The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — More than a sweeping national rescue plan, President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package presents a first political test — of his new administration, of Democratic control of Congress and of the role of Republicans in a post-Trump political landscape.
For Biden, the outcome will test the strength of his presidency, his "unity" agenda and whether, after decades of deal-making, he can still negotiate a hard bargain and drive it into law.
For House and Senate Democrats with the full sweep of power for the first time in a decade, drafting, amending and passing a recovery package will show Americans if they can lead the government through crisis.
And for Republicans, the final roll-call vote will indicate whether they plan to be constructive advocates of the minority party or just-say-no obstructionists without former President Donald Trump.
"This is an opportunity for the Democrats to put forward the things that people went to the polls, put them in office to do," said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, an advocacy organization.
Oregon puts debate over race in vaccine rollout to test
PORTLAND, Ore. — The role that race should play in deciding who gets priority for the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the rollout is being put to the test in Oregon as tensions around equity and access to the shots emerge nationwide.
An advisory committee that provides recommendations to Oregon's governor and public health authorities will vote Thursday on whether to prioritize people of color, target those with chronic medical conditions or focus on some combination of groups at higher risk from the coronavirus. Others, such as essential workers, refugees, inmates and people under 65 living in group settings, are also being considered.
The 27-member committee in Oregon, a Democratic-led state that's overwhelmingly white, was formed with the goal of keeping fairness at the heart of its vaccine rollout. Its members were selected to include racial minorities and ethnic groups, from Somalian refugees to Pacific Islanders to tribes. The committee's recommendations are not binding but provide critical input for Gov. Kate Brown and guide health authorities crafting the rollout.
"It's about revealing the structural racism that remains hidden. It influences the disparities we experienced before the pandemic and exacerbated the disparities we experienced during the pandemic," said Kelly Gonzales, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a health disparity expert on the committee.
The virus has disproportionately affected people of color. Last week, the Biden administration reemphasized the importance of including "social vulnerability" in state vaccination plans — with race, ethnicity and the rural-urban divide at the forefront — and asked states to identify "pharmacy deserts" where getting shots into arms will be difficult.
WHO team in Wuhan departs quarantine for COVID origins study
WUHAN, China — A World Health Organization team emerged from quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to start field work in a fact-finding mission on the origins of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers, who were required to isolate for 14 days after arriving in China, left their quarantine hotel with their luggage — including at least four yoga mats — in the midafternoon and headed to another hotel.
The mission has become politically charged, as China seeks to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. A major question is where the Chinese side will allow the researchers to go and whom they will be able to talk to.
Yellow barriers blocked the entrance to the hotel, keeping the media at a distance. Before the researchers boarded their bus, workers wearing protective outfits and face shields could be seen loading their luggage, including two musical instruments and a dumbbell.
Hotel staff waved goodbye to the researchers, who were wearing face masks. The bus driver wore a full-body white protective suit. They drove about 30 minutes to a lakeside Hilton resort-like
Pakistani court: Release man accused in Daniel Pearl's death
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the release Thursday of a Pakistani-British man convicted and later acquitted in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
The court also dismissed an appeal of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family and the Pakistani government. It wasn't immediately clear whether Sheikh would be freed Thursday; the government of the province where he is being held has previously refused to honor such release orders.
"The Pearl family is in complete shock by the majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit and release Ahmed Omer Sheikh and the other accused persons who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl," the Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi.
The brutality of Pearl's killing shocked many in 2002, years before the Islamic State group regularly began releasing videos of their beheadings of journalists. An autopsy report told of the gruesome details of Pearl's killing and dismemberment.
Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, during which he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the "shoe bomber" after his attempt to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.
GOP tested anew by Georgia congresswoman's Facebook activity
WASHINGTON — Republicans have a Marjorie Taylor Greene problem. Again.
Before she joined the House this month, Greene supported Facebook posts that advocated violence against Democrats and the FBI. One suggested shooting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the head. In response to a post raising the prospect of hanging former President Barack Obama, Greene responded that the "stage is being set."
While some Republicans condemned the activity, it was hardly a surprise. The Georgia Republican has expressed support for QAnon conspiracy theories, which focus on the debunked belief that top Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking, Satan worship and cannibalism. Facebook videos surfaced last year showing she'd expressed racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim views. Top Republicans denounced her at the time, hoping to block her from capturing the GOP nomination for her reliably red congressional district in northwest Georgia.
The opposition faded, however, when Greene won the primary and was essentially guaranteed a seat in Congress. By the time she was sworn into office, Greene had ridden with President Donald Trump on Air Force One during his final days in office.
Republican leaders are now confronting a conundrum of their own making. The party largely embraced Greene after she won the primary, making it harder for them to distance themselves from her, especially when many of her views were already well known.
At Sundance, pandemic dramas unfold on screen and off
NEW YORK — Peter Nicks had for months been documenting the students of Oakland High School, in California, when the pandemic hit.
"It's in the Bay," says one student of the virus as he and others mill together in a classroom, excitedly contemplating the cancellation of school.
Soon, the principal is heard over the loudspeaker — an announcement that would signal not just the scuttling of prom and graduation ceremonies, but, potentially, Nicks' film. After chronicling other Oakland institutions, Nicks had set out to document a year in the life of the multicultural teenagers of Oakland. "Something like 'The Breakfast Club' with kids of color," he says.
But how do you make an intimate, observation documentary about school life when the hallways are suddenly emptied, the school musical canceled and your third act turns virtual?
"The first order of business was just capturing that moment," Nicks says, speaking by Zoom from Oakland. "Then shortly after that it was: What are we going to do? How are we possibly going to finish this movie?"
Bernie Sanders' mittens, memes help raise $1.8M for charity
About those wooly mittens that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders wore to the presidential inauguration, sparking endless quirky memes across social media? They've helped to raise $1.8 million in the last five days for charitable organizations in Sanders' home state of Vermont, the independent senator announced Wednesday.
The sum comes from the sale of merchandise with the Jan. 20 image of him sitting with his arms and legs crossed, clad in his brown parka and recycled wool mittens.
Sanders put the first of the so-called "Chairman Sanders" merchandise, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers, on his campaign website Thursday night and the first run sold out in less than 30 minutes, he said. More merchandise was added over the weekend and sold out by Monday morning, he said.
"Jane and I were amazed by all the creativity shown by so many people over the last week, and we're glad we can use my internet fame to help Vermonters in need," Sanders said in a written statement. "But even this amount of money is no substitute for action by Congress, and I will be doing everything I can in Washington to make sure working people in Vermont and across the country get the relief they need in the middle of the worst crisis we've faced since the Great Depression."
Sanders' mittens were made by Jen Ellis, a Vermont elementary school teacher who has a side business making mittens out of recycled wool. His inauguration look, also featuring the winter jacket made by Burton Snowboards, sparked countless memes from the photo taken by Agence France-Presse: The former presidential candidate could be found on social media timelines taking a seat on the subway, the moon and the couch with the cast of "Friends," among other creative locales.
Ellis said on social media over the weekend that Sanders called to tell her that "the mitten frenzy" had raised an enormous amount of money for Vermont charities although she was not authorized to disclose the amount, yet.
"But it's BIG and it's amazing! Thank you!! Generosity brings joy," she tweeted.
She also said she made three more pairs of mittens and donated them for fundraising to Passion 4 Paws Vermont, Outright Vermont, and would be auctioning off a pair on eBay for her daughter's college fund.
The groups that will benefit from the proceeds of the "Chairman Sanders" items include Area Agencies on Aging to fund Meals on Wheels throughout Vermont, Vermont community action agencies, Feeding Chittenden, Chill Foundation, senior centers in Vermont and Bi-State Primary Care for dental care improvements in the state, Sanders' office said.
Sander' attire has also sparked other charitable endeavors. A crocheted doll of Sanders in his garb was auctioned off online and Burton Snowboards donated 50 jackets to the Burlington Department for Children and Families in Sanders' name, his office said.
Getty Images confirmed that it will donate its proceeds as part of the licensing agreement to put the photo on the merchandise to Meals on Wheels of America.