Day 307: "Backsliding."
1/ The number of U.S. Covid-19 deaths in 2021 surpassed the 2020 death toll. The total number of reported deaths linked to Covid-19 topped 770,800 on Saturday, according to federal data and Johns Hopkins University. New cases, meanwhile, are increasing with the seven-day rolling average ticking up to more than 90,000 cases a day after it dropped to about 70,000 last month. More than 30 states are seeing sustained upticks in infections. (Wall Street Journal / New York Times)
2/ More than 95% of the 3.5 million federal workers are in compliance with the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. About 90% of workers have received at least one shot and the other 5% have requested a medical or religious exemption that has been either approved or is pending. Workers who are not in compliance will receive “education and counseling” with the goal of getting more federal workers fully vaccinated. Workers who don’t get vaccinated or secure an approved exception could ultimately be terminated. (Reuters / Associated Press / NPR / CNN)
3/ Biden nominated Jerome Powell for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman. Powell, a Republican, was originally appointed to the Fed’s governing board by Obama and was later elevated to the chairman’s post by Trump. Under Powell’s stewardship, the Fed set aside its practice of raising rates to pre-empt inflation and instead has kept interest rates near zero to stimulate a faster recovery following downturns, like from the Covid-19 pandemic. Inflation, meanwhile, has reached a three-decade high with the Labor Department reporting that prices in October were 6.2% higher than a year ago. Biden nominated current Fed governor Lael Brainard – seen as a leading contender to eventually replace Powell – to serve as vice chair. (NPR / Associated Press / Wall Street Journal)
4/ Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson publicly urged the Republican-controlled state Legislature to take over the running of federal elections and direct local officials to ignore election guidance issued by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. Johnson, a Republican, claimed that Republican control of Wisconsin elections was necessary despite previously acknowledging that there was “nothing obviously skewed about the results” of the 2020 presidential election. Johnson baselessly accused Democrats of cheating. Last month, a report on the 2020 results that was ordered by Republican state legislators found no evidence of voter fraud. Johnson’s push comes after a Republican member of the State Assembly formally proposed decertifying Wisconsin’s election results, and a Republican sheriff in Racine County called for five members of the state’s six-member election commission to be charged with felonies because they waived a requirement to send poll workers into nursing homes during the pandemic. Biden won Wisconsin last November by about 21,000 votes. In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes. (New York Times / CNN / Washington Post)
5/ Two Fox News commentators resigned in protest over Tucker Carlson’s “documentary” about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes called the series “a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions.” The two longtime conservative commentators concluded that “the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible” at Fox News, adding that Carlson’s three-part series relied on fabrications and unfounded conspiracy theories to exonerate Trump supporters who participated. Carlson, meanwhile, said the departure of Goldberg and Hayes “will substantially improve the channel.” (Washington Post / NPR / New York Times)
6/ A federal judge blamed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Trump, suggesting that the rioters were pawns provoked into action. Speaking at sentencing hearing for rioter John Lolos, Judge Amit Mehta said rallygoers like him were “called to Washington, DC, by an elected official, prompted to walk to the Capitol by an elected official.” Mehta called the rioters who stormed the building “a pawn in the game played by people who know better.” Lolos received a 14-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to illegally demonstrating in the Capitol building. (Politico / CNN)
7/ Organizers for the Jan. 6 rally at the White House Ellipse coordinated closely with the White House, according to leaked group text messages. The messages from Amy Kremer and her daughter, Kylie Jane Kremer, detail their coordination with Trump’s team on the rally, including an in-person meeting at the White House, working with the team to announce the event, promote it, and grant access to VIP guests. “We are following POTUS’ lead,” Kylie wrote the group on Jan. 1 – before the Ellipse rally was publicly announced. Two days later, March For Trump organizer Dustin Stockton texted the group chat to ask who was “handling” rally credentials for VIPs. “It’s a combination of us and WH,” Kylie replied. The House Select Committee investigating the attack, meanwhile, has subpoenaed documents and testimony from both Amy and Kylie Kremer. Congressional investigators have reportedly obtained “tons of” group chats from the organizers. (Rolling Stone)
8/ The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection subpoenaed five more people, including Roger Stone and Alex Jones. The committee has asked Stone and Jones to provide testimony by Dec. 17 and Dec, 18, respectively, and to provide the panel with requested documents by Dec. 6. The committee is also demanding records and testimony from Dustin Stockton, Jennifer Lawrence who was also involved in organizing the rally that preceded the Capitol riot, and Taylor Budowich, who organized an advertising campaign to encourage attendance at the Jan. 6 rally. The panel has subpoenaed more than 20 witnesses and has interviewed more than 150 people across government, social media, and law enforcement. (Associated Press / NBC News / Washington Post)
9/ The United States – for the first time – was added to a list of “backsliding democracies,” according to the International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy 2021 report. “The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale,” the report said, pointing to a “visible deterioration” that began in 2019. “A historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States.” More than a quarter of the world’s population lives in democratically backsliding countries. (Washington Post / The Guardian / CBS News)
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