Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 20, 2021

Biden to be sworn in under tight security, U.S. coronavirus deaths surpass 400,000, and more 

1

Biden to take office as nation faces multiple crises

President-elect Joe Biden left Delaware and traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday ahead of his inauguration on Wednesday as the nation's 46th president. Biden delivered an emotional farewell to his home state of Delaware before heading to the nation's capital. Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, will be sworn in under tight security at noon in front of the U.S. Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters rioted two weeks ago in a failed attempt to reverse Biden's election victory. Biden will take office at a time of deep political division and a deadly pandemic that has disrupted Americans' lives. "Biden will face a series of urgent, burning crises like we have not seen before," said presidential historian Michael Beschloss, "and they all have to be solved at once."

2

U.S. coronavirus death toll rises above 400,000

The United States coronavirus death toll surpassed 400,000 on Tuesday, reaching the grim milestone on the last full day of Donald Trump's presidency. The U.S. has confirmed far more COVID-19 deaths than any other country, with nearly twice as many as Brazil, the country with the second most fatalities. With infections, hospitalizations, and deaths hitting record levels recently, it took one month for U.S. fatalities to climb from 300,000 to 400,000. Biden administration leaders have warned the figure could reach 500,000 by the end of February. The pandemic remains widespread in every state, although infections have trended down in recent days. President-elect Joe Biden paid tribute to the dead in a somber sundown ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, saying, "To heal we must remember."

3

Trump grants clemency to 143 people on last night in office

President Trump granted clemency to 143 people on Tuesday, including his former White House strategist, Stephen Bannon. The list of last-minute pardons, which came on the last full day of Trump's presidency, included Republican politicians and donors, well-connected celebrities, and nonviolent drug offenders. Bannon, 67, was accused of fraudulently soliciting donations for the "We Build the Wall" campaign. Trump also pardoned Republican megadonor Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty in October to acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Rapper Lil Wayne also was on the list, as was former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Trump did not issue any preemptive pardons for himself or members of his family. Criminal justice reform advocates said Trump used the clemency process to pass out political favors while overlooking many deserving people.

4

Trump touts record and denounces violence in farewell address

President Trump said in a videotaped "farewell address" released Tuesday that "the movement we started is only just beginning." Trump did not mention President-elect Joe Biden by name, but he said he was preparing to "hand power over to a new administration at noon Wednesday," and extended his "best wishes." Trump also touted his economic and foreign policy record, and criticized the deadly Jan. 6 attack against the U.S. Capitol that led the House to impeach him on the charge of inciting an insurrection. "Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans," Trump said. "It can never be tolerated." Trump also called for Americans to set aside political rancor. A former spokesman for Trump's Homeland Security Department, David Lapan, said Trump's call for unity after years of divisive rhetoric was "too little, too late."

5

McConnell says Trump 'provoked' insurrectionist mob

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that President Trump "provoked" the mob of his supporters that stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6. "The mob was fed lies," McConnell said. "They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on." The House has impeached Trump for "incitement of insurrection" in connection with the riot, which left a Capitol Police officer and four others dead. McConnell, who soon will become minority leader as Democrats take control of the Senate, said he had "not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate."

6

12 National Guard members taken off inauguration duty after vetting

Military leaders removed 12 National Guard members from inauguration duty after a vetting aimed at preventing people with ties to right-wing extremists from playing a role in providing security, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday. Two of the service members were flagged because of "inappropriate" comments or texts, and the others were removed due to questionable behavior uncovered in the vetting, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters. Another defense official had told CNN that the 12 were sidelined due to potential extremist ties. Hokanson said the people who were flagged were removed "out of an abundance of caution," and he noted that the small group was part of a total of 25,000 troops.

7

Trump administration declares China treatment of Uighurs 'genocide'

The United States on Tuesday officially declared China's campaign against the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group and other ethnic and religious minorities in the western Xinjiang province to be a genocide. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his department came to the conclusion after a "careful" review, stating that the crimes include arbitrary mass internment of more than 1 million people, forced sterilization, torture of those detained, forced labor, and restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. "I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state," Pompeo said. The U.S. is the first country to label China's treatment of the Uighurs as a genocide. Beijing denies it is committing human rights abuses against the minority groups.

8

Militia members accused of plotting ahead of Capitol riot

U.S. authorities arrested an apparent leader of the far-right Oath Keeper extremist militia group on charges of plotting to storm the U.S. Capitol in advance of the Jan. 6 attack by a pro-Trump mob. Authorities accused Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, of plotting to disrupt the electoral vote count confirming President-elect Joe Biden's win over President Trump. Caldwell faces four federal counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States in the Capitol attack. According to a charging affidavit, Caldwell helped organize a group of eight to 10 people, including self-styled Ohio militia members captured on Sunday. The defendants allegedly communicated as they pushed into the Capitol from opposite sides and headed a hunt for lawmakers to place under "citizen's arrests."

9

Yellen sails through Senate hearing

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's treasury secretary nominee, breezed through a key Senate hearing on Tuesday. The former Federal Reserve chair, who would be the first woman to run the Treasury Department, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that the federal government's priority at the start of the Biden administration should be helping Americans weather the coronavirus crisis. "The focus right now is on providing relief and helping families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and not raising taxes," she said. Some senators expressed concerns about the repercussion for the massive deficits prompted by the pandemic, and about their expectations of higher taxes on the rich and corporations. Still, there were no signs of significant opposition to Yellen's confirmation.

10

Georgia certifies Warnock, Ossoff Senate victories

Georgia on Tuesday certified the Senate runoff victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, clearing the way for the Democrats to be sworn in on Wednesday. When Warnock, Ossoff, and California's Alex Padilla, who is taking Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' seat, take office, Democrats will officially take control of the chamber from Republicans. The new senators will take the oath of office shortly after President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Warnock will be Georgia's first Black senator; Ossoff will be the state's first Jewish U.S. senator. The Senate will be split 50-50, but Harris, who resigned from the Senate on Monday, will cast the tie-breaking vote as vice president.

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