7/ The Biden administration paused arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as part of a review of Trump administration agreements worth billions of dollars. The Trump administration pushed through arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in 2020 as part of agreements to normalize relations with Israel. In 2019, Trump declared a national security “emergency” in order to authorize a multibillion-dollar sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which bypassed congressional review. (Wall Street Journal / CNN)
8/ Biden affirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO, saying said he “strongly, strongly, strongly” backs the alliance’s collective defense. In 2017, Trump declined to pledge “unwavering” commitment to a provision in the NATO charter that commits members to rise to the defense of others in the pact. Trump also called the alliance “obsolete” during his first presidential campaign. (Bloomberg)
9/ Biden replaced the director of the nation’s immigration court system. During James McHenry’s tenure, the Trump administration placed quotas on the number of cases immigration judges should complete, while restricting their ability to grant asylum, close cases, and suspend deportation proceedings for certain immigrants. Jean King will take over on an acting basis as director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review. (Politico / BuzzFeed News / CBS News)
10/ Biden warned the climate crisis poses an “existential threat” that needs to be addressed “with a greater sense of urgency.” Biden then signed executive orders directing the government to elevate climate change to a national security priority, pause oil and gas leasing on federal land, conserve 30% of the country’s lands and waters in the next 10 years, double offshore wind energy, and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, among other changes. “We have already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, we can’t wait any longer,” Biden said. “We see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our bones. It’s time to act.” (NBC News / Associated Press / The Guardian / Politico / New York Times)
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