Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 5, 2021

The House ejects Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees, Trump's lawyers say he won't testify in impeachment trial, and more


House votes to eject Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees

The Democrat-led House on Thursday voted to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from the education and budget committees over her past comments spreading violent and hateful conspiracy theories. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in the 230-199 vote to strip Greene of both of her committee assignments, an unprecedented punishment of a lawmaker for comments made before her election. Before the vote, Greene renounced her "words of the past." She acknowledged that the 9/11 attacks "absolutely happened" and that school shootings are "absolutely real." Greene's contrition wasn't enough for Democrats, who said her embrace of the bogus QAnon conspiracy theory and her social media posts approving violence against prominent Democrats were the type of rhetoric that fueled the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.


Trump lawyers say he won't testify at impeachment trial

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would not voluntarily testify at his Senate impeachment trial, arguing that since Trump is now a private citizen, the proceedings are "unconstitutional." House impeachment managers invited Trump to appear in person to answer questions under oath about what he said and did leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters hoping to get Congress to reverse Trump's election loss to President Biden. The Democrat-led House has charged Trump with inciting an insurrection. House impeachment managers could try to subpoena Trump, but both parties are pushing for a speedy trial, so it might be difficult to muster the Senate majority required to do that.


Biden vows to raise refugee cap to 125,000

President Biden announced his intention Thursday to raise the U.S. refugee cap. During a foreign policy-focused speech, Biden said he would raise the limit on the number of refugees the U.S. can accept to 125,000. But that won't happen until the beginning of the next fiscal year, and the U.S. will have a large backlog of refugees to contend with once admissions reopen again. Former President Donald Trump chipped away at the refugee cap throughout his presidency, taking it to a historic low of 15,000 admissions by the time he left office. That cap was set before the start of the 2020-21 fiscal year and will remain in place until October. Biden's cap will be larger than former President Barack Obama's highest cap of 110,000 during the 2016-17 fiscal year.


Biden ends support for offensive military operations in Yemen

President Biden announced Thursday that he was ending U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive military operations in Yemen, and freezing the shifting of troops out of Germany. The changes reverse Trump administration policies that Biden said were incompatible with longtime U.S. values and overseas commitments. Biden made the announcement at the State Department in an address focused on restoring alliances and institutions, like the World Health Organization, that Trump spurned. "We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday's challenges, but today's and tomorrow's," Biden said. Biden also said that the United States had emerged from the failed Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol "stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy because we have fought for it ourselves."


Smartmatic files defamation lawsuit against Fox News, Giuliani

Electronic voting systems maker Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday accusing Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, and others of falsely claiming the company was part of a conspiracy to steal the presidential election from former President Donald Trump and hand it to President Biden. The suit also names Fox Corp., Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro, and former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. Smartmatic, which provided election technology in a key county, said Giuliani and Powell invented the story that the election was stolen and depicted Smartmatic as "the villain." The complaint says "Fox joined the conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic" and its software. Smartmatic is requesting $2.7 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. Fox News called the lawsuit "meritless."


Jobless claims fall but remain above pre-pandemic record

First-time applications for jobless benefits fell last week to 779,000, a drop of 33,000 from the revised level for the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists had been expecting 830,000 new jobless claims. The latest figure was the lowest since late November, suggesting that the economy was recovering slowly from the business shutdowns and slowdowns caused by the winter surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Still, the fact that weekly jobless claims remained above the pre-pandemic weekly record of 695,000 showed how far the recovery has to go. "Approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic, it is quite striking that new claims remain so elevated," Bankrate economic analyst Mark Hamrick said.


Sasse defends criticism of Trump

Sen. Ben Sasse (R) of Nebraska on Thursday released a video defending his January rebuke of then-President Donald Trump after local news outlets reported that the Nebraska Republican Party State Central Committee was considering censuring him. The motion, first reported by News Channel Nebraska, reportedly cited Sasse for refusing to back Trump's challenge of his November election loss, and his willingness to consider voting to convict Trump in his impeachment trial on the charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. "Politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude," Sasse said. "The party can purge Trump skeptics. But I'd like to convince you that not only is that civic cancer for the nation, it's just terrible for our party."


Johnson & Johnson requests emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson on Thursday asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine. The company reported last week that the vaccine, administered in a single shot, was 66 percent effective in preventing moderate and severe COVID-19. The vaccine was 72 percent effective among U.S. participants in the trial. If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be the third available in the United States. Adding it to the limited supply of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines could help the Biden administration's push to increase the pace of the national vaccine effort, which got off to a slow start in December. In addition to being administered in a single shot, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be kept at higher temperatures than the first two vaccines, simplifying distribution.


Senate paves the way for majority approval of Biden's $1.9 trillion aid package

The Senate passed a budget resolution early Firday that includes President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. The approval came after senators pushed through dozens of amendments Thursday in a process known as a "vote-a-rama." With the Senate version approved, the House, which passed its budget bill on Wednesday, is expected to act quickly on the Senate bill. Once the budget resolution is finalized, Congress will be able to get to work writing the relief plan into law. Under rules triggered by the budget legislation, the Democratic majorities in both chambers will be able to push through Biden's relief package with simple majorities, with or without Republican votes. Democrats are aiming to pass the relief legislation by mid-March.


Coronavirus death toll surpasses 450,000 as infections fall

The U.S. coronavirus death toll surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, as daily deaths remained above 3,000 per day. Infections and hospitalizations have been falling after peaking in early January, so infectious disease experts expect deaths to start declining as early as next week. Public health officials warn that infections and hospitalizations could rise again if people encouraged by the improving trends become more lax about social distancing and other precautions. Cases surged after people gathered over the holidays, and that could happen again. "I'm worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly," Dr. Rochelle Walensky told The Associated Press. "We're still in quite a bad place."


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