Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 29, 2020

The House backs increasing coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000, Biden accuses Trump appointees of impeding the transition, and more

1

House backs increasing COVID-19 stimulus checks to $2,000

The Democrat-controlled House on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of increasing COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, up from the $600 direct payments included in the $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package President Trump signed on Sunday. Trump had urged Congress to boost the amount to $2,000. The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is expected to die. Senate Republicans have opposed the idea of increasing the payments due to concerns about the rising federal budget deficit. Rep. Kevin Bradey (R-Texas) said the proposal had been "hastily dropped on us at the last minute." He added that he worried "that this whopping $463 billion won't do what's needed, stimulate the economy or help workers get back to work."

2

Biden says transition team facing 'obstruction' from Trump appointees

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday said his transition team had "encountered roadblocks" and "obstruction" from political leaders in parts of the Trump administration, including the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget. "Right now, we just aren't getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas," Biden said in his home state of Delaware after a briefing from his national security and foreign policy teams. "It's nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility." Biden said many agencies critical to security "have been hollowed out, in personnel, capacity, and in morale." The acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, said the department was cooperating with Biden's team.

3

House votes to override Trump veto of defense spending bill

The House voted Monday to override President Trump's veto of the $741 billion annual defense authorization bill. The 322-87 vote, safely above the two-thirds majority needed, set up a vote in the Senate later this week that could result in the first congressional override of Trump's presidency with just over three weeks left in his term. Like the House, the Senate initially passed the National Defense Authorization with an overwhelming, veto-proof majority. Trump last week rejected the legislation. He objected to a provision calling for the Pentagon to change the names of military bases that honor Confederate generals. He also wanted it to include the repeal of a law offering liability protections to social media companies.

4

Columbus officer fired over killing of unarmed Black man

Adam Coy, the white Columbus, Ohio, police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man last week, was fired on Monday, the city's public safety director, Ned Pettus, said. "The actions of Adam Coy do not live up to the oath of a Columbus police officer, or the standards we, and the community, demand of our officers," Pettus said. Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan recommended firing Coy, a 19-year veteran of the force, after determining that his shooting of Andre Hill, 47, was an "unreasonable use of deadly force," and an act of "senseless violence." Body-cam footage showed Coy shooting Hill 10 seconds into their encounter. Hill held up his cellphone as Coy and another officer arrived at a house where he was staying as a guest.

5

Treasury Department hurries to send out $600 stimulus checks

The Trump administration is rushing to start sending out the $600 stimulus checks included in the new coronavirus relief bill as soon as the end of this week, The Washington Post reported Monday. Congress passed the $900 billion coronavirus relief package, along with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown. President Trump held it up for several days, calling the legislation a disgrace and demanding much bigger direct payments to struggling Americans, but then he caved and signed it on Sunday. The Treasury Department is expected to be able to move quickly to distribute the checks, because it already went through the process once in the spring.

6

Republicans sue Mike Pence in far-fetched effort to overturn election

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and a group of President Donald Trump's defeated electors from Arizona filed a lawsuit Monday against Vice President Mike Pence, aiming to force him to side with Trump allies trying to overturn his 2020 election loss. In the suit, the Republicans ask a federal court to rule that Pence has the exclusive authority to choose electors when he oversees the Electoral College vote certification on Jan. 6. Despite President-elect Joe Biden's victory, Republican electors held their own votes earlier this month in a move to disrupt the official process as Trump and his allies continue to make unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. The lawsuit, which is widely considered to have no chance of succeeding, urges Pence to recognize the Republican electoral votes rather than the actual Democratic votes in those states.

7

Stock indexes set records after Trump signs coronavirus relief package

U.S. stocks surged to record highs on Monday after President Trump caved and signed the coronavirus stimulus package and an omnibus spending deal needed to avert a government shutdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 0.7 percent. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. The gains were enough to lift all three of the main U.S. indexes to record highs. Trump's signing of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package clears the way for the Treasury Department to send American households $600-per-person direct payments as the latest coronavirus surge prompts new restrictions on businesses. The bill also renews just-expired extra unemployment benefits. Stock futures edged higher early Tuesday.

8

Saudi court sentences women's rights activist to 4 years

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced one of the nation's most prominent women's rights activists to nearly six years in prison after finding her guilty of violating provisions of a broad counterterrorism law. The activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, has been detained since May 2018 and 34 months of her sentence were suspended. Still, her case could raise tensions between the kingdom's leadership and the incoming government of President-elect Joe Biden. Incoming Biden administration national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the sentence "unjust and troubling." Al-Hathloul was convicted on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order, and cooperating with entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror laws.

9

Judge denies Ghislaine Maxwell bail for 2nd time

A federal judge on Monday denied bail for British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who faces charges of grooming underage girls for sexual abuse by financier Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Judge Alison Nathan ruled that Maxwell poses a flight risk due to her wealth, citizenship in multiple countries, and the severity of the charges against her. Nathan had already denied Maxwell bail once, in July. This time Maxwell was asking to be released on a $22.5 million personal recognizance bond, but the judge said that and millions more pledged by Maxwell's friends were not enough to ensure that Maxwell would show up for her future court hearings.

10

TSA screens highest number of travelers since mid-March

U.S. air travel surged to a pandemic-era record on Sunday as Americans boarded planes for holiday visits, the Transportation Safety Administration said Monday. TSA workers screened 1.28 million passengers at U.S. airports on Sunday, the highest daily number since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. The number was about 50 percent lower than traffic through security checkpoints on the same day last year. Public health officials urged people to stay home for the holidays to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, but more than one million passed through TSA checkpoints on six of the last 10 days as holiday travel surged. The U.S. has confirmed more than 19 million coronavirus cases, and nearly 335,000 deaths.

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