👋 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 coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. – known as B.1.1.7 – is spreading rapidly across the U.S., doubling roughly every 10 days. The variant is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, may be more lethal, and the CDC warned that B.1.1.7 could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March. Meanwhile, South Africa halted use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after evidence emerged that the vaccine offered only “minimal protection against mild-moderate disease” caused by B.1.351 – another variant, which was first seen in South Africa. The B.1.351 variant has already spread to at least 32 countries, including the U.S. Pfizer and Moderna, however, both said that studies indicate that their vaccines should grant protection against both variants, but are less effective against B.1.351. Biden, meanwhile, called the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, including the number of vaccine doses that were made available, “even more dire than we thought.” Biden added that it would be “difficult” to vaccinate most of the U.S. by summer. (New York Times / Washington Post / NBC News / Politico)
😷 Dept. of “We Have It Totally Under Control.”
Global: Total confirmed cases: ~106,405,000; deaths: ~2,323,000
U.S.: Total confirmed cases: ~27,065,000; deaths: ~465,000; vaccinated: 9.8% of total population
The Supreme Court partly lifted restrictions on indoor worship services in California put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The restrictions set varying limits on attendance at religious services by county, depending on infection rates. The court blocked that total ban but left in place a 25% capacity restriction and the prohibition on singing and chanting. (New York Times / Washington Post)
GOP Rep. Ron Wright died after an 18-day battle with COVID-19. A special election will likely be held in 2021 to select a new representative for the district. (Dallas Morning News / Politico)
2/ The House asked the Biden administration to release documents related to the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, “to understand the full scope and impact of efforts by the Trump White House to suppress coronavirus testing.” In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis alleged that the Trump administration “refused to cooperate” with its inquiries and that Trump officials “failed to fully comply with two subpoenas and at least 20 document requests” by the committee. The letter focuses on Trump administration adviser Dr. Paul Alexander, who downplayed the importance of testing people without symptoms and allegedly tried to suppress scientific data and pressure members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force to alter public information. In August, the CDC changed its Covid-19 testing guidance to say that people without symptoms “do not necessarily need a test” – even if they were exposed to an infected person. But in September, the CDC reversed the guidance, saying that anyone, including those without symptoms, who has been in close contact with an infected person needs a Covid-19 test. (CNN / CNBC / NPR)
3/ Congressional Democrats are expected to propose providing up to $3,600 per child to families as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. Under the proposal, the IRS would send $3,600 per child under the age of 6 over the year, or $3,000 per child of ages 6 to 17, phasing out the payments for those earning more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000 per year. (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times / CNN / CNBC)
4/ Biden’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour would result in 1.4 million job losses, but lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty by 2025 and raise the income for 17 million people, according to a new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In its cost assessment of Biden’s “Raise the Wage Act of 2021,” the CBO said that the minimum wage increase would also increase the budget deficit by $54 billion over 10 years. While Biden said he didn’t expect the measure to make the $1.9 trillion covid relief package, he said he was prepared for a “separate negotiation” to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current level of $7.25 an hour. “Look, no one should work 40 hours a week and live below the poverty wage,” Biden said. “And if you’re making less than $15 an hour, you’re living below the poverty wage.” (Washington Post / Reuters / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal / Politico)
- Surprising exactly no one, 50 years of tax cuts for the wealthy have failed to “trickle down.” A London School of Economics study, which examined 18 developed countries from 1965 to 2015, shows that the incomes of the rich grew faster in countries where tax rates were lowered instead of trickling down to the middle class. (CBS News)
5/ Biden instructed the State Department to reengage with the United Nations Human Rights Council – reversing the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw nearly three years ago. The U.S. withdrew from the council in 2018 – calling the council “a cesspool of political bias” that is a “hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights” and “is not worthy of its name” – after the U.N.’s human rights chief called Trump’s policy of separating children at the border “unconscionable.” (NBC News / Politico / Washington Post)
6/ Biden, citing Trump’s “erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection,” said Trump should not receive intelligence briefings even though they typically have been given to former presidents. “I just think that there is no need for him to have the intelligence briefings,” Biden said. “What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?” (CNN / NBC News / New York Times)
7/ Trump’s attorneys argued that the insurrection at the Capitol was perpetrated by people “of their own accord and for their own reasons” and not because Trump called on them to march on Congress and “fight like hell.” Trump’s lawyers, accusing House Democrats of engaging in “political theater” driven by “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” asserted in a new filing that Trump’s speech before the attack “did not direct anyone to commit unlawful actions,” and that he deserved no blame for the conduct of a “small group of criminals” because he was engaged in free speech protected by the First Amendment when he questioned the election results. Trump’s lawyers also argued that the Senate “lacks jurisdiction” and cannot convict a former president, calling the effort “patently ridiculous.” House impeachment managers, meanwhile, said: “We live in a Nation governed by the rule of law, not mob violence incited by Presidents who cannot accept their own electoral defeat.” (Politico / Washington Post / CNN / NPR / New York Times / CNBC / Wall Street Journal)
The FBI charged 211 people in the Capitol riot – nearly two dozen had ties to right-wing extremist groups. (NBC News)
Trump’s election fraud lies have cost taxpayers at least $519 million in legal fees prompted by dozens of lawsuits, enhanced security in response to death threats against poll workers, repairs following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and more than $480 million for the military’s deployment through mid-March. (Washington Post)
Trump’s reelection campaign moved about $2.8 million of donor money to the Trump Organization – including more than $81,000 since Trump lost the election. (Forbes)
8/ Paul Manafort can’t be prosecuted in New York after Trump’s pardon. In October, a New York appeals court found that efforts to try Manafort for financial fraud violated the state’s double jeopardy law since Manafort had been convicted on similar charges in federal court. In December, Trump pardoned Manafort. Meanwhile, the double jeopardy defense is unlikely to help Stephen Bannon, who was also pardoned by Trump, because Bannon hasn’t been tried (or convicted) yet. (New York Times)
poll/ 67% of American’s approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus. In October, 61% said they disapproved of Trump’s response to the pandemic. (Washington Post)
poll/ 52% of Americans favor their senators voting to convict Trump in his second Senate impeachment trial, while 45% prefer their senators find him not guilty, and 3% are unsure. (Gallup)
poll/ 16% of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well, while 45% think democracy isn’t functioning properly, and another 38% say it’s working only somewhat well. (Associated Press)
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