News Headlines 2/4/21

BIDEN SAYS ‘ACT FAST,’ ‘GO BIG’ ON COVID RELIEF PLAN, BUT SUGGESTS OPEN TO CHANGES: President Biden said in a private call with House Democrats yesterday (February 3rd) to, quote, “act fast” and “go big” on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, but he also suggested he’s open to changes, saying he’s, quote, “not married” to an absolute dollar amount for the overall package, according to AP. One of those changes could be reducing the income threshold for which Americans would be eligible for a new $1,400 direct payment, something that could draw some Republican support for the package, but he insisted that there be $1,400 payment, saying, “I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people.” Biden would like to have bipartisan support, and talks with some Republicans continue, but he is prepared to move forward with getting the relief plan through using just the Democratic majority in Congress.

STUDY: ASTRAZENECA VACCINE MAY REDUCE COVID-19 TRANSMISSION: Oxford University researchers said Wednesday (February 3rd) that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine shows some evidence it may reduce transmission of the virus and offers strong protection for three months with a single dose. The preliminary findings could bolster the U.K.’s controversial strategy of delaying the second shot for up to 12 weeks, instead of the recommended four weeks, so more people can get the first shot more quickly. It’s not clear what implications the research results might have for the two  vaccines being used in the U.S., from Pfizer and Moderna. It’s been unclear whether the vaccines could not only prevent illness, but also stop someone transmitting the virus even if they don’t get sick. Because of that uncertainty, people being vaccinated have been advised to continue to wear masks and distance from others.

U.S. Passes 450,000 Deaths: The U.S. has passed 450,000 deaths from the coronavirus, with the death toll at more than 450,700 as of early this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University’s count.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS KEEP CHENEY IN LEADERSHIP, STAND BEHIND GREENE: House Republicans rejected an effort yesterday (February 3rd) to punish Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming for her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump by removing her from her position as the the party’s Number 3 leader in the House. The Republican lawmakers voted 145-61 in a secret ballot against her removal, an effort that was led by hardline GOP House members. Cheney said during the private session, I won’t apologize for the vote.”

The House Republicans also said they’d stand behind controversial freshman GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene against an effort by the Democrats to remove her from House committees in a vote set for today, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke out against the Democrats’ move. Greene has faced criticism from Democrats and some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for her online support of racist and violent views, including “likes” for violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama, and conspiracy theories, including questioning the reality of deadly school shootings and supporting QAnon theories. AP cited sources as saying Greene apologized to her colleagues during yesterday’s meeting, but there were conflicting versions of what she said. McCarthy condemned Greene’s past support of conspiracy theories, but said she’d recognized in a private conversation that she must meet a, quote, “higher standard” as a member of Congress.

DEFENSE SECRETARY ORDERS MILITARY LEADERS TO ADDRESS EXTREMISM IN RANKS: New Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered military leaders to speak with troops about extremism in the ranks, after it was found that current and former military members took part in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last month. A Pentagon spokesman said Austin met with the military service chiefs and secretaries yesterday (February 3rd) and said he would order a “stand down” by all units in the next 60 days, with the operational pause to be used to discuss extremism. The spokesman said Austin, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and the nation’s first Black defense secretary, wants to get a better sense of the scope of the problem in the military.

PROSECUTORS ASK FOR ARREST, HIGHER BOND FOR RITTENHOUSE: Wisconsin prosecutors asked a judge yesterday (February 3rd) for a new arrest warrant and to increase bail by $200,000 for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old charged with fatally shooting two people and injuring a third during a protest over police brutality in Kenosha last August, saying he violated his bail conditions. Prosecutors alleged that Rittenhouse failed to inform the court of his change of address within 48 hours of moving. They said they learned he was no longer living at his address when the court mailed him a notice that was returned as undeliverable, and detectives went to the location and found another person had rented the apartment. Rittenhouse’s attorney told the judge that the teen had moved to what he called an “undisclosed Safe House” because of death threats and that he offered to give prosecutors the new address in November if they’d keep it secret, but they refused. Rittenhouse claims he acted in self-defense and conservatives who’ve rallied around him raised the money to pay his $2 million bail. A judge ordered Rittenhouse last month not to have any contact with white supremacists after he was seen posing for photos with two men making an “OK” sign that white supremacists use as a symbol while drinking at a bar with his mother. Several men at the bar also sang a song to Rittenhouse that is the anthem of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.