10 things you need to know today: January 15, 2021
Biden unveils $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, security concerns force postponement of inauguration rehearsal, and more
Biden proposes $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package
President-elect Joe Biden released details on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan on Thursday. He said the cost was high, but, "The very health of our nation is at stake." The proposal includes several key Democratic priorities, including another round of direct payments to Americans. The plan calls for sending most Americans relief checks of $1,400. It also would provide $400 billion for expanded testing and vaccine distribution to help fight the spread of COVID-19. The plan includes $400 per week in boosted unemployment benefits through September, and $350 billion for state and local governments. It also calls for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Republicans are expected to object to the cost. Biden will need 10 GOP votes in the Senate to beat a filibuster.
Inauguration rehearsal postponed over security concerns
The Biden inaugural planning team has postponed an inauguration rehearsal that had been scheduled for Sunday, due to security concerns, Politico reported Thursday, citing two people with knowledge of the decision. It is now planned for Monday. Also, President-elect Joe Biden scrapped plans to travel by Amtrak train from Delaware to Washington, D.C., for his Jan. 20 inauguration as a precaution, The Associated Press reported. The decisions came as the FBI warned of potential threats in Washington and at state capitols around the nation from armed right-wing extremists. Federal authorities plan to shut down the National Mall on Inauguration Day. There is already a heavy National Guard presence at the Capitol in response to ongoing threats after last week's attack on the building by pro-Trump insurrectionists.
Jobless claims jump as coronavirus surge shakes economy
First-time applications for unemployment benefits rose to 965,000 last week, the biggest weekly total in five months, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. The figure marked an increase of 181,000 over the revised total for the previous week. It far surpassed the 800,000 new jobless claims economists had predicted. The change underscored the damage that surging COVID-19 cases and deaths have done to the economy, as businesses lose customers and curb hiring. The federal government reported last week that the economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, the first monthly loss since April.
Biden chooses Jaime Harrison to run DNC
President-elect Joe Biden has picked Jaime Harrison, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) last year, to lead the Democratic National Committee, according to Thursday news reports. Harrison, a former South Carolina Party chair, smashed campaign fundraising records in his bid to unseat Graham. He lost 44 percent to 55 percent, but raised his profile within the party. He lost out to outgoing DNC Chair Tom Perez in a bid to lead the committee in 2017. This time, Harrison benefitted from strong support from Rep. Jim Clyburn (R-S.C.), an influential Biden ally, as well as Perez's decision not to seek a second term. Incoming presidents usually install their own party-committee chairs and staffers, letting them take control. The job is expected to be especially challenging over the next two years, as Democrats prepare to protect narrow majorities in tough 2022 House and Senate midterm elections.
Ex-firefighter accused of throwing fire extinguisher at Capitol police
A retired Pennsylvania firefighter was arrested Thursday and accused of throwing a fire extinguisher that hit three police officers during last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The suspect, 55-year-old Robert Sanford, was charged with four counts, including disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and assaulting a police officer. The allegations were not related to the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who reportedly was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. Sanford's said his client got caught up in the "mob mentality" of the moment and made a "split-second decision." "Trump says, 'We're going to the Capitol.' Next thing you know, thousands of people are walking," the lawyer, Enrique Latoison, said. "When he got down there, things got crazy."
Prosecutors: Some Capitol rioters intended to assassinate elected officials
Some of the rioters in last week's storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters intended "to capture and assassinate elected officials," federal prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday. Justice Department lawyers made the allegation in a detention memo for Jacob Chansley, the Arizona QAnon conspiracy theorist photographed wearing horns in the U.S. Senate chamber at the desk of Vice President Mike Pence. The memo said that Chansley left a note for Pence saying, "it's only a matter of time, justice is coming." "Strong evidence, including Chansley's own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government," prosecutors wrote. Chansley's public defender did not immediately comment.
Mexico drops drug trafficking charges against ex-defense minister
Mexico's attorney general's office announced Thursday night that it would not pursue drug trafficking charges against a former defense minister, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos. Mexican authorities said they had reviewed information provided by the United States, and concluded that Cienfuegos never communicated with any criminal group. The attorney general's office also said there was no suspicious increase in Cienfuegos' wealth to suggest illegal income. U.S. authorities arrested the retired military leader in October at the Los Angeles airport, accusing him of helping the H-2 cartel send heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines into the U.S., but the Justice Department dropped the charges and sent him home weeks later after heavy pressure from the Mexican government.
Pentagon survey: 1/3 of Black servicemembers faced discrimination
A long-withheld Defense Department survey found that nearly a third of Black U.S. military servicemembers reported facing racial discrimination, harassment, or both within a year. Many people who said they experienced racial discrimination or harassment also expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with how complaints were handled. Many never reported the incidents. "Overall, results reveal much work is needed to improve the reporting process for those who experience racial/ethnic harassment and discrimination," the Defense Department acknowledged in a report accompanying the data. The results of the 2017 survey had not been previously reported. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said the Pentagon should have released the information sooner.
2020 ties with 2016 as warmest year on record
Last year tied the record for the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880, according to federal climate reports released Thursday. The high temperatures matched those measured in 2016 despite a cooling La Niña Pacific Ocean current, which nudged temperatures down in December, according to the latest National Aeronautics and Space Administration study. A second NASA assessment using different records and methods put 2020 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit below the record global average temperature set in 2016. The year also brought massive wildfires to California and a record number of Atlantic tropical cyclones. "These long-term trends are very, very clear," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "This is another piece of evidence that tells us the planet is warming decade by decade by decade."
Siegfried Fischbacher of Siegfried & Roy dies at 81
Siegfried Fischbacher of the magic duo Siegfried & Roy died at his home in Las Vegas, his publicist said Thursday. He was 81. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, Dave Kirvin of Kirvin Doak Communications said. Fischbacher's long-time show-business partner, Roy Horn, died last year of complications from COVID-19 at age 75. Before Horn was critically injured in 2003 by one of the German-born duo's white tigers, Siegfried & Roy were a Las Vegas institution, performing six shows a week, 44 weeks per year. When Horn died, Fischbacher said, "from the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried."