10 things you need to know today: January 22, 2021
Biden signs executive orders to step up coronavirus fight, Republicans call for delaying Trump impeachment trial, and more
Biden targets coronavirus pandemic in wave of executive actions
President Biden signed a flurry of executive orders on Thursday aimed at fighting coronavirus infections, and promised a "full-scale wartime effort" against the pandemic. Biden called for requiring masks on interstate planes, trains, and buses, and quarantining international travelers entering the country. "History is going to measure whether we are up to the task," Biden said. The new administration released its 200-page "National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness" in a bid to intensify a nationwide campaign against COVID-19, which has killed nearly 410,000 people in the United States, with thousands more dying daily. "For the past year we couldn't rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination that we needed," Biden said, "and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure."
Republicans push for delaying or scrapping Trump impeachment trial
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday asked Democrats to delay former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial until mid-February to give Trump time to work on his defense. Trump, who is charged with inciting insurrection in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters, hired South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers to represent him in his Senate impeachment trial. Many Senate Republicans are uniting behind the argument that it would be unconstitutional to put Trump on trial now that he is out of office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Thursday the House would press forward with sending the impeachment charges to the Senate. "I don't think it's very unifying to say, 'Oh, let's just forget it and move on.' That's not how you unify," said Pelosi.
During 1st Biden briefing, Fauci admits he feels liberated
Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who sometimes "got in trouble" for contradicting former President Donald Trump, said it felt "liberating" to be able to speak freely about the science of the pandemic without fear of repercussions under President Biden. Fauci, now Biden's top medical adviser, said in the first White House coronavirus briefing in months that under Trump "there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really [were] uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact." Fauci warned that new data suggests that COVID-19 vaccines might not be as effective at fighting new, more contagious strains of the virus, but that "they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting."
Biden pushes to extend nuclear arms treaty
President Biden is pushing for a five-year extension of the last U.S. nuclear arms treaty with Russia, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing two senior U.S. officials. The New START pact is set to expire Feb. 5. Former President Donald Trump tried to seal a shorter extension toward the end of his presidency but failed to reach a deal. If the treaty is allowed to expire, both countries will be allowed to deploy as many nuclear-armed submarines, bombers, and missiles as they want, raising the possibility of a new arms race. "New START is manifestly in the national security interest of the United States and makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial," a senior U.S. official said.
Senate power-sharing negotiations reach stalemate
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are locked in a stalemate over how to share power in an evenly split, 50-50 chamber. McConnell is demanding that Schumer promise that Democrats, who control the chamber due to Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote, protect the long-standing Senate rule on filibusters, which require a supermajority of 60 votes to advance most legislation. Some progressive Democrats are calling for ditching the filibuster rule to prevent Republicans from blocking President Biden's agenda. "Things are on hold. I've got a lot of things I want to do," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat.
Trump business revenue plummeted due to pandemic
Former President Donald Trump's family business revenue dropped by nearly 40 percent last year as the coronavirus pandemic kept customers away from Trump Organization hotels and golf resorts, according to newly released data from the Office of Government Ethics. The decline was sharpest at some of Trump's most lucrative properties, and the situation could worsen as some business partners and clients cut ties with Trump over the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters. Eric Trump, who took over the company when his father was in office, said the business was in good shape given the loyalty of his father's followers. "He's got probably the most famous brand in the world," Eric Trump said. "The opportunities for somebody like that are going to be endless."
Eli Lilly antibody drug 'significantly' reduces COVID risk in nursing homes
Eli Lilly said Thursday that a Phase 3 study found nursing home residents who preventively received its antibody drug bamlanivimab had an up to 80 percent lower risk of contracting symptomatic COVID-19 compared to people who received a placebo. The company said bamlanivimab also reduced the risk by 57 percent among both residents and staff. "We are exceptionally pleased with these positive results, which showed bamlanivimab was able to help prevent COVID-19, substantially reducing symptomatic disease among nursing home residents, some of the most vulnerable members of our society," Eli Lilly chief scientific officer Daniel Skovronsky said. The FDA previously provided an emergency use authorization for bamlanivimab, and Skovronsky said Eli Lilly hopes to work with regulators to expand use of the drug.
Congress approves waiver clearing Austin to serve as defense secretary
The House and Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a waiver to let retired four-star Army general Lloyd J. Austin III serve as secretary of defense, even though he has not been out of the military for less than the required seven years. The move clears the way for a vote to confirm Austin on Friday. If confirmed, he will be the first Black American to lead the Pentagon. Ahead of the vote on the waiver, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said blocking the waiver would have delayed the "urgent work" of restoring the capabilities of the Defense Department. "In the face of the many threats, both foreign and domestic, confronting our nation, it is essential that Secretary-designate Austin be immediately confirmed," Pelosi said.
New jobless claims decline but stay high at 900,000
The Labor Department said Thursday another 900,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, down 26,000 from the revised level of the previous week. This was a bit better than expected, as economists were anticipating a total of 925,000 claims. Still, the number continues to remain well above the pre-pandemic record, as well as higher than a few weeks ago. But last week, the number of new claims surged by 181,000 in the worst week since August. The latest jobs report showed the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December amid increasing COVID-19 cases, the first monthly jobs loss since April. Thursday's number was reported on the first full day on the job for President Biden, who The Washington Post notes "inherits one of the worst job markets of any president."
2 bombings kill at least 32 in Baghdad
Twin suicide bombings killed at least 32 people in Baghdad on Thursday. It was the first such massive attack in years, Iraqi officials said. The suicide bombing ripped through the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in the center of the city and devastated a busy market, leaving the pavement covered in blood. By sundown, crowds returned in a show of defiance. Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, said the first bomber shouted that he was ill, prompting people to gather around him before he detonated his explosive belt. The second bomber set off his explosives shortly after the first blast. "This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State," al-Khafaji said. He said ISIS is trying to "prove its existence" after devastating setbacks.