Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 13, 2021

Senate votes to hear from witnesses in impeachment trial, CDC outlines roadmap to safely reopen schools, and more


Senate votes to hear from witnesses in impeachment trial

Former President Donald Trump's legal team launched his defense on Friday in his historic second impeachment trial in the Senate. The defense argued Trump bears no responsibility for the Capitol riot he is accused of inciting, saying his speech at a rally before the attack was "ordinary political rhetoric" and pointing to instances when Democrats used the term "fight." The defense wrapped up within just three hours, and the trial looked like it was heading for a quick final vote on Saturday, but in a bit of a surprise, the Senate voted 55-45 to call witnesses. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) joined Democrats in the vote. Trump is still expected to be acquitted, as only a small handful of Republicans have indicated they are considering supporting conviction.


CDC outlines roadmap to safely reopen schools

Schools across the U.S. can be reopened safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic while following newly released "operational strategy" guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The "roadmap" for reopening schools shuttered for public health includes guidance on masking, physical distancing measures, and cleaning. It urges states to prioritize vaccinations for teachers, but says reopenings can happen safely even without a fully vaccinated staff. "There is nothing in this guidance that is a mandate for schools to open, and nor is there anything in this guidance that is a mandate for schools to close," said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. President Biden has promised to get most schools back to in-person instruction within his first 100 days in office. Teachers unions appeared to respond positively to the proposal.


GOP lawmaker confirms contentious Trump-McCarthy call during Capitol riot

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, confirmed Friday night the contents of a phone call, new details of which were reported by CNN, between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) while the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was ongoing. Herrera Beutler released a statement describing the conversation as it was relayed to her by McCarthy and calling on her colleagues, some of whom spoke anonymously to CNN, to come forward "if you have something to add." During the call, McCarthy reportedly urged Trump to "publicly and forcefully call off the riot," to which Trump reportedly initially replied by claiming that antifa, not his supporters, were behind the breach. When McCarthy reportedly dismissed the idea, Trump reportedly replied, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." That reportedly sparked a shouting match between the two.


Big pharma companies to claim $1 billion in tax deductions after opioid settlements

Big pharmaceutical companies reportedly plan to recoup portions of opioid crisis settlement payouts via tax deductions this year. Thousands of lawsuits from individuals and governments have challenged opioid manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the deaths of an estimated 70,000 people from addiction each year. Four of those pharmaceutical companies — manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and Amerisource-Bergen — are in talks to pay a combined $26 billion to settle many of those cases. But as their financial records reportedly indicate, they're planning to claim tax deductions from those payouts this year and bring back around $1 billion each. Tax laws usually prevent companies from deducting legal costs, and the IRS may also end up challenging the companies' deductions. But the deductions may work through the $2 trillion CARES Act, which opened up billions of dollars in tax breaks to companies regardless of pandemic suffering.


Myanmar protests enter 2nd week

Myanmar's anti-coup protest movement entered its second week Saturday, as demonstrators once again took to the street in defiance of the country's military junta. Over the course of the week, authorities have become more aggressive in their efforts to break up the rallies — per The Associated Press, there have been reports of night raids, in which security forces have tried to seize people from their homes during curfew hours, though in several cases a large number of neighbors reportedly rushed to the scene to prevent the arrests. On Saturday, Myanmar's military issued arrest warrants for seven well-known protesters, calling on people to inform the police should they spot any of them and threatening anyone who shelters them. "I am so proud to have a warrant issued," Ei Pencilo, one of the protesters, wrote to her 1.6 million Facebook followers. "Catch me if you can."


Cuomo faces bipartisan backlash after aide's admission about COVID-19 nursing home data

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is facing bipartisan criticism after a top aide reportedly acknowledged withholding data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes amid concerns it was "going to be used against us." Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa privately told state lawmakers on Wednesday that after the governor's administration was asked by the Department of Justice for information regarding the COVID-19 death toll in New York nursing homes, "basically, we froze." Democratic state senators, Alessandra Biaggi and Andrew Gounardes, were among the New York lawmakers to criticize Cuomo, while Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) alleged the revelation amounts to a "stunning and criminal abuse of power."


Former ECB chief sworn in as Italy's new prime minister

Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi was sworn in as Italy's prime minister on Saturday following the collapse of the previous administration and resignation of former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last month. Draghi put together a unity government, which has the support from most of the country's prominent parties, including the far-right League and the populist Five Star Movement, both of which, The Guardian notes, have adopted more moderate, pro-European tones in recent days, as Italy continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. The previous government fell apart amid disagreements over how to spend the more-than-200 billion euros it's set to receive from the European Union's COVID-19 recovery fund. Draghi, who has been credited with saving the euro during the height of the European debt crisis, enjoys a strong reputation in Italy and internationally.


No plans to mandate pre-departure COVID-19 tests on U.S. domestic flights

In a statement Friday night, White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said President Biden has ruled out requiring COVID-19 testing for all passengers on domestic flights for now. The idea of showing proof of a negative test before boarding a flight had been floated by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky earlier this week, but both the White House and the CDC said Friday that the current rules — which include required masking on all public transportation, and pre-departure testing and quarantining for inbound international travelers — will remain in tact. Airlines opposed a potential mandate, and the heads of several major U.S. carriers met with White House officials Friday. The sides had what Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, described as a "very positive, constructive conversation."


White House deputy press secretary reportedly threatened to 'destroy' reporter

TJ Ducklo, White House deputy press secretary, reportedly threatened to "destroy" a reporter pursuing a story about his relationship. After the Biden aide earlier this week was revealed to be dating Alexi McCammond, a political journalist for Axios, Vanity Fair reported that Ducklo tried to intimidate Politico reporter Tara Palmeri while she was pursuing a story about the relationship, threatening to ruin her reputation if she published it. "I will destroy you," Ducklo reportedly threatened in a phone call with Palmeri. Ducklo also made "derogatory and misogynistic" comments toward Palmeri. Later, Ducklo reportedly told Palmeri he was "sorry he lost his cool." The White House said Friday he has been suspended for one week without pay.


Senate honors Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman with award

At the end of Friday's impeachment trial proceedings, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman received a standing ovation from the Senate, which then voted unanimously to award him with a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian honors. Goodman played a pivotal role in protecting Congress during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He was initially lauded after a video showed him single-handedly leading a mob away from the Senate chamber during the insurrection, and during the trial, House impeachment managers unveiled previously unseen security footage showing Goodman running into Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was unknowingly heading toward the crowd, in a hallway and redirecting him to safety.


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