10 things you need to know today: December 24, 2020


1.

President Trump on Wednesday issued a second wave of pardons and other clemency to 29 people, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone, and Charles Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law. Twenty-six of the people received pardons, and three got commuted sentences. Manafort and Stone, a longtime Trump political confidant, were convicted as part of the federal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort was sentenced to seven years for bank and tax fraud, and other crimes. He was released to home confinement in May due to coronavirus concerns. Stone was charged with lying to Congress, but Trump commuted his 40-month sentence in July. Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father, served two years for tax fraud and witness tampering. [NPR, The New York Times]

2.

President Trump on Wednesday followed through on his vow to veto the annual defense bill, saying it “would put the interests of Washington, D.C., establishment over those of the American people.” Trump also criticized a provision in the bill that would let the military remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. The Senate and the House approved the legislation with veto-proof bipartisan majorities, signaling that Congress could respond by overriding Trump for the first time in his presidency. In anticipation of the veto, lawmakers are scheduled to return from holiday break and meet next week to vote and potentially override Trump. “I would hope we would be able to override the veto,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last weekend. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

3.

Pfizer on Wednesday agreed to provide the United States with another 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with German partner BioNTech. The deal, reached after negotiations with the Trump administration, will double the U.S. order, providing enough of the two-dose vaccine for 100 million people. The federal government will pay $1.95 billion for the extra supply. The doses will be delivered by July. The deal won’t increase the number of people who will get the Pfizer vaccine in the next few months, but it will help prevent a shortage come summer. Pfizer and Moderna, which also has started shipping its vaccine, will supply the government with a combined 400 million doses, enough for 200 million Americans. So far, 18.3 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus, and nearly 324,000 have died. [The Washington Post]

4.

Republicans scrambled on Wednesday to salvage the $900 billion coronavirus relief package after President Trump slammed it as a “disgrace” filled with spending unrelated to the pandemic and demanded that lawmakers increase stimulus checks to individuals from $600 to $2,000. Trump’s suggestion that he would not sign the legislation without revisions threw its future in doubt as many Americans stand to lose extra pandemic-related unemployment benefits this week. The relief package also is tied to a $1.4 trillion spending deal needed to avert a government shutdown. Congressional Democrats, who tried for months to push through a multi-trillion dollar relief package, are calling Trump’s bluff and moving Thursday, Christmas Eve, to propose a stand-alone bill to provide $2,000 stimulus checks. [The New York Times]

5.

Attorney General William Barr ended his final day on the job with a farewell note saying “it has been a great honor to serve once again in this role.” Barr first held the job under President George H.W. Bush. Barr thanked the “dedicated” staff of the department and said they “have risen to meet historic challenges and uphold our vital mission to enforce the rule of law.” Barr was long considered one of President Trump’s closest allies, but a rift seemingly grew between the two in recent weeks after Barr didn’t buy into Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election. Trump announced this month that Barr would be leaving. His departure comes as Trump continues to push Republicans to somehow reverse his election defeat weeks ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. [CBS News, New York Post]

6.

The federal government released a flurry of fresh economic data on Wednesday that boosted fears that the economic recovery was faltering as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths surged. Consumers cut spending last month by 0.4 percent, the Commerce Department reported. The drop, the first in seven months, came after a burst of shopping over the summer. Spending dropped on services, including restaurant meals, and on goods, including cars, appliances, and other big-ticket items. Household incomes also fell, losing 1.1 percent in their third decline in four months. New applications for unemployment benefits retreated from a three-month high but remained elevated. The Labor Department reported that 803,000 people filed initial jobless claims last week, down from a revised 892,000 the prior week. [The Wall Street Journal]

7.

A provincial court in Pakistan on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man convicted in 2002 as the mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The Sindh High Court in Karachi set aside Sheikh’s death sentence in April, and downgraded his conviction from terrorism, kidnapping, and murder to the lesser crime of kidnapping. That carries a maximum sentence of seven years, so Sheikh, who had served 18 years, was eligible for release. The same court overturned the convictions of three accomplices who had been sentenced to life in prison. Pearl’s family is appealing Sheikh’s acquittal on the murder charge. Pakistani authorities had used emergency detention powers to keep Sheikh and the three others in prison. [The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal]

8.

Gunmen attacked a village in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia on Wednesday, killing more than 100 people, the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said. The area has been plagued with ethnic violence. Several ethnic groups live in the region, including the Gumuz people. In recent years, some Gomuz have complained that farmers and businessmen who have moved in from the neighboring Amhara region have taken fertile land. Some Amhara leaders claim the land rightfully belongs to them. Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, has been plagued by violence in other areas since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was appointed in 2018 and intensified a push for democratic reforms. [Reuters]

9.

Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther on Wednesday called for the firing of police officer Adam Coy, who fatally shot an unarmed Black man, Andre Hill, on Tuesday. City Council President Shannon Hardin called for Coy to be arrested, calling Hill’s death an “unjustified killing.” Coy, who is white, responded to a non-emergency call about a man sitting inside a car, repeatedly turning it on and off. Body-camera footage showed that Coy shot Hill, 47, less than 10 seconds into the encounter, and that several minutes elapsed before an officer and the female officer with him rendered aid. Coy failed to activate his body camera before the shooting, but a “look back” feature recorded video with no audio of the 60 seconds before it was activated. Coy already is facing disciplinary charges that could lead to his firing. [Columbus Dispatch, NPR]

10.

The NBA postponed the Houston Rockets’ Wednesday season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder because the Rockets lacked the eight available players required by the basketball league. The team was left shorthanded after three players returned positive or inconclusive coronavirus tests, and four others were quarantined under the NBA’s contact tracing protocol. Another player, Chris Clemons, was not available due to injury, and Rockets star James Harden was “unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocol” based on a video, published by Black Sports Online, showing him maskless at a Houston club, the league said. Harden also was fined $50,000. Houston’s next scheduled game is Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers. [ESPN]

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Two of Trump’s pardons may set a precedent for letting the Trump campaign off the hook
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