10 things you need to know today: May 20, 2021
House votes to form Jan. 6 commission, Netanyahu says airstrikes to continue as ceasefire pressure mounts, and more
House backs establishing Jan. 6 commission
The House on Wednesday passed a bipartisan proposal seeking to create an independent commission to investigate the deadly Jan. 6 attack against the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. The plan calls for Democratic and Republican leaders to appoint five members each on the 10-person commission. Both sides would have subpoena power. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the plan, but 35 Republicans joined Democrats in the 252-175 vote. The bill faces bigger hurdles in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came out against it on Wednesday, calling it "slanted and unbalanced." The panel would be modeled on the 9/11 Commission, whose chairs, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, support the bill.
Netanyahu says airstrikes will continue as ceasefire pressure mounts
President Biden on Wednesday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he "expected a significant de-escalation today" in Gaza, but Netanyahu said Israel would continue airstrikes against Hamas "until its aim is met." Israel has destroyed 60 miles of underground tunnels, hit 80 rocket launchers, and killed at least 130 Palestinian militants, but there is "still work to do," a senior Israeli military officer said. The Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire eased early Thursday, however, and both sides expressed optimism that a ceasefire could be reached as soon as this weekend. The deal being discussed would include a halt to Israeli strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure and leaders, and to Hamas rocket fire into Israel. The Israeli government also wants Hamas to stop building tunnels toward Israel.
Texas governor signs fetal-heartbeat abortion ban
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, on Wednesday signed a law banning abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. "The life of every unborn child with a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion," Abbott said. The law is scheduled to take effect in September. It is expected to be blocked by courts due to longstanding precedents protecting abortion rights until fetal viability, at about 22 weeks, although the Supreme Court this week agreed to review a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said passing bills that attack reproductive rights "is not leadership, it is cruelty and extremism."
Police reportedly criticize GOP opposition to Jan. 6 commission
Members of the Capitol Police on Wednesday reportedly sent an anonymous letter to members of Congress expressing their "profound disappointment" with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not supporting a bipartisan proposal for a Jan. 6 commission. Capitol Police officers protected lawmakers as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. The letter is not an official statement from the Capitol Police, and the anonymous writers said they would go unnamed because "we are expected to remain neutral and do our jobs with honor and integrity." The letter says "we would hope that the members whom we took an oath to protect, would at the very minimum, support an investigation to get to the bottom" of it.
Oldest living survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre shares testimony
Viola Fletcher, the oldest living survivor of 1921's Tulsa Race Massacre, told a House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday that she can "still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. ... I hear the screams ... Our country may forget this history, but I cannot." The 107-year-old was joined at the hearing by her brother and fellow survivor Hughes Van Ellis; a third survivor, Lessie Benningfield Randle, appeared virtually. They are the three lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last year against the city, county, and chamber of commerce of Tulsa, and the state of Oklahoma, arguing they "failed to defend the Black community from a white mob." As many as 300 Black people died in the attack, and 10,000 were left homeless.
Minutes suggest Fed leaders could soon discuss slowing bond-buying
Federal Reserve leaders in April discussed the possibility of preparing to reduce monthly bond purchases that keep interest rates down in response to the economy's rapid rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, according to minutes of the meeting released Wednesday. A recent uptick in inflation raised concerns that the central bank might dial back its efforts to stimulate the economy so it doesn't overheat. "A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee's goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases," the minutes said. The Fed currently buys $120 billion in bonds monthly.
EU ambassadors agree to reopen borders to vaccinated visitors
The European Union is reportedly set to reopen its borders to those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or are traveling from a country that's considered safe. During a meeting on Wednesday, ambassadors from the 27 member states reportedly came to this agreement to allow in visitors who have either received an approved COVID-19 vaccine, including any of the three that have been authorized for emergency use in the United States, or are coming from a list of countries that will be finalized later this week. This agreement is expected to be formally approved in the coming days, although individual countries will still be able to set their own rules. The new guidelines could reportedly go into effect as early as next week.
Bitcoin drops sharply as selloff accelerates
Bitcoin's price plunged by as much as 30 percent on Wednesday as its selloff picked up speed. The leading cryptocurrency went on a tear earlier in the year, peaking at $64,829 in mid-April as it gained acceptance as an investment and more companies started accepting it as a form of payment. It fell as low as $30,202 on Wednesday before closing at $38,802, a 10 percent drop on the day. "Many people have been tempted to invest purely because it has gone up in value and they have a fear of missing out," said Rick Eling, investment director at wealth management firm Quilter. "Bitcoin is a volatile asset, and as we have seen so often in financial markets, boom is almost always followed by bust."
Biden to award Medal of Honor for 1st time
President Biden is scheduled to award the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for the first time on Friday. The White House said Wednesday that Biden would present the medal to Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. of Columbus, Georgia, in recognition of his "conspicuous gallantry" that went "above and beyond the call of duty" during the Korean War. In November 1950, then-Lt. Puckett led a unit of Army Rangers in a daylight attack on an enemy hill. "To obtain supporting fire, First Lieutenant Puckett mounted the closest tank, exposing himself to the deadly enemy fire," the White House said. "Leaping from the tank, he shouted words of encouragement to his men and began to lead the Rangers in the attack." South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who will be visiting the White House, plans to attend the ceremony for Puckett, who also served in Vietnam.
Report: New York AG investigating Trump company CFO for possible crimes
The New York attorney general's office has opened a criminal tax investigation targeting Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, CNN reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the investigation. The case, reportedly launched several months ago, stems partly from financial documents given to the office by Weisselberg's former daughter-in-law. Weisselberg has worked at the Trump Organization for decades, and is also the subject of an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office. People familiar with the matter told CNN the aim is to get Weisselberg, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, to cooperate with investigators. The New York attorney general's office announced Tuesday night that its civil investigation of the Trump Organization had become a criminal one. Manhattan prosecutors also are conducting a criminal investigation.