GOP-led Senate stalls on $2000 checks. Newly-elected Louisiana Congressman, 41, dies of COVID. US, EU pressure China over journalist conviction. That and more below…
GOP-led Senate stalls on $2000 checks
The push for the increased $2000 stimulus checks by has stalled in the Senate as Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tries to politic his way out of a tight spot. Rather than putting the standalone bill to a quick vote, Republicans are now floating their own bill to muddy the waters. The Republican version includes the $2000 checks, but adds two additional riders which are in no way related to COVID or the stimulus. The first rider withdraws libel protections for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The second establishes a bipartisan commission to review Trump’s election loss.
It is not clear what McConnell’s plan is. Has he added the measures as a sweetener for fiscally-conservative Republicans? Or is he polluting the bill to put House Democrats in the position of having to vote against the stimulus to defeat the other two measures when the modified bill returns to the lower chamber for approval? Since neither of the riders is likely to appeal to the Trump-skeptics in the Republican ranks, the most likely answer is the latter.
It is equally unclear how McConnell’s double bluff will play in Georgia. The state has been hit hard by the pandemic and is hold a run-off Senate election on January 4. The outcome of that run-off will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.
Newly-elected Louisiana Congressman, 41, dies of COVID
In a sad reminder that no one is invulnerable to the coronavirus, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, 41, has passed away due to COVID. Letlow, a Republican from Louisiana’s 5th district, announced on the 18th that he had tested positive. He went to the hospital the next day after suffering complications. His condition worsened and on the 23rd, he was transferred to an intensive care unit in Shreveport, where lost his battle with COVID yesterday.
Letlow leaves behind a wife and two young children. Although Letlow had not yet officially been sworn in, he is the first elected member of Congress to succumb to the virus.
US, EU pressure China over journalist conviction
Earlier this week, a special Chinese court sentenced citizen journalist Zhang Zhan to four years in prison. Zhang reported on the early days of the COVID outbreak and lockdown in Wuhan. Several Chinese journalists in Wuhan disappeared earlier this year. Most have since resurfaced either in state custody or house arrest. One citizen journalist, Fang Bin, has not been seen or heard from since February.
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Zhang’s immediate release. “[Zhang’s] hasty trial, to which foreign observers were denied access, shows how fearful the [Chinese Communist Party] is of Chinese citizens who speak the truth,” Pompeo said.
The EU also called on China to release Zhang and other citizen journalists facing charges such as “spreading false information”. The statement comes just as the EU prepares to sign a major investment deal with China.
Concern grows over COVID spike in UK
After the UK reported over 40,000 new COVID cases for the first time on Monday, Tuesday’s numbers dwarfed that figure at 53,135. It is unclear at present to what degree the new, more contagious variant is contributing to the spike. Certainly increased movement over the festive season has a role to play. However, British health officials fear this may be a trend rather than a blip. Hospitals in the UK are under extreme pressure, treating more patients than at April’s peak. Dr Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at Public Health England, says: “We are continuing to see unprecedented levels of COVID-19 infection across the UK, which is of extreme concern, particularly as our hospitals are at their most vulnerable”.
In related news, the US has now confirmed its first case of the UK COVID variant. The patient is a Colorado man in his 20s who has no travel history.China, Covid stimulus checks, COVID-19 variant, EU, Mitch McConnell, national news. world news, Wuhan