News Headlines 2/26/21

U.S. LAUNCHES AIRSTRIKES ON FACILITIES IN SYRIA USED BY IRAN-BACKED MILITIA: The U.S. launched airstrikes yesterday evening (February 25th) on facilities in Syria used by an Iran-backed Iraqi militia. One of the members of the Kataeb Hezbollah militia was killed and several others were wounded, AP reported, citing an Iraqi militia official. The Pentagon said the airstrikes were carried out in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. servicemember and other coalition troops. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters, “We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said earlier, “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.” The airstrikes were the first military action taken by Biden since he became president last month.

HOUSE TO VOTE ON COVID BILL AFTER PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS CAN’T INCLUDE MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: The Democratic-led House is set to vote today (February 26th) on President Biden‘s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, one day after a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian that means the final legislation that reaches Biden for his signature almost certainly won’t include a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. A near party-line vote is expected today on the package, which includes among its provisions $1,400 direct payments to Americans and billions of dollars for coronavirus vaccinations and testing, schools, state and local governments, the hard-hit restaurant and airline industries, and emergency unemployment benefits. The House legislation will include raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2015, more than double the current $7.25. But in the Senate, the parliamentarian said the minimum wage hike can’t remain for the legislation to pass through special rules that allows it to avoid a Republican filibuster.

BIDEN MARKS 50 MILLION VACCINATIONS SINCE HE TOOK OFFICE: President Biden on Thursday (February 25th) marked the administration of 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. since he took office a little over five weeks earlier. Speaking at a White House ceremony during which four front-line workers were vaccinated, Biden said his administration is on course to exceed his promise of 100 million vaccine doses being given in his first 100 days in office, and said, “The more people get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to beat this pandemic.” Biden said there will be a, quote, “massive campaign to educate people” about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and stated that a third vaccine, one that requires only one dose from Johnson & Johnson, is likely to get approval very soon, saying, “We have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it.” But Biden also warned about the variants that are out there and urged Americans to keep wearing face masks and social distancing, saying, “This is not the time to relax.”

CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF SAYS HAD INTELLIGENCE ABOUT POSSIBLE CAPITOL ATTACK, BUT NOT SIZE OF IT: Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman testified before a House committee yesterday (February 25th) about the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, saying they had received intelligence warning of the potential for violence and made preparations, but weren’t expecting how many people would take part in that day’s assault. Pittman said that three days earlier, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning armed extremists were readying for violence and could invade Congress, and took steps including giving assault-style rifles to agents guarding congressional leaders and having evacuation vehicles for top lawmakers to escape the Capitol if needed. But AP noted that many Capitol Police officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they’d face that day.

Chatter About Attacking Capitol During Biden Speech: Pittman also said when asked by lawmakers why fencing and National Guard units were still around the Capitol that they are keeping their security posture high because of intelligence that some extremists have discussed plans to attack the Capitol during President Biden‘s State of the Union-like address to a joint session of Congress, which is likely to take place next month. She said, “We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desire that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union.”