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Politics updates: More than 2 months after election, Vice President Pence calls to congratulate Vice President-elect Harris

  • January 17, 2021

Handcuffs, explosives and cries for help. Chilling details from inside the Capitol riot.

Justice watchdog opens inquiry into preparations, response to Capitol riots

The Justice Department’s inspector general is launching an investigation into how the agency prepared and later responded to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack, where rioters overwhelmed police in the first mass breach of the iconic building in more than 200 years.

In a coordinated review with the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the inquiry will examine whether threat-related information was appropriately shared with the U.S. Capitol Police and other agencies in advance of the assault that left five dead, including a Capitol police officer.

Earlier this week, FBI officials confirmed that the bureau issued a dire warning on the day before the riots. It said violent extremists were planning an armed uprising in Washington, a plot the attackers described as a “war” to coincide with Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Assistant FBI Director Steven D’Antuono has said that the intelligence report, prepared by the bureau’s office in Norfolk, Virginia, included a “thread on a message board” that could not be attributed to an actual suspect.

D’Antuono has said the information was shared within “40 minutes” with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which includes the U.S. Capitol Police.

“The DOJ (inspector general) also will assess whether there are any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures that adversely affected the ability of DOJ or its components to prepare effectively for and respond to the events at the U.S. Capitol,” the agency’s watchdog said in a Friday statement.

– Kevin Johnson

GOP Sen. Lankford apologizes to Black Oklahomans for contesting election results

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford issued an apology to his home state’s Black residents for challenging President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Lankford’s apology comes after Black Tulsans called on Lankford to step down from a reconciliation committee for the 1921 Tulsa riots.

“I can assure you, my intent to give a voice to Oklahomans who had questions was never also an intent to diminish the voice of any Black American,” Lankford wrote in a statement.

In the months after President Donald Trump’s election loss, the president and his allies levied unfounded conspiracy theories of widespread voter fraud that centered on heavily Black cities and regions. Many denounced the accusations as reckless and racist, and the unfounded allegations help fuel the anger that erupted in violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

“We reject the careless rhetoric and failures of leadership that facilitated, and arguably, incited, the lawless mob action that resulted in property damage, injury, and death, and sullied our internationally-admired democracy,” the reconciliation commission said on Wednesday.

The 1921 Tulsa riot was a state-aided attack in which the city’s white residents massacred residents of the city’s once-thriving Black community. It is among the worst acts of racial violence in American history.

Lankford was among the Republican senators who cast doubts about the election in support of the president. Though he originally stated he would contest the certification of the election, Lankford reversed course after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

“While we disagree – and disagree strongly at times – we do not encourage what happened today, ever,” Lankford said after the attack. “We are headed tonight towards the certification of Joe Biden being the president of the United States and we’ll work together in this body to be able to set a peaceful example for the days ahead.” 

In his letter to Black Tulsans, Lankford, a former Baptist minister, said, “Today, I am asking my friends in North Tulsa for grace and an opportunity for us to show the state what reconciliation looks like in moments of disagreement.”

“Being a part of the effort to shine a light on North Tulsa is an honor and a responsibility for me,” he wrote. “It is my mission, and I will continue working to support you for many years to come.”

– Matthew Brown

GOP Sen. Tuberville: Biden inauguration should have been delayed because of COVID-19

Days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., suggested the event should have been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though Jan. 20 is enshrined in the Constitution as the date for the transfer of presidential power.

“We probably could have had a swearing-in and done an inauguration a little later on after we got this virus behind us a little bit. But again, we’re talking about Washington, D.C.,” the former football coach told Birmingham TV station CBS 42.

Tuberville was one of six Republican senators who objected on Jan. 6 to the affirmation by Congress of Biden’s Electoral College win – a vote that took place hours after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol aimed at disrupting the count.

The Constitution’s 20th Amendment requires that the terms of a new president and vice president begin “at noon on the 20th day of January.”

– Caren Bohan

Rep. Brady says Biden COVID relief plan ‘does nothing’ to save economy

Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, on Thursday evening criticized President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, saying that it does not strengthen the U.S. economy.

“President-Elect Biden launches yet another economic blind buffalo that does nothing to save Main Street businesses, get people back to work, or strengthen our economy,” Brady, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Special interests and liberals are cheering. The jobless and Main Street are left shaking their heads.” 

Biden’s proposal includes investing $20 billion in a national vaccination program, $1,400 stimulus checks and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Although Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and Senate, Biden will likely have a tough time getting his $1.9 trillion relief package through Congress. House Democrats currently hold a narrow 222-to-211 majority and the Senate is split 50-50 Democrat and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. 

While Republicans on Capitol Hill have opposed sending larger stimulus checks to Americans, some Democrats have also criticized Biden for his stimulus proposal.

In December, Brady was quick to criticize the CASH Act, which would have increased the $600 stimulus check that were in the bipartisan relief legislation passed in December to $2,000.

“Will this stimulate our local economies? Not a lot,” Brady said on the House floor in December. He said the money would “go to pay down credit card debt, or savings, or even make new purchases online at Walmart, Best Buy, or Amazon.”

– Rebecca Morin

Biden picks Kessler to lead vaccine effort

President-elect Joe Biden chose Dr. David Kessler, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration who helped lead the development of drugs to combat the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, to shepherd vaccine distribution for COVID-19, the Biden transition team announced Friday.

Kessler will replace Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a researcher and former drug company executive, to head Operation Warp Speed. Kessler’s responsibilities will cover manufacturing, distribution and the safety and efficacy of vaccines and therapeutic.

The pace of vaccination distribution has fallen below expectations. Biden’s goal is to provide 100 million vaccinations during the first 100 days of his administration starting Jan. 20. Twenty-two million doses have been distributed and 6.7 million administered as of Jan. 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are in a race against time, and we need a comprehensive strategy to quickly contain this virus,” Biden said in a statement.

More than 385,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with more than 4,300 on Tuesday alone.

– Bart Jansen

Senate Intel Committee postpones confirmation hearing for Biden’s spy chief

It’s not clear if President-elect Joe Biden will have any of his national security nominees confirmed by Day 1 of his presidency, a break with past practice.

The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposed to hold a hearing Friday for Biden’s chief intelligence nominee, Avril Haines. But at the last minute, the committee announced a delay, without specifying the reasons.

“Despite the unusual circumstances on Capitol Hill, the committee is working in good faith to move this nominee as fast as possible and ensure the committee’s members have an opportunity to question the nominee in both open and closed settings,” the committee’s acting chairman, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, and vice chairman, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, said in a joint statement late Thursday night.

Rubio and Warner said the hearing would take place on Jan. 19. Biden will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

“We are disappointed the hearing was delayed, particularly given the urgency to have national security leaders in place in this time of crisis,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the Biden transition. “Nevertheless, DNI-designate Haines eagerly awaits the opportunity to answer the Committee’s questions next week.”

The Senate is currently led by Republicans, but Democrats are poised to gain the majority after Jan. 20.

Two newly elected Democrats from Georgia will be sworn in after the results of that state’s runoff are certified – likely toward the end of next week – and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to cast a tie breaking vote in the 50-50 chamber.

For now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls the schedule, under which the Senate will not fully reconvene for business until Jan. 19. Two other key Biden nominees are set to have hearings on that day: Lloyd Austin, his pick to lead the Pentagon, and Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s choice to serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

– Deirdre Shesgreen and Bart Jansen

Biden to name CIA veteran David Cohen as No. 2 at the spy agency

President-election Joe Biden will announce another key national security appointment Friday, naming David Cohen to be deputy director of the CIA, the Biden transition announcedy.

Cohen has held the job before – from 2015 to 2017 – when he helped to manage the agency’s global operations and led foreign intelligence collection, covert action and other espionage activities. An attorney by training, Cohen is an expert in tracking financial crimes, terrorism funding networks in particular, which he did as a top official at the Treasury Department.

But none of those skills came into play for his most public role: as an extra on the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Cohen snagged the cameo last year, appearing in the soup line as a nameless Winterfell resident during an April 2019 episode.

“A perk of working for CIA is world travel. Apparently that sometimes extends to other realms … ,” the CIA tweeted from its official account shortly before the show aired. “‘Little birds,’ be on the lookout for a former deputy director of ours wandering through #Westeros in tonight’s episode of #GameOFThrones.”

“Way to blow my cover!” Cohen tweeted in response.

– Deirdre Shesgreen 

Biden picks Jaime Harrison for DNC chair

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday announced his picks for Democratic leadership, including Jaime Harrison, a U.S. Senate candidate from South Carolina in November’s election, as Democratic National Committee chairman.

The move comes ahead of the 2022 election cycle in which Democrats will look to retain control of the Senate and House.

Harrison, who previously chaired the South Carolina Democratic Party, lost to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. by 11 percentage points in the November election. It was a disappointing finish after Harrison brought in a record fundraising haul, but one that built his name in the party’s ranks.

The DNC is set to vote on its leadership next week. Voting will close Thursday.

Harrison would replace Tom Perez, who opted against running for a second term. Harrison unsuccessfully ran for DNC party chair against Perez in 2017. Although Harrison isn’t guaranteed the leadership position, the party historically defers to the president’s choice.

Biden also announced other DNC officers that include three women he considered for vice president who turned into key campaign surrogates: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Michigan Gov. Whitmer and Illinois U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth. Each were named party vice chairs along with Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. of Texas.

“This group of individuals represent the very best of the Democratic Party,” Biden said in a statement. “Their stories and long histories of activism and work reflects our party’s values and the diversity that make us so strong.”

– Joey Garrison

What’s in Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package

President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending package aims to speed distribution of the coronavirus vaccines and provide economic relief caused by the pandemic.

The package proposal includes investing $20 billion in a national vaccination program, $1,400 stimulus checks and expanding unemployment insurance supplements to $400 per week.

Biden’s proposed relief package comes several weeks after Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package in December, which the president-elect said at the time was a “down payment.”

The plan also includes: 

  • $170 billion to help reopen schools, as well as provide financial relief to students
  • Expand to 14 weeks paid sick and family and medical leave 
  • $25 billion in rental assistance and an additional $5 billion to cover home energy and water costs
  • Extending the 15% Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase to September 2021
  • $15 billion for grants to more than 1 million small businesses
  • A $20 billion investment to Indian Country to support tribal governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Read the full story.

— Rebecca Morin

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