10 things you need to know today: March 4, 2021
House cancels Thursday session over violence fears, Biden slams states for lifting COVID-19 restrictions, and more
House cancels Thursday session due to threat of violence
The House canceled Thursday's session due to a warning by security officials that an unnamed militant group was plotting to breach the Capitol. Right-wing extremists reportedly have been circulating credible threats of violence timed to what they called "true Inauguration Day," March 4, when they believe that former President Donald Trump, who lost the November election to President Biden, will be sworn in for a second term. House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett said in a memo to lawmakers that the Capitol Police had "enhanced their security posture" to counter the threat. Authorities also reportedly have extended the assignment of a special security detail for the House's Democratic impeachment managers, who argued the case against Trump for incitement of the insurrection. The Senate plans to be in session Thursday.
Biden condemns Texas, Mississippi governors for lifting COVID-19 restrictions
President Biden on Wednesday harshly criticized Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves for lifting coronavirus restrictions. He slammed the decisions by Abbott and Reeves, both Republicans, saying it was "Neanderthal thinking" to tell people it was safe to stop wearing masks now that coronavirus infection and death rates are falling. "I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference," Biden said. He said continued restrictions are necessary to contain the pandemic until enough people are vaccinated to truly get the pandemic under control. Abbott said Tuesday that the increased availability of vaccines made it possible to "restore livelihoods and normalcy."
Dozens killed in deadliest day of Myanmar crackdown
At least 38 people died Wednesday after Myanmar security forces opened fire on protesters in the deadliest violence since the military seized power from the country's civilian government a month ago, according to the United Nations' special representative for the country. Police and soldiers recently have been escalating their crackdown on crowds demanding the restoration of democracy. Demonstrators have donned goggles, hard hats, and homemade shields and continued to take to the streets despite what Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a human rights activist based in Yangon, described as a "daily slaughter." One of the victims on Wednesday was a 14-year-old boy. Another was a 19-year-old woman shot in Mandalay and shown in images posted to social media wearing a T-shirt reading, "Everything will be OK."
Cuomo apologizes but says he won't resign over sexual harassment claims
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) apologized Wednesday for "whatever pain I caused" related to sexual harassment allegations three women, including two former aides, have made against him recently. Cuomo defended himself by saying he often greets people with a kiss, pointing to "hundreds" of photos of "me kissing people." Cuomo, speaking at a news conference, said he "never touched anyone inappropriately" or intended to pressure or humiliate anyone. "I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable," Cuomo said. "It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it." The governor said he is "not going to resign" over the scandal despite calls for him to step down. New York's attorney general is leading an investigation.
Watchdog found Elaine Chao used office to benefit family
Trump administration Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used her office to help family members with a shipping business tied to China, according to a report released Wednesday by the Transportation Department's inspector general. "A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted," Mitch Behm, the Transportation Department's deputy inspector general, told House lawmakers in a letter accompanying the report. The inspector general referred the matter to the Justice Department in December, but two Justice Department divisions declined to launch criminal investigations in the final weeks of the Trump administration. Chao, the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced her resignation the day after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
House passes police reform bill in party-line vote
The House on Wednesday passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform bill seeking to ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants. The legislation, if passed by the Senate, would create a national database to track police misconduct cases, make it easier to hold officers accountable in court for misconduct, and end racial and religious profiling. The bill was named after George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man who died last May after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd's death sparked protests across the United States against police brutality. The bill passed 220 to 212, with two Democrats voting against it and one Republican, Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas, accidentally voting for it.
Pence breaks silence, criticizes voter reform push
Former Vice President Mike Pence said in an op-ed published in The Daily Signal that the 2020 presidential election was "marked by significant irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside election law." Pence criticized Democrats for their voter reform push and indirectly supported former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Without outright calling the 2020 vote fraudulent, Pence — who was a target of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 seeking to overturn President Biden's victory — argued against the For the People Act, which includes measures such as required early voting and same-day voter registration. Pence called the bill "an unconstitutional power grab."
House approves bill seeking to expand voting rights
House Democrats on Wednesday pushed through a bill seeking to expand federal voting rights. The legislation, approved 220 to 210 with Republicans unified against it, seeks to impose requirements that would weaken restrictive state voter ID laws that critics say unfairly burden some minority and immigrant voters. The legislation would mandate automatic voter registration, and expand early and mail-in voting. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, the legislation would amount to the biggest expansion of federal voting protections since the 1960s, as Democrats counter efforts by Republican-controlled statehouses to impose restrictions proponents argue are necessary to prevent vote fraud. Opposition by Republicans appears certain to stall the bill in the Senate, where Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to beat a GOP filibuster.
Border Patrol: California crash victims smuggled through border fence
The 13 people who died when a semitruck hit their packed SUV near the U.S.-Mexico border had just entered the United States through a hole in a border fence, Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday. "Border Patrol is investigating the smuggling events," the agency said in a statement. Authorities said two SUVs were seen on surveillance video leaving the area near the 10-foot fence hole Tuesday morning. One of the vehicles, 1997 Ford Expedition with its seats removed, was carrying 25 people when it was hit by the semitruck about 10 miles from the border, near Holtville, California. The other SUV, a Chevrolet Suburban, was carrying 19 people. It caught fire. All the passengers got out and were taken into custody.
Walmart says it will invest $350 billion in U.S.-made goods
Walmart announced Wednesday that it would invest $350 billion in American-made products over the next decade. The plan covers textiles, plastics, small electrical appliances, food processing, and pharmaceutical supplies that are produced, grown, or assembled in the United States. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said the effort would help create 750,000 jobs. "U.S. manufacturing really matters," John Furner, chief executive of Walmart U.S., said in a statement. "More businesses are choosing to establish their manufacturing operations in the United States, and the result is more jobs for Americans — a lot more jobs." The company in 2018 said it would invest $250 billion in domestic goods, although that effort faced skepticism after consumer advocacy groups reported allegedly misleading labels on Walmart.com to federal regulators.