Pelosi downplays security threat as police request National Guard extend stay at Capitol – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Kamala Harris breaks Senate tie to begin Covid relief package debate – as it happened” was written by Maanvi Singh, Joan E Greve and Martin Belam, for theguardian.com on Friday 5th March 2021 01.35 UTC

1.05am GMT

Summary

From Joan E Greve and me:

  • Kamala Harris broke a Senate tie to begin debate on the coronavirus relief package. After the Senate deadlocked on whether to take up the package, the vice-president was forced to cast a tie-breaking 51st vote to approve the motion to proceed. Senate clerks are now reading the full text of the 628-page bill.
  • Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, objected to waiving the reading of the 628-page bill in its entirety – in an attempt to delay the process. So, Senate clerks began reading the bill aloud. This will likely take at least a dozen or more hours in total before senators can move to 20 hours of debate on the bill’s content.
  • The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the chamber would stay in session to pass the relief bill, “no matter how long it takes”. The Democratic leader’s comments come as Republicans have planned a series of maneuvers to delay the final vote on the bill, which may not happen until sometime this weekend.
  • The US Capitol police has requested a two-month extension to the national guard’s mission at the Capitol, according to a Democratic lawmaker. The guard’s mission, which was launched in response to the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol, had been scheduled to end on March 12.
  • The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, downplayed the security threats at the Capitol. House leaders altered the voting schedule for the week after the US Capitol police warned of a militia’s potential plot to storm the Capitol today, but Pelosi said the schedule was changed mostly to accommodate Republicans, who were attending their issues conference today.
  • The White House defended Joe Biden accusing Republican governors of “Neanderthal thinking” after they rescinded mask mandates. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the president’s comments were “a reflection of his frustration and exasperation” about the governors ignoring public health guidance on limiting the spread of coronavirus.

Updated at 1.35am GMT

12.26am GMT

Turkish court refuses to admit US Khashoggi report as trial evidence

A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi nationals in absentia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has refused to admit as evidence a recent US intelligence report implicating the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, despite a petition from the journalist’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

The declassified US report released last Friday said Washington believed that Prince Mohammed approved the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi.

In the third session of the Istanbul trial on Thursday, Cengiz’s petition to add the report to the evidence case file was rejected on the grounds that it would “bring nothing” to the trial. The judge allowed her to file a new request with prosecutors leading the Turkish government’s case instead.

Khashoggi went into self-imposed exile in 2017, moving to the US and becoming a columnist for the Washington Post. While visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to pick up paperwork for his marriage to Cengiz, a Turkish national, he was sedated, killed and dismembered by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents. His remains have never been found.

After a series of shifting explanations, Riyadh eventually admitted the 59-year-old had been killed in a “rogue operation”, but it has strenuously denied that the heir to the throne was involved.

Turkish prosecutors claim the Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri and the royal court’s media chief Saud al-Qahtani masterminded the mission.

Read more:

12.04am GMT

The US is now distributing more than 2m vaccine doses a day, a New York Times analysis found.

The daily doses administered topped 2m on Wednesday – and the US has now well surpassed Joe Biden’s goal of distributing at least 1.5m doses a day.

The Times reports:

Biden has also promised to administer 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, which is April 30. As of Thursday, 54 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine was authorized for emergency use on Saturday, but those doses do not appear yet in the C.D.C. data.

The milestone was yet another sign of momentum in the nation’s effort to vaccinate every willing adult, even as state and city governments face several challenges, from current supply to logistics to hesitancy, of getting all of those doses into people’s arms.

11.35pm GMT

Opinion: The George Floyd Act wouldn’t have saved George Floyd’s life. That says it all

Guardian columnist Derecka Purnell writes:

On Wednesday night, the House of Representatives voted to pass the George Floyd Act, named after the Black man killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last summer. Among many reforms, the act seeks to ban racial profiling, overhaul qualified immunity for police, and ban the use of chokeholds. While these seem like good measures, they are woefully insufficient to stop police violence. These reforms could not have even saved George Floyd’s life.

To be clear, Floyd did not die from a chokehold. A police officer put his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. A medical examiner’s autopsy reported “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression”. Floyd also had blunt force trauma to his head, face and shoulders. Banning chokeholds is important, as we should reduce the number of tactics that the police can employ to be dangerous. However, the problem with policing is precisely that – they can kill people using a diverse number of tactics. Shooting, kneeling, punching, suffocating, Tasing. Congress banned one practice, and not even the one responsible for the homicide.

Floyd was also probably not racially profiled. He did not have to be if he was breaking the law. Reportedly, Floyd tried to use a counterfeit bill at a corner store. The clerk called the police because using counterfeit money is illegal. The definition of racial profiling is when police uses someone’s race to suspect that they have committed a crime. Here, Floyd’s act may have constituted a crime and the police showed up to fix it. What’s more criminal than counterfeit cash is the society where people live off of these transactions in corner stores in the first place. The police cannot solve this problem. They can show up and attempt to stop the crime, but they can’t stop the underlying conditions that give rise to it: class exploitation and poverty. Floyd appeared to need cash, not the police.

Congress has had several opportunities to give people what they actually need under the pandemic: money. George Floyd had tested positive for Covid-19 in April. By the time of his death, lawmakers had only distributed ,200 to the public, and not everyone received this stimulus check. I wonder if Floyd would have used a counterfeit if Congress would have issued ,000 a month to the public as several activists and progressive legislators have been demanding. George Floyd’s blood is on their hands.

But instead, Congress does what it always does when the police kill people: give cops more money.

Read more:

11.14pm GMT

The Senate is now debating the coronavirus relief package

Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, objected to waiving the reading of the 628-page bill in its entirety – in an attempt to delay the process. So, Senate clerks are now reading the bill aloud. This will likely take at least a dozen or more hours in total.

Once the reading is finished, senators will have 20 hours to debate it.

Lawmakers have just 10 days to pass the package before millions of Americans will lose their unemployment.

Updated at 11.18pm GMT

10.41pm GMT

An effort to restrict voting is under way across America, but there are few places where that assault is more clear, and more urgent, than in Georgia. I know we’ve talked about Georgia before, but this week, I want to dig in to exactly what Georgia lawmakers are proposing to make it harder to vote right now and why it matters.

On Monday, the Georgia house of representatives approved a bill, HB531, that would implement sweeping changes to the state’s voting system. Among other measures, the bill would:

  • Require voters to provide identification information both with their absentee ballot application and the ballot itself.
  • Limit election officials to offer just two days of early voting on the weekends, one of which is required to be a Saturday.
  • Restrict early voting from 9am. to 5pm, with an option for election officials to extend hours from 7am to 7pm.
  • Give voters less time to request an absentee ballot.
  • Shorten the period for a runoff election from nine weeks to four.

In the state senate, there are also proposals to get rid of the state’s policy of automatically registering voters and to only allow voters to cast a ballot by mail if they are 65 or older or have a valid excuse. That would eliminate the so-called no-excuse absentee voting system Georgia Republicans – yes Georgia Republicans – enacted in 2005.

While proposals in states across the country are deeply alarming, the efforts in Georgia matter significantly for a few reasons:

  1. They come after an election in which there was record turnout in the state, including surges among Black and other minority voters, which helped power Democrats to stunning upsets.
  2. Georgia officials, including top Republicans, loudly dismissed allegations of fraud and there were statewide recounts and audits to back them up.
  3. They evoke Georgia’s well-documented and ugly history of passing laws designed to make it harder for Black people to vote

Read more:

10.18pm GMT

Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey has extended the state’s mask mandate, in a sharp break from fellow Republican governors.

While Texas and Mississippi have lifted mask mandates – going against the advice of the CDC and top health advisors – Ivey has taken a different approach.

Kay Ivey speaks during a press conference in January.
Kay Ivey speaks during a press conference in January.
Photograph: Kim Chandler/AP

“We need to get past Easter and hopefully allow more Alabamians to get their first shot before we take a step some other states have taken to remove the mask order altogether and lift other restrictions. Folks, we are not there yet, but goodness knows we’re getting closer,” Ivey said.

The mandate is likely to expire for good on 9 April, she said. “Even when we lift the mask order, I will continue to wear my mask while I’m around others and strongly urge my fellow citizens to use common sense and do the same,” Ivey added.

10.00pm GMT

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

  • Kamala Harris broke a Senate tie to begin debate on the coronavirus relief package. After the Senate deadlocked on whether to take up the package, the vice-president was forced to cast a tie-breaking 51st vote to approve the motion to proceed. Senate clerks are now reading the full text of the 628-page bill.
  • Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber would stay in session to pass the relief bill, “no matter how long it takes”. The Democratic leader’s comments come as Republicans have planned a series of maneuvers to delay the final vote on the bill, which may not happen until sometime this weekend.
  • The US Capitol Police has requested a two-month extension to the National Guard’s mission at the Capitol, according to a Democratic lawmaker. The guard’s mission, which was launched in response to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, had been scheduled to end on March 12.
  • House speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed the security threats at the Capitol. House leaders altered the voting schedule for the week after the US Capitol Police warned of a militia’s potential plot to storm the Capitol today, but Pelosi said the schedule was changed mostly to accommodate Republicans, who were attending their issues conference today.
  • The White House defended Joe Biden accusing Republican governors of “Neanderthal thinking” after they rescinded mask mandates. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president’s comments were “a reflection of his frustration and exasperation” about the governors ignoring public health guidance on limiting the spread of coronavirus.

Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

9.43pm GMT

Richard Luscombe reports for the Guardian from Miami:

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, an ally of the former president Donald Trump, has bristled previously when questioned over the allegations of favoritism in the state’s vaccine distribution, and establishing pop-up vaccination sites in wealthy zip codes.

At a press conference last month he threatened to take away vaccines from seniors. “If Manatee County does not like us doing this we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” he said.

“If you want us to send to Sarasota next time, or Charlotte, or Pasco, let us know. We are happy to do it.”

On Thursday, DeSantis denied having anything to do with the decision to direct hundreds of vaccines to Ocean Reef.

“That was one of the South Florida hospital systems [that] went to this community of seniors. I think they did a good job of doing that. We just weren’t involved with it in any way, shape, or form,” he said at a press briefing in Crystal River.

“I’m not worried about your income bracket, I’m worried about your age bracket.”

DeSantis’s denials, however, have failed to quell growing disquiet in Florida over his actions.

Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner and the only Democrat in the governor’s cabinet, on Thursday called for the FBI to investigate.

“I will not stand by and let our vaccines be used as a political game and go to the highest bidders while so many of our Floridians are suffering, like my grandmother, like my mother, like your parents and grandparents,” she told journalists on Thursday morning.

9.35pm GMT

DeSantis could face federal investigation over allegations of favoritism in vaccine distribution

Richard Luscombe reports for the Guardian from Miami:

Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis could face a federal inquiry into whether he diverted Covid-19 vaccines to wealthy supporters in return for campaign donations.

Gary Farmer, the leading Democrat in the Florida senate, wrote on Thursday to the acting US attorney general Monty Wilkinson, asking him to look into the “troubling” reports.

“Over the course of the past few months there have been several well documented reports of exclusive vaccination sites that limited access to paying members of private clubs and residents of affluent gated communities,” Farmer wrote.

“In a number of cases the establishment of these vaccine sites have been preceded with or followed by substantial contributions to a political committee controlled by governor Ron DeSantis.”

The latest claim, Farmer noted, came from a Miami Herald report on Wednesday asserting that more than 1,200 residents, aged 65 or older, of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club, a private gated community on Key Largo, had been vaccinated by mid-January.

At the time, the Herald said, the rest of the state was still struggling to secure an allocation. Only a month before, state records show, 17 Ocean Reef residents donated at least ,000 to a political action committee supporting DeSantis’s 2022 re-election campaign. And one, the former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, cut a 0,000 check to DeSantis’s PAC in February after the vaccines were administered.

The newspaper further claimed that DeSantis has been using the state’s vaccine initiative to “steer pop-up vaccination sites to select communities,” often affluent, disproportionately white areas.

“Governor DeSantis’s clear vaccine priority for wealthy individuals appears to be intimately tied to political payments, an extremely troubling ‘pay to play’ scheme if the allegations are borne out,” Farmer wrote.

He asked Wilkinson’s office to “conduct a full and thorough investigation into any potential wrong-doing on the part of Governor DeSantis.”

9.17pm GMT

Congressman Peter DeFazio, the Democratic chairman of the House committee on transportation and infrastructure, said his meeting with Joe Biden “went very well”.

The president and the vice-president, along with transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, met with a bipartisan group of House members this afternoon to discuss a potential infrastructure package.

“I was encouraged,” DeFazio told reporters after the meeting ended. “He’s very, very set on getting it done and getting it done pretty damn soon.”

The congressman said he expected a standalone infrastructure bill to be introduced in May, although it’s still unclear whether such a bill could make it through the evenly divided Senate.

DeFazio added that it was “refreshing” to talk to Biden, rather than Donald Trump, about infrastructure proposals.

“The difference between talking to Joe Biden about infrastructure and what goes into it and how we’re going to get it done and Donald Trump is like, it’s just a whole different world,” DeFazio said. “It’s way better.”

9.00pm GMT

A second Senate clerk has now taken over the reading of the coronavirus relief bill, after the first clerk read the first 15 pages of the legislation.

The reading of the full text is expected to take several hours, so multiple clerks will take turns reading the bill aloud.

Earlier today, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer expressed gratitude for the work of the Senate clerks, while criticizing Republican Ron Johnson for forcing the reading of the full text.

“We all know this will merely delay the inevitable,” Schumer said of the reading of the bill. “It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard day in day out to help the Senate function.”

The Democratic leader added, “We are delighted that the senator from Wisconsin wants to give the American people another opportunity to hear what’s in the American Rescue Plan. We Democrats want America to hear what’s in the plan.”

8.43pm GMT

After the Senate clerks finish reading the full text of the coronavirus relief bill, the chamber will move on to a “vote-a-rama” for the package.

During the vote-a-rama, senators can introduce amendments to the legislation. Republicans have already said they intend to introduce many amendments, which will delay the final vote on the package.

Earlier today, Senator Bernie Sanders said he would also introduce an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to an hour.

Speaking on the Senate floor this afternoon, Sanders described the current federal minimum wage of .25 an hour as a “starvation wage”.

The House’s version of the coronavirus relief bill, which the chamber passed over the weekend, included the minimum wage provision, but the Senate took it out after the parliamentarian ruled the proposal did not meet the requirements for passage via reconciliation.

8.26pm GMT

Right on cue: Republican Senator Ron Johnson has objected to the measure to dispense with the reading of the full text of the coronavirus relief bill.

Senate clerks will now have to read every word of the 628-page bill. The process is expected to take around 10 hours.

Senate Democrats have criticized Johnson for forcing the reading of the bill, saying he is simply delaying the inevitable passage of the bill.

Johnson said earlier today that he believed the reading was necessary to ensure Americans understood what was in the .9 trillion package.

“I feel bad for the clerks who are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,” Johnson said.

“So often, we rush these massive bills that are hundreds if not thousands of pages long. You don’t have, nobody has time to read them. So, you start considering something you haven’t even read. At a minimum, somebody ought to read it, and this will give everybody time.”

Updated at 8.44pm GMT

8.21pm GMT

Harris breaks Senate tie to begin debate on coronavirus relief package

The Senate has approved the motion to begin debate on the .9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Vice-President Kamala Harris was forced to cast the tie-breaking 51st vote on the measure, after the evenly divided Senate deadlocked 50-50 on whether to take up the bill.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson has signaled he will now ask the Senate clerks to read the full text of the bill, which could take around 10 hours.

After the bill is read, the Senate can begin the “vote-a-rama” on amendments to the package. Republicans are expected to introduce many amendments to delay a final vote on the bill.

8.16pm GMT

Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have both voted “no” on taking up the coronavirus relief bill.

The two centrist Republicans could theoretically still join Democrats in supporting the final passage of the relief package.

But their early opposition to the bill provides further evidence that the .9 trillion package will likely pass in a party-line vote, which would force Vice-President Kamala Harris to cast a tie-breaking vote.

8.07pm GMT

Joe Biden is currently having a meeting with a bipartisan group of House members to discuss a possible infrastructure package.

Vice-President Kamala Harris and transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg are also attending the meeting.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and members of the House of Representatives meet in the Oval Office.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and members of the House of Representatives meet in the Oval Office.
Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

“What we’re going to do to make sure we once again lead the world across the board on infrastructure,” Biden told reporters as the meeting started.

While reporters were being escorted out of the Oval Office, one of them asked Biden whether he was comfortable with limiting the eligibility for direct payments in the coronavirus relief package.

“Yes,” Biden replied.

7.51pm GMT

Senate votes on whether to begin debate on coronavirus relief bill

The Senate is now voting on whether to begin debate on the .9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

The measure needs a simple majority to pass, and it is expected to be approved in a party-line vote.

Once the chamber votes to take up the bill, Republican Senator Ron Johnson is expected to ask Senate clerks to read the full text of the bill aloud, which could take around 10 hours.

The Senate will then proceed to a “vote-a-rama,” during which senators can introduce amendments to the bill. Republicans are expected to introduce many amendments, most of which will fail, in order to delay the final vote on the package.

7.39pm GMT

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The US Capitol Police has requested a two-month extension to the National Guard’s mission at the Capitol, according to a Democratic lawmaker. The guard’s mission, which was launched in response to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, had been scheduled to end on March 12.
  • The White House defended Joe Biden accusing Republican governors of “Neanderthal thinking” after they rescinded mask mandates. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president’s comments were “a reflection of his frustration and exasperation” about the governors ignoring public health guidance on limiting the spread of coronavirus.
  • Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber would stay in session to pass the coronavirus relief bill, “no matter how long it takes”. The Democratic leader’s comments come as Republicans have planned a series of maneuvers to delay the final vote on the bill, which likely won’t happen until sometime this weekend.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated at 9.46pm GMT

7.14pm GMT

Trump lashes out against McConnell and Wall Street Journal editorial board

The Guardian’s Daniel Strauss reports:

Former president Donald Trump has released a wide ranging statement criticizing opponents within the Republican party, as well as The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Georgia governor Brian Kemp were among Trump’s targets.

Trump’s screed may have been prompted by a recent Journal editorial questioning Trump’s usefulness to the Republican party after his 2020 election loss. The Journal published an editorial titled “The Grievances of Trump Past” which criticized the former president’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend.

“Fortunately, nobody cares much about The Wall Street Journal editorial anymore,” Trump said in the statement, apparently unaware of the irony.

Trump often criticizes the Journal for being out of touch with the Republican Party, McConnell for being out of step and ungrateful for Trump’s leadership, and Kemp for how the Georgia governor ran the state during the 2020 presidential elections.

Updated at 7.35pm GMT

6.48pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was just asked whether Joe Biden should set an example to Americans and stop traveling to Delaware.

“The president lives in Wilmington. It’s his home,” she replied.

The CDC currently recommends that Americans avoid travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

6.33pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s comments that Joe Biden is “importing” coronavirus into the US by releasing migrants after they have been processed by border officials.

“We’re about facts around here. It is not factual to say that,” Psaki replied.

Abbott’s comments came after the president accused the Republican governor of “Neanderthal thinking” over his decision to rescind the statewide mask mandate in Texas. Psaki also noted that Texas is supposed to be testing migrants for Covid-19.

Updated at 7.22pm GMT

6.29pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Senate Democrats’ decision to limit eligibility for the direct payments in the coronavirus relief package.

Psaki noted that 98% of Americans who received stimulus payments in December will also receive them from this relief package.

The press secretary also emphasized that these payments of ,400 are much larger than the 0 payments that Congress approved in December.

6.24pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether the Trump administration deserves more credit for developing a playbook to distribute coronavirus vaccines.

“I don’t think anybody deserves credit when half a million people in this country have died of this pandemic,” Psaki replied.

Joe Biden has similarly criticized Donald Trump’s handling of vaccine distribution, claiming his administration was left “a mess” in terms of vaccination planning.

Updated at 6.29pm GMT

6.18pm GMT

Psaki: Biden’s Neanderthal comments a ‘reflection of his frustration’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether it was productive for Joe Biden to compare Republican governors to Neanderthals over their decisions to rescind mask mandates.

Psaki replied by emphasizing that the president was comparing the governors’ actions to “the behavior of a Neanderthal, just to be very clear, the behavior”.

Psaki said Biden’s comments were “a reflection of his frustration and exasperation” about the governors ignoring public health guidance on limiting the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s imperative that people listen across the country, whether they live in a red state or a blue state, to the guidance of public health experts,” Psaki said.

Updated at 9.03pm GMT

6.10pm GMT

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has taken over the briefing, and she opened her comments by drawing attention to the latest weekly unemployment numbers from the department of labor.

Psaki noted that initial jobless claims exceeded the pre-pandemic high for the 50th week in a row.

“We can’t get numb to what this represents,” Psaki said, adding that the numbers represent hundreds of thousands of Americans who are financially struggling amid the pandemic.

The press secretary argued that the latest numbers once again underscore the urgent need for Congress to pass Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill.

6.04pm GMT

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said the department has been pleasantly surprised that vaccine hesitancy has been less than initially expected among VA patients.

“The big challenge for us is supply,” McDonough said of the vaccine distribution process.

The cabinet secretary applauded VA facilities for ensuring that vaccine allotments get in arms within two to three days of delivery.

McDonough once again emphasized that passage of the coronavirus relief bill would help ensure VA facilities have the resources needed to get vaccines distributed to veterans.

5.57pm GMT

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough noted that more than 19 million appointments at VA facilities have been canceled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

McDonough said that delayed care indicates VA facilities will need to spend more money later on to attend to patients who would have otherwise sought medical help earlier.

The .9 trillion coronavirus relief package will help VA sites address the expected increase in need as the pandemic comes to a close, McDonough said.

“We urge the Senate to pass the much-needed plan as soon as possible,” McDonough said.

5.53pm GMT

Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, is now holding her daily briefing with reporters at the White House.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough opened the briefing by discussing the need for Congress to pass Biden’s .9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

McDonough argued that the package was vital to ensuring veterans have access to coronavirus vaccines and other medical services amid the pandemic.

The Senate is expected to pass the relief package this weekend, and it will then be sent back to the House for final passage.

Updated at 5.53pm GMT

5.45pm GMT

Republican Senator Ron Johnson defended his plan to force Senate clerks to read the full text of the .9trn coronavirus relief bill aloud, which is expected to take about 10 hours.

Johnson, a Republican of Wisconsin, said the move was meant to return the Senate to being a “more deliberative body” before authorizing such a a massive bill.

“I feel bad for the clerks who are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,” Johnson said.

“So often, we rush these massive bills that are hundreds if not thousands of pages long. You don’t have, nobody has time to read them. So, you start considering something you haven’t even read. At a minimum, somebody ought to read it, and this will give everybody time.”

Senate Democrats have criticized Johnson’s maneuver as a useless tactic to delay the final vote on the package. Moments ago, majority leader Chuck Schumer said Johnson was attempting to “merely delay the inevitable”.

Updated at 5.53pm GMT

5.31pm GMT

Senate will stay in session to pass relief bill ‘no matter how long it takes,’ Schumer says

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer pledged that the chamber would stay in session to pass Joe Biden’s .9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this weekend, “no matter how long it takes”.

The Democratic leader’s comments come as Senate Republicans plot ways to delay the final vote on passage of the relief bill.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson has already said that he intends to force Senate clerks to read the full text of the bill aloud, which is expected to eat up about 10 hours of floor time.

“We all know this will merely delay the inevitable,” Schumer said of Johnson’s strategy. “It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard day in day out to help the Senate function.”

Schumer added with a note of sarcasm, “We are delighted that the senator from Wisconsin wants to give the American people another opportunity to hear what’s in the American Rescue Plan. We Democrats want America to hear what’s in the plan.”

Republicans are expected to introduce many amendments during the “vote-a-rama” on the relief bill, meaning a final vote will likely not occur until sometime this weekend.

5.16pm GMT

Biden administration to transform migrant detention centers into rapid-processing sites – report

The Biden administration intends to transform some of the migrant detention centers in Texas into rapid-processing sites to allow families to be released into the US within 72 hours, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reports:

[DHS draft] plans show the Biden administration is racing to absorb a growing number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border amid shortages of bed space and personnel. Republicans and some Democrats fear that relaxing detention policies will exacerbate a surge that is already straining the Biden administration.

Transforming family detention amounts to a wholesale repudiation not only of Donald Trump administration policies but also those of former president Barack Obama, and presents a significantly different vision of how to handle the fast-changing character of mass migration at the southern border.

The change will likely be sharply criticized on the right, given that Republicans have already attack Joe Biden’s immigration policies as too lenient.

However, immigration activists will likely celebrate the news, after many of them criticized the Biden administration for reopening a migrant detention center for minors that had been used during Trump’s presidency.

5.01pm GMT

Nearly 90% of the people charged in the Capitol riot so far have no connection with militias or other organized extremist groups, according to a new analysis that adds to the understanding of what some experts have dubbed the “mass radicalization” of Donald Trump’s supporters.

A report from George Washington University’s Center on Extremism has analyzed court records about cases that have been made public. It found that more than half of people facing federal charges over the 6 January attack appear to have planned their participation alone, not even coordinating with family members or close friends.

Only 33 of the 257 alleged participants appear to have been part of existing “militant networks”, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers anti-government militia.

The dominance of these “individual believers” among the alleged attackers underscored the importance of understanding the Capitol violence as part of a “diverse and fractured domestic extremist threat”, and highlighted the ongoing risk of lone actor terror attacks, the George Washington researchers concluded.

Other analysts have argued the Capitol attackers should be understood as “not merely a mix of rightwing organizations, but as a broader mass movement with violence at its core”.

4.46pm GMT

At her weekly press conference moments ago, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the National Guard troops should remain at the Capitol for “as long as they are needed”.

But the Democratic speaker emphasized that she would leave decisions about National Guard troop deployments up to security officials at the Capitol.

If the National Guard grants the US Capitol Police’s request to extend the mission by two months, Guard troops will be at the Capitol until at least mid-May.

4.40pm GMT

USCP asks National Guard to stay at the Capitol for two more months, lawmaker says

The US Capitol Police has asked the National Guard to extend its mission at the Capitol by two months, according to Democratic congresswoman Elissa Slotkin.

The mission, which was launched in response to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, is currently set to end on March 12.

According to Slotkin, the National Guard is asking states to send troop contributions to Washington to continue the mission at the Capitol.

Slotkin, a Democrat of Michigan and a former senior Pentagon official, requested an immediate briefing for lawmakers on the extension request.

“Whether an extension has been requested or the mission is indeed terminating on March 12, it’s critical that members of Congress get a briefing on what’s behind these decisions,” Slotkin said.

“We all have the same goal: to get back to the point where Capitol Police is capable of protecting us without the Guard’s help, and all parties feel confident we can protect the people’s business.”

4.35pm GMT

Democrats are determined to proceed with a debate on the Biden administration’s .9tn stimulus plan as Capitol Hill braced for a potential security threat on Thursday nearly two months after the deadly January 6 insurrection.

The House adjusted its schedule to finish voting on Wednesday night, after Capitol police warned of a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an unidentified militia group.” The threat of danger, Capitol police said, relates to an online QAnon conspiracy theory that falsely claims Donald Trump would return to power on March 4 – the day new presidents were sworn in prior to 1937.

“We take these things very seriously,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat of Michigan. “We are working closely with law enforcement and certainly will personally be taking extra precautions as we move into the Capitol today. But we’ve got to get this package because people are counting on us. And so we’ll do it in the safest way possible.”

But Senate Democrats are under pressure to pass the massive stimulus package before crucial benefits expire at the end of next week. Republicans are expected to drag out the debate by requiring the clerk to read the entire 500+ page legislation in full as well as force votes on dozens of amendments.

“We’re going to just keep drinking coffee and getting this thing done because this is about … helping people get their lives back,” Stabenow said. “And we are committed, along with the president to do that, no matter how many hours it takes to get that done.”

Asked if adjourning early sent the wrong message, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber was already planning to end their legislative day early on Thursday to allow Republicans to attend their policy retreat. She noted that there were four times as member House members and that the fewer people in the Capitol, the easier it is to secure the building.

4.30pm GMT

Pelosi downplays security threats at the Capitol

House speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed potential security threats at the Capitol, after the US Capitol Police warned of a militia’s potential plot to storm the building today.

Asked whether House leaders changed the voting schedule for this week due to security concerns, the Democratic speaker said the change was approved “mostly” because Republicans needed to attend their issues conference today.

“If in fact there are any troublemakers around, it made sense,” Pelosi said of the schedule change.

Pelosi emphasized she did not want to get distracted by the “silliness” of a far-right conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump will be inaugurated as president today. (Trump obviously lost the presidential election, and Joe Biden was rightly inaugurated as president on January 20.)

Addressing how long National Guard troops will be protecting the Capitol, Pelosi said, “We should have them here as long as they are needed.”

4.21pm GMT

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is optimistic about the chances of the Senate passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The police reform bill passed the House last night, in a nearly party-line vote of 220 to 212.

The Democratic speaker said progressive congresswoman Karen Bass will be negotiating with the Senate to help advance the legislation.

Unless Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster, they will need to win over 10 of their Republican colleagues in order to get the bill passed.

4.16pm GMT

House speaker Nancy Pelosi is now holding her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.

The Democratic speaker celebrated the House’s passage of the For the People Act, describing the election reform bill as a “giant step for democracy”.

Pelosi said the legislation, which faces a difficult road to passage in the Senate, would help ensure that “big, dark, special interest money” do not flood the airwaves to impede progress.

4.09pm GMT

An earlier coronavirus relief package passed in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency included 0 payments to individuals. After calling for ,000 relief checks, Joe Biden then introduced a plan that would deliver ,400 direct payments to millions of Americans, with aides arguing that the two checks amount to the promised ,000.

The changes introduced on Wednesday to appease moderate Democrats scale back the eligibility for the payments.

Under the new structure, the individuals earning up to ,000 per year and couples earning up to 0,000 per year would still qualify for the full ,400 stimulus payment. But under the new structure, the checks would phase out at a lower income level than they would in Biden’s initial proposal, and in the version of the bill passed by the House.

Under the House plan, the payments would phase out entirely for individuals making 0,000 per year and couples earning 0,000 per year. The Senate version will now cut off the benefit for individuals making ,000 per year and couples earning 0,000 per year.

Senator Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the changes to the payments would save bn in the overall stimulus bill. An estimated 12 million fewer adults would receive stimulus payments under the compromise plan, according to an early analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

3.58pm GMT

Democratic senators defended changes narrowing the eligibility for a new round of ,400 stimulus payments, arguing that conservative proposals would have resulted in far steeper cuts to the stimulus checks.

On a call with reporters Thursday, hours before the Senate was expected to begin debate on Joe Biden’s .9tn coronavirus relief bill.

Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, whose special election victory alongside Georgia Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock delivered Democrats control of the Senate, said they fought successfully to “hold the line” against deeper cuts to the payments.

Asked if the changes amounted to a broken promise to Georgia voters, Ossoff insisted it did not. Taken together with the earned income tax credit and child tax credit provisions of the stimulus bill, “the direct economic relief for working families in Georgia will be even more generous than I had believed was possible during the campaign.”

“This is why it’s so vital that we hold the line where there are GOP efforts to gut the direct payments,” Ossoff said. “This is what Georgians sent us to Washington to fight for, and this is what we’re going to deliver.”

“Elections have consequences – and we are now in a position to deliver this aid,” he added.

Updated at 3.59pm GMT

3.40pm GMT

The Wall Street Journal has new details on the air strikes that took place in Syria last week, which were approved by Joe Biden in his first military action as president.

According to the Journal, US forces were originally supposed to hit two targets, but Biden scrapped one of the targets at the last minute:

After 10 days of deliberations, President Biden had ordered the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes on two targets inside Syria Feb. 26 when an aide delivered an urgent warning about 30 minutes before the bombs were scheduled to fall.

A woman and a couple of children were in the courtyard at one of the sites, according to battlefield reconnaissance. With the F-15Es in flight to the targets, Mr. Biden scratched the second target but ordered the strike on the first objective to proceed.

The previously undisclosed episode involving Mr. Biden’s first known use of force as commander in chief was an unexpected coda to a methodical decision-making approach in which the Biden administration sought to balance competing interests in the Middle East tinderbox.

The airstrikes, which targeted Iranian-backed fighters in Syria, hit three trucks loaded with munitions and left 22 people dead. All of the dead were affiliated with Iraq’s state-sponsored Hashd al-Shaabi, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

3.24pm GMT

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, said phasing out the direct payments in the relief bill at a faster rate will save bn.

That is a small fraction of the overall cost of the relief package, which is .9tn.

Reports emerged yesterday that Senate Democrats, at the urging of moderates like Joe Manchin, were considering phasing out the checks completely for individuals who make ,000 a year.

The first two rounds of stimulus payments were phased out completely for individuals making 0,000 a year. The impact of that change is that fewer Americans will receive direct payments from the relief bill that Joe Biden will sign, versus the two relief bills that Donald Trump signed.

However, ,400 is the largest of the three stimulus payments so far.

Updated at 3.43pm GMT

3.02pm GMT

Last night, the House also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in a nearly party-line vote of 220 to 212.

Like the For the People Act, the police reform bill faces a very uphill climb in the Senate, unless Democrats eliminate the filibuster.

As Politico notes, the Justice in Policing Act, which the House initially passed last year in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, has a lot of grassroots momentum. That momentum may indicate that Democrats will soon come under renewed pressure from progressives and activists to eliminate the Senate filibuster:

Even as Democrats control all of Washington for the first time in a decade, a series of priorities that are hugely important to their liberal base — and to making good on President Joe Biden’s campaign promises — have begun piling up in the Senate. That backlog will grow over the next two weeks as Speaker Nancy Pelosi tees up votes on bills to expand voting rights, enact universal background checks for gun purchases and protect so-called Dreamers.

The prospect of those historic measures sliding into Senate stasis after House passage is infuriating to progressives — particularly on issues like the party’s signature policing bill, which has overwhelming grassroots energy behind it. But with the upper chamber’s legislative filibuster remaining intact, Democrats have no way to get much of their agenda to Biden’s desk without winning at least 10 GOP votes while keeping their 50-member caucus united.

That political reality in the Senate is likely to spur negotiations with the GOP about concessions that would be tough to stomach for many progressive Democrats, including longtime civil rights advocates who invested significant energy in the House’s policing bill. And as a result, pressure is sure to mount on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to nuke the filibuster once and for all.

2.42pm GMT

Joe Biden released a statement this morning celebrating the passage of the For the People Act, Democrats’ election reform bill that they have been trying to enact for years.

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy; a coordinated attempt to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the American people never before seen in our history; and a new wave of aggressive attacks on voting rights taking place in states across the country, I applaud Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021,” Biden said.

“I look forward to working with Congress to refine and advance this important bill. And I look forward to signing it into law after it has passed through the legislative process, so that together we can strengthen and restore American democracy for the next election and all those to come.”

The bill passed the House last night in a vote of 220-210, but it faces long odds in the evenly divided Senate. Unless Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster, they would need 10 of their Republican colleagues to support the bill in order to get it passed.

2.24pm GMT

This is Joan Greve in Washington, taking over for Martin Belam.

The Senate is expected to start work on the .9tn coronavirus relief package later today, kicking off a days-long process to get the bill passed.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson has said he plans to force Senate clerks to read the bill in its entirety, which will take about 10 hours.

After the bill has been read, the Senate will begin its “vote-a-rama” on amendments for the bill, and Republicans plan to introduce many amendments to force Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on controversial issues.

The vote-a-rama could potentially extend into the weekend, but once it’s done, the Senate will vote on final passage of the bill. Assuming it passes, the bill will then go back to the House, so the lower chamber can pass the final version of the package.

With all that in mind, it seems likely that Joe Biden will be able to sign the bill sometime next week. The president has said he wants the bill on his desk by March 14, when extended unemployment benefits are currently set to expire.

The blog will be covering all of the latest updates on the Senate vote, so stay tuned.

Updated at 2.38pm GMT

1.51pm GMT

As part of its clean-energy agenda, the Biden administration is reviving an energy department program that disbursed billions of dollars in loan guarantees to companies such as electric car maker Tesla and the failed solar company Solyndra, the energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, says.

The loan program helped launch the country’s first utility-scale wind and solar farms as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to create “green jobs” but largely went dormant under Donald Trump.

The program boosted Tesla’s efforts to become a behemoth in electric cars, but it stumbled with a major loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar company that failed soon after receiving federal money a decade ago, costing taxpayers more than 0m.

Republicans and other critics cite Solyndra as an example of wasteful spending under Barack Obama’s stimulus program, and the loan guarantees have largely dried up in recent years. The energy department provided bn in guarantees for the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia, but few other loans were offered under Trump.

When running for office, Joe Biden put forth a tn plan to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from the US electricity grid within 15 years, a goal that was applauded by climate campaigners but was criticized for the enormous overhaul it will require.

The restart of the energy department’s loan program – which was once a major tool the federal government had to incentivize clean energy innovation – gives the Biden administration a chance to redeem it after Solyndra’s fall.

Granholm said up to bn in guarantees will be made available for a variety of clean-energy projects, including wind, solar and hydro power, advanced vehicles, geothermal and even nuclear.

“It’s got to be clean. That’s it,” she said. “And when I say clean, you know, it’s technologies that are being researched in the lab,” like projects to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, so-called green hydrogen fuel and other energy sources, she said.

Read more here: Biden’s energy department revives loan program to boost clean technology

1.23pm GMT

Why are Federal forces on high alert in the Capitol today? Well, 4 March is a date that conspiracy theorists have cited as when former president Donald Trump will be swept back into power. The significance of the date is that for the first 140 years of the US, that was the date (or near enough) when presidents were inaugurated. Geneva Sands and Zachary Cohen report for CNN that:

US Capitol Police acting chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress earlier Wednesday that her department had “concerning intelligence” regarding the next few days in Congress — but said it wouldn’t be “prudent” of her to share the “law-enforcement sensitive” intelligence in a public hearing or public format.

Pittman assured lawmakers, though, that her department is in an “enhanced” security posture and that the National Guard and Capitol Police have been briefed on what to expect in the coming days.

In a clear sign federal agencies are working to avoid the same communication failures for which they have been roundly criticized since the Capitol attack, DHS officials are stressing that law enforcement should not view intelligence solely through the lens of whether a threat qualifies as “credible and specific,” but use the warnings coming from DHS, FBI and other partner agencies to inform decisions about their security posture, even if the information provided falls short of pointing to an imminent attack or violence, the sources said.

Violent extremists also discussed plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the March 4 plot, according to the joint intelligence bulletin. One source noted to CNN that it is mostly online talk and not necessarily an indication anyone is coming to Washington to act on it.

The House moved its business forward a day so as to avoid being in session today. it is thought that the Senate will assemble as planned, with Joe Biden’s .9 trillion Covid relief bill on the agenda.

Read more here: CNN – Feds on high alert Thursday after warnings about potential threats to US Capitol

1.10pm GMT

Mississippi residents still struggle with water supply weeks after mid-February storms

Winter storms, which crippled power sources throughout the US south, brought record low temperatures to parts of Mississippi. In Jackson, where 80% of residents are Black, the cold led to at least 96 breakages in the city’s ageing pipes, which, combined with power outages, lead to catastrophically low pressure throughout its water system. As of Monday evening 35 breakages remained, and although pressure was slowly coming back, thousands of residents are without water. Most of them in the city’s south, which sits on higher ground and is furthest away from the treatment plant. A citywide boil notice remains in effect and officials have offered no timeline for full restoration.

Jackson’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has said the city requires bn to revitalize its ailing piping and treatment system. He compared the city’s pipes to peanut brittle, explaining that as repair crews move in to fix the pipes, one repair can lead to another breakage.

Mississippi, American’s poorest state, has long faced chronic infrastructure problems. A 2020 report card published by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a D+ grade, noting decaying systems across roads, energy, solid waste and a host of other essential services. On its drinking water systems, the report noted some were losing as much as 50% of treated water due to breakages and that certain systems were still dependent on pipes laid in the 1920s. “Many of these networks have aged past their useful life span,” the report notes.

But at a press conference on Monday, Mayor Lumumba made clear that the changing climate was exacerbating the issue.

“One thing that is clear is that our winters are colder, our summers are hotter and the rain we experience is more abundant,” he said, pointing out that the city’s outdoor water treatment facility was simply not built to endure the cold. “And so not only do we need this investment because of the ageing infrastructure we need this investment because of the increased pressure that these extreme weather conditions are taking.”

Read more of Oliver Laughland’s report from Jackson, Mississippi here: ‘There’s no excuse for this’: thousands in Mississippi city still without water weeks after storms

12.56pm GMT

House Oversight Committee to investigate agency that operates Texas power grid

The House Oversight Committee is investigating the agency that operates the Texas power grid, seeking information and documents about the lack of preparation for the recent winter storm that caused millions of power outages and dozens of deaths across the state, report Associated Press.

Rep Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who chairs an environment subcommittee, sent a letter to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), saying he is concerned that the loss of electric service “and the resulting human suffering, deaths and economic costs” will happen again unless ERCOT and the state of Texas adequately prepare for a predicted increase in extreme weather events.

Severe winter storms in Texas “have occurred repeatedly over decades, and ERCOT has been unprepared for them,” Khanna wrote in a letter to ERCOT CEO Bill Magness. The group’s own consultant has predicted that severe winter weather events will continue to occur every decade, yet ERCOT and state officials have done little to prepare for them or build appropriate infrastructure, Khanna said.

Magness was fired Wednesday amid growing calls for his ouster following the deadly storms, but will stay on for two months to “work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT,” the organization said in a statement.

“The failures of ERCOT and the state of Texas were costly,” Khanna wrote. At least 49 Texans have died, and more than 4.5 million people experienced power outages
“Homeowners, renters and businesses face steep expenses to fix damage from frozen and burst pipes, with the Texas Insurance Council estimating that claims could be more than billion,” Khanna wrote. Total economic losses in Texas could reach billion.

Because Texas is not connected to the national grid, “ERCOT has limited ability to import electricity from outside of the state,” Khanna noted, adding that nearby regions, such as El Paso, experienced the same extreme temperatures but fewer disruptions.

A spokeswoman for ERCOT said officials received the letter and will respond to the subcommittee.

Some Republicans have sought to falsely blame the power outages on the use of renewable energy, but Texas Gov Greg Abbott, has ultimately blamed the power failures on ERCOT. S three-member utility commission appointed by Abbott has oversight authority over the grid operator. The utility commission’s chair resigned last week, and at least six ERCOT board members have also resigned in the wake of the power failure, one of the largest in U.S. history.

Last month’s storm followed similar winter storms in 1989 and 2011 that also caused massive outages, Khanna said. “It appears that lessons learned (again) in 2011 were not implemented either, leaving Texas vulnerable to extreme winter weather again in 2021,” he wrote.

The subcommittee requested documents from ERCOT by 17 March 17 related to its preparedness for extreme weather events; decisions on where and when to implement rolling blackouts; and the disruption of electricity supply in the mid-February storm.

12.41pm GMT

Trump’s transport secretary was using government office to help family shipping business with ties to China – report

Elaine Chao, the Republican who served as Secretary of Transportation in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2021, has been criticised in a report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general for repeatedly using her office staff to help family members who run a shipping business with extensive ties to China.

Overnight Eric Lipton and Michael Forsythe reported for the New York Times that:

The investigation of Chao came after a 2019 report that detailed her interactions with her family while serving as transportation secretary, including a trip she had planned to take to China in 2017 with her father and sister. The inspector general’s report confirmed that the planning for the trip, which was canceled, raised ethics concerns among other government officials.

As transportation secretary, Chao was the top Trump administration official overseeing the American shipping industry, which is in steep decline and is being battered by Chinese competitors.

“A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted,” Mitch Behm, the Transportation Department’s deputy inspector general, said to House lawmakers on Tuesday in a letter accompanying a 44-page report detailing the investigation into “use of public office for private gain.”

The inspector general referred the matter to the Justice Department in December for possible criminal investigation. But in the weeks before the end of Trump administration, two Justice Department divisions declined to do so.

Read more here: New York Times – Inspector General’s report cites Elaine Chao for using office to help family

12.01pm GMT

A former Maryland police chief is accused of setting fires to multiple structures that belonged to his adversaries, report the Associated Press.

Former Laurel Police Chief David Crawford, 69, was arrested Wednesday and is charged with over 50 felonies, including first-degree arson and first-degree attempted murder, in connection to a string of fires from 2011 to 2020 in Howard, Prince George’s, Frederick and Montgomery counties. Twelve fires were set in the nine-year span to multiple homes, vehicles and residential garages, authorities said.

Investigators determined the fires were connected to people who had disagreements with Crawford, authorities said. Police said they found a target list of known victims and other evidence during a search of Crawford’s Howard County home in January.
Some of the victims include a former City of Laurel official, three former law enforcement officials and two of Crawford’s former physicians.

“People who are angry, they do bad things,” said State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci. “Clearly, our suspect, thought he was wronged in a lot of different cases and wronged by a lot of different people, and these are all, you know, spite-revenge fires.”

All the fires were set at night. In six of the arsons, the victims were asleep in their homes with their families. Authorities said no one was injured in any of the fires.

Crawford served as the Laurel police chief from 2006 until his resignation in 2010. Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who appointed Crawford, said he was a staple in the community. Moe said some people in the police department were unhappy with Crawford, but that wasn’t unusual for a police chief, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“It’s very disturbing,” Moe said. “Somebody who took an oath of office to protect and serve, that’s not how you protect and serve.”

11.50am GMT

Study shows Californians on universal basic income paid off debt and got full-time jobs

The idea of a Universal Basic Income is another one that highlights the sharp partisan divide in American politics. You can already guess who thinks it is giving people something-for-nothing, and who thinks it is potentially a valuable tool in the fight against poverty and social injustice.

The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration sought to test those contesting ideas. And, after receiving 0 per month for two years without rules on how to spend it, it emerges that 125 people in California paid off debt, got full-time jobs and had “statistically significant improvements” in emotional health, according to a study released today.

The Associated Press report that the program was the nation’s highest-profile experiment in decades of universal basic income (UBI), and did not use tax dollars, but instead was financed by private donations, including a not-for-profit led by the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

When the program started in February 2019, 28% of the people slated to get the free money had full-time jobs. One year later, 40% of those people had full-time jobs. A control group of people who did not get the money saw a 5 percentage point increase in full-time employment over that same time period, from 32% to 37%.

The researchers said that the extra 0 per month was enough for people with part-time jobs to take time off so they could interview for full-time jobs that offered better pay. They also said the money could have helped people who weren’t working at all find jobs by allowing them to pay for transportation to interviews.

After a year of getting the money, 62% of the people were paying off debt compared to 52% before the study. Researchers also said most people moved from being likely to have mild mental health disorders to “likely mental wellness”.

The money was delivered once a month on a debit card, which let researchers track how most of the people spent it. The biggest category each month was food, followed by sales and merchandise, which included purchases at places like Walmart and Target, which also sell groceries. The next highest categories were utilities, auto and services. Less than 1% of the money went to tobacco and alcohol – commonly cited as a concern.

Not everyone was on board with the idea. Aside from conservatives who dislike big government programs, opposition also comes from labor unions that worry about what other types of social safety net programs would have to be sacrificed to pay for a guaranteed income. It could cost nearly tn a year to provide a guaranteed income to everyone.

“What these experiments don’t tell us is what the impact would be as a result of the tradeoffs that are necessary to implement UBI on a massive scale,” said Steve Smith, the communications director for the California Labor Federation.

11.30am GMT

FBI, Homeland Security and police warn of possible plot to breach Capitol today

It seems an unlikely sentence to be writing, but the reason we got a couple of landmark votes in the House yesterday was because they were rushing through business to ensure it wouldn’t be disrupted if there is an attack on the Capitol today.

The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the US Capitol police department have obtained intelligence pointing to a possible plot to “breach the Capitol by an identified militia group” today, the Capitol police said yesterday. From a distance it is hard to judge how credible the threat is, or whether authorities are simply acting out of an abundance of caution after the events of the 6 January.

Those events were being discussed yesterday in a hearing before the Senate Rules and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees about the pro-Trump insurrection. Rebecca Kheel and Rebecca Beitsch have pulled out for the Hill what they thought the five key takeaways from the session were. Those included:

The National Guard was hamstrung ahead of the attack – DC National Guard commanding general Maj Gen William Walker said there was an “unusual” 5 January memo from then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy restricting his ability to deploy a so-called Quick Reaction Force without McCarthy’s approval. Had it not been for that restriction, Walker said, he “would have sent them there immediately as soon as I hung up” from his call with then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund asking for help.

Walker told the committees, “It was never really explained to me” why restrictions were placed on him. But he drew a stark contrast between 6 Janusary and the response to racial justice protests over the summer.

Asked by Homeland Security committee Chairman, Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, whether he got immediate approval from McCarthy and Miller to deploy guardsmen in June, Walker replied, “Yes.” Pressed by Peters on whether he got immediate approval to deploy 6 January, Walker replied, “No.”

Read more here: The Hill – Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing

Updated at 12.30pm GMT

11.18am GMT

There was a brief period last night when the House Democrats could claim that their police justice bill had at least some bipartisan support, but not for long. Republican Rep Lance Gooden of Texas later tweeted to clarify that he had pressed the wrong button. “I have arguably the most conservative/America First voting record in Congress! Of course I wouldn’t support the radical left’s, anti-police act.”

The official record has now been changed to record his vote as a no.

11.07am GMT

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the most ambitious police reform effort in decades. The legislation changes would ban chokeholds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability. California congresswoman Karen Bass, who authored the bill, cited the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and Floyd’s death as the catalyst for the ambitious reform while House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said the bill was “legislation which will fundamentally transform the culture”.

The leader of the Democrats in the House, Steny Hoyer, said “I hope this bill is enacted to help save lives and restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

It will face significant opposition in the Senate.

10.59am GMT

Hi, and welcome to our live coverage of Thursday’s US politics. Here’s a run down of the main stories at the moment, and what is in the diary for today…

  • Yesterday House Democrats passed a sweeping expansion of federal voting rights. The For The People act would be the most significant enhancement of federal voting protections in decades.
  • They also passed the ambitious George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which would ban chokeholds and qualified immunity for law enforcement.
  • The US Capitol Police warned yesterday that it has “obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group” today. The House has cleared its voting schedule as a result.
  • Joe Biden sharply criticized Republican governors for “Neanderthal thinking” as Texas and Mississippi rescinded their mask mandates despite public health experts’ concerns about another potential surge in coronavirus cases. “I think it’s a big mistake,” the president said.
  • Andrew Cuomo said he would not resign after three women accused him of sexual harassment. The New York governor offered qualified apologies for his behavior and said he would “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s investigation of the allegations.
  • The commanding general of the DC national guard told the Senate that the Pentagon curtailed his ability to rapidly deploy guard troops the day before the 6 January insurrection.
  • President Joe Biden, vice president Kamala Harris and transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg will meet with a bipartisan group of House Members on infrastructure at 2pm ET (1900 GMT).
  • Biden will also hold a call to congratulate Nasa on the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.
  • Jen Psaki will give a press briefing at 12.45.

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